Juventus eventually wear down Empoli, open up 10-point Serie A lead
Juventus eventually wore down a good Empoli side to win 2-0 and open a 10-point gap at the top of the Serie A table. Empoli may not be the best going forward but they can be defensively impressive and managed to frustrate Juventus well, closing down effectively while maintaining possession in midfield to ensure Juve's impotency in the first half.
A slow tempo has been Juve's problem this season but the team stepped up a gear in the second half and Mario Mandzukic finally managed to score from the many crosses delivered into the box albeit with a lot of help from the opposing goalkeeper. A delightful finish from Alex Sandro soon after sealed another home win for the Bianconeri.
Despite an exhausting fixture list and the little time afforded to the team to train ahead of Saturday's match, Juventus continue to produce the performances required to seal the win and grab the points. Another clean sheet shows the beauty of the side's focus at this stage of the season.
Considering how often the team is playing, we cannot be too critical but they cannot always squander so many opportunities for goal. Only two goals were scored from the 24 shots, 12 of which were on target -- the Bianconeri must be more cynical against such defensive opponents.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Despite the packed fixture list and a midweek Champions League game, Max Allegri's Juventus keep producing the performances required to get the results. However, Allegri still seems unsure as to Sturaro's best position.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Norbeto Neto, 6 -- Slow and visibly uncomfortable on the ball but was rarely called into action until the save to deny Jose Mauri.
DF Dani Alves, 6 -- A good attacking force on the left, delivering crosses, taking on players and picking out his teammates with good passes. Better in games when he's not required to do too much defending.
DF Leonardo Bonucci, 6 -- Disciplined and composed but rarely called into action.
DF Daniele Rugani, 6 -- Was placed under pressure just once but redeemed himself well. Barely forced to do much defending.
DF Alex Sandro, 7 -- One of the best on the field. Did well when taking on opponents and scored with a marvellous finish. Always in command of the left flank, driving the team forward while solid in defence.
MF Claudio Marchisio, 6 -- Gave the ball away that led to Empoli's first shot on target. Lacking his usual refinement when helping to create play but he intercepted well, recovering possession often.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 6 -- Had a great chance for goal denied by Lukasz Skorupski and proved important in winning back the ball. Yet he didn't prove inspirational going forward and was also disappointing from set pieces.
MF Juan Cuadrado, 6 -- Relentless energy but not good enough, conceding possession frequently. However, he improved in the second half, delivering a sensational assist for Mandzukic's goal. His pace was a huge advantage and he combined well with Dani Alves.
MF Mario Mandzukic, 6 -- Failed to convert a few opportunities by either taking too long to take the shot or failing in his technique. The goal eventually came with a lot of help from Skorupski but not really the clinical performance Juve need from their forward.
MF Stefano Sturaro, 6 -- He doesn't look comfortable playing in the trident behind Higuain as he offers little quality going forward, getting in the way of Mandzukic. However, he is always determined, offering physicality and energy.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 6 -- Displayed great vision to always pick out his teammates with some great passes that weren't effectively converted but he too suffered in finishing. Less predatory than usual but always creative.
FW Paulo Dybala, NR -- Offered more creativity than Sturaro and produced a beautiful shot that went wide.
MF Tomas Rincon, NR -- Not given much time to make an impact.
FW Marko Pjaca, NR -- Barely offered any time to make his mark on proceedings.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.