MILAN, Italy (AP):
Juventus took a major step towards a seventh straight Serie A title yesterday as they beat Sampdoria 3-0 after Napoli were held to a 0-0 draw at AC Milan.
Douglas Costa changed the match when he came on for the injured Miralem Pjanic, providing three assists for Mario Mandzukic, Benedikt Hoewedes and Sami Khedira.
Juventus moved six points clear of Napoli with six matches remaining including the two sides playing each other.
“We have to thank Pjanic for getting injured because maybe at that moment I wouldn’t have changed things,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri joked. “Douglas and (Gonzaolo) Higuain are two players, who I wanted to use to change the match. I chose the Brazilian to stretch Samp.”
Juventus were looking to bounce back from the disappointment of Wednesday’s Champions League exit to Real Madrid, decided by a stoppage-time penalty in the second leg when seconds away from forcing extra time at 3-0.
Allegri had mixed feelings about Sunday’s win.
“Is it a decisive step toward the title? Absolutely not. But it was important to win after Madrid and the guys were good because it wasn’t easy after such a tiring match,” Allegri said.
Juve struggled to find a way through the Samp defence and the visitors almost took the lead but Gianluigi Buffon, who was sent off midweek, managed to parry a close-range header from Fabio Quagliarella.
Pjanic limped off two minutes before the break and was replaced by Costa, who had an instant impact, as he whipped in a cross for Mandzukic to volley in under the bar.
Juventus doubled their lead on the hour. The ball was passed from the right to the left of the penalty area and Douglas Costa set up a diving header from an unmarked Hoewedes on only his second match for the club.
Douglas Costa was again decisive 15 minutes later with another cross for Khedira to fire into the bottom left corner.
The Brazil midfielder almost capped his performance with a goal but fired narrowly wide of the left post late on.