Paulo Dybala scored a hat-trick, including two from the penalty spot, to extend Juventus’s lead at the top of Serie A with a 4-2 win at battling bottom club Benevento on Saturday.
The Turin giants moved a step closer to a seventh straight Italian title, four days before they travel to Real Madrid needing to overturn a 3-0 deficit to reach the Champions League semi-finals.
Juventus now lead second-placed Napoli, who travel to Chievo on Sunday, by seven points, as Roma’s 2-0 defeat at home to Fiorentina put their third place under threat from Inter Milan and Lazio, who play on Sunday.
Malian forward Cheick Diabate scored a brace to twice drag Benevento back into the game but the rock-bottom side fell to their 26th defeat in 31 games.
“Congratulations to the lads because today was important to win after the defeat against Real Madrid,” said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri.
“There are seven games left and today it was too important.
“The feeling was that we were at risk, the same feeling I had against AC Milan (last week) when we conceded many shots for the first time in months.
“We’ve got to take every last drop of energy we’ve got left to go for the Scudetto, Italian Cup and of course the second leg in Madrid.”
Dybala — who will miss the trip to Madrid after being red-carded in the first leg — opened the scoring after quarter of an hour and got the second just before the break when he slotted in a penalty awarded after consultation with the video assistant referee (VAR).
The 24-year-old completed his treble with a penalty after 74 minutes when Gonzalo Higuain was brought down in the box, before Douglas Costa added the fourth eight minutes from time with a magnificent curling effort.
‘Nothing to lose’
“It’s difficult against these sides who have nothing to lose,” said Dybala as Juventus allowed their rivals, who were 65 points below them before kick-off, back into the game.
Dybala broke through on 16 minutes when Juan Cuadrado knocked down the ball for the Argentine international to finish with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box.
But six minutes later Benevento were level after Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saved a Filip Djuricic effort only for Diabate to tap in the rebound.
Mario Mandzukic put the ball in the back of the Benevento net again after 36 minutes, finishing off a Cuadrado cross, but the goal was disallowed for handball.
The champions went into half-time ahead through Dybala’s first penalty after Berat Djimsiti’s foul on Miralem Pjanic.
Benevento were back level five minutes into the second half when Diabate rose higher than defender Medhi Benatia to head home a corner.
It was the 29-year-old’s fifth goal in five games for the club since joining the club in February.
But Dybala, who now has 25 goals in all competitions this season, put Juventus back in front again, before Costa sealed the three points.
Fiorentina shock Roma
Already reeling from their 4-1 Champions League defeat to Barcelona in midweek, Roma’s spot in next year’s elite European competition is now under threat.
First-half goals from Marco Benassi and Giovanni Simeone stretched Fiorentina’s winning run to six games.
Tributes were paid before the game to Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who died last month at the age of 31, and played for Roma in 2014-15.
Benassi gave the visitors the lead after seven minutes at the Stadio Olympico after a pinpoint Riccardo Saponara cross, with Simeone doubling their advantage five minutes before the break.
Edin Dzeko missed numerous chances to for Roma and Inter Milan can pass them when they visit Torino on Sunday.
Lazio can also move level with their Roman rivals when they travel to Udinese.
France right-back Bacary Sagna said Saturday he was hoping to revive his international career and play in the World Cup as he signed for Serie A underdogs Benevento.
The former Arsenal and Manchester City defender signed a six-month deal with the option for another year with Benevento who sit bottom of the Serie A table in their first ever top-flight campaign.
“When football has become a business more than an actual sport, Benevento represents the heart and soul of what a club should be about,” Sagna told Footballfancast.com.
“Passion, heart, hope, joy, love and a philosophy that is aligned to that of my own way of thinking in life.”
Sagna, who turns 35 this month, has been without a club since being released by Pep Guardiola’s City last summer.
“Bacary Sagna will be available to coach (Roberto) De Zerbi from next week,” the side from Naples said.
Sagna joined Arsenal from Auxerre in 2007 and established himself as one of the best right-backs in the Premier League.
He won the FA Cup in his final season with the Gunners in 2014, before moving to City where he won the League Cup in 2016.
He played 65 times for France between 2007 and 2016 and revealed he still hopes to make the team for the World Cup finals in Russia.
“My move may surprise many, but I am one hundred percent sure, that I am joining the right club, for the right reasons,” he explained.
“I still believe I can make the World Cup Finals this summer and play again for France,” explained Sagna.
“I have always been proud to play for my country and the burning ambition to continue to do that has never left me.
“I will give it my best shot to be in Russia.”
– ‘Beautiful story’ –
Promoted Benevento — with just seven points from 22 games — host leaders Napoli, who are on 57, on Sunday before travelling to Roma next week.
The club with a witch on its crest set a record for the worst start to a season in the top five European leagues losing their first 14 games, before snatching their first point against AC Milan when goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli scored a last-gasp equaliser.
Sagna revealed that he had “substantial offers” from clubs in the top leagues in England, France, Spain, Turkey, the MLS and elsewhere in Italy.
“Going to Benevento is not a move I am making for financial reasons,” he explained.
“Benevento offers me is the opportunity to represent the underdog and to play for a club whose story is such a beautiful one.
“I still believe I have two or three years of playing football at a very good level.
“I have always kept myself in very good shape and I live a healthy lifestyle, so the fitness side of the game will not be an issue to me.”
“For right now, I am coming to Benevento to fight for the club, to fight for the fans.”