Juventus ‘have taken one of our direct rivals for the title out of the race’ with Inter win
A 2-0 win over hapless Inter Milan saw champions Juventus take a step towards a record-equalling fifth successive Serie A title on Sunday as AC Milan and AS Roma continued to dream of a place in Europe.
Juventus saw a new club record of 15 consecutive wins end in a scoreless stalemate at Bologna last week, then had to fight their way back to rescue their Champions League last 16 hopes in a 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
But Massimiliano Allegri’s champions were back to their best in Turin on Sunday, when goals from Leonardo Bonucci and Alvaro Morata, from the spot, saw Juve go four points clear of second-placed Napoli.
Bonucci smashed a wayward header from Inter defender Danilo D’Ambrosio past keeper Samir Handanovic and into the roof of the net on 47 minutes.
Inter had few real chances and another blunder at the death saw second-half substitute Morata send Handanovic the wrong way from the penalty spot after he had been felled by fiery Brazilian Joao Miranda.
While Inter coach Roberto Mancini decided not to talk to the media after seeing his side slip to 14 points off the pace, Allegri was only too happy to signal the virtual end of Inter’s title bid.
“We’ve taken one of our direct rivals for the title out of the race,” Allegri said. “Now, we’re in a position where we can win a fifth consecutive title and that hasn’t happened since 1935.”
Napoli, who are gunning for their first title since 1990, have been arguably Serie A’s most exciting team this season but the Naples outfit face a difficult trip to Fiorentina on Monday when the hosts will be battling to maintain their hopes of a top three finish and possible Champions League qualification.
Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa said earlier: “The pressure is all on Napoli tomorrow. We’re trying to give ourselves a chance (of Champions League football), and we want to keep battling the teams who, for the title, have to show they are worthy.
“Neither myself nor the lads have ever hidden the fact we want to finish in third place. This week, we have a great chance to consolidate our position.”
Inter’s seventh defeat of the campaign had sporting director Pierre Ausilio in a rage.
“The players really need to have a good look at themselves,” slammed Ausilio.
But their demise will be embraced by city rivals AC Milan, who went nine games undefeated on Saturday with a precious 1-0 win over Torino at the San Siro.
Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men remain sixth and sit 14 points behind Juve, but the club – looking to end a two-year absence from the Champions League – are only six points behind Roma, and one behind Inter.
“The lads’ work ethic was great,” Mihajlovic said after seeing Luca Antonelli’s first-half strike seal the points.
“Looking at the numbers, it’s fair to say we’re on the right track. But our next three league games will tell us how much chance we have of qualifying for the Champions League.
“I believe, but let’s take things one match at a time.”
AC Milan, however, are not the only team interested in finishing third.
With Juve and Napoli expected to claim the top two spots at the end of the season, the seven-time European champions face a stiff challenge from Roma, Fiorentina and Inter.
Roma, the league runners-up the past two seasons, revived their hopes with an encouraging 3-1 win at Empoli that gave them their sixth consecutive win for the first time this season.
Luciano Spalletti could lose third spot to Fiorentina on Monday, but the Italian coach was delighted with a performance that saw Stephan El Shaarawy hit his first double for the club.
“It was a superb result, one of our best performances so far,” said Spalletti, who is back for his second spell at the club after replacing sacked Frenchman Rudi Garcia last month.
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Published: February 29, 2016 04:00 AM