Milan fought back twice from a goal down to beat Catania 4-2 in a thriller, as Giampaolo Pazzini netted twice to keep them in third.
The Rossoneri needed a victory to recapture third place after Fiorentina’s win earlier this afternoon and welcomed back Mario Balotelli from his two-match ban, but Christian Abbiati and Massimo Ambrosini were sidelined. Catania still had an outside chance of qualifying for Europe, but Mariano Andujar, Giuseppe Bellusci and Nicolas Burdisso were suspended.
There were Milan appeals for a handling offence after two minutes, but the ball ricocheted around to hit Nicola Legrottaglie’s arm, so it was considered involuntary. Serie A debutant Alberto Frison pushed a snapshot into the path of Riccardo Montolivo, but the move was ruined by an offside flag.
Balotelli came sliding in at the back post, just inches away from meeting Kevin-Prince Boateng’s ball across the six yard box. Super Mario drilled wide, then a last-ditch challenge stopped Mathieu Flamini volleying in from close range.
It was Catania who took the lead with their first real chance of the game. Francesco Lodi curled one of his trademark free kicks to find a glancing header from ex-Milan defender Legrottaglie at the back post, leaving Marco Amelia stranded.
Milan fought back and a stunning Boateng strike cracked against the crossbar, then as the move continued Frison parried from Antonio Nocerino at the base of the near post. There was a siege on Frison’s goal with several different shots charged down or beaten away in quick succession.
Balotelli’s fierce free kick was fingertipped over and Boateng nodded a corner off target, while Legrottaglie blocked off a Montolivo effort. Frison had his palms stung by a powerful Balotelli set piece and the pressure eventually paid off.
Boateng chested down an Ignazio Abate cross for Flamini, who volleyed an angled drive into the far bottom corner. It was the Frenchman’s third goal in as many games.
After the restart, Lodi cleared a Boateng header off the line and Frison palmed away an El Shaarawy daisy-cutter. The referee waved away timid penalty appeals for a Legrottaglie push on El Shaarawy, while Frison parried a Montolivo header from a corner at the near post.
Once again, Milan were in control without making an impact and Catania struck to take the lead. Mariano Izco’s slide-rule pass released Gonzalo Bergessio down the left and his cheeky lob beat Amelia into an empty net.
Giampaolo Pazzini came on for Nocerino and knocked down a cross for El Shaarawy to blast wide on the half-volley.
It proved a crucial substitution, as Balotelli’s screamer was beaten away by Frison into the path of Pazzini for a tap-in.
Moments later Milan had turned the game around completely, as this time El Shaarawy tested the goalkeeper and Pazzini was ready to follow it up into an empty net yet again.
It still wasn’t over, as Daniele Bonera lost Bergessio who turned over the bar from point-blank range on a Gomez assist.
In stoppages Balotelli went down in the box and the referee pointed to the spot for Izco’s trip. Super Mario got back up to convert the penalty with a juddering run-up, sending Frison the wrong way.
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