Milan (AFP) – Goals from Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain handed Juventus a 3-0 win over Cagliari on Saturday, as the Italian champions defied a video assistant referee (VAR) penalty decision to open their Serie A campaign in commanding fashion.
Juventus, who sealed a record sixth consecutive Serie A title last season but lost the Champions League final to Real Madrid, take a familiar spot at the top of the fledgling table.
Napoli are away to Verona in Saturday’s late game while Roma, Inter Milan and AC Milan are all in action on Sunday.
Referee Fabio Maresca made Serie A history by awarding a penalty following consultation with the VAR, but not even that could help an outplayed Cagliari as Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon saved the spot-kick.
Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri, opting to play Dybala up front alongside Higuain with Mandzukic operating just behind, was quick to praise Buffon in what is scheduled to be the 39-year-old’s final season.
“I expected the referee to give the penalty, luckily we have Buffon, the number one, in goal. He got us out of a sticky situation,” Allegri told Premium Sport.
Allegri opted to leave new signings Blaise Matuidi and Douglas Costa on the bench, introducing both in the second half after the hosts had already left plucky but ineffective Cagliari with little chance.
On the champions’ first official outing since a 3-2 SuperCup final defeat to Lazio that saw Dybala hit a brace, the Juve coach was mostly satisfied.
“The lads interpreted the game well, so I’m happy,” added Allegri, who also had a special mention for hard-working Mandzukic.
“He’s a big physical presence. When we’re in difficulty, we rely on him. He can’t do it all, but he’s a big help.”
Bosnian free-kick specialist Miralem Pjanic struck a superb 25-metre free-kick onto the post on two minutes, and from then on it was mostly one-way traffic.
Juan Cuadrado started the move that led to Juve’s opener, the Colombian front man intelligently dragging the ball back into midfield to spark a succession of passes that saw Mandzukic hold off his marker and half-volley Stephan Lichtsteiner’s ball past Alessio Cragno.
When Cagliari carved out their first real chance of the game, Juventus had Buffon to thank for stopping Diego Farias’s curling drive from eight yards out.
Farias was gifted an immediate chance to make amends, but after Maresca took just over one minute to consult video footage following Alex Sandro’s foul on Duje Cop, Buffon guessed right to save the Brazilian striker’s effort on 39 minutes.
Higuain pulled the trigger on a Dybala dummy outside the area following a smart Cuadrado pass inside, but the Argentine’s shot was blocked.
The move continued, and Dybala won Juve a free-kick from the right of goal that the little playmaker got up to curl tamely into Cragno’s waiting arms.
But Dybala made no mistake in first-half injury-time, controlling Pjanic’s brilliant quick ball over the top before firing past Cragno.
Juve resumed in similar fashion, spurning two chances in quick succession before Higuain sealed the win with his first goal of the season in the 66th minute.
Before that, Dybala had turned on a Cuadrado delivery to fire a superb curling drive over a flailing Cragno and off the crossbar, the Cagliari keeper then thwarting Mandzukic’s follow-up header.
Sami Khedira replaced Claudio Marchisio on the hour, the German getting involved minutes later when Sandro set up Higuain to fire past Cragno from eight yards.
Higuain received a standing ovation when he was replaced by midfielder Matuidi, the France international who signed from Paris Saint-Germain in midweek for 20 million euros ($23.5 million), before on-loan Bayern Munich winger Costa also made his Serie A debut.