MILAN (Reuters) - Juventus forward Gonzalo Higuain scored a second-half hat-trick as the champions routed hapless Sassuolo 7-0 in Serie A on Sunday.
Juve stayed second, however, as leaders Napoli won 2-0 at table-propping Benevento, helped by a gem of a goal from Dries Mertens, to keep them one point ahead of the Turin side. The leading pair have both won their last seven games.
AS Roma ended a six-match winless run in the league by beating Verona 1-0 with a first-minute goal by Cengiz Under while, in a bizarre game, both Bologna and Fiorentina scored directly from corners in a three-minute spell.
Napoli have 60 points from 23 games with Juventus on 59 before a big gap to Lazio on 46, Inter Milan (45) and Roma (44).
Alex Sandro gave Juventus a ninth-minute lead and two quick goals from Sami Khedira put the Turin side three goals up. Miralem Pjanic added a fourth before halftime.
Higuain burst on to the scene with a hat-trick between the 63rd and 83rd minutes.
The Argentine opened his account with a clinical finish, then latched on to Claudio Marchisio’s long pass before rounding Andrea Consigli to score.
He completed his hat-trick by playing a one-two with Federico Bernardeschi before dinking the ball over the bemused Sassuolo goalkeeper.
“I‘m always trying to improve,” Higuain said. “As a player, you need to be humble enough to want to learn and know that you always have to question yourself.”
Napoli were made to work hard by Serie A debutants Benevento and it took a special effort from Mertens to put them ahead in the 20th minute.
The Belgian received the ball in the area, wrong-footed his marker by dragging it back and dinked it into the net from a seemingly impossible angle.
Napoli captain Marek Hamsik made up for an awful miss by turning in Jose Callejon’s cross for the second two minutes after halftime before Benevento had a penalty revoked by the video replay system (VAR).
Guilherme had already put the ball on the spot when the referee changed his mind after spotting an offside in the Benevento build-up.
Under scored after 43 seconds for Roma, firing home from outside the area to give them a 1-0 win at relegation-threatened Verona.
Fifth-placed Roma held out despite Lorenzo Pellegrini receiving a straight red card for a reckless tackle.
AC Milan were held 1-1 at Udinese after having a player sent off and conceding an own goal.
Suso rifled Gennaro Gattuso’s team ahead in the ninth minute with a 30-metre shot but the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Davide Calabria was sent off for a second booking in the 68th minute.
Udinese equalised with a Kevin Lasagna shot which deflected off a defender before goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma tipped it into his own goal.
Fiorentina took the lead at Bologna when Jordan Veretout’s corner looped over Antonio Mirante, hit the far post and rebounded off the Bologna goalkeeper and into the net.
Mirante’s opposite number Marco Sportiello was beaten at his near post as Erick Pulgar levelled from another corner but Federico Chiesa earned Fiorentina a 2-1 win 19 minutes from time.
Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Ed Osmond