Serie A is shaping up to be a two-horse race, as Roma kept up their unbeaten record with a 2-1 win at home to Fiorentina.
Mattia Destro struck a second-half winner on his return from a long injury lay-off to hand Roma the win on Sunday and end a run of four successive draws.
Despite the constant threat from a Fiorentina side intent on securing Champions League qualification for next season, Rudi Garcia’s men dug deep to claim their first win since the end of October.
And Roma needed to win after fringe squad players helped propel league leaders Juventus to a 2-0 victory over Bologna on Friday.
“It was a great performance and we’re still unbeaten,” Garcia said.
Having maintained since the start of the campaign that Roma’s main objective is a top three finish and qualification for the Champions League, but the French coach sent a scudetto warning to Juventus.
“Juve could win the title as well as the Champions League, and I wish them good luck for their trip to Galatasaray,” he said of the Tuesday clash.
“But we’re also in contention for the title.”
Sampdoria coach’s first win
Fiorentina remained in fifth, 13 points behind Juve but only five off Napoli, who sit third and in the first Champions League qualifying place.
Roma, who finished with 10 men after Miralem Pjanic saw red for a second bookable offence minutes from the final whistle, had Francesco Totti on the bench although the iconic skipper, returning from a long injury lay-off, failed to make an appearance.
Fiorentina started brightly, Juan Vargas testing home ‘keeper Morgan De Sanctis with a low drive after Nenad Tomovic’s delivery on three minutes.
However Roma soon had the Olympic Stadium on its feet when Brazilian defender Maicon controlled close to goal following good work by Gervinho at the byline to beat ‘keeper Neto at his far post.
Roma’s usually stout defence had conceded only four times before this game but was found wanting on 29 minutes when Tomovic’s cut-back from the byline was smashed into the roof of the net by Juan Vargas from the edge of the area.
Destro replaced Alessandro Florenzi just before the hour and after Alberto Aquilani sent a first-time effort wide for the visitors Roma went on to enjoy a dominant spell.
After Ljajic, Kevin Strootman and Maicon were all denied, Fiorentina’s defence finally capitulated when Gervinho zipped to the byline and cut back for Destro to beat Neto first-time at the keeper’s near post.
Elsewhere, Cagliari, Torino, Chievo and Sampdoria secured precious wins that moved them up several places in the table, with Verona reinforcing sixth place thanks to a 2-1 home win against Atalanta.
Marco Sau scored a brace for Cagliari in a 2-1 home win over Genoa, his winner coming in second-half injury-time after Alberto Gilardino had levelled in the 16th minute.
A 19th minute strike from Kamil Glik was enough for Torino to clinch a 1-0 home win over Lazio, who dropped to 12th, while Cyril Thereau’s second-half strike was enough for Chievo to beat Sassuolo 1-0 away to move out of the bottom three.
Sampdoria, meanwhile, claimed their first win under new coach Sinisa Mihajlovic with basement side Catania offering no reply to second-half goals from Eder and Manolo Gabbiadini. [AFP]