x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Juve upend Milan, remain second with victorious Napoli

The defending champions' 3-2 win over AC Milan and Napoli's 4-1 drubbing of Bologna left each with 19 points, two behind table-topper Roma, in Serie A.

Andrea Pirlo's 15th-minute free kick erased an early 1-0 deficit for Juventus on Sunday. Massimo Pinca / AP
Andrea Pirlo's 15th-minute free kick erased an early 1-0 deficit for Juventus on Sunday. Massimo Pinca / AP

Champions Juventus overcame conceding a first-minute goal at home to AC Milan to stun their bitter rivals 3-2 and move to within two points of Serie A leaders Roma on Sunday.

Title contenders Napoli had heaped the pressure on Juventus after a 4-0 rout of Livorno which moved Rafael Benitez’s men up to second place in the table.

But after being stunned by Sulley Muntari’s first-minute opener in Turin, Antonio Conte’s men were soon level thanks to Andrea Pirlo’s sublime free kick.

In a pulsating encounter played in torrential rain, Juve upped the pace after the interval when Sebastian Giovinco gave the hosts a 2-1 lead and Giorgio Chiellini added a third following the expulsion of Milan defender Phillip Mexes.

The shine was taken off a convincing win, however, when Muntari struck his second of the match and Juve escaped dropping two precious points when Cristian Zapata saw a bullet header go just over at the death.

It was a combative and at times bad tempered affair and after Mexes was red-carded for manhandling Chiellini in the box at a corner, the Italy defender called for the Frenchman to be harshly sanctioned.

“This kind of thing needs a heavy sanction,” said the Italy defender.

“Some people just won’t learn. When you’re tough and determined, that’s fair enough because at the end of the day you get up from a hard tackle and shake hands. But that is just not football.”

With Roma comfortably on top with 21 points from seven games, Napoli and Juventus are both two points adrift in second and third respectively Inter in fourth.

Roma host Napoli in two weeks’ time following a break for World Cup qualifiers, and Benitez was clearly buoyant with his side’s performance following a 2-0 Champions League defeat to Arsenal last week.

“It was important to get back to winning ways,” said the Spaniard.

“Roma have won seven out of seven but we’ve won six and drawn one, so we’re on a level playing field.”

Inter, stunned 3-0 at home by Roma on Saturday, are seven points off the lead, five shy of Napoli and Juventus and only one ahead of Verona, who won 4-1 win away to struggling Bologna.

Francesco Totti scored a double in Roma’s rout, and while he was careful not to make mention of the word scudetto, he admitted: “This squad can go far and although the season is long and we will come up against teams that are stronger than us we have to fight for a Champions League place.

“That is our objective.”

Mazzarri, meanwhile, was philosophical after a defeat which he put down to Inter’s failure to take their chances.

“Sometimes things don’t your way,” said Mazzarri, who led Napoli to a second-place finish last season.

“I’m trying to improve the team and instill belief and I saw signs of that tonight. We weren’t inferior to Roma, they just made the most of the chances they had.”

Verona’s suprise presence among the top five after thumping Bologna 4-1 away, was partly down to the goalless draw between Lazio and Fiorentina at the Olympic Stadium, which left them seventh and sixth respectively.

Injury-ravaged Milan, who are still without playmaker Kaka and suspended striker Mario Balotelli, are now languishing in 12th place with a 13-point deficit to Roma.

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said he did not agree with Mexes’ sending-off, and tried to limit the damage by telling Sky Sport Italia: “It wasn’t a punch, that is sure.

“What we have to do now is go game by game to try and get ourselves back up the table, and hopefully have some players back (from injury) soon.”

Napoli, meanwhile, seized their chance against league new boys Livorno.

With Gonzalo Higuain still sidelined, Benitez handed Goran Pandev a place in his starting line-up and the Macedonian needed only three minutes to repay the Spaniard by putting the hosts in front.

After Livorno had threatened through Nigerian-born Swiss Innocent Emeghara, Pandev missed doubling the hosts’ lead when he fired over Francesco Bardi’s crossbar.

Napoli had the momentum but when Gokhan Inler scored the hosts’ second on 26 minutes he got a helping hand, quite literally, from Bardi, who after getting his hands to the long-range drive allowed it to bounce over him and into the net.

Emeghara spurned the chance to reduce the arrears when he hit a stunning volley on the stroke of half-time which came off the Napoli woodwork.

It was a miss Livorno lamented barely 10 minutes after the restart when Jose Callejon collected Pandev’s through ball to beat Bardi with an angled drive which appeared to take a slight deflection.

Bardi kept out a curling free kick by Belgian international Dries Mertens and another long-range strike by Inler.

But in the dying minutes the Italy under-21 goalkeeper could only parry a shot by Lorenzo Insigne into the path of Marek Hamsik, who promptly netted to claim his fifth goal of the campaign.

Udinese climbed into the top half of the table thanks to a 2-0 home win over Cagliari with goals coming courtesy of Danilo and Antonio Di Natale.

Former Inter Milan striker Antonio Cassano scored Parma’s third in a 3-1 home win over promoted strugglers Sassuolo.

Hosts Sampdoria snatched a point from Torino when Eder scored an injury-time penalty at the death for a 2-2 draw, after Alessio Cerci had given the visitors a 76th minute lead from the spot.

Cerci’s sixth strike in seven games leaves the Italian leading the Serie A scoring charts.