MILAN (AP) — Two almost identical goals in the opening six minutes set Roma on the way to a comfortable 2-0 win over Empoli in Serie A on Saturday.
Roma moved level on points with second-placed Inter Milan, which hosts defending champion AC Milan in the derby on Sunday.
Roma was two points ahead of Lazio, Atalanta and AC Milan. Atalanta lost at Sassuolo 1-0 and ended the match with nine men.
“In the first 25-30 minutes, we looked like a team who could win the league,” Roma scorer Tammy Abraham said. “We just need to continue like this and keep winning.
“Paulo (Dybala) is a very special and talented player. We work well together. Today, he assisted me, and it’s nice to keep sharing the assists and goals. He’s brought that experience that we needed.”
José Mourinho’s team was looking to bounce back from a humiliating cup exit to Cremonese midweek.
And it got off to the perfect start when Roger Ibañez headed in a corner from Dybala less than two minutes in.
Roma doubled its lead four minutes later when Dybala floated in another corner from the left for Abraham to head home.
Matters almost got worse for Empoli immediately after the break but goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario pulled off a fantastic triple save.
He first parried Dybala’s volley and then got up quickly to keep out Gianluca Mancini’s follow-up. With Vicario still on the ground, Abraham seemed certain to head in the rebound from point-blank range but the goalkeeper stuck up his leg to incredibly stop that, too.
Atalanta had to play an hour with 10 men at Sassuolo after defender Joakim Mæhle was sent off.
Mæhle was originally shown a yellow card following a two-footed challenge on Sassuolo forward Domenico Berardi but the referee changed the color to red after being told by VAR to review the incident.
Armand Laurienté broke the deadlock 10 minutes into the second half.
Atalanta forward Luis Muriel was also sent off in stoppage time for dissent.
It was a second straight impressive result for Sassuolo after last week’s 5-2 victory at Milan. It moved 10 points above the drop zone.
Cremonese’s Serie A future grew ever more bleak when it failed to continue its cup exploits in the league.
Cremonese lost at home to Lecce 2-0 to leave it rock bottom of Serie A, 10 points from safety.
Lecce inched 10 points above the relegation zone.
Cremonese was without a Serie A win this season but had beaten Napoli and Roma to reach the Italian Cup semifinals for the first time in 36 years and only the second time ever.
However, its league woes deepened when Lecce scored twice in the second half.
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