Juventus maintained their hot pursuit of Serie A early front-runners Roma with this evening’s emphatic 4-0 demolition of Catania played out in front of a buoyant home crowd in Turin.
Two goals in either half put the Sicilian strugglers to the sword and enabled Antonio Conte’s men to record both their second success and clean sheet in the space of four days.
Arturo Vidal’s deflected drive gained the hosts a foothold in the game midway through the first half, while a trademark Andrea Pirlo free-kick eight minutes later guaranteed a two-goal cushion going into the break.
Carlos Tevez rounded Andujar to allay any fears of a potential Rossazzurri fightback on 66 minutes, with Leo Bonucci putting the icing on the cake when he turned substitute Sebastian Giovinco’s centre across the line moments later.
For the visit of the Rossazzurri, Conte stuck to his recent rotation policy by making three changes from the side that ran out 2-0 winners over Genoa on Sunday night. Martin Caceres operated as the right-sided central defender in place of Andrea Barzagli, while Paolo De Ceglie and Claudio Marchisio stepped into the five-man midfield in place of Kwadwo Asamoah and Paul Pogba respectively.
The Bianconeri, who approached the game looking to record back-to-back Serie A victories for the first time since October 6, steamed out of the blocks and almost made their early pressure count inside the first two minutes, Tevez stealing an inch on his marker before rifling in a shot that rose fractionally over Mariano Andujar’s crossbar.
After Pirlo had dragged a long-range effort wide on eight minutes, it was again the mercurial Argentine’s movement that menaced the opposition rearguard as he drifted beyond the central defensive pairing to gather Leonardo Bonucci’s raking pass before shooting straight at Andujar.
In spite of the enterprising start and contrasting league positions, Conte’s men were fired an early warning sign of Catania’s counter-attacking intentions on 15 minutes. Breaking quickly and with men racing forward in support, Keko squared for Gonzalo Bergessio, but a last-gasp Chiellini intervention took the sting out of the frontman’s shot and enabled the ball to run out for a Rossazzurri corner.
Having survived an early scare, Juventus maintained their positive approach, using the width of Mauricio Isla and Paolo De Ceglie to good effect as they looked to pick out the imposing presence of Fernando Llorente in the opposition penalty area. This particular pattern of play almost came to fruition when De Ceglie whipped in a dangerous looking cross on 19 minutes, only for the Spaniard to glance his header just wide of the target.
With three of his four Serie A goals so far this season coming inside the first 30 minutes of play, Arturo Vidal represented many people’s best bet to open the scoring against Luigi De Canio’s men.
And the Chilean failed to disappoint, confirming his early potency with a strike from the edge of the area that took a wicked deflection off Tiberio Guarente before squirming past the outstretched hand of Andujar on 26 minutes.
Eight minutes later, Conte’s men strengthened their grip on proceedings with yet another moment of dead ball brilliance from midfield wizard Andrea Pirlo. Former Bianconeri man Sergio Almirón created the opening by felling Tevez on the edge of the box, leaving Pirlo to do the rest with a wonderfully crafted strike that nestled in the back of the net for his eighth set-piece goal in the black and white stripes.
Buoyed by some choice words from De Canio at the break, Catania rallied and made a strong start to the second half, going close on two occasions to halving the deficit through two Bruno Petkovic efforts inside the first four minutes of the restart.
But the hosts were in no mood to sit back and protect their two-goal advantage, instead pushing their foot on the throttle with the aim of putting the final outcome beyond doubt. A miscued shot from Bonucci was proceeded by Pirlo’s blocked attempt, before Marchisio rattled the woodwork with a venomous left-footed rocket.
The visitors, looking for their first win under De Canio’s reign, refused to lie down, though, and could have revived their hopes of clawing their way back into proceedings when Almirón charged through on goal after gathering a loose ball in the middle of the park, only for Chiellini to again ride to the Bianconeri’s rescue with another timely intervention.
What appeared to be an elusive third eventually arrived on 66 minutes, with the goal displaying further proof of the increasing understanding between summer signings Llorente and Tevez, the former feeding the latter to round Andujar and record his sixth Serie A goal of the current campaign.
With the game over as a contest, the Bianconeri heaped further misery on the visitors five minutes later as Giovinco, on in place of Tevez, skipped past the challenge of a Catania defender before cutting back for Leo Bonucci to open his account for the season with a simple side-footed finish.
Giovinco could have made the Bianconeri’s advantage even more telling in the closing stages of the game, denied twice by the reflexes of Andujar, while Paul Pogba, an early second-half substitute in place of Vidal, was also thwarted by the opposition shotstopper.
The final whistle brought news of Napoli’s 2-1 away win over Fiorentina, meaning Conte’s men remain in third place for the time being, two points behind leaders Roma, who entertain Chievo at the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow night.
But the main headline from tonight’s game will be the return of the swagger that characterised the Bianconeri’s back-to-back title winning seasons, a confident approach that Conte will hope to see maintained when his men run out on Saturday evening at the Ennio Tardini.