Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Juventus returned to winning ways in Serie A, easing to a 3-1 triumph over struggling Udinese on Sunday.

Maurizio Sarri finally fielded Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain together from the start – and the trio were influential in helping the reigning champions record a first victory in three league outings.

The result was a formality by half-time at Allianz Stadium, Ronaldo getting a brace as Udinese struggled to cope with a pumped-up home team eager to bounce back from a 3-1 loss away to Lazio the previous weekend.

The Portugal international opened the scoring in the ninth minute, firing home a loose ball with an instinctive first-time effort, while it was Higuain's well-weighted throughball that set up for a second, finished with his left foot.

Leonardo Bonucci added a third before the interval, flicking in a header at a corner from centre-back partner Merih Demiral via a deflection off the underside of the crossbar, allowing Juve to ease up in the second half.

As the tempo dropped, the hosts relied on the evergreen Gianluigi Buffon - making his 478th Serie A appearance in place of the injured Wojciech Szczesny, drawing him level with Alessandro Del Piero's club record in the competition – to keep Udinese at bay.

The veteran goalkeeper - guilty of a costly error in the 2-2 draw against Sassuolo earlier in December - twice denied the lively Kevin Lasagna, while he also turned away a fierce drive from Seko Fofana.

However, there was little Buffon could do to stop Ignacio Pussetto getting a consolation goal in stoppage time, preventing the former Italy international recording a clean sheet.

Ronaldo had been denied a hat-trick by the post in the closing minutes but Juve coasted to a result that sends them above Inter, although the Nerazzurri can reclaim top spot when they travel to Fiorentina in Sunday's late kick-off.

What does it mean? Sarri sees forwards combine

Having worked so well in the second half of the 2-0 Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, Dybala, Higuain and Ronaldo had the chance to show they can function from the outset. They did just that, combining impressively on a number of occasions. 

So, was Sarri's starting XI a one-off, or a sign of things to come? This was, admittedly, the ideal game to experiment in; Juventus have won more matches against Udinese than any other Serie A opponent. It will be fascinating to see if they are all selected again for trickier tests in the future.

Ronaldo still going strong

The forward - who turns 35 in February - may not quite have the blistering pace that was once such a trademark, but he remains a ruthless finisher. His goals demonstrated just how dangerous he is when presented with a sight of the target.

Lasagna goes cold on big stage

The Italy international was starved of service in an opening half that was one-way traffic towards the Udinese goal. In the second, however, he failed to capitalise on the opportunities that came his way, including twice allowing recovering defenders to make crucial blocks when seemingly in the clear.

What's next?

Juventus go up against Claudio Ranieri's Sampdoria on Wednesday in their final league outing before the mid-season break in Italy. Udinese, meanwhile, round out 2019 with a home game against Cagliari next Saturday.

Maurizio Sarri reiterated Juventus cannot play with three forwards as he expressed confidence in his side's ability to bounce back from a disappointing draw with Sassuolo.

Sarri has faced consistent questions this season over the possibility of using Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain in a front three.

Dybala was left on the bench last Sunday as Ronaldo and Higuain started up front in a gripping 2-2 game that saw Juventus surrender top spot in Serie A to Inter.

Third-placed Lazio, who are seven points off the top, are the opposition on Saturday as Juve make the trip to the Stadio Olimpico.

There is unlikely to be a Juve attacking triumvirate on show in the capital, however, with coach Sarri insisting it is not possible to play all three together at present.

"Right now, playing three forwards is difficult due to the characteristics of the players," he told a media conference.

"You can't prohibit Dybala from dropping deep, and at the same time Cristiano's characteristics are not to play too central. We must take some precautions to fill the penalty area more.

"It's normal that after Champions League games there's a drop in energy, mentality and confidence, but from what I've seen in training I'm confident. As always, we have to respond on the pitch, getting three points is always important regardless of the game.

"It will be an important matchday for the teams high up in the table, I hope that our motivations are high.

