Second half strikes from Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez enabled Juventus to extend their winning streak to five successive Serie A fixtures with this afternoon’s 2-0 triumph over Livorno in Tuscany.
The Bianconeri were required to draw on all their experience in a testing atmosphere against their plucky newly-promoted opponents, but managed to make their dominance count with two well-worked goals after the restart.
First, Llorente slammed home Pogba’s teasing cross on the volley to put the visitors in front on 63 minutes, before goalscorer then turned provider to tee his Argentine strike partner up for a straightforward second with 15 minutes remaining.
The win sees the reigning champions return to the top of the table, two points clear of early pace setters Roma, who host Cagliari on Monday night at the Stadio Olimpico.
For the trip to Tuscany, Antonio Conte elected to resolve the recent defensive crisis that has engulfed his squad by deploying Arturo Vidal in a significantly deeper role at the heart of the back three, flanked by Martin Caceres and Giorgio Chiellini. Simone Padoin and Claudio Marchisio came into a five-man midfield after being named amongst the substitutes for the win against Napoli, while Llorente was again given the opportunity to continue his blossoming partnership with Tevez.
The visitors started the brighter of the two sides, controlling possession neatly whilst looking for an ideal opening to break through a deep-lying Amaranto outfit backed by a feisty home support at the Stadio Armando Picchi.
Vidal, in particular, appeared to be relishing his new-found responsibility at the fulcrum of the three-man rearguard, using the ball intelligently and making several tidy interceptions on the rare occasions Livorno ventured into the final third.
It took 20 minutes for the Bianconeri to fashion their first opportunity on goal, Llorente heading Padoin’s right-sided cross over the crossbar after showing good movement to pull clear of his marker.
But Livorno, who have adapted well to life in the top flight, stuck admirably to their game plan and looked to cause a few problems of their own as the first half progressed. Innocent Emeghara pushed into Juventus territory and tried to curl one beyond Buffon, only for the goalkeeper, making his 500th Serie A appearance, to remain untroubled as the ball flew high and wide.
Still Juve continued to dictate the pace of the play, and it seemed a clear-cut opening would manifest itself in just a matter of minutes. On the half-hour mark, Paul Pogba broke from deep to collect a stray ball in midfield before dispatching a fierce shot on goal which was pushed over the top by Francesco Bardi.
And the chances kept coming. Six minutes later, Kwadwo Asamoah weaved past Pasquale Schiattarella to work the ball onto his natural left foot, with Bardi remaining equal to the Ghanaian’s strike that swerved ominously towards the near post.
On top in practically every department during the first 45 minutes, Juventus emerged for the second period determined to rediscover the cutting edge that was the only aspect missing from an otherwise competent display.
Shortly after the restart, Pirlo was presented with the opportunity to register his fourth free-kick of the season after Asamoah had been sent tumbling outside the box, only to angle his strike wide of the target.
As the tempo of the game rose considerably in a frantic opening to the second half, a combative atmosphere ensued. Luca Siligardi and Leandro Greco were both shown the yellow card in a matter of minutes, while Davide Massa was forced to intervene on several occasions to prevent tempers from boiling over.
But Juventus maintained their poise and, on 63 minutes, found the goal their overall play had merited. And it was well worth the wait. Pogba’s cross from the right-hand side picked out Llorente, who stole a yard on his marker to guide a sublime volley beyond the despairing dive of Bardi.
Livorno refused to lie down, however, and a warning sign of their continual presence in the encounter came seconds later in the form of Emerson’s speculative strike from range, which whistled just over Buffon’s crossbar.
Sensing a second goal was required to take the wind out of the Aramanto’s sails, the Bianconeri kept driving forward and put the game to bed when Llorente’s strong hold up play set up Tevez, who swept home with aplomb from the edge of the area for his seventh Serie A goal of the season.
The floodgates could even have opened as Juventus kept piling on the pressure in the final third. Asamoah stung the fingertips of Bardi with an electrifying drive, while Andrea Coda headed on to his own woodwork under pressure from substitute Fabio Quagliarella at the back post.
After recording another morale-boosting success and fifth consecutive clean sheet, Conte’s men will now immediately turn their attentions to Wednesday night’s crunch Champions League game against FC Copenhagen, with a win required at all costs if they are to harbour hopes of making their way through to the knockout stages.