Juventus strengthened their grip on fourth place in Serie A with a 3-2 win over Empoli on Saturday evening, a game in which two goals from Dusan Vlahovic made all the difference.
Moise Kean ended his recent scoring drought to break the deadlock in the first half, but Szymon Zurkowski cancelled that out before Vlahovic’s brace proved decisive. Andrea La Mantia did pull another back for Empoli that ended up being a consolation.
Juve had a great early chance when January signings Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria combined, but the latter was unable to beat Empoli goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario. Vlahovic himself almost fired the visitors into the lead but placed his attempt wide of the far post.
But Juve also found themselves under some pressure at the other end, first with penalty appeals against Adrien Rabiot and then when Szymon Zurkowski flashed a near post chance wide.
Juve’s breakthrough goal was too simple from an Empoli perspective. There was not enough pressure on the ball down the left from Luca Pellegrini to Rabiot, with the latter’s cross finding an unmarked Kean to easily nod into the net.
The Empoli equaliser was a very poor one for Juve to concede, with a corner not cleared and Zurkowski able to poke in from under the feet of several unwitting defenders.
Juve retook the lead in first half stoppage time when Vlahovic was calmness personified in the penalty area, turning inside to create space for the shot and slotting the ball home.
The Serbian’s goal to extend the lead midway through the second half was arguably better, somehow bringing a poor through ball from substitute Alvaro Morata into his stride and lifting the ball over the onrushing Vicario.
That should have been Juve out of sight but La Mantia’s goal gave Empoli a lifeline, capitalising on weak defending. Just moments earlier, Leonardo Bonucci had also managed to deflect a goal-bound free-kick onto the woodwork.
Juventus player ratings
1. Goalkeeper & defenders
Wojciech Szczesny (GK) - 5/10 - Will know he should have done more to keep out Empoli's second, which added unnecessary late pressure.
Danilo (RB) - 6/10 - Okay but no more.
Matthijs de Ligt (CB) - 6/10 - Warned early on for an overzealous aerial challenge. Ran the risk of giving away a penalty later on with another very strong and physical tackle.
Leonardo Bonucci (CB) - 5/10 - Sluggish in key moments, although he diverted a goal-bound free-kick onto the crossbar at 3-1.
Luca Pellegrini (LB) - 6/10 - Played a role in the opening goal.
Juan Cuadrado (RM) - 8/10 - Created Juve's second goal with a clever disguised pass in the penalty area. Involved in the third as well.
Denis Zakaria (CM) - 7/10 - Started really well but had to go off injured in the first half and fans will be holding their collective breath for good news.
Arthur (CM) - 7/10 - Close to perfect with his passing accuracy and was consistently able to recycle possession.
Adrien Rabiot (LM) - 6/10 - Survived first half penalty appeals from Empoli but went on assist the Juve breakthrough with a perfect cross. Faded.
Dusan Vlahovic (ST) - 9/10 - Could have scored before he did but his first goal was well taken as turned calmly box and finished. His second was even better, making a poor pass into a good assist.
Moise Kean (ST) - 7/10 - Scored an overdue goal with a simple header. Withdrawn with just over an hour played.
Manuel Locatelli (CM) - 6/10 - Wouldn't have expected to come on so early.
Alvaro Morata (ST) - 6/10 - Gets credit for the assist for Juve's third, although it was a poor pass that Vlahovic was somehow able to control.