(Reuters) - Napoli closed the gap on Serie A leaders Juventus to four points with a 3-0 win at Udinese on Saturday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side took to the Dacia Arena pitch knowing that a slip-up from the Turin club, who drew 1-1 with Genoa earlier in the day, had handed them a rare chance to gain ground.
The coach was impressed by his side’s clinical performance as goals from Fabian Ruiz, Dries Mertens and Marko Rog completed a comfortable victory.
“These are all tests of our maturity,” Ancelotti told reporters. “We finished off well before the international break and wanted to come back just as strongly. It was a hard-fought game, a nice match and an important victory with good responses from everyone.
“We’re finding solidity in defence, we’re quite comfortable but the work of the forwards is also important. Our work collectively in the defensive phase was very good today.”
Napoli were dealt an early blow as striker Simone Verdi was forced off with injury, only for his replacement Ruiz to curl a shot into the top corner on 14 minutes.
Chances fell at both ends before the result was put beyond doubt with 12 minutes remaining when the away side were awarded a penalty for handball that Mertens converted.
Substitute Rog then hit a third for the visitors with five minutes to go, shooting low past Simone Scuffet following an exchange with Mertens.
Second-placed Napoli, on 21 points from nine games to Juventus’s 25, also extended their advantage over Roma to seven points after the capital club, sixth in the table, fell to a 2-0 defeat at home to SPAL at the Stadio Olimpico, courtesy of goals from Andrea Petagna and Kevin Bonifazi.
Inter Milan, third in the table with 16 points and with a game in hand, host AC Milan on Sunday.
Napoli’s next test is a Champions League away tie against Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital on Wednesday.
“It’s a match that will be almost decisive for getting through the group stage. It’s in the balance and we need to be on our toes,” Ancelotti said.
Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; editing by Tony Lawrence