French midfielder Paul Pogba struck late as Serie A leaders Juventus boosted their bid for a fourth consecutive title with a 1-0 win over Sassuolo that stretched their their lead over Roma to 11 points on Monday.
Juventus looked to be heading for their first scoreless draw at home this season after being frustrated by Sassuolo’s defensive tactics throughout an intense encounter in Turin.
But Pogba saved the Italian champions’ blushes in the 82nd minute when he latched on to Simone Pepe’s perfect delivery to beat Andrea Consigli with a dipping half-volley inside the ‘keeper’s near post.
Juve’s 18th win of the campaign took their lead over misfiring Roma to 11 points with 12 games remaining.
But Pogba was quick to play down his role, telling Sky Sport: “I don’t feel like the one who’s decided the title. We won a difficult game that is important for our title chances.”
Roma, who suffered their eighth draw in nine games in Sunday’s stalemate at Chievo, now look out of the title race and with Lazio and Napoli only four points adrift, they will be concerned about their chances of holding on to the league’s second automaticChampions League spot.
But Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri said nothing is won yet, telling Sky Sport: “Things are purring along but there there are still plenty of games to play.
“Winning the title is our main objective this season and the Champions League is a dream.”
Allegri left Spaniard Fernando Llorente on the bench with Alvaro Morata partnering Carlos Tevez up front.
But both strikers were frustrated throughout as Sassuolo’s defence, and ‘keeper Consigli battled to keep a clean sheet.
Tevez fired just over from Morata’s cutback amid a crowd of players on 21 minutes and after Giorgio Chiellini headed over the bar from a corner, the Argentinian saw a long-range snap shot punched out by Consigli.
– Unstoppable –
Pogba came close minutes after the restart when he pounced on a poor clearance to slam a daisycutter towards goal that Consigli had covered at his near post.
Tevez then drilled in from the left side of the area but saw his effort palmed away by Consigli as Juve upped the pressure.
Allegri replaced Roberto Pereyra with Pepe and Llorente came on for Morata just after the hour, yet it was Leonardo Bonucci who next threatened with a dipping, long-range effort that went just wide of the post.
Just as the match looked to be heading for a draw, a Juve counter-attack saw Pepe find Pogba in space and the Frenchman took a touch before hitting an unstoppable winner.
Earlier, a late brace by Miroslav Klose put the icing on the cake as Lazio outclassed Fiorentina 4-0 to move into third place level on points with Napoli.
Fiorentina travelled to the Stadio Olimpico hoping to build on their 2-1 Italian Cup semi-final win over Juventus in midweek when Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah hit a brace.
But Lucas Biglia broke the deadlock after just six minutes with a great volley from a poor clearance, and Fiorentina never recovered.
Antonio Candreva doubled Lazio’s lead from the penalty spot on 65 minutes and a late Klose double put the match beyond reach.
Lazio coach Stefano Pioli said the lure of qualification for Europe was the spur.
“We have great players with great qualities and they all contributed to this win. We are all working hard to get Lazio back into Europe,” he said.
Fiorentina coach Montella admitted: “We came up against a side that’s in top form at the end of what has been a tough run of games for us.” – Agence France-Presse