Miralem Pjanic scored twice, once from the spot, to hand AS Roma a 2-0 win over SSC Napoli and extend their lead in Italy’s Serie A to five points on Friday.
Napoli began the match two points off the pace and hoping to upset Rudi Garcia’s team. However, Rafael Benitez’s men spurned two great chances in the first half when both Goran Pandev and Lorenzo Insigne missed the target from scoring positions.
After Pjanic’s curling free-kick gave Roma a 1-0 lead late in the first half, the Bosnian midfielder made it two from the spot after Napoli defender Paolo Cannavaro was given a red card for a clumsy challenge on Marco Borriello.
Roma now sit on top of Serie A with a maximum 24 points from eight games with Napoli, conceding their first defeat of the season, losing second place to Juventus.
Pjanic fired a warning early on when a goalbound rocket was blocked and after Gervinho scuffed his shot high and wide with Pepe Reina at his mercy, Pjanic hit a low angled drive from distance that whizzed past Reina’s upright.
Tempers flared just before the half hour when Maicon was fouled by Giandomenico Mesto, handing possession to Pandev who was then cautioned for a wayward elbow as he was challenged from behind.
Pandev somehow spurned Napoli’s best chance of the half after escaping his marker in midfield to run on to Insigne’s superb long ball.
The striker was clear on goal but former Napoli goalkeper Morgan De Sanctis shut down the angle and got a hand to Pandev’s shot, which was then cleared acrobatically by Daniele de Rossi.
Roma, however, had the momentum.
Florenzi’s angled low drive went just wide of Reina’s upright and Gervinho had claims for a penalty waved away after he tumbled in the area as he cut in from the left.
Kevin Strootman then saw a drive sail just over the bar.
Insigne spurned a second great chance for Napoli when his low shot from close range hit the post.
Roma finally broke the deadlock just before halftime, Pjanic stepping up to send a sublime curling free-kick past Reina.
Napoli dominated the opening exchanges after the restart and Gokhan Inler almost leveled with a superb first-time drive that came off de Sanctis’ upright.
However, there was never much threat from Benitez’s men, who appeared to be missing the power and drive of Gonzalo Higuain.
Maicon showed good skill deep on the right to squeeze between two defenders and send in a low cross for Florenzi that the forward narrowly missed.
Higuain finally made his appearance on 68 minutes, replacing Pandev, but Napoli suffered a blow moments later when Cannavaro was sent off for manhandling Borriello in the area.
Pjanic made no mistake from the spot, sending Reina the wrong way with a powerful shot that rocked the back of the net.