Juventus put one hand on this year’s Serie A title after winning 2-1 away to Fiorentina on Sunday night, a result which sees the league-leaders go 12 points clear of second-placed Napoli, for whom anything other than a victory against Roma tomorrow afternoon would mean that Massimiliano Allegri’s men celebrate an historic fifth successive Scudetto title after full-time at the Stadio Olimpico.
The Old Lady needed to dig deep in order to get the job done at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Historically a tough ground to visit, Paulo Sousa’s Viola side asked the Bianconeri plenty of questions during an intriguing first half in Florence, both Federico Bernardeschi and Cristian Tello forcing Gigi Buffon into fine blocks, before Mario Mandzukic put the visitors in front with a stylish left-footed volley from Paul Pogba’s knockdown.
Allegri’s men would need to weather many a wave of Fiorentina attack after the break and the hosts eventually broke down the visitors’ resistance when Nikola Kalinic scored with a spectacular curler. Just two minutes later, however, Juve re-established their advantage when Alvaro Morata tucked home from close range.
With the match entering injury time, the moment arrived for Buffon to confirm his almost supernatural status, making a remarkable double save to keep out Kalinic’s penalty as well as the immediate rebound, ensuring that his side take three crucial points back to Turin with all eyes turning now to the Partenopei’s tussle tomorrow in the capital.
Despite the virtually unrelenting drama at the Franchi, the game began quietly with the opening quarter of an hour played predominantly in midfield and lacking in chances.
Not long afterwards, however, both sides ended up having goals disallowed between the 15th and 20th minutes. First, Sami Khedira prodded home Mandzukic’s forward pass only to be flagged for offside. Then, Bernardeschi’s tap-in was ruled out for the same reason down the other end.
Buoyed by that strike, Fiorentina’s lively striker forced Buffon into a smart save at his near post and, moments later, Paulo Dybala hit inches over Ciprian Tatarusanu’s crossbar, as the match truly burst into life.
Buffon would need to get another pair of strong gloves to Tello’s rasping drive before Juve got their noses in front in quite fantastic fashion.
Pogba rose highest to cushion header Sami Khedira’s cross right into Mandzukic’s path, who guided his left-footed volley with perfect precision into the bottom corner. The goal was the Croatian’s 10th in Serie A this term and Pogba’s 12th assist in what is already the Frenchman’s most fruitful campaign for contributions in the final third.
The visitors were riding their luck somewhat in defence, however, and Fiorentina might easily have levelled a minute before the break when Marcos Alonso nodded wide from point-blank range after beating his marker at the back post from a corner.
Sousa’s charges would continue their purple patch after the interval, with Josip Ilicic firing over from a promising position, incidentally a shot which saw the Slovenian get injured and subsequently replaced by Mauro Zarate.
Moments later, it would be Pogba’s turn to fluff his lines when put through one-on-one with the keeper, the 23-year-old put under pressure by backtracking defenders at the time of pulling the trigger.
In what was now a truly end-to-end affair, Buffon knocked Kalinic’s angled effort into the side-netting before substitute Zarate drilled whisker wide of the upright with Juve’s keeper and captain at full stretch.
After a pulsating start to the second period, the attacks eventually died down in what well and truly represented calm before the storm, triggered by Kalinic’s curled equaliser into the corner on 81 minutes.
The scores would be level for all of two minutes, however, when Morata bundled home after Patrice Evra’s deflected strike spun into the Spaniard’s path.
The fireworks were far from over there, however, as Buffon performed heroics not for the first time this season, diving low to his left to save Kalinic’s penalty before getting back up again to block the rebound.
Still unsure how his spot-kick had been kept out, Fiorentina’s Croatian forward very nearly pegged Juve back at the death, as he headed onto the bar from a matter of metres.
That would ultimately be that, however, as referee Paolo Tagliavento finally brought time on proceedings to leave the Bianconeri on the verge of creating history.