Milan (AFP) – Paul Pogba inspired a second-half blitz as Serie A champions Juventus put one hand on a record-equalling fifth title with a 4-0 win over Palermo on Sunday.
Juventus last achieved the feat of five straight league titles in 1935, but the Turin giants were given extra incentive when title challengers Napoli suffered their second reverse in three games with a 2-0 defeat to Inter Milan Saturday.
It left Napoli in second at six points behind but Juventus turned the screw to leave Maurizio Sarri’s men nine points adrift with five games remaining this season.
The grin on Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri’s face said it all, but he said it’s still too early to celebrate.
“We have a nine-point lead and a good goals difference, but the scudetto fight isn’t over yet,” Allegri told Mediaset.
“We still have to win two games and draw one, then we can talk about the title.”
Juventus, stretching their unbeaten run to 23 games, broke the deadlock on 10 minutes when Germany midfielder Khedira controlled Pogba’s cross on his chest before volleying past Stefano Sorrentino from close range.
Yet Palermo put their current woes to one side to create problems for the Bianconeri, who were lucky to be leading at the half-time interval after being put off their stride by seeing midfielder Claudio Marchisio stretchered off with a suspected ruptured knee ligament.
Juve ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon got down low to smother Ivaylo Chochev’s effort before, at the other end, Pogba saw his volley tipped just over by Sorrentino.
Palermo thought they had the leveller on the half hour but defender Andrea Barzagli did well to chase back and clear Aleksandar Trajkovski’s delicate shot off the line after it had beaten Buffon.
Chochev came close again with a curling strike that deflected inches wide of the top corner.
But if Palermo thought they could keep the pressure on, the Sicilians were in for a surprise — although it took the hosts until the 71st minute to double their lead.
From Juan Cuadrado’s corner, the ball made contact with Alvaro Morata before finding Pogba unmarked at the back post to slip the ball home.
Juve virtually wrapped up the points three minutes later when Cuadrado galloped past Achraf Lazaar to fire past Sorrentino into the top corner.
Simone Padoin replaced Khedira on 78 minutes and the Italian midfielder capitalised on his cameo appearance, collecting Morata’s delivery to beat Sorrentino at his far post from inside the area.
The win had the entire Juventus board, including former midfielder Pavel Nedved, celebrating in the stands.
Napoli now appear out of the title race and Maurizio Sarri’s men will be looking over their shoulders as Roma, who struggled to a 3-3 draw at Atalanta, continue to press for the second automatic qualifying spot.
Yet Roma coach Luciano Spalletti was not a happy man after seeing his side let slip a two-goal lead. Former Roma striker Marco Borriello added a brace to Marco D’Alessandro’s strike to take Atalanta’s lead to 3-2, before club icon Francesco Totti came off the bench to secure a share of the spoils.
“We could have lost the game 5-2!” said Spalletti. “If they had scored a fourth goal, it was all over for us.”
Roma remain in third at five points behind Napoli, and Inter’s precious win on Saturday means Roberto Mancini’s men are only four points adrift of the Giallorossi in fourth.
Fiorentina remain fifth, but closed the gap on Inter to two points thanks to a 3-1 win over Sassuolo that saw an impressive volley from Viola midfieler Josip Ilicic and an incredible own goal by visiting ‘keeper Andrea Consigli.
At the other end of the table, a last-gasp winner from Alessandro Frara saw relegation-threatened newcomers Frosinone snatch a Serie A lifeline with a 2-1 win at basement side Verona.
It moved Frosinone up one place to third from bottom, one point from the safety zone but two ahead of Palermo.