MILAN – Juventus climbed to second in Serie A after a star turn from Miralem Pjanic led the reigning champions to a comfortable 3-0 win at Bologna on Sunday, while AC Milan sunk further into crisis with a loss at lowly Hellas Verona.
Massimiliano Allegri’s Juve are on 41 points, just a point behind leaders Napoli after leapfrogging Inter Milan, who suffered their first defeat of the season in going down 3-1 to Udinese, on Saturday.
Pjanic opened the scoring for Juventus with a stunning 27th-minute free kick against Bologna, and the Bosnian turned provider nine minutes later, clipping a beautiful pass to Mario Mandzukic that the Croat smartly chested down and stroked past Bologna keeper Antonio Mirante.
Blaise Matuidi made sure of the points in the 64th minute with his first Serie A goal, the France international crashing a clearance back past Mirante on the half-volley.
“I feel good, I’m improving, the team got the three points we needed and I am happy,” midfielder Pjanic said before looking ahead to the meeting with a title rival next Saturday in Turin.
“We have to be ready for the next match against Roma. They are a very strong side and will be challenging for the Scudetto.”
The crisis enveloping another Italian giant deepened as AC Milan collapsed 3-0 at Verona for an eighth defeat of the season thanks to a powerful header from Antonio Caracciolo and two smart finishes from Moise Kean and Daniel Bessa.
Milan’s expensive squad have failed to get going in Serie A, and are languishing in seventh on just 24 points, 18 behind Napoli and 14 adrift of fourth and the final Champions League place.
“There are no excuses, we embarrassed ourselves,” said Gennaro Gattuso, the Milan manager, after the defeat.
“In the first 25 minutes we created loads of chances, but they made us pay with their first opportunity.
“Up until their first goal we played well, creating plenty, but we collapsed at the first obstacle put in our way, as has happened often this season.”
Roma holds fourth and are just four points behind leaders Napoli after a dramatic 1-0 win over Cagliari on Saturday, decided in the 94th minute by Federico Fazio, whose goal had to be confirmed by the video assistant referee after Cagliari protested they had seen a handball.
Lazio are fifth, five behind Roma, but have played two fewer games and can close the gap in their Sunday evening game at Atalanta.
Juve have kept four straight clean sheets in the league since losing at Sampdoria last month and never looked in trouble at Bologna, despite troubled talent Paulo Dybala being left out.
Argentine Dybala was benched again by Allegri amid rumours of personal problems that have affected his form, and he had something to prove when he was brought with 15 minutes left, Juve three goals up after Blaise Matuidi had made it three with his first Serie A goal in the 64th minute.
Dybala forced a smart save from Mirante, but looked a shadow of the player that helped fire Juve to the Champions League final last season.
Crotone moved out of the bottom three with a 1-0 win over Chievo gained thanks to Ante Budimir’s 33rd-minute tap-in, which moves them up to 16th on 15 points.
They are two behind 15th-placed Sassuolo, who snatched a last gasp 1-0 win at Sampdoria through Alessandro Matri, who made up for Matteo Politano’s 82nd-minute penalty miss for the away side.
Ninth-placed Fiorentina are four points behind Sampdoria after their goalless draw with fourth-from-bottom Genoa, who are just a point above the drop zone.