Gonzalo Higuain scored twice in a 2-1 win over 10-man Inter Milan on Monday to provide a big boost for Napoli's title chances
ROME (AP) — Displaying a form at the San Paolo stadium not witnessed since Diego Maradona's exploits, Gonzalo Higuain scored twice in a 2-1 win over 10-man Inter Milan on Monday to provide a big boost for Napoli's title chances.
Napoli leapfrogged Inter for the Serie A lead, moving one point ahead of the Milan club as it seeks its first Italian league title since Maradona led the southern squad to the championship in 1987 and 1990.
After just 64 seconds, Higuain took a pass from Jose Callejon inside the area and used one touch before unleashing a powerful shot that Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic had no chance on.
Then shortly after the hour mark, the bearded Argentina international finished off a counterattack by sprinting past two defenders and chipping in a delightful angled shot for his league-leading 12th goal in 14 matches.
It marked the eighth consecutive home game in which Higuain has scored. Only Christian Vieri (11 consecutive home matches) and Alberto Gilardino (nine) have done better in Italy since 1994.
Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Inter in the 67th with an accurate shot from near the edge of the area that was slotted inside the near post.
Inter fullback Yuto Nagatomo was sent off for a questionable second yellow card shortly before halftime for a sliding tackle on Allan.
Inter hit the post twice in the final seconds of added time of an entertaining match.
Earlier, third-place Fiorentina drew 1-1 at Sassuolo in a match that highlighted Giuseppe Rossi's struggle to return to form after a series of knee injuries.
Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after just five minutes after being left unmarked to redirect a cross from Josip Ilicic that wound its way past several players inside the area.
Sergio Floccari equalized for Sassuolo shortly before halftime with a header, leaping between two defenders to meet a cross from Sime Vrsaljko.
Fiorentina is one point behind Inter.
In Naples, the San Paolo stadium was full for a highly anticipated 1 vs. 2 matchup and the home fans were quickly rewarded when Higuain took advantage of Napoli's first chance.
Fredy Guarin and Ivan Perisic had Inter's best chances in the first half.
After the interval, Inter coach Roberto Mancini removed forward Mauro Icardi — last season's joint Serie A scoring leader — in favor of fullback Alex Telles then put on Jonathan Biabiany for Guarin just before Higuain struck his second.
Raul Albiol's header set Higuain off to the races and the striker muscled off Jeison Murillo and Miranda before finding the target.
Higuain had a chance at a hat trick but missed just wide in the final minutes before Inter came close to equalizing twice.
In the fourth minute of added time, Inter substitute Stevan Jovetic hit the post with a header then Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina deflected a header from Miranda off the post.
In Reggio Emilia, Rossi got a rare start at forward for Fiorentina but was replaced by Nikola Kalinic early in the second half after failing to make an impact.
Once he sat down on the bench, Rossi shook his head in disappointment.
The United States-born former Italy international returned in August after 15 months out following the latest surgery on his right knee, which he first injured four years ago while with Villarreal against Real Madrid.
Kalinic had a few chances to win it but couldn't quite find the target and add to his total of nine goals this season.
Rossi is scoreless in eight Serie A appearances. He has two goals in the Europa League.
"Rossi is working toward getting back in his best form and we want to aid him by letting him play," Fiorentina manager Paulo Sousa said.
Sassuolo is an impressive sixth, level on points with AC Milan one point behind four-time defending champion Juventus.