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Juventus again showed their reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo as, with the superstar attacker absent, they drew 1-1 at promoted Benevento on Saturday, while Serie A title rivals Inter Milan beat high-flying Sassuolo 3-0 to move second.

The champions’ fifth draw in nine league matches leaves Andrea Pirlo’s side fifth, three points behind leaders AC Milan who face Fiorentina on Sunday.

Ronaldo did not play after scoring in Juventus’s 2-1 victory over Ferencvaros on Tuesday which sealed their berth in the Champions League last 16.

“Every team is addicted to Ronaldo, even at Real Madrid he scored a lot,” said Pirlo, describing the Portuguese star as “a catalyst”.

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“He is an important player and it’s normal that he makes you win games, but even without Ronaldo we have to be good at winning games.”

Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala started up front in Ronaldo’s absence, which Pirlo put down to “tiredness”.

“(Ronaldo) had a little problem and he wanted to play anyway in the Champions League.

“He had played many games with the national team, it is normal for him to get tired and rest.”

Morata, who scored the late winner on Tuesday, opened the scoring in the 21st minute after collecting Federico Chiesa’s cross-pitch pass to bring his tally to eight goals in all competitions this season.

Gaetano Letizia’s volley just before the break earned a point for 13th-placed Benevento.

Dybala wasted chances to score his first league goal this season, including one four minutes from time when goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo tipped over the bar.

Morata also missed opportunities to rescue Juventus before being shown a red card after the final whistle for arguing with the referee.

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“When we lack players of experience and personality, we struggle,” added Pirlo, also without injured defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.

Inter defy ‘mud slingers’

In Emilia-Romagna, Antonio Conte’s Inter bounced back from the 2-0 loss to Real Madrid which left their Champions League hopes dangling by a thread, inflicting this season’s first defeat on Sassuolo.

Inter move second ahead of Sassuolo, with both teams on 18 points after nine games, two points behind AC Milan and one ahead of Conte’s old team Juve.

“It’s not easy, especially at Inter, because many people can’t wait to criticise, to throw mud at us,” said Conte.

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“But we are united and such situations should provide us with more strength.”

Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring in the fourth minute following good work from Lautaro Martinez and poor defending from Sassuolo’s Vlad Chiriches.

It was a nightmare match for Chiriches who 10 minutes later accidently turned a powerful Arturo Vidal centre into his own net, with the Romanian later limping off with a muscular problem.

Roberto Gagliardini added a third just before the hour mark, sealing a win that will boost Inter before Tuesday’s European trip to Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Romelu Lukaku and Ashley Young came on in place of Lautaro and Sanchez for the final 10 minutes, with the Belgian forward having a goal ruled out for offside.

Conte also brought on Christian Eriksen, who looks set to leave Inter in January after just one year. The Danish midfielder came on for Ivan Perisic for the final five minutes to make his first appearance in more than a month.

Atalanta slump

In Bergamo, Atalanta crashed 2-0 to Hellas Verona days after their Champions League win by the same scoreline at Liverpool.

The Anfield game was Gian Piero Gasperini’s side’s only win in five matches, and they slipped to ninth in Serie A, six points off top spot.

Miguel Veloso put Verona ahead from the penalty spot after an hour with Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini limping off minutes later.

Mattia Zaccagni fired in the second seven minutes from time as Verona move sixth after their fourth win of the season.

A minute’s silence was observed before all games in memory of Diego Maradona with a photo of the former Argentina and Napoli star projected on giant screens in the 10th minute, as players stopped to applaud.

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