MILAN (AP) Napoli got back on track by beating nearest rival Roma 2-1, leaving Serie A leader Juventus with the biggest smile on Saturday.
Napoli remained third but closed the gap to second-placed Roma to two points.
Juventus can stretch its advantage to 10 points with a win at struggling Udinese on Sunday.
“We must be realistic, the title race was very difficult before, now it’s almost impossible,” Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said. “It will depend what Juventus do, but it’s very hard.
“When you lose these head-to-head games, your spirit also sinks.”
Napoli was all but out of the Champions League and Italian Cup after 3-1 defeats to Real Madrid and Juventus in the first legs. Alongside a home loss to Atalanta last weekend, Napoli’s season threatened to implode.
The match with Roma was billed not only as a fight for an automatic Champions League spot, but also a fight between two contenders for league top-scorer: Dries Mertens and Edin Dzeko.
Mertens came out on top with two goals.
He broke the deadlock in the first half, springing the offside trap to run onto a delightful through ball from Marek Hamsik and dink it over Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Mertens celebrated in unusual fashion, by getting down on all fours, cocking his leg, and pretending to urinate on the corner flag.
A second score before halftime was ruled out for his push on Federico Fazio. His second came five minutes after the break, when he rushed in at the back post to tap in Lorenzo Inisgne’s cross.
His 18th league goal moved him within one of Dzeko, Torino’s Andrea Belotti, and Juventus forward – and former Napoli star – Gonzalo Higuain.
It was almost worse for Roma as Daniele de Rossi was lucky not to receive a second yellow card 20 minutes from time when he kicked Pepe Reina in the back of the leg from the ground following a collision with the Napoli goalkeeper. It was not spotted by officials but Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri was sent to the stands for dissent.
Mohamed Salah hit the left post and Roma finally scored in the 89th as Diego Perotti burst down the left and pulled back for Kevin Strootman to drive into the bottom right corner.
In five minutes of stoppage time, Roma was denied an equalizer by Reina’s incredible save of Perotti’s deflected loop, which he somehow finger-tipped onto the crossbar.
Carlos Bacca scored two goals and missed a penalty as AC Milan moved back into the European qualifying positions.
Milan moved level on points with fifth-placed Lazio, which visits Bologna on Sunday. Inter Milan can go back above its city rival with a win at Cagliari.
Chievo started the brighter but Milan took the lead against the run of play when Bacca ran on to Gerard Deulofeu‘s through ball, cut inside, and his effort was deflected in off Stefano Sorrentino’s foot.
Chievo leveled four minutes later through a contentious penalty. Mattia De Sciglio was adjudged to have pulled down Serge Gakpe.
Milan was awarded a penalty of its own in first-half stoppage time for a Bostjan Cesar handball but Bacca blazed his spot kick over the bar.
Bacca doubled his tally in the second half, and Gianluca Lapadula knocked in another penalty eight minutes from time.
Zdenek Zeman’s 1,000th match as coach was bittersweet as his Pescara team lost.
It was honors even at the break after Alberto Cerri cancelled out Bruno Fernandes’s opener for Sampdoria.
But Fabio Quagliarella restored Samp’s lead just before the hour mark and substitute Patrik Schick scored six minutes after being sent in.