If you had questions about the football logic behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Turin in the summer, many of them may have been answered by Portuguese’s performance on Saturday evening.
For Juventus’s impressive 3-1 win over Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli owed an awful lot to the incisive interventions of €110 million man.
CR7 may not have scored, but he was instrumental in all three of the home side’s goals as they put last year’s runners up firmly in their place.
It’s almost certainly unfair to be expecting the Partenopei to go one better than last season and prevent the Old Lady winning an eighth league title on the spin.
But at the same time, under the wily management of Carletto, they still look the side most likely to take the battle to the Turin giants.
And take the battle to the champions they did at the Juventus Stadium. The visitors were first and fastest out of the blocks.
With five minutes on the clock, Piotr Zielinski posted notice of their intent, rapping Wojciech Szczesny’s left-hand post from the edge of the area.
And then five minutes later, they took the lead in a fashion that reminded all present just how potent their high pressing game can be.
Leonardo Bonucci, pressured into a foolhardy pass across his defensive lines, saw Allan hoover up the ball 20 yards from goal.
The excellent Brazilian found Jose Callejon advancing into the penalty area on the right, and the Spaniard with the Juve goal in his sights unselfishly teed up Dries Mertens to convert. Quicksilver. One-nil.
But then the visitors backed off. Under Maurizio Sarri, they’d surely have gone after their rivals, looking to land a killer punch.
Ancelotti though prefers a more measured approach, one he may regret when he reflects on this game, as it allowed the Bianconeri regain their composure and ultimately take control.
And it was Ronaldo, who had started the game on the left side of attack, who set up their equaliser on 25 minutes.
Picking the ball up wide left, he turned Napoli’s fullback Elseid Hysaj inside out before clipping a delightful cross for the ever-willing Mario Mandzukic to head home.
Minutes later, the former Real Madrid man came close to giving Juve the lead. His blistering free kick from the angle of the penalty area was parried by David Ospina and scrambled to safety by the Napoli defence.
Up to then, Ronaldo had been relatively quiet. But that’s his game now. It has to be. At 33, he has to manage his involvement, pick and choose his moments. He knows this. Max Allegri and his team mates know it too.
Hence, exempt from serious defensive duty, Ronaldo is expected to – and does – come alive in the final third.
On Saturday’s evidence, Father Time may be restricting his movements, but he’s yet to erode Ronaldo’s reading of the game, his awareness or his unerring powers of anticipation.
And so it proved with Juve’s crucial second early in the second half. Pouncing on a loose ball after Raul Albiol thwarted Pablo Dybala’s slaloming break, Ronaldo cut inside from the left and unleashed from 25 yards.
His speed of thought and early strike caught Ospina off guard. The keeper could only push the ball onto the inside of his right-hand post and watch helplessly as Mandzukic dispatched the rebound.
For Juve’s insurance goal with a quarter of an hour left to play, Juve’s number 7 then reminded us of his prowess in the air, rising highest to nod Dybala’s corner across the Napoli goal for Bonucci to slide home.
The 3-1 score line may have been a little harsh on Napoli. They provided more than a few flashes of the incisive football that made them such a compelling watch under Ancelotti’s predecessor.
But the fact that their best moments came in playing the high speed, high intensity, high pressing game that has been their calling card in recent seasons begs a question – is the new manager correct in attempting to impose a more considered and restrained approach on this team?
But that’s a poser for another day. On Saturday, they gave Juventus a stern test in Turin, but were ultimately undone by a master of his trade. Cristiano may be entering the twilight of his career, but he still possesses an array of weaponry that only the biggest money can buy.