Milan: Gonzalo Higuain scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season as Napoli outclassed AC Milan 3-1 at the San Paolo to grab their first Serie A win in four games on Saturday.
Napoli succumbed 3-2 to Roma in the first leg of the Italian Cup semi-final in midweek and welcomed an apparently resurgent Milan side hoping to return to winning ways after two successive draws and a 3-0 defeat to Atalanta last week.
However any fears that Milan would cause an upset were dashed by a commanding home performance which left striker Mario Balotelli in tears after he was replaced with 20 minutes remaining.
Milan, unbeaten in three league games since Clarence Seedorf took the helm, stunned the hosts when Moroccan Adel Taarabt scored a fine individual effort seven minutes into his debut.
However a Gokhan Inler shot was deflected into Christian Abbiati's net barely four minutes later and as the Rossoneri failed to fire the hosts turned on the class to see Higuain strike in the 56th and 82nd minutes.
Napoli's 14th win restored their three-point lead over Fiorentina, who beat Atalanta 2-0 earlier, although Rafael Benitez's side are 12 points behind leaders Juventus.
Juventus are away to Verona on Sunday, when Roma, second at nine points but with a game in hand, face Lazio away in the city derby at the Olympic Stadium.
Taarabt described himself as the 'Moroccan Balotelli' and certaintly outshone the Italian version when he intercepted in his own half and curled the ball past Pepe Reina in the seventh minute as the home defence backed off.
Milan's joy lasted only four minutes, Inler's shot taking a deflection off the leg of Nigel De Jong to leave Abbiati rooted in the Milan goal.
Napoli dominated the remainder of the half and should have taken the lead just before the interval when a combination of Abbiati and the post thwarted efforts from Lorenzo Insigne and Cristian Maggio before the former then missed with a header from Dries Mertens' delivery.
Milan forward Robinho was replaced with Kaka, who had been suffering from flu, but the Brazilian magic was missing.
Shots by Hamsik and Insigne sent warnings to Milan and the pressure paid off on 56 minutes when Higuain slipped past Philippe Mexes to head Inler's probing cross past a static Abbiati.
Michael Essien, signed from Chelsea last week, raised hopes for Milan with a long-distance strike which Reina failed to hold before it was cleared.
But Napoli's threat refused to go away. Higuain almost made it 3-1 when he slipped past Mexes inside the area only to miss connecting with Jorginho's inch-perfect delivery.
Seedorf replaced Urby Emanuelson with Montolivo on 70 minutes and almost immediately the visitors threatened.
Balotelli fed Taarabt on the left flank and the Moroccan rode two challenges before hitting a drive that was blocked.
Balotelli was then out of position when he was presented with a half-chance on goal with Reina committed, and when he regained composure the striker's cross for Kaka was off target.
Seedorf replaced Balotelli with Giampaolo Pazzini, who sniffed a half-chance on 75 minutes when Reina pushed out Abate's low cross close to his feet.
Pazzini got even closer when he chested down Montolivo's cross but could only swipe at the ball as Reina came out to block. Balotelli, meanwhile, sat on the bench with tears streaming down his face.
Napoli were a step ahead of the Milan defence when Higuain struck his second of the night and 12th of the season.
Hamsik went unchallenged on the edge of the area and after the Slovakian set up Jose Callejon on the right, the Milan defence failed to react allowing the Spaniard an easy cut-back for Higuain to slot past Abbiati.