Juventus’ forward Gonzalo Higuain from Argentina scores during the Italian Serie A football match Torino Vs Juventus on December 11, 2016 at the Grande Torino Stadium in Turin. PHOTO: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP
Gonzalo Higuain hit his 19th Serie A brace as Juventus moved seven points clear of Roma and AC Milan at the top with a 3-1 derby win over Torino on Sunday.
Scoring his last league goal in a 2-1 win over Napoli at the end of October, Juve fans had every right to be concerned about Higuain’s consistency following his 90-million-euro move to Turin in the summer.
But the Argentine netted in Juve’s 2-0 Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb in midweek and he confirmed his return to form with a well-taken double that left England goalkeeper Joe Hart with no chance.
Torino coach Sinisa Mihajlovic had upped the stakes at a dramatic pre-match press conference attended by a 60-year-old fan and the club’s long-serving kit man at which he claimed the “whole of Torino” was set on beating their arch rivals.
But with only one win from the past 21 derbies — a 2-1 defeat of Juve in April 2015 that ended their 20-year wait for bragging rights — the pressure was all on Torino.
Hart needed to act quickly to stop Mario Mandzukic turning in from close range, but the hosts settled quickly and were 1-0 up on the quarter hour.
Daniele Baselli kept the ball in play at the right touchline and delivered a cross for Andrea Belotti to send a header past Gianluigi Buffon and into the far bottom corner.
Paulo Dybala started on the bench for Juve despite making his return from a six-week injury lay-off with a 10-minute cameo against Zagreb.
But Higuain soon had the visitors back level when he powered clear on an accidental flick by Mandzukic to fire past Hart and into the bottom corner on 28 minutes.
Torino resumed in positive fashion after the interval, Iago Falque unleashing a bullet from the edge of the area that Mandzukic blocked.
But the hosts failed to make the most of several promising counters and were left dazzled by Dybala when he replaced Mandzukic with 20 minutes remaining.
Dybala sent Stephan Lichtsteiner down the right with a deft flick but the Swiss’s poor delivery failed to reach Higuain.
A superb right-foot curler from Adem Ljajic gave Torino hope when it inched wide of Buffon’s far upright.
But the Stadio Olimpico was stunned when Higuain held off defender Antonio Barreca as he controlled a long ball, swivelled and beat Hart with a powerful strike from the edge of the area on 82 minutes.
Torino heads went down and when Dybala sent Higuain through into the box with a clever pass it took two quickfire saves from Hart before Miralem Pjanic fired the rebound in to wrap up the points in stoppage time.
Elsewhere, Dries Mertens hit a hat-trick and Marek Hamsik and Piotr Zielinski scored one apiece as Napoli romped to a 5-0 win at Cagliari to close to within eight points of leaders Juve.
Lazio are in fifth, also eight points adrift, following a 2-1 win at Sampdoria on Saturday that saw Marco Parolo hit his first goal of the season for the capital side.
Atalanta’s hopes of making amends for last week’s 3-1 defeat to Juve were dashed by a 3-1 home defeat to Udinese, Duvan Zapata, Seko Fofana and Cyril Thereau on target. Atalanta are sixth.
Inter Milan host Genoa in Sunday’s late game looking to get back to winning ways after a 3-0 loss at Napoli last time out.