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Five talking points in Serie A before the winter break

Milan (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo scored twicee as Juventus brought the curtain down on a record-breaking 2018 with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria before the three-week winter break in Italy.

Ronaldo powered the unbeaten reigning champions to a record number of points from the first half of the season with 53 from 19 games.

Napoli are nine points behind in second, with Inter Milan a further five adrift in third, days after their clash at the San Siro was marred by the death of a supporter and Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly being targeted by racist chanting.

Here are five talking points from Serie A this weekend:

Numbers game for goal-machine Ronaldo

Ronaldo overtook Rui Barros as the Portuguese player to score the most goals in a Serie A season, bettering his compatriot’s 12 goals for Juventus in 1988-1989.

Ronaldo scored within two minutes and added a second from the spot for his 14th goal of the campaign. It was also Juve’s 100th goal of 2018 in all competitions, with Ronaldo having already scored the club’s 5,000th goal in Serie A against Torino mid-December.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored 49 goals in 2018 of which 15 in 23 games were for Juventus, 28 in 22 games for Real Madrid and six in seven games for Portugal.

The 33-year-old is second in 2018 behind Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who topped the year’s goal-scoring chart with 51.

Higuain revives AC Milan

Gonzalo Higuain ended his two-month goal-scoring drought, netting the winner amid great emotion in the San Siro for a 2-1 success over SPAL which threw coach Gennaro Gattuso a lifeline.

The seven-time European champions have dropped out of the Champions League places, having failed to score in four games for the first time since 1984.

And forward Higuain, who scored 16 Serie A goals for Juventus last season before going on loan to Milan to make way for Ronaldo, has been linked with a move to Chelsea.

“Higuain really struggled to deal with this negative period, but hopefully has broken through that mental block,” said Gattuso.

Roma looking up

Things are looking up for Roma after a difficult start to the season with Bryan Cristante and Cengiz Under sealing a 2-0 win over Parma to move to within two points of the Champions League places.

“We’ve rediscovered our identity,” said coach Eusebio Di Francesco after achieving back-to-back wins for just the third time this season.

“I might have preferred to keep playing because of what we’ve discovered in the last games, but we have to regain our strength and I need to find myself from the mental point of view.”

Bad boy Nainggolan back for Inter

Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan returned to the bench against Empoli after being suspended by Inter Milan for repeatedly turning up late to training.

“Radja is a sensitive lad, but he can be attracted to other things. He puts three or four things in front of football … he needs to focus,” said coach Luciano Spalletti.

Nainggolan came on after 57 minutes with Keita Balde Diao scoring the only goal 15 minutes later to seal a win over Spalletti’s former club.

“Radja was chosen today because we lacked a bit of spark, he raises the level. We love him, even if a father must grumble,” added Spalletti, who signed the Belgian last summer having worked with him at Roma.

Koulibaly moved by tributes

Koulibaly expressed his gratitude for the support he received in the San Paulo Stadium after being targeted by monkey chants midweek at Inter Milan.

Thousands of Napoli fans wore masks and held up his picture before the team’s 3-2 Serie A win over Bologna, with the message “Siamo Tutti Koulibaly” (“We are all Koulibaly”).

“The emotions of this day and this victory will remain forever in my heart: Thanks,” the French-born player wrote on Twitter after Dries Mertens dedicated the winning goal to him.

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