Nicolò Zaniolo and Jordan Veretout gave Roma a precious victory, despite Alex Meret saving an Aleksandar Kolarov penalty and Napoli rattling the woodwork.
The Derby del Sud was also a head-to-head for fourth place with only one point separating them. Both were smarting after controversial refereeing decisions in the midweek round, which resulted in Federico Fazio and coach Carlo Ancelotti sitting out bans.
Roma’s injury list remained intact with Lorenzo Pellegrini, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Bryan Cristante, Nikola Kalinic, Amadou Diawara, Davide Zappacosta and Juan Jesus, so Mert Cetin got his first start. The Partenopei missed Allan, Faouzi Ghoulam and Kevin Malcuit, but Kostas Manolas returned to face his former club and was jeered every time he touched the ball.
Jose Callejon stung Pau Lopez’s gloves early on and Justin Kluivert drilled wide, but Nicolò Zaniolo was on target yet again to open the scoring. Gianluca Mancini’s ball over the top found Leonardo Spinazzola, who pulled back for Zaniolo to control and blast into the roof of the net. It was the young Italy international’s fourth goal in as many games.
Alex Meret got down quickly moments later to fingertip an Aleksandar Kolarov angled drive round the far post, but on the resulting corner, Callejon handled in the box. His arm was flush with his torso, but the Spaniard also clearly moved his arm towards the ball to nudge it away from Chris Smalling, so was certainly voluntary.
Kolarov stepped up, but in a rare turn of events, saw his penalty parried by Meret. It was the second time this season that Kolarov had seen a spot-kick denied.
Napoli fought back and would’ve been level a couple of minutes later, but Smalling needed an acrobatic goal-line clearance to deny Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s cushioned header from a free kick.
Lorenzo Insigne and Milik also drilled inches wide, while the captain also stung Pau Lopez’s gloves, as the penalty miss seemed to wake Napoli up and they began to pass it around well.
On 41 minutes, the Partenopei were left incredibly frustrated. First Milik’s header looped over Pau Lopez only to bounce off the crossbar, then Piotr Zielinski volleyed the rebound on to the upright in the same move. Mertens also ballooned over when he should’ve done better on a knockdown.
Roma held out under pressure and were awarded another penalty after the break, as Mario Rui had his arm inexplicably raised to charge down a Javier Pastore cross. There was no need for VAR with such an obvious handball. This time, Jordan Veretout took spot-kick duties and Meret got a hand to that too, but it was hit hard and high enough to find the near top corner anyway.
The Giallorossi now had the momentum and Justin Kluivert’s strike from the edge of the box smashed against the crossbar.
Play was halted on 68 minutes by the referee, as despite a warning read out over the speaker, chants of ‘territorial discrimination’ continued. These are considered on the same level as racism and aimed towards southern Italians or more specifically Neapolitans. Edin Dzeko went to the Curva Sud and urged the ultras to cheer on their own team rather than jeer the opposition.
When play resumed, Napoli got a goal back. Chucky Lozano burst down the right and rolled across for Milik to tap in at the back post. Mert Cetin was there first, but was so close to the goal-line that he was afraid any touch would just put it into his own net.
It was suddenly wide open and Meret performed a stunning save to fingertip Pastore’s header over the bar, but it wouldn’t have counted, as there was an offside in the build-up.
Zaniolo and Mario Rui barged each other over as they sprinted into the box, although the Romanista was doing most of the pushing, so the referee waved play on.
Dzeko had the ball in the net, but only after he’d wandered offside on Smalling’s knockdown from a corner. Zielinski’s curler whistled inches wide and deep into stoppages, Mert Cetin brought down Fernando Llorente just outside the box for a red card. The resulting Milik free kick was the last kick of the game and deflected off the wall.
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Saved penalty: Kolarov 26 (R)
Sent off: Cetin 95 (R)