Cristiano Ronaldo Scores in Juventus' Win vs. AC Milan; Gonzalo Higuain Sent Off

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2018

Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (r) outruns AC Milan's Italian forward Fabio Borini during the Italian Serie A football match AC Milan vs Juventus on November 11, 2018 at the San Siro stadium in Milan. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo helped Juventus beat AC Milan 2-0 on Sunday and extend a lead at the top of the Serie A table to six points ahead of Napoli.  

Ronaldo scored Juve's second to make the points safe nine minutes from time, after Mario Mandzukic had given the Bianconeri an eighth-minute lead at the San Siro Stadium.

It was tough day for Juve loanee Gonzalo Higuain, who saw a penalty saved by Wojciech Szczesny against his parent club. Milan were later reduced to 10 men when Higuain was sent off two minutes after Ronaldo's goal, after receiving a pair of yellow cards in quick succession following a challenge on Juventus centre-back Medhi Benatia.


Mandzukic Is Vital to Ronaldo's Success

It's no coincidence Juve were a sharper outfit in attack with Mandzukic back in the starting lineup. The Croatia international had missed the last four matches in all competitions, with Ronaldo failing to score in two of them.

Ronaldo didn't score in the first half in Milan, but he did see the benefit of what Mandzukic brings to the team. Specifically, the 32-year-old offers a plan B in attack, an approached based on his aerial power and ability to bully defenders.

Mandzukic showcased his menace in the air brilliantly when he headed in from an Alex Sandro cross in the eighth minute. It was a familiar finish for a player defences know what to expect from but can rarely stop:

Michael Cox @Zonal_Marking

Mandzukic's classic goal: late run from the far side to meet a far-post cross. He must have got a dozen of those goals for Juve.

He should have had a hat-trick during the opening 45 minutes, but Mandzukic wasted two more headers. Still, he continued to harass the Rossoneri defence and make life easier for his fellow forwards.

Ronaldo is better when Mandzukic is on the pitch because the latter does the dirty work and absorbs punishment from defenders. He leaves Ronaldo free to make runs and feed off the knockdowns and layoffs Mandzukic can produce with his back to goal.

Aside from his attributes as a link player, Mandzukic also eases the pressure on Ronaldo by giving Juve one more player who can be counted on for goals in big games:

bet365 @bet365

Mario Mandžukić for Juventus: 3 goals against Real Madrid 3 goals against Lazio 3 goals against Fiorentina 2 goals against Manchester City 2 goals against Napoli 2 goals against AC Milan Big game player. https://t.co/QvDGgJdSjC

Massimiliano Allegri has a lot of options for supporting Ronaldo up top, including wide players such as Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi. Yet it's throwback target man Mandzukic who is better suited to complement No. 7.


Higuain Not Consistent Enough to Carry Milan

While Juve are targeting yet another title, Milan's most realistic aim this season is a top-four finish. It's unlikely to happen with inconsistent Higuain leading the line, though.

The Juve loanee gave his parent club a reprieve when his tame penalty was touched onto the post by former Arsenal stopper Szczesny. Missing from 12 yards summed up the erratic finishing of a striker who still entered Sunday's game with seven goals in all competitions to his credit.

Yet for all the goals he has scored throughout his career, ex-Real Madrid man Higuain has never been able to shake the accusation he goes missing too often, particularly against elite opposition:

Matteo Bonetti @TheCalcioGuy

Higuain misses penalty against Juve, much to the delight of the “Higuain can’t do it in big games” army.

Tasking a mercurial striker with scoring the goals to put them into next season's UEFA Champions League is a risky strategy from the Rossoneri.

It's riskier still when considering the lack of support around Higuain. He wasn't helped by an anonymous display from Samu Castillejo, who was replaced by Patrick Cutrone just after the hour mark.

There also weren't enough through passes from midfield, where Hakan Calhanoglu and Suso struggled to find their radar against well-drilled opponents:

David Amoyal @DavidAmoyal

Last season Calhanoglu’s performances vastly improved once Gattuso replaced Montella while Suso went opposite way- would go a long ways towards Milan’s success to have both playing well at same time

When Calhanoglu did get the delivery right, like he did when lofting a deft pass over the top in the 61st minute, Higuain's control let him down. The moment was the perfect encapsulation of a striker who is too often frustrating and prolific in equal measure.

His dismissal, earned for protesting a booking after clattering into Benatia, completed a game to forget for Higuain. Milan need their main to deliver so much more when the games get big or the club won't be playing in Europe's premier club competition next season.


What's Next

Juve host SPAL on Saturday, November 24, after the international break, while Milan will be in the Italian capital to face Lazio the next day.