Giovanni Simeone ensured Napoli continued their march towards a first Serie A title in over three decades with the decisive goal in a 2-1 win over Roma which pushed his team 13 points clear of the chasing pack.
Substitute Simeone rifled home a wonderful finish at the end of a long passing move with four minutes remaining at the bouncing Stadio Maradona to see off a spirited Roma team who thought they had escaped with a point when Stephan El Shaarawy levelled in the 75th minute.
However Luciano Spalletti’s side are now 13 points clear of Inter Milan, the closest challengers after champions AC Milan were humbled 5-2 by Sassuolo to leave their title defence in tatters.
Home fans hoping for an end to their 33-year wait for the Scudetto let out a powerful roar of joy and relief at the final whistle after coming through a hard-fought contest with fierce rivals Roma thanks to Simeone’s fifth goal after coming off the bench this season.
“I tried to give everything I had. I did the best thing possible today which was get the winner. I am so happy,” said Simeone.
Roma can consider themselves unfortunate to leave Naples with nothing after impressing despite the backroom drama involving want-away star Nicolo Zaniolo poisoning their pre-match preparation.
Jose Mourinho’s team sit sixth, a point behind the Champions League positions and Milan who have been dumped down to fifth following their humiliating defeat and Lazio’s 1-1 draw with Fiorentina.
“There are some matches where you lose but come away feeling better about the team. That’s my feeling today,” said Mourinho to DAZN.
“Sometimes football is unfair. Sometimes the team who deserves more loses.”
Victor Osimhen was Napoli’s other scorer, almost bringing the house down in the 17th minute when he brilliantly chested down Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s cross, took another touch with his thigh before lashing in without the ball touching the floor.
His 14th league strike of the campaign was one of the goals of the season and a blistering opener to an enthralling encounter which ended with Napoli taking yet another step towards glory.
Everything that could go wrong for troubled Milan did at a gloriously sunny San Siro, with two goals ruled out for offside and a shocking defensive display condemning them to another heavy loss after also being hammered by Lazio and Inter Milan in the last 10 days.
Next up is the derby against Inter who thumped Milan 3-0 in the Super Cup less than a fortnight ago as Milan try to end an alarming slump.
“We have to react, we’re probably not going to win the title again but we have to fight to qualify for the Champions League,” coach Stefano Pioli told Sky.
Pioli’s team are reeling after allowing Sassuolo to win for the first time since late October thanks to an inspired performance from Domenico Berardi.
The Italian netted his team’s third goal and had a hand in three more as Gregoire Defrel, Davide Frattesi, Armand Lauriente and Matheus Henrique all scored in a free-wheeling performance.
Sassuolo are 16th but Sunday’s shock win took them eight points ahead of Verona who sit just inside the relegation zone and face Udinese on Monday.
Monza’s ‘special day’
Bought by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2018, minnows Monza confirmed their meteoric rise from the lower leagues by beating Juventus 2-0 and moving above the Turin giants into 11th place.
First-half strikes from Patrick Ciurria and Juve old boy Dany Mota were enough for a historic win at the Allianz Stadium for Monza, who have done the double on Juve in their first ever Serie A season.
“It’s a special day. I’m glad I could do my job and for the boys who worked so hard today,” said Mota, who didn’t play a senior game for Juve, to DAZN.
A fourth league defeat of the season and the points penalty for illicit transfer activity inflicted earlier this month have left Juve languishing in 13th place and 14 points away from the European places.