A reivew of the weekend's action in the Italian Serie A.
Fernando Llorente struck late to both break the tension of a thrilling encounter with Udinese in Turin and fire his club Juventus three points clear of Roma at the top of the Serie A table.
The Sunday night meeting, which somehow ended 1-0, might have been a goalfest if not for remarkable displays of goalkeeping from Gianluigi Buffon and his visiting counterpart Zeljko Brkic.
The veteran Juve stopper was particularly impressive in steering the reigning champions through a sixth league game without conceding a goal.
Brkic stood firm in the final half hour as Antonio Conte's men steadily turned the screw but Spain international Llorente burst his bubble with a header in the first minute of three added on at the Juventus Stadium.
The three points gave Juve a comfortable cushion on previous runaway leaders Roma, who were earlier held in Atalanta. The title rivals meet in the capital city on January 6.
It was a sixth straight league win for the resurgent Bianconeri while an eighth defeat of the season sees Udinese slide into 13th place.
Kevin Strootman had earlier scored on the stroke of full-time to save Roma from their first defeat of the season, but his goal was only good enough to salvage a 1-1 draw at Atalanta.
A second-half free-kick from Davide Brivio saw the Bergamo outfit threaten to end Roma's unbeaten run - the Giallorossi notched 10 straight wins before drawing three times - until Dutch midfielder Strootman spared his team-mates' blushes.
The solitary point earned from a fourth consecutive draw was only enough to see Roma draw level on points with Juve for a few hours.
With daunting games against Fiorentina, AC Milan and Catania beckoning before the two title rivals meet in Rome in the new year, Rudi Garcia's title hopefuls could pay dearly for their current slump.
Mario Balotelli helped AC Milan to a long-awaited Serie A victory as they came from behind to win 3-1 at Catania.
The striker put Milan ahead with a smart finish in the 63rd minute after Riccardo Montolivo had cancelled out Lucas Castro's deflected opener.
A minute after his goal Balotelli was brought down to earn Panagiotis Tachtsidis a straight red card, and Kaka wrapped up a 3-1 win with a fine strike on the counter-attack.
The victory was Milan's second in a matter of days following their 3-0 Champions League win at Celtic, which had ended a seven-match winless run, and will help to further ease the pressure on coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Neighbours Inter Milan were unable to impress new owner Erick Thohir with victory at San Siro as Renan scored late to salvage a 1-1 draw for Sampdoria.
The Indonesian billionaire purchased a 70 per cent stake in the Milan giants in October, ending oil tycoon Massimo Moratti's long-term tenure as president, but had until this weekend been unable to watch the Nerazzurri in action on home turf.
Fredy Guarin fired the hosts ahead in the 18th minute after some spellbinding dribbling from Ricky Alvarez, but Inter struggled to make their early dominance count and struggled to restrain an enthusiastic Samp side.
Visiting coach Sinisa Mihajlovic - an Inter player for two seasons before working as assistant coach to Roberto Mancini - finally unlocked his former club's defence by throwing on substitute Renan, who spared his club from suffering a fourth defeat in five games with his well-taken equaliser.
Sassuolo were denied the chance to claim back-to-back Serie A victories for the first time in their history as Cagliari rallied from two goals down to force a draw at the Stadio Sant'Elia.
The Serie B champions, who were roundly punished throughout their torrid introduction to top-flight football, have since escaped the bottom three with a run of two victories from three games and looked set to win again when Lino Marzorati and Simone Zaza scored during the first half in Sardinia.
The Neroverde are, however, yet to fully shake their naivety at this level and crumbled after the break. Goals from Nene and Marco Sau rescued a 2-2 draw for Cagliari, who would have dropped below their opponents in the table with a second home defeat of the season.
Chievo's shining light Cyril Thereau dazzled the Livorno defence as the home side climbed out of the relegation zone.
The French forward scored Chievo's second goal and had a hand in the third, turning in a man-of-the-match display in the 3-0 success.
After their win against city rivals Hellas Verona last weekend, Chievo were chasing back-to-back victories for the first time this season, and it came with plenty to spare.
The signs were good, given that in eight previous meetings between the teams all three points had gone to Chievo seven times, with the other match drawn.
Coach Eugenio Corini saw Chievo fend off early pressure before easing to their triumph with goals from Marco Rigoni, Thereau and Alberto Paloschi.
On Saturday, Parma spurned the chance to move into the top seven after being held 1-1 at home by a Bologna side who played almost the entire second half with a man less.
Bologna took a 10th-minute lead through Panagiotis Kone, but Parma quickly levelled thanks to Antonio Cassano and they looked firm favourites to go on and claim the three points when visiting defender Frederik Sorensen was dismissed eight minutes into the second half.
Despite that advantage, Parma could not find a winner and they missed the opportunity to leap-frog Lazio and Genoa into the top seven.
Bologna, meanwhile, remain in the bottom four after recording their third draw in their last four matches.
Genoa extended their unbeaten run to five games as they drew 1-1 with Torino at the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris.
Torino had led after seven minutes when Omar El Kaddouri deflected in Alexander Farnerud's 25-yard drive.
The home side grabbed their equaliser on 69 minutes when Daniele Biondini turned in substitute Ioannis Fetfatzidis' inch-perfect assist.