Mathieu Flamini was hero and villain, scoring and seeing red, as Milan were pegged back 1-1 by Napoli at San Siro.
This was a head-to-head for second place and therefore the automatic entry into the Champions League, as only four points separated the teams going in. Mario Balotelli began a three-match ban for insulting the officials, while Bojan Krkic and Massimo Ambrosini were injured, so Giampaolo Pazzini returned from a micro-fracture to his fibula. Stephan El Shaarawy was surprisingly dropped in favour of Robinho, perhaps due to a knee twinge. Napoli had a full squad to choose from, but had beaten Milan only once in their last nine meetings home and away. Their last win at San Siro was in April 1986, followed by 10 defeats and nine draws between Serie A and Coppa Italia.
Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli was in the stands along with former Milan legend Andriy Shevchenko. A large banner read: ‘Even when the sky is dark, the sun shines on San Siro.’ There was also footage on the San Siro giant screens before kick-off of Claudio Lippi, the Milan Channel journalist who died in a car crash last week, bringing a tear to the eye of several players.
After just four minutes the Rossoneri had a great chance, as Kevin-Prince Boateng’s shot took a huge deflection and Morgan De Sanctis did well to flap it off the line when changing direction.
Cristian Zapata turned a free header over from a corner, then Blerim Dzemaili was caught in possession for Boateng to volley Zapata’s cross wide.
The Partenopei had penalty appeals when a Marek Hamsik cross struck Mathieu Flamini’s arm, but it was from close range and considered involuntary. Soon after, Goran Pandev burst into the box and was muscled off the ball by Philippe Mexes as he tried to turn. Edinson Cavani won back possession in the final third, but the finish was high and wide.
It was Milan who broke through on the half-hour mark. Boateng, Robinho and Pazzini combined until the ball rolled to Flamini just outside the box for a precise low drive into the near bottom corner. He had also scored against Fiorentina last week.
The lead lasted only three minutes, as Hamsik went down the left and rolled a smart pass in for the unmarked Pandev, who fired in at the near post.
Pazzini had penalty appeals, but the referee correctly booked him as he had been pulling the shirt of Miguel Angel Britos. Boateng went down with an injury and asked to be substituted, but it was M’Baye Niang who came on rather than El Shaarawy.
A magnificent Cavani take on a long ball over the top sent him clear, but Christian Abbiati did just about enough to keep out the chip with his fingertips.
Pandev and Flamini hit long-range efforts at the goalkeepers after the restart, while Abbiati had to smother at Cavani’s feet after sprinting away from Zapata. Riccardo Montolivo’s strike was charged down after a poor clearance and Ignazio Abate put in a crucial tackle to stop Hamsik going clear on goal.
De Sanctis was booked for time-wasting and will be suspended against Cagliari next week. Mazzarri surprisingly replaced both Pandev and Hamsik with Lorenzo Insigne and Pablo Armero.
Flamini was the hero when he scored, but the villain when shown a straight red card for going over the top studs-up on Juan Camilo Zuniga. Cavani fired off target from a promising position and Mazzarri went for the win against 10-man Milan by introducing Emanuele Calaiò.
Cavani blasted a free kick into the wall from just outside the area. Abate hobbled off clutching his ankle in the final minutes. Montolivo’s wayward angled drive was deflected off Pazzini, but not enough to redirect it towards goal.
Abbiati punched an Armero cross just past Cavani and as the move continued Calaio’s header whistled wide in stoppages.
Sent off: Flamini 73 (M)