Paulo Dybala hit a brace as champions Juventus underscored their Serie A title credentials with a battling 2-1 win over Udinese as rivals Napoli and Inter Milan crumbled.
Juventus had been given a huge incentive before their late kick-off against the league’s other ‘bianconeri’ side on Saturday evening after Roma stunned Napoli 3-1 at the San Paolo.
The Old Lady of Turin, bidding for a record sixth consecutive title, took the title race by the scruff of the neck to leave Roma in second at five points adrift. After AC Milan moved up to third with a one-sided 3-1 win at Chievo, Napoli dropped to fourth at seven points behind.
Juventus face Lyon in the Champions League tonight, when the Italian champions will be tipped to tighten their grip on Group H.
But as far as a record sixth straight crown is concerned, Massimiliano Allegri was coy. “We’re five points ahead of Roma and seven ahead of Napoli, but this month we come face to face with a few direct rivals,” said the Juve coach.
“On Saturday we face an AC Milan side that’s having a great campaign so far, and then we host Napoli on October 29. So, we need to go slowly. We’ve won this game, we’ll focus on Lyon and then we’ll start to think about Milan.”
It was a far from flawless performance from the Old Lady, but collectively, the Turin giants are a tough act to follow.
Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri lost centre-forward Arkadiusz Milik to a cruciate knee ligament injury last week, and the prolific Pole’s replacement, Manolo Gabbiadini, was inefficient on Saturday before being replaced by Belgian international Dries Mertens midway through the second half.
While Sarri tried in vain to defend his selection choices, club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis launched an atonishing attack on the media.
“I can already imagine what you’re going to write... the only thing that works properly in this city is Napoli, and you all want to attack us at every opportunity,” said De Laurentiis. “But I warn you, my shoulders are not big, they’re huge.”
As Napoli fizzed, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti was the toast of the Giallorossi fans as they revived faint hopes of a first title since 2001.
Yet he admitted: “We’ll see if it’s enough to keep pace with Juventus, or whether they’ll keep on going as they’re doing. But we did what we had to do.”
Spalletti saw Edin Dzeko shake off his poor record of eight goals in 31 appearances last season and celebrate hitting his first league brace on the road as Roma stunned Napoli in the ‘Derby del Sole’.
Mohamed Salah added a third in the final minutes after Napoli failed to build on Kalidou Koulibaly’s 58th minute header.
Former Manchester City marksman Dzeko is now the league’s top scorer. “It’s not easy to win at Napoli and to score three goals here, we did very well,” Dzeko said.
Eight games into the campaign, Juventus have Roma and AC Milan for close company, and Napoli are not too far behind.
But Inter Milan’s title hopes look to be over as they slipped to 10 points in arrears after a humbling 2-1 San Siro defeat to league newcomers Cagliari.
It came amid a row between captain and striker Mauro Icardi and the club’s hardline ‘ultra’ fans. In a recently-published autobiography, Icardi claimed he stood up to angry Inter ultras following a 3-1 defeat at Sassuolo in February 2015.
Icardi’s claims were immediately shot down by fans in a statement that called him a “clown” and demanded club bosses strip him of the captaincy.
Club vice-president and former captain Javier Zanetti said Icardi risked being stripped of the captaincy, while sporting director Piero Ausilio, speaking after the game, said he was “livid” at the turn of events. “Personally, I don’t think that at 23 years old you should be writing a biography,” Ausilio said.
AC Milan move up to third
Juraj Kucka and M’Baye Niang struck either side of half-time and Carlos Bacca added a flukey third as AC Milan moved up to third in Serie A with a 3-1 win at Chievo.
Chievo had been among the early season pacesetters in Italy’s top flight, Rolando Maran’s men sitting among the top five after starting their campaign with a 2-0 home win over Inter Milan.
But the Flying Donkeys were brought back to earth with a bump with a first home defeat of the season that, for seven-time European champions Milan, revived ambitions of qualifying for continental football next sason.
Milan’s fifth win of the campaign moved them up to third, behind Roma on goals difference, five points behind leaders and champions Juventus and two ahead of Napoli. Montella left Colombian striker Carlos Bacca on the bench for the trip to Verona to give up and coming Gianluca Lapadula his chance.
But it was a 45th minute screamer from Kucka that had the visiting Rossoneri fans on their feet after the Slovakia midfielder pulled the trigger from just outside the area. Niang added a second for the visitors immediately after the restart when he was sent through the middle to beat Stefano Sorrentino at his far post.
Milan should have added more but Niang and Lapadula were wasteful in front of goal, before Chievo chalked one back thanks to former Milan midfielder Valter Birsa’s 76th minute consolation.
Bacca came on for Niang in the final two minutes and twisted and turned his way through the Chievo defence before deciding to strike the ball with no apparent intent. Fortunately for Milan, it took a wicked deflection off defender Dario Danielli and had a stranded Sorrentino scrambling to rescue, in vain, at his far post.