Udinese stalled SSC Napoli’s Serie A title challenge with a scoreless draw on Monday, as SS Lazio reclaimed third place from AC Milan with a 2-0 win over Delfino Pescara 1936 thanks to a pair of sublime long-range goals.
Napoli had hoped to capitalize on the extra day’s rest after their Europa League exit at the hands of Czech side Viktoria Plzen on Thursday last week to close the gap on leaders Juventus to four points.
However, Walter Mazzarri’s title challengers were left lamenting several missed chances during a performance which left them six points off the pace.
Yet, Mazzarri refused to point the finger.
“If we played like that against Juventus we’d still have given them a game,” the manager said. “Obviously, the win would have been better for us, but we created opportunities and simply didn’t have the rub of the green.”
Opportunity knocked and in Monday’s late match, Lazio eased past struggling Pescara to a 14th league win which moved the Biancocelesti one place up to third.
Milan, who drew 1-1 with Inter in the “Derby della Madonnina” on Sunday, went the other way.
“We needed the three points we took tonight to get us up and running again, and we’re back up to third ahead of our rivals,” said Lazio manager Vladimir Petkovic, whose side next face Milan away on Saturday. “It was important to go into our game to Milan with a positive frame of mind and now we’ll be a bit more relaxed for our trip to the San Siro.”
Lazio broke the deadlock in the 29th minute when Romanian defender Stefan Radu first-timed Senad Lulic’s cut-back to smash the ball past Ivan Pelizzoli and into the top corner off the crossbar.
Barely six minutes later, Pescara’s defense gave Lulic time and space to advance and he repaid them by sending another sublime strike inside the beaten Pelizzoli’s right hand post.
Pescara had little to offer and Lazio should have made it three when Sergio Floccari wasted Radu’s delivery by shooting wide of Pelizzoli just after the hour.
Meanwhile, Napoli underlined their intentions by starting with the attack-minded front trio of striker Edinson Cavani, Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik.
However, the visitors were left frustrated after a first half in which Udinese seemed happy to sit back and defend and wait to counter-attack.
Early on, Cavani failed to make contact despite a sly run toward goal when Giandomenico Mesto aimed in a cross.
Udinese did hit Napoli on the counter, but both Antonio Di Natale and Giovanni Pasquale sent their efforts high and wide respectively.
However, Napoli had the momentum and after Gokhan Inler sent a long-range effort over, Hamsik missed the best chance of the half when he headed a long cross from the left straight at ’keeper Daniele Padelli.
Udinese started more positive after the break and came close five minutes in although Argentine Roberto Pereyra wasted Antonio Di Natale’s cross by firing into the stands from close range.
Napoli regained control, but could not finish the job despite a number of promising offensives, with Cavani spurning a late chance with 15 minutes left on the clock after a great move down the left with Colombian Pablo Armero.