Napoli top as Atalanta fightback frustrates Juventus

Milan: Napoli took sole possession of top spot in Serie A on Sunday with a 3-0 win over Cagliari as champions Juventus’s winning run stalled 2-2 at Atalanta.
The stalemate ended the six-time defending champions’ run of six consecutive wins leaving them joint second with Inter Milan — who beat Benevento 2-1 — with big-scoring Napoli top on a maximum 21 points.
“I was worried at the end, as we could have lost it and every point will be precious come the end of the season,” said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Juventus had been two goals up in Bergamo after Federico Bernardeschi opened on 21 minutes and Gonzalo Higuain added a second four minutes later. But on-loan Juventus defender Mattia Caldara turned in a rebound to pull one back for Atalanta after half an hour to keep the hosts in touch at the break.
Mario Mandzukic thought he had scored for 3-1, but it was disallowed when the video assistant referee ruled Stephan Lichtsteiner had elbowed Gomez in the face.
Bryan Cristante nodded in a Alejandro Gomez cross to level on 67 minutes for Atalanta who finished fourth in Serie A last season.
Paolo Dybala missed a chance to grab the winner nine minutes from time when Juventus were awarded a penalty — also through the video referee — after an Andrea Petagna handball in the box.
But Albanian goalkeeper Etrit Berisha saved the kick to frustrate the Argentine striker who nevertheless remains top of the Serie A goalscorers with ten so far. “There are few teams that can bother Juve and we’re among them,” said Gomez after a draw against the champions in April secured them European football this season.
“We missed the first few minutes, but then we had an amazing game. I’m proud of this team.”
‘Another level’
Napoli scored another big win with skipper Marek Hamsik opening on four minutes to move one shy of Argentine legend Diego Maradona’s record of 115 goals for the club.
Dries Mertens added a second from the spot on 40 minutes before Kalidou Koulibaly sealed the perfect seventh victory two minutes after the break.
But despite a record of 25 goals in seven games Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri dismissed premature talk of challenging for the title.
“It’s been six years that I’ve heard talk that we can bother Juventus but in the end they’re the ones who win,” said Sarri. “That means they are a level above everyone else.”
Marcelo Brozovic scored a quick-fire first half brace as Inter scored a tight win at tailenders Benevento, who got one back through Marco D’Alessandro. — AFP