MILAN: Mario Mandzukic, Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza struck in the second half as champions Juventus moved up to fifth place in Serie A with a convincing 3-0 win at Palermo on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Juventus had claimed a third consecutive league win for the first time this season only last week and on Wednesday beat Manchester City for the second time in succession to secure passage to the last 16 of the Champions League.
Those wins confirmed Massimiliano Allegri’s men, who sat only four points above the relegation zone six weeks ago, had finally turned the corner after a disastrous start to their title defense.
And after shading a balanced first half at the Renzo Barbera stadium, Mandzukic finally broke the deadlock when he rose above Aljaz Struna to head Paulo Dybala’s curling delivery past a beaten Stefano Sorrentino on 54 minutes.
It was a joyous return for Argentina striker Dybala, who quit Palermo last season ahead of a 32 million euros move to the Turin giants, and in the second half he sent a header wide of Sorrentino’s upright.
But more was to come from the visitors, who put the match beyond all reach a minute from the final whistle when Sturaro ran on to Paul Pogba’s perfectly-weighted ball on the edge of the area to sweep it past Sorrentino.
Allegri had replaced Dybala with Zaza minutes earlier and when the striker found himself on a two-on-one alongside Alvaro Morata, he collected the Spaniard’s return to feint past Andrea Rispoli and beat Sorrentino down low at his near post in added-on time.
Juventus moved up one place to fifth, one point ahead of AC Milan and now six behind leaders Inter Milan, who meet Napoli away in a top of the table clash on Monday.
Both Napoli and Fiorentina, who face Sassuolo away on Monday, are just two points off the pace with Roma in fourth at three points adrift following a shock 2-0 home defeat to Atalanta.
Already shell-shocked by their humiliating 6-1 defeat by Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday, the defeat heaped the pressure on Roma coach Rudi Garcia.
Garcia hit back at suggestions the impact of Roma’s heavy defeat in Europe—a year after a 7-1 reverse at home to Bayern Munich—had left his side shell-shocked.
“No, I don’t think so. We’ll prove that by getting the results we need in the future,” Garcia told Mediaset.
But after seeing Roma fail to respond to Alejandro Gomez’s 40th-minute strike and German Denis’s spot-kick on 82 minutes, Garcia said he won’t look for excuses after a display for which he said the whole team felt “responsible”.
“There’s not much to say, we didn’t have a winning attitude and we made a lot of mistakes. Now, we have to keep quiet and get to work.
“It’s been a tough week, I know that. But the squad can show its mettle by putting this behind us. We’re all disappointed, but we’re all responsible.”
Atalanta coach Edoardo Reja told Rai: “We came here to win and did very well, although the key was being clinical when it came to our chances.”
Roma’s third defeat means they could be six points adrift of Inter if the Nerazzurri upset the form book to beat in-form Napoli on Monday.
Inter coach Roberto Mancini, however, admitted: “It’s our first big test against a direct rival away from the San Siro, so we have to give it everything.”
Crisis-hit Lazio, meanwhile, saw two second-half goals by Miroslav Klose chalked off on their way to a fourth defeat in five consecutive matches away to Empoli.
Stefano Pioli’s men never recovered from a fifth-minute opener by Lorenzo Tonelli despite a stirring second-half performance that had Empoli’s defense on the ropes.
Lazio remain in 10th spot at 11 points behind Inter, with Empoli moving five points clear of the drop zone up to 12th.