We can go on about the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo. We can talk about the dips and turns of Paulo Dybala’s form over the last 12 or 15 months. We can break it all down, driving ourselves mad when it comes to pinpointing just how Max Allegri can get Juventus’ attack to fully click with what he has available to him these days.
But, no matter what, one thing remains a constant through it all.
Mario Mandzukic, again, delivering the goods in a big game. We’ve heard that before.
Mandzukic’s latest big effort in a big game came on Saturday, as his brace allowed Juventus to erase Napoli’s early lead and helped the seven-time defending Italian champions create a six-point lead atop the Serie A table with a 3-1 win at Allianz Stadium. Mandzukic — who has been the constant in Juve’s attack alongside Ronaldo as Allegri rotates between Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi and others — converted a wide open header off a Ronaldo cross to tie it, then slotted home another wide-open chance after Ronaldo smashed a shot off the post.
All of this after Juve’s defense coughed up another goal in less-than ideal fashion thanks to a Leonardo Bonucci turnover in the defensive third.
Instead of make things harder on themselves — the vibe at the stadium was very, very nervy as Juve truly struggled to get things going in the first 20 minutes of the first half — Juventus actually took the upper hand. It was the kind of response you wanted to see, with the quality of their play thankfully resembling the product they were putting out there as Napoli took early control of the game.
Mandzukic’s header allowed Juve to go into halftime tied up at 1-all. His second goal, his fourth in six Serie A appearances this season, just four minutes into the second gave Juventus a deserved lead that they never really looked in trouble of handing back over to Napoli.
It’s what we’ve come to almost expect out of Mandzukic, somebody who has scored goals in some of Juventus’ biggest games since he arrived in Turin three years ago.
He does so much work in other areas — you know, the striker-turned-winger, part-time central defender kind of thing — that it’s easy to forget just how clutch of a player he is and how important to this team he still can be.
And now that Mandzukic is playing more of a central role as Juve’s main prima punta, he’s getting back to something he does quite well — being an efficient and quality striker. He’ll do all the other stuff, too, but it’s still hard to find more underrated players like Mandzukic continues to be.
On Saturday, he was in the middle of Juve’s two most important goals of the season. Because of it, they’re still perfect on the season. Maybe not perfect in terms of how they play, but it’s 7 for 7 in Serie A and six points up before October arrives.
Hey, it could be worse. Just ask Inter.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- So, for those who were in the “Get rid of Mario Mandzukic because he doesn’t score enough goals to deserve a spot” camp, what say you now?
- OK, that was mean.
- But only a little bit.
- Juventus has now allowed five goals in its first seven league games. Say what you want about there being different personnel, but this is still very un-Juventus-like.
- And, one of those “new” defenders, Leonardo Bonucci, has been directly responsible for a good portion of those goals that Juve have allowed this season. So, about that...
- I give him a hard time for the mistake that led to Napoli’s goal, but I will give Bonucci credit for the goal. That was a pretty sweet slide on the finish, too.
- The Emre Can-Miralem Pjanic-Blaise Matuidi midfield is something that I am in full support of. You get your creativity, you get your box-to-box player and you get your destroyer. It’s obviously not Marchisio-Vidal-Pirlo, but it’s proving not to be a complete shitshow, either.
- Just as we predicted this summer: Cristiano Ronaldo would be leading Serie A in ASSISTS through the first seven games of the season.
- Joao Cancelo had a 15-second moment toward the end of the first half where he whiffed on one tackle, fell to his feet, then busted his ass to get back in front of the Napoli player with the ball (I think it was Lorenzo Insigne) and eventually won the ball back with a slick tackle. I know we keep saying he’s made strides defensively, but that was kinda like last season Cancelo turning into this season Cancelo within moments of one another.
- How many managers in Europe wish they could start Ronaldo, Dybala and Mandzukic AND THEN bring on somebody like Bernardeschi to see out a game.
- Marco Rui still one of the dirtiest players in the league. True facts.
- If you weren’t laughing when Giorgio Chiellini made one of his classic gangly and awkward runs down the left wing in the first half, you need to appreciate Juventus more.
- First big league game of the season, and outside of the first 15 or 20 minutes, I’d say Juventus passed this test quite well.