Mandzukic inspires Juve to easy Empoli win

MILAN: Mario Mandzukic overcame a wasteful first half to inspire Juventus to a 2-0 home win over Empoli that edged the Turin giants closer to a record sixth straight Serie A title. Juventus, claiming their 22nd win in 26 games, moved 10 points clear of closest challengers Roma ahead of their visit to Inter Milan late on Sunday. Napoli remain third but are now 12 points off the pace after a shock 2-0 defeat at home to Atalanta virtually ended their hopes of challenging for a long-awaited scudetto. A Roma defeat at the San Siro would deliver a significant blow to their scudetto hopes, but Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said nothing is won yet.
“Absolutely not,” he said when asked if Juve had one hand on the title. “Roma could be seven points behind us by tomorrow, we still have a lot of games to play, Napoli could get to 90 points and Roma 95. “We need to win a lot of games and tonight, against Empoli, wasn’t so simple. It took us until the second half to break the deadlock.” Juventus are also challenging for a third consecutive league and cup double and Allegri underlined those ambitions by resting several players for Tuesday’s semifinal first leg with Napoli. The ‘keeper’s gloves went to Brazilian Norberto Neto after Gianluigi Buffon was rested, while Dani Alves and Daniele Rugani stepped in for veteran defenders Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, both on the bench.
Argentine playmaker Paulo Dybala also started on the bench but given Empoli’s miserable record at Juventus Stadium there was little to suggest Allegri’s choices would backfire. Yet Empoli were a tough nut to crack in a balanced opening half that saw plenty of home chances, most by Mandzukic, go amiss. After just five minutes Gonzalo Higuain prodded a Mandzukic knock-down straight at Lukasz Skorupski in the Empoli net from six yards. Earlier, a brace from Juventus-bound Mattia Caldara torpedoed Napoli’s scudetto hopes as 10-man Atalanta underlined their growing Euro ambitions in style with a shock 2-0 win at the San Paolo. Atalanta’s 16th win moved the Bergamo side up to fourth, ahead of Inter Milan before they welcome Roma to the San Siro. — AFP