Napoli loses 3-1 at Palermo, fails to close gap on Roma
MILAN (AP) — Napoli missed the chance to close the gap to second-place Roma as it lost 3-1 at Palermo in Serie A on Saturday, ending a run of six successive victories.
Rafa Benitez’s team was hoping to cut Roma’s advantage to one point, provisionally at least. Instead, it will be looking nervously over its shoulder at Fiorentina, which cruised to a 3-1 win at Sassuolo to move to within four points of the final Champions League qualifying spot.
Achraf Lazaar opened the scoring after another howler from Napoli goalkeeper Rafael, and Franco Vazquez and Luca Rigoni extended Palermo’s advantage before Manolo Gabbiadini scored a consolation eight minutes from time.
“A goalkeeper’s mistake is more obvious than that of other players,” Benitez said. “It’s down to everyone that we won six in a row, so it’s not down to just one person when we lose one.
“You can cope with a loss after six successive wins, now we have to get back to work to get back on our path.”
Palermo bounced back from a 3-0 defeat at Inter Milan, and moved into seventh ahead of the rest of the weekend fixtures. The win will also serve as a timely boost to Fiorentina ahead of Thursday’s Europa League round-of-32 tie against Tottenham.
“We had a perfect match and we won,” Vazquez said. “It was very important.”
Khouma Babacar and new signing Mohamed Salah inspired Fiorentina to victory, with the former netting twice after setting up Salah’s opener.
Domenico Berardi, who earlier hit the post, scored for Sassuolo.
Napoli squandered a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 in a thrilling match against Palermo earlier in the season, and was looking to avoid further disappointment in Sicily.
However, it gifted Palermo the opener in the 14th minute when a terrible mistake by goalkeeper Rafael allowed Lazaar’s strike to bounce past him from nearly 40 meters. It was the defender’s first senior goal.
Palermo doubled its lead in the 36th following a counterattack which Paulo Dybala laid off for the on-rushing Vazquez to curl in from the edge of the area.
It sealed the result in the 65th when Vazquez nodded Dybala’s cross back over for Rigoni to tap in.
Gabbiadini, who had his back to goal, flicked in Jonathan de Guzman’s free kick late on.
It was Sassuolo’s second home defeat of the season.
Salah, who joined on loan from Chelsea in the deal which took Juan Cuadrado to Stamford Bridge, was handed his first start by Vincenzo Montella and the Egypt winger opened his Fiorentina account on the half-hour, racing onto Babacar’s back-heel flick and firing into the bottom left corner.
Salah returned the favor two minutes later with a through ball which allowed Babacar to get past Paolo Cannavaro and beat Andrea Consigli from close range.
Berardi almost got Sassuolo back into the match on the stroke of halftime but his curling strike crashed off the left post.
Babacar doubled his tally in the 62nd after beating the offside trap to bring down David Pizarro’s long ball.
Berardi reduced the deficit five minutes later with a powerful looping header over Fiorentina goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.