Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one goal and set up another as AC Milan comfortably beat Cagliari 3-0 on Sunday to move back within one point of Juventus, as the Serie A title race develops into a two-team affair.
Ibrahimovic scored his league-leading 15th goal with a splendid free-kick in the 32nd minute at the San Siro, then used his chest to set up a goal for midfielder Antonio Nocerino in the 39th minute. Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini sealed the victory with his first goal of the season in the 75th.
Earlier, Milan’s city rivals Inter had their seven-match winning streak in Serie A broken with a 1-0 loss at Lecce, which also allowed SS Lazio to jump ahead of the Nerazzurri into fourth place.
Uruguayan midfielder Guillermo Giacomazzi scored in the 40th minute for Lecce and Inter had two goals disallowed for offside.
Lazio won 3-0 at Chievo Verona with a first-half goal from Brazilian playmaker Hernanes and two strikes in the final minutes from veteran Germany striker Miroslav Klose.
Udinese, who are third, Lazio and Inter appear destined to battle it out for third place and the final Champions League berth.
“Our goal is to finish in the Champions League places. We had a great run, and now comes the beautiful and the difficult, because I’ve got to insert two players like [Diego] Forlan and [Wesley] Sneijder,” Inter manager Claudio Ranieri said, referring to two players returning from injury.
Sneijder played only the first half, while Forlan is still to return from a series of injury problems.
Elsewhere, AS Roma drew 1-1 at home with Bologna to stay sixth.
Roma’s 21-year-old midfielder Miralem Pjanic equalized with a superb free-kick in the 62nd minute after Bologna captain Marco Di Vaio had scored six minutes earlier.
Also on Sunday, Genoa beat Napoli 3-2 with two goals from Rodrigo Palacio and one from newly signed Alberto Gilardino to get some revenge for a 6-1 loss to Napoli last month that cost Alberto Malesani his job.
In Sicily, Palermo beat last-place Novara Calcio 2-0, with Fabrizio Miccoli setting up two headers from Igor Budan, while Atalanta BC hung on with 10 men for a 1-0 win at Cesena following an own-goal from Marco Rossi.
In the lunchtime fixture, Fiorentina moved into the top half of the table with a 2-1 win over AC Siena in a Tuscan derby.
Stevan Jovetic put Fiorentina in front with a low shot four minutes in and Cesare Natali doubled the lead with a header in the 63rd minute, before Emanuele Calaio pulled one back for Siena with a penalty in the 88th.
Milan’s title credentials were called into question with a derby loss to Inter two weeks ago, but the Rossoneri have quickly regrouped and they controlled from start to finish against Cagliari.
After curling in a free-kick from 25m into the top-left corner, Ibrahimovic then set up Milan’s second goal by using his chest to control a long forward pass from centerback Philippe Mexes, directing the ball toward Nocerino, who found the target from the edge of the area.
It was Nocerino’s seventh goal of the season, setting a club record for a central midfielder and giving Milan more than they expected when they acquired the Italy international on the final day of the pre-season transfer window from Palermo.
Nocerino had another chance in the 55th minute, but Cagliari goalkeeper Michael Agazzi made a difficult save on his shot from outside the area.
Ambrosini replaced Clarence Seedorf in the 67th minute and scored eight minutes later with the outside of his foot after taking a pass from Urby Emanuelson.
Amid speculation that he may leave Milan before the transfer window closes today, veteran striker Filippo Inzaghi replaced Ibrahimovic for the final six minutes. Newly signed Milan forward Maxi Lopez was on the bench, but he did not play.
At Lecce’s Stadio Via del Mare, Inter were one win away from matching their club-record winning streak, but for the second consecutive match — including a 2-0 midweek loss to Napoli in the Italian Cup — Ranieri’s side failed to meet expectations.
Massimo Oddo provided the pass for Giacomazzi, who used his chest to control the ball, then slotted a low shot past Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar as defenders Lucio and Walter Samuel failed to intervene.
Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito then had goals annulled for offside in the 51st and 71st minutes respectively.
Lecce goalkeeper Massimiliano Benassi preserved the victory with a diving save from Giampaolo Pazzini in the 90th minute and Julio Cesar prevented it from becoming a 2-0 loss with a difficult save from David Di Michele seconds later.
“We came up against a goalkeeper in great form, while we continually grew more nervous,” Ranieri said.
In Verona, Hernanes put Lazio in front with a close-range effort in the 20th minute and Klose found the target in the 88th and 89th minutes for his 11th and 12th goals this season.
First, Klose dribbled by two defenders inside the area and used the outside of his foot to push the ball past Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino, then he found the target with a shot from outside the area.
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