Lazio earned a hard-fought 1-0 win at Palermo on Sunday to open up a four-point lead at the top of Serie A ahead of next weekend’s Rome derby.
Brazilian centre-back Andre Dias scored the only goal of the game with a somewhat fortunate volley to condemn the lacklustre Sicilians to defeat and dent their own Champions League aspirations.
Lazio lead champions Inter Milan by four points with AC Milan a single point further back in third.
Inter won 1-0 at Genoa on Friday night while Milan were downed 2-1 at home by fourth-placed Juventus on Saturday.
After this latest victory, Lazio’s seventh in nine games this season, it would be hard to argue that they are not genuine title contenders.
It was also the perfect preparation for next weekend’s derby against Roma, who beat Lecce 2-0 on Saturday but had captain Francesco Totti dismissed, meaning he will miss the Lazio game.
Although Palermo played some pretty football, they lacked cutting instinct in the first half.
A mistake by Giuseppe Biava handed Josip Ilicic the ball just outside the area, he fed Javier Pastore but the Argentine’s finish was weak.
The hosts created several other shooting opportunities from distance but never troubled Fernando Muslera, with Ilicic, Mauricio Pinilla and Pastore again trying their luck with speculative efforts.
The only chance of real note in the first period fell to Lazio, who duly took the lead.
Christian Ledesma swung a free-kick over from the right and Dias lost his marker Cesare Bovo before shinning a volley into the top corner to give Salvatore Sirigu no chance in the Palermo goal.
There was more of the same slow-paced action in the second half until the 65th minute when finally the hosts seriously threatened.
Pinilla hit an acrobatic volley goalwards that Muslera saved one-handed before Stefan Radu charged down Pastore’s follow-up.
But still they failed to put sustained pressure on their opponents and Lazio’s Mauro Zarate knocked a free-kick over the wall but Sirigu was well placed to save.
Biava then received his marching orders for a second booking and Lazio were forced to try and hold on.
Eight minutes from time substitute Massimo Maccarone met a Pastore cross with his head but couldn’t direct the ball either side of Muslera.
Palermo’s attacks started to get frantic in the final five minutes with Muslera tipping a powerful Pinilla header onto the bar and then parrying a fierce near post shot from Mattia Cassani.