|Marco, see, I am still more beautiful and I still score goals... you?|
Juventus have maintained the pressure on leaders Milan courtesy of a hard-fought victory over Lecce. Alessandro Matri came off the bench to snatch all three points in the team’s first championship game of 2012. However, the relegation-threatened hosts pushed the Bianconeri all the way, and Antonio Conte will take heart from the battling display shown by his side at his former stomping ground. Conte, who enjoyed a six-year spell with Lecce, made just two changes from the side that brought an end to Udinese’s 100 per cent home record on 21 December. Quagliarella replaced Matri as the team’s focal point in attack, while Vucinic completed his comeback from injury by stepping in for Estigarribia. Any lingering doubts concerning Juve’s condition after the winter break were instantly quelled as the Bianconeri pressed forward from the off, going close after just three minutes through Pepe’s fierce drive. But the league’s second-strongest defence had to be alert five minutes later as Oddo’s free-kick caused panic in the penalty area.
Giacomazzi reacted first and guided a close-range effort towards goal which was instinctively palmed away by Buffon. Conte was forced into an early substitution after Quagliarella took a knock whilst defending a corner. Matri replaced the frontman and found himself instantly involved in proceedings. The ex-Cagliari striker was slipped through on goal by Vucinic but directed his low attempt straight into the arms of Benassi. Yet the striker made no mistake second time around, combining again with Vucinic for Juve’s opener. The Montenegrin, who remained a constant threat throughout a lively opening period, cut inside and struck a rasping drive goalwards. Benassi failed to fully gather his attempt, and Matri was on hand to guide a header into the unguarded net midway through the first-half. Despite their lowly position and vulnerable defence, Lecce refused to crumble and went in search of an equaliser. Cosmi’s arrival has instilled battling qualities into the relegation strugglers, and these were on full display as Buffon was again tested in the dying seconds of the first half – sprawling to his left to push Di Michele’s dipping long-range strike to safety. And the hosts continued to ask questions of the Bianconeri rearguard after the break. Olivera planted a header over the bar, before Cuadrado failed to pick out a team-mate from a decent goalscoring position.
The encounter became increasingly fractious, with both sides showing their determination and desire to gain a result. Bergonzi was forced to intervene, booking both Olivera and Vidal after the two South Americans clashed in the middle of the park. As the rain lashed down in Puglia, the Bianconeri stood firm and resisted Giallorossi pressure. Oddo briefly sent Bianconeri hearts racing by sending in a free-kick which whistled narrowly over the bar. But Juventus regained their stride and ended the game on top. Vucinic saw a low shot well saved by Benassi, while Marchisio and Vidal almost combined to extend the advantage. Goalscorer Matri went close to registering his eighth of the season in the dying seconds, but Benassi’s sharp reflexes came out on top. The win sees the Bianconeri keep up the heat on league leaders Milan, with both teams level on 37 points at the summit of Serie A.
LECCE 0-1 JUVENTUS
GOALS: Matri 27
LECCE Benassi; Cuadrado, Oddo, Tomovic, Esposito, Mesbah; Strasser (Olivera 5), Giacomazzi, Obodo (Corvia 83); Muriel, Di Michele (Pasquato 73). Substitutes not used: Julio Sergio, Bertolacci, Ferrario, Brivio. Manager: Cosmi
JUVENTUS Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Vidal, Pirlo (Marrone 87), Marchisio; Pepe (De Ceglie 85), Quagliarella (Matri 23), Vucinic. Substitutes not used: Storari, Marrone, Giaccherini, Krasic, Del Piero. Manager: Conte
REFEREE: Bergonzi ASSISTANTS: Maggiani, Niccolai FOURTH OFFICIAL: Doveri BOOKINGS: Oddo 39, Olivera 53, Vidal 53, Chiellini 64, Cuadrado 68