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MILAN, Feb 11 (Reuters) - A first-half goal from Theo Hernandez was enough to seal a 1-0 victory for AC Milan over visiting champions Napoli on Sunday, helping Stefano Pioli's side remain unbeaten in Serie A since the turn of the year.
The France defender controlled a brilliant pass from Rafael Leao on the edge of the box and sent it low past Napoli goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini to give Milan the lead in the 25th minute.
Milan, third in the standings on 52 points, extended their unbeaten league run to nine games, including seven wins.
They are eight points behind leaders Inter Milan and one adrift of Juventus in second, who both have a game in hand.
"We worked very well in the first half, then in the second we lost some distance, but we couldn't imagine not conceding anything to Napoli, who have a lot of quality," Pioli told a press conference.
Walter Mazzarri's side, ninth on 35 points, travelled to Milan without striker Victor Osimhen, who at the same time played with Nigeria against Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
Pioli, meanwhile, had to make an early change when defender Davide Calabria was forced off with an adductor problem, the coach confirmed after the game, and Alessandro Florenzi came on for the Milan captain in the 37th minute.
With Italy manager Luciano Spalletti watching from the stands, Napoli had an early chance when Khvicha Kvaratskhelia squared the ball to forward Giovanni Simeone inside the box but the Argentine knocked it wide with his first touch.
But Milan were the better team and, after Hernandez netted the opener, Leao could have doubled their lead three minutes later with a shot from distance, which forced Gollini into a save.
Napoli, who did not have a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes, showed more intent after the break but substitute Matteo Politano narrowly missed the target when he fired from outside the box on the hour mark.
They had another opportunity one minute from fulltime when Napoli midfielder Jesper Lindstrom sent in a cross which came off Milan defender Jan-Carlo Simic and hit the post, narrowly avoiding an own goal.
Napoli have not scored a single goal in their last five away games in the league, their longest such streak since 1979 (a run of six).
They next host 12th-placed Genoa on Saturday.
Milan, who on Thursday host Stade Rennais in the Europa League, travel to Monza in the league on Feb. 18.
Earlier on Sunday, Fiorentina hammered Frosinone 5-1 at home for their first win in five Serie A games.
Fifth-placed Bologna beat Lecce 4-0 and Atalanta, in fourth, won 4-1 at Genoa in the day's other matches.
(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Gdansk Editing by Christian Radnedge)
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