Who would have thought that Napoli would look this good at the beginning of the season after changing coaches this summer? Rafa Benitez has quieted the skeptics by guiding Napoli to a perfect start to the season, keeping them even with AS Roma at the top of the table. Milan, on the other hand, are looking almost the same as they did last season, having taken just four points from four matches. Massimiliano Allegri has a host of problems to resolve to guide Milan to Champions League football next season -- and, perhaps, to keep his job.
However, Milan didn't play badly on Sunday night. The rossoneri had plenty of chances and likely deserved a point, but Napoli's win just proved how much they deserve to be taken seriously as scudetto challengers.
Right from the start, Napoli showed they did not come to San Siro to defend. They pressured Allegri's side right from the start, and their chances came one after another. There were two great goal opportunities in the first five minutes, but Gonzalo Higuain's shot was stopped by Christian Abbiati, while Valon Behrami's run from midfield ended with the ball sailing over the bar. However, the visitors continued to press, and were rewarded in the sixth minute, with the goal coming from an unlikely source. Raul Albiol headed the ball on to his colleague from central defense, Miguel Britos, who was inexplicably left all alone by Milan's defense. Possibly because the Uruguayan handn't scored since February 2012.
Napoli continued to dominate the game. Higuain and Jose Callejon had a beautiful one-two, but Milan's defense was awake this time and took the ball before the Spaniard could endanger Abbiati's goal. The rossoneri got into the game little by little, mostly thanks to the fantastic Mario Balotelli. The problem is, with so many key players injured, Milan are overly reliant on Supermario, and, as proven in this match, he cannot always win matches on his own.
As the game progressed, Milan took control. The rossoneri had a fair amount of chances, mainly through Balotelli. But, as good as Balotelli was for Milan, Pepe Reina was at least as good between the sticks for Napoli, and he would later prove a key man in the historic win.
The second half brought brought much of the same as Milan continued to pressure, notching 22 shots; 12 of those from Balotelli. Milan's pressure resulted in more than a few misplaced passes from the visitors, who appeared a bit worn down after their midweek heroics. But just one good move was enough to score the second goal. Higuain took the ball down the left side, cut inside, and sent in a shot from outside the area. The cracks in Milan's defense showed through, with no rossoneri player able to get close enough to close down Pepita before he scored.
Milan refused to give up, however. They continued pressing and this time it was Napoli that cracked. Albiol fouled Balotelli inside the area and the ref pointed to the spot. It was only natural to assume that, after 21 straight penalties converted, Supermario would sink this one. But Reina had done his homework, standing tall between the sticks and waiting for Balotelli to make his move before diving, sticking out an arm to save the shot and rescue Napoli.
The home side continued to attack, but couldn't get anything past Reina -- at least, not until injury time. Balotelli put in a swerving shot that landed in the top corner, but it was too late: Napoli had conquered the San Siro for the first time since arriving with the great Diego Maradona in 1986. Is that a sign that this Hamsik and Co. can once more bring the scudetto to Naples, for the first time since Maradona?
AC Milan: Abbiati; Abate (Nocerino 79'), Zapata, Mexes, Emanuelson; Poli (Niang 73'), De Jong, Muntari; Birsa (Robinho 59'); Matri, Balotelli
Goals: Balotelli (90')
Red cards: Balotelli (93')
Napoli: Reina; Mesto, Albiol, Britos, Zuniga; Behrami, Dzemaili; Callejon, Hamsik (Pandev 68'), Insigne (Inler 84'); Higuain (Mertens 78')
Goals: Britos (6'), Higuain (54')