EMPOLI, Italy (Reuters) – A superb double from Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic earned Juventus a 3-2 win at Empoli on Saturday, helping Massimiliano Allegri’s side close the gap on Serie A leaders AC Milan to seven points.
Looking to capitalise on both Milan and second-placed Inter Milan dropping points on Friday, Juve deservedly got themselves in front in the 32nd minute through a Moise Kean header to look on course for a comfortable victory.
However, some woeful defending from the visitors allowed Szymon Zurkowski in to equalise seven minutes later.
Undeterred, Juve edged themselves back in front on the stroke of halftime, with Vlahovic showing a neat pair of heels to swivel in the penalty area before firing home.
The goal that extended Juve’s lead was even more expertly executed than the first, as Vlahovic controlled a pass from Alvaro Morata before clipping a sumptuous finish into the net in the 66th minute.
Andrea La Mantia’s shot that squirmed into the net then got Empoli back into it 14 minutes from time, but fourth-placed Juve held on to move onto 50 points from 27 matches played, seven behind Milan and four behind Napoli in third.
Empoli, who refused to give in all match, stay 13th, without a win in their last 10 league games.
Allegri insisted this week that Juventus are not in a title race this season, with Milan and Inter too far out of reach, but Friday’s results – Milan and Inter drew with Udinese and Genoa respectively – gave them an opening to reduce the deficit.
Vlahovic said that Juventus were not looking too far ahead.
“These three points weigh a lot because we came from two draws. It was very important to win today, we did it and head to the next game (against Fiorentina in the Italian Cup),” Vlahovic told DAZN, before speaking about Juve’s league title hopes.
“Let’s go game by game, then what happens will happen.
“… It’s all thanks to the team. If we stick together and be compact, we can achieve great results.”
Things were not looking too promising as Empoli started well, with Denis Zakaria going close after just three minutes.
Juve soon settled into the match and had several openings to score before Adrien Rabiot crossed for Kean to head home the opener.
Failure to clear a corner cost Juve, though, as Zurkowski prodded home, turning the tide in the contest as Juve looked vulnerable.
The brilliance of Vlahovic shone through, however, as he first fooled several defenders before equalising, then controlling a pass that was behind him and finishing superbly to put Juve in command.
La Mantia’s goal proved to be in vain for battling Empoli as Juve held on, with Serie A’s most successful club sneaking back into the title race, despite what Allegri says.
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar; Editing by Christian Radnedge)