Milan (AFP) – Dani Alves’s deflected strike kept Juventus top of Serie A as they warmed up for a Champions League clash at Dinamo Zagreb with a cagey 1-0 win at Palermo on Saturday.
Juventus travelled to Sicily looking to protect a one-point lead on Napoli but with one eye on claiming a win in Croatia on Tuesday after a scoreless draw at home to Sevilla in their Group H opener.
Coach Massimiliano Allegro rested Paulo Dybala in place of Mario Mandzukic, a choice that almost paid dividends when the Croatia international came close on several occasions.
But days after calling for the Turin giants to start “taking command” of their games, the 49-year-old Allegri was perhaps left with more questions than answers.
Defender Leonardo Bonucci told Sky Sport: “In technical terms, we made a lot of mistakes and when you play for Juventus that can’t happen.
“Compliments to Palermo. They played well, defended well throughout. We have to use this game as a stepping stone to improving.
“Now, it’s time to focus on the Champions League and winning our next game in Zagreb.”
After just 12 seconds Gonzalo Higuain latched on to Miralem Pjanic’s ball to fire just wide of the upright as Juve looked to make their mark early on.
Minutes later, Pjanic’s direct free kick from a tight angle had Palermo ‘keeper Josip Posavec on his toes.
But Palermo were out to make life difficult, and ultimately succeeded during a first half that saw three players from each side earn cautions.
The hosts pressed late in the second half, but coach Roberto De Zerbi was left to lament: “We tried to press after their goal but we just lacked the final touch.
“We’re proud of how we played. When Juve get their game together, it’s frightening.”
Luckily for Palermo, Juve also had an off-night.
Higuain, looking for his fifth goal in six games, was tightly marked throughout and gave Juve a brief scare when left on the pitch clutching his lower back and requiring treatment after falling heavily under a challenge by Posavec.
Allegri was then forced to review his gameplan when defender Daniele Rugani, starting in place of Giorgio Chiellini, was forced off with a knock on the half hour.
Attacking midfielder Juan Cuadrado replaced Rugani but minutes later the visitors were left frustrated again.
Juve should have done better on the counter when Higuain ran on to Mandzukic’s smart backheel in midfield to set up Mario Lemina for a shot that Posavec parried, before his central defence headed to safety.
It was Juve’s best collective play of the game, but epitomised their evening’s work.
On the stroke of half-time Posavec rushed out to thwart Higuain as he waited for Cuadrado’s inswinger, Pjanic pouncing on the rebound to shoot straight at the ‘keeper.
Juve started the second half brightly but it took a huge delection from Edoardo Goldaniga, who stuck his leg out to stop Alves’s speculative shot from 30 yards out, for Juve to finally beat Posavec.
Yet the going didn’t get any easier for the champions.
Their next shot on goal didn’t come until 15 minutes later, Posavec parrying a crisp drive from Mandzukic from close range.
Sami Khedira must have then regretted not firing at goal himself after unselfishly laying off for the big striker, who saw Posavec race back across goal to somehow get one hand to his drive eight yards out.
Mandzukic had the ball in the net minutes later but was ruled offside.
Palermo pressed for a late equaliser but in extra-time Gianluigi Buffon got down low to thwart Aleesami after he had been set up by Andrea Rispoli.
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