Injury-hit Juventus stunned AC Milan 2-1 at the San Siro on Saturday to finally ignite their scudetto hopes.
Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Del Piero scored the goals that took Juve up to fourth in Serie A, just two points behind Milan and three off champions Inter, who won 1-0 at Genoa on Friday, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late consolation.
Juve’s win came amid a crippling injury crisis, made even worse as they lost Giorgio Chiellini in the warm-up and Paolo De Ceglie and Jorge Martinez during the game.
They ended it with right winger Simone Pepe playing at leftback and defensive midfielder Momo Sissoko at right midfield.
Del Piero’s goal was his 179th for Juventus and means he becomes their record goalscorer, with one more than Giampiero Boniperti.
Juve boss Luigi Delneri was understandably delighted.
“We’ve got seven lives, we’ve reclaimed an important position [one that earns Champions League qualification], but we can’t rest on our laurels,” Delneri said. “We’re in the league to try to win, but our aim is to improve from one Sunday to the next.”
Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri said they had not deserved to lose.
“We played well, we created many chances, but we gave away some opportunities by losing the ball too easily,” Allegri said. “We’re talking about a game in which the result doesn’t reflect the game on the pitch, but that’s football. We didn’t deserve to lose.”
Ibrahimovic came close to giving Milan an early lead, but his curler smacked back off the bar.
Quagliarella opened the scoring on 24 minutes when he met a deep De Ceglie cross with a towering header into the top corner.
Milan’s Andrea Pirlo had a free-kick deflected just past the angle of post and bar, before Juve countered at pace on 29 minutes after a slip by Alessandro Nesta, but Christian Abbiati scrambled Del Piero’s scuffed shot around the post.
Milan finally threatened in first-half stoppage-time as a great cross from Pato into the area picked out Ibrahimovic, but the Swede’s header was weak and Marco Storari made an easy save.
Ibrahimovic then took down a cross from Pirlo on his chest, before firing over.
Five minutes into the second period, the Swede had another chance, teed up by Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, but Felipe Melo headed his shot clear.
Despite those chances it was Juventus who struck again when Pepe crossed into the box and Sissoko beat Luca Antonini to the ball, bringing it down on his chest before it got stuck in his feet.
The chance seemed to have gone begging after the Mali midfielder swiped at thin air and fell over, but he got back up, prodded the ball back to Del Piero and the striker fired through a crowd of defenders to score.
Eight minutes from time, Ibrahimovic met Antonini’s cross to head past Storari.
Earlier in the day, AS Roma went seventh after a 2-0 success against Lecce in the capital saw them earn a third home win in a row.
Argentina centerback Nicolas Burdisso and Montenegro forward Mirko Vucinic scored the goals, but both teams finished with 10 men after the dismissals of Francesco Totti and Ruben Olivera.
Roma are counting the cost of Totti’s dismisal as he will now miss next week’s Rome derby against leaders SS Lazio.
“Of course it will hurt us a lot, not just for what he does on the pitch, but for what he means to all of us,” Burdisso said.