Juventus Higuain haunts Roma as Juve go seven points clear

Luciano Spalletti's men failed in their attempt to beat the champions in a league fixture for the first time since 2010.

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Juventus' defender Daniele Rugani celebrates after scoring with teammate Gonzalo during their UEFA Champions League football match against Dinamo Zagreb on December 7, 2016 play

Juventus' defender Daniele Rugani celebrates after scoring with teammate Gonzalo during their UEFA Champions League football match against Dinamo Zagreb on December 7, 2016

(AFP)
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Gonzalo Higuain struck a first-half winner as record-equalling Juventus underlined their credentials for a record sixth consecutive title with a battling 1-0 win over Roma on Saturday.

Roma travelled to Turin determined to reduce their four-point deficit to the five-time consecutive Serie A champions before the Christmas break.

But despite an improved second half, Luciano Spalletti's men failed in their attempt to beat the champions in a league fixture for the first time since 2010.

"Juventus were better than us individually, they showed how strong they are tonight," said Spalletti.

"We did well to close down some of their attacks but we were lacking quality in our final touches."

Juventus' Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic (L) fights for the ball with AS Roma's Argentinian forward Diego Perotti (R) on December 17, 2016 at the Juventus Stadium, in Turin play

Juventus' Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic (L) fights for the ball with AS Roma's Argentinian forward Diego Perotti (R) on December 17, 2016 at the Juventus Stadium, in Turin

(AFP)

Juventus moved seven points clear of Roma, in second, and were given a further boost when AC Milan were held to a goalless home draw by Atalanta that left them third at nine points in arrears.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri will hope his side can lift their first trophy of the season when they challenge AC Milan, who lost last season's Cup final to Juve, for the Italian Super Cup in Doha on Friday.

But he said: "It was important for us to get the right result. We've left Roma seven points behind us, but the championship is still long."

Roma defender Kostas Manolas set the tone for a bruising first half in Turin when he tangled with Mario Mandzukic and sent he Croatian over the advertising hoardings.

But Higuain turned the tables on Roma only 14 minutes in when he rode Daniele De Rossi's poor challenge outside the area to muscle his way past one of Serie A's toughest-tackling midfielders.

De Rossi watched powerless as Higuain strode on, coolly pushing the ball past Manolas before beating Wojciech Szczesny with a superbly-hit strike that sneaked inside the Polish 'keeper's near post.

AC Milan's midfielder of Croatia Juraj Kucka reacts during the Serie A football match AC Milan vs Atalanta at San Siro Stadium in Milan on December 17, 2016 play

AC Milan's midfielder of Croatia Juraj Kucka reacts during the Serie A football match AC Milan vs Atalanta at San Siro Stadium in Milan on December 17, 2016

(AFP)

Szczesny later hit out at his teammates when he said their "disappointing result" underlined the difference in the mentality between the sides.

"We don't yet have the mentality of champions, that is something we really need to work on," the Pole told Sky Sport.

Roma were clearly stunned but in a physical first half the chances for both sides were few and far between.

Radja Nainggolan hit the side-netting for Roma and when the ball fell kindly for Manolas following a chaotic corner his snap shot came of Stephan Lichtsteinter.

Roma livewire Mohamed Salah was only fit for the bench following his recent recovery from injury but replaced Gerson at half-time and not long after former Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic was forced off with a sore hip to be replaced by Juan Cuadrado for the hosts.

Roma moved up a gear but Juve defender Daniele Rugani had to produce a timely interception to stop Roma striker Edin Dzeko going clear.

AC Milan midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura (R) shoots the ball during their match against Atalanta at San Siro Stadium in Milan on December 17, 2016 play

AC Milan midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura (R) shoots the ball during their match against Atalanta at San Siro Stadium in Milan on December 17, 2016

(AFP)

At the other end Szczesny was forced down low to save one-handed from Stefano Sturaro's low strike after he muscled his way past his marker.

Allegri was forced into another change on the hour when Lichtsteiner was replaced by defender Andrea Barzagli, who recently recovered from a broken collarbone.

His arrival came in timely fashion as Roma began to edge closer to an equaliser.

Salah did superbly while under pressure on the right of the area to set up Perotti for a first-time strike that was little trouble for Buffon as he got down low to smother.

A Perotti free kick from the right evaded the entire Juve defence and was knocked on by Dzeko for Manolas, but despite a desperate diving header the Greek defender failed to make contact at the far post.

Stephan El Shaarawy replaced a hurting De Rossi in the final stages and forced Buffon into a dramatic fingertip save from under the crossbar.

But Juve kept the pressure on till the end, Szczesny again saving the visitors with a great save at the near post after Sturaro broke through.

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