Milan (AFP) – Gonzalo Higuain’s brace sent Juventus eight points clear in Serie A with a 2-0 win at struggling Pescara on Saturday, and relaunched his bid for another top scorer’s award.
Argentina striker Higuain, who hit a new league record of 36 goals for Napoli last season, now only trails Roma’s Edin Dzeko and Andrea Belotti of Torino by two goals in the ‘Capocannoniere’ race.
After successive braces last week over Cup and league duty that kept the Turin giants on course for a third consecutive double, Higuain was on target again at the Adriatic Stadium.
He wrapped up the match before half-time after finishing off good work by Juan Cuadrado in the 23rd minute before beating Vincenzo Fiorillo in the hosts’ net from Mario Mandzukic’s knock-down just before the interval.
Roma’s 1-1 draw at home to Atalanta — with Dzeko levelling Jasmin Kurtic’s 22nd minute strike five minutes after the restart — allowed Juventus to extend their lead as they target a record sixth consecutive scudetto.
The only blip for Massimiliano Allegri’s men was seeing Argentina forward Paulo Dybala, who hit a brace in the 3-0 Champions League quarter-final first leg win over Barcelona in midweek, limp off with an ankle injury four days before the second leg at the Camp Nou.
“Dybala took a knock, but there’s reason to remain optimistic,” Allegri told Premium Sport.
“In Barcelona, we need courage, lucidity and, above all, the desire to hit the back of the net.”
As far as another Serie A title is concerned, Allegri is taking nothing for granted with six games remaining.
“Roma, on paper, can still get to 90 points. So we need to reach at least 91,” added Allegri, whose side sit on 80 from 32 games.
Roma’s slip-up at the Stadio Olimpico was not a huge surprise given Atalanta are enjoying their best season to date as the men from Bergamo defiantly look to deny AC Milan and Inter Milan a place in the Europa League.
But, with a ninth runner-up place since they last won the scudetto in 2001 looming, Roma’s grip on second is under pressure from Napoli, who trailed by five points before hosting Udinese later on Saturday.
“We’re going to have to work hard to keep Napoli at bay. They’re a top side,” said Roma coach Luciano Spalletti.
– Title chase over –
Atalanta’s Gian Piero Gasperini was missing influential playmaker Papu Gomez, fellow forward Leonardo Spinazzola and goalkeeper Etrit Berisha for the visit to the capital.
But they took the lead when Andrea Conti dribbled past Antonio Rudiger down the left flank and crossed for Kurtic to beat Wojciech Szczesny from 15 yards with a low volley.
A limpid Roma resumed in move positive fashion after the break and when Mohamed Salah knocked a Mario Rui ball over the top for Dzeko, the Bosnian flirted with offside before turning in from five yards.
The hosts spurned several great chances — Daniele De Rossi hitting the woodwork with a spectacular bicycle-kick from a corner and Radja Nainggolan firing a drive off the underside of the crossbar.
Spalletti indicated the title chase is all but over: “Now, we’ll try to consolidate second place.”
Elsewhere, Lazio’s hopes of challenging Napoli for the third Champions League spot were tempered by a 2-2 draw at Genoa, where Luis Alberto hit a last-gasp leveller for Simone Inzaghi’s men.
Lazio remain fourth, six points behind Napoli and one ahead of Atalanta.
Earlier on Saturday, Inter Milan looked to be on their way to victory over AC Milan in the first Chinese-owned city derby following first-half goals from Antonio Candreva and Mauro Icardi.
But the Nerazzurri were pegged back by Alessio Romagnoli’s 83rd minute strike and stunned by Cristian Zapata’s last-gasp leveller at the San Siro.
Milan remain sixth, two points behind Atalanta, with Inter two points further back.