AC Milan kept on Lazio's heels at the top of Serie A as they beat ten-man Napoli 2-1 in a tension-fuelled clash at the San Paolo stadium in Naples.
Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the goals for Milan as Michele Pazienza was sent-off for the hosts for a pair of handballs before Ezequiel Lavezzi hit an ingenious late consolation. Milan now trail Lazio by just two points in second place while Napoli, who were by far the better side for long periods, even with ten men, remain sixth.
"We exploited our numerical advantage until it was 2-0 but then we struggled with a lack of concentration and some mistakes," said Milan coach Massimilliano Allegri. "Napoli had a great desire to equalise, we lost many one-on-one battles and fluffed our final balls. We're on 17 points, we've had four (league) wins in a row, we just messed up in Madrid."
Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri said his team were unrecognisable until they were down to ten men. "We need to forget the league table and play with calm, the responsibility of being near the top inhibits. We weren't us," he said. After taking this ridiculous sending off, paradoxically we played better but I would have preferred to stay with 11."
Napoli, as ever, were slow out of the blocks and the first chance fell to Milan as Robinho's low shot was saved by Morgan De Sanctis on the quarter hour. But on 22 minutes they were ahead as Robinho played a one-two with substitute Massimo Oddo before finishing inside the far corner. However, Napoli's disorganised defending was the true architect as they had seven defenders and their goalkeeper in the area but still failed to pick up the Brazilian's run.
The reaction from the hosts was swift as four minutes later Lavezzi got down the right and crossed for Marek Hamsik, whose near post toe-poke went wide. Hamsik then crossed from the left but Edinson Cavani missed his shot and substitute Hassan Yebda attacked with the wrong foot, playing the ball almost back to where it had come from.
Pazienza was then dismissed for a second yellow card after picking up both for handball offences. Zlatan Ibrahimovic tried an acrobatic effort from seven yards that De Sanctis parried in stoppage time. And before the half-time whistle Christian Abbiati made a stunning one-handed save from Lavezzi's diving header after Hamsik's pin-point cross.
Even down to ten men, Napoli were on the attack after the break and Lavezzi volleyed just over from Dossena's centre. But Milan were dangerous on the counter and Ibrahimovic should have done better than curl a shot into De Sanctis's arms when well placed.
Midway through the second period Milan wasted a two-on-two break as Ibrahimovic's pass to Pato was too strong and De Sanctis blocked the Brazilian's shot from an angle. Napoli then paid again for poor defending on 71 minutes as Oddo burst down the right and crossed into the centre where the unmarked Ibrahimovic headed home from six yards out.
Lavezzi was a thorn in Milan's side all night and a determined run down the right saw him skip past Sokratis Papastathopoulos with a clever back-heel and tee up Cavani who, having an awful night, shot well wide. But on 78 minutes he went shoulder to shoulder with Papastathopoulos again and after they both fell over, Lavezzi over the ball, the Argentine managed to quickly stand up and flick the ball over Abbiati and in off the bar.
De Sanctis made a late save to deny Mathieu Flamini and even charged forwards for a couple of corners but Napoli were left frustrated despite a stirring fight-back and inspired play from Lavezzi.