No Cristiano Ronaldo as Juventus slog to win over Brescia
Juventus were faced with 10 men and a third-choice goalkeeper but could only beat second-bottom Brescia 2-0 in Serie A.
After 37 minutes at the Allianz Stadium, Brescia could at least be grateful Maurizio Sarri had spared them the torment of trying to contain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Dybala fills Cristiano scoring gap
Serie A's second-bottom side had just been reduced to 10 men, forward Florian Aye bounding untidily into Aaron Ramsey with the enthusiasm and poise of a Labrador puppy to earn a second booking in the space of three and a half minutes.
The visitors were already operating with their third-choice goalkeeper between the posts, an early head injury having accounted for Jesse Joronen's understudy Enrico Alfonso and thrusting Lorenzo Andrenacci into an unexpected top-flight debut.
It meant opportunity knocked for Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, the Argentina duo who were leading the Juve attack as Ronaldo, who has scored in every appearance in 2020, enjoyed a well-earned rest.
Higuain and Dybala have had to tailor their games this term under Sarri, operating within a significantly different tactical setup and very much at Ronaldo's service.
Nevertheless, the gulf in Serie A goal returns from the trio heading into the weekend was stark: Ronaldo boasting a haul of 20 in 2019-20 set against five apiece for his two attacking colleagues.
As Juve resume their pursuit of that elusive Champions League crown and contend with Inter's unflinching challenge domestically, it would be preferable to see the burden shared more equitably – irrespective of Ronaldo's superpowers showing little sign of fading.
Higuain offered a demonstration of his underrated selflessness just after the half hour, stealing in front of Ales Mateju and cutting an inviting ball back across goal. It laid on the sort of chance Ronaldo has gleefully gobbled up time and again over recent weeks, but Dybala failed to adjust to the bounce and skewed woefully wide from eight yards.
Aye's indiscretion allowed him to make amends in style, lifting a delicate free-kick beyond Andrenacci.
Brescia slog not new to Juve
Higuain and Dybala each went close with fine angled strikes before the break but, not for the first time over recent weeks, a presumed formality for Sarri's men became a bit of a slog.
Brescia's defending was often of the last-ditch variety – Stefano Sabelli showing great poise to clear off the line and deny Higuain before Birkir Bjarnason bravely denied Dybala at the end of a slaloming run – although their Iceland midfielder fired a presentable half-chance over from 20 yards in the 72nd minute.
It required the more unheralded member of Sarri's Ronaldo-less trident, Juan Cuadrado, to make the points safe. Cuadrado found a cute finish after a clever one-two with substitute Blaise Matuidi.
Like Dybala's, this was another goal wonderfully easy on the eye. The concern for Juventus and their coach is they are increasingly reliant on such moments of magic or Ronaldo's enduring brilliance. Sarrismo is yet to fully take hold in Turin, with the collective frequently underwhelming.
Higuain had a header ruled out for offside and Dybala crashed against the crossbar late on, meaning Inter's goal difference remains five better than Juve's ahead of Sunday's blockbuster clash with third-placed Lazio in Rome.
For the fine-margins battle ahead, it is hard to escape the feeling Juventus need more than the sporadic flashes of brilliance that are just about sustaining them at present.
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