SERIE A

Pogba nudges Juve a step closer to the title

Paul Pogba hit the  winner as Juventus continued towards a record-equalling 5th consecutive Serie A title, beating AC Milan 2-1 on Saturday

Pogba nudges Juve a step closer to the title
GIUSEPPE CACACE AFP

Paul Pogba struck a second-half winner as Juventus continued their march towards a record-equalling fifth consecutive Serie A title with a 2-1 victory at AC Milan on Saturday.

Juventus, who last won five on the trot in 1935, are now nine points clear of second-placed Napoli, before they host basement side Verona on Sunday. Milan's second successive defeat has put a further dent in the struggling Serie A giants' bid to qualify for next season's Europa League. Ahead of the remaining fixtures on Sunday, Sinisa Mihajlovic's men remain sixth, but could be 10 points behind fifth-placed Fiorentina if they beat Empoli away.

“It's difficult to talk about a game you've lost when at least a draw would have been a fairer result,” said Mihajlovic. “We weren't perfect, but I'm overall satisfied with the lads becaue they put a lot of character and fight into the game. I hope they will show the same in the coming weeks.”

Juventus have now gone 22 consecutive games unbeaten, a run that includes 21 wins and a draw. But it was far from straightforward for Massimiliano Allegri's side, who went behind to an Alex header from a corner on 18 minutes - only the 17th league goal they have conceded this season - and levelled on the half hour through Mario Mandzukic.

Allegri, sacked by Milan in January 2014, said: “It wasn't a question of revenge for me. I'm still on good terms with Milan, but when it comes to Juve obviously we're here to win. I expected Milan to be strong, they have good players and winning at the San Siro is never easy. They played well, we started badly and Gigi (Buffon) made a great save on (Mario) Balotelli's free kick. Then we turned things around in the second half. But we haven't won the title yet.”

When Giacomo Bonaventura won a free kick just outside the area, Balotelli stepped up to force Buffon down low to stop his piledriver. Balotelli was making a rare start after months of trying to make the grade and when he stole possession from Alex Sandro, it led directly to Milan's 18th minute opener. Balotelli's cross was deflected out for a corner and the Italian stepped up to deliver an inswinger that Alex met with a powerful header to beat Buffon in the Juve goal.

Juve spurned a chance to level when Stephan Lichsteiner's low shot was smothered by Gianluigi Donnarumma, and the visitors came closer after Carlos Bacca gave up possession to send Juve on the counter, with Claudio Marchisio's drive tipped over by the 17-year-old keeper. From the corner, Donnarumma punched the ball to safety, and on the follow-up only a late Alex interception thwarted Mandzukic.

Milan were living dangerously and paid the price moments later when Alvaro Morata set up Mandzukic to beat Donnarumma low at his far post for a 27th-minute leveller. Milan pressed to restore their advantage before the interval but Keisuke Honda's long-range effort was harmless, and no one got on the end of the Japan forward's header from Balotelli's delivery.

In the closing seconds of the half, the hosts breathed a sigh of relief when Lichsteiner fired wide of Donnarumma's far post. Milan had the ball in the net after seven second-half minutes but Balotelli was marginally offside and, when he bundled in at the second attempt, it was thanks to his own personal 'Hand of God'.

Balotelli nearly made amends moments later with a drive that flew over Buffon's crossbar, but at the other end Pogba gave an inkling of what was to come. Juventus won a free kick and the Frenchman curled around the wall to see his effort come off the post, with Donnarumma at full stretch.

Pogba was finally rewarded in the 65th minute when he controlled a corner on his chest, following up with an awkward half-volley that bounced over Donnarumma and into the net from a tight angle. Milan came close in the dying seconds but a great volley from late substitute Kevin Prince Boateng flew a yard over.