"Lazio are a strong team with great quality. They are the best in Italy and among the best in Europe for getting into the last 25 metres. We need to keep them away from our area because they are very dangerous.

"Based on the average amount of points that they are picking up, Lazio have to be in the conversation for the fight for top.

"I expect a strong approach from Lazio, who will be very determined. We will have to resist it, come out and dictate the game how we want to."

Criticism of veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon irritates Juventus, the club's sporting director Fabio Paratici has admitted.

Buffon was at fault for the concession of Francesco Caputo's goal in Juve's 2-2 draw with Sassuolo on Sunday.

The 41-year-old, who was making his fifth Serie A start of the season, let a tame shot squirm through his grasp following Matthijs de Ligt's panicked clearance.

Maurizio Sarri later absolved Buffon of blame and Paratici felt the Italy legend was deserving of more respect than he has received in some quarters.

"The criticism of Buffon bothers us a lot," Paratici told Sky Sport Italia.

"I always say that Buffon, [Leonardo] Bonucci, [Andrea] Barzagli and [Giorgio] Chiellini are the heroes we have had over the years. They are great people first and then great players. If they have bad days, which happens very rarely, it is proof they are human.

"Buffon is a great goalkeeper, the greatest in the history of football, and above all a great person."

The glaring mistake left Juve trailing early in the second half and a largely poor team performance did not improve until Paulo Dybala's introduction in the 53rd minute.

The Argentina international has been in excellent form in recent weeks and won the penalty from which Cristiano Ronaldo equalised.

Having seemingly been up for sale in the close season, Dybala is now making a case to be granted an improved deal at the Allianz Stadium.

"He is a great player, our number 10 and not by chance," Paratici said. "We are not talking about a renewal, but we will address the matter in due course."

Paratici confirmed outcast attacker Mario Mandzukic could leave the club in January but offered no insights into the futures of Merih Demiral, Daniele Rugani and Emre Can, who have also been linked with moves elsewhere.

Maurizio Sarri hopes Juventus striker Cristiano Ronaldo wins his sixth Ballon d'Or, and he also tipped team-mate Paulo Dybala to be recognised as the world's best player in the future.

Ronaldo is up against fellow five-time winner Lionel Messi and Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk in the running for this year's gong, while Juve defender Matthijs de Ligt is in contention to win the Kopa Trophy awarded to the best performing player under the age of 21.

After watching Ronaldo overcoming a persistent knee injury to play a full 90 minutes in Juve's 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, Sarri said he was impressed with the 34-year-old's recovery.

"Cristiano did well in the last game, even with some resistance," Sarri told reporters. "Now he just has to grow in terms of brilliance.

"I hope that Cristiano wins the Ballon d'Or, de Ligt the Kopa Trophy and that Dybala will one day be a future Ballon d’Or contender."

Serie A leaders Juventus play 14th-placed Sassuolo on Sunday, and Sarri said his deliberation over selecting two from Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and Dybala to play in attack is a welcome problem.

But the former Napoli and Chelsea coach warned his players against complacency as they go in search of a fifth consecutive Serie A victory, having beaten Atalanta 3-1 prior to the win over Atletico.

"Tomorrow's game is very dangerous," Sarri said of the Sassuolo clash. "We come into this fixture after two games that took away a lot of our mental energy.

"In addition, Sassuolo is a team that has done well, even on the road, and they have a young and strong coach who I respect a lot.

"Do I get a headache choosing who to play in attack? If anything, the opposition gets the headache.

"Emre Can may be an option for tomorrow. Alex Sandro took part in the full training session with the team yesterday. We need to see if he can play 90 minutes. 

"[Federico] Bernardeschi is doing well, he is a useful player to the team, who has great technical qualities, so we ask him to give more."

"What the f*** are you shooting from over there?" was Maurizio Sarri's reaction to Paulo Dybala's memorable free-kick for Juventus in the Champions League.

Dybala scored a stunning set-piece against Atletico Madrid as Juve secured top spot in Group D with Tuesday's 1-0 victory in Turin.

