AC Milan secured a narrow 1-0 away win against Cagliari at Unipol Domus to go three points clear at the top of the Serie A table.
Cagliari frustrated the visitors in the first half with their compact shape, but Stefano Pioli’s Milan side were kicking themselves at half-time after missing some clear-cut chances, with the best falling to Olivier Giroud within the first 10 minutes, as he dragged a shot wide from a few yards out.
Milan came out of the traps with more energy in the second period, as Theo Hernandez tested Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno with a fizzing effort from 35-yards in the 51st minute, which was kept out with a fingertip save.
Shortly after, the Rossoneri eventually found what they were looking for in the 58th minute, with a superb finish by Ismael Bennacer. He was set up with a flick by Giroud inside the box, and the Algerian hit the ball first-time with a volley into the bottom corner.
Cagliari tried to go more attacking in the closing stages and hit the crossbar in stoppage time, but Milan held on to reclaim their place at the summit of the league table, displacing Napoli in the process.
The performance that Milan put out tonight in Sardinia was not brilliant, especially when you look at the quality of the opposition. However, Cagliari did put up a fight.
It has been far too familiar this season that the Rossoneri have dropped points to sides in the bottom half of Serie A. Prior to this game, Milan had won just three of their last seven games against sides in the lower reaches of the table. More points were almost squandered tonight as Cagliari smacked the crossbar in stoppage time.
However, these sorts of wins are wins that title successes are built on. Milan dug deep, and showed the character and individual quality to come away with a victory at a stadium with vocal home support. In that sense, Stefano Pioli will surely be delighted.
With Inter once again failing to win, AC Milan now sit three points clear at the top of the table, and have a favourable run of fixtures coming up - at home against Bologna and Genoa, and away at Torino.
A first Scudetto since 2010-11 for Milan is looking like a real possibility if they keep up their current form. Tonight's win saw the Rossoneri extend their unbeaten run to ten matches in all competitions.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH - Ismael Bennacer
Ismael Bennacer of AC Milan celebrates with team-mates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between Cagliari Calcio and AC Milan at Sardegna Arena
Image credit: Getty Images
The Algerian proved to be the match-winner for Milan this evening, with a superb piece of quality to score a sensational volley into the bottom corner early into the second half.
It was one of those nights where a piece of brilliance was going to be the way to get the breakthrough against a resilient and organised Cagliari side, and Bennacer delivered in spectacular fashion.
The 24-year-old made a total of three dribbles, won three successful tackles and also made two key passes.
6’ - WHAT A MISS! - Giroud misses a massive chance from a few yards out! Hernandez does really well to chase Tomori's pass down the left, which is slightly too deep. He is able to just about loop a cross into the box towards the far post for Messias. who knocks it down for Giroud. The Frenchman tries to hit it on the volley from point blank range, but fluffs his lines and puts the ball wide! He lets out a wry smile in disbelief.
12’ - BOTTOM OF THE POST! - Kessie has a go from 25-yards out and it smacks the bottom of the post! Cragno was completely beaten there - it was a venomous shot!
51’ - GOOD SAVE! - Cragno makes a fingertip save to keep Hernandez's stinging effort from distance out! The defender lines one up from 25-yards and hits it cleanly. The Cagliari goalkeeper just about tips the ball over the bar for a corner.
58’ - GOAL! (Ismael Bennacer) - Milan lead - and it's a stunning strike by Ismael Bennacer! Brahim plays a ball into the box, which Giroud lays off with the flick for Bennacer to hit on the volley first-time, and the Algerian hits it low into the bottom corner!
90+1 - OFF THE BAR! - Cagliari smack the upright! Zappa's cross is met by a diving Pavoletti, who directs his header into the ground before bouncing up and smacking the frame of the goal. Maignan looked beaten there and he looks relieved!
AC Milan have scored at least one goal in 15 consecutive matches on the road only for the second time in their history, considering a single top-flight-season, also doing so back in 1967-68 in Serie A.
Cagliari have now won just once against AC Milan in the last 37 matches between the sides.