Turin: Gonzalo Higuain hit his 19th Serie A brace as Juventus moved seven points ahead of Roma and AC Milan at the top with a 3-1 derby win over Torino on Sunday.
Scoring his last league goal in a 2-1 win over Napoli at the end of October, Juve fans had every right to be concerned about Higuain’s consistency following his 90-million-euro move to Turin in the summer.
But the Argentine netted in Juve’s 2-0 Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb in midweek and he confirmed his return to form with a well-taken double that left England goalkeeper Joe Hart with no chance.
“It was a great derby that we won thanks to some late changes,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri, whose side were given a spur by the late introduction of Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic, the Bosnian hitting Juve’s third at the death.
“Higuain was moving well and did well for us.”
Torino coach Sinisa Mihajlovic had upped the stakes at a dramatic pre-match press conference attended by a 60-year-old fan and the club’s long-serving kit man at which he claimed the “whole of Torino” was set on beating their arch rivals.
But with only one win from the past 21 derbies — a 2-1 defeat of Juve in April 2015 that ended their 20-year wait for bragging rights — the pressure was all on Torino, and by the end the Serbian conceded defeat to the richer, more powerful neighbours.
“We wanted to win this game and, looking at the chances we created, we should perhaps have had more,” said Mihajlovic.
“But Juve have a team that’s capable of challenging at home and in Europe, while we are trying to qualify for the Europa League.”
Roma and AC Milan, in second and third respectively at seven points behind Juve, will both be looking to reduce the arrears when they play in the capital on Monday night.
Hart needed to act quickly to stop Mario Mandzukic turning in from close range, but hosts Torino settled quickly and were 1-0 up on the quarter hour when Andrea Belotti rose unchallenged to head Daniele Baselli’s cross from deep on the right past Gianluigi Buffon and into the far bottom corner.
Higuain soon had the visitors level when he powered clear on an accidental flick by Mandzukic to fire past Hart on 28 minutes.
Torino resumed in positive fashion after the interval, Iago Falque unleashing a bullet from the edge of the area that Mandzukic blocked.
But the hosts failed to make the most of several promising counters and were left dazzled by Dybala when he replaced Mandzukic with 20 minutes remaining.
The Stadio Olimpico was stunned when Higuain held off defender Antonio Barreca as he controlled a long ball, swivelled and beat Hart with a powerful strike from the edge of the area on 82 minutes.
Dybala had returned from a six-week injury lay-off in midweek and showed some great footwork to send Higuain through into the box. Hart produced two quickfire saves before Pjanic fired home the rebound to wrap up the points in stoppage time.
Hamsik eyes Maradona record
Elsewhere, Croatia midfielder Marcelo Brozovic hit a brace either side of half time as Inter got back to winning ways with a 2-0 San Siro win over Genoa.
Inter moved up to eighth but are still 15 points behind Juve as they chase a coveted place in Europe, and at risk of being overtaken by Fiorentina if they account for Sassuolo in Monday’s other game.
Dries Mertens hit a hat-trick and Marek Hamsik and Piotr Zielinski scored as Napoli romped to a 5-0 win at Cagliari to close to within eight points of Juve.
Hamsik’s 105th goal for Napoli leaves him just 10 short of tying the club record of 115 set by Diego Maradona.
A week after romping to a 3-0 win over Inter and beating Benfica in midweek, the Slovak said: “It was important for us to follow up after our two previous wins, and we did it in style by playing some lovely football.”
Lazio are in fifth, also eight points adrift, following a 2-1 win at Sampdoria on Saturday.
First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 12:23 IST