As we headed into the international break, the mentions on the BWRAO Twitter account had a few folks who weren't so happy with Mario Mandzukic. It was probably the by product of not only Álvaro Morata playing absolutely brilliantly in back-to-back games, but also the fact that simply looking at the stats showed us that Mandzukic hadn't found the back of the net in weeks.
Well, we can squash that talk. Again.
It was Mandzukic's goal that was the difference in Juventus' 1-0 win over Empoli as the Serie A leaders stretched their advantage over second-place Napoli to six points. And not only was it a classic kind of Mandzukic goal where he muscled his way into the six-yard box and headed home a cross, but it came just before the whistle blew for halftime, giving Juve exactly what it needed against an Empoli side that made things more than just a little tough on one of Italy's most in-form teams.
First goal for Mandzukic since December 20 vs Carpi. Been involved heavily of late, good to see him back on the scoresheet.— Luca Cetta (@l_cetta) April 2, 2016
More importantly, it gave Juventus the lead, and they defended it for the next 50 or so minutes to clinch Serie A win No. 23 on the season. As much as they probably could have used a second goal considering Empoli were more than willing to push forward in an attempt to tie the game in the second half, nothing was to come of it. (Props to Empoli for playing with that kind of attitude, by the way. That's how it should be done no matter how good your opponent is. The rest of Serie A's smaller teams should take note.)
Was it an easy win? No, but it was a good win. Empoli certainly made Juventus earn everything they did. And if it wasn't for Mandzukic getting his first goal in three and a half months, then maybe we're sitting here feeling frustrated as hell rather than applauding Juve for picking up a hard-earned three points. Funny how that works out sometimes.
You wanted decisive, you got it in the form of Manduzkic on Saturday night.
Random thoughts and observations
- With the way he played, the chatter in the papers surrounding Roberto Pereyra's future in Turin isn't going to be quieting down any time soon. All those "Pereyra has failed to impress" things are about to become even that much more frequent, I would think.
- Side note to Pereyra: Kwadwo Asamoah did more in about 15 minutes than Pereyra did in the 75 minutes he was on the field. That says something about both players' performances.
- This is the part of the post-game thread where I rave about Daniele Rugani. Prepare yourself. (Although I don't think many people will be objecting to it.)
- Rugani gets my pick for Man of the Match. You can scream at me all you want, but to see this kid play as well as he has the last couple of weeks is just proof of how far he's come this season. He obviously has an incredible base to build off of, but you can see now that he's got that sense of belonging, he is playing with a ton of confidence — and the results show it. You knew this game would mean a lot to Rugani, and he was as calm and collected as ever against his former team. That's the sign of a 21-year-old kid who is certainly mature and wise beyond his years. Watching him develop and become a bigger part of this team is going to be fun the next couple of years. And it's not like he isn't playing like a big role the last month or so, either.
- With the way Rugani is playing and how Chiellini seems to get hurt every single time he steps onto the field in recent months, should Juve consider shutting the latter down for the rest of the season? I mean, the guy is clearly not 100 percent even when we are told he's 100 percent. Chiellini can't stay fit to save his life right now, and the best thing for him right now may be a simple matter of a huge chunk of time to get his body healthy again.
- It's the 94th minute and Morata is still busting his ass on end-to-end runs. The end result may be a little perplexing sometimes, but you can't say he doesn't run himself into the ground for the betterment of the team. I like that guy.
- Speaking of strikers, it took all of about 30 seconds for Simone Zaza to step onto the field, foul a couple of dudes and pick up a yellow card. Hey, if Zaza isn't gonna go full Zaza, what's the point of Zaza, right?
- Pogba's assist was great, and set a new single-season career high for him. But what caught my eye was seeing him literally throw his body in front of a cross in the closing stages of the game.
- It's nice to have Claudio Marchisio back in the starting lineup. That's all I am going to say about that because it's all that needs to be said.
- Six points. Your move, Napoli.