11 March 2016
The Bianconeri tightened their grip on top spot in Serie A by beating Sassuolo 1-0 on Friday evening at Juventus Stadium courtesy of Paulo Dybala’s phenomenal first-half finish.
The hosts had the better of a pulsating opening period, in which they were eventually rewarded for their attacking enterprise after 36 minutes, when Dybala curled brilliantly into the far corner after strong running from Juan Cuadrado down the right.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s men, unbeaten in their last five matches, were tricky opponents throughout the encounter and made Gigi Buffon’s match one of his busiest in recent weeks. Juve’s captain twice prevented Nicola Sansone from pegging them back to record a tenth clean sheet in the league, a statistic that also lifts him past Dino Zoff into second place for minutes without conceding a goal in Serie A (currently 919).
In the context of the league table, the victory enables Massimiliano Allegri’s men to rise six points above second-placed Napoli, who travel to Palermo on Sunday.
Juventus flew out of the traps from the very first whistle, as Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic and Dybala exchanged one-touch passes before the latter unleashed a venomous volley just inches over the crossbar.
In the sixth minute, Sassuolo too fashioned a dangerous scoring opportunity of their own, when Nicola Sansone pulled back for Matteo Politano, who fired over from inside the box.
The Bianconeri immediately reasserted themselves, Alex Sandro’s cross creating chaos in the box before Leonardo Bonucci was eventually flagged for offside.
The Bianconeri soon reasserted themselves and on 18 minutes Alex Sandro almost broke the deadlock, rising highest at the far post to meet Dybala’s pinpoint delivery, but Neroverdi keeper Andrea Consigli was at hand to block from point-blank range.
On 25 minutes, the hosts came even closer to finding the breakthrough when Dybala bamboozled the visitors’ backline before standing up a brilliant cross for Sami Khedira, who scooped over from a matter of yards.
La Joya was at his mesmerising best throughout a busy first half and after sending a rasping drive the wrong side of the crossbar via a deflection on the half-hour mark, the all-action Argentine celebrated an awe-inspiring opener six minutes later.
Cuadrado paved the way for the goal, embarking on a mazy run and rounding former Juventus left-back Federico Peluso before laying off to Dybala, who just needed one touch to get the ball out of his feet and another to curl delightfully past Consigli into the far corner.
The strike was the fruit of persistent pressing in the final third, but Di Francesco’s charges were far from beaten yet and fired a warning sign deep into the first half, when Diego Falcinelli saw his shot fly margins wide of Buffon’s net.
Never willing to settle on such a slender lead, the Bianconeri began the second period just as brightly as the first, Alex Sandro getting away an effort that Sassuolo skipper Francesco Magnanelli did well to get his body behind.
Back down the other end, the Neroverdi had far from given up hope of an equaliser, the nippy Sansone weaving his way through Juve’s defence before teeing up Falcinelli, but Andrea Barzagli was at hand to sniff out the danger.
In the meantime, Allegri’s men remained determined to double their advantage but spurned two inviting opportunities to do just that in the 70th minute, when great work down the left by Kwadwo Asamoah and Dybala saw the ball eventually land at the feet of Khedira, but neither he nor Cuadrado could poke past the sea of blue standing firm in front of them.
At 1-0, the Neroverdi knew they were always in with a chance of pegging back the hosts and, with Sansone leading the charge, Buffon was forced into two smart saves from the pacey forward, who had proved a real menace all evening.
A late chance for substitute Alvaro Morata, saved by Consigli at his near post, could have increased the winning margin for the Bianconeri, but after four minutes of added time, the referee’s whistle confirmed another three points for a Juventus side who are hitting form just at the right time.
Spirits will be high as Allegri’s charges now prepare for their assault on a Champions League quarter-final place, with Bayern Munich providing the second-leg opposition on Wednesday night in Bavaria.
Buffon; Rugani, Bonucci, Barzagli; Cuadrado, Khedira (Pogba 72), Marchisio, Asamoah, Alex Sandro; Dybala, (Morata 80) Mandzukic (Lichtsteiner 89)
Unused substitutes: Neto, Rubinho, Evra, Padoin, Hernanes, Lemina, Sturaro, Pereyra, Zaza
Consigli; Vrsaljko, Antei, Acerbi, Peluso; Biondini (Pellegrini 69), Magnanelli, Duncan; Politano (Adjapong 89), Falcinelli (Trotta 77), N. Sansone
Unused substitutes: Pegolo, Pomini, Erlic, Terranova, Longhi, Gazzola, Broh
Coach: Di Francesco