Milan (AFP) – A brace from Juventus-bound Mattia Caldara torpedoed Napoli’s Serie A title hopes on Saturday as 10-man Atalanta underlined their growing Euro ambitions in style with a shock 2-0 win at the San Paolo.
Napoli welcomed high-flying Atalanta looking to tighten their grip on the third and last Champions League qualifying spot.
But less than a week after suffering a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the competition, Maurizio Sarri’s men saw a 14-game unbeaten streak ended by their second successive league defeat to Gian Piero Gasperini’s men.
Atalanta’s 16th win moved the Bergamo side up to fourth, two points ahead of Inter Milan before their home clash with Roma on Sunday.
Napoli remain third, only three points further ahead, but will be 12 points adrift if the Turin giants beat Empoli at home in Saturday’s late game.
Napoli were unbeaten in 14 straight league games, but Pepe Reina was forced to parry Andrea Conti’s volley from Leonardo Spinazzola’s cross after just five minutes.
It took the hosts a full 15 minutes to settle into their game, but Atalanta were giving little away.
Defender Rafael Toloi was left writhing in pain after landing awkwardly, but his acrobatic attempt cut out Marek Hamsik’s ball over the top for Dries Mertens.
Napoli were stunned on 28 minutes when Jasmin Kurtic escaped down the right and dazzled his marker before seeing his cross cut out by Faouzi Ghoulam at the byeline.
From the corner, Caldara — who has already been bought by Juventus for 2018 — got his head to a loose ball to beat Reina at the back post.
Napoli should have levelled soon after, but although Mertens’s first touch on Ghoulam’s weighted ball took him past his marker the Belgian drilled just wide of the far post.
Mertens threatened again on the stroke of half time but Etrit Berisha performed heroics to keep his curling free kick out of the top corner.
Napoli’s hopes of an easy fightback were doused 30 seconds into second half when Nikola Maksimovic’s mistimed tackle left Andrea Petagna clear on goal, although Reina was down low to smother easily.
Sarri replaced Hamsik with Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik on the hour, but the boost provided by Frank Kessie’s 67th minute expulsion following a second bookable offence was quickly snuffed out.
A Kessie foul on Amadou Diawara earned the Ivory Coast forward, reportedly being watched by scouts from Manchester United, a first yellow card. When he needlessly obstructed Insigne two minutes later, he was sent off.
Milik set up Mertens for a drive that was just off target but minutes later Atalanta stunned the hosts with a superb second.
On the counter, Spinazzola’s cross evaded the entire Napoli defence before being met on the volley by the left foot of unmarked Caldara.
Napoli spurned late chances to drag themselves back into the game, Piotr Zielinski’s daisy-cutter inching wide and Jose Callejon glancing a header from six yards just wide.