Rome: Cristiano Ronaldo continued his hot form for Juventus on Saturday as he and Mario Mandzukic scored both goals in the second consecutive game to help the Serie A leaders open up a nine-point lead at the top of the table with a 2-0 win over struggling SPAL.
Ronaldo slotted home Miralem Pjanic’s free-kick after 29 minutes in Turin to join Genoa’s Krzysztof Piatek at the top of the Serie A scoring charts with nine goals, before Mandzukic sealed the three points on the hour mark in a simple warm up for Tuesday’s crucial Champions League visit of Valencia. The pair also scored both in Juventus’ 2-0 win over AC Milan before the international break, and Ronaldo’s strike was his seventh in eight games in all competitions for his new club, for a total of 10 goals this season.
“Cristiano does things that catch opponents off guard and that’s exactly what we need,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri.
“Sometimes we play one pass too many and the moment is lost.
“Cristiano moves and thinks so quickly, he saw Douglas Costa coming out the corner of his eye and pulled the pass back. We need to all improve in that sense, being able to think ahead to the next move.”
SPAL, fighting relegation, were no match for Allegri’s reigning champions who are nine points ahead of Inter Milan and Napoli, with Carlo Ancelotti’s side gunning to close the gap when they play bottom club Chievo on Sunday.
Bustling Ronaldo, 33, also played a role in Juve’s second scored by Mandzukic, who was wearing the captain’s armband for the first time.
Ronaldo latched onto a long ball and pulled it back for Douglas Costa, whose shot was cleared into the path of the Croatian, who gobbled up he opportunity to win the match.
“The opening goal changed the game and I was very angry that we were slow to react and allowed Ronaldo to go clear,” said SPAL coach Leonardo Semplici.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen Ronaldo up close and my forwards should learn from the attitude that a champion like this puts into every game.
“We need to improve on the details if we want to avoid being put under pressure.”
Third-placed Inter moved level with Napoli after Keita Balde scored twice in a comfortable 3-0 win over second-from-bottom Frosinone ahead of their Champions League trip to Tottenham on Wednesday.
In La Liga, Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde praised winger Ousmane Dembele after his late goal rescued the league leaders in a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid.
The French international struck in the 90th minute after coming on as a substitute to earn his team a point that kept the Catalans top of the standings.
Dembele has faced media criticism and was dropped from the squad for Barcelona’s league game against Real Betis following media reports of unprofessional behaviour, including poor timekeeping.
“He’s a great player and has a lot of talents, among them goals, he’s showing that,” Valverde said. “(The media) talk about him far too much. The last game he wasn’t called up, it’s true. He’s a player that we have to help so that things work for him and he can help us as a team. We expect a lot of him because he is a great talent.”