Juventus moved another step closer to the Serie A title as they came from behind to defeat AC Milan 2-1 at San Siro on Saturday.
In a thrilling encounter, Alex gave Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men a first-half lead, but Mario Mandzukic promptly equalised before Paul Pogba struck a controversial winner midway through the second half.
Juve were also indebted to a magnificent performance from captain Gianluigi Buffon, who produced stunning saves in both halves to keep out Mario Balotelli, who produced arguably his best performance since returning to Milan.
The win moves Juve nine points clear of Napoli ahead of their nearest rivals’ game in hand at home to Verona on Sunday, with a fifth consecutive Scudetto moving closer.
Sixth-placed Milan have accumulated just two points from their last five league games and the success of their season depends almost entirely on the Coppa Italia final against Massimiliano Allegri’s side next month.
Milan threatened first when Ignazio Abate’s cross-cum-shot cannoned against the near post with Buffon taken by surprise.
The hosts then came even closer through Balotelli, who was one of four changes from under-pressure head coach Mihajlovic.
The on-loan Liverpool forward unleashed a brilliant free-kick from the edge of the box, but was somehow denied when Buffon dived to his right to make a wonderful one-handed save and then got up to keep out Luca Antonelli on the rebound.
There was no stopping Milan in the 18th minute, though. Balotelli whipped in a precise corner from the right and Alex powered a header past Buffon to grab an opening goal that their start fully warranted.
That stung Juve into action and Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma had to make two impressive stops when Stephan Lichtsteiner turned Alvaro Morata’s cut-back towards goal and then from Claudio Marchisio’s long-range pile-driver.
Within nine minutes of the opener, Juve were level. The hosts failed to deal with Buffon’s high ball, allowing Mandzukic to latch on to a first-time pass from Morata and find the bottom corner – the front two combining nicely in the continued injury absence of Paulo Dybala.
Buffon was just able to keep out a Keisuke Honda snapshot at the other end, before Lichtsteiner struck wide from a good opening for the champions as a thrilling first half ended level.
The brilliant Buffon was called into action early in the second half. The 38-year-old got down sharply to deny Carlos Bacca and made an even better save to tip Balotelli’s follow-up onto the crossbar.
The Milan striker then bundled the ball over the line with his hand, a goal which was promptly ruled out and earned him a yellow card, moments before he struck just over with a powerful drive.
Juve threatened next when Pogba directed a magnificent 25-yard free-kick off the post with Donnarumma beaten.
But Pogba was not to be denied and he put the visitors in front in the 65th minute. The France midfielder got free from Abate – who claimed a foul – and was able to chest down Marchisio’s corner at the far post before sending a bouncing effort beyond Donnarumma.
Juve lost Morata and Kwadwo Asamoah through injury, but they held on for a seventh consecutive league win over Milan, who ran out of steam after Pogba’s strike.
Key Opta stats:
– Juventus have won 64 points from a possible 66 in their last 22 league games.
– Mario Mandzukic has scored in two consecutive Serie A games, after six league appearances without scoring.
– Juventus have gained 16 points from losing positions this season – only Torino (17) have more.
– Paul Pogba has had a hand in 15 Juventus goals (seven goals, eight assists) this season, exceeding his previous Serie A record (14, 7+7, in 2013-14).
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