Cristiano Ronaldo scored a first-half hat-trick as Juventus took out their Champions League frustration on Serie A strugglers Cagliari in a 3-1 away win. (More Football News)
The subject of transfer speculation after disappointing in the Bianconeri's European exit to Porto in midweek, Ronaldo came to the fore on Sunday with the second-fastest treble of his outstanding career.
The 32-minute blitz was enough to cast aside 17th-placed Cagliari, who had conceded all of their previous six Serie A goals after the break.
Giovanni Simeone struck back to cap an improved second-half display from Cagliari, but Juve comfortably eased to a third straight league win.
Federico Chiesa had already equalled his career-best tally of assists in a single Serie A campaign, and the winger nearly had a seventh of the season when he crossed for Ronaldo, whose header was deflected wide.
Juve's opener came from the resulting corner, Ronaldo powering in Juan Cuadrado's cross.
Alvaro Morata squandered a great chance 12 minutes later but made amends with a terrific ball for Ronaldo, who drew a rash lunge from Alessio Cragno and duly thumped home the subsequent spot-kick.
Having crafted Morata's wasted opportunity, Chiesa got the assist his performance deserved in the 32nd minute, his drilled crossfield pass teeing up Ronaldo to complete a perfect hat-trick with an arrowed left-footed finish beyond Cragno.
Cagliari started the second half brightly and, after some smart stops from Wojciech Szczesny, were rewarded when Simeone slammed home from a precise Gabriele Zappa cutback.
VAR deemed Joao Pedro not to have been fouled by Adrian Rabiot inside Juve's box soon after.
Chiesa just failed to turn in Cuadrado's centre to restore a three-goal advantage, but the visitors ultimately avoided any further scares to move within 10 points of leaders Inter.
What does it mean? Juve keep pushing, but is the gap too big?
Juve's win takes them clear of fourth-placed Atalanta and to within one point of Milan, who play in Sunday's late game, meaning the Bianconeri need a favour from Napoli.
However, with Inter showing no signs of letting up, Juve still have what looks to be an unassailable gap to bridge between themselves and Antonio Conte's team, although the Nerazzurri have played a game more.
Ronaldo's March madness
Only once before had Ronaldo scored a quicker hat-trick from kick-off, doing so after 20 minutes against Espanyol in 2015. He is now four clear of Romelu Lukaku at the top of the Serie A scoring charts, with 23 goals from as many appearances.
In total, Ronaldo – who could have added a fourth to his tally in stoppage time but found his path blocked by Cragno – has scored 87 times for club and country in March, making it his favourite month of the year in terms of goals, surpassing September (86), while he has now also netted at all 18 stadiums he has played at in Serie A.
Chiesa continues to shine
Italy international Chiesa was superb against Porto in midweek, despite Juve's elimination, and carried that form over to Sunday's outing.
Including his assist for Ronaldo's third goal, Chiesa crafted a game-high four opportunities, attempted three crosses and finished with an impressive 85.2 per cent passing accuracy.
Key Opta Facts
- Ronaldo became the first Juve player to score a perfect hat-trick (right foot, left foot and header) in Serie A since David Trezeguet against Livorno in August 2007.
- The forward has scored two or more eight times in the league this season, a joint-high in Europe's 'top five' leagues this season.
- Ronaldo has five headed goals in Serie A this term, trailing only Andy Delort, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Sasa Kalajdzic (six) across Europe.
- Chiesa (four goals and three assists) has been involved in seven goals in his past seven games with Juventus.
- This was the first time Dejan Kulusevski, Chiesa, Morata and Ronaldo have started together this season.
Benevento visit Juve's Allianz Stadium next Sunday, while Cagliari take on Spezia the day before.