Cagliari 0-1 AC Milan: Bennacer stunner sees Rossoneri restore Serie A lead
Ismael Bennacer delivered the decisive second-half strike as AC Milan restored their three-point lead at the Serie A summit with a 1-0 victory at Cagliari on Saturday.
Napoli edged past Udinese to move level on points with Stefano Pioli's side earlier in the day, although fellow title contenders Inter were held to a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina.
Milan responded to those results with a vital victory despite an unconvincing performance at the Unipol Domus, with Bennacer's sumptuous volley from outside the area just before the hour mark proving the difference.
A third consecutive 1-0 win keeps the Rossoneri ahead of Napoli and widens the gap to Inter to six points, albeit the defending champions have a game in hand.
Olivier Giroud miscued a presentable chance on the volley in the opening stages following a headed pass by Junior Messias, while Franck Kessie struck the post with a low drive.
Milan continued to control first-half proceedings, but Alberto Grassi provided a scare when he drilled narrowly wide.
Although the sides headed in goalless at the interval, Pioli's visitors persisted following the restart, with Theo Hernandez's ambitious long-range effort forcing an acrobatic Alessio Cragno stop.
Milan's reward for their efforts arrived shortly after when Giroud teed up Bennacer to expertly volley into the bottom-left corner, as the Rossoneri scored in a 15th consecutive away league game – equalling the club-record top-flight run they achieved in the 1967-68 season.
Joao Pedro wastefully sliced over in response, but Cragno kept his side in the game with a smart save from Giroud that could have proved crucial had Matteo Lovato not headed wide before Keita Balde struck the crossbar – misses that instead secured a big win for Milan in the Scudetto chase.
What does it mean? Milan keep winning
Cagliari may not have been expected to cause Milan much trouble, given the Rossoneri had lost just one of the sides' past 36 Serie A meetings.
But Pioli's men were forced to produce a dogged performance to string together three straight league wins with clean sheets for the first time since May 2021, as they continue to deliver results heading into the run-in.
Hernandez was a constant threat down the left flank with his surging runs creating a string of opportunities his Milan colleagues could not convert.
Indeed, the left-back laid on a game-high five chances and made three tackles in an efficient display at both ends of the pitch.
Poor Joao Pedro
Joao Pedro has been involved in half of Cagliari's league goals this season, scoring 10 and assisting four.
But the striker failed to deliver against Milan, who he has not found the net against in his past six appearances, as he squandered his team's best chance of the game when he volleyed over in the second half.
Milan host Bologna after the international break, while Cagliari visit Udinese.