Milan: Simone Pepe fired Juventus to a 1-0 win at Lazio on Saturday in clash between the top two Serie A teams.
The midfielder scored with a crisp shot from the center of the area in the 34th minute to give Juventus a one-point lead in the standings. Udinese are next after beating Roma 2-0 on Friday but have played one match more, as have Lazio, who are three points back.
"We are happy because we won a game against a very strong team," Juve coach Antonio Conte said. "They will fight until the end for the top spots. There's a lot to improve but we're happy. We were always in the game and never stopped looking for a second goal. It showed our maturity and even though we suffered, we still managed to win."
Also on Saturday, Napoli striker Edinson Cavani struck in stoppage time to secure a 1-1 draw with Atalanta after German Denis had scored his 10th goal of the season against his former side.
At the bottom of the table, goals from Raffaele Rubino and Marco Rigoni enabled 10-man Novara to come from behind to defeat Parma 2-1 and Catania scored a last-minute goal to win 1-0 at Lecce.
Lazio should have taken the lead moments before Juventus went in front. Hernanes sent Tommaso Rocchi clear, but goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon proved why he is Italy's No. 1 with a brilliant stop to deny the Lazio captain from point-blank range. The home side was to rue that missed opportunity. Juve raced down the other end, and Alessandro Matri latched onto Mirko Vucinic's through ball before crossing for Pepe to score.
Hernanes did manage to beat Buffon on the hour mark, only to see his effort crash back off the left post.
Juventus should have sealed the game in the 73rd minute but Lazio goalkeeper Federico Marchetti pulled off a stunning save to keep out Emanuele Giaccherini's close-range effort.
"We're pleased with our performance," Lazio coach Edy Reja said. "We fought at the same level as Juve. There was a couple of moments where we just didn't have the luck, like when Hernanes hit the post. And from us possibly going in front, they then went in front. I think this is Juve's year, especially seeing as they're not in European competition."
Atalanta would have moved up to seventh with victory against Napoli and they seemed to have secured all three points after the league's leading scorer struck again. Denis shouldered his way through the Napoli defence before rifling a low shot past goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis. However, Cavani is also on a hot streak of form after his double against Manchester City in the Champions League mid-week. And in stoppage time Mario Santana's mis-hit shot fell to Cavani to tap home from six yards and snatch a share of the spoils.
"We didn't steal anything," Cavani said. "We did our game, always looking to win. It wasn't a robbery, that's football. But this draw seems almost like a victory because of the way it happened."
"The team's not dependent on me. I'm doing well but I need the support of everyone to give my best. Now we have to be super focused for Tuesday's match against Juventus."
Elsewhere, Novara rose to 17th position in the standings, above Bologna on goal difference and two points in front of Lecce, who were on the verge of earning a point against Catania before Pablo Barrientos pounced.
Parma had several chances to take the lead early in the first half, including Stefano Morrone blazing Francesco Valiani's cross over the bar. Moments later, Valiani also found Graziano Pelle in a good position in the area, but Novara goalkeeper Alberto Fontana did well to block the shot.
Fontana was on hand again in the 27th to deny Pelle, turning the Parma striker's shot around the post for a corner. However, he could do nothing two minutes later when Novara's Matteo Centurioni slid into a tackle but only succeeded in diverting Jonathan Biabiany's cross into the bottom right corner.
Novara stepped up their game at the end of the first half and came close to getting an equalizer. Parma goalkeeper Antonio Mirante did well to keep out Rubino's point-blank shot in stoppage-time.
Novara finally leveled in the 70th minute when Rubino jumped highest to head home Rigoni's cross across the face of goal.
And the struggling side were in front eight minutes later when Andrea Mazzarani raced down the right flank before crossing for Rigoni to head home from 12 yards.
The only sour note of the night for Novara came in the 87th minute when Giuseppe Gemiti was shown a straight red card for a bad foul on Biabiany.
Novara's victory will add to Lecce's misery. Eusebio Di Francesco's men seemed to be heading for a valuable point following a lively game at the Stadio Via del Mare.
Catania had several opportunities to go in front but Lecce goalkeeper Massimiliano Benassi was outstanding in denying Gonzalo Bergessio and Gennaro Delvecchio.
Lecce's best chance came at the end of the first half when Andrea Bertolacci saw his shot scrape just the wrong side of the post.
There was nothing Benassi could do right at the end, when Barrientos struck from 30 yards to snatch all three points for Catania, who move into sixth place.