Juve go four points clear

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Juventus threw down the gauntlet to Serie A title rivals Napoli by pulling four points clear at the top with a convincing 2-0 victory over Inter Milan.

February has seen the reigning champions catch up to and then finally overhaul free-scoring Napoli, but they were only one point clear of the southerners heading into the 27th round of games.

It took second-half goals from Leonardo Bonucci and substitute Alvaro Morata – the latter converting a late penalty – for Juve to earn a breather, safe in the knowledge their status as Scudetto favourites cannot be touched by Napoli when the Azzurri visit Fiorentina on Monday.

Roberto Mancini’s Inter, the former table-toppers who were distinctly ineffective in Turin, only deigning to threaten their hosts at the death, now face the unenviable task of attempting to overhaul Juve’s 3-0 lead in the Coppa Italia semi-finals when the Italian giants meet again on Wednesday.

The results of Sunday’s earlier games transformed the make-up of the relegation battle, with Sampdoria, Palermo and Carpi making gains while Genoa, Frosinone and Hellas Verona sank further into the mire.

Vincenzo Montella’s Samp were previously without a win in eight attempts but snapped that bad run to pull five points clear of the bottom three after goals from Fernando and Fabio Quagliarella settled a 2-0 home victory over Frosinone.

The promoted southerners are four points behind Palermo, who ground out a point from a goalless draw with Bologna in Sicily, thanks largely to the heroics of stand-in goalkeeper Josip Posavec.

Simone Verdi’s second-half penalty saw 19th-placed Carpi take a valuable point from a 1-1 draw with Atalanta. The mid-table Bergamo side took the lead through Jasmin Kurtic but a first victory in 12 attempts eluded them as Verdi levelled from the spot with 15 minutes remaining.

Basement boys Hellas look increasingly doomed. After winning twice in February to recover a lost sensation of hope, a 2-0 defeat at Udinese means they are now nine daunting points behind Palermo.

Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Cyril Thereau scored the goals for a team who, sitting in 14th place, are still not totally assured of top-flight football.

Also facing a late scrap to ensure they avoid the drop are Genoa, with Gian Piero Gasperini’s men submitting to upwardly-mobile Chievo after Lucas Castro’s diving header clinched a 1-0 win for the Flying Donkeys.

On Saturday, Stephan El Shaarawy scored twice as Roma moved up to third thanks to a 3-1 victory at Empoli, their sixth league win in succession.

Roma again left disgruntled captain Francesco Totti on the bench after sweeping aside Palermo 5-0 last time out, but had no cause to regret it thanks to a brilliant display from El Shaarawy.

The 23-year-old opened the scoring with a stunning effort after just five minutes, picking the ball up in midfield and advancing towards goal before curling an exquisite shot into the top corner beyond the despairing dive of goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski.

A stunned home side attempted to get back on level terms and after Manuel Pucciarelli fired narrowly wide, they equalised in the most fortunate of circumstances after 22 minutes.

Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny attempted to punch clear a dangerous left-wing cross from Mario Rui, only to see the ball cannon into defender Ervin Zukanovic and loop tamely into the net.

However, it took the visitors just five minutes to get back in front thanks to their own slice of luck as Miralem Pjanic drilled a free-kick straight into the wall, but saw the ball bounce straight back to his feet before firing through a crowd of players into the net.

Szczesny saved from Rade Krunic as half-time approached and Empoli pushed forward in search of an equaliser in the second period before El Shaarawy made sure of the win on 74 minutes.

In the day’s only other game, AC Milan closed to within a point of city rivals Inter after defender Luca Antonelli’s goal was enough to see off Torino at San Siro.

Keisuke Honda was unlucky to see his 26th-minute free-kick smash into the crossbar with Torino goalkeeper Daniele Padelli well beaten.

But the home side then scored the decisive goal just a minute from the interval when Juraj Kucka headed down from a corner and Antonelli was first to react, swivelling to fire home left-footed from the edge of the six-yard box.

 

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