Cristiano Ronaldo draws rare blank but Juventus still too strong for 'naive

Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score for the first time in four Serie A matches, but Juventus still had enough to edge Inter Milan to all but end their rivals’ title challenge.

Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic scored the only goal at the Juventus Stadium on Friday night as the defending champions moved 11 points clear at the top, while opening up a 14-point gap on third-placed Inter.

Unbeaten Juventus have 43 points from 15 games, with their only points dropped coming in a home draw against Genoa.

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World Cup runner-up Mandzukic’s diving header after 66 minutes off a cross from former Inter player Joao Cancelo was enough to decide the outcome at the Allianz Stadium.

“Mandzukic is one of those players who even on an off day can bring his physicality to the game and that can make the difference,” said Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri.

“We knew the championship wouldn’t end today, but we still absolutely had to avoid defeat. I asked the lads to be efficient and effective.

“We were only half that in the first period, but then we started to hold the ball with greater patience, were more organised and solid. After that, the quality of the players inevitably emerges.”

The seven-time reigning champions proved yet again they were a class above their rivals even with Ronaldo not as omnipresent as he has been in previous games, failing to add to his 10 league goals.

Inter captain Mauro Icardi also failed to muster a single shot on goal, but the visitors did have chances in the first half with Roberto Gagliardini rattling the post just before the half-hour mark.

“We played well enough but we weren’t consistent, there were situations where we didn’t interpret or read them property while Juventus did not do anything wrong,” said Inter manager Luciano Spalletti.

“If someone takes the lead, of course it makes the difference, but we made too many banal and cheap errors. Unfortunately, Juve are smart and we are naive. They have a way of wasting five minutes after a foul.”

Inter stay four points ahead of AC Milan, who host Torino, with Lazio a further point back in fifth before their game against Sampdoria.

Spalletti’s side now turn to their crucial Uefa Champions League game against PSV Eindhoven at the San Siro on Tuesday.

Juventus are already through to the Champions League knockout rounds before next week’s trip to Young Boys in Switzerland.