ROME – Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one goal and set up another as AC Milan comfortably beat Cagliari 3-0 Sunday to move back within one point of Juventus, as the Italian league title race develops into a two-team affair.
Ibrahimovic scored his league-leading 15th goal with a splendid free kick in the 32nd minute at the San Siro, then used a chest control to set up a score from midfielder Antonio Nocerino in the 39th. Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini sealed the victory with his first goal of the season in the 75th.
“After Ibrahimovic’s goal it was all downhill,” said Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri, who now has four wins in four matches against his former club, Cagliari.
Earlier, Milan’s city rival Inter had its seven-match winning streak in Serie A broken with a 1-0 loss at Lecce, which also allowed Lazio to jump ahead of the Nerazzurri into fourth place.
Uruguayan midfielder Guillermo Giacomazzi scored in the 40th for Lecce and Inter had two goals called back for offside.
Lazio won 3-0 at Chievo Verona with a first-half goal from Brazilian playmaker Hernanes and two strikes in the final minutes from veteran Germany striker Miroslav Klose.
Juventus, which edged Udinese 2-1 Saturday, leads with 44 points and Milan is next with 43.
“From what we’ve seen to this point, we and Juve deserve to be where we are, but there’s still a long way to go,” Ambrosini said.
Udinese, which is third with 38 points, Lazio (36) and Inter (35) appear destined to battle it out for third place and the final Champions League berth.
“Our goal is to finish in the Champions League places. We had a great run and now comes the beautiful and the difficult because I’ve got to insert two players like (Diego) Forlan and (Wesley) Sneijder,” Inter manager Claudio Ranieri said, referring to two players returning from injury.
Sneijder played only the first half, while Forlan is still to return from a series of physical problems.
Elsewhere, Roma drew 1-1 at home with Bologna to stay sixth. Roma’s 21-year-old midfielder Miralem Pjanic equalized with a superb free kick in the 62nd minute after Bologna captain Marco Di Vaio had scored six minutes earlier.
Also, Genoa beat Napoli 3-2 with two goals from Rodrigo Palacio and one from newly signed Alberto Gilardino to get some revenge for a 6-1 loss to Napoli last month that cost Alberto Malesani his job.
In Sicily, Palermo beat last-place Novara 2-0, with Fabrizio Miccoli setting up two headers from Igor Budan; and Atalanta hung on with 10 men for a 1-0 win at Cesena following an own goal from Marco Rossi.
In the lunchtime fixture, Fiorentina moved into the top half of the table with a 2-1 win over Siena in a Tuscan derby.
Stevan Jovetic put Fiorentina in front with a low shot four minutes in and Cesare Natali doubled the lead with a header in the 63rd before Emanuele Calaio pulled one back for Siena with a penalty in the 88th.
Milan’s title credentials were called into question with a derby loss to Inter two weeks ago, but the Rossoneri have quickly regrouped and controlled from start to finish against Cagliari.
After curling in a free kick from 25 metres (yards) into the top left corner, Ibrahimovic then set up Milan’s second goal by using his chest to control a long forward pass from centre back Philippe Mexes and directing the ball toward Nocerino, who found the target from the edge of the area.
It was Nocerino’s seventh goal of the season, setting a club record for a central midfielder and giving Milan more than it expected when it acquired the Italy international on the final day of the preseason transfer window from Palermo for the relatively low fee of €500,000.
Nocerino had another chance in the 55th but Cagliari goalkeeper Michael Agazzi made a difficult save on his shot from beyond the area.
Ambrosini replaced Clarence Seedorf in the 67th and scored eight minutes later with the outside of his foot after taking a pass from Urby Emanuelson.
Amid speculation that he may leave Milan before the transfer window closes Tuesday, veteran striker Filippo Inzaghi replaced Ibrahimovic for the final six minutes.
Newly signed Milan forward Maxi Lopez was on the bench but did not play.
At Lecce’s Via del Mare stadium, Inter was one win away from matching the club-record winning streak, but for the second consecutive match — including a 2-0 midweek loss to Napoli in the Italian Cup — Ranieri’s side failed to meet expectations.
Massimo Oddo, a member of Italy’s winning 2006 World Cup side, provided the pass for Giacomazzi, who used his chest to control the ball, then slotted a low shot past Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar as defenders Lucio and Walter Samuel failed to intervene.
Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito then had goals annulled for offside in the 51st and 71st, respectively. Lecce goalkeeper Massimiliano Benassi preserved the victory with a diving save on Giampaolo Pazzini in the 90th and Julio Cesar prevented it from becoming a 2-0 loss with a difficult save on David Di Michele seconds later.
“We came up against a goalkeeper in great form, while we continually grew more nervous,” Ranieri said.
It was Lecce’s first home win of the season and only its fourth overall.
In Verona, Hernanes put Lazio in front with a close-range effort in the 20th and Klose found the target in the 88th and 89th for his 11th and 12th scores this season.
First, Klose dribbled by two defenders inside the area and used the outside of his foot to push the ball past Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino, then he found the target with a low shot from beyond the area.