From an acute angle on the right side of the penalty box, Dybala somehow beat Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak in first-half stoppage time.

Speaking to reporters post-game, Juve head coach Sarri said: "Dybala scored a goal that nobody could have advised him to do.

"The first thing that a coach says in that situation is: 'What the f*** are you shooting from over there?' And therefore what he did was extraordinary.

"The applause was owed to him, for the performance but also for the technical skill which was extraordinary."

While Dybala was the hero again for Juve, it was another frustrating night for superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Having missed last week's victory away to Atalanta due to his troublesome knee, Ronaldo returned to the line-up but he appeared to struggle against Atletico.

Asked if Ronaldo is cut off from the game due to the team's style of play, Sarri told reporters: "No, there was no problem with Ronaldo.

"The problem was the way we were occupying spaces. In the first half Paulo was often playing far away from the goal, Cristiano was not playing in the centre and therefore we were never occupying the central spaces. We could have done this more with one of the two alternatively, when Paulo was going for the ball Cristiano could have played more in the centre and when Cristiano was out Dybala could have gone less for the ball.

"Otherwise we could have exploited that space with [Aaron] Ramsey, therefore we had some problem occupying spaces, rather than because we were cutting off players from the game."

Paulo Dybala scored a wonderful free-kick to earn Juventus a 1-0 home win over Atletico Madrid that secured top spot in Group D of the Champions League.

Atletico, knocked out by Juve last season, had the better of the first half but moments before the interval Dybala whipped a superb set-piece in from a narrow angle to open the scoring.

Although Joao Felix's introduction from the bench improved Atletico, it was Juve substitute Federico Bernardeschi who went closest to the game's second goal when he hit the post on Tuesday.

Juve, who welcomed back Cristiano Ronaldo, were already through but with 13 points Maurizio Sarri's side now cannot be caught at the summit with Atletico needing a win when the group stage ends next month.

Dybala had an early effort saved by Jan Oblak but Atletico had the better of the opening exchanges with Thomas Partey and Saul Niguez failing to hit the target with decent chances.

Wojciech Szczesny then briefly spilled Saul's shot only for the goalkeeper to beat Alvaro Morata to the loose ball, however Juve took the lead on the stroke of half-time.

From close to the touchline on the right side of the penalty box, Dybala whipped a superb strike past the wall and across Oblak into the roof of the net.

Joao Felix's arrival from the bench breathed new life into Atletico's attack however Juve went close to adding a second when Bernardeschi's low shot from 20 yards beat Oblak but not the upright.

A difficult day almost got worse for Atletico when Felipe's challenge on Ronaldo was checked by VAR, the defender avoiding a red card after appearing to stamp on the Portugal superstar.

Atletico should have snatched a draw deep in added time when Morata failed to convert Thomas Lemar's low cross, though replays suggested the striker was offside anyway.


What does it mean? Atletico have work to do

Juve were already through but have theoretically secured an easier tie in the next round, with Atletico still expected to join them.

They will need to win away to Lokomotiv Moscow, who are already confirmed as finishing bottom of the group, if they are to progress in the competition.


Dybala hot streak continues

Few players would have had the imagination to shoot from the position Dybala fired home a wonderful free-kick, the 10th time he has scored from a set piece for Juve.

The Argentina attacker has found the net three games in a row for Juve and is growing in confidence.


Morata offers little threat

Diego Costa's neck injury means Morata will have to lead the line for Atletico in the coming weeks, but the Spain striker struggled to make an impact against a rugged Juve backline led by the excellent Leonardo Bonucci.


What's next?

Sassuolo visit Juve in Serie A on Sunday, with Atletico hosting Barcelona in a huge LaLiga clash on the same day. The final round of Group D games on December 11 sees Juve go to Bayer Leverkusen, while Atletico are at home to Lokomotiv.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are "monsters" who are convinced they are the best player on the pitch in every game, according to Argentina and Juventus forward Paulo Dybala.

