Dušan Vlahović scored twice as injury-depleted Juventus won 3-2 at Empoli on Saturday to move to within seven points of Serie A leader AC Milan.
Vlahović netted his first goal on the stroke of halftime after Szymon Żurkowski had canceled out Moise Kean’s opener for Juventus.
The 22-year-old Vlahović doubled his tally and looked to have all but sealed the result in the 66th minute before a goal from Empoli substitute Andrea La Mantia led to a nervy finale.
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Vlahović will return to Fiorentina on Wednesday — in the Italian Cup semifinals — for the first time since his acrimonious departure last month.
“My feelings are a bit mixed, I don’t know what to say, we’ll go there to play,” he said. “I thank Fiorentina wholeheartedly, I had wonderful years there and they will always be a part of me."
The result saw Juventus snap a run of three successive 1-1 draws, while Empoli’s winless streak stretched to 10.
Juventus knew a win would put it back in the title race after draws for both Inter Milan and AC Milan on Friday.
But coach Massimiliano Allegri was without a number of key players, with Weston McKennie and Alex Sandro added to the ever-lengthening injury list.
All Serie A matches are starting five minutes late this weekend accompanied by a peace message following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Juventus had several chances to take the lead before it eventually broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute when Adrien Rabiot whipped in a cross from the left and Kean headed in at the back post.
But the Bianconeri were hit with a double blow shortly after as Denis Zakaria limped off with an apparent left thigh injury and moments later Empoli leveled when Żurkowski managed to prod the ball in after a goalmouth scramble following a corner.
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However, Juventus leveled in first-half stoppage time as Juan Cuadrado threaded the ball through to Vlahović, who controlled before firing into the back of the net.
It was Vlahović’s third goal since joining Juventus and he added another in the second half as he finished off a counterattack by lifting the ball over Empoli goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario after being set up by Alvaro Morata.
Juventus appeared to be heading for an almost certain win but, 10 minutes later, Leonardo Bonucci headed a free kick off the underside of the crossbar. As the move continued La Mantia managed to squeeze the ball inbetween Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and the post.
New coach Davide Nicola’s changes had an immediate impact as they helped last-place Salernitana to a 1-1 draw at home to Bologna.
It was Nicola’s second draw in as many matches after steering his side to a 2-2 draw against Serie A leader Milan in his first match after replacing Stefano Colantuono.
Marko Arnautović headed Bologna into the lead shortly before halftime but Nicola made a triple substitution in the 71st minute and seconds later all three combined for Nadir Zortea to fire in the equalizer.
Nicola Sansone hit the crossbar for Bologna in the final minute but Salernitana edged to within seven points of safety.
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Also, Fiorentina failed to keep up the pressure on the top four as it lost 2-1 at Sassuolo after an intense finale.
Hamed Traorè scored the opener and also headed onto the crossbar in the first half.
Fiorentina’s hopes of getting something from the match appeared to have diminished when midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura was sent off 10 minutes from time, following a second yellow card for something he said to the referee after getting booked for a foul.
But fellow substitute Arthur Cabral slid in to net the equalizer with two minutes remaining and seemed to have snatched a point for Fiorentina before Grégoire Defrel's stoppage-time winner.
Fiorentina is eight points behind Juventus and the final Champions League berth.