Teenager Chaka Traore scored his second goal in six days as AC Milan beat Serie A strugglers Empoli 3-0 at the Stadio Carlo Castellani.

The 19-year-old Ivorian winger, who had opened his Milan account in Tuesday’s 4-1 Coppa Italia victory over Cagliari, came off the bench to notch a third for Stefano Pioli’s men in the 88th minute.

That added to Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s 11th-minute opener and an Olivier Giroud penalty just past the half-hour mark.

Third-placed Milan’s third win in four league games closed the gap to second-placed Juventus to four points ahead of the Turin giants’ match at Salernitana later on Sunday.

Aurelio Andreazzoli’s Empoli remain second bottom as their winless run in the league extends to a seventh match.

As the visitors sought to make an early breakthrough, Tijjani Reijnders drilled wide in the third minute and Davide Calabria produced a dangerous cross from the right that flashed across the face of goal without a finishing touch being applied.

Milan then moved in front when Rafael Leao got past Tyronne Ebuehi on the left and laid the ball to Loftus-Cheek, who slotted past Elia Caprile.

Caprile subsequently dealt with a shot from Theo Hernandez before Empoli were forced into a change, with Ebuehi having pulled up injured and replaced by Filippo Ranocchia.

Moments later, Loftus-Cheek’s acrobatic effort hit the hand of Youssef Maleh, a VAR check ensued and after referee Federico La Penna watched footage back pitchside the verdict was a penalty, which Giroud dispatched in emphatic fashion off the crossbar for his 10th club goal of the season in all competitions.

It was then Milan having to make an early substitution due to injury as Alessandro Florenzi came off for Alex Jimenez.

Empoli’s Nicolo Cambiaghi was unable to make the most of a decent chance in first-half stoppage time, shooting wide, and Tommaso Baldanzi then saw an attempt saved by Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan early in the second half.

Milan returned to the front foot with Loftus-Cheek striking wide from outside the box, Caprile tipping over a Christian Pulisic header and Leao curling into the stand.

Empoli’s continued efforts to hit back saw Cambiaghi put a couple of attempts wide, either side of Maignan blocking a Matteo Cancellieri shot and Francesco Caputo’s follow-up deflecting behind.

Milan then wrapped things up on the counter-attack in the closing stages as Pulisic burst forward and fed Traore, who sent a composed finish into the bottom corner.

Empoli increased the pressure on under-fire Napoli boss Rudi Garcia with a 1-0 win in Serie A.

Viktor Kovalenko’s injury-time winner gave the visitors the smash-and-grab points in Naples and left Garcia in no doubt about how the home fans feel about him after he received jeers.

Last year’s champions are in fourth after this sorry defeat.

It could have been so different had the hosts taken two early chances, but they came up against inspired Empoli goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.

The Albania international tipped Matteo Politano’s effort wide and then kept out Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s header from the resulting corner.

Napoli thought they had taken the lead in the 27th minute after Giovanni Simeone poked home but he was ruled offside.

Empoli showed they meant business and fired two warning shots before the break when Matteo Cancellieri fizzed a shot just wide and then Andrea Ranocchia volleyed inches over.

Napoli took a while to get going after the break and then found Berisha was in no mood to concede.

Jesper Lindstrom, who had just come on, fired a wicked effort from 20 yards that was heading for the top corner, but the goalkeeper made a superb flying save.

He then twice denied Khvicha Kvaratskhelia as Napoli kept knocking on the door.

First he kept out an arrowed effort from the Georgian and then used his leg to save another low shot.

It looked like Napoli would be mulling over two points dropped as the game headed into injury time, but things got a lot worse as Empoli stole the win.

In the first minute of injury time Kovalenko found space on the edge of the area and found the far post with a delicious curling effort which beat goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and went in off the post.

There was no time for Napoli to respond and Garcia was left staring down the barrel.

Juventus maintained their unbeaten start to the Serie A season with a 2-0 win at bottom side Empoli.

