Cristiano Ronaldo was on target as Juventus wrapped up their UEFA Champions League group campaign by beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-0.
Despite qualification into the UEFA Champions League last-16 already sealed, Cristiano Ronaldo surprisingly started in Juventus’ Group D finale away to Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.
Although head coach Maurizio Sarri still made several changes to his line-up. The most prominent modification was the new centre-back pairing in Merih Demiral and Daniele Rugani.
But the duo did well to contain Leverkusen early on, with the hosts still having everything to play for in Germany.
Eventually, however, Juventus found took control with Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain’s second-half goals settling the match. Therefore, the Italian champions have finished top of Group D unbeaten and six points ahead of Atletico Madrid in second.
So, without further ado, we give you the five main talking points from Wednesday’s clash at the BayArena.
Ronaldo continues to haunt Germany
After ending his Juventus goal-drought against Sassuolo this month, Ronaldo scored for the third time in a row.
Overall, the Portuguese star enjoyed a decent performance in Germany. He was, perhaps, unlucky not to score in the first-half after just missing a chance to tap-in Higuain’s pass.
Ronaldo then fired just wide of the goal following a superb solo run before he had a goal in the 51st-minute ruled out for offside.
An improved second-half display, however, enabled Ronaldo to put Juventus ahead in the 75th-minute for his 28th Champions League goal in just 26 games against German clubs.
Interestedly, Ronaldo seems to fare better lately whenever Paulo Dybala is on the pitch.
Although the 34-year-old wasn’t amused when a pitch invader halted the game late on to hug their hero.
This fan went in hard to grab a selfie with Cristiano Ronaldo last night… 😮pic.twitter.com/77qj81pG7T
— Thick Accent (@Thick_Accent) December 12, 2019
Leverkusen fail to make their strong start count
With a last-16 spot still up for grabs, Leverkusen made life difficult for Group D winners Juventus early on.
The German club entered Wednesday’s clash on a good run of form having won their last three in a row. They had also gone six games without defeat in all competitions.
Moussa Diaby nearly awarded their efforts early in the game, only for his long-range effort to hit the post after beating Gianluigi Buffon. The highly-rated Kai Havertz then missed a potential opener just before the half-time whistle.
However, Leverkusen’s strong start began to drop off as Juventus improved in the second half.
Head coach Peter Bosz attempted to respond to Sarri’s changes by substituting Leon Bailey and Julian Baumgartlinger for Karim Bellarabi and Kerem Demirbay. In the end, though, they deservedly lost.
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) December 11, 2019
Dybala makes the difference
Simply put, Paulo Dybala is unplayable at the moment.
With Juventus struggling, Sarri brought on the Argentine as a 66th-minute substitute for Federico Bernardeschi.
“We waited for Bayer Leverkusen’s tempo and aggression to drop,” Sarri told Sky Sport Italia.
“So when Bernardeschi found enormous spaces in that area, we thought it was the right time to use all three [forwards] together.”
And the Italian’s decision proved to be on spot on, with Dybala’s pace and creativity proving to be a breath of fresh air for the ailing Juventus attack. In fact, it took just under 10 minutes for them to score.
It all started when Miralem Pjanic found Dybala on the left, who then set-up Ronaldo for a tap-in.
The 26-year-old later had a role in Higuain’s goal as well.
Has Sarri found a fix to his defensive woes?
The Bianconeri boss made an interesting choice in starting Merih Demiral and Daniele Rugani as his centre-backs.
But the duo repaid Sarri for his faith by delivering a strong performance in Germany. In fact, WhoScored stats showed that Rugani recorded a team-best of 10 clearances against Leverkusen.
Demiral, on the other hand, made five and looked particularly lethal up in the air. His excellent reading of the game allowed him to cut off crosses, and he worked well alongside Rugani in the heart of the defence.
A crucial sliding block on Kai Havertz from just six yards out was the tip of the iceberg.
Therefore, Sarri may finally be able to give his preferred centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt more rest. He has, perhaps, overused the duo recently given captain Giorgio Chiellini’s injury.
Gianluigi Buffon also pulled off an impressive early save from Karim Bellarabi in goal.
Juventus equal an old record
Sarri’s start as Juventus coach has been a mixed one, to say the least.
The Serie A champions have struggled to adapt to Sarri’s unique methods, with their domestic dominance seemingly at threat. However, he’s managed to get something right in Europe.
With five wins and a draw, Juventus have equalled their best-ever UEFA Champions League group campaigns from 1996/97 and 2004/05.
And Wednesday’s win over Leverkusen was a welcome result after last weekend’s nightmare defeat to Lazio.
“It’s important to keep a sense of balance. We lost against Lazio, but for long periods it was one of our best games of the season,” Sarri told Sky Sport Italia.
“It was tough tonight against a side that is doing very well in the Bundesliga this season. We held out and as soon as their tempo dropped, we stepped up to take the points.”