Napoli had unfortunate Antonino Gallo’s own goal to thank for getting their Serie A title bid back on track with a 2-1 win at Lecce on Friday, while AC Milan were held to a goalless draw by Empoli.
Napoli are 19 points clear of closest challengers Lazio after Gallo’s unwitting backpass from a Mario Rui cross slipped through the fingers of surprised Lecce goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone midway through the second half.
The hosts had been deservedly level with Napoli at the Stadio Via del Mare after Federico Di Francesco’s powerfully struck finish cancelled out Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s 18th-minute header.
Di Francesco’s second league goal of the season was his team’s first since mid-February and had a tired-looking Napoli at risk of slipping to another defeat after they were hammered 4-0 by champions Milan last weekend.
Instead Lecce stay eight points above the relegation zone in 16th while Napoli take another step towards a historic Scudetto with their seventh straight league away win, earned without top scorer Victor Osimhen.
“It wasn’t easy getting the result after that defeat (to Milan)… this result gives us some comfort ahead of the coming matches,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti told DAZN.
Nigeria forward Osimhen might be back for Wednesday’s first leg of the all-Italian quarter-final with third-placed Milan — who face Empoli in Friday’s late match — but they look to have lost his replacement Giovanni Simeone to a thigh injury he suffered late on.
“Osimhen wants to play every match… but these are situations that need to be assessed properly,” added Spalletti.
As it stands Spalletti’s team only need four more wins from their final nine matches to secure the title, and that target will get smaller if Lazio fail to beat Juventus.
However it will be all changed if Juve have their 15-point penalty for illicit transfer activity revoked later this month, as they are 11 points behind Lazio ahead of their clash at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
Milan flopped at the San Siro ahead of Napoli’s visit as Stefano Pioli’s much-changed side failed to break down defensive Empoli.
The hosts thought they had claimed the points in the final moments when substitute Olivier Giroud netted but his strike was rightly ruled out for handball after he celebrated.
That was the second time supporters were ruing VAR officials after Milan were also denied a penalty on the hour after Tyronne Ebuehi had initially been penalised for handball.
Empoli held out for a draw which meant third-placed Milan failed to fully capitalise on another bad evening for Romelu Lukaku in rivals Inter Milan’s 1-1 draw at Salernitana.
Antonio Candreva’s miscued cross in the final minute moved Salernitana 10 points above the relegation zone and left Inter at risk of being knocked out of the Champions League positions.
Wasteful Inter would have been out of sight before old boy Candreva’s fortuitous strike had they made the most of their opportunities after Robin Gosens netted their first goal from open play in a month in the sixth minute, with Lukaku the worst culprit in Salerno.
Lukaku, who was racially abused by Juventus fans midweek, headed a simple opportunity straight at Guillermo Ochoa in the first half.
And he somehow managed to scoop a diving header onto the bar from inside the six-yard box in the 65th minute before the superb Ochoa brilliantly kept out Stefan De Vrij on the rebound.
“Our big regret is that we couldn’t get that second goal, right now we keep paying a heavy price for not killing matches off,” said Inter coach Simone Inzaghi.
Fourth-placed Inter are a point behind Milan and head to Benfica for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday winless in six and in the midst of a goalscoring crisis.
Inzaghi’s side are just one point ahead of Roma, who are at Torino on Sunday, while sixth-placed Atalanta can also move above Inter on goal difference if they beat Bologna.