Argentina striker Paulo Dybala hit his 12th goal of the Serie A campaign as Juventus maintained their impressive home record over AS Roma with a nervous 1-0 win in Turin on Sunday.
Juve had won their last four league meetings at home with AS Roma, scoring at least three goals on each occasion.
At the end of a frustrating encounter that could spell trouble for AS Roma defender Daniele De Rossi — suspected of racially abusing Juve’s Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic — Dybala sent the stadium wild when he ran on to Paul Pogba’s short through ball to beat Wojciech Szczesny with a crisp angled strike.
Juve’s 14th win and 11th consecutively means they remain second but the champions have closed the gap on Napoli, 4-2 winners over Sampdoria earlier Sunday when striker Gonzalo Higuain hit his 21st goal in as many games, to two points.
“To win these type of games, you have to strike at the right moment,” said a smiling Juve coach, Massimiliano Allegri.
“Paradoxially, in the opening half hour Dybala was nowhere to be seen. Then he was brilliant to score the winning goal for us in the closing stages.”
AS Roma remain fifth but are 12 points off the pace after what was Luciano Spalletti’s second game in charge following the sacking of Rudi Garcia two weeks ago.
The Italian denied his team had come to stifle Juve’s game-winning strategy, but admitted: “Our priority is to get down to working a certain way. When we start playing and doing well, then we can start to talk about our objectives and (our position in) the league table.”
With Spalletti deploying a new 3-4-1-2 formation that saw Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan move up behind strikers Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah, Juve failed to score in the opening half of a league game for the first time since November when they put three, second-half goals past Palermo.
But it took only minutes for the game’s first flashpoint, Juventus winning a free kick after De Rossi was cautioned for an off-the-ball stamp on the foot of Mandzukic, who crumbled to the ground in apparent pain.
It was then that television cameras allegedly caught the Italy defender mouthing an insult, with reports on several Italian websites claiming De Rossi said: “Shut up, shitty gypsy.”
Both coaches played down the incident, although Spalletti did not deny the accusation, adding: “He (De Rossi) didn’t put his hand up to his mouth, but I will tell him to do that next time.
“In difficult moments like that, certain manners can go amiss. But Mandzukic was taking the piss out of all the (AS Roma) players during the game.”
If confirmed, De Rossi could expect a ban that will do his international career, and AS Roma’s league campaign, little good.
It made for a nervous opening period and it took AS Roma 18 minutes to fashion a chance, Alessandro Florenzi testing Gianluigi Buffon with a dipping shot that the veteran ‘keeper scooped up with ease.
Mandzukic was in the spotlight moments after the restart, the Croatian cautioned for throwing his arm into the face of Antonio Rudiger, who crumbled to the ground.
AS Roma breathed a sigh of relief when De Rossi blocked Sami Khedira’s drive into the box after Salah had given possession away cheaply to Dybala in midfield.
AS Roma eventually found their stride and for a while Buffon was the busiest of the two ‘keepers.
Dzeko got his head to Miralem Pjanic’s long drive into the area but it went nowhere and a half-volley from Nainggolan was deflected over the crossbar for a corner.
Allegri replaced Stephan Lichsteiner midway through the second period and minutes later the Colombian’s high ball found Pogba on the edge of the area.
Pogba set up Evra for a snap shot on the left flank but AS Roma ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny pulled off a great save to block from the Frenchman.
Minutes later Juve finally got the breakthrough, Pogba holding the ball up well amid a panicked AS Roma defence to set up Dybala for a first-time strike that zipped past Szczesny and into the far bottom corner.