MILAN — Napoli beat Sassuolo 2-0 at home to move to within three points of second-placed Roma in Serie A on Monday.
Duvan Zapata and Marek Hamsik linked up for the goals, with both getting on the scoresheet in the second half.
Napoli was forced to play the final 18 minutes with 10 men after substitute Dries Mertens was shown a straight red card less than six minutes after coming off the bench.
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Napoli consolidated third spot as it went five points clear of fourth-placed Lazio in the race for the final Champions League spot.
Rafa Benitez’s side can move level with Roma this weekend when it plays Torino on Sunday, 24 hours before the capital side hosts league leader Juventus.
”We believe in second spot and being just three points off it is good for our motivation, because we are closing in on our objective,” Benitez said. ”Being closer to Roma makes it also easier for me to tell the players that we can reach our target.
”At the moment the pressure is on Roma. They are ahead of us, they are stronger but they are going through a difficult period. But a lot still depends on them.”
Elsewhere, Mauro Icardi was again on target as Inter Milan recorded a third successive win, with a 2-1 triumph at relegation-threatened Cagliari.
Sassuolo had a miserable start to the match as it was forced to replace injured defenders Luca Antei and former Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro in the opening 22 minutes.
Napoli wasted a plethora of chances in the first half while Domenico Berardi also went close and should have put Sassuolo ahead shortly after the interval but fired narrowly wide of the left post.
Napoli broke the deadlock in the 61st minute when Zapata latched onto Hamsik’s through ball. He slipped after his first effort was blocked by one of the four defenders surrounding him, but got back up quickly to fire in the rebound.
The two combined again nine minutes later with Zapata holding up the ball near the six-yard box before touching it back to Hamsik, who curled into the top far corner.
Mertens was sent off moments later after going into the back of Simone Missiroli. It was a miserable week for the Belgium winger, who missed a penalty against Trabzonspor – although Napoli went on to win 4-0.
Sassuolo almost got back into the match but Mariano Andujar pulled off a fantastic fingertip save at full stretch to prevent Francesco Magnanelli’s effort from flying into the top corner.
In Sardinia, Lukas Podolski missed a couple of golden opportunities in the first half but had a hand in the opener, two minutes after the break. His cross found Icardi in the penalty area and although the Argentine was closed down, the ball came through to Mateo Kovacic who drove it under the crossbar.
Cagliari stepped up a gear and had several opportunities to equalize before Icardi doubled Inter’s lead in the 68th minute, bamboozling his way past Cagliari defender Marco Capuano and firing into the top far corner. It was Icardi’s 14th goal, making him joint top goalscorer with Carlos Tevez.
On-loan Inter forward Samuele Longo got Cagliari back into the game in the 74th with a fierce strike which hit the right post and went in off Juan Pablo Carrizo’s back, going down as an own goal from the Inter goalkeeper.
Inter threw away a 2-0 lead in a 3-3 draw against Celtic in the Europa League last week and almost did so again but was helped by Cagliari’s wayward finishing.
Hernanes hit the crossbar for Inter with the last kick of the game.