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Milan squeeze past Empoli to move five points clear

ROME (AFP) – AC Milan will stay top of Serie A this weekend after Saturday’s tight 1-0 win over Empoli moved them five points clear of the chasing pack.

Pierre Kalulu struck the classy winner 18 minutes in at the San Siro when a free-kick fell to him just outside the area, the French defender’s first goal of the season keeping Milan’s local rivals Inter at bay.

Inter, who have a game in hand, were at Torino yesterday while Napoli are a further point back in third ahead of a tricky trip to Verona.

“The table has a nice look to it, but it’s virtual, because there are games in hand involved,” said Milan coach Stefano Pioli.

“We did well this evening, controlled the game and didn’t run many risks.”

Milan have had trouble with Serie A’s lesser lights in recent weeks and Saturday’s win was far from straightforward, with promoted Empoli causing problems for the hosts in the second half.

Aurelio Andreazzoli’s team, who sit 13th, are without a win since mid-December but went close twice in a matter of seconds shortly after the break.

First Sebastiano Luperto forced a superb save from Mike Maignan when he got a head to Filippo Bandinelli’s inswinging cross five minutes after the restart.

Then France international goalkeeper Maignan had to be at his best to keep Nedim Bajrami’s subsequent corner from going straight in before pouncing on the ball on the rebound.

However Milan held on for a precious win to make sure that they will hold top spot, at least for another week.

Alvaro Morata ensured Juventus extended their unbeaten run to 15 matches with a brace in a 3-1 win at Sampdoria to further strengthen their position in the top four as they moved just one point behind Napoli.

Morata put Juve two goals ahead from the penalty spot before rounding off the scoring two minutes from the end to send Juve into their Champions League decider with Villarreal in
confident mood.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side host La Liga outfit Villarreal in Turin on Wednesday in the second leg of a last 16 tie level at 1-1.

The visitors could thank Samp’s Japanese international Maya Yoshida for their first goal after the defender inadvertently bundled in a Juan Cuadrado cross in the 23rd minute, before Morata converted his spot-kick 11 minutes later.

Abdelhamid Sabiri pulled one back for Samp with six minutes to go with a deflected free-kick but shortly afterwards Morata headed in his fifth league goal of the season from a Manuel Locatelli cross.

Morata’s second sealed a win which showed Juve are not out of the title race yet, pulling to within four points of Milan before they beat Empoli.

The Spaniard is on loan from Atletico Madrid and his future in Turin after this campaign is unsure.

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