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Juventus pull clear as Napoli’s title dreams hit

Friends reunited: AC Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci hugs Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini
AFP

Turin (Italy) (AFP) – Leonardo Bonucci scored on his return to Juventus but could not stop the Italian champions’ march towards a seventh straight title with a 3-1 win over AC Milan on Saturday.

Paulo Dybala opened the scoring after eight minutes with Juan Cuadrado marking his comeback from injury with the second and Sami Khedira adding a third late on as Juventus moved four points clear of Napoli whose hopes were hit by a 1-1 draw at strugglers Sassuolo.

Defender Bonucci, 30, left Turin last summer for Milan after falling out with coach Massimiliano Allegri and was jeered by the hostile crowd in the Allianz Statium.

“I’m happy for Bonucci that he got a goal, but I’m even happier that Juventus won,” said Allegri. 

“It was important to get back to winning ways against Milan, who are in good shape. Wins like this send a signal.”

Dybala’s opener left a diving Gianluigi Donnarumma without a chance after the Milan keeper had earlier cleared a Gonzalo Higuain snapshot.

Milan pushed forward with Andre Silva heading wide, before Bonucci rose to nod in the equaliser — the first Serie A goal conceded by Juventus in 2018.

But the champions cranked up the tempo with Khedira setting up substitute Cuadrado whose diving header beat Donnarumma on 79 minutes with the German midfielder finishing off a Dybala cross for the third.  

It was Gennaro Gattuso’s side’s first defeat of 2018 ending a ten-match unbeaten run, and giving Juventus a boost ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg game against Real Madrid.

“In the end fatigue took over and they had great players and they took advantage of it,” said Gattuso.

Juventus have 78 points from 30 games with Napoli on 74.

AC Milan stay sixth — but drop eight points off the Champions League places.

– Napoli, Roma stalled –

Napoli’s campaign has faltered in recent weeks with just one win in their last four games.

And they missed a golden opportunity to stay in touch with the leaders against Sassuolo who are hovering above the drop zone.

Matteo Politano put Sassuolo ahead after 22 minutes with Maurizio Sarri’s side saved by a Rogerio own-goal with ten minutes to go.

“We created a lot of chances again today, but it’s a period where we aren’t converting enough of them into goals,” said Sarri, whose side will meet meet Juventus in Turin next month in a clash that could be decisive for the Scudetto.

“Our objective is to reach 87 points and set a new all-time record for Napoli in Serie A. That is the only reason we are disappointed to drop two points today.”

In the fight for Champions League places, Mauro Icardi scored a brace in a 3-0 win over Verona as Inter Milan closed to within two points of third-placed Roma who were held 1-1 by Bologna.

Substitute Edin Dzeko rescued Roma who were also hit by a Radja Nainggolan muscle injury that could compromise their Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona in Spain midweek.

Lazio are a further point back, just outside the Champions League places for next season in fifth after surviving a scare to thrash rock-bottom Benevento 6-2.

Dzeko headed in after 76 minutes at the Stadio Dall’Ara after Erick Pulgar had given Bologna the lead on 18 minutes.

“We know that if we play like that against Barcelona, it won’t be enough,” said Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco. “But we also know that Barca will attack. It will be a totally different match.”

Icardi, meanwhile, earned a standing ovation from the 60,000 crowd at the San Siro after bringing his tally of Serie A goals to 105.

The Argentine — who scored four in a 5-0 win over Sampdoria last time out — continued where he left off, bagging the first after 38 seconds from an Ivan Perisic throw-in.

Perisic added a second on 13 minutes, with Icardi sliding in the third after the restart for a confidence boost ahead of next Wednesday’s Milan derby against AC Milan.

Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile also netted a double as Lazio fought back after going 2-1 behind to 10-man Benevento, nabbing five goals in the last half-hour.

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