Roma give up on title
Napoli's Dries Mertens bagged a brace in a thrilling 2-1 win at Roma that prompted Giallorossi coach Luciano Spalletti to virtually concede the Serie A title race to Juventus yesterday morning (Singapore time).
"We have to be realistic. For us, it's now almost impossible to catch Juventus," said Spalletti after a morale-crushing defeat that could leave Roma 10 points adrift in second place by the end of the matchweek.
Belgium attacker Mertens was given the nod ahead of striker Arkadiusz Milik, despite the Poland star's recent return from a five-month injury lay-off.
And coach Maurizio Sarri's decision to keep deploying the Belgian winger as his main striker was vindicated during an end-to-end thriller that saw Napoli soak up long spells of pressure before seeing Mertens punish Roma's leaky defence.
Napoli took a 1-0 lead into half-time at the Stadio Olimpico after the 29-year-old struck against the run of play to flick the ball over onrushing Wojciech Szczesny on 26 minutes.
Mertens completed his brace, taking his league tally for the season to 18 goals, five minutes into the second half with another cool finish following Lorenzo Insigne's inswinger towards the back post.
When Kevin Strootman reduced the arrears on 89 minutes, it sparked a dramatic late fightback from Roma that saw Pepe Reina acrobatically palm Diego Perotti's deflected drive onto the crossbar before clearing with his leg.
But Napoli, who saw Sarri sent to the stands for dissent midway through the second period, held on for a valuable win.
After virtually dropping out of title contention last week following a 2-0 defeat by Atalanta which left them trailing Juventus by 12 points, Napoli are now just two points behind Spalletti's men in the race for the second automatic Champions League spot.
Napoli maintained a recently imposed media blackout, but Sarri didn't need to sing Mertens' or Napoli's praises - Spalletti and one of his players did it instead.
"They were much better than us in terms of speed and passing the ball around," said the Roma coach. "In the first half we couldn't go any faster, and they made it difficult for us to win back possession."
"We almost came back to grab a draw but they were better than us," Perotti told Premium Sport. - AFP
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