Milan (AFP) – A Keita Balde five-minute hat-trick in a 6-2 romp over Palermo boosted Lazio’s Europa League hopes Sunday as AC Milan edged further away from Europe with a shock 2-1 home defeat to Empoli.
Inspired by Atalanta’s 3-2 win over Bologna that pushed the high-flying Bergamo side up to fourth, Lazio responded to the challenge from Gian Piero Gasperini’s men in defiant fashion at the Stadio Olimpico.
A Ciro Immobile brace had Lazio up 2-0 inside 10 minutes and a Balde hat-trick in the space of five first-half minutes, including a 24th minute penalty, secured the points well before the half-time interval.
Palermo hit back with a second-half brace from Andrea Rispoli, but Luca Crecco wrapped up an emphatic win with a goal in the first minute of added-on time to secure a 19th league win and a return to fourth spot.
Lazio reduced the gap on third-placed Napoli, held 2-2 at Sassuolo, to seven points.
“The lads did great, what I liked most is how they put into practice what we’d spoke about,” said Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi.
Balde is rumoured to be leaving Lazio, and Inzaghi added: “He’s a real important player for us.”
Atalanta are back in fifth spot at one point further behind with AC Milan, who saw Spanish forward Suso miss a second-half penalty, still in sixth but now five points behind the Europa League places.
A week after snatching a share of the spoils with a late equaliser in a 2-2 derby draw at Inter, Milan had the incentive of breaking away from their city rivals following their shock 5-4 defeat at Fiorentina on Saturday.
But on their return to the San Siro as hosts, the seven-time European champions showed few credentials worthy of the European stage against a team battling for top flight survival.
Milan defender Cristian Zapata let Levan Mchedlidze get in front of him to nod Empoli’s opener in the 40th minute.
– Fumbled –
After Suso’s 59th minute spot-kick was stopped by Lukasz Skorupski, striker Carlos Bacca spurned a great chance to level from close range after Skorupski fumbled a corner.
It proved costly as Empoli doubled their lead moments later, veteran striker Massimo Maccarone coolly knocking down a cross for Mame Thiam, who was left unmarked to blast past Gianluigi Donnarumma from 10 yards.
Gianluca Lapadula reduced the arrears with a great run from midfield that saw him fire past Skorupski into the bottom corner on 72 minutes.