Napoli extended their lead at the top of Serie A to eight points on Tuesday after beating Empoli 2-0 to claim their 10th straight league win, before closest rivals AC Milan drew 0-0. with Cremonese.
A Hirving Lozano penalty kick in the 69th minute and a neat late strike from Piotr Zielinski ensured host Napoli overcame resilient Empoli and moved ahead of Milan, whose title defense is floundering.
Napoli now have an ominous lead over the rest of the league heading into the final matches of 2022 this weekend, as they seek their first league title in more than three decades.
“The road ahead is still long and there are many pitfalls. We need to stay on it and be aware of the importance of the challenges ahead,” coach Luciano Spalletti told DAZN.
Empoli, who finished with 10 men thanks to Sebastiano Luperto’s second booking shortly after Lozano’s goal, remains 14th and seven points above the relegation zone.
The Tuscans beat Napoli twice last season and nearly ended their Scudetto challenge in April when they came back from two goals to stun Spalletti’s side.
And on Tuesday they frustrated Napoli, without injured magician Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, for long stretches of the match.
Napoli were awarded their soft penalty after Razvan Marin was judged to have fouled Victor Osimhen, five minutes after the Nigerian striker had headed the home side’s only previous real chance.
“I prefer not to talk about the penalty,” Empoli coach Paolo Zanetti said later.
“The contact didn’t seem obvious enough to be a penalty, but the referee saw it that way and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Luperto’s dismissal effectively ended Empoli’s challenge and Zielinski put the Stadio Maradona in party mode with two minutes remaining when he perfectly received a Lozano cross with a first-half goal that opened his league tally for the campaign. .
Milan’s defense falters
Milan can join Lazio and Atalanta on 30 points with wins over Lecce and Monza on Wednesday after a poor night for Stefano Pioli’s side in Cremonese.
The away team were without suspended stars Olivier Giroud and Theo Hernández and a handful of injured players, and that pair’s combination of incisiveness and clinical finishing was sorely missed at the Stadio Giovanni Zini.
Pioli also started with explosive winger Rafael Leao on the bench when he turned things around against a team sitting just inside the relegation zone after going winless in the first 14 games of his first Serie A season since 1996.
Milan created chances, especially in the first half, but an inspired Marco Carnesecchi stopped them.
Cremonese goalkeeper Carnesecchi made impressive saves from Divock Origi, Malick Thiaw and Junior Messias, while Ante Rebic missed a great opportunity to put Milan ahead in the 25th minute and sent a header wide.
Origi had a goal correctly disallowed for offside in the 57th minute, and after Pioli finally brought in Leao, he was denied the winner 11 minutes later by Carnesecchi’s outstretched hand.
Milan could not conjure up anything else and let Napoli get even further away from the chasing pack.
Udinese’s slide in results continued after they drew 1-1 at Spezia, their fifth draw in a six-match winless run that has left them eighth before their trip to Napoli on Saturday.