Danilo fired the visitors in front in the 24th minute and Federico Chiesa made sure of the points late in the second period after Dusan Vlahovic had seen a poor first-half penalty saved by debutant Etrit Berisha.

The win lifts Juve to third in the table, two points behind Inter and AC Milan, while Empoli have now failed to score in any of their three league games this season after crashing out of the Coppa Italia to Serie B Cittadella.

Vlahovic had the first shot on target in the seventh minute, but his right-footed effort was gathered at his near post at the second attempt by Berisha and moments later Jacopo Fazzini fired a shot high and wide at the other end.

Danilo thought he had opened the scoring in the 10th minute when he headed home from close range, only to be penalised for blocking the goalkeeper as Empoli struggled to clear a corner.

Vlahovic then sent a glancing header wide of the post as the home side again had difficulty clearing their lines and that weakness was to prove costly in the 24th minute as Danilo edged the visitors in front.

Danilo’s initial effort following a corner from the left was inadvertently blocked by team-mate Federico Gatti, but the ball came back to the Brazilian defender and he made no mistake with a side-footed finish from eight yards.

Juventus then had numerous chances to double their lead, with a mishit shot from Vlahovic falling kindly for Chiesa to set up Weston McKennie, but his right-footed effort was deflected wide.

Vlahovic himself then fired wide before squandering a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 from the penalty spot after Youssef Maleh clipped Gatti in the box.

Vlahovic had scored a penalty in the opening-day win over Udinese but his left-footed shot lacked enough power and was saved by Berisha with his legs as he actually dived past the ball.

Juventus continued to dominate the game after the interval and Chiesa curled a shot inches wide on the hour mark after playing the ball through the legs of Sebastian Walukiewicz and bursting into the area.

Substitute Paul Pogba then looked to have doubled his side’s lead just four minutes after coming on, only to see his delightful volley ruled out due to Vlahovic being deemed offside in the build-up.

The overdue second goal finally arrived eight minutes from time as Chiesa raced on to a defence-splitting pass from Arkadiusz Milik and was clipped by Berisha as he rounded the goalkeeper, but quickly got to his feet and switched the ball on to his right foot before slotting it into the empty net.

There was still time for Milik to hit the bar with a header from Timothy Weah’s cross and for Moise Kean to clip the post from outside the area, but the two goals were more than enough for a dominant win.

Tottenham have completed the signing of goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario from Empoli.

Spurs had been searching for a long-term successor for captain Hugo Lloris, who is approaching the final 12 months of his deal and made clear his desire for a new challenge earlier this month.

While discussions took place with Brentford number one David Raya over a potential move across London, his £40million price tag saw Tottenham turn their attention elsewhere.

Vicario had long been tracked by the club as a candidate for Lloris and he has now become new boss Ange Postecoglou’s second signing.

The Italian, who has been called up to various national team camps, has signed a five-year deal at Tottenham in a move reported to be worth 19million euros (£16.4m).

Vicario has starred for Empoli during the last two seasons, saving eight penalties in that period to develop a reputation as one of the most promising goalkeepers in Europe.

The 26-year-old started out at Udinese before featuring in the Italian lower-leagues with Venezia, who he helped rise through the divisions up to Serie B.

A move to Cagliari followed in 2019 but with chances hard to come by, it took a loan at Perugia and faith from Empoli to earn Vicario an opportunity in Italy’s top flight.

During two campaigns at Empoli, the first on loan, Vicario shone to earn widespread praise in his homeland, including from goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon.

Vicario will now attempt to establish himself in the Premier League and follow in the footsteps of Carlo Cudicini, another Italian stopper who represented Chelsea and Tottenham.

The arrival of Vicario now switches Spurs’ focus to the future of Lloris, who could be allowed to leave this summer on a free transfer following 11 years in north London.

Fraser Forster deputised last season when Lloris was injured and is contracted to the club until June 2024.

