Higuain helps Napoli beat Roma as Juve profit

Roma’s defeat in the big game of the weekend in Italy allowed Juventus to pull three points clear at the top after a 2-0 victory at Empoli thanks to an Andrea Pirlo free kick and Alvaro Morata’s strike.

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The champions, who lost for the first time in the league this season at Genoa in midweek, were made to work hard for their win with both goals coming in the second half.

Napoli, who have picked up speed after a slow start to the campaign, moved up to third place on 18 points from 10 games, four behind the second-placed Romans.

The hosts went ahead in the third minute when Lorenzo Insigne’s long-range effort was deflected off a defender and Argentine Higuain, with his back to play, leapt to hook the ball spectacularly into the net.

The strike made Napoli fans quickly forget his missed late penalty in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Atalanta and calmed the atmosphere inside the San Paolo as the sides met for the first time since a fan was shot before May’s Italian Cup final.

Napoli supporter Ciro Esposito died in hospital in June and police were out in force to prevent any notable violence.

On the field, Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik hit the crossbar and the home team went close again when Kalidou Koulibaly powered down the right and played in Callejon.

The Spaniard dinked the ball over former Napoli keeper Morgan De Sanctis but his effort was so delicate that Radja Nainggolan had time to clear.

Hero Nainggolan then became the villain when he lost possession in the centre circle and the ball was fed to the left flank where Higuain’s incisive cross into the area saw Callejon get there first to finally turn it into the net.

“This was a win for a team who work alongside their fans, this is the key, everyone together and united, in this way we can win lots of games,” Napoli coach Rafa Benitez told reporters.

Juve’s Pirlo broke the deadlock on the hour at lowly Empoli in trademark style, his free kick drifting over the wall and in, although the keeper could probably have done better.

Carlos Tevez, given a partial rest, came off the bench and almost immediately made an impact as he teed up Morata for the second on 72 minutes.

Lorenzo Tonelli fouled Tevez late on to receive his marching orders.

In Saturday’s late game, former Juve full back Paolo De Ceglie scored twice to drag Parma off the bottom with a 2-0 home win over erratic mid-table Inter Milan whose coach Walter Mazzarri is fighting to stay in a job.

(Writing by Brian Homewood/Mark Meadows; Editing by Ken Ferris)