Sluggish, uninspiring, completely trash. Whatever you wanted to call it, that’s how Juventus started their Champions League group stage matchup against Sporting on Wednesday night. So when the ball bounced off Alex Sandro and into the back of the net for an own goal in the 12th minute, it was a pretty good representation of how things were going in the game — and maybe Juve’s season — thus far.
To put it in simpler terms, Juve needed a kick in the ass.
And, as it turned out, Juve’s own goal proved to be that turning point. Same goes for Max Allegri subbing in Douglas Costa for the final 10 miuntes.
After Sandro’s stunning own goal, Juventus were able to, at least somewhat, snap out of their recent funk and rally for a 2-1 win over Sporting thanks to a vintage Miralem Pjanic free kick and Mario Mandzukic’s 83rd-minute header of Costa gem of a cross. The win allowed Juventus to take sole possession of second place in Group D behind Barcelona, as the club moved closer to sealing a place in the Champions League knockout stages with the victory.
Allegri pointed out just how important these two fixtures against Sporting are knowing that the two teams entered the night tied on three points and will likely be battling for second place behind the machine that is Barcelona.
After the first game between the two, it’s advantage Juventus.
There was a noticeable difference between the Juve that showed up to begin the game and the one that played after falling behind 1-0. Then Pjanic spun in a classic free kick of his, and it was game on.
Was Juventus great after falling behind? No, there’s still some issues to iron out.
But to see a sense of urgency after falling behind so early rather than just slowly deflating in front of our eyes over the next 75 or 80 minutes, that was the best thing to come out of this. Well, besides the fact that Mandzukic was able to head home Costa’s cross and give Juventus the three points and go three points clear of Sporting for second place in their group.
Sporting weren’t great, either. I mean, Gigi Buffon had to make all of one save on Wednesday night, which was a very good one but was cruelly ended with a ball bouncing off Sandro and into his own net just a second or two later.
But, for now, it’s a positive. Juventus didn’t look as bad as they did against Lazio or Atalanta before that. They got arguably their most important player not named Paulo Dybala, Mr. Pjanic, back in the starting lineup and he was a huge contributor to his team getting the win.
Hey, it’s a win. It could have been worse with where the game stood after 12 minutes.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Man, it’s good to see Pjanic back in the starting lineup.
- We’ve seen Dybala spin some free absolutely beautiful free kicks in for goals this season and beyond. Pjanic’s free kick has to be up there as one of the best we’ve seen from a Juve player the last couple of years. It was automatic once he made contact with it. It was just struck beautifully and so damn pure.
- As a former goalkeeper myself, I have to wonder what was going through Rui Patricio’s head as he saw Dybala on one side of the ball and Pjanic on the other before that free kick happened. Both of them could have easily hit it from the spot where the ball was laying, meaning you have absolutely not idea where it’s going.
But, as it turned out, Rui Patricio’s reaction after Pjanic made contact with the ball would have probably been the same as mine. There was just nothing any keeper could have done on that one.
- One more note on the Pjanic free kick: It was desperately needed not only on the scoreboard, but to get the crowd get back into the game. Allianz Stadium was eerily quiet after Juventus fell behind. After Pjanic scored? The crowd was on fire. If anything, getting back into the game brought the crowd back to life. And with how things started, that was so, so important.
- If this wasn’t one of Juan Cuadrado’s classic frustrate-the-living-hell-out-of-you games, I don’t really know what is. With the good Cuadrado brings to the table comes the bad — and this game was certainly more bad than good.
- And then Allegri brings on Douglas Costa and he takes about 15 seconds to send in a cross that Cuadrado couldn’t do in an entire 90 minutes worth of game time.
- That header from Mandzukic, man, that was such a classic kind of Mandzukic goal. Not a bad thing to have a former No. 9 as your left winger, is it?
- Bas Dost is a large human being and he was pushing Medhi Benatia all around in the first half. That wasn’t so much the case when Andrea Barzagli came on for Benatia for what seemed like injury-related purposes to begin the second half.
- Even though he didn’t score a goal, can we consider this a good game for Gonzalo Higuain? He nearly scored two really good goals if not for two good saves from Rui Patricio. I feel like even though the goal column said zero, this was a much-needed step in the right direction for Higuain. Maybe I’m wrong and will get yelled at, but so be it.