AC Milan extended their unbeaten streak to 10 matches and strengthened their Champions League qualification prospects with a 2-1 win at Chievo on Saturday.
Lucas Biglia marked his first Serie A start since October with a brilliant first-half free-kick before the prolific Krzysztof Piatek struck the winner after the interval.
Perparim Hetemaj broke Chievo's month-long goal drought in between those strikes but the top-flight strugglers were unable to deny the Rossoneri a four-point lead over fourth-placed Inter ahead of next weekend's Derby della Madonnina.
Gennaro Gattuso's dismissal from the touchline proved the only other setback for the visitors, his side now sitting a comfortable seven points inside the top four.
Milan got on top early and opened the scoring in supreme style in the 31st minute, midfielder Biglia curling an excellent free-kick into the top-left corner.
It was not all plain sailing, though, with Gattuso sent to the stands after taking issue with a tackle on Lucas Paqueta.
His mood would only have worsened when Hetemaj headed Chievo level from Mehdi Leris' cross four minutes before half-time.
12/15 – Lucas #Biglia has scored 12 of his 15 Serie A goals from set-pieces situations (7 penalties, 3 direct free kick shots, 1 from corner and 1 from indirect free kick situation). Solver. #ChievoMilan pic.twitter.com/e9AnJebErG— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 9, 2019
Nerves creeped into Milan's play and they needed Gianluigi Donnarumma to prevent Hetemaj's left-sided delivery from creeping inside the right post.
Piatek eased the concern in the 57th minute, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances.
Samu Castillejo's header fell kindly for the striker to poke home the decisive goal following a goalmouth scramble, during which he looked to have made contact with a defender while attempting an overhead kick.
Franck Kessie and Alessio Romagnoli might have extended the margin later in proceedings, but Milan did enough to wrap up the victory.
What does it mean? Milan continue Champions League charge
This looks increasingly like the season that the Rossoneri finally seal their return to Europe's top table.
Milan are ensconced inside the top four with 11 matches to play and enter the Milan derby with welcome optimism, in contrast to the dread of recent seasons.
Biglia back with a bang
He dictated play from the middle of the pitch, but Biglia's most memorable contribution to the match was undoubtedly that stunning free-kick, his first goal since February 2018.
The Argentine certainly looks to be over the calf injury that has restricted his involvement until now.
Wayward Kessie must find shooting boots
Milan's task would have been much easier had Kessie converted either of his two good opportunities.
He prodded one wide from inside the box with the deadlock yet to be broken and scuffed another in the second half, when the away side were seeking to make the points safe.
Key Opta Facts
- AC Milan have won five Serie A games in a row for the first time since March 2018.
- Chievo have lost four of their last five Serie A games (D1), scoring only one goal and conceding nine.
- Milan have won all their last six games against Chievo in Serie A, but conceding at least a goal in each of these matches.
- Milan's Krzysztof Piatek has scored in seven of the 10 stadiums where he has played in Serie A.
- Piatek has found the net in each of his three away games in Serie A for Milan (v Roma, Atalanta and Chievo).
Milan take on city rivals Inter in the Derby della Madonnina next Sunday, while Chievo's next assignment is a trip to Atalanta.