Paulo Dybala and Gigi Buffon inspire Juventus to another Serie A victory
Now on 10 consecutive clean sheets, it took the mother of all beautiful goals from Paulo Dybala to ensure victory for Juventus, and earn their 18th win in their past 19 league games.
Sassuolo and the Bianconeri share a special relationship. While one club is a giant and the other a minnow, both are extremely well-run teams, both believe in Italian players (the Neroverdi boast 23 Italians within their ranks) and both own their respective stadiums. These teams are friends and partners when it comes to scouting future Italian stars, but on Friday night, both played for victory.
A dynamic and direct team, it was obvious Sassuolo missed Domenico Berardi, a player with the skill and efficiency to make the difference, to convert the chances the team created. With so many absences, the Neroverdi were limited in their ability but they did provoke many errors from Juventus, a side that has suffered with accuracy in recent weeks.
Without ingenuity coming from midfield and missing the forward thrusts provided by Paul Pogba, Dybala was forced to retreat often in order to gain possession. With Mario Mandzukic busy tracking back to help defensively, the team was left with few options to deliver the ball up top.
Struggling to penetrate Sassuolo's high line, the Bianconeri's efficiency is such that they needed only one real opportunity to exploit an error and score a sensational goal to secure maximum points. Dybala yet again was the man to demonstrate quality and score.
With a well-deserved lead in hand, Juventus somewhat dropped off in the second half and it seemed panic eventually set in. Desperate to not concede a goal and ensure Gianluigi Buffon remains with a chance of setting a new record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal, several mistakes were made, allowing the Neroverdi to believe in their offensive ability even if they lacked the quality to truly make the impact.
Far from convincing, the very fact Juve can grind out difficult wins sets them apart from all other Serie A clubs.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Gianluigi Buffon, 7 -- Reliable, authoritative and always attentive, he made the desired saves to keep Juventus on this remarkable run of form. Unbeaten in Serie A for 926 minutes, he needs to keep a clean sheet for four more minutes to guarantee the record.
DF Andrea Barzagli, 6 -- Out on the left, he pushed forward well, offering a tactical solution to ball carriers and capable of covering for Juan Cuadrado when the Colombian charged high. Reliable and solid.
DF Leonardo Bonucci, 7 -- When he panics, the whole team feels anxious but he's one of the best in the world and always on hand to halt the opponent.
DF Daniel Rugani, 6 -- A good performance from the youngster, who looked more comfortable on the other side of Bonucci. His aerial ability came in handy while he looked more composed under pressure.
DF Juan Cuadrado, 7 -- A player who provokes a rollercoaster of emotion, his inaccurate passing and poor decision-making are so frustrating to watch but then he manages a moment of extraordinary excellence to make us forget. Running at pace and delivering a perfect assist, he may not always be the best of players but always capable of a moment of magic.
MF Sami Khedira, 6 -- A hard worker who is doing better in covering ground and making the right runs. A wonderful thinker, he always occupies the right spaces but he regularly loses his feet, getting himself in a muddle to waste good opportunities.
MF Claudio Marchisio, 7 -- A fighter, he covered the ground well, retrieving possession and distributing play. Impossible to get past, he is crucial in aiding the defence and wonderful at keeping the game flowing.
MF Kwadwo Asamoah, 6 -- Poor in possession in the early part of the match, he eventually grew into the game, producing a combative performance and occupying the right spaces to keep momentum.
MF Alex Sandro, 6 -- Well defended against yet still offered options going forward.
FW Paulo Dybala, 8 -- His talent is inspiring. The goal he produced was a thing of beauty and one that will be watched again and again. Allowed a moment on the ball and he rarely disappoints. Without enough help from midfield, he dropped too deep on occasion to leave the team with fewer references.
FW Mario Mandzukic, 7 -- He fights for every ball and is always desperate for the win, but in the words of Allegri, he contributes too much in all areas of the pitch, limiting his ability to remain fresh up top.
MF Paul Pogba, N/A -- Good positioning, injected some creativity.
FW Alvaro Morata, N/A -- Used his energy to pin back Sassuolo and stop them from attacking.
WB Stephan Lichtsteiner, N/A -- No time to make a difference.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Minarzouki.