Lessons from Serie A: Napoli in scintillating form ahead of Chelsea trip
Kieran Beckles looks back at Napoli's big win and Juventus' stuttering title challenge, as AC Milan continue to impress
Napoli in top form ahead of Stamford Bridge trip
Napoli continued their impressive form ahead of the second leg of their Champions last-16 tie against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday – the Serie A outfit hold a 3-1 lead from the first leg almost three weeks ago. Walter Mazzarri side’s 6-3 victory over relegation-threatened Cagliari was their sixth successive win in all competitions, scoring 17 goals in that spell. The Naples side closed the gap on third-placed Lazio to a mere two points, and in current form, they will be favourites to secure the final Serie A Champions League spot. The last time Napoli won five league games back-to-back was in 1990, and they were eventually crowned champions. Meanwhile, Joaquín Larrivey was Cagliari’s fallen hero as the Argentine striker snatched a consolatory hat-trick at the Stadio San Paolo. He will be crucial in the Cagliari’s battle for survival, with manager Davide Ballardini sacked following the defeat, and Massimo Ficcadenti becoming their fourth manager in eight months.
Juve lose more ground on AC Milan
Juventus fell further behind AC Milan in the race for the Scudetto after Antonio Conte’s side extended their unbeaten run to 27 games, but crucially succumbed to their 14th draw. The Turin outfit have drawn four of their last five games which has seen them leapfrogged by Milan. Juventus midfielder Simone Pepe thought he had scored a 70th minute winner against Genoa, but his close-range finish was harshly adjudged to be offside. Milan’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Lecce saw the San Siro outfit move four points clear at the top. Antonio Nocerino, who missed a glaring chance at the Emirates last Tuesday, was in a more clinical mood against Lecce, putting Milan ahead after seven minutes. The in-form Zlatan Ibrahimović then added a second in stunning style to seal three points, and help the defending champions take a big step in retaining their title.
Lazio’s title hopes dealt a blow by Bologna
Before Sunday night, Lazio’s hopes of winning the Serie A title for the first time since 2000 remained intact. But Bologna capitalised on a series of defensive errors to condemn the Eagles’ to their seventh defeat of the season. Alessandro Diamanti, who spent a season at West Ham United in 2009, scored the pick of Bologna’s goals with his long-range effort, putting the visitors 2-0 up before half-time. Lazio were reduced to 10 men after Francesco Matuzalem was dismissed, but they were aided by a mix-up in Bologna’s defence with Matteo Rubin’s own-goal reducing the deficit. But any chance of a comeback was eliminated when Álvaro González was sent off, and Rene Krhin added a third for the visitors. The Rome outfit are nine points adrift of league leaders AC Milan, and they will need to switch their attention to fending off Napoli’s advances for third spot. Bologna, meanwhile, look set to stay in the top flight for another season after moving points clear of the drop zone.
Siena secure smash-and-grab win in relegation battle
Siena’s trip to Cesena on Sunday afternoon promised to be a telling encounter in the battle for survival. Giuseppe Sannino’s side benefited from Luca Ceccarelli 74th-minute dismissal which provided Claudio Terzi with the chance to put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot. The Siena striker missed but Erjon Bogdani was on hand to net the rebound, and the visitors completed a smash-and-grab win when Bogdani headed Franco Brienza’s cross past Cesena goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli. The scoreline was a harsh reflection on Cesena’s performance after the home side had put Siena under periods of extended pressure. Novara’s win over Udinese saw Cesena drop to the bottom of Serie A, and 14 points from safety with 11 games remaining.
Goal of the weekend: AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic
This week’s Goalaccio comes from Ibrahimović. With Lecce finding a foothold in the game at the San Siro, the Swedish striker added the vital second goal to seal three points for the leaders. The 30-year-old hit a ferocious right-footed shot which flew past Lecce’s Massimiliano Benassi to hand the Swede his 19th league goal of the season.