Allegri elated as Juve shakes up title tussle

China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-04 07:56

MILAN - Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri could not hide his delight after his side tripped up Serie A leader Napoli to deliver a major psychological blow to its title rival.

The 1-0 victory for the defending champion moved it second, just one point behind Napoli, which suffered its first defeat in 15 matches this season.

Inter Milan - now the only unbeaten team - could claim the championship lead at home to Chievo on Sunday.

Allegri elated as Juve shakes up title tussle

Roma, meanwhile, stayed in the hunt with a 3-1 win over 10-man SPAL on Friday to sit fourth, just four points behind Napoli with a game in hand.

"We needed a real Juventus performance tonight and that's what we produced," said Allegri after ex-Napoli man Gonzalo Higuain - playing just days after surgery on a broken hand - scored the only goal in the 12th minute in Naples.

"We had to dig in because we were up against a great side but we didn't give them an inch," added Allegri.

"Perhaps we've focused more on trying to play nice football than being solid up until now, but the big games are won in defense, and so we proved tonight."

Allegri insisted however that Napoli - looking to end its 28-year wait for the Scudetto - remains the team to beat.

"We may have won today but we're not the favorites for the title - Napoli and Inter are.

"If we want to win a seventh straight title - after three years when we've fought to the end in pretty much every competition we've played in - we're going to have to produce something extraordinary. Ordinary is not enough."

Juventus skipper Gianluigi Buffon made some key saves in a confidence booster ahead of this week's Champions League trip to Olympiakos in Greece.

"It had been a while since I kept a clean sheet here - it feels good!" said former Italy keeper Buffon after his side's first win at Stadio San Paolo in nearly three years.

"Our mentality and approach were spot on and we stayed tight as a unit.

"If we play like that, we send out the message that Juve is in the mix and we're here to stay. Let's not get carried away just yet though: if Inter wins on Sunday, we'll still be third, and I'm not going to celebrate third place."

Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri said the brilliance of Higuain, who left for Turin in 2016, was key for the champion.

"Higuain is a phenomenon in these situations. Juventus have 90 million euro less in the bank, but an extra three points," said Sarri.

"I know Juventus are not loved in Naples, but while Gonzalo was with us, he behaved impeccably."

Arkadiusz Milik's absence is beginning to hurt Napoli. The Polish striker's knee ligament injury means Dries Mertens remains the southern club's only centerforward.

"Unfortunately, Ark got hurt at the worst time, as the transfer window was closed and we couldn't bring anyone else in," said Napoli captain Marek Hamsik.

Napoli travels to Dutch side Feyenoord this week looking to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League.

Agence France-presse

(China Daily 12/04/2017 page23)

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