Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed out on reaching 500 goals in his club career as Milan returned to winning ways on Sunday (AEDT), securing a hard-fought 2-1 triumph at Bologna.
Having taken his tally to 499 before getting sent off in the midweek Coppa Italia exit to Inter, Ibrahimovic failed to convert a first-half penalty awarded for a foul on Rafael Leao.
However, Ante Rebic scored from the rebound as the Rossoneri bounced back from successive losses - including last weekend’s 3-0 humbling at home to Atalanta - to remain the pacesetters in the Serie A title race.
Franck Kessie succeeded where Ibrahimovic failed in the second half to double the lead, punishing Adama Soumaoro's handball as he scored from 12 yards.
Yet Milan did not have it all their own way, Andrea Poli converting fellow substitute Andreas Skov Olsen's cut-back cross to finally beat Gianluigi Donnarumma, who had made fine one-on-one saves from Nicola Sansone and Nicolas Dominguez before the break.
Lukasz Skorupski was equally impressive in goal for Bologna, including producing a stunning double save to deny Ibrahimovic twice in a hurry in the 23rd minute.
The Swede was frustrated again by the keeper from the spot, though there was nothing Skorupski could do when Rebic reacted quickly to steer in the rebound for just his second goal of the season.
Bologna's hopes of a comeback were dealt a blow when Soumaoro's jump to cut out a long pass saw the ball strike him on both arms, Kessie punishing the defender as he took over penalty duties.
Poli's finish – slammed high into the net from close range in the 81st minute - set up a tense finish, yet Milan - who set a new club record by scoring for a 20th successive away league game – held on to claim all three points.
What does it mean? Rossoneri steady the ship
Leaders Milan are just the third team to win nine of their first 10 away matches in a Serie A season, while they also extended their unbeaten league record away at Bologna to 15 games.
Stefano Pioli's side were made to work seriously hard for a much-needed triumph after a difficult few days on and off the pitch, though recent arrival Fikayo Tomori fitted in well on his full debut.
Wait goes on for Ibra
Ibrahimovic denied using a racist insult towards Lukaku during their altercation but still could face further punishment over the incident – he was available to play here as his one-match ban counts only in the Coppa Italia.
The talismanic striker will be wondering quite how he did not reach 500 goals, considering the opportunities that came his way.
In it for keepers
Having missed the Inter game through suspension, Donnarumma showed his value to Milan ahead of further contract talks with two superb stops in the opening half.
The Italy international made four saves in total compared to eight by Skorupski, who seemed on a personal mission to keep out Ibrahimovic.
Key Opta Facts:
- Milan have taken the most penalties of any team in the top-five European leagues this season (14).
- They had eight shots on target in a Serie A first half for the first time since October 2010 (vs Parma).
- Ibrahimovic has failed to score three of his six penalties taken in Serie A this term, one more than he has missed over the previous 17 attempted for Milan in the competition.
- Kessie has equalled his best Serie A campaign: seven goals, as in 2018-19, with 15 fewer games played.
- Roberto Soriano played his 200th Serie A game, while it was a 50th appearance in the competition for Theo Hernandez.
Both teams face opposition struggling towards the bottom of the table in the next round of league fixtures. Milan host Crotone at San Siro next weekend, while Bologna travel to Parma.