Juventus’ Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci (L) celebrates with Juventus’ forward from Argentina Gonzalo Higuain (C) and Juventus’ forward from Argentina Paulo Dybala after scoring during the Italian Serie A football match Udinese vs Juventus at the Dacia Arena Stadium in Udine on March 5, 2017.
MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP
Leonardo Bonucci’s second-half leveller saved Juventus’s blushes a day after Roma virtually conceded the title as the champions were held to their first Serie A draw in over a year at Udinese.
Juventus, aiming for a record sixth consecutive scudetto, were given a push in the right direction on Saturday when Roma’s 2-1 home defeat to Napoli gave the Turin giants the chance to pull 10 points clear.
But in a cagey performance at the Dacia Stadium, filled to the brim for the visit of the 32-times Italian champions, Juve failed to capitalise, settling for their first draw of the campaign and their first in Serie A since drawing with Bologna in February 2016.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain top of the pile but are now eight points ahead of Roma, with Napoli third at 10 points off the pace.
“Before I say anything I have to compliment Udinese, who played a very solid game. At times they had two, three and even four players coming at our ball carriers,” said Allegri.
“We knew how difficult a game this would be after so many victories. It’s been over a year since we’ve drawn.
“We made a lot of mistakes, especially in the first 20 minutes. On the plus side we gained a point on Roma but the championship is not over. Roma can still collect a lot of points.”
Juventus were denied early penalty claims when Dani Alves, after pouncing on Gonzalo Higuain’s smart delivery down the right, fired in a cross that appeared to come off the arm of Samir.
Referee Antonio Damato was unimpressed, and Juve suffered another blow minutes later when Duvan Zapata powered down the left, holding off Bonucci, to fire under the body of Gianluigi Buffon as the ‘keeper came out to block at his near post.
But the home fans’ hopes of seeing Udinese hold on for a famous win were dashed on the hour.
Juventus won a free kick and when Paulo Dybala fired an inviting delivery towards the back post, Bonucci got between Silvan Widmar and Stipe Perica to head past Orestis Karnezis.
Earlier, surprise packages Atalanta stubbornly held on to fourth spot but missed out on the chance to close the gap on Napoli after seeing goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu perform heroics in a scoreless draw with Fiorentina in Bergamo.
That result was welcomed by rivals who are also hunting a place in Europe next season, and Inter Milan capitalised in style with a classy 5-1 win at Cagliari that saw two-goal Ivan Perisic inspire the Nerazzurri.
Inter moved up to fifth, one point ahead of city rivals AC Milan following their 3-1 win over Chievo on Saturday, although the Nerazzurri will be back down to sixth if Lazio draw or beat Bologna in Sunday’s late game.
A week after being stunned 3-1 by Roma at the San Siro, Inter coach Stefano Pioli said: “I’ve been really pleased with how the lads have reacted after the defeat to Roma.
“We looked at the footage to learn from those mistakes. Today we controlled the game, although we have to know when to speed things up and when to slow them down.”
Elsewhere, Italy striker Andrea Belotti hit a hat-trick to take his tally for the season to a league-leading 22 goals in a 3-1 home win over Palermo.
Relegation candidates Palermo saw Andrea Rispoli beat England’s Joe Hart from distance on the half hour.
But Belotti struck three times in the space of eight second-half minutes to hand Torino a 10th win of the campaign.
He now has a three-goal lead in the scoring charts on Roma’s Edin Dzeko and Higuain, both on 19, with Napoli’s Dries Mertens on 18 and Icardi on 17. Belotti said: “It would be amazing to win the top scorer’s award.”