Napoli climbed to the top of Serie A with a narrow 2-1 win over reigning champions AC Milan on Sunday night, in what was a fierce battle at San Siro.

Napoli and AC Milan headed into the encounter unbeaten and locked on 14 points, with the Partenopei ahead on goal difference, while Milan were third. While Atalanta and Udinese momentarily topped the table after defeating AS Roma and Inter Milan earlier in the day, this match at San Siro felt like a showdown between title contenders.

The hosts spurned many chances in the first half to get their noses ahead. Olivier Giroud tried to hand them an early lead with a drive from the middle of the box in the 13th minute, but his attempt struck the crossbar as Alex Meret diverted the original effort.

The French international wasted another presentable opportunity, trying a spectacular scissor-kick midway through the first period, sending it over the net while Davide Calabria was in a perfect position to score behind him. Sandro Tonali and Rade Krunic also came close, with the latter forcing another outstanding save from Meret, while Theo Hernandez was dangerous as ever as he forayed forward from left-back.

Napoli had their positive moments, with star-man Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Piotr Zielinski causing problems for Milan’s backline. However, the first half somehow ended goalless. The second half started with a similar high tempo, but the visitors looked to have more threat.

Kvaratskhelia glided into the box and was brought down by half-time substitute Sergino Dest, resulting in a spot kick for the away side. Matteo Politano lashed the ball past Mike Maignan from twelve yards out to give Napoli the lead. Giroud levelled things up in the 69th minute when he tapped in from Hernandez’s darting low cross in the middle of the box.

Napoli responded almost immediately, with Mario Rui sending in an appealing cross for Giovanni Simeone, who banged a header past Milan keeper Mike Maignan. With four minutes left, Milan almost salvaged a deserved point, but substitute Pierre Kalulu crashed into the crossbar with just Meret to beat from close range.

Napoli thus held on to rise to the top of Serie A heading into the international break. Meanwhile, Milan dropped to fifth, with Lazio and Udinese overtaking them on goal difference thanks to their respective comprehensive wins. The Hard Tackle will now run the rule over Stefano Pioli’s men after what was a pretty wasteful display in front of goal.

Mike Maignan: 6/10

Maignan did not have many saves to make, but he ended up conceding two goals. To be fair, it was a solid display from the French goalkeeper, as he made a couple of good saves and could not have done much about the goals. He read Politano’s penalty very well and went the right way, but it was in between his arm and leg area, which are always tough to save. His passing was uncharacteristically poor, but he commanded his area well enough.

Davide Calabria: 7/10

Asked to man-mark the buzzing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Calabria was at the top of his game, and he nullified the Georgian’s impact in the first half. The AC Milan captain gave Kvaratskhelia a tough ride with a few rash challenges and gave him little time and space to express himself creatively. Taken off at half-time due to a muscle injury, but this was one of his best performances of the season.

Simon Kjaer: 6/10

Kjaer put up a good performance, albeit nothing spectacular. He was booked following a hasty challenge in the first half and was left on a tightrope with his lack of recovery pace apparent. Stefano Pioli eventually replaced him at half-time with Pierre Kalulu.

Fikayo Tomori: 7/10

As always, Tomori put forth an authoritative and aggressive defensive display, keeping Giacomo Raspadori quiet throughout. He tried to maintain a high line to progress with the ball from deep. His physicality was unrivalled, and he covered for a marauding Hernandez. That sad, the English defender lost Simeone on the goal, but it was a really nice movement from the Argentine striker, and those types of crosses are typically hard to defend against.

Theo Hernandez: 8/10

A typically intense display from Hernandez, who did not give Politano an inch and provided top service from the left flank throughout the game. With Rade Krunic playing as an inverted winger, the left-back plugged the creative hole left by Rafael Leao, generating multiple chances for Milan. He got a lovely assist for Giroud and should have had another one, only for Kalulu fluff his lines.

Sandro Tonali: 6/10

Tonali showed plenty of aggression and did a decent job of keeping tabs on Napoli’s danger men. He guarded the defenders well but did not contribute much to the attack.

Ismael Bennacer: 8/10

It is hard to argue that there is a better complete midfielder in Serie A than Ismael Bennacer. He controlled possession effectively and kept the ball moving as AC Milan sought to win the midfield battle. He won a number of second balls for Milan and was instrumental in keeping the high press up until the end of the game.

In total, he attempted 63 passes with a 90 per cent accuracy; most of his crosses and long balls found their target; he made three tackles and played a match-high five key passes.

Alexis Saelemaekers: 5/10

Saelemaekers began the game strong after his spectacular midweek Champions League showing, but he faded very quickly. Pioli’s decision to remove him at half-time was understandable, as he was struggling to complete simple passes and looked off the pace.

Charles De Ketelaere: 6/10

De Ketelaere showed glimpses of talent once more, but he was generally unable to link the midfield to the attack well enough. He does not always appear to be involved in the game, but his clever movement, positioning, and ability to read the game were there for everyone to see.

He played his part in Giroud’s equaliser with a perfectly-weighted pass for Hernandez to send a first-time low delivery across the Napoli box. De Ketelaere could have had an assist when he picked out Messias, but Napoli keeper Alex Meret was equal to it.

Rade Krunic: 7/10

Krunic returned from injury and replaced the suspended Leao on the left wing. Instead of the rough and gritty style, Milan fans have come to expect from the Bosnian, the Bosnian shone with numerous moments of flair and looked particularly excellent in the first half, creating a couple of opportunities. While he faded a little in the second period, the 28-year-old possesses a wide range of talents and is quite flexible, which will come in handy for Pioli throughout the season.

Olivier Giroud: 8.5/10

The 35-year-old looked younger and more mobile than ever before. Giroud was lively and produced in a big game yet again. He was a vital cog as a focal point in Milan’s attack and won plenty of aerial and ground duels, creating chances for his teammates. Barring a wasteful scorpion kick, the Frenchman managed several dangerous shots, including one deflected effort that hit the woodwork, and eventually got his goal in the second half.

SUBSTITUTES

Sergino Dest: 4/10

Dest, like Kalulu, was introduced at half-time to replace Calabria, who had suffered a muscle injury. However, it was a forgettable night for the American, as he committed a penalty with a reckless tackle on Kvaratskhelia and did not do much offensively, losing possession cheaply on multiple occasions as well.

Pierre Kalulu: 6/10

Kalulu brought more energy, precise passing, and aggression defensively, but he let AC Milan down by missing an absolute sitter in the dying embers of the game to make it 2-2. It was certainly a startling miss.

Junior Messias: 6/10

Messias got off to a positive start with a decent effort, but he subsequently struggled to establish himself in the game’s intensity with poor decision-making.

Brahim Diaz: 7/10

Diaz was very positive and direct after coming on, and he changed the dynamics of the game with his creative spark. He was involved in the build-up to Giroud’s goal with a clever flick.

Yacine Adli: N/A

Did not play enough to warrant a rating. 

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