The duo are among the greatest players of all time and have won a combined 10 Ballon d'Or trophies since 2008.

Dybala has played alongside Ronaldo at Serie A champions Juve since the Portugal international's move from Real Madrid ahead of the 2018-19 campaign and has teamed up with Barcelona superstar Messi for Argentina over the last four years.

Having seen both players at close quarters, the 26-year-old believes they share a lot of similarities.

"Outside the pitch they are two very quiet people, but inside they are two monsters," he told Spanish newspaper El Pais. 

"I heard Luis Scola [Argentinian basketball player] said both Leo and Cristiano enter the field convinced that they are the best and that is why they are the best. And I am sure that is so.

"My friends used to tell me: 'You have the best in the national team and now they bring you the best one at your club'. I replied: 'It is an advantage for me.'

"I can study them every day. Who doesn't want to play with the best? We are talking about two phenomenal players; two players who are one or two steps above the rest. 

"They are at the top on a football level and also at a mental level. It is not easy to keep going and score 40 goals every year. It is crazy. 

"In the history of football, great players have played at great teams and have not achieved what they did. They have been good for each other."

Paulo Dybala vindicated Maurizio Sarri's decision to introduce him for the underwhelming Cristiano Ronaldo as the Argentina international clinched underwhelming Juventus a slender 1-0 win over AC Milan on Sunday.

Sarri's men were well below par for the visit of Stefano Pioli's Milan and Ronaldo was no different, as the Portugal star failed to inspire an Old Lady attack that looked bereft of creative ingenuity until matchwinner Dybala replaced the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Belying the form table, Milan looked considerably more fluent and inventive in attack during the opening 45 minutes, but questionable finishing and a wonderful save from Wojciech Szczesny prevented them going into half-time ahead.

Juve remained short of ideas going forward initially in the second period and that resulted in the withdrawal of Ronaldo – who was also hooked in the Champions League against Lokomotiv Moscow.

While the Portugal captain looked utterly unimpressed as he headed straight down the tunnel, Dybala made the difference late on with a fine goal to retain Juve's status as Serie A pacesetters.

Milan should have taken the lead with 18 minutes on the clock, but Krzysztof Piatek miscued his header from Suso's excellent delivery from deep, before Szczesny thwarted Lucas Paqueta's nodded effort.

It took Ronaldo until the 42nd minute to threaten the Milan goal, but his 25-yard strike was easily kept out by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Sarri's response to Juve's ineffectiveness in front of goal was to withdraw Ronaldo for Dybala before the hour, while Douglas Costa – the hero in Wednesday's 2-1 win in Moscow – came on soon after.

The Brazilian went as close as any of his team-mates with a 30-yard strike that Donnarumma stopped, before Blaise Matuidi curled just off target.

But fittingly it was Dybala who got the decisive goal, as he played a one-two with Gonzalo Higuain on the edge of the box and then swept home right-footed 13 minutes from time, confirming an undeserved defeat for Milan, who have not won at Juve since March 2011.

What does it mean? Juve remain top as Ronaldo's mortality becomes clear

Inter's 2-1 comeback win against Hellas Verona put Antonio Conte's men top and that looked to be where they would stay until after the international break before Dybala's strike.

But arguably more signficant than the result is Ronaldo's status in the squad. Having spent much of his career as an untouchable, that no longer appears to be the case.

Szczesny gives Juve a hand

While Dybala was undoubtedly vital to victory, it is fair to say Juve owe much thanks to Szczesny in goal. The Poland international was dependable on every occasion and had he not been at this level Milan probably would have won.

Ronaldo fades into the background

With just one shot and a single key pass to show for his efforts, there is no doubt Ronaldo was not missed when he made way. Suddenly the hosts had more energy and impetus in attack, not usually something one could say about a team that hooks Ronaldo.

What's next?

After the international break, Juve face a tricky trip to Serie A's most prolific team Atalanta, while Milan host Napoli and former Rossoneri boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Maurizio Sarri's decision to rest Cristiano Ronaldo backfired as Juventus were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at promoted Lecce.

