Napoli pays tribute to Diego Maradona, takes outright Serie A lead
Dries Mertens scored twice as Napoli beat Lazio 4-0 to take the outright lead of Serie A on the night it paid tribute to soccer great Diego Maradona.
As well as Mertens — who has taken over several of Maradona's records at Napoli — Piotr Zieliński and Fabián Ruiz also netted to help Napoli move three points clear of second-place AC Milan, which earlier lost 3-1 at home to Sassuolo.
It was a special night for Napoli fans as the match came three days after the one-year anniversary of Maradona's death. Maradona led Napoli to its only Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990 and is considered a god-like figure in the southern city.
A statue to the former Argentina player and coach was unveiled in the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, while the players wore special shirts.
And Napoli got off to a quick start as goals from Zieliński and Mertens put it 2-0 up with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
The second of Mertens' goals, in the 29th minute, was a brilliant effort from the edge of the area that curled into the top left corner. It was a club record-extending 139th goal for Napoli from the Belgium forward.
The 34-year-old Mertens was given a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 64th.
Another delightful goal from Ruiz that arrowed into the top corner from outside the area capped a memorable night for Napoli.
Lazio, which is led by former Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri, slipped seven points below fourth place.
After going unbeaten for nearly a third of the season, AC Milan had its second straight Serie A loss.
Alessio Romagnoli headed Milan in front but its lead lasted just three minutes before Gianluca Scamacca leveled. Simon Kjær's own-goal saw Sassuolo lead at halftime.
Domenico Berardi then extended Sassuolo’s advantage and Milan’s misery was complete when Romagnoli was show a straight red card 13 minutes from time.
Milan is now only a point above third-place Inter Milan after the defending champion won 2-0 at Venezia on Saturday.
Milan lost 4-3 at Fiorentina last weekend but then kept its Champions League hopes alive with a victory at Atlético Madrid.
It also welcomed back goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who recovered from wrist surgery earlier then expected, although the Rossoneri’s injury list remained lengthy.
Milan took the lead in the 21st minute when a corner was taken short and the ball floated over to Romagnoli, who headed in at the near post.
But Sassuolo leveled almost immediately with a powerful strike from Scamacca into the top right corner.
And the turnaround was complete in the 33rd. Theo Hernández headed an attempt off the line and it came out to Scamacca, whose shot was saved by Maignan but the ball ricocheted off Kjær and into the goal.
It was a poor performance from Milan and although the Rossoneri improved at the start of the second half it was Sassuolo that extended its lead when Berardi feinted his way past Romagnoli and placed an angled drive through Maignan’s legs in the 66th minute.
Romagnoli’s day continued to get worse as the Milan captain was sent off 11 minutes later for hauling down Sassuolo forward Grégoire Defrel with a challenge that resembled a rugby tackle.
Tammy Abraham's first-half goal was enough to give Roma a 1-0 victory over Torino despite a poor performance from Jose Mourinho's side.
Roma remained fifth, three points behind Atalanta.
Bologna won 1-0 at Spezia, and Genoa drew 0-0 at Udinese. (AP) ATK ATK