A record-equalling fifth consecutive crown moved a step closer for Serie A champions Juventus on Sunday as Roma maintained their Champions League push with a 4-1 humiliation of derby rivals Lazio.
Juventus looked to be down and out of the title race only months after securing a league and Cup double last year in Massimiliano Allegri’s first season in charge.
But from a dismal start to the campaign that left the Turin giants only a handful of points above the relegation zone, Juve have pulled six points clear of rivals Napoli following their shock 3-1 defeat at Udinese.
Juve, who last won a fifth straight crown in 1935, managed only a 1-0 win from a dominant performance at home to Empoli on Saturday but it was enough for Allegri to proclaim “I hope Napoli drop points” at Udinese.
The 48-year-old’s wish came true.
Although Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain hit his 30th league goal of the campaign, Napoli imploded in a bad-tempered display at the Stadio Friuli that saw coach Maurizio Sarri sent off for dissent and Higuain see red after an angry altercation in the closing quarter hour.
Napoli’s dream of securing a first scudetto since Diego Maradona played his penultimate season with the club in 1990 looks to be slipping away, especially as Juve have an arguably easier run-in.
But Sarri says it’s not over yet: “The defeat will make us angry for a day or so, but it will also give us enough fuel for the next seven games.
“No one can point the finger at us because we’re six points behind Juventus. We’re having a great campaign and I have a squad of 25 players who will pick themselves back up and show great determination to finish the season on a high.”
Although still in the title race, Napoli will now feel the heat from third-placed Roma, who humiliated Lazio 4-1 in what may have been Francesco Totti’s final derby appearance and was the last match at the helm for home coach Stefano Pioli, who was sacked hours after the defeat.
Although Totti is hoping for a 24th and final year’s contract, club president James Pallotta is trying to steer the 39-year-old into a director’s role at the end of what has been an injury-hit campaign of few appearances.
Totti stayed on the bench throughout as Roma ran riot, albeit in a virtually empty stadium as fans largely heeded boycott calls in protest at new security measures.
Coach Luciano Spalletti told Premium Sport: “I’m sorry Totti didn’t have a chance to come on but as coach I have decisions to make and I have other players who are just as strong as him.”
The visitors broke the deadlock on 16 minutes when Stephan El Shaarawy got his head to a cross to claim his maiden goal in the ‘Derby della Capitale’.
Roma resumed in similar fashion after the interval and minutes after replacing El Shaarawy on the hour, Edin Dzeko fired home the rebound from Diego Perotti’s drive when it came off the post.
Marco Parolo reduced arrears on 75 minutes, but two great strikes from Alessandro Florenzi and Perotti in the closing seven minutes wrapped up a convincing win.
“We suffered in the opening half because it was just too difficult to take possession from them,” said Pioli.
“On their goals, we made big mistakes, but I don’t think the score is a true reflection of the game.”
In Sunday’s late game Inter Milan finished with nine men in a shock 2-1 San Siro reverse to Torino that dented their hopes of fighting their way into Champions League contention.
Mauro Icardi broke the deadlock for the hosts from the spot following an Emanuele Moretti handball on 17 minutes.
But Cristian Molinaro reduced arrears on 55 minutes and Inter suffered a blow when defender Joao Miranda saw red for a second bookable offence only two minutes later.
When Japanese defender Yuto Nagatomo hauled down Andrea Belotti in the area on 73 minutes he was shown a straight red by the referee, who promptly pointed to the spot.
Belotti stepped up to beat Samir Handanovic down low to seal a ninth win that moved them eight points clear of the drop zone.