Roma had several chances to score, but it was a Jose Callejon header that gave Napoli a 1-0 victory, closing the gap to three points.
It was second against third and big changes on both sides. Jorginho pulled out with flu and Valon Behrami had a knee problem this morning, so Gokhan Inler and Blerim Dzemaili stepped in with Raul Albiol returning from suspension. Daniele De Rossi started his three-match ban with Francesco Totti and Federico Balzaretti injured, but Mattia Destro was surprisingly dropped in favour of Michel Bastos, moving Gervinho to centre-forward.
The last time these sides met at the San Paolo was in February when Napoli won the Coppa Italia semi-final 3-0.
After just two minutes the Napoli defence was caught out as Gervinho sprung the offside trap, but couldn’t get enough power on his header to trouble Pepe Reina.
Kevin Strootman had been in doubt with a right knee injury he sustained for Holland against France on Wednesday. He collapsed twice in the opening 12 minutes and had to be stretchered off, making way for Rodrigo Taddei.
Gervinho scuffed his finish on a promising counter-attack, while Radja Nainggolan’s snapshot stung Reina’s gloves and from that kick Gonzalo Higuain’s volley flashed across the face of goal.
Roma had the ball in the back of the net on 26 minutes with Mehdi Benatia’s header on an Alessandro Florenzi free kick, but it was correctly flagged offside.
There was then an odd moment when the referee blew the whistle for offside and only later realised it was from a throw-in, so apologised to a furious Higuain. Dries Mertens fired his set piece into the wall, but Roma had a great chance on 37 minutes.
Gervinho cut back to commit the defender and go one-on-one with Reina, but the goalkeeper twice managed to parry from point-blank range.
Moments later Mertens was going clear on goal, but Benatia timed his sliding tackle perfectly to stop him. If he hadn’t made that challenge clean, it would’ve been a straight red.
Gervinho again surged forward and combined with Florenzi, but the final pass from the Italian was over-hit.
The Giallorossi were piling on the pressure towards half-time and Gervinho set up Michel Bastos for a powerful strike that Reina fingertipped out from under the crossbar.
At the other end, Mertens cut in past Douglas Maicon and his curling shot was palmed away by De Sanctis.
Mertens again hit a swerving effort over the bar after the restart, then Jose Maria Callejon went clear after Miralem Pjanic lost possession, but De Sanctis used his foot to parry in the one-on-one. The move continued for Higuain to blast over the bar.
Bastos rolled across for Florenzi, who was denied by a decisive Federico Florenzi block, then Nainggolan’s screamer was deflected over by Inler.
Reina had to change direction when Douglas Maicon’s shot took a deflection, managing to palm it off the line and round the near post.
Napoli put together a great move with an acrobatic Mertens backheel flick setting up Callejon’s volley from the edge of the box, but De Sanctis was equal to it.
Maicon’s chipped cross was slightly beyond Florenzi, who stretched to nod it wide of the far post.
The deadlock was finally broken with nine minutes left on the clock. Faouzi Ghoulam whipped in a splendid cross from the left and Callejon met it with a precise header at the back post, in off the underside of the bar where De Sanctis had no chance. It was the Spaniard’s 10th Serie A goal of the season.
Maicon’s strike swerved viciously in the air and Reina was glad to see it whistle just wide.