Juventus see off Empoli
GONZALO HIGUAIN (pix) hit a brace to help Juventus cement top spot in Serie A with a 3-0 win away at Empoli yesterday.
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 firsthalf 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.
Juventus, aiming for a record sixth consecutive Serie A title this season, are now four points ahead of Napoli ahead of their visit to Atalanta.
Higuain was one of the first players to run and pay tribute to Juve’s travelling support at the end of the game, but the opening half was one of missed opportunity.
Sami Khedira was visibly frustrated when he was replaced on the hour by Lemina, and the German international had plenty of reason.
After just nine minutes, Khedira beat the offside trap to chest down Dybala’s chip and unleash a volley from close range that came off the crossbar.
It was not the first glaring miss by the German this season, but he wasn’t the only culprit.
The pace and movement of Juan Cuadrado had Empoli in dissarray, but the Colombian forward spurned several great chances for the opener.
On 19 minutes Skorupski did well to parry Cuadrado’s drive from the right side of the area and soon after collected Dybala’s snap shot after he latched on to Cuadrado’s pass on the edge of the area.
When Cuadrado was set free down the right with only the ‘keeper to beat, his angled drive came back off the far post.
Cuadrado was marked in somewhat tighter fashion soon after as he bore down again, firing his drive straight to Skorupski.
Juventus were finally set free on 65 minutes, Alex Sandro drawing two players on the left side of the area to set up Dybala. He took one touch to control the Brazilian’s ball before firing an unstoppable left-footed shot into the roof of the net.
Empoli’s heads went down, and their defence crucially backed off allowing Higuain, after collecting Lemina’s angled pass, to fire past Skorupski at the keeper’s near post.
Three minutes later Higuain chased a panicked Zambelli into the area before stealing the ball and rounding Skorupski to complete his brace. – AFP