Salutate la Capolista!

Second-half goals from Leonardo Bonucci and Fabio Quagliarella shattered Palermo’s resistance to send Juventus one point clear of Milan at the top of Serie A. Antonio Conte’s men went into the game fully aware that three points in Sicily would restore them to pole position after Milan had earlier stumbled to a home defeat against Fiorentina. And the Bianconeri produced an emphatic response, controlling possession from start to finish before eventually reaping the rewards their performance merited. Conte opted to stick with the 3-5-2 system that proved decisive in reducing the threat of Napoli’s three-pronged strikeforce last time out, making just three changes from the 3-0 success over the Partenopei. 

Caceres and Estigarribia came in for Lichtsteiner and De Ceglie on the flanks, while Quagliarella made his sixth start of the season in place of Borriello. Juventus arrived at the Renzo Barbera fully aware of the tough challenge facing them. Palermo had emerged victorious from all four encounters over the previous two seasons, a run the Bianconeri brought to an end with a 3-0 home win in November. The opening exchanges suggested that Juve had fully shaken off their previous struggles against the Rosanero, with Quagliarella leading the initial charge to find a route through to goal. The striker dashed onto Estigarribia’s pass and looked to catch Viviano out with a snap-shot that flashed just wide of the near post on 13 minutes. 

Shortly afterwards it was Quagliarella’s strike partner, Vucinic, who skipped past the goalkeeper and pulled back across the face of an unguarded goal, with only a black and white shirt missing to apply the decisive touch. Despite the Bianconeri dominating possession and dictating the play, they found it difficult to break down the hosts’ deep midfield and combative tactics. The best chance of the first half fell to Caceres when the defender latched onto Vucinic’s delicate chip into the penalty area. 

His first touch was perfect, but then lifted his attempt wide of the target. Palermo returned from the interval with greater positivity, fielding Miccoli and Ilicic further forward to try and capitalise on Juve’s pressing by pouncing on the counter attack. Yet Juventus counteracted Mutti’s half-time tactical reshuffle by raising the tempo and levels of pressing. This increased aggression was to pay off shortly before the hour mark when Bonucci connected with Pirlo’s corner to glance a fine header past Viviano. 

The opener failed to change Juve’s offensive attitude, with Conte’s men refusing to sit back and settle for a one-goal lead. Vucinic went close to extending the Bianconeri’s advantage, only to see his powerful strike beaten away by Viviano. But it was the striker’s replacement, Matri, who made an instant impact upon his introduction. The former Cagliari frontman showed great composure to hold the ball up and await the onrushing Quagliarella, who was more than equal to his team-mate’s fine work by sweeping a left-footed strike into the bottom corner with twenty minutes remaining. 

Aside from a thunderous effort from Bacinovic which cleared Buffon’s bar, the Bianconeri were rarely threatened in the closing stages as Palermo’s attempted comeback failed to come to fruition. The result sees the Bianconeri celebrate Easter as league leaders after their fourth consecutive victory displaced Milan from top spot. And the battle between the two Italian giants looks set to go right to the wire… 


GOALS: Bonucci 56, Quagliarella 69 

PALERMO Viviano; Munoz, Milanovic, Labrin; Pisano, Migliaccio (Bacinovic 72), Della Rocca, Barreto, Acquah (Budan 62); Ilicic (Vasquez 83), Miccoli Substitutes not used: Tzorvas, Kosnic, Alvares, Zahavi. Manager: Mutti 

JUVENTUS Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Caceres, Vidal (Pepe 83), Pirlo, Marchisio, Estigarribia; Quagliarella (Del Piero 77), Vucinic (Matri 67) Substitutes not used: Storari, Lichtsteiner, Giaccherini, Borriello. Manager: Conte 

REFEREE: Brighi ASSISTANTS: Manganelli, Padovan FOURTH OFFICIAL: Valeri BOOKED: Marchisio 32