Pjanic answers critics as Juve labour to Chievo win

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Milan (AFP)

Bosnia midfielder Miralem Pjanic silenced his critics with a superb free-kick winner as injury-depleted Juventus laboured to a 2-1 win at Chievo to stretch their Serie A lead Sunday.

Roma have the chance to reduce the gap to four points later when they host Bologna at the Stadio Olimpico.

In a hard-fought encounter that saw defender Andrea Barzagli stretchered off after just four minutes, Juventus were given another reminder their bid for a record sixth consecutive league title is far from being a formality.

Although Napoli are now nine points adrift after their 1-1 draw at home to Lazio on Saturday, AC Milan maintained their purple patch with a precious 2-1 win at Palermo.

It moved Vincenzo Montella's men up to provisional second place at five points behind Juventus, whose bid for glory at home and in Europe is exacting a heavy toll.

The champions were already without defender Giorgio Chiellini for the trip to Verona and coach Massimiliano Allegri dropped Leonardo Bonucci to the bench after he suffered a thigh injury in a midweek Champions League draw with Lyon.

But Bonucci was forced into action to replace Barzagli after the Juve veteran fell awkwardly on his arm in an early challenge and was stretchered off.

Still missing strikers Paulo Dybala and Mark Pjaca, Allegri had no choice but to deploy Mario Mandzukic alongside Argentine Gonzalo Higuain although by the end both players were struggling.

Mandzukic spurned a first-half chance when he controlled a long ball from midfield and lobbed it over the head of Nicolas Spolli only to send his follow-up over the crossbar.

The Croatia striker finally broke the deadlock eight minutes after the restart after controlling Juan Cuadrado's perfectly-weighted ball to beat Stefano Sorrentino down low from 18 yards.

Juve should have earned a penalty on the hour but Higuain opted to stay on his feet as he was being dragged back by the shoulder by Mariano Izco.

Moments later Gianluigi Buffon got down low to save Lucas Castro's snapshot from five yards out, although a minute later the Juve 'keeper was sent the wrong way as Sergio Pellissier, on his 400th Serie A appearance, levelled from the spot after being hauled down by makeshift defender Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Pjanic earned a lifeline when he was fouled by Spolli and stepped up to fire a sumptuous free kick into the top right-hand corner.

But the champions' finishing was terrible.

Stefano Sturaro notably fired over on a one-on-one with Sorrentino when he had options to his right and Cuadrado beat three three players on his way to skewing wide of Sorrentino's near post.

At Palermo, Suso was the star of the show for AC Milan in a 2-1 win that saw Josip Posavec perform heroics for the hosts.

When Palermo 'keeper Posavec spilled the deflection from a cross into the area on the quarter-hour, Suso pounced quickly to fire into a virtually empty net from 10 yards.

Ilija Nestorovski's 71st minute equaliser raised Palermo's hopes of earning a share of the points, but Milan were a class above the Sicilians.

Posavec pulled off two great one-handed saves in succession to stop Suso 15 minutes from the end.

The Spaniard looked certain to claim his second of the game when he deftly side-stepped his marker in the area to unleash another sweet left-footer that Posavec pushed away, one-handed from his top corner.

But he was beaten to the winner when Gianluca Lapadula directed a backheel flick from a drive into the area past Posavec to seal the win with his maiden Serie A goal.

Elsewhere, high-flying Atalanta stunned Sassuolo 3-0 away to move up to fifth at points adrift, while Genoa were held to a 1-1 home draw by Udinese.