Eljif Elmas’ first-half strike was the difference as Napoli leapfrogged Milan into second in Serie A with a 1-0 victory on Sunday.
Luciano Spalletti’s side lost consecutive league games against Atalanta and Empoli but struck first after just four minutes at San Siro through Elmas’ header – his first top-flight goal since August.
Stefano Pioli’s team pressed on in the second half but were unable to mount a comeback as their winless home league run against Napoli – which dates back to December 2014 – continued, although only a VAR intervention denied Franck Kessie a late equaliser.
Napoli overtake Milan to move into second, with the pair four points back from reigning champions Inter heading into the final matchday of 2021 on Wednesday.
The visitors were soon ahead when Elmas nodded in Piotr Zielinski’s corner at the near post, Napoli scoring their fastest Serie A goal against Milan since November 2012.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic responded by flicking a header wide, while Alessandro Florenzi blasted a speculative long-range half-volley just off target as Milan failed to test David Ospina before the interval.
Ospina, though, was required immediately after the break to palm over from Ibrahimovic, with the Colombia international denying Junior Messias moments later.
Napoli had conceded six of their past seven league goals in the final 30 minutes, while Milan had scored the joint-most in that period (15), and Messias almost furthered that record but curled just wide.
Kessie thought he had netted a late leveller as he swept into the bottom-left corner, only for VAR to judge the prone substitute Olivier Giroud to be offside as the visitors managed to hang on to an important victory.
What does it mean? Napoli end poor run to edge past Milan
Milan have won just one of their past 14 top-flight games against Napoli, who arrested a poor run of form following their impressive unbeaten start with a battling performance.
Pioli’s side once again lacked a cutting edge and, on this occasion, could not be saved by late Ibrahimovic heroics, leaving them in third and just two points ahead of fourth-placed Atalanta after the Rossoneri’s three-game unbeaten league run tamely ended.
Almost perfect from Piotr
Zielinski oozed class and experience in an almost perfect outing from the attacking midfielder in behind Andrea Petagna.
The Poland international created a game-high four chances, one of those the assist for Elmas’ opener, in a dominant creative display from the Napoli captain.
Poor Pioli struggles against Spalletti again
Pioli has not tasted victory in his past nine meetings with Spalletti in the Italian top flight, with the latter winning seven and drawing two of those fixtures.
The Napoli head coach is also unbeaten in his most recent 14 league meetings with Milan, winning on 11 occasions, with his last loss coming way back in May 2006 in a 2-1 reverse when in charge of Roma.
Key Opta Facts
– Napoli have kept a clean sheet in two Serie A meetings in a row against Milan for the first time since 2015.
– Milan have failed to score for the first time in Serie A this season: they last failed to find the net in a league game last May against Cagliari (0-0).
– In 24 appearances in 2021-22, Elmas has scored six goals for Napoli in all competitions, twice as many as he had in 44 games played in the whole of last term.
– Milan have lost a Serie A game at San Siro when failing to score for the first time since March 2021, also against Napoli (0-1).
Milan travel to Empoli on Wednesday, when Napoli host Spezia, in Serie A’s final matchday of 2021.