ROME Juventus took another step towards a sixth successive Serie A title with a routine 2-0 win at Crotone and their seven-point lead at the top owes much to the tactical innovation and squad rotation of coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Ahead of Sunday's match in Cagliari, the manager who regularly linked with a move to the Premier League will again look to shuffle his pack.
Third-placed Napoli could close the gap to six points if they beat Genoa on Friday while AS Roma, in second, will also fancy their chances of making up ground against Crotone before Juventus play. It is no secret that Juve have the division's strongest squad, yet Allegri's bold tactical tweaks have ensured they have remained fresh.
New solutions - and heroes - have emerged.
Against Inter on Sunday, it was Juan Cuadrado who settled a physical contest but he was rested against Crotone as Allegri gave summer signing Marko Pjaca his first start.
Allegri has also coped without injured Claudio Marchisio, with Stefano Sturaro or January signing Tomas Rincon seamlessly stepping into midfield. "I quickly realised that this team has a real will to win," Rincon told Juve's website. (www.juventus.com<www.juventus.com>). "We're a strong side, with a lot of quality throughout the squad.
"I'll try to work my way into the team," he added. "I knew it would be tough when I came here. I'll be ready whenever the coach needs me." Striker Mario Mandzukic has also been made to wait for opportunities but has shone when called upon, notably with the opening goal against Crotone. "(Mandzukic) will be key in this second half of the season," Allegri said. "The more he plays, the more he's developing.
"He's able to play game after game in quick succession (and) will get a chance to rest and recover too."
Allegri has moved away from his tried-and-tested 4-3-1-2 formation and experimented with an attractive 4-2-3-1 approach that has helped Juventus to five straight victories.
As the business end of the season approaches, he can also welcome experienced Dani Alves back into his side after two months out with a broken leg.
His return creates another selection headache for Allegri, but the coach has proved a master of squad rotation and tactical tweaks and Sunday's game should be another step towards yet another title.
(Reporting by Ed Dove, editing by Ed Osmond)