MILAN, March 20 — Massimiliano Allegri hailed an “important step forward” as jittery Juventus edged closer to a record sixth consecutive scudetto with a precious 1-0 win at Sampdoria yesterday.
“This is an important step forward because we have a very difficult end to the season,” Allegri said after a 24th win of the campaign left the Turin giants eight points clear of Roma after their 3-1 win over Sassuolo.
“It was important to win here because as soon as we come back (after the internatioal break) we face Napoli.
“The lads played one of the best first halves of the year and in the second, although we had a few chances, we put ourselves at risk when it would have been far easier to tighten up.”
A superb header from Juan Cuadrado on seven minutes gave Juventus the early advantage, until the loss of playmaker Paulo Dybala to a flexor muscle problem on 27 minutes changed Allegri’s gameplan.
Dybala was replaced by Croatia forward Marko Pjaca, but Juve laboured for the remainder on their way to seeing former striker Fabio Quagliarella come close to levelling in the closing minutes.
Allegri’s nerves were frayed on several occasions, notably when Kwadwo Asamoah, having provided Cuadrado’s assist, panicked twice in the second half and came close to gifting Sampdoria cheap possession.
As Samp maintained the pressure, Allegri erupted 12 minutes from the end when Dani Alves came off worst in a fair challenge with Vasco Regini.
“We have to be a bit more committed, not let players get past us and try to be more organised,” said Allegri.
“Today we made only three or four fouls, while against Milan we suffered 21 and committed eight. We suffer a lot, but sometimes (committing) a foul can be useful.” Juventus beat Milan 2-1 in a fiery encounter last week.
An ineffective Gonzalo Higuain was replaced by Swiss midfielder Stephan Lichtsteiner for the closing minutes, but it was Samp who finished strongest, Quagliarella firing an overhead kick over Gianluigi Buffon’s crossbar.
“It’s a shame, because we really deserved a share of the points,” said Sampdoria coach Marco Giampaolo. “I’m proud of the lads’ performance, they were pugnacious and had the right attitude throughout.”
Juve’s win put pressure on Roma, but Luciano Spalletti’s men, still hurting from Europa League elimination by Lyon in midweek, overcame a ninth-minute opener by Sassuolo striker Gregoire Defrel to see Leandro Paredes and Mohamed Salah give the hosts a 2-1 lead by half-time.
Edin Dzeko then came off the bench on the hour to secure the points with his 21st goal of the campaign on 68 minutes.
“We deserved to win. And that was what we wanted after our elimination by Lyon,” Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman told Premium Sport.
He said catching Juve, though, would be “difficult”.
“Now, we’re concentrating on second spot. For the scudetto, it’s difficult. Juventus always win.”
Lazio’s Champions League hopes were dented by a scoreless draw at Cagliari that left Simone Inzaghi’s men fourth but now five points behind Roma and six behind Napoli.
“The draw was a fair result,” said Inzaghi. “We played worse than we have been playing and although finishing let us down, Cagliari played a solid game.”
Fiorentina’s hopes of Europa League football next season looked dead and buried, but after losses by Inter and Lazio La Viola are back in the hunt after a 1-0 win at Crotone courtesy of Nikola Kalinic’s 90th minute winner.
Fiorentina remain eighth although Paulo Sousa’s men are just seven points behind Inter.
Inter, held 2-2 at Torino on Saturday, sit fifth at two points behind Lazio but on the same points (55) as Atalanta, who cruised to a 3-0 home win against Pescara.
AC Milan’s 1-0 win over Genoa on Saturday means the Rossoneri remain seventh at two points behind Atalanta and Inter. — AFP