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New boys fire Juve into top four, Napoli on Inter’s heels

MILAN (AFP) – Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria enjoyed dream Juventus debuts on Sunday with a goal each in a 2-0 win over Verona which puts their new team in Serie A’s Champions League places, while Napoli are hot on leaders Inter Milan’s heels after seeing
off Venezia.

The duo made sure that Juve took advantage of Atalanta falling to a shock 2-1 home defeat to lowly Cagliari by beating spirited Verona in Turin to take their place in the top four for the first time this season.

Serbia forward Vlahovic took just 12 minutes at a foggy Allianz Stadium to show why Juve shelled out an initial EUR70 million to snatch him from Fiorentina, racing onto Paulo Dybala’s chipped through ball before sending a delicate lofted finish over Verona goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo.

Zakaria, who arrived for EUR4.5 million from Borussia Moenchengladbach on transfer deadline day, sealed the points in the 61st minute when he was sent clean through on goal by Alvaro Morata and lashed home a precise finish which put Juve two points ahead of fifth-placed Atalanta.

“It’s important to score goals but I want to improve in every aspect of the game, general play, passing, mentality, everything that can help the team,” Vlahovic told DAZN.

Juventus’ Swiss midfielder Denis Lemi Zakaria (R) celebrates scoring a goal with his teammate Serbian forward Dusan Vlahovic during the Italian Serie A football match against Verona. PHOTO: AFP

Juve have played a game more than Atalanta, and travel to Bergamo next weekend to face a team who were blasted by coach Gian Piero Gasperini as “not good enough” following their loss to Cagliari.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri poured cold water on Vlahovic’s suggestion that Juve were aiming for the league title, even though only eight points separate his side from Inter.

“The Scudetto is between Inter, Milan and Napoli, we are out of it right now. It’s still wide open for the Champions League and we have to take it one step at a time,” he said.

Vlahovic’s 18th league strike of the season puts him level with Lazio’s Ciro Immobile in the hunt for Italy’s ‘Capocannoniere’ scoring award.

The 22-year-old had a great chance to go it alone at the top shortly before half-time after superb interplay between Dybala and Morata led to the latter whipping over a perfect cross to his new strike partner.

However Vlahovic could only glance wide, leaving the door open for Verona – missing key players Giovanni Simeone and Gianluca Caprari – that was only closed once Zakaria struck.

Victor Osimhen put Napoli at the heart of the title race with a goal in his first start since November which helped his team to a 2-0 win.

Nigeria striker Osimhen had made two brief substitute appearances since fracturing bones in his face in a sickening head clash at Inter, and he rewarded coach Luciano Spalletti’s decision to pick him by leaping to head Napoli ahead just before the hour mark at the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo.

Andrea Petagna sealed the points in the 100th minute of a match extended due a clash of heads between the referee and Venezia’s Tyronne Ebuehi, as well as that same player’s late red card for a dreadful foul on Dries Mertens.