By Ed Dove
REUTERS – Juventus surged back into the Serie A title race with a 3-1 home win over Fiorentina on Sunday, while Napoli and AS Roma played out a 0-0 stalemate and 10-man AC Milan were held 1-1 by bottom club Hellas Verona.
Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala struck second-half goals to add further impetus to Juve’s title challenge after a poor start to the season.
Second-placed Fiore’s Josip Ilicic had given the visitors the lead with a penalty during a breathless opening, but Juventus were level minutes later when Juan Cuadrado equalised against his former club.
Juve’s sixth successive league win helped them go fourth on 30 points, six behind league leaders Inter Milan, while Fiorentina stay four points off the top.
Roma, who have now gone four league games without a win, had goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to thank for keeping them in the contest against Napoli but they still dropped to fifth place a point behind Juventus.
Napoli are level on 32 points with Fiore.
Valter Birsa scored the only goal of the game as Chievo beat Atalanta, who had Nicolo Cherubin and Jasmin Kurtic sent off, while Empoli beat struggling Carpi 3-0 to go ninth.
Fiore took the lead in the third minute in Turin when Ilicic converted from the spot after Juve’s Giorgio Chiellini was adjudged to have brought down Federico Bernardeschi, although the hosts accused the winger of diving.
Juventus responded almost immediately, equalising in the sixth minute when Cuadrado met Patrice Evra’s cross with a looping header, before Mandzukic scored in the 80th after Fiorentina keeper Ciprian Tatarunsanu failed to hold Paulo Dybala’s effort.
Dybala added a third in the second minute of stoppage time when Cuadrado pressured Davide Astori into an error before playing in the Argentine forward, who slotted home past Tatarunsanu.
“As we were so far behind, it is important to close (the gap) even more before the (winter) break,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri told Sky Sport Italia.
“At this moment, the team are playing relatively well, although we have to improve technically and make fewer mistakes.”
Roma were booed off the pitch in midweek after an insipid 0-0 Champions League draw against BATE Borisov despite qualifying for the last 16.
On-loan Chelsea forward Mohamed Salah returned to the starting lineup for the first time since early November against Napoli, and gave them a dynamism that was missing in his absence.
Napoli, however, steadily took control of the contest and had their chances to win, with Marek Hamsik forcing Szczesny into an outstanding double save at the death.
“If this was a boxing match, Roma’s corner would have thrown in the towel,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri told Mediaset Premium. “We didn’t make the most of our obvious supremacy during the match.”
“At this moment Inter are in first place, but they have had luck on their side,” Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic told Sky Sport Italia. “We’ve got all the time in the world to close the gap.”
AC Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic was left fuming at the referee as they drew 1-1 at home to bottom club Hellas Verona.
Carlos Bacca opened the scoring in the 52nd minute, but Luca Toni equalised from the spot in the 57th after Nigel de Jong brought down Leandro Greco and was sent off for preventing a clear scoring opportunity.
“The fans are right to complain and I am sorry for them and the club,” Mihajlovic said to Mediaset.
“You’ve never seen me talk about referees, but you can’t fail to mention some things, because for the last two games we’ve been seriously hurt.”
Milan are in seventh on 25 points, while Verona stay rooted to the foot of the table with seven points.
(Reporting by Ed Dove; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)