Tottenham have accelerated their search to find Hugo Lloris’ long-term successor by opening talks with Empoli over the signing of goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario.

Spurs captain Lloris, 36, is approaching the final 12 months of his deal and revealed earlier this month his desire to seek a new challenge when in an interview with media in France he described his situation as “the end of an era”, having been at the club since 2012.

Discussions took place with Brentford number one David Raya over a potential move across the capital, but the £40million price tag placed on the Spanish international has stalled the move.

Tottenham have now shifted focus to Vicario and are confident of securing his services with talks under way with Empoli, the PA news agency understands.

The 26-year-old has starred for the Serie A mid-table outfit during the last two seasons, saving eight penalties in that period, and has recently been involved in Italy national team squads to highlight his growing reputation.

Reports suggest a bid in the region of 19million euros (£16.4m) will be enough to prize Vicario away from Empoli.

It would make the Italian keeper Ange Postecoglou’s second signing since he was announced as head coach on June 6, following the permanent transfer of former loanee Dejan Kulusevski last weekend.

Postecoglou officially begins his role at Tottenham on July 1, the club’s first day of pre-season, but is still finalising his coaching set-up

It was confirmed on Monday that John Kennedy and Gavin Strachan would not follow Postecoglou in swapping Celtic for Spurs after the duo were announced as part of Brendan Rodgers’ backroom staff.

Ryan Mason, who took charge of Tottenham’s final six matches of the 2022-23 campaign, is set to remain at the club and be part of Postecoglou’s coaching set-up but the vacancy of goalkeeper coach is still to be finalised.

Juventus' hopes of a top-four Serie A finish suffered a huge double blow as the Bianconeri were thrashed 4-1 at Empoli on the same day they received a 10-point deduction. 

Moments before kick-off, Juve expressed "great bitterness" at the Italian Football Federation's decision to issue a new penalty over alleged transfer irregularities, putting them seventh in the table.

Massimiliano Allegri's side showed no signs of being fired up by that ruling, as Francesco Caputo's penalty and Sebastiano Luperto's powerful effort quickly put Empoli in control. 

Caputo doubled up with a delicate finish after half-time and though Federico Chiesa pulled one back, Roberto Piccoli's stoppage-time strike compounded the visitors' misery and left them five points outside the top four with two games remaining.

Federico Gatti had the ball in the net after 14 minutes, prodding in the rebound after Arkadiusz Milik headed against the crossbar, but Bremer was adjudged to have fouled goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario.

Empoli took full advantage of that escape four minutes later, Caputo drilling home from the spot after Milik clumsily tripped Nicolo Cambiaghi just inside the area.

The hosts only required a further three minutes to double their lead, Luperto smashing into the roof of the net from close range after Wojciech Szczesny denied Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro.

Juve missed huge chances to pull one back either side of half-time, Bremer and Dusan Vlahovic both blazing over the crossbar when unmarked inside the area. 

Vlahovic's miss was swiftly punished as Caputo put the result beyond doubt after 48 minutes, lifting Akpa Akpro's square ball over Szczesny to complete his brace.

Chiesa gave Juve a faint glimmer of hope when he drilled a shot under Vicario with five minutes left, but Empoli restored their three-goal cushion in stoppage time as Piccoli fired into the bottom-left corner.

Romelu Lukaku thanked Inter's supporters and fitness staff after ending his long wait for a goal from open play in Serie A with a double in Sunday's 3-0 victory at Empoli.

The Belgium striker opened the scoring early in the second half at Stadio Carlo Castellani with a precise finish past Samuele Perisan and doubled his tally with an angled drive.

Those were Lukaku's fourth and fifth league goals of the season, and his first from open play since netting against Lecce on the opening weekend, some 253 days ago.

Lukaku, who also played in substitute Lautaro Martinez to round off the scoring in a routine win, is glad he can start repaying the support of those around him during a tough time.

