On a night where Juventus was far from its best, leave it to their club-record signing to bail them out in Tuscany.
The penalty that led to Cristiano Ronaldo’s game-tying goal might have been a questionable call (to say the least), but his second goal — man oh man. Whoa boy, that second goal. When Juve needed a lifeline, Ronaldo delivered, with his second-half heat-seeking missile in the 70th minute allowed Juventus to claim a 2-1 win over Empoli on Saturday and prevented the Serie A leaders from dropping points for a second consecutive weekend.
Sure, Ronaldo wasn’t signed to help Juve beat the likes of Empoli and other bottom-of-the-table types of teams. But, with the way they were playing for pretty much the entire game, they needed a moment of magic to happen if they wanted to claim all three points and head back to Turin victorious.
It just so happened one of the game’s greatest goal scorers so obliged.
As questionable as the penalty call was, Ronaldo’s game-winner was every bit as good. I mean, seriously, that penalty decision will give the “Juventus get all the calls!!” camp even more fuel for their ever-burning fire. It was soft — and that’s coming from a guy who roots for the team who benefited from it the most.
The second goal, though, that’s just Ronaldo being an absolute sniper. The power, the placement and the sheer velocity of the strike was about as pure as it could have been. Maybe if a different player had struck the ball then Empoli goalkeeper Ivan Provedel would have had a chance to cover the top-left corner of his goal. Instead, he had absolutely no chance to get his outstretched arms there in time, with Ronaldo’s second goal of the day basically hitting the Upper V as precise as you can.
And because of it, we have one of the first examples of Ronaldo bailing Juventus out when they otherwise don’t do much of anything.
Provedel had to make five saves, but it’s not like he was having to be Superman in goal. Juventus probably had just as many shots blocked — Ronaldo being the main culprit of that — as they put on frame in the game. Even with 20 total shots, it was a struggle as Empoli dropped numbers behind the ball even more than before after going up 1-0 midway through the first half.
This thing was not pretty — at all. It will not go down as a vintage Juventus performance. It was more of the second half from the Genoa game rather than the impressive first half and win over Manchester United.
Don’t feel like you need to save this one for the DVR, kids.
But, to steal a line from an old friend of ours, Juventus won a game 2-1. That’s good.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Starting lineup thought No. 1 typed 25 minutes before kickoff: I am happy that Federico Bernardeschi got the start over Juan Cuadrado. If you read the match preview, you probably got the sense that I thought it was going to be the other way around, but hey, I’m happy to be proven wrong.
- Starting lineup thought No. 2 typed 25 minutes before kickoff: Within a 24-hour period, Max Allegri has called Daniele Rugani “the future” and not included him in the first XI — again. You would think the future could at least get some kind of run if you consider him that.
- Starting lineup thought No. 3 typed five minutes before kickoff: RUGANI STARTS ... because Giorgio Chiellini got hurt in pre-game warmups. You win some, you lose some.
- Prayer circle for Chiellini’s muscles, by the way. You all know the drill by now.
- Speaking of central defenders who play for Juventus: Leonardo Bonucci was very good in the absence of Chiellini — especially in the second half as Juve desperately defended their lead after Ronaldo’s second goal.
- Rodrigo Bentancur led Juventus in tackles, interceptions and clearances. In territory that is usually occupied by Chiellini or one of Juve’s other defenders, I’d say that’s pretty good stuff right there.
- Side note on Juve’s midfield: Man, they looked tired for every single reason I outlined in the match preview. Three central midfielders available to Max Allegri is starting to really become an issue and it makes me miss Claudio Marchisio more than I already do. Thank goodness that there’s a week between this game and Juve’s next one.
- I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I have loved what I’ve seen from Alex Sandro the last couple of weeks. He’s been really, really good — and this game was another example of that. When you think of an in-form Sandro and Joao Cancelo continuing to do what he has been doing at the start of Juventus his career and holy smokes that is one hell of a tandem at fullback.
- Juventus are undefeated in games where Paulo Dybala wears the captain’s armband.