Gonzalo Higuain recorded 25th career brace in Serie A to end an uncharacteristic Serie A goal drought as he fired Juventus to victory with both strikes in a 2-0 win against Chievo in Turin.
Higuain had gone five league games without scoring before breaking through in the opening period of a triumph that sends Juve nine points clear of second-placed Roma, who take on Bolgona on Sunday, at the summit.
Although Higuain had gone over a month without scoring prior to the Coppa Italia clash with former club Napoli in midweek, the 29-year-old now has four goals in his last two outings and is hitting form again in time to take on Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.
However, his two strikes – the second an 84th-minute finish that took his Serie A tally this season to 21 – were rare bright spots in an underwhelming Juve performance as nerves set in for a side that had drawn two of their last four top-flight matches prior to kick-off.
The champions toiled after cruising into the lead and Chievo threatened to pinch a leveller on a couple of occasions before Higuain struck late on.
Juve have now won 32 consecutive home league matches and a sixth successive Scudetto is moving ever closer to their reach.
Higuain started for Massimiliano Allegri’s men despite talk he would be rested ahead of the meeting with Barca, with key changes instead coming in defence as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci dropped out of the side that had drew 1-1 with Napoli in their last league game.
The fluency of Juve’s all-star attack soon showed as Sami Khedira forced a low stop from Andrea Seculin with his firm strike, before the goalkeeper turned Paulo Dybala’s rising shot over the crossbar and gathered a second effort from the same player.
In the 23rd minute, Higuain was devastating when presented with his first sight of goal, calmly placing a finish into the bottom-left corner from Dybala’s pinpoint pass.
However, the hosts’ momentum slowed after the goal, with Chievo mustering the game’s next chance at the start of the second half as Gianluigi Buffon parried Sergio Pellissier’s drive.
A tame Riccardo Meggiorini header again worked Buffon, but, keen not to risk their phenomenal home run, Juve heeded these warnings and kicked on once more.
Higuain almost doubled his tally as he spun to flash a shot just wide of the right-hand post from the edge of the area, before the Argentina international then drew a save from Seculin with a teasing effort.
Chievo continued to threaten, though, and Roberto Inglese nodded wide when well placed from Valter Birsa’s cross, with Dybala then squandering an opportunity to seal victory as he dragged wide at the other end.
Higuain had been Juve’s star man, as so often this season, but he failed to hit the target with a great chance, somehow slicing off target after a neat turn inside the box.
However, Higuain finally put the game to bed as he steadied himself to blast beyond the committed Seculin after fine work in the build-up from Dybala and Stephan Lichtsteiner, meaning Juve take on Barca on the back of a win.
Key Opta stats:
– Paulo Dybala provided an assist for three the last four Gonzalo Higuain’s goals in Serie A.
– Higuain has scored his sixth brace for Juventus in Serie A: this is the 25th time he scored 2+ goals in the same Serie A game.
– Juventus have won their last 32 Serie A home games and has scored at least one goal in their last 22 Serie A matches.
– Higuain is the first Juventus player to score at least 20 goals in his first Serie A season since Charles and Sivori (1957-58).