Balotelli shines as Milan win 5th straight

Mario Balotelli set a personal record with his 14th goal of the Serie A season and also set up another. (Antonio Calanni/AP)

ROME — Mario Balotelli set a personal record with his 14th goal of the Serie A season and set up another score as AC Milan beat visiting Livorno 3-0 Saturday for its fifth straight win.

Still, Milan remained five points behind city rival Inter Milan in the race for fifth place and the final Europa League berth, after Inter beat 10-man Parma 2-0.

Meanwhile, Paul Pogba led the way as Juventus stayed on course for a third consecutive title with a 1-0 win over relegation-threatened Bologna.

Pogba, the France international and former Manchester United midfielder, scored with a long, low shot from beyond the area in the 64th minute.

Juve remained eight points ahead of second-place Roma, which won 1-0 at fourth-place Fiorentina with a 26th-minute goal from Radja Nainggolan. Former Fiorentina forward Adem Ljajic set up the goal by evading a bunch of defenders and slipping the ball through to Nainggolan.

With 90 points and four matches remaining, Juventus has a chance to become the first Serie A club to break the 100-point barrier. Inter set the record of 97 in 2007.

Serie A began awarding three points for wins in the 1994-95 season and the current 20-club format was instituted in 2003-04.

Roma secured second place and a direct Champions League berth.

At the San Siro, Balotelli scored with a textbook header from the centre of the area in the 43rd following a cross from Kevin Constant.

Midfielder Adel Taarabt doubled Milan’s lead in the 51st after dribbling past a defender, and substitute Giampaolo Pazzini finished off in the 84th after taking a pass from Balotelli that left him with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Balotelli’s previous best output was 13 goals, with Manchester City in 2011-12, and City and Milan combined last season.

"He’s improving and maturing mentally and that permits him to do better on and off the pitch," new Milan coach Clarence Seedorf said.

It was also Balotelli’s 18th goal in all competitions this season, another personal record, which should give the striker confidence entering the World Cup as Italy’s leader in attack.

"I’m happy to have reached the record but I have to improve, because there are players that score 40 in a season," said Balotelli, who did not celebrate after his goal.

The win was also a relief for Seedorf, amid reports his job was at risk.

"I didn’t know anything about that," Balotelli said. "The coach has given a big hand to the squad. … But this is still nothing. It’s just a great result. We’re playing to qualify for the Europa League."

After the loss, relegation-threatened Livorno fired Domenico Di Carlo and rehired Davide Nicola as manager.

Elsewhere, third-place Napoli was held to 1-1 at Udinese, while Torino and Lazio remained level eighth after a wild 3-3 draw that saw Ciro Immobile score his league-leading 20th goal.

Also, it was: Atalanta 1, Hellas Verona 2; Catania 2, Sampdoria 1; Chievo Verona 0, Sassuolo 1; and Genoa 1, Cagliari 2.

In Parma, Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic stopped a penalty from Antonio Cassano by tipping it off the post in the 44th. The hosts were then reduced to 10 men when Italy international Gabriel Paletta picked up his second yellow card in first half added time for a foul on Rodrigo Palacio.

Defender Rolando put Inter ahead in the 48th with a header, and substitute Fredy Guarin sealed the victory by scoring on his first touch in the 89th from beyond the area.

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