"We must thank the fans – they give faith to the players to do better," he told Sky Sport Italia. "This has been a complicated season and we thank the fans for their support.

"I'm quicker in the change of pace and we are doing great work with the fitness staff. My previous injury was the most serious of my career, one that had never happened before."

Lukaku, who has scored 39 per cent of Inter's goals in all competitions (7/18) since the start of February, added: "I am getting more confident and want to keep helping the team."

The Chelsea loanee was recalled to the starting line-up as Simone Inzaghi rotated his side between facing Benfica in the Champions League and Juventus in the Coppa Italia.

After overcoming Benfica to set up a showdown with Milan, focus now turns to the Coppa Italia semi-final with Juve, which is poised at 1-1 heading into Wednesday's second leg.

Inzaghi has a big selection call to make in attack after Lukaku was cleared to play against Juve with his first-leg red card rescinded, but it is a headache he welcomes.

"It's a problem I want to have in every area," Inzaghi told DAZN. "I'm happy to have Lukaku available and we hope, with the exception of [Milan] Skriniar, everyone will be ready.

"We know how much [Lukaku] has suffered – unfortunately these things happen. He's working well and it's nice for a coach to have an abundance of problems like this."

 

Inter may be impressing in cup competitions, but they have struggled in the league of late, with Sunday's win snapping a five-game run without a victory since early March.

It is the first time Inter have won by a three-goal margin since defeating Bologna 6-1 in November, and they kept a clean sheet away from home for the first time in nine games.

While happy with the performance of his side against lowly Empoli, Inzaghi is not happy with the quick turnaround in games in what is an intense period of the campaign.

"We can't think further than our next match, which is just 72 hours away," Inzaghi said. "The calendar is insane because we play a lot. However, we can't have any excuses.

"This was the response we needed today. Players who haven't played for a while did well, though I never had any doubts over that.

"Now we have the Coppa Italia semi-final and we want to give our all in that game."

Romelu Lukaku scored twice and assisted another as Inter snapped a five-game winless run in Serie A with a 3-0 victory against lowly Empoli at Stadio Carlo Castellani on Sunday.

Inter booked their place in the Champions League semi-finals in midweek, but their poor domestic form – coupled with Juventus' points reprieve – had seen them drop to sixth. 

Simone Inzaghi's heavily rotated side took time to get going against Empoli, but Lukaku gave them a 48th-minute lead with his first league goal from open play since August.

Lukaku fired in another in the 76th minute and then teed up substitute Lautaro Martinez late on to seal the points that lift Inter up to fifth – temporarily at least – and within two points of fourth-placed Roma, who face Atalanta on Monday.

Samir Handanovic was one of those recalled between Inter's two cup ties and was equal to efforts from Nicolo Cambiaghi and Tommaso Baldanzi in the opening 20 minutes.
 
Roberto Gagliardini fired over from range as Inter struggled to create anything of note in a low-key first half, but Inter got their breakthrough three minutes into the second period.

Through his first sight of goal, Lukaku guided a precise shot away from Samuele Perisan into the bottom-left corner for just his fourth league strike of the campaign.

Empoli, now with just one win in 12 league games, offered little in response and fell further behind when Lukaku worked a yard of space and fired an angled shot past Perisan.

Lukaku was not finished there as he carried the ball forward and played in Martinez to convert from one-on-one and complete the routine victory.

Stefano Pioli was left frustrated by Milan's 0-0 draw with Empoli, believing it showed a return to normality after their 4-0 win at Serie A leaders Napoli previously.

The Rossoneri were held to a stalemate by the visitors to San Siro on Friday, missing the chance to consolidate their top-four spot after Inter had also drawn at Salernitana.

Having stunned the runaway title favourites Napoli 4-0 on their own patch last Sunday, Milan could not find the net this time despite having 23 shots, though only four were on target.

Pioli felt his side did all they could, but also suggested their performance reflected an anticipated comedown of sorts.

