MILAN (AP) — Olivier Giroud is proving to be the difference for AC Milan this year as the veteran forward again scored against one of its direct rivals to help the Rossoneri win 1-0 at Napoli on Sunday and keep them on course to win a first Serie A title for more than a decade.
Giroud scored the only goal of an intense but cagey match to send Milan back to the top of the Italian league.
Milan, which last won the league in 2011, is two points ahead of defending champion Inter Milan — which has played a match less — and three ahead of Napoli in third.
The 35-year-old Giroud, who joined from Chelsea in the offseason, also scored both goals in a 2-1 win at Inter last month.
“We wanted to bring in players of substance, players who had already won something, players who knew what it meant to work hard to win,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “It just took a video call with Olivier for us all to realize what a great professional, what a great person we had in front of us.
“It’s important to have players with experience, professionalism and personality, especially seeing as we are still a young squad. Our aim was to insert players of a high level: technically, tactically and morally. Olivier is all of that.”
Juventus is seven points behind Milan and kept its slim title hopes alive by beating Spezia 1-0.
Talk before the match centered around the return of the 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimović, who was available for Milan for the first time since January following an Achilles problem.
But instead it was another veteran who took center stage. Following a first half that was high on entertainment but low on scoring chances, Giroud broke the deadlock four minutes after the restart.
Napoli failed to clear a free kick and although Davide Calabria’s shot was woeful, Giroud did well to deflect it into the bottom left corner.
It was Giroud’s 11th goal for Milan but his first away from San Siro.
Napoli almost immediately equalized but Victor Osimhen’s fierce strike was straight at Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan.
Ibrahimović was brought on in the final minute.
Juventus stretched its unbeaten run in the league to 14 games despite an injury crisis that saw Massimiliano Allegri’s team start the match in Turin without nine regular players.
Juventus moved six points above fifth-place Atalanta, which has played a match less.
Álvaro Morata scored the only goal of the game in the 21st minute following an error by Spezia goalkeeper Ivan Provedel. His terrible kick was intercepted in midfield and played through to Manuel Locatelli, who rolled it across to Morata in a great position on the left side of the area. The Juventus forward drilled the ball into the bottom far corner for his first league goal since December.
Spezia started the second half more aggressively and almost leveled but Emmanuel Gyasi’s header was straight at Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny, who gathered it on the line.
Fiorentina was made to rue several missed opportunities as it was held to a 1-1 draw at home to Hellas Verona.
Only two points separated the two teams, which were both desperate for a win to close in on the European places.
Krzysztof Piątek fired Fiorentina ahead in the 10th minute but Gianluca Caprari equalized from the penalty spot 10 minutes later.
At the other end of the table, Genoa recorded its sixth successive draw as it continues to try to inch its way toward safety.
Genoa drew 0-0 against Empoli to move within seven points of safety. Venezia also remained in the bottom three as it lost 4-1 at home to Sassuolo. Torino drew 0-0 at Bologna.