Clarence Seedorf and Alexandre Pato fire Milan clear of Napoli at the top of Serie A, but Ibrahimovic was given his marching orders again...
Milan went one step closer to their first Serie A title in seven years with a 2-1 away victory over Fiorentina on Sunday night.
Clarence Seedorf and Alexandre Pato netted first-half strikes to re-establish the Rossoneri’s three-point lead over title rivals Napoli, who temporarily drew level on points at the top after winning 2-0 at mid-table Bologna earlier in the day.
Milan looked menacing from the word go, and Seedorf served an early warning when he broke into the box and fired off a powerful left-footed drive which Artur Boruc did well to beat away.
However, there was absolutely nothing the Polish shot-stopper could do when in the eighth minute, Seedorf fastened onto Pato’s neat cushion header and lashed an unstoppable effort over him into the top left-hand corner to open the scoring.
Three minutes later, Seedorf looked to have returned the favour when he slid Pato in on goal with an intelligent slide-rule pass, but the diminutive Brazilian didn’t quite manage to angle the ball wide enough and Boruc dropped to his left to push the effort wide of goal.
The visitors were in complete control for the vast majority of the first half, but la Viola did have a five-minute spell between the 15th and 20th minutes in which they threatened to equalise.
Former Milan player Marco Donadel met a weak headed clearance with an equally weak volley which trundled through to Christian Abbiati in the Rossoneri goal.
Adem Ljajic, however, gave the Milan custodian a much sterner test in the 19th minute. The young Serb cut in off the left wing and unleashed a venomous low drive that Abbiati did superbly well to reach and force wide from right at the base of his post.
The spell of Fiorentina control proved to be a short-lived and Milan soon took up where they’d left off in the early stages.
In the 29th minute, Gianluca Zambrotta went close when he strode on to an intelligently worked corner and sent a first-time effort arrowing towards goal, but Boruc arched back and impressively flipped the ball over for a corner.
Milan were not content with a 1-0 lead and continued to surge forward in search of a two-goal half-time cushion. And a deserved second goal duly arrived four minutes before the interval. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin-Prince Boateng worked a neat exchange before the German-born Ghanaian international squared for Pato to slam home from six yards.
Fiorentina coach Sinisa Mihajlovic was understandably unsatisfied by the first 45 minutes and made a change at the break to try and inject a bit of life into his side, replacing Ljajic with Khouma Babacar.
The move almost paid instant dividends when he burst forward after collecting a loose ball that had broken to him when Riccardo Montolivo expertly dispossessed Ibrahimovic.
Yet, despite showing impressive blistering pace, the 18-year-old’s obvious lack of experience was explosed when, rather than pass to Alberto Gilardino who was unmarked and in a great position to his left, he elected to shoot – and disappointingly dragged his shot well wide.
The poor finishing was not restricted to the young and inexperienced, though, as Ibrahomivic passed up two glorious, and almost identical, chances in quick succession.
In the 52nd minute, he raced clear one-on-one with Boruc and with time to measure his finish, but placed wide of the upright. And then, just 100 seconds later, he worked a crisp one-two with Pato but stroked the ball wide of the same post in an uncannily similar manner.
Up until the 78th minute, Milan had been on cruise control, with the points seemingly in the bag. But it was then that Juan Vargas latched onto a rebound after Abbiati had parried a Montolivo piledriver, and the Peruvian fired off a shot which deflected into the net off Gennaro Gattuso’s chest.
Although the league-leaders faced a couple of late scares, including a Vargas cross-cum-shot which fizzed wide of the upright, they held on for an important three points. There was a blemish in the win, however, as Ibrahimovic, who had just returned from suspension, was sent off with a straight red card for dissent.
Next weekend, Milan continue their Scudetto assault by hosting strugglers Sampdoria in a Saturday evening fixture.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, will need to see a huge improvement in their performance if they are to take all three points when great rivals Juventus visit the Artemio Franchi on Sunday afternoon.