Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first Serie A hat-trick to lift Juventus top of the table with a 4-0 win over Cagliari on Monday, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic made an “emotional” return for AC Milan in a goalless draw against Sampdoria.
Ronaldo struck for the fifth consecutive league game as the champions bounced back from their Italian Super Cup defeat by Lazio to move ahead of Inter Milan who play Napoli later Monday.
“I’m happy with this first (league) hat-trick. But the important thing is the team, which played very well,” said Ronaldo, who brought his league tally to 13 goals in 15 games this season.
“We had to win today and put pressure on Inter.”
Cagliari held off Maurizio Sarri’s Juve early on, but the second half was all one-way traffic with 34-year-old Ronaldo breaking the deadlock just after the interval.
The Portuguese striker added a second from the penalty spot on 67 minutes then set up Gonzalo Higuain who came off the bench to strike a third nine minutes from time, before completing his hat-trick a minute later.
Juve are three points ahead of Inter in the table with Antonio Conte’s side travelling to eighth-placed Napoli looking to keep pace with the eight-time defending champions.
Ronaldo’s heroics overshadowed Swedish star Ibrahimovic’s return for Milan as he came off the bench in the 55th minute against Sampdoria.
The 38-year-old had not played since leaving MLS side LA Galaxy in October.
He came on for Poland striker Krzysztof Piatek to deafening applause from the San Siro crowd after rejoining the club last week.
But there was little else to cheer for the hosts who extended their winless run to three games and remain 12th in the table.
“I felt a lot of adrenaline, emotion, it brought me back nine or 10 years,” said Ibrahimovic, who was top scorer in Serie A with Milan in the 2011-12 campaign before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain.
“I wanted to get on the pitch, score a goal and then celebrate like a God in front of the Curva! But it will happen next time.”
The seven-time European champions are 13 points off Champions League qualification, a competition they have not played since the 2013-14 season.
“You can see that the team is lacking confidence and aggression in scoring goals,” said the Swede.
“I will try everything possible to get Milan going again. There is a lack of faith here.”
Milan coach Stefano Pioli said the team were still reeling from their 5-0 defeat by Atalanta last time out.
“The disastrous defeat in Bergamo has remained within us,” said Pioli. “It is a shame not to have won. Ibra’s impact was absolutely positive.
“He immediately gave support, but the team is not yet used to his presence, we could look to him more.
“His physical prowess gives us some more solutions, but we lacked quality from everyone.”
Atalanta continued their fine form, closing to within a point of fourth-placed Roma, who lost 2-0 to Torino on Sunday, with another 5-0 rout, this time of seventh-placed Parma.
Atalanta were already three goals up before the break thanks to Papu Gomez, Remo Freuler and Robin Gosens, with Josip Ilicic adding a second-half double.
New Fiorentina coach Giuseppe Iachini had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Bologna in his first game after taking over from Vincenzo Montella.
The Tuscany side had led for most of the game after Marco Benassi volleyed in on 27 minutes but Riccardo Orsolini grabbed a point for Bologna deep into injury time.
Udinese secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season thanks to a late Rodrigo De Paul winner at Lecce.