Higuain double downs depleted Cagliari as Juve march on

Milan (AFP) – Gonzalo Higuain struck his 21st Serie A brace to go joint-top in the scoring charts as Juventus opened up a seven-point lead with a comfortable 2-0 win at 10-man Cagliari on Sunday.

Higuain’s 17th and 18th goals of the league season means the Argentina striker is tied with Roma front man Edin Dzeko, who missed a penalty then made amends with Roma’s second in a 2-0 win at Crotone.

Juventus, claiming their 20th win in 24 games, remain top of Serie A with a seven-point lead on Roma.

Third-placed Napoli are nine points behind the Turin giants, days ahead of a crucial Champions League trip to Real Madrid.

Juventus are not in action in Europe until they visit Porto on February 22 and Massimiliano Allegri’s men have capitalised to further underline their bid for a record sixth consecutive title.

Despite Juve’s numerical advantage after Nicolo Barella saw red for a second caution on 67 minutes, Higuain says it wasn’t as easy as it looked.

“We did well, but it was a difficult match because we just couldn’t get into our stride at the start,” Higuain told Premium Sport.

“Once we broke the deadlock, it started going a lot better, and even more so after their expulsion.”

Allegri, coach of Cagliari before he moved to AC Milan and led them to the 2011 title, took charge of Juventus in the league for the 100th time and stuck with the 4-2-3-1 system that has recently replaced is 3-5-2 formation.

Juve were without defender Andrea Barzagli due to injury and Miralem Pjanic was rested for Claudio Marchisio, who hobbled off just after the hour to be replaced by the Bosnian midfielder having sent Higuain on his way to the opener.

Although Mario Mandzukic’s early header came close, Gianluigi Buffon was tested by a Bruno Alves free kick that inched wide, awarded after Giorgio Chiellini hacked down Barella on the edge of the area.

Chiellini made way for Daniele Rugani and Juventus took the lead with their first genuine chance.

Marchisio’s ball over the Cagliari back line found Higuain on the run and the Argentine timed it to perfection to chip Rafael at the ‘keeper’s far post.

It was Higuain’s sixth consecutive Serie A match on target but there was more to come only two minutes after the restart.

Paulo Dybala was the willing recipient of Juan Cuadrado’s ball after a speedy attack by the Colombian, and set up Higuain for an angled strike.

It was the 24th time in Serie A that Higuain, who now has 21 braces and three hat-tricks, had scored multiple goals in a game since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013.

But he added: “It’s more important we win. Now, we can rest a little and look ahead to Friday’s game with Palermo.”

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