Costa keeps champions Juventus in hot pursuit of leaders Napoli

Juventus deny Balotelli move

TURIN: Juventus’ forward Gonzalo Higuain from Argentina (R) fights for the ball with Genoa’s defender Armando Izzo (C) during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus Vs Genoa on Monday, at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. – AFP

TURIN: Brazilian Douglas Costa scored the only goal as champions Juventus kept in hot pursuit of leaders Napoli with a 1-0 against Genoa on Monday. Napoli stayed top after the first game following the winter break when Dries Mertens ended a long goal drought in a 1-0 victory at Atalanta on Sunday.

Maurizio Sarri’s side have 54 points after 21 games to stay one point ahead of Juventus. Poland’s Wojciech Szczesny continued in place of the injured Gianluigi Buffon in goal for the Turin giants, with Costa starting ahead of Federico Bernardeschi up front. Miralem Panic missed an early chance from a free-kick awarded after six minutes when Gonzalo Higuain was fouled on the edge of the box, but Mattia Perin cleared.

But Costa broke through after 16 minutes in the Allianz Stadium and exchanged passes with Mario Mandzukic before slotting the ball past Perin. Although Genoa had struggled for possession before the break the champions were less threatening in the second half against a side that are 15th in the league.

“I think it’s a very important goal,” said Costa. “It was a difficult second half but it was important that the team did not concede a goal and brought the game home. “We must think only of ourselves and move forward without looking at others,” he said.

Lazio moved third, 11 points behind Napoli, thanks to a thumping 5-1 win over Chievo in Rome on Sunday, equal on points but ahead of Inter Milan on goal difference. Luciano Spalletti’s Inter fell further behind after a scrappy 1-1 home draw with Champions League-chasing Roma, who are three points behind in fifth.
Inter are winless in six games in the league and no longer look like title contenders, while Roma, who stay fifth on 40 points, have fallen even further behind after picking up just ten points from a possible 24 since beating Lazio in mid-November.

Meanwhile, Juventus general manager Giuseppe Marotta has dismissed reports that the Serie A champions are interested in signing Italian striker Mario Balotelli as “a hoax”. There were reports that a five-year deal was in the offing for the former Manchester City striker, who has hit top form for Nice this season with 17 goals.

“Beyond our affection, esteem and liking for this boy it’s a fantasy football story,” Marotta told Mediaset Premium on Monday. “His is a profile we don’t need.” Balotelli won six trophies with Inter Milan including the Champions League before moving to Manchester City in 2010, followed by two spells at AC Milan either side of an unsuccessful stint at Liverpool.

The 27-year-old left Liverpool on a free transfer in August 2016 to join Nice, who are sixth in the French league this season. Marotta confirmed the reigning six-time league champions’ interest in Liverpool’s German international Emre Can, whose contract expires in June.

“We know his contract is expiring but he could renew or have other opportunities,” said Marotta. “We’ll try to bring him to us, I think a big club has to have the ambition to achieve difficult objectives.” – AFP

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