The Bianconeri ensured they would end the weekend three points ahead of Serie A’s chasing pack by beating Atalanta 2-0 away in Bergamo on Sunday afternoon.
During a first half in which Massimiliano Allegri’s men saw more than 68 per cent of the ball and were controlling the flow of the match with pinpoint passing (83 per cent accuracy), their goal eventually came from an unusual source, when in the 24th minute Andrea Barzagli was at hand to poke home Mario Mandzukic’s knockdown from a corner.
The visitors continued to create chances after the interval, while having to weather a couple of Atalanta attacks, and eventually settled the encounter when Mario Lemina put his four-month absence through injury well and truly behind him with a phenomenal dribble and finish with the outside of his boot in the 86th minute.
The win sees Massimiliano Allegri’s men maintain a three-point advantage over second-placed Napoli with ten matches of the league campaign remaining.
The Bianconeri started the brighter of the two sides and might have taken an 11th-minute lead when a free-flowing move triggered by Paul Pogba’s neat flick saw Claudio Marchisio put Sami Khedira in on goal, but the German’s shot was smothered by Marco Sportiello.
Many of Juve’s best moves were going through Pogba, who came close to scoring himself in the 20th minute, with a fierce drive that ended just the wrong side of the crossbar.
Moments later, the visitors made their pressure count, Barzagli bundling home after Mandzukic had directed Paulo Dybala’s corner into the defender’s path. The goal, incidentally, was Barzagli’s first since netting against the same opposition in 2012.
Understanding the importance of a second strike on the afternoon, the Bianconeri continued to hit their hosts with a fluid combination of passes, Khedira once more the man to almost get on the end of Dybala’s cute through ball, but Sportiello was quick off his line to sniff out the danger.
In the 40th minute, the Nerazzurri fashioned a rare opening on goal, one which might have led to an equaliser, when Marten de Roon latched on to Marco Borriello’s searching cross, forcing Gigi Buffon into a smart point-blank save.
Atalanta looked to race out of the traps straight after the interval, breaking quickly down the left, but, Mandzukic was at hand to cut out a menacing delivery into the penalty area.
The Croatian was also making his presence felt back up the other end of the pitch, stealing the ball off Sportiello on the edge of the box and getting away a shot on target, which however lacked the power to get past Rafael Toloi, who was covering just in front of goal.
Dybala’s dribbling skills were beginning to bamboozle the hosts’ backline, the Argentine slaloming his way past Gabriel Paletta before running into Boukary Dramè and giving away a free-kick.
Khedira too came close to doubling Juve’s advantage in the 65th minute, riding a last-gasp challenge to test Sportiello from inside the area.
As long as Atalanta trailed by just the single goal, they maintained belief in being able to salvage a point for themselves and almost pegged Juve back when unmarked Borriello headed wide and Toloi, lurking dangerously at the back post, could not quite get on the end of a free-kick.
Nerazzurri hopes were dashed in the 86th minute, however, when Mario Lemina evaded a couple of tackles outside the box before striking past Sportiello with the outside of his right boot in what was an effort just as cultured as it was aggressive.
The Gabon international’s strike noticeably deflated the home outfit, who were unable to muster any major chances on Buffon’s goal, despite the addition of six minutes injury time, as Juve’s captain was left celebrating his ninth consecutive clean sheet.
Allegri’s men now have five days to prepare for their next league appointment, when Sassuolo will be the visitors at Juventus Stadium on Friday evening.