Napoli scramble to match Juve's win
ROME – The gap between the title challengers stayed at four points after week 31, whilst two of the bottom three managed a victory to further tighten the pack of teams hoping to avoid the drop. The Champions League spots were also shaken up slightly as Inter and Roma fell a place in the table.
Paolo Dybala brushed aside the pain of last week’s heavy defeat to Real Madrid with a hat-trick, taking his tally to 21 goals for this campaign. Dybala opened the scoring with a wonderful strike from the edge of the area, curling the ball past the rooted Christian Puggioni into the top corner.
Yet, a virtually relegated Benevento weren’t willing to go down without a fight against the league leaders. Cheick Diabaté, keen to spoil Juventus’ push for a seventh successive title, twice replied to the visitor’s lead but ultimately couldn’t prevent a 26th league defeat. Two Dybala penalties and a stunning goal from Douglas Costa settled the outcome of a hard-earned 4-2 victory.
Napoli responded as Juventus widened of the gap at the top of the table, scraping past Chievo with two late goals to keep their title aspirations afloat. Goals in the 89th and 93rd minute from Arkadiusz Milik and Amadou Diawara cancelled out Mariusz Stepinski’s strike to break the deadlock, in what looked set to be a frustrating night for Napoli.
Sunday’s fixtures proved potentially pivotal in the battle to avoid the drop as Crotone and Verona, both currently in the relegation zone, narrowed the gap on their rivals. Crotone managed a 1-0 at home to Bologna with a goal from Simeon Nwankwo.
Verona took all three points in a must-win fixture against Cagliari with a 1-0 victory. Romulo’s first-half penalty was enough to strengthen the host’s hand as their fight for survival heats up.
Milan came from behind to take a point off Sassuolo, but threw away a series of clear-cut chances as their hopes of European qualification, deemed essential by fans, remain in the balance. The final Champions League place, however, has slipped even further away following three winless games.
Inter Milan squandered the opportunity to leapfrog Roma into third place, and currently sit in fifth position after Lazio took the initiative in a 2-1 win over Udinese. For the first time, players on the same team wore 11 different shirts, reflecting Udinese’s black and white striped tops of past seasons, before auctioning them off to charity.
Inter fell to a 1-0 defeat against Torino after an inspired performance from Salvatore Sirigu. The Italian keeper made a string of excellent saves and was aided late on by the post and a goal line clearance from Nicolas Nkoulou.
A wasteful Roma were beaten 2-0 by Fiorentina who have been firing in recent games, extending their winning streak to six games. The visitors raced ahead through Marco Benassi and Giovanni Simeone’s solo run soon doubled their lead in the capital.
SPAL held the breath to stay just above the relegation zone, taking a valuable point off Atalanta. The hosts, however, will feel they may have deserved more as they were denied by the woodwork and conceded a soft penalty to allow Atalanta back into the game.
Sampdoria and Genoa played out a goalless draw in a heated Derby of the Lantern, but the game never really exploded into life. Sampdoria pushed late on, but both keepers were largely untested throughout the night.
Benevento 2-4 Juventus
Roma 0-2 Fiorentina
SPAL 1-1 Atalanta
Sampdoria 0-0 Genoa
Torino 1-0 Inter Milan
Crotone 1-0 Bologna
Napoli 2-1 Chievo
Verona 1-0 Cagliari
Udinese 1-2 Lazio
AC Milan 1-1 Sassuolo