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Gonzalo Higuain

Higuain scores brace as Juve go four clear of Napoli

Milan (AFP) – Gonzalo Higuain hit a brace as Juventus capitalised on Napoli’s shock defeat at Atalanta to go four points clear in Serie A with a 3-0 win away at Empoli on Sunday.

Massimiliano Allegri’s men travelled to the Carlo Castellani stadium, where the hosts’ best result against the Bianconeri was a scoreless draw in 2008, confident of ensuring that they would remain on top of the table going into the international break.

Yet the Turin giants missed a host of first-half chances before Argentine striker Paulo Dybala finally broke the deadlock on 65 minutes with a close-range strike.

It opened the floodgates, Higuain pouncing on Mario Lemina’s precision pass only two minutes later to beat Lukasz Skorupski from the edge of the area.

Three minutes after that, the Argentine cheekily dispossessed Marco Zambelli yards from the Empoli goal to round the Polish ‘keeper for his second of the day.

Higuain moves on to seven goals in all competitions this season, six in Serie A, in which he is level with compatriot Mauro Icardi, whose Inter Milan side face Roma at the Stadio Olimpico later on Sunday.

“The lads did great on what is a difficult ground to play at,” Allegri told Premium Sport.

“They had a few counter-attacks because we didn’t finish the job off on several occasions, but it was a different story in the second half.

“Once we scored, everything became much easier.”

– Petagna stuns Napoli –

Juventus are aiming for a record sixth consecutive Serie A title this season and their position at the top of the table was strengthened as Napoli suffered their first reverse of the campaign in Bergamo.

Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri, speaking immediately after a 4-2 win over Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday, had warned of the potential dangers of their trip to Atalanta.

Napoli enjoyed a bright start, Lorenzo Insigne’s free-kick whizzing past Etrit Berisha’s upright.

But the visitors were stunned by Andrea Petagna’s ninth-minute opener, and failed to recover.

Papu Gomez’s cross inched over the head of Kalidou Koulibaly inside the area, but after ricocheting off the face of Faouzi Ghoulam the ball fell kindly for Petagna to drive past Pepe Reina at the ‘keeper’s near post.

It gave Atalanta wings, and Napoli were lucky not to concede more before the break.

Reina clumsily punched a Gomez strike into the air and from the resulting corner, Boukary Drame saw his drive come back off the crossbar.

Petagna headed off-target from another Gomez cross down the left, while Arkadiusz Milik spurned the chance to level before half-time when Berisha got down smartly to palm off the line.

Marek Hamsik, who opened the scoring against Benfica in midweek with his 101st goal for the club, came close with a daisy-cutter from Milik’s assist.

Reina then had to get down smart to smother after Roberto Gagliardini robbed Nikola Maksimovic at the byeline to fire a shot through the ‘keeper’s legs.

Sarri replaced holding midfielder Jorginho with striker Manolo Gabbiadini in a last-ditch attempt to grab a share of the spoils.

Gabbiadini, however, saw one late effort cleared off the line and, after Reina saved from Alberto Grassi on the resulting counter-attack, Koulibaly nodded over late on.

Elsewhere, Giovanni Simeone’s 77th-minute strike was enough to secure the points for Genoa in a 1-0 win at Bologna that moved the visitors up to provisional fifth place.

Genoa are seven points behind Juventus but have a game in hand after their fixture against Fiorentina was abandoned last month due to heavy rain.

Sampdoria looked to be heading for their fifth defeat in seven games when Ilija Nestorovski gave Palermo the lead on the hour in Genoa.

But the visitors saw Alessandro Gazzi sent off for a second bookable offence two minutes into added-on time, and Bruno Fernandes’ 95th-minute strike sent the Luigi Ferraris stadium into raptures.

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