MILAN (AP) Gonzalo Higuain is coming back into form at just the right time for Juventus.
Higuain hadn’t scored for five matches before netting two against former club Napoli midweek as Juventus progressed to the Italian Cup final. And the forward netted another double to fire the Bianconeri past Chievo Verona 2-0 in Serie A on Saturday.
Juventus moved nine points clear of second-placed Roma, which visits Bologna on Sunday.
Massimiliano Allegri will be hoping Higuain can make it three out of three when Juventus hosts Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday.
“It will be a very difficult match in the Champions League, we’re facing a really great team, but we have to remain calm and get to it in top condition,” Higuain said. “As we respect them, they respect us, too.”
He broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute, thanks to a fantastic assist from Paulo Dybala, who skipped down the right flank before pulling back for his teammate to fire into the far bottom corner.
Higuain nearly doubled his tally on the hour mark with a swiveling effort which flew just past the right corner.
He had other chances to score before he finally got his second, six minutes from time, after more good work from Dybala in picking out Stephan Lichtsteiner, who crossed for Higuain to control and curl into the bottom right corner.
It was Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon’s 616th Serie A appearance, moving him to second on the all-time list behind Paolo Maldini, who retired after 647.
Atalanta’s hopes of sneaking into the Champions League diminished as it was held by Sassuolo, leaving it a point behind fourth-placed Lazio and five behind Napoli, which occupies the last Champions League spot.
Bryan Cristante cancelled out Lorenzo Pellegrini’s opener for Sassuolo but the hosts couldn’t snatch a winner.
Lazio hosts Napoli on Sunday.
“Other teams would have collapsed after going behind in such matches,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “We can have a bit of regret that we didn’t take our chances in the second half, but the result still allows us to fight for Europe until the end of the season.”
Sassuolo took a surprising lead in the first half when Mattia Caldara made a rare mistake and the Atalanta defender was robbed of the ball by Pellegrini, who sprinted forward, rounded goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, and slotted home.
Alejandro Gomez scored a hat trick in Atalanta’s 5-0 win over Genoa last weekend and he was instrumental in the equalizer in the 73rd, floating in a free kick for Cristante to head into the back of the net.
Gomez, who hit the post early, put in another great cross moments after the equalizer but Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli pulled off a good save to deny Alberto Grassi.
Caldara almost went from villain to hero but Consigli finger-tipped his effort away.
Empoli was not safe from relegation after being held by bottom club Pescara.
Empoli was 17th, six points above Crotone, which hosts Inter Milan on Sunday.
Pescara remained nine points behind Empoli. Palermo was the other team in the bottom three.