Serie A: Roma lose ground in title race after draw
AC Milan transfer target Mattia Destro bundled home a second-half leveller in a 1-1 draw away to Palermo as Roma`s title hopes suffered a blow for the second consecutive week on Saturday.
Rome: AC Milan transfer target Mattia Destro bundled home a second-half leveller in a 1-1 draw away to Palermo as Roma`s title hopes suffered a blow for the second consecutive week on Saturday.
Roma travelled to Sicily looking to get back to winning ways after battling for a 2-2 draw at home to Lazio last weekend.
But a quickfire opener by Argentinian Paulo Dybala had Roma trailing from the second minute and it took until nearly 10 minutes after the restart for Destro to equalise.
Roma`s fifth draw of the campaign left them in second place but their two-point deficit on leaders Juventus will grow to five if the Serie A champions account for Verona late on Sunday.
Juventus hammered Verona 6-1 in the last 16 of the Italian Cup in midweek, when Massimiliano Allegri rested strike pair Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente in anticipation of the Serie A clash.
With midfielders Daniele De Rossi and Radja Nainggolan suspended and captain Francesco Totti on the bench following a bout of flu, Roma coach Rudi Garcia was forced to hand rare starts to Kevin Strootman, Carlos Paredes and Destro.
Palermo started brightly but were practically gifted the opening goal when defender Davide Astori`s pass was intercepted by Franco Vazquez.
His through ball for Dybala allowed the 21-year-old to waltz in and beat Morgan De Sanctis at his near post.
It was Dybala`s eighth goal in nine games and his 10th league goal of the season, further underlining his status as a major transfer target for several top English clubs.
Palermo came close to doubling their lead minutes before half-time when a firm header from Osvaldo Barreto from Michel Morganella`s cross forced De Sanctis into a flying save at his top right-hand corner.
Roma came out firing in the second half and Destro headed just over from Jose Holebas`s cross minutes after the restart.
Roma`s efforts were repaid minutes later when Destro slid in to bundle Kevin Strootman`s header from the right byline past Stefano Sorrentino in the Palermo goal -- his fifth strike of the campaign breaking a three-month scoring drought.
But Palermo remained a threat and when Dybala was sent down the left by Barreto, De Sanctis rushed out to block, suffering a knock in the ensuing clash with defender Mapou Mbiwa-Yanga.
Garcia sent on three substitutes in the space of five minutes in a bid to turn the tide.
Daniele Verde, 18, made his league debut replacing Juan Iturbe, while Totti, 38, came on for Adem Ljajic and Maicon replaced Leandro Paredes -- but Palermo held on for a deserved share of the spoils.
Earlier, strugglers Empoli dented Inter Milan`s Champions League qualifying hopes after holding Roberto Mancini`s side to a scoreless draw.
Inter travelled to the Carlo Castellani stadium looking to claim a second consecutive win for the first time under Mancini since the former Manchester City and Galatasaray handler returned to the club for his second spell in charge in November.
But in the end the Nerazzurri were lucky to escape with a share of the points as the hosts made their intentions clear from the outset, forcing Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic into a number of key saves.
Inter were left in ninth position and are now 17 points behind leaders and champions Juventus ahead of the rest of the weekend fixtures, while Empoli remained 15th, sitting four points above the drop zone.