"It's not the result we wanted," he told Sky Sport Italia. "We had to do better in the first half. We played with great intensity.

"We conceded little to them, and in the second half, we did everything [we had to]. The ball just didn't want to go in.

"Goals are expected from the forwards if we create the chances. We needed to fill the area better. We lacked something to win.

"It's been a long time since we played with this level of energy and intensity, and I'm sorry. We wanted to win again after Napoli.

"But in my opinion, we're returning to the level [where we should be]. We need to improve our game, and we are doing that."

Milan face Napoli again next week, this time with the pair meeting for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at San Siro.

Milan missed the opportunity to further boost their top four hopes as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Empoli on Friday.

The Rossoneri went into their Serie A clash at San Siro looking to take advantage after rivals Inter could only draw with Salernitana earlier in the day.

But Stefano Pioli's side ultimately also had to settle for a point as Paolo Zanetti's visitors stubbornly kept them at bay despite Milan fashioning a number of opportunities, while Olivier Giroud saw a late goal disallowed for handball.

It marked a disappointing lead-in for the hosts as they prepare to face league leaders Napoli in the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Milan wasted little time pursuing an opener, and back-to-back attempts from Ante Rebic and Theo Hernandez in the 13th minute forced a pair of saves from Samuele Perisan, while Sandro Tonali also went close six minutes from the interval.

Empoli continued to be besieged at the back following the break, with defender Tyronne Ebuehi eventually surviving a penalty call that had been given for handball, overturned after a VAR check on the hour mark.

The arrival of Giroud and Rafael Leao added fresh life into Milan's attack, with the latter going close in the 73rd minute following Alessandro Florenzi's cross.

It looked as if Giroud might have spared his side's blushes when he had the ball in the net in the 89th minute, only for the VAR to rule it out for handball against the French striker, ultimately ensuring the hosts were kept at deadlock.

Stefano Pioli says Milan are fully focused on their Serie A clash with Empoli, and not distracted by their upcoming Champions League quarter-final against Napoli.

The Rossoneri host the runaway league leaders in the first leg on Wednesday, but face Empoli at San Siro on Friday prior to that huge encounter.

Milan sit third in Serie A after their impressive 4-0 win at Napoli on Sunday, though with Inter, Roma and Atalanta all within three points of them in a tight race for the top four.

Pioli stressed the need for humility against 14th placed Empoli as their league campaign remains important despite the upcoming glamour of the Champions League last eight.

"It is crucial to stay in tension," he said at a press conference. "Matches are won first with attitudes and determination, and then with quality.

"We must be humble; the league is important to us and we must take advantage of this home game."

He added: "We have to stay on track. We produced an important victory in Naples, but we have to use it to play at that level there all the time. We just have to think about tomorrow."

When later asked how he can ignore the upcoming Champions League clash, Pioli said: "Because the objective in the league is very important and because otherwise the victory in Naples would be useless."

The Milan head coach was also asked about the club's former owner Silvio Berlusconi, who is in intensive care after being diagnosed with leukaemia.  

"We're all worried, but we don't have such precise news clearly," he said. "We hug him and hope he can recover and return to the stadium."

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was allegedly targeted by racist chants from Juventus fans following his equaliser in their 1-1 Coppa Italia draw in midweek.

When asked if Italian football has a racism problem, Pioli said: "I don't know. I have many friends who go to the stadium with respect, but I'm very sorry because football and sport must be lived with a different spirit."

Speculation about Mohamed Salah's future at Liverpool has re-ignited amid the Reds underwhelming campaign.

Liverpool appear destined for a last-16 Champions League exit after losing the first leg 5-2 at home to Real Madrid, while they are down in seventh in the Premier League.

The Reds are nine points outside the top-four league spots to earn Champions League qualification for next term.

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL WILLING TO OFFLOAD SALAH

Mohamed Salah is willing to leave Liverpool if they fail to qualify for next season's Champions League while the Reds are open to selling him, claims Fichajes.

