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 a huge 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.
Crisis-hit Palermo, who changed coach for the ninth time this season last week when Davide Ballardini was brought back to the club by trigger-happy president Maurizio Zamparini, are now firmly in the relegation zone.
Juventus, stretching their unbeaten run to 23 games, were quickly off the mark and broke the deadlock on 10 minutes when Germany midfielder Khedira controlled Pogba’s cross with his chest before volleying past Stefano Sorrentino from close range.
Yet Palermo put their current woes to one side to create a few problems for the Bianconeri, who were lucky to be leading at the half-time interval.
Juve seemed to be put off their stride after Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio was stretchered off with a suspected ruptured knee ligament inside the quarter-hour, to be replaced by Mario Lemina.
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.
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.
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 just 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 safey zone but two ahead of Palermo.