(Reuters) - Italian champions Juventus stayed firmly in the hunt for a seventh successive league title after a first-half goal by central defender Medhi Benatia gave them a 1-0 home win over AS Roma in a pulsating Serie A clash on Saturday.
The result kept Juve second on 44 points from 18 games, one behind leaders Napoli, who held on to pole position with a 3-2 home defeat of Sampdoria that saw their Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik break Diego Maradona’s club scoring record.
Elsewhere, AC Milan’s dreadful form continued after a 2-0 home defeat by Atalanta left them 11th at the Christmas break, with the once mighty European giants winning only one of their last six league games.
Third-placed Inter Milan are five points off the pace after a shock 1-0 defeat at Sassuolo, their second successive reverse after a 3-1 home defeat by Udinese, while Roma stayed fourth seven points behind Napoli with a game in hand.
Juventus thoroughly dominated and stretched their perfect record against Roma at the Allianz Stadium to seven wins, while they have also scored in 24 of the last 25 games against the side from the Italian capital.
Benatia drilled in an 18th-minute winner during a frantic few seconds in the box as Alisson parried a Giorgio Chiellini header and deflected Benatia’s follow-up on to the crossbar before the Moroccan defender finally scored.
It was no more than Juve deserved as Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic missed early chances while Gonzalo Higuain blasted a sitter over the bar shortly after the break.
Roma came to life in the latter stages as Edin Dzeko blazed his shot high and right back Alessandro Florenzi struck the woodwork in the 81st minute.
Bosnia’s footballer of the year Miralem Pjanic rattled the upright for Juventus with a long-range effort in stoppage time before Roma substitute Patrik Schick missed a gilt-edged chance at the death.
The Czech raced clear of his marker and with only Wojciech Szczesny to beat, shot straight at the Juventus goalkeeper much to the relief of the home faithful.
Earlier on Saturday, Napoli twice came from behind to beat Sampdoria with all the goals coming in a spectacular first half that saw Hamsik net the winner with his landmark 116th goal for the club.
It eclipsed the 115 netted by the iconic Argentine Maradona, whose record had stood since 1991.
Inter were top of the table two rounds ago but a sudden dip in form saw them slip up in the title race as a 34th-minute goal by Diego Falcinelli gave struggling Sassuolo a memorable home win.
Mauro Icardi missed a 49th-minute penalty for Inter, whose city rivals AC Milan also suffered a miserable day after goals by Bryan Cristante and Josip Ilicic gave Atalanta the win at San Siro.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Ian Chadband