Football Insider claims Paris Saint-Germain are keen on the Egyptian, who is contracted with Liverpool until mid-2025, and will bid €80 million (£70.6m) for his services.

Liverpool may be open to offers for Salah given their wealth of forward options as Jurgen Klopp looks to revamp his squad, with their intended pursuit of Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, who is expected to cost more than €110m (£97m).

 

ROUND-UP

– Inter forward Lautaro Martinez is garnering interest from Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, reports TEAMtalk. The 25-year-old Argentinian is contracted until mid-2026.

– Like Arsenal, Manchester United are weighing up a move for Celta Vigo midfielder Gabri Veiga, claims AS. The 20-year-old is believed to be priced around £26m (€30m).

– Fabrizio Romano reports Liverpool's Naby Keita may join Barcelona as a free agent at the end of this season, although he clarified "nothing is serious yet".

– Napoli will rival Liverpool in the race to sign Empoli's 19-year-old attacking midfielder Tommaso Baldanzi, claims Calciomercato.

– RMC Sport reports Paris Saint-Germain will not axe head coach Christophe Galtier before the end of the season, following reports of a move for Thomas Tuchel to replace him.

– Liverpool are considering a swap deal for Milan's Rafael Leao involving Luis Diaz, while PSG are in the race for the Portuguese's signature, according to Calciomercato.

Victor Osimhen believes Napoli's success is the result of great leadership as Luciano Spalletti's team moved a step nearer to their first Serie A title for 33 years.

The Nigerian striker scored for an eighth consecutive league game, taking his goal tally in Serie A to 10 since the turn of the year, with Napoli winning 2-0 at Empoli on Saturday.

The last player to embark on a goal-getting streak so long in Italy's top flight was Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored in 11 consecutive games for Juventus during the 2019-20 campaign.

Napoli's latest away success – their fifth in a row without conceding – was a result that could be directly seen as a measure of the team's progress, given they lost the corresponding game 3-2 last season despite holding a two-goal lead at one point.

This time Napoli never looked like surrendering their advantage after getting ahead, with Ardian Ismajli's own goal followed by Osimhen tucking away a close-range chance.

Napoli were two goals clear inside half an hour, and even the sending-off of Mario Rui midway through the second half did not prove costly.

Spalletti made a tactical reshuffle, and it was Napoli who looked the likelier scorers of a third goal, even with their numerical disadvantage.

"Today we had last year's defeat in mind and we were very concentrated to be able to redeem ourselves and get the win," Osimhen said.

"I'm happy with the confidence the coach has given me, but credit goes to my team-mates because we are a group who are always proving to be competitive on the pitch. Winning here today was very complicated because Empoli are an excellent team."

Saluting the coach and driving force behind this Scudetto push, Osimhen said: "Spalletti always pushes me to give my best, he's a very good and very demanding coach.

"He wants every player to be able to express himself at his best and we follow him because we're doing an extraordinary job which can be seen in the game and in the results."

Osimhen, quoted on Napoli's website, added: "This is definitely the best season of my career, I feel great mentally and physically and I'm happy to be able to continue like this to achieve great goals."

He has 19 goals in 20 Serie A games this term, with Napoli pulling 18 points clear of second-placed Inter, who have a trip to Bologna on Sunday.

It is proving to be a rout of the field as Napoli close in on silverware, winning 21 of 24 games so far, a club record at this stage.

Spalletti said he sensed a "team that knew how to fight and win with a leader's mentality".

Considering Napoli were last champions of Italy in 1989-90, in the days of Diego Maradona and Careca, it is remarkable they have delivered such a spectacular show of dominance this term.

 

Napoli have lost just once in the league, to Inter on January 4, and they would have to collapse dramatically to not be champions.

"Today the concern was that our level of fighting might be lower than theirs," said Spalletti. "Instead the boys had an availability and a predisposition to sacrifice that deserves praise. I congratulate the team because they are performing excellently."

