Milan (AFP) – Dries Mertens scored a double as Napoli reclaimed top spot in Serie A ahead of Juventus with a 3-1 win over Bologna on Sunday as AC Milan rekindled their push for Europe with a 2-1 win over Lazio.
Napoli restored their one-point advantage over champions Juventus who had moved top after Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain scored in a 2-0 win at nine-man Chievo on Saturday.
The championship battle looks increasingly like a two-horse race as behind the leaders Lazio — ten points off Juventus in third — Inter Milan and Roma all failed to win.
“I think this battle with Napoli will last for the whole season,” said Germany international Khedira.
“We worked hard during the break, the season is long and we’re still in the running in all competitions – we want to be there til the end in every one.”
In Naples, it proved to be a battle with Rodrigo Palacio nodding Bologna ahead after 25 seconds before an Ibrahima Mbaye own goal four minutes later pulled the hosts back.
Mertens edged Napoli ahead on 37 minutes with a penalty and the Belgian then claimed his 13th goal of the season with a spectacular curling effort on 59 minutes.
“The team showed character. It wasn’t easy to pick ourselves off the ground today,” said Mertens after his third goal in a week.
Maurizio Sarri’s side have 57 points from 22 games, one more than Juventus. Lazio stay two points ahead of Inter Milan in fourth after a frustrating 1-1 draw at promoted SPAL.
“We cannot compare ourselves to Juventus,” said Sarri whose side are bidding to topple the six-time defending champions and claim their first Serie A title since 1990.
“Juve have the potential to win every game they play. We must focus solely on ourselves.
“I’m happy for Dries, because he went through a slight drop in form before the international break. He just needed a short break to get back to his sparkling best.”
Roma remain fifth after Duvan Zapata scored ten minutes from time to give Sampdoria all three points in the Stadio Olympico.
Alessandro Florenzi missed a penalty for the Romans who are now just four points ahead of Sampdoria.
– Milan ‘turning point’ –
Gennaro Gattuso’s AC Milan moved into seventh after claiming a third consecutive win for the first time this season.
“I don’t like this constant talk of every game being a turning point for Milan,” said Gattuso.
“The club spent a lot of money to invest in this squad, there were some difficulties, but now we are in good shape psychologically.”
Patrick Cutrone opened for Milan after 15 minutes, nodding in a free-kick which looked as if it was deflected in off his arm, with Giacomo Bonaventura getting their second before the break.
It was Lazio’s first defeat in nearly two months.
Earlier Alberto Paloschi headed in a last-gasp equaliser to grab a precious point for SPAL after defender Francesco Vicari’s own goal had given Inter the lead.
Spalletti introduced on-loan Barcelona midfielder Rafinha for the final minutes but the Brazilian failed to lift his team against a SPAL side still in the relegation zone.
“When you concede a goal like that in stoppage time, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth,” said Inter coach Luciano Spalletti after his side, who had been unbeaten until December 16, notched up a seventh consecutive game without a win.
Struggling Verona shocked Fiorentina 4-1 in Tuscany to end a run of four consecutive defeats, as Udinese moved up to eighth with a 1-0 win at Genoa.
Crotone and Cagliari drew 1-1 in a relegation scrap overshadowed by a red card and a goal ruled offside using video assistant referee (VAR) controversy.
Torino thrashed bottom team Benevento 3-0.