Goals from Simone Pepe and Fabio Quagliarella either side of the interval settled this afternoon’s Piedmont derby and lifted Juventus back to the top of Serie A. Pepe opened the scoring early on by sweeping De Ceglie’s low cross into the net. And with fifteen minutes left to play, Quagliarella announced his comeback from injury by glancing home to continue Novara’s struggles on the road. The suspensions of Bonucci and Vidal forced Antonio Conte into reshuffling his starting eleven. De Ceglie came in at left-back, with Chiellini partnering Barzagli at the heart of defence. Giaccherini took his place in midfield, while Del Piero and Quagliarella joined Pepe in a three-pronged attack. Juventus got off to a scintillating start and found themselves in front within the first four minutes.
De Ceglie collected Pirlo’s pass on the left-hand side and picked out Pepe at the far post, who turned in his teasing cross from close range. And once the in-form winger had notched his fifth of the season, the first half was regularly punctuated by efforts on the Novara goal. The goalscorer almost returned the favour in the 14th minute, clipping a cross in for De Ceglie who chested down before sending a low-left footed strike into the arms of Ujkani. The Bianconeri continued to build momentum and had a golden chance to extend their lead just before the half-hour mark. Quagliarella’s pass split the visitors’ rearguard and sent Giaccherini in on goal.
The winger scampered through but Ujkani charged out to thwart his goalbound attempt. Coming into the match, Novara had conceded 14 goals on their travels. Sensing the opportunity for more, Del Piero looked to heap further misery on the Biancoazzurri. The captain was found in space on the far side of the area and took a couple of touches before curling a right-footed effort just wide of the upright. And Del Piero went close again shortly before the interval courtesy of a free-kick from 35 yards out. Ujkani sprawled to his left to keep out the captain’s dipping shot. On the stoke of half-time, the visitors fashioned their first clear cut opportunity on goal. Morganella centred from the right and a completely unmarked Rigoni planted his header straight at Buffon. Juventus began the second period with the same desire to inflict more damage on Tesser’s men.
Pepe capitalised on Centurioni’s blunder in the opening stages and fed Del Piero in the penalty area, who saw his attempt whistle just past the far post. Giaccherini looked a constant bright spark throughout and almost saw his endeavour rewarded with a goal. Quagliarella again combined with the former Cesena man, only for Ujkani to get down smartly to spurn his goalbound strike. As the half wore on, the visitors grew in confidence and Rubino set nerves jangling when he tested Buffon with a close-range header. However, the Azzurri number one was more than equal to it and sprawled to his right to claw the ball away from goal. After heavy pressure and several chances, goal number two finally arrived with 15 minutes remaining. And it proved to be the perfect Christmas present for the Bianconeri faithful and for one man in particular.
Pepe delivered a corner into the area and Quagliarella rose highest to glance a header into the back of the net. The joy on the striker’s face was clear for all to see as he capped off his return to the team in style – 364 days after his last goal against Chievo. Conte elected to grant him a standing ovation almost immediately, sending on Matri in his place. The Bianconeri comfortably saw out the remainder of the game and could have extended their lead even further.
Marchisio went close in the last ten minutes, prodding a strike back towards goal which was cleared off the line. And from the resulting corner, Matri was a whisker away from finding the target with a glancing header that flashed past the post. The result sees Juventus end the year unbeaten in their new home and go two points clear of second-placed Milan. But before Conte’s men can celebrate Christmas, a tricky away encounter against title challengers Udinese lies in wait on Wednesday.
JUVENTUS 2-0 NOVARA
GOALS: Pepe 4, Quagliarella 75
JUVENTUS Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Chiellini, De Ceglie; Marchisio, Pirlo (Pazienza 80), Giaccherini; Pepe, Quagliarella (Matri 77), Del Piero (Estigarribia 64) Substitutes not used: Storari, Sorensen, Elia, Toni. Manager: Conte
NOVARA Ujkani; Morganella, Dellafiore (Paci 21), Centurioni, Ludi, Gemiti; Marianini (Porcari 55), Radovanovic, Rigoni; Rubino (Mazzarani 76), Meggiorini Substitutes not used: Fontana, Pinardi, Pesce, Granoche. Manager: Tesser
ASSISTANTS: Viazzi, Liberti
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Pinzani
BOOKINGS: Marianini 44, Centurioni 52, Giaccherini 60