Argentina striker Paulo Dybala produced a spectacular strike and prompted an own goal as resurgent champions Juventus outclassed Lazio 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico on Friday.
Juve remain fifth in Serie A after their fifth consecutive league win and have reduced the gap on leaders Napoli to four points ahead of their trip to Bologna on Sunday.
Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Roma sit one, two and four points off the pace respectively ahead of meeting Genoa, Udinese and Torino over the weekend.
Four days before meeting Sevilla away in the Champions League looking to finish ahead of Manchester City in Group D, Juventus’s midfield was missing injured Sami Khedira as well as Paul Pogba, who was suspended.
Their absences and Juve’s commitments in Europe meant Massimiliano Allegri was a happy man.
“It was important to come away with the win because we have another important game in midweek, when we will try to finish top of the group,” the Juventus coach told Sky Sport.
“It wasn’t easy because we’re in the middle of a busy period that’s taking a mental as well as physical toll.
“But we were solid throughout. In the first half we tried pressing them high while in the second we controlled things a little bit more.”
Lazio welcomed the champions looking to end a sorry run of results that has left them in 10th place and their coach, Stefano Pioli, reportedly hanging on to his job.
Pending any kind of decision on his future, Pioli told Premium Sport: “We conceded on the first time they got into our own half, but we basically lay down.
“It’s inevitable we’re losing faith in ourselves. Just as wins lift morale, defeats make heads drop.”
The hosts’ heads did drop, after just seven minutes, when defender Santiago Gentiletti turned Dybala’s weighted cross past goalkeeper Federico Marchetti and into the Lazio goal.
There was nothing fortunate, however, when Dybala produced a touch of magic just after the half hour to double the champions’ lead after collecting Mario Mandzukic’s unselfish pass 20 yards from goal.
Dybala had time to control, bounce the ball up onto his thigh and unleash a dipping shot that beat Marchetti low at the ‘keeper’s near post.
All of a sudden, Allegri’s decision to keep Spain striker Alvaro Morata on the bench for the fourth consecutive game looked justified — and moments later Dybala threatened again only to fire over after collecting Kwadwo Asamoah’s ball and deftly sidestepping three Lazio players.
Lazio midfielder Lucas Biglia came off worse in a mid-air challenge with Giorgio Chiellini, the Argentinian left dazed as he was eventually led off the pitch for treatment while Chiellini received treatment to a bleeding head wound.
The incident compounded Lazio’s woes and the tension was taken up a notch in added time when Radu was cautioned for slamming his arm into the face of Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Lazio were jeered off the pitch at half-time and Pioli took little time to ring the changes.
Felipe Anderson replaced Ricardo Kishna and Antonio Candreva came off in place of Keita Balde as the hosts launched what looked to be a futile salvage operation.
Anderson added a much-needed touch of creativity to Lazio’s misfiring attack, the Brazilian setting Sergej Milinkovic-Savic up with a clever backheel only for the Serbia under-21 star to completely fluff his chance.
Keita had a chance just before the hour but skewed his effort from the edge of the area into the waiting hands of Gianluigi Buffon.
Miroslav Klose was then unlucky three minutes from the finish when he ran on to a long ball from midfield and saw his drive in the area deflected out by Chiellini.
But it was all too little for the Lazio faithful, many of whom hurled abuse at the players as they left the pitch with a sixth defeat from their last eight games.