Serie A: Alvaro Morata returns to set Juventus on way to 3-0 win over Spezia

Álvaro Morata made a scoring return to set Juventus on its way to a 3-0 win over Spezia on Tuesday and boost its faltering title defense.

Fellow substitute Federico Bernardeschi set up Morata moments after they had both come off the bench. Bernardeschi then provided another assist for Federico Chiesa, nine minutes later.

Cristiano Ronaldo sealed the match late on with his 20th goal of the season. He is the first player in Europe’s top five leagues to reach that figure for the 12th successive season.

Morata had missed Juve’s disappointing 1-1 draw at Hellas Verona last weekend with illness. The Juventus forward had also not scored in the league since December, although he scored in both Italian Cup games and the Italian Super Cup last month.

“I’m pleased with the goal, but the three points are more important,” Morata said. “I’ve not been among the goals, but above all, I was a bit low on strength because the last three weeks have been tough, but we’re a little short on numbers and we have to dig in.

“It’s not been an easy season, but there are still plenty of points to play for and we’ll fight until the end.”

Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szcz?sny saved a stoppage-time penalty from Andrey Galabinov after Emmanuel Gyasi had been tripped by Merih Demiral.

Juventus moved up to third, seven points below league leader Inter Milan and three below AC Milan. Spezia remained seven points above the relegation zone.

The Biaconeri were still without Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Juan Cuadrado, Arthur and Paulo Dybala, who were all injured, but Morata recovered enough from sickness for a place on the bench.

Serie A, Juventus vs Spezia Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo, right, scores a goal during the Serie A match between Juventus and Spezia, at the Turin Allianz Stadium, Italy, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Marco Alpozzi/LaPresse via AP)

Spezia looked the more dangerous side in the first half, although Ronaldo hit the post three minutes from halftime.

Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo made a double change in the 61st minute, bringing on Morata and Bernardeschi for Weston McKennie and Gianluca Frabotta.

That had an immediate effect as Bernardeschi ran onto a ball over the top and rolled across from the left for Morata to tap in at the near post, with his first touch of the match. The goal was initially ruled out for offside on Bernardeschi but awarded on video review.

Juventus doubled its lead following another Bernardeschi cross from the left. Chiesa’s initial shot was brilliantly parried by Spezia goalkeeper Ivan Provedel from close range, but the Juventus forward fired home the rebound.

Spezia was still seeking a way back into the match but Ronaldo dashed the visitor’s faint hopes when he drilled in a through ball from Rodrigo Bentancur, a minute from time.