Report: Juve title charge enters fifth gear as CR7 bags penalty

THE Old Lady could well be on the way to defending their Serie A title and secure a ninth one on the trot if a late dominant display at home to beat Lecce 4-0 on Friday is anything to go by.

The result saw Juve go seven points clear at the top of the table after Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and Matthijs de Ligt all registered goals at the Allianz Stadium. Fabio Lucioni’s first-half dismissal left lowly Lecce, who had started brightly, facing a daunting task yet it needed a moment of brilliance from Dybala to open the scoring after 53 minutes.

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Ronaldo and Federico Bernardeschi were guilty of woeful misses in the opening period but the former lashed home his 23rd Serie A goal of the campaign, and another spot-kick, before excellently setting up Higuain. Andrea Rispoli flashed wide on the half-volley as the Bianconeri were carved open after four minutes.

Gabriel parried Adrien Rabiot’s long-range shot and Ronaldo drilled wide of the right post as Maurizio Sarri’s came to life and soon found themselves a man up. Rodrigo Bentancur caught Lucioni in possession 40 yards from goal and the centre-back chopped down his opponent to earn the straight red.

Ronaldo, who endured a harrowing comeback to competitive action after missing a penalty against AC Milan in the Coppa Italia semi-finals, incredibly put a close-range header from Dybala’s corner over the top when unmarked then teed up Bernardeschi, who missed another sitter when blazing high from inside the six-yard box.

Gabriel was in action again to keep out Leonardo Bonucci’s header just after the restart but was powerless to stop a Dybala strike to open the scoring in the 53rd minute. Evgen Shakhov’s careless pass was picked up by Ronaldo, who teed up Dybala to curl a sumptuous left-foot effort into the top-right corner from the edge of the area. It was game over just after the hour when Ronaldo lashed home the penalty he won after being carved to the ground by Luca Rossettini.

The Portugal superstar would have had another had Gabriel not kept out his point-blank header but his ingenious backheel after a fine run deflected into the path of Higuain, who drilled home the third. De Ligt then nodded in Douglas Costa’s corner to put paid to the encounter as Juve ultimately ran out comfortable winners. Juve next line up against Genoa on Tuesday, where the Italian champions will look to continue their ascent.