Petagna maintains Napoli’s title hopes, Atalanta thrash Covid-hit Udinese

Milan (AFP) – Andrea Petagna kept Napoli’s faltering Serie A title hopes alive with the only goal in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Sampdoria, while Atalanta hammered 6-2 an Udinese team cut to the bone by Covid-19 cases.

Burly forward Petagna struck the winner with an uncharacteristically acrobatic bicycle kick just before half-time to keep Napoli five points behind new leaders AC Milan, 3-0 winners at Venezia in the day’s early match thanks to a Theo Hernandez brace.

Missing a number of key players to Covid-19 infections and the Africa Cup of Nations, Napoli dominated at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona but lacked a cutting edge against a resolute Samp.

After three straight home defeats Napoli fans thought they were in for more bad luck when in the space of five first-half minutes captain Lorenzo Insigne limped off the field and Juan Jesus had what would have been his first Serie A goal in three years chalked off for offside following a VAR check.

The crowd were furiously appealing for a penalty for a foul on Dries Mertens when out of nowhere Petagna threw his substantial frame into the air and hooked home a delicate second goal of the season following a weak clearance.

Luciano Spalletti’s team sit third, three points behind champions Inter Milan, who host Lazio at the San Siro in one of two late matches hoping to avenge their only league defeat so far this season, in Rome back in mid-October.

Inter have played two games fewer than Milan and Napoli after their match at Bologna on Thursday was not played due to Covid infections among the opposition squad but can still reclaim top spot with a win against coach Simone Inzaghi’s former club.

– Atalanta run riot –

Atalanta kept the chasing pack in the Champions League race at bay with their win at Udinese, who came into the match with 12 Covid cases among their playing squad and coaching staff.

The hosts had been ordered to miss Thursday’s match at Fiorentina by local health authorities, who had the power to force teams into isolation until Saturday, when Serie A won their legal battle to enforce their own protocol.

That means teams with 13 available of-age players, including one goalkeeper, must fulfil their fixtures, leaving Udinese with the unenviable task of facing one of Italy’s best teams with a severely depleted squad.

Atalanta were comfortably in the lead midway through the first half after Mario Pasalic’s 17th-minute header and an impressive solo effort five minutes later from former Udinese man Luis Muriel, who burst into the area before shimmying his way into a shooting chance and rolling home a confident finish.

Further strikes by Ruslan Malinovskyi, Joakim Maehle and Matteo Pessina, as well another classy goal from Muriel made it a thumping win over Udinese, who netted through a Berat Djimsiti own goal and Beto’s late strike.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta sit comfortably in the final Champions League spot, some six points ahead of fifth-placed Juventus who will have played a game more after their clash at Roma later on Sunday.

Roma announced earlier that an unnamed player has tested positive for Covid and then named a line-up in which rising star Nicolo Zaniolo wasn’t even on the bench.

This round of matches, which finishes with Bologna’s visit to struggling Cagliari on Tuesday night, will be the league’s last before stadium capacities are cut to 5,000 until after the next international break as Covid-19 infections surge in Italy.

Five games were not played over the last two rounds of fixtures after dozens of players contracted the virus, for which more than 1.8 million Italians are currently positive and which has killed over 138,000 in the country since early 2020.

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