Gonzalo Higuain celebrated his return to the starting line-up with his fourth goal in five games as Juventus routed Cagliari 4-0 to move top of Serie A.
The Argentina striker, who signed from rivals Napoli for €90million in the transfer window, was controversially omitted from Juve’s XI in the 2-1 Derby d’Italia defeat to rivals Inter at the weekend.
But Higuain made up for lost time and marked an all-action performance with the second goal at Juventus Stadium as the hosts ran out comfortable winners on Wednesday.
Massimiliano Allegri handed a first start of the season to defender Daniele Rugani and the 22-year-old repaid his faith with Juve’s opening goal after 14 minutes.
Higuain’s effort and Dani Alves’ first for the club made it 3-0 before half-time and Juventus were home and dry when Mario Lemina’s effort deflected off Luca Ceppitelli in the closing stages.
The result leaves Cagliari with just three points from their opening five Serie A fixtures, while Juventus leapfrogged Napoli – who drew at Genoa – to go top.
Juve, who had failed to win their past two matches, started brightly and Miralem Pjanic brought out the best of Marco Storari with a low, bouncing free-kick that was turned around the post.
Paulo Dybala, still without a goal this season, put Higuain through on goal moments later and Storari made a good reflex save.
Juve’s early dominance was rewarded in the 14th minute when Rugani fired into an unguarded goal after Higuain’s superb volley from Pjanic’s chipped free-kick was only parried by Storari.
Giorgio Chiellini made an important block to prevent Davide Di Gennaro from levelling, but Higuain soon had a deserved goal with a thumping rebound-header from Pjanic’s shot.
And Dani Alves essentially ended the game as a contest shortly before half-time with a low drive from the edge of the area.
Allegri used the second half to rest veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, with Brazilian understudy Neto making his first appearance of the season, and Dani Alves almost doubled his Juventus goal tally when he hit a fierce shot from outside the box that flew narrowly over the crossbar just before the hour mark.
With three consecutive away games on the horizon, Juventus eased their foot off the gas in the second half but there was a sense that the Bianconeri were keen for Dybala to get on the scoresheet.
Dybala netted 23 goals in all competitions last term, but he was restricted to a blocked shot before being substituted after 72 minutes.
Pjanic went close to making it 4-0 with a free-kick that Storari saved well at his near post shortly before Hernanes – making his first start of the season – hit a shot that was dipping under the bar from 25 yards, but the former Juve keeper made a superb one-handed save.
But, with eight minutes left on the clock, Lemina pounced on a knockdown from substitute Mario Mandzukic and his shot nestled in the goal after hitting Ceppitelli and leaving Storari little chance to make the save.
Key Opta stats:
– Juventus have won their 1500th game in Serie A.
– Daniele Rugani has scored his first goal for Juventus (22 games played, all competitions).
– Gonzalo Higuain has scored 24 goals in his 23 games played in the 2016.
– Dani Alves has scored his first Serie A goal with his second shot on target.