Selfless Mario Mandzukic rewarded by scoring late winner vs. Sporting
It was tight and Juventus left it late but Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal to defeat Sporting Lisbon 2-1 and help Juve return to winning ways.
Running several risks at the back, it wasn't long before Sporting took control of the game and began to threaten Juve, forcing the Italians into a bizarre mistake that led to an own goal.
Showing fighting spirit, the Bianconeri pushed and equalised soon after but never looked in control of the game with the Portuguese side winning back possession and keeping it well even if they struggled to produce anything noteworthy.
It took Douglas Costa's arrival on the pitch to pierce Sporting's tight defence, delivering the cross that led to Mandzukic's winning goal.
Despite the poor start to the game, Juve fought to score the goals required to collect all three points, showing the mental strength that has eluded them in recent games.
The beauty of the Bianconeri lies in their organisation and discipline but this side was far from measured and fluid, ceding control from the outset and committing the type of technical errors reserved for amateurs. Their shaky start is what gave Sporting both the control and confidence required to grab the first goal.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- On this occasion, the side did not collapse when going 1-0 down and fought for an equaliser and then a winner, showing a mental strength that has been absent of late. Massimiliano Allegri's introduction of Douglas Costa changed the game to ensure success. The defence however, still needs work.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Gianluigi Buffon, 6 -- Produced a good save on Gelson Martins before Alex Sandro bundled it over. Was rarely called into action thereafter.
DF Stefano Sturaro, 4 -- Where once they had Dani Alves, now Juve have Sturaro, making mistakes in a role he is not meant to play. He has neither the technique nor the experience to adopt such a difficult role.
DF Medhi Benatia, 4 -- Takes too many risks when his priority ought to be to ensure safety. His positioning needs to be better and his reactions quicker. A poor performance.
DF Giorgio Chiellini, 7 -- Great display from the centre-back who played like the determined warrior he is in big games. Strong, authoritative and intimidating. Clever with his clearances.
DF Alex Sandro, 5 -- Bundled the ball over the line to score an own goal. Must play with greater concentration when defending even if he does deliver interesting crosses and passes when going forward.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 6 -- A terrific free kick ensured the equaliser for Juve but the player wasn't playing to his usual levels as he's not yet there physically.
MF Sami Khedira, 6 -- Tactically so bright, always trying to make the most of every touch he has on the ball in hopes of providing for the team. Made some great runs but not yet at his optimum physical level.
MF Juan Cuadrado, 6 -- His pace affords the team a good outlet for the pass but the player slows down play at times while his lack of precision causes frustration.
MF Paulo Dybala, 5 -- Not his night tonight, unable to be decisive, struggled to push past and well thwarted by the organised opponent. You could tell he was angry with himself and must overcome the mental obstacles.
MF Mario Mandzukic, 7 -- Great centre-forward play from the man who always sacrifices and always rises to the occasion when Juventus are under pressure. Scored a goal, covered ground and does everything to provide the steeliness Juve need to win.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 6 -- Better, much better. Good at breaking up play towards the end to push Juve over the line which was demonstrative of his overall performance. A team player tonight, dropping down, feeding his teammates and causing problems for the opponent.
DF Andrea Barzagli, 6 -- A much better performance than we have seen in recent weeks, providing safety and authority at the back.
MF Blaise Matuidi, 6 -- Always fighting to win back possession and deliver it forward. Offered dynamism and interesting runs but needs to be more aware of his teammates positioning and movement, before delivering. It will come with time.
MF Douglas Costa, 7 -- Costa only needed 13 seconds on the pitch to make an impact, coming on to deliver a perfect cross for Mandzukic to convert. Decisive.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.