Serie A: Roma back to winning ways; Napoli victorious to keep up pressure
MILAN (AP) -- Roma got back to winning ways as the capital side beat relegation-threatened Cagliari 2-1 to cut the gap to Serie A leader Juventus to seven points on Sunday.
Adem Ljajic and Leandro Paredes scored to help end a run of four consecutive league draws for injury-hit Roma, which had also been dumped out of the Italian Cup by Fiorentina in midweek.
Paul-Jose M'Poku headed in a consolation goal in stoppage time.
"Today we showed that even with so many problems we have talent," Roma coach Rudi Garcia said. "And now with the return of important players I will have the possibility to select my lineup knowing that I have first choices also on the bench."
Roma will still be looking nervously over its shoulder after Napoli beat Udinese 3-1 — with Cyril Thereau scoring for both sides — to remain four points behind in third.
With Lazio playing Genoa on Monday, Fiorentina moved into fourth with a 3-2 victory over Atalanta. Sampdoria is level on points after it was held 1-1 at home by Sassuolo, which had all three of its forwards suspended but managed to score in the opening two minutes through Francesco Acerbi.
Inter Milan avoided a fourth successive defeat with a 3-0 win over Palermo, while Empoli beat Cesena 2-0 in a relegation battle to climb five points off the drop zone.
Parma's match against Chievo Verona was called off due to snow and has been rescheduled for Wednesday.
With Juventus beating AC Milan 3-1 on Saturday, Roma knew it needed a win to keep its fading title hopes alive.
Garcia had a selection headache with several players out through injury or still at the African Cup of Nations. Teenage forward Daniele Verde was given his first start with 20 years separating him and his partner in attack — Francesco Totti.
Verde impressed and set up both goals. He provided a sublime chipped pass for Ljajic to open the scoring in the 37th minute.
It was also Verde's cross from the left that saw Paredes seal the match with his first goal in Italy, volleying into the far bottom corner from the edge of the area.
"I have always had belief in Verde because, apart from his talents, his pace and technique, he works for the team and has a lot of hunger," Garcia said. "With this attitude, he will go far.
"I chose him to start today because of his hunger and his skills. He was a bit scared at the beginning, but this game will give him so much confidence now."
M'Poku also scored his first goal, on his debut, with a towering header from Danilo Avelar's cross.
Napoli remained hot on Roma's heels following a sixth successive victory in all competitions.
Dries Mertens got Napoli off to a perfect start with a fine solo effort in the eighth minute, surging forward and combining with Gonzalo Higuain before taking advantage of a ricochet to fire his side in front.
Manolo Gabbiadini doubled Napoli's lead in the 22nd, running on to a delightful through ball from Marek Hamsik and slotting into the bottom left corner for his second goal since joining from Sampdoria last month.
Udinese thought it had got back into it with a stunning curled effort from Allan but Rafael did well to fingertip it onto the bar.
Rafael was at fault moments later as he rushed out of his area but completely mistimed his intervention as Thereau ran onto Allan's pass and flicked the ball over the stranded goalkeeper and into the empty net.
Thereau also scored at the other end just before the hour mark as he turned Mertens' free kick from the right flank into his own net.
In the lunchtime kickoff, Manuel Pasqual's last-minute volley ensured Fiorentina's run of form continued.
Jose Basanta and new signing Alessandro Diamanti scored Fiorentina's other goals. Davide Zappacosta had headed Atalanta in front and substitute Richmond Boakye leveled six minutes before Pasqual's winner.
Mauro Icardi, who was involved in a row with Inter fans after last week's defeat at Sassuolo, refused to celebrate after both his goals.
Fredy Guarin headed in Xherdan Shaqiri's corner for the opener but Palermo should have leveled shortly after halftime as Franco Vazquez hit the left upright and Paulo Dybala ballooned over an open goal from three yards.
Icardi and Andrea Ranocchia also hit the woodwork for Inter.