Juve hand Inter nine-point lead as Napoli crisis deepens

Saturday 17 Feb 2024

Juventus trail Serie A leaders Inter Milan by nine points after being held 2-2 at relegation-threatened Verona, as a 1-1 draw with Genoa left champions Napoli deep in crisis.

Napoli
Napoli s Pasquale Mazzocchi, right, and Genoa s Stefano Sabelli challenge for the ball during the Serie A soccer match between Napoli and Genoa at the Diego Maradona Stadium in Naples, Italy, Feb. 17, 2024. AP

 

Massimiliano Allegri's side had their league title hopes further damaged following an entertaining encounter at the Stadio Bentegodi in which Adrien Rabiot saved a point for Juve.

France midfielder Rabiot rifled home second-placed Juve's leveller nine minutes after the break, moments after Tijjani Noslin had put hosts Verona ahead for the second time in the match.

Michael Folorunsho, whose touch led to Noslin's goal, had smashed Marco Baroni's team into the lead early on with a stunning volley only for Dusan Vlahovic to equalise from the penalty spot in the 28th minute.

The draw didn't do a huge amount for Verona as they stay just inside the relegation zone, level on points with 17th-placed Sassuolo who are at Atalanta later on Saturday and have two games in hand.

However it was a strong performance for a club that let a raft of players go in January, and it also extended Juve's winless run to four matches.

That poor run of form means that Juve are not only watching Inter charge off into the distance they are now looking over their shoulders at AC Milan.

A win at Monza on Sunday night would allow Milan, two points behind Juve in third, to snatch second spot from their rivals.

Napoli booed off

Napoli's draw was another heavy blow for the ailing Serie A champions ahead of the visit of Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Cyril Ngonge saved a home point for Napoli in the final minute after Morten Frendrup had given Genoa the lead with a powerful first-time finish just after half-time.

Napoli ran away with the league title last season but are now 27 points behind Inter in ninth spot meaning their chances of a place in next season's revamped Champions League are increasingly slim.

Six points separate Napoli from fourth-placed Atalanta and that gap could easily be extended to nine.

"The players do what they can but things just don't go our way," said Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, whose position is under serious threat after collecting just 15 points from 12 matches since taking over in November.

"The few errors we make we always have to correct because we end up conceding. We try everything but we struggle to score goals. It's hard to explain."

Ngonge's low finish meant Napoli avoided a ninth defeat in all competitions since Mazzarri replaced Rudi Garcia, but being booed off the pitch was awful preparation for their last 16 tie with Barca.

Neither Napoli nor Barca are having stellar seasons but it would have been impossible to imagine how far Napoli would fall so soon after last season's historic third league title.

Mazzarri said that he "hopes" to have star striker Victor Osimhen back for Wednesday's first leg in Naples after sitting out Saturday's defeat.

But Napoli's goal problems run deeper than Osimhen being at the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria and they created very little against 12th-placed Genoa, making a result against Barca look like a huge task.

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