Just when it seemed that Juventus might slip to their first Serie A defeat of the season, Cristiano Ronaldo once again stepped up as the hero for his side, after they were forced to battle out a blood and thunder draw against Sassuolo at home, managing to keep their unbeaten record intact.
Having already won the Italian title 8 times in a row, Juventus are outright Serie A betting favourites at 1/2 odds, with Inter Milan at 7/4 tipped as the only genuine contender capable of preventing that from happening. There has been plenty of speculation that winning the Champions League remains the top priority, although it’s difficult to imagine the Zebras relinquishing their stranglehold of the Scudetto so easily.
Many had the fixture against Sassuolo down as another comfortable win for Juventus, especially given they’d already won all their home games this season, while the visitors had never even gained a point in previous away encounters against the home side. In the end, the outcome proved to be one of the most surprising results amongst the 14th round of fixtures in Serie A, as the reigning champions showed some signs of defensive vulnerability.
Although the Sassuolo made a courageously bright start, Juventus were comfortably able to deal with their early threats at the Allianz Stadium. Gonzalo Higuain had already prodded one good chance wide of the post, before captain and defender Leonardo Bonucci didn’t waste his opportunity to fire Juventus into the lead after 20 minutes, scoring his second Serie A goal of the season.
However, that lead lasted barely two minutes before Sassuolo responded, as Francesco Caputo nutmegged Alex Sandro and Jeremie Boga exquisitely chipped his finish over Gianluigi Buffon, levelling the game at 1-1. It’s fair to say that Juventus were clearly shaken by that goal from the former Chelsea man, yet they swiftly set about piling on the pressure. Higuain and Rodrigo Bentancur were unable to convert good chances, while quite uncharacteristically, Cristiano Ronaldo was somewhat anonymous.
Disaster struck early in the second half for Juventus with poor defending their undoing, as Caputo once again proved a thorn in the side, capitalising on poor defending by Matthijs de Ligt to give Sassoulo the lead again, placing a weak finish beyond Gianluigi Buffon. The vastly experienced Italian goalkeeper should have done much better, and he knew it, although he had also been left horribly exposed.
Forced to shuffle his pack, Maurizio Sarri replaced Federico Bernardeschi and Emre Can, neither of whom had impressed in the slightest, sending on Paulo Dybala and Blaise Matuidi to turn things around. Ronaldo also stepped his performance up a gear or two, eventually finding the back of the net with an hour on the clock. However, in the midst of his celebrations, the Portuguese superstar hadn’t noticed the flag raised on the touchline for offside.
Nevertheless, there was no denying CR7 his moment of glory just eight minutes later. Dybala proving his introduction from the bench was timely, earning Juventus a penalty in the 68th minute after being felled by Sassoulo defender Filippo Romagna. With absolutely no hesitation who would assume responsibility, Ronaldo successfully converted the spot-kick, much to the relief of his side and the home fans.
Despite being beaten twice, debuting 18-year-old Sassoulo keeper Stefano Turati was having an excellent game, and he denied Dybala what could have been the winner for Juventus. Miralem Pjanic also powered a free-kick just over the crossbar, while Aaron Ramsey had a great opportunity to clinch the points to send Juve back to the top of Serie A before Ronaldo shot wide with the last chance of the game.
Although Ronaldo will be disappointed with his own performance and Juventus being held to a draw, he did save the blushes of his side earlier in the game. Not too shabby, considering this was his return to domestic action, having suffered a bruised knee against Milan earlier in the month. Returning with a goal will lift everyone’s spirits, having now notched his first since the end of October.