Napoli go into break top of Serie A after beating Verona

Kalidou Koulibaly and Jose Callejon scored to send Napoli four points clear of second-place Juventus, which visits Cagliari later.

By: AP | Updated: January 7, 2018 7:58:12 am
Napoli vs Hellas Verona Soccer Football – Serie A – Napoli vs Hellas Verona – Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy – January 6, 2018 Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Dries Mertens applaud the fans at the end of the match REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

Napoli will go into the delayed winter break top of Serie A after beating relegation-threatened Hellas Verona 2-0 on Saturday.

Kalidou Koulibaly and Jose Callejon scored to send Napoli four points clear of second-place Juventus, which visits Cagliari later.

Juventus has won the title in each of the last six seasons, while Napoli is bidding for its first since 1990.

“We know that Juve has years of experience,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. “We know they can easily surpass the 90-point mark, while we can’t say the same thing about us.

“But we also have players who can make the difference in matches, such as Callejon and (Lorenzo) Insigne … our job is only to put them in the best conditions to express themselves.”

Roma was also playing later and can move level with third-place Inter Milan, nine points below Napoli, with a victory at home to Atalanta.

After playing over the festive period for the first time, Serie A will resume on Jan. 21.

Napoli had ended 2017 and the first half of the season as winter champions, but was eliminated from the Italian Cup on Tuesday following a surprise quarterfinal defeat to Atalanta.

Sarri’s team dominated from the start against Verona and had several chances, with Dries Mertens and Insigne hitting the woodwork.

Mertens also had a goal ruled out for offside before Napoli finally broke the deadlock in the 65th minute, when Koulibaly headed in Mario Rui’s cross.

The goal was awarded after checking with the video assistant referee but Verona coach _ and former Napoli player and assistant _ Fabio Pecchia was dismissed for his protests.

Napoli all but sealed the match 12 minutes from time when Callejon rushed in at the far post to volley in Insigne’s cross from the left.

Verona remained two points from safety.

FOUR-STAR IMMOBILE

Ciro Immobile netted four goals and moved top of the scoring charts as Lazio won 5-2 at struggling Spal.

Lazio moved fourth, ahead of Roma’s match.

Mirco Antenucci had converted a penalty for Spal to cancel out Luis Alberto’s opener before Immobile’s first-half hat trick.

Immobile got his first in the 19th, running onto Luis Alberto’s flicked pass over the defense and lifting the ball over Alfred Gomis.

The Italy forward doubled his tally seven minutes later, firing home Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s through-ball, but Spal reduced the deficit almost immediately, with Antenucci grabbing his second of the match.

However, Immobile headed in Dusan Basta’s cross four minutes before the break to complete his hat trick.

The Spal defense left Immobile completely unmarked six minutes after halftime and he drilled in a corner for his 20th league goal of the season, two more than Inter Milan forward Mauro Icardi.

Spal hit the post, had the follow-up cleared off the line and also had a goal ruled out.

FIRST FOR BONUCCI

AC Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci scored his first goal for the club in a 1-0 win over Crotone _ although the Italy international knew little about it.

Milan broke the deadlock nine minutes into the second half when Crotone goalkeeper Alex Cordaz flapped at a corner, sending it onto Bonucci’s back and the ball rebounded into the back of the net.

“2018 couldn’t have started better,” Bonucci said. “People had been asking me for a while when I would score and the goal finally arrived.

“But what matters is the spirit we showed in the first half and the willingness to all suffer together at the end.”

Bonucci joined Milan from Juventus in the offseason for a fee of more than 40 million euros ($45 million).

Franck Kessie thought he had doubled Milan’s lead but it was ruled out on video review as he had fouled Rolando Mandragora.

Milan had also hit the woodwork in the first half as Cordaz fingertipped Suso’s effort onto the post.

OTHER MATCHES

After waiting 19 rounds for a first Serie A victory, Benevento made it two in two matches as it came from behind to beat Sampdoria 3-2.

It remained bottom of Serie A, eight points from safety.

Elsewhere, Walter Mazzarri got off to a winning start in charge of Torino as he steered his new side to a 3-0 win over Bologna.

Genoa beat Sassuolo 1-0.

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