AC Milan bounced back from its first Serie A loss by beating relegation-threatened Torino 2-0 and extending its lead in the standings on Saturday.

Milan, which is bidding for a first league title in a decade, was firmly in control at halftime following a Rafael Leão strike and a Franck Kessié penalty.

Stefano Pioli’s side moved four points ahead of city rival Inter Milan, which faces a potentially challenging visit to third-placed Roma on Sunday.

“I expected this response, because the players are young but strong and knowledgeable,” Pioli said. “We had a very high-level first half, then we controlled the match but also suffered a little bit, but that’s normal.

“Now we will watch Roma-Inter for the pleasure of doing so, because they are two teams which play very well. But it is not the time to look at the table.”

Milan hosts Torino again on Tuesday, in the Italian Cup.

Defeat to Juventus midweek was Milan’s first in Serie A since March and the Rossoneri were still without several injured players including Zlatan Ibrahimović — although the forward was sent in for the final few minutes.

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Milan led from the 25th minute when Theo Hernández surged forward from midfield and found Brahim Díaz, who sent a through ball in for Leão to prod into the bottom right corner.

Díaz won a penalty 10 minutes later when he was tripped by Andrea Belotti and Kessié converted.

Torino defender Ricardo Rodríguez almost scored against his former club but his free kick came off the crossbar.

Torino also thought it had a penalty early in the second half when midfielder Sandro Tonali appeared to foul Simone Verdi but the referee changed his mind after viewing the incident on the pitchside monitor. Tonali was injured in that incident and taken off on a stretcher.

SUPER ILICIC

Josip Iličić appears to be back to his best after inspiring Atalanta to a 4-1 win at Benevento.

Iličić scored Atalanta’s opener, hit the post and had a hand in another two goals — for Rafael Tolói and Duván Zapata — after Marco Sau’s equalizer. Luis Muriel netted a spectacular fourth for Atalanta.

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Personal problems caused Iličić to miss several months last year.

Atalanta moved into fourth spot, nine points behind Milan. Benevento remained 10th.

Atalanta has made a great start to 2021, having scored eight goals in its two matches and conceded just one.

Iličić put on a masterclass at Benevento and he set up a couple of chances before opening the scoring in the 30th minute. The Slovenia midfielder gathered the ball on the right and cut inside, dribbling past three defenders before firing into the bottom near corner.

Shortly before halftime he sent a free kick crashing off the left post.

Benevento leveled five minutes after the break as halftime substitute Christian Pastina, who was making his Serie A debut, lifted a ball over the top for Sau to slide in at the back post.

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Atalanta all but secured the win with two quickfire goals provided by Iličić. In the 69th, Iličić burst into the box following a quick one-two and although his effort was parried by Lorenzo Montipò, Tolói turned in the rebound. Two minutes later, a counterattack down the right saw Iličić cross in for Zapata to volley into the bottom left corner.

Muriel was sent on shortly after and he curled a fantastic strike into the top right corner for his sixth goal in five matches.

BALLARDINI BESTS BOLOGNA

Genoa moved out of the relegation zone after beating Bologna 2-0. Midfielder Miha Zajc and Mattia Destro scored.

Genoa moved two points above 18th-placed Torino. New coach Davide Ballardini has won two of his four matches in charge.

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