Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain were on target as Juventus beat Crotone 2-0 on Wednesday to stretch their lead at the top of the Serie A table to seven points.
The first ever Serie A meeting between the sides was a tight battle before Mandzukic scrambled home the opener to set up a fourth straight victory for Massimiliano Allegri’s men.
A Paulo Dybala effort was cleared off the line by Gianmarco Ferrari in the last minute of the first half as the champions found Crotone’s defence difficult to break down for long passages of play.
But the breakthrough finally came on the hour-mark, Croatia international Mandzukic finishing well from a tight angle after goalkeeper Alex Cordaz saved Kwadwo Asamoah’s header.
With Crotone committing more players forward, Miralem Pjanic slid Higuain through on goal and the prolific Argentine scored his fifth goal in four away Serie A matches to wrap up the win.
Juventus were rarely threatened at the back and the champions held out to record their sixth clean sheet in seven Serie A matches, leaving second-bottom Crotone remaining nine points from safety.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 8, 2017
Crotone’s defence was set determinedly deep in the opening stages and a mishit Dybala shot, a hopeful Sami Khedira effort and a Higuain strike pulled wide were the only shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes.
Sublime one-touch build-up play from Juve then created a volleyed chance for Dybala on the edge of the area, Cordaz saving low to his right.
Higuain poked Dybala’s low cross wide after 31 minutes and the latter had a strong penalty appeal rejected when he went down under a clumsy Djamel Mesbah challenge.
Juventus were struggling to find their rhythm on a bobbly pitch and Higuain picked out Cordaz after again linking up with Dybala, before Leonardo Capezzi fired wide on a rare Crotone break.
Ferrari cleared Dybala’s shot off the line in a chaotic closing minute of the first half after Cordaz saved Marko Pjaca’s header with his legs.
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 8, 2017
Crotone continued to frustrate Juve after the restart and Higuain nodded tamely at Cordaz after 56 minutes but the hosts’ resistance was finally broken on the hour-mark.
Cordaz got down well to save Asamoah’s powerful header, but Mandzukic reacted quickest to squeeze in the opening goal from a narrow angle.
Gianluigi Buffon made his first save of the game moments later as Crotone responded strongly, but Diego Falcinelli’s header was comfortable for the veteran goalkeeper.
Higuain made the points safe with 16 minutes to go, rounding Cordaz to slot home after substitute Pjanic sent the striker through on goal.
Buffon had to save a sweet Capezzi volley but Pjanic almost added a third with six minutes to go, his shot thudding against the crossbar, as Juventus held on with ease to edge closer to a sixth straight Scudetto.
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