Juventus and Napoli closed the gap to leaders Roma with wins in Italy’s Serie A on Saturday as AC Milan’s woes continued with a 2-0 defeat at home to Fiorentina.
Juventus warmed up for their must-win Champions League clash against Real Madrid on Tuesday with a precious 1-0 win away to Parma where Frenchman Paul Pogba’s 77th minute winner secured the visitors’ third win in succession.
Juve’s ninth win moved them temporarily up to second place but Antonio Conte’s men then dropped back to third after Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik struck a goal apiece as Napoli dominated plucky Catania 2-1 at the San Paolo.
It was also Napoli’s third win on the trot, since suffering a 2-0 defeat away to Roma, and will boost Rafael Benitez’s men ahead of hosting Marseille on Wednesday two weeks after a 2-1 win in France.
Roma can restore their five-point cushion away to Torino on Sunday, when Rudi Garcia’s men will also bid to stretch their all-time record of season-opening Serie A wins to 11 in succession.
Embattled Milan began their 11th match of the campaign in mid-table and the Rossoneri’s fifth defeat has heaped further pressure on coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Milan head to Barcelona on Wednesday, barely two weeks after squeezing out a 1-1 draw against the Catalans at the San Siro.
Task in Turin
Juventus were made to work for the spoils three days before hosting Real, 2-1 winners at the Santiago Bernabeu nearly three weeks ago, in a match they must win to relaunch their Group B campaign.
Sitting seven points adrift of the group leaders and two behind Galatasaray with three games remaining, it was clear Conte’s eye was already on Tuesday’s European task in Turin.
The Juve coach rested Andrea Pirlo before the veteran midfielder replaced Claudio Marchisio in the second half, when strikers Carlos Tevez and Sebastian Giovinco were replaced by Fabio Quagliarella and Fernando Llorente respectively.
Fabio has a great shot but it's best not to tell him, otherwise he'll launch it from the halfway line. Pogba then did well to keep it low and score
Juve dominated but it took Llorente and Quagliarella’s appearance 15 minutes from time to make the difference.
Quagliarella, on virtually his first touch, shook off his marker on the edge of the area to lob Antonio Mirante and although his effort came off post and bar, Paul Pogba was on hand to fire home the rebound as the ‘keeper looked on.
“We hope to see these kinds of shots more and more,” said Conte.
“Fabio has a great shot but it’s best not to tell him, otherwise he’ll launch it from the halfway line. Pogba then did well to keep it low and score.”
Napoli started strongly and Gonzalo Higuain sent a looping header over the crossbar early on, and Callejon put Napoli ahead on 15 minutes when he left Mariano Andujar rooted to the spot with a superb left-foot strike.
Napoli almost had their second on 19 minutes when Hamsik collected Callejon’s through ball and cut it back for Higuain only for Andujar to palm away the Argentine’s strike from the edge of the area.
Moments later Hamsik doubled Napoli’s lead when he pounced on Lorenzo Insigne’s short pass to beat the ‘keeper with a curling strike inside his near post.
Napoli had the momentum but memories of a 1-1 draw at home to league new boys Sassuolo returned to haunt the hosts when Cristiano Biraghi crossed for Lucas Castro, who was unchallenged as he beat Pepe Reina from close range on 25 minutes.
There was a touch of fortune for Fiorentina, meanwhile, who opened the scoring at the San Siro with a deflected Juan Vargas free kick in the 27th minute.
Milan spurned several chances to reduce the arrears before Borja Valero secured the points for Vincenzo Montella’s men in the 73rd minute to move La Viola two places up to fourth.