Gonzalo Higuain’s Juventus career so far reads as follows: 119 minutes, 38 touches, three goals.
Five talking points from a super Saturday
For the record, Higuain’s early season goalscoring spree has come from just as many shots on target, unsurprising really, when you consider the remarkable efficiency with which the centre forward has played throughout his prolific career.
Pipita’s trio of strikes at the Stadium have already seen the Argentine dip into his extensive armory of penalty-box skills but while his heart-stopping winner against Fiorentina three weeks ago was a masterclass in anticipation and timing, yesterday’s show was one of supreme accuracy and breathtaking power.
The first, an instinctive angled drive into the corner after a searing team move that swept from one end to the other in less than 15 seconds, took some beating for quality, but six minutes later, he had produced an even better one.
Nobody can sniff out danger as effectively as Gonzalo and as the ball ricocheted around the Sassuolo penalty area before being headed back into towards penalty spot by Sami Khedira there seemed only one likely outcome.
Within a blink of an eye, the number 9 had crept into position, adjusted his feet and unleashed a breathtaking volley into the far corner to lift 40,000 supporters from their seats in celebration. Two-nil up, 10 minutes gone, all from just four touches from the frontman.
When asked after the game about the possibility of Higuain matching his 36-goal haul of last season, Massimiliano Allegri replied that the most important thing is winning the title. After all, the striker that has ended the season as top scorer has not lifted the Scudetto in all of the last three seasons.
If the South American and his colleagues continue like this, the Bianconeri could find themselves with both gongs come May.
Juve supporters have been made to wait to get a first sighting of Miralem Pjanic in competitive action. They got a brief glimpse of what was coming in Melbourne in pre-season fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur and Melbourne Victory but not enough to prepare them for what the Bosnian produced on his full home debut yesterday evening.
Expected to start as the team’s deep-lying playmaker, a role handed instead to the ever-reliable Mario Lemina, the Bosnian was granted the freedom of the Juventus Stadium turf by coach Allegri and made sure to make maximum use of it whenever he was in possession.
By the end of the 90 minutes, only fellow midfield raider Khedira (45) and floating creator Paulo Dybala (44) had completed more passes in the opposition’s half than Pjanic (42) and the debutant would even pass to himself for his goal, heading against the crossbar before ramming home from a matter of yards.
In Kwadwo Asamoah, rested in favour of his new team-mate, Lemina, Khedira and Pjanic, Juventus have a midfield that much like its famed defence, functions in perfect harmony.
With the muscle of the Gabonese, the intelligence of the German, the agility of the Ghanaian and the feather touch of the Bosnian, the Bianconeri have the required diversity to dominate their opponents in the most important department of the field.
A possession count of over 70 per cent on Saturday was more than ample testament to that.
A poor start to the season last time out meant that a 15-match winning run between October and March was needed to haul Allegri’s men back into contention but with three wins from three so far in 2016/17, it doesn’t look as though the Bianconeri will require the same history-making feat this term.
The pressure to begin on the front foot extended to the pitch yesterday as Higuain’s brace and Pjanic’s tap-in put the league leaders 3-0 up inside half an hour. Luca Antei’s close-range effort would reduce the deficit to two but the game as a contest was effectively over by half-time.
An exponent of managing the closing stages of matches, Massimiliano Allegri will have been pleased with the way his side roared into an early lead but was keen to stress the importance of remaining in control for the entirety of the contest.
Nonetheless the Tuscan, ever the perfectionist, will no doubt be calling for greater second-half focus from his charges in the coming weeks.
The boss had this to say at the final whistle: “We need to work on the way we manage games after building strong leads, because we allowed them to have too many shots and risked letting them back into the match.
"We need to keep working to raise our game. Every day I keep hearing that we’re favourites for the title, but we still need to turn up and do the business.”
Nothing seems beyond Paulo Dybala at the moment.
A total of 19 league goals last term propelled his side to a fifth consecutive Scudetto title but the arrival of compatriot Higuain has spelled a subtle shift in La Joya’s game.
Having demonstrated the breadth of his finishing abilities as a central striker, it seems Dybala will now be given the chance to flaunt his extensive creative qualities as a withdrawn forward, tucked in behind the penalty-box predator.
Once on the end of most of Juventus’ moves, the 22-year old is now starting them and dictating play in the final third.
No one crafted more scoring opportunities than Paulo (five) on the night and his assist for Higuain on four minutes was a snapshot of what Juve fans have to look forward to this campaign.
With Dybala drifting into space and driving at defences in his inimitable style and his countryman’s ruthless finishing and world class movement off the ball, expect the Old Lady to rack up an impressive end of season goals tally.
La Joya could have even opened his account for the campaign had he reacted quicker than Pjanic to poke home with the goal gaping after the midfielder’s header had bounced back off the crossbar. There will be more opportunities for the diminutive forward in time.
While the dynamism of the Bianconeri’s attacking stars has inevitably stolen the August and September headlines, the sight of Stephan Lichtsteiner quietly going about his business down the right-hand side was a pleasure to behold.
The fact that the Swiss captain was making his first start of the season last night is simply a sign of the champions’ strength down the flanks.
With Juan Cuadrado rejoining the club from Chelsea on transfer deadline day and Dani Alves already catching the eye against Fiorentina and Lazio, Lichtsteiner’s superb performance was a reminder of his own undoubted talents and proof that few teams in Europe can match the Old Lady for wide options.
At one end, the wing-back served up a match-high number of crosses from open play (two), one of which teeing up Pjanic for Juve’s third goal, while at the other produced an excellent goal-line clearance from Matteo Politano with the scores at 3-1.
Five years on from cutting the ribbon at Juventus Stadium with a trademark dart into the box, Lichtsteiner was back to his best against Sassuolo in his 250th Serie A appearance and will surely remain a key member of the squad in the coming months if Saturday’s showing is anything to go by.