Juventus edge Lazio in Rome
The race for the fourth and final Champions League spot for next season is wide open after Juventus edged 10-man Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico tonight.
Clinging to fourth place, Lazio dominated the encounter but had Cristian Ledesma sent off in the 80th minute for a second bookable offence and Juve took advantage. Simone Pepe scored with three minutes remaining when his strike took a deflection to hand Juve victory and allow the Turin club to close the gap on fourth-place Lazio to four points.
With three games remaining, Lazio are also just one point clear of both Udinese and Roma. Lazio visit Udinese next weekend while Juventus host Chievo.
The hosts went into the game looking for their fifth consecutive league victory at home, while the Bianconeri were eager to bounce back from back-to-back draws against Fiorentina and Catania.
Lazio first tested Gianluigi Buffon in the second minute when Mauro Zarate's 30-yard effort was kept out by the Juventus goalkeeper. Shortly after, Stephan Lichtsteiner crossed to Christian Brocchi and his strike from outside the area went just wide of the far post.
The Romans could have taken a 26th minute lead, but Christian Brocchi's powerful header from Ledesma's cross was wide. Lazio kept up the pressure and almost went in front soon after the half-hour mark. Sergio Floccari's left-footed attempt from the six-yard box was met by a fine save from Buffon.
Juventus struggled against Lazio's well-placed defence, but they did have an opportunity to score in the 36th minute. Alessandro Matri surged inside the area and struck the ball towards the bottom right corner, however, Lazio goalkeeper Fernando Muslera was equal to the task.
The hosts replied just before the break. Brocchi fed Zarate inside the area and the Argentinian struck over the bar from a great position.
Juve played with a greater sense of urgency after the re-start and should have broken the deadlock in the 49th minute. Andrea Barzagli found Del Piero inside the area and the Juve captain struck high and wide, much to the relief of the home crowd. Brocchi then wasted a good opportunity as he struck from the heart of the area over the bar in what looked to be Lazio's first of the evening. In the 73rd minute, Hernanes' bullet strike from 25 yards forced Buffon to fully stretch and clear for a corner.
Lazio suffered a setback when Ledesma was handed his marching orders for a late foul on Felipe Melo. And Juve scored soon after. Luca Toni served Simone Pepe inside the area and his left-footed strike took a deflection off Lazio substitute Lionel Scaloni and beat Muslera. Lazio, having enjoyed most of the possession and scoring chances, were stunned and walked off the pitch knowing they face a battle to keep hold of fourth place.