AC Milan warmed up for a midweek showdown with Juventus by beating Benevento 2-0 on Sunday despite playing most of the match with 10 men, to remain unbeaten atop Serie A.
Rafael Leão all but secured the victory for Milan with a stunning strike shortly after halftime. A Franck Kessié penalty had given Milan an early lead before Rossoneri midfielder Sandro Tonali was sent off in the 34th minute for a dangerous tackle.
Benevento, which is led by former Milan star player and coach Filippo Inzaghi, missed a penalty.
Milan remained the only unbeaten team across Europe’s top five leagues. Stefano Pioli’s side is one point above Inter Milan, which won 6-2 at Crotone thanks to a Lautaro Martínez hat trick.
The Rossoneri face arguably their biggest test so far of the season when they host nine-time defending champion Juventus on Wednesday.
“It’s not decisive, it will just be a nice game between teams who are playing well,” Pioli said. “I’m still convinced that Juventus, Inter and Napoli are the strongest teams in the league.
“We have to look at our position in April, if it’s still the same then we can have other discussions.”
All 20 Serie A teams were in action on Sunday as the Italian league resumed after the winter break.
Milan was still without injured forward Zlatan Ibrahimović and also had several other players sidelined.
It was gifted the opener in the 15th after Benevento defender Alessandro Tuia fouled Ante Rebić and Kessié converted the resulting penalty.
Roberto Insigne hit the post for Benevento and Milan’s chances of moving back top appeared to diminish when Tonali was shown a red card for a challenge on Artur Ioniță.
Benevento poured forward with wave after wave of attack, keeping Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma busy.
But it was 10-man Milan which scored next, four minutes after the break, when Leão curled into the far side of the net from outside the area on the left flank.
Benevento had a chance to get back into the match on the hour but Gianluca Caprari fired wide after a Rade Krunić lunge on Pasquale Schiattarella.
But Milan could also have extended its lead as Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Kessié hit the woodwork.
HAT TRICK HERO
Inter had ended last year on a streak of seven successive league victories but was surprised when Niccolò Zanellato headed Crotone into the lead in the 12th minute.
Martínez equalized in the 20th and thought he had another 11 minutes later but Luca Marrone got the last touch on Nicolò Barella’s ball across the box.
Vladimir Golemić leveled shortly after from the spot following Arturo Vidal’s foul on Arkadiusz Reca.
Vidal had also been at fault for Crotone’s opener and he was taken off at halftime.
Inter often performs better in the second half and so it proved again as Martínez restored his team’s lead in the 57th with a powerful shot into the top left corner.
Romelu Lukaku had played a part in the buildup and the former Manchester United forward marked his 50th Serie A appearance with a goal of his own seven minutes later, turning and holding off Sebastiano Luperto to fire in Alessandro Bastoni’s long ball over the top.
Martínez completed his hat trick in the 78th, heading in the rebound from close range after Crotone goalkeeper Alex Cordaz had saved Ivan Perišić’s strike. Achraf Hakimi capped a fine day for Inter three minutes from time.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals and set up another for Federico Chiesa as Juventus beat Udinese 4-1.
Paulo Dybala netted in stoppage time shortly after Marvin Zeegelaar had grabbed a consolation for Udinese.
Juventus moved to fifth, 10 points behind Milan, having played a match less than most of the teams around it.
Duván Zapata scored twice as Atalanta beat Sassuolo 5-1 to close in on its opponent in the battle for the top four.
Roma beat Sampdoria 1-0 to remain third, seven points behind Milan.
At the other end of the table, Torino moved off the bottom spot and out of the relegation zone with a 3-0 win at Parma.
Spezia slipped into the bottom three after losing 1-0 at home to Hellas Verona. Genoa, the other team in the relegation zone, managed to draw 1-1 against Lazio.
Fiorentina drew 0-0 against Bologna.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports