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Napoli’s title bid takes hit after crashing to Empoli loss

Milan (AFP) – Empoli dealt a blow to Napoli’s hopes of a first Serie A crown since the days of Diego Maradona after a stunning 1-0 win which gives Inter Milan a chance to take firm control of the title race.

Patrick Cutrone’s bizarre winner with 20 minutes remaining in Naples fired promoted Empoli seventh in Italy’s top flight and leaves Napoli fourth, three points behind leaders AC Milan who drew at Udinese on Saturday.

Luciano Spalletti’s side could be four points off the lead by the end of the day if Inter Milan win Sunday’s late match against struggling Cagliari, with the reigning champions ensured of top spot with a victory at the San Siro.

Napoli held top spot before last weekend’s matches but have now also been overtaken by Atalanta, who moved into third following their 2-1 win at Verona earlier in the day. 

It was another impressive away victory for Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side after their shock win at Juventus back in August, and it came thanks to an odd goal.

Cutrone rose highest for a corner and his flick flew at Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who minutes after his return from injury headed his clearance into the back of Cutrone’s head and then watched the ball fly back into his own goal.

It was an unfortunate goal for Napoli who had struck the bar through Eljif Elmas in the first half and had a Juan Jesus goal ruled out for offside nine minutes before Cutrone’s winner.

They now travel to Milan next weekend hoping to not fall further behind the pacesetters with key players either out or only just returning from injury.

Empoli meanwhile were celebrating moving above Roma and Lazio — 2-1 losers at Sassuolo — and just two points behind Juve who drew at Venezia on Saturday.

– Atalanta’s warning shot –

Atalanta are two points behind Milan after coming back from Giovanni Simeone’s 12th goal of the season thanks to strikes in either half from Aleksei Miranchuk and Teun Koopmeiners at Verona.

A sixth straight league win on the road also has Gian Piero Gasperini’s side seven points above fifth-placed Fiorentina in the race for the Champions League.

“Turning the result around was a show of force, we deserved to win even though it was an even match,” said Gasperini, who seemed quietly confident his team could have a say in the title tussle.

“Today we took a step forward, regarding mentality and determination, otherwise you don’t win these kinds of matches.”

Defeat for Verona meanwhile was their first at home since Igor Tudor took charge in mid-September and leaves them 11th on 23 points, one ahead of Torino who beat Bologna 2-1 in Sunday’s early match.

The hard-fought win will be a boost for Atalanta after they missed out on the last 16 of the Champions League following Thursday’s home defeat at the hands of Villarreal.

They will be in Monday’s draw for the Europa League play-off round after finishing third in Group F behind La Liga outfit Villarreal and Manchester United.

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