Napoli’s mentality got them past AC Milan: Can Spalletti’s side hold onto top spot?

Winning away at AC Milan allowed Napoli to send a real signal of intent on Sunday, and now they'll spend the international break at the top of Serie A.

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STADIO SAN SIRO (MILAN): AC Milan fell to their first seasonal defeat against a brilliant Napoli side on Sunday night, as the Partenopei won 2-1 at the San Siro. Napoli, whose brave and stubborn display has earned them a two-week (at least) stay at the top of the Serie A table, joint with Atalanta, as the fixtures will resume on October 1 after the international break.

The game showcased everything that one could have expected from the two Italian sides who have been impressing the most during the early stages of this season, as it looked like the contest could have gone one or the other way until the closing minutes, although it was Luciano Spalletti’s side to eventually snatch a 2-1 win.

Milan and Napoli had started the night from an almost identical position – level on 14 points, just three behind Serie A leaders Atalanta, they were both coming off a convincing European night and were hoping to build further momentum by defeating a high-profile opponent.

AC Milan shone even in Leao’s absence

There was fear that the absence of Rafael Leao and Victor Osimhen, the two sides main offensive threat respectively, could take some spice off the clash, but both teams took little to show it wasn’t the case.

The Rossoneri proved the better side in the first half, showing they knew well how to make up for Leao’s missing runs down the left flank. 

Playing their trademark intense football, they heavily relied on Olivier Giroud’s abilities to make their way up to the pitch, as the Frenchman was repeatedly tasked with shielding the ball and combining with their teammates, a game plan which seemed to work and earned Milan at least two clear scoring opportunities in the first half.

Napoli showed mental strength

Giovanni Simeone celebrates scoring Napoli’s winner away at AC Milan. REUTERS/Daniele Mascolo

On the other hand, the Partenopei showed the importance of keeping a lucid mind while waiting for the right moment to strike – the opening 45 minutes saw them struggle to cope with the hosts’ pressure for long periods and they had to thank Alex Meret for not conceding.

However, they never gave the impression to be the weaker team and, instead, ended up matching their opponents’ level in the second half, when Stanislav Lobotka took the spotlight and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia once again proved lethal by winning the penalty which led to Matteo Politano’s opener.

However, much more than the individual displays, it was the whole team’s composure, even following Giroud’s equaliser, to impress and give the idea of a rock-solid mentality that can hardly be affected by outside events.

In fact, putting an end to the Italian champions’ 22-game unbeaten streak in Serie A is definitely a statement of intent, but Luciano Spalletti’s will now have to follow up on such a performance in order to prove their title credentials won’t be spoiled by a tragic dip in form in the second term, as has already happened in the past.

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