- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

MILAN (AP) - Roma has transformed itself into a team that can win close games. The next step is to win what is certain to be a close race for the Serie A title.

Roma moved back within four points of league leader Juventus on Monday, beating AC Milan 1-0. A win over Juve on Saturday and then some luck in the final round before the winter break could put Roma in first place to end the year.

That would be a welcome change for a team that finished third last season and runner-up in each of the previous two campaigns.

“Last year, maybe we didn’t win these kinds of games, even if we played better,” said Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan, who scored the lone goal against Milan. “But this year we have more character, we have an aim and we want to believe in ourselves.”

After the match at Juventus, Roma will host Chievo Verona on Dec. 22. Juventus will play at relegation-threatened Crotone on the same day.

To get to the top, Roma will need to take some time to rest after the physical encounter against Milan.

“First of all, we have to recover our strength and try to be even more balanced, because if you make a mistake they (Juventus) will punish you,” Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said. “In half a situation they will score two goals. I fear Juventus, as everyone does, because it is a very great team.”

It is Juventus’ efficiency in front of goal which is proving to be the difference this year.

The team’s performances have been somewhat below expectations, but Juventus has kept grinding out results with some clinical finishing from Gonzalo Higuain - the Argentina forward who joined Juventus for an Italian-record 90 million euros ($100 million) after scoring a league-record 36 goals for Napoli last season.

Higuain scored two goals to help Juventus beat Torino 3-1 on Sunday, despite the hosts dominating for large periods of the match and wasting several chances. His second came in the 83rd minute, with former Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic adding another in injury time.

Juventus does have depth, and that was again demonstrated after Paulo Dybala changed the match when he was brought on in the 71st minute. He helped set up the third goal for Pjanic, who himself had come on as a substitute in the 81st.

“When you have players like Dybala and Pjanic on the bench, it’s easy to get the substitutions right,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said.

Although Milan trails Juventus by seven points, the team coached by Vincenzo Montella is far from out of the title race.

“It started quietly, without star names,” Spalletti said of his rivals, “but Montella’s team has talent.”

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