Napoli’s hopes of a first Serie A title in more than three decades were virtually torn apart over an eight-minute span late in the second half at Empoli on Sunday.
Napoli conceded three straight goals — including one that was the product of a terrible error by goalkeeper Alex Meret — and squandered a two-goal advantage in a 3-2 defeat that extended its winless streak to three matches.
With only four games remaining, third-place Napoli was left five points behind defending champion Inter Milan and four points behind AC Milan, which had a chance to reclaim the lead at Lazio later. Fourth-place Juventus can move within one point of Napoli with a win at Sassuolo on Monday.
Napoli stalwarts Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne had put Napoli 2-0 up before the hour mark and the Partenopei looked confident entering the final 10 minutes.
That’s when the match turned.
Liam Henderson scored Empoli’s first in the 80th after Kévin Malcuit lost possession in midfield.
Meret then took too long to clear and when he finally did try to launch the ball away from his goal, Andrea Pinamonti was right on top of him and the ball ricocheted off the Empoli striker and into Meret’s net.
Finally, in the 88th, Pinamonti finished off a swift counterattack to earn 14th-place Empoli its first win since December.
It marked only the third time in Serie A history that a team won after trailing by two goals after 79 minutes.
“Clearly imagining an end to the game like that was difficult,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said. “We made a few too many mistakes and lost the ball too easily.”
Diego Maradona led Napoli to its only Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990.
Having spent most of the season in last place, Salernitana is suddenly on a three-match winning streak — its first such run in its Serie A history — and putting up a fight to avoid relegation.
The southern club beat visiting Fiorentina 2-1 to move within three points of 17th-place Cagliari.
Substitute Federico Bonazzoli scored the winner in the 79th minute after Milan Đurić had given Salernitana an early advantage. Riccardo Saponara had equalized for Fiorentina.
Also, 12th-place Udinese and 13th-place Bologna drew 2-2.