Milan did the bare minimum to beat Catania 1-0 with Riccardo Montolivo’s long-range strike for a fourth consecutive win.
The Rossoneri were coming off three straight victories and closing in on the Europa League spots, but missed Keisuke Honda, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy. The Sicilians gave new Coach Maurizio Pellegrino his Serie A debut, having come up from the youth academy to replace Rolando Maran, who was sacked for the second time this season. Relegation seemed unavoidable and they were without Sergio Almiron, Giuseppe Bellusci and the suspended Gino Peruzzi.
Early on Adel Taarabt had an attempt and Pablo Barrientos flashed his shot across the face of goal, but Christian Abbiati was forced to fly in order to palm a Barrientos curler over the far top corner.
Ricky Kaka hit the side-netting, but Milan took the lead with Riccardo Montolivo. A short Balotelli free kick was rolled across to the midfielder, who unleashed a sudden snapshot from 25-30 metres that bounced right in front of Mariano Andujar into the near bottom corner. It was Montolivo’s third goal of the season, two of them past Catania.
Taarabt’s strike swerved off target and a Mario Balotelli free kick skimmed the near top corner. Taarabt flicked the ball around Nicolas Spolli only to see his shot charged down and as the move continued Balotelli’s effort was smothered.
Barrientos again threatened for the Elefantini, as Adil Rami blocked off the finish. After the restart, Daniele Bonera’s cross from the right whipped over the heads of both Poli and Balotelli, then Montolivo’s volley was off target.
Balotelli chipped up a free kick for Philippe Mexes, who had peeled off his marker for an acrobatic scissor-kick that sailed just over the bar.
Abbiati had to sprint off his line to nod the ball away from Lucas Castro, but the goalkeeper had to work much harder when flying to palm a trademark Francesco Lodi free kick out from under the crossbar.
Catania went down to 10 men, as Fabian Rinaudo – who was just returning from a ban – received a second yellow card for a late and high tackle on Mexes.
The Sicilians gave a run-out to Kingsley Boateng, a Milan youth product on loan from the Rossoneri. Taarabt aimed another impressive curler just over the far top corner, but has still not scored a goal at San Siro.
Balotelli also blasted inches off target from the edge of the box, but 10-man Catania also forced a dangerous corner in stoppages with Boateng.
Sent off: Rinaudo 78 (C)