MILAN: Gonzalo Higuain hit a brace either side of Paulo Dybala’s first-half spot-kick as Juventus moved four points clear of Roma on Sunday (Monday in Manila) with a comfortable 3-0 win over Bologna in Turin.
In their first competitive match since losing the Italian Super Cup to AC Milan in Doha days before Christmas, Juventus were without Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Dani Alves and Patrice Evra for the visit of Roberto Donadoni’s men.
But Bologna’s last win over Juve came in February 2011, and their hopes of launching any kind of challenge suffered a setback on seven minutes when Miralem Pjanic found Higuain with a searching pass that the Argentinian smashed on the volley past the hands of Antonio Mirante.
Dybala doubled Juve’s lead minutes before half-time by firing low into the bottom corner after Stefano Sturaro had earned a generous penalty upon colliding with Marios Oikonomou on the edge of the area.
Higuain put the match beyond all reach when he rose unchallenged to nod past Mirante from Stephan Lichsteiner’s perfectly weighted cutback on 55 minutes after a great counter-attacking move that left Bologna in disarray.
Higuain’s 12th goal of the season moved him to within two of league-leading compatriot Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan, but the Argentine moved from Napoli in the summer to win titles and is edging closer every week.
“I’m happy for the result because Roma had got to within a point and although we have a game in hand, it was important to win this one,” Higuain told Mediaset.
The champions have a game in hand following the postponement of their league fixture against Crotone due to end-of-year Super Cup commitments and coach Massimiliano Allegri told Sky Sport: “It was important to put a bit of distance between us and the rest.
“It’s a great championship this season and it could go right down to the wire.
“Roma are only four points behind us and a few other teams are not far behind. Our number one priority is to win the title, and it won’t be easy after five in a row.”
Allegri will be watching Roma, Napoli, Lazio and AC Milan particularly closely after this weekend after all four rivals chalked up wins.
Only one goal behind league leader Icardi, Roma striker Edin Dzeko hit a series of blanks as the Giallorossi laboured to a 1-0 win at Genoa where Armando Izzo’s disastrous first-half own goal secured the points.
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti refused to criticize Dzeko, telling Rai Sport: “He had a great game because he never once made it easy for the opposition defence.
“He put himself about, especially at the end of the game to make sure we got the result we wanted.”
Napoli, 2-1 winners over Sampdoria on Saturday when Lorenzo Tonelli grabbed a last-gasp winner on his debut for the southerners, held on to third.
Deservedly so, said Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri: “I think we deserved to win this game: we had nine shots on goal compared to their three and 25 shots compared to their seven,” said Sarri.
Lazio remain in fourth, only a point behind Napoli, after Ciro Immobile made up for Lucas Biglia’s penalty miss at the Stadio Olimpico by striking in the final minute to secure a 1-0 win over dogged Crotone.
At the San Siro Carlos Bacca ended his 98-day goal drought with an 88th minute winner against Cagliari that saw AC Milan up to fifth to close within nine points off the summit.
Atalanta’s stunning season continued with a 4-1 away win at Chievo where Alejandro Gomez notably hit a first-half brace to send the Bergamo side up to sixth at just seven points behind Juve.
Earlier, Ivan Perisic scored twice including a late winner as Inter Milan began the New Year with a 2-1 comeback win at Udinese.