Napoli hammer Empoli to reclaim top spot

Gonzalo Higuain hit his 22nd goal in as many Serie A games to keep his record-chasing quest intact on Sunday as Napoli reclaimed top spot with a 5-1 drubbing of Empoli.

Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain celebrates after scoring against Empoli.   -  REUTERS

Gonzalo Higuain hit his 22nd goal in as many Serie A games to keep his record-chasing quest intact on Sunday as Napoli reclaimed top spot with a 5-1 drubbing of Empoli.

Champions Juventus had earlier gone top with a 4-0 rout of Chievo in Verona where Alvaro Morata hit a brace to claim his fourth goal in a week after netting twice in a 3-0 Cup semi-final win over Inter Milan.

But Napoli, bidding for their first league crown since Diego Maradona’s heyday at the club in 1990, restored their two-point advantage to further underline their ‘scudetto’ credentials.

Napoli now sit top on 50 points, two ahead of Juventus and eight in front of Fiorentina after La Viola failed to break down Genoa in a scoreless stalemate at the Luigi Ferraris.

It means Inter Milan, one point behind Paulo Sousa’s men in fourth, can move up to third place with a win away to AC Milan in the city derby at the San Siro in Sunday’s late fixture.

Cusp of history

As Napoli target a first title in 26 years, Higuain is chasing Serie A’s all-time record of 35 goals scored in a single, 20-team league season, set by AC Milan forward Gunnar Nordahl in 1950.

With 16 games remaining, the Argentinian international is not slowing down although he was replaced halfway during the second half when he received treatment after landing heavily from a mid-air clash.

Higuain came close to an early opener but Lukasz Skorupski was alert to the danger when he unleashed his first timer from Insigne’s clever cutback.

Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri had signalled the danger of Massimo Maccarone, and the veteran striker had Pepe Reina stretching soon after as he drove across the goalmouth.

Catalyst needed

Minutes later, the San Paolo was stunned into silence when Leandro Paredes’s free kick took a wicked deflection to leave Reina wrong-footed in the Napoli net.

The goal served only to spur Napoli into life and when Insigne burst down the left minutes later, the diminutive playmaker had time to pick out Higuain, who nodded past Skorupski from close range.

Napoli won a free kick four minutes later and Insigne stepped up to curl the ball past Skorupski to give the hosts a 37th minute lead, taking his own personal tally in the league to 10.

The half ended on a sour note after Elseid Hysaj and Allan were both cautioned for fouls, ruling them out of the midweek clash with Lazio.

But Napoli were unstoppable after the interval, Jose Callejon playing a role in all three goals on his way to a personal double.

Napoli stretched their lead to 3-1 seven minutes after the restart when Michele Camporese deflected Callejon’s delivery past Skorupski at the keeper’s near post.

The two-goal cushion was enough for Sarri, who spent two years at Empoli prior to succeeding Rafael Benitez at Napoli, to replace Higuain with Manolo Gabbiadini 20 minutes from the end, with Dries Mertens replacing Insigne three minutes later.

It proved a judicious move, Mertens turning provider with a great curling delivery for Callejon to poke the ball past Skorupski at his back post seven minutes from time.

With two minutes on the clock, Callejon struck his second when the ball fell kindly and his angled strike sneaked inside the near post.

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