He said Napoli's midfield "put on a tough face and fought ball after ball with extraordinary dedication".

Using a colloquialism, Spalletti added: "This team is a lot of stuff.

"If we are at this point of the season it means that I have a squad that know how to interpret each match in an exemplary way, with the mentality and spirit which must a team that wants to impose itself must have."

Victor Osimhen hit his 10th Serie A goal since the turn of the year as leaders Napoli stretched their advantage to 18 points by winning 2-0 at Empoli.

The Nigerian has scored in his last eight domestic league games, with his efforts bringing a long-awaited Scudetto ever closer.

An early own goal from Ardian Ismajli gave Napoli a strong start, and Osimhen soon doubled the lead with an easy finish.

The victory on the road was tarnished by Mario Rui petulantly kicking out at Francesco Caputo and receiving a red card following a VAR check, but with games running out the Naples giants are looking unstoppable.

A 17th-minute breakthrough arrived when Khvicha Kvaratskhelia's ball from left to right was volleyed across goal by Piotr Zielinski, and Ismajli bundled the ball into his own net from close range.

It was 2-0 in the 28th minute and again Kvaratskhelia was involved, with his skidding shot parried by Guglielmo Vicario to the lurking Osimhen, who had a simple task of tucking past the floored goalkeeper.

Napoli moved in for the kill, and Kim Min-jae hit the underside of the bar from close range with an attempted header that turned into an effort off his shoulder.

Empoli won the corresponding game 3-2 last season after being 2-0 down, sealing a league double, so Napoli knew they had to be wary of a fightback from the mid-table hosts.

Osimhen thought he had scored again just before the hour when he ran in behind the Empoli defence and tucked home while stumbling under pressure, but he was narrowly offside when the pass was played.

The task was complicated for Napoli when their former Empoli left-back Rui was red-carded for his cheap shot at Caputo, catching the striker in a tender spot.

With a quarter of the game remaining, Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti responded by bringing off forwards Kvaratskhelia and Hirving Lozano, replacing them with midfielder Eljif Elmas and defender Mathias Olivera. In truth, Empoli never looked like taking advantage of their extra man and repeating last season's comeback heroics, having been firmly put in their place this time.

Luciano Spalletti says Napoli cannot afford to make "the slightest mistake" when they visit Empoli on Saturday, having seen their Scudetto bid derailed by the same opponents last season.

Napoli are 15 points clear of Inter at the Serie A summit ahead of their trip to the Stadio Carlo Castellani, and appear destined to win their first league title since the Diego Maradona era.

However, Empoli have only lost one of their nine home games against Napoli in Serie A, winning four and drawing four – with last campaign's contest having a huge impact on the title race.

Napoli squandered a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes as they succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at Empoli last April, a result which all but ended their hopes of beating Milan and Inter to the Scudetto.

Despite Napoli's seven-game winning streak making them overwhelming title favourites, Spalletti is wary of the threat posed by a side he represented as both a player and as head coach.

"Don't get confused between work and superstition," Spalletti said. "Here, we work in the right way. 

"The match with Empoli [last season] destroyed our whole year of work, we could have won 3-0 and instead we lost, it was devastating. We suffered a lot.

"We want to win for our city, we feel it. We can't make the slightest mistake. Sometimes, they happen unexpectedly and determine the fate of the whole situation.

"The euphoria we have cannot become presumption, which would stop us from growing."

Empoli are one of just two teams – the other being Inter – to have beaten Napoli twice across the last two Serie A campaigns, doing the double over the Partenopei last term.

However, Napoli appear to be a different beast this campaign, and Spalletti's men have even been touted as contenders to win the Champions League following Tuesday's 2-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Asked whether his side should be held up as an example for others to follow, Spalletti said: "I don't know if we can become a role model.

"Our approach is this, to play good football with our characteristics and to achieve as many results as possible. We are pleased with the compliments, of course."

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