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Rafael Leão’s early strike moves AC Milan top of Serie A

Milan's Rafael Leao, right, reacts with Alessandro Florenzi and teammates Mike Maignan, background left and Davide Calabria, left, after scoring his side's winning goal during the Italian Series A soccer match between Milan and Sampdoria, at the San Siro Stadium, in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. (LaPresse via AP)
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MILAN, Italy (AP) — AC Milan surged to the top of Serie A with a 1-0 victory over Sampdoria on Sunday.

After beating its city rival 2-1 in the previous round of games last weekend, Milan was third in the table, trailing by two points leader Inter Milan, which was held to a 1-1 draw at second-place Napoli on Saturday.

AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan set up the winning goal for Rafael Leão in the eighth minute. The France international sent a long kick from outside his penalty area to feed Leão who controlled the ball on the left flank before moving past defender Bartosz Bereszyński to beat Sampdoria goalkeeper Wladimiro Facone.

It was the 10th goal of the season for the Portugal forward in his 100th appearance for the Rossoneri,

Striker Olivier Giroud, who scored both goals in the game against Inter, had his second-half header from close range fingertipped over by Facone.

AC Milan tops the table with 55 points, one clear of Inter in second with Napoli another point back. Inter still has a game in hand.

Milan’s three wins in a week, including a 4-0 trashing of Lazio in the Coppa Italia, pleased coach Stefano Pioli.

“It has been the perfect week. There were very difficult and delicate games coming up a week ago, so winning all three is certainly a great sign,” Pioli told Sky Sport Italia. “We know there’s a long path ahead of us, but we want to keep it going.”

Fabio Depaoli, Antonin Barak, Gianluca Caprari and Adrien Tameze all scored to lead Verona to a 4-0 rout of Udinese and cement its mid-table ninth position.

Substitute Leonardo Pavoletti scored late to salvage an away draw for Cagliari at Empoli. It was another unexpected result away from home for the 18th-placed Cagliari team, which stunned Atalanta 2-1 in Bergamo a week ago.

In a match between the two bottom clubs, Genoa and Salernitana drew 1-1.

Later on Sunday, fifth-place Atalanta hosts fourth-place Juventus while Roma in seventh needs points from its game against Sassuolo to stay in contention for a European spot.