MILAN (AP) — Napoli could end the year with a double-digit points lead at the top of Serie A.
Goals from Victor Osimhen, Piotr Zieliński and Eljif Elmas saw Napoli beat Udinese 3-2 on Saturday for its 11th straight league victory and open up a significant gap over its rivals.
It was a nervy finale for the home side, however, following two late goals from substitutes Ilija Nestorovski and Lazar Samardžić.
“Today was a further demonstration of just how hard it is maintain the sort of performance levels we’ve had and how hard it is to win in Serie A,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said. “What we’ve managed to do up until now should not been seen as par for the course just because we’re playing great football.
“The last 15 minutes today puts what my players have been doing into perspective and shows how hard they’ve had to work for it.”
The five teams immediately below Napoli don’t play until Sunday, with four of them facing each other.
Whatever happens, Napoli is guaranteed to spend the rest of the year at least eight points clear as Serie A pauses for the World Cup and the traditional winter break.
“I want to thank my players for a phenomenal first part of the season,” Spalletti said. “Overall, the mentality, the dedication and the work ethic of my team have been exceptional.
“They’re young, enthusiastic and they make my job easy because they do everything I ask of them ... Now we must make sure we have exactly the same attitude when the season resumes.”
By the time Italian soccer resumes it will have been three months since Udinese’s last victory, as the team has gone into free fall after an impressive start to the season.
It took Napoli just 15 minutes to break the deadlock as Osimhen headed home Elmas’ cross for his seventh goal in his past six league matches.
Osimhen also had a hand in Napoli’s second goal in the 31st as he went on the counterattack and sent a cheeky backheel pass to Hirving Lozano in midfield. Lozano picked out Zieliński, who took one touch to control in the penalty area before curling into the far side of the net.
Napoli’s third goal also came from a counterattack. André-Frank Anguissa picked out Elmas, who was in plenty of space on the left and he cut inside to fire in at the near post.
Napoli appeared to be heading for a comfortable victory but Nestorovski pulled one back in the 79th and Samardžić reduced the gap still further three minutes later when he robbed the ball off Kim Min-jae and surged forward before placing it into the bottom left corner from 25 yards.
Sampdoria fans resoundly jeered their team and continued protests at the stadium after the game after a fourth straight defeat left the club mired in the bottom three amid its worst start to the season.
Lorenzo Colombo scored on the stroke of halftime and set up a late goal for Lameck Banda as Lecce won 2-0 at Sampdoria.
Samp coach Dejan Stanković was suspended for the match and could only watch in obvious dismay from the stands as his team fell to its fifth defeat in the seven league matches since he took charge.
Sampdoria remained four points from safety ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures while Lecce moved eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Also, goals from Marko Arnautović, Michel Aebischer and Lewis Ferguson helped Bologna to a 3-0 victory over Sassuolo.
It was Bologna’s fourth win in five matches — a run that was interrupted by the midweek 6-1 drubbing at Inter Milan.
Sassuolo was left nine points above the relegation zone, three points below Bologna.