Cristiano Ronaldo marked his 1,000th career appearance with a goal as Juventus beat rock-bottom SPAL 2-1 to move four points clear at the top of Serie A.
The Portugal superstar, rested for the 2-0 win over Brescia last time out, scored in an 11th consecutive Italian top-flight game, matching a feat previously achieved by Gabriel Batistuta and Fabio Quagliarella.
Maurzio Sarri’s side, who were far from convincing, added a second through Aaron Ramsey before Andrea Petagna’s penalty offered SPAL late, but ultimately fruitless, hope.
The reigning champions will now watch on with interest when title rivals Lazio and Inter both play on Sunday.
SPAL started brightly as Petagna tested Wojciech Szczesny inside the opening three minutes.
However, Ronaldo, who scored in the reverse fixture back in September, had a goal ruled out for offside at the other end, while the unmarked Juan Cuadrado blasted high and wide with an ugly first-time effort.
Juve began to build pressure and SPAL had to put their bodies on the line to thwart Cuadrado, with Etrit Berisha smothering the Colombian’s deflected shot.
Szczesny had a brief scare when Gabriel Strefezza’s low strike threatened to nutmeg him, but the Pole recovered just in time.
After Paulo Dybala had struck the post with a curler, Ronaldo celebrated his milestone outing – his 1,000th for club and country – with a measured 39th-minute finish at the end of a move instigated by Ramsey, with Cuadrado providing the assist.
Giorgio Chiellini’s first starting appearance since August came to an end just before the hour mark, and the ovation for the Juve stalwart had barely finished when Ramsey doubled his side’s lead.
Picked out incisively by Dybala, Ramsey kept his cool to loft a fine finish over Berisha for his first league goal since September.
SPAL stuck at their task and halved the deficit when Simone MissirolI was felled in the box by Daniele Rugani, Petagna slotting in the spot-kick for a worthy consolation before Ronaldo’s late free-kick hit the crossbar.
What does it mean?
Lazio and Inter will need to respond on Sunday, facing Genoa and Sampdoria respectively, or else Juve might begin to make themselves comfortable at the summit.
Ronaldo’s class is permanent
The numbers behind Ronaldo’s stellar career continue to defy belief, with this his 725th career goal. Having recently turned 35, we might be seeing the twilight years of an all-time great. Make the most of it.
Rugani a weak link
Rugani clumsily conceded the penalty from which SPAL pulled a goal back, but even aside from that, the center-back’s display was scruffy, with a passing accuracy of 75.4 percent, which dropped to 52 percent in the opposing team’s half.
The Champions League takes center stage for Juve with Wednesday’s game in Lyon, though next Sunday’s visit of Inter in a crunch Serie A clash will certainly be on their radar. As for SPAL, they are off to Parma next weekend.