There are parts of Mario Mandzukic's game that aren't the most glamorous. Sometimes he can disappear for minutes on end without even making the slightest of impact on the offensive end. He will work his tail off pressing the opposition, but sometimes that doesn't always equate to the main reason why he's on the Juventus roster — scoring goals.
He's dealt with the heat in the media in the last month or so. There's certainly been a lot of talk around here about just how much he's misfired to start his Juve career. But this is what he's done over last month or so: Six starts in all competitions, four goals scored.
That's good, right?
We're starting to see the Mandzukic that is the kind of player Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici hoped they were getting when they signed him from Atlético Madrid this summer — and that was evident once again with his go-ahead goal in Juventus' 3-0 win over Palermo on Sunday night. And if it's becoming as simple as "Get a cross into Mario and he'll take care of the rest," then so be it. Paulo Dybala certainly proved that to be true, serving up an absolute gem of a cross from the left wing that Mandzukic headed home early in the second half to put Juve in front.
Mandzukic is producing. And he's producing consistently for the first time all season.
Throw in late goals from Stefano Sturaro — who's had himself a pretty damn good week, if you ask me — and Simone Zaza, and Juve's trip to the Renzo Barbera was a pretty resounding success. They needed to get through a pretty meh first half of play, but once they figured things out, then it was full steam ahead.
The end result was a solid win in a game they had no business not picking up all three points in.
.@OfficialAllegri: "We’re in good physical shape and the results help you to work better. Important progress has been made by the team."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) November 29, 2015
Just like Mandzukic's play, it might not be the prettiest at times, but this team is getting better as the midway point of the season gets closer and closer. It's clear in how they're now able to shake off a so-so opening 45 minutes. And it's even more noticeable in where they are now in the standings. Don't look now, but Juventus are up into fifth in the Serie A table and only three points behind fourth-place Roma.
Not bad considering how this season started. Not bad at all.
Random thoughts and observations
- Juventus had four shots on goal. Three of them were goals.
- Don't make Max angry. Nobody likes when Max is angry.
- Does it seem like Allegri might be figuring some things out with his squad? The consistent amount of wins are obviously the biggest change from September and October, but this is now resembling a team with a plan rather than one that has a bunch of new pieces to it. Allegri has definitely been able to adjust things to what suits his team best. And while there is certainly more work to be done and plenty of room to improve, I feel like there's a reason to be optimistic again. Much moreso than in the first few weeks of the season. That's why patience in these situations is vital.
- Gianluigi Buffon didn't have to make a save even though Palermo had 11 shots. Stealin' checks again.
(He's also got three straight shutouts in all competitions. Pretty sure he doesn't mind that one bit.)
- Paulo Dybala is good.
- Sturaro's last two appearances might be his two best in a Juventus jersey. He has been such a standout on the defensive end that Juve haven't missed a beat in the absence of Sami Khedira. Sure, he's not the best when it comes to passing, but that run he made on his goal reminded me of another Juventus midfielder that he's been lining up next to in recent games. He came from out of nowhere and was the backend of a wonderfully created team goal.
- I like Patrice Evra, I really do, but if you're going to play somebody like Mario Mandzukic more often than not these days, don't you think having a left back like Alex Sandro in there to drop dimes all game long would be the better option? At this point, I think it's pretty easy to say that Sandro is the better option when it comes to contributions on the offensive end of the equation. And as he proved against Manchester City, it's not like Sandro is a slouch on defense, too.
So this is Allegri's decision, not ours. But it's definitely one to pay attention to with Alex Sandro showing that he's the real deal at left back.
- Claudio Marchisio is so quietly brilliant it's scary sometimes. There's nobody I'd rather have holding down the center of Juve's midfield right now. He's been great this season.
- No Paul Pogba against Lazio on Friday thanks to his yellow card in the first half. If there's no Khedira available, it's going to be interesting to see where Allegri goes with his squad selection. Marchisio will play, obviously. Same goes for Sturaro with the kind of impact he's made over the last week. But the midfield is the hardest hit by injuries right now without a doubt, so the options available to Allegri are definitely not as fruitful as they were entering the international break.