MILAN: Theo Hernandez nodded in a late winner to keep AC Milan top of Serie A heading into the winter break with a 3-2 victory over Lazio on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
Milan are one point ahead of city rivals Inter who earlier extended their winning run to seven games with a 2-1 success over Hellas Verona.
Lazio had come from two goals down thanks to Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile but French defender Hernandez headed in his third goal in as many games in injury time to seal all three points.
Milan shook off the continued absence of injured star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to continue their unbeaten run which goes back to last March as they target a first Serie A title since 2011.
The two Milan clubs have surged ahead of their rivals, with Roma moving up to third, six points behind Inter, after a 3-2 win over Cagliari.
“I’m very proud of these lads,” said coach Stefano Pioli whose side have 34 points in 14 Serie A games, twice as many as at this stage last season.
“They are doing something important. With Ibra on the pitch we are stronger, but we are taking advantage of everyone’s characteristics even without him.
“The fire we have inside is making a difference and we must keep it alight.”
Napoli dropped from third to fifth, two points behind Roma, despite Lorenzo Insigne scoring late to rescue a 1-1 draw at home with rock-bottom Torino.
Reigning champions Juventus are sixth — 10 points adrift of top spot — after crashing to their first Serie A defeat of the season, 3-0 at home against Fiorentina on Tuesday.
“It’ll certainly be a more even league, because many teams have strengthened and want to have their say,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte, as they try to deny Juventus a 10th consecutive Scudetto.
“There are seven teams that can fight for it.”
Sassuolo, boosted by the return of Francesco Caputo, moved up fourth with a 3-2 win over Sampdoria.
In seventh, Atalanta threw away a two-goal advantage after Luis Muriel scored twice within a minute midway through the first half, only to settle for a 2-2 draw at Bologna.
“It’s a terrible result, we had absolute domination of the match and we could never have predicted this ending,” fumed coach Gian Piero Gasperini.
At the San Siro, Ante Rebic headed in the opener for Milan from a Hakan Calhanoglu corner on 10 minutes, with the Turkish midfielder adding a second from the penalty spot seven minutes later.
Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved an Immobile penalty but Luis Alberto headed in the rebound.
But Lazio’s top scorer grabbed the equaliser before the hour mark, finishing off a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic cross for his ninth league goal of the campaign, only for Hernandez to have the final say.
Martinez ends goal drought
In Verona, Inter extended their winning run as they target a first Scudetto since 2010 with their European hopes now over.
Lautaro Martinez broke through in the 52nd minute, connecting with an Achraf Hakimi cross to volley in his sixth goal this season and first since November 8.
On-loan Manchester City midfielder Ivan Ilic pulled the hosts level on 63 minutes after Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic let a Davide Faraoni cross slip, with Milan Skriniar failing to stop the Serb tapping in his first Verona goal.
But Slovak Skriniar made up for his error six minutes later, getting his head to a Marcelo Brozovic cross to beat Verona ‘keeper Marco Silvestri.
Inter equalled their best goalscoring start to a season since 1960/1961, when they also scored 34 goals after 14 games.
“We showed great ruthlessness and determination,” said Conte.
“Now we need to unplug for a few days and then be even readier to go again.”
In Rome, Jordan Veretout scored the opener on 11 minutes, with Edin Dzeko also on target in the second half before Gianluca Mancini’s header proved decisive with 13 minutes remaining.
Joao Pedro scored both Cagliari goals, the second from the penalty spot in injury time.