Matthijs de Ligt's handball enabled Marco Mancosu to score from the spot in the 56th minute and earn the hosts their first home point of the Serie A season at Stadio Via del Mare.

Paulo Dybala, the hero of Juve's midweek Champions League win over Lokomotiv Moscow, had not long earlier opened the scoring with a spot kick of his own.

But there was no late saviour for Sarri's men on this occasion, the loss of Miralem Pjanic to a muscle problem compounding a result that will force them back into second place if Inter beat Parma later on Saturday.

Juve felt aggrieved not to be awarded an early penalty for Panagiotis Tachtsidis' trip on Emre Can.

Further appeals were waved away when Danilo went down under close attention from Marco Calderoni.

Gonzalo Higuain did turn home Alex Sandro's angled drive in the 15th minute, but the goal was disallowed for offside following a VAR review.

The striker then guided a low shot across the face before Lecce goalkeeper Gabriel denied Dybala amid sustained Juve pressure.

There was no stopping the Argentina international from 12 yards five minutes after the interval, referee Paolo Valeri having finally pointed to the spot after replays confirmed Jacopo Petriccione's challenge on Pjanic took place in the box.

A second spot-kick quickly followed as Calderoni's cross from the left fizzed against De Ligt's arm.

Lecce captain Mancosu made no mistake and the Bianconeri's problems soon grew greater, with Federico Bernardeschi's failure to score after rounding Gabriel preceding Pjanic's forced withdrawal.

An injury issue for Mancosu effectively left Lecce, who had used up their substitutes, to defend with 10 men for the final 15 minutes.

But Leonardo Bonucci's errant volley was the closest Juve came to capitalising, the point ultimately edging them two ahead of second-placed Inter.

 

Paulo Dybala insisted Juventus are determined to "go all the way" in the Champions League after his late brace kept them on course for the knockout stages.

Dybala scored twice in two minutes as Serie A champions Juventus came from behind to defeat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 in in Tuesday's Group D clash in Turin.

It leaves Juve level with Atletico Madrid on seven points following their respective victories on matchday three and Maurizio Sarri's side are yet to taste defeat in all competitions this season.

Having secured eight successive Serie A titles, the Champions League is very much viewed as the holy grail for the Bianconeri – who have not won the competition since 1996 and were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Ajax last season.

Dybala – who struck in the 77th and 79th minute – admitted European success is a major target this season, given the squad at their disposal.

"We are a team with great experience and we are eager to go all the way in this competition," Dybala said. 

"I think we have enough quality to do more than we did in recent years.

"I'm very happy, I really needed two goals like this. It was a difficult game but you could really see the level of experience of our team. We always remained calm until we finally scored."

Sarri introduced Gonzalo Higuain from the bench early in the second half alongside Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo in a bid to turn the match around after Juve trailed to Aleksey Miranchuk's first-half goal.

"Now we won and you all say that we can play together. But if we were losing, the opinions would have been completely different," Dybala said.

"I just say that we need to keep working hard as we are doing. The coach has his own ideas and we fully trust him."

Juve head coach Sarri added: "It became a difficult game when we conceded that goal, but we did well not to lose our heads and then take more risks with more offensive players. We knew we could find a way back into the game.

"It was not an exceptional day, but we play every three days so a day like this can happen."

It was a tough result to stomach for Lokomotiv boss Yuri Semin, whose side defended resolutely until Dybala's fine curling effort broke their resistance.

"Of course, we are disappointed that we couldn't take anything out of what was a good game for us," Semin said.

"But it was logical - we didn't have enough strength in the end. I didn't make substitutions in the hope that we would survive the final push from Juve, but we didn't."

Paulo Dybala came to Juventus' rescue with two late goals as they came from behind to defeat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 in the Champions League.

Aleksey Miranchuk's first-half goal had looked set to cause a major upset in Tuesday's Group D clash in Turin until Argentina forward Dybala struck in the 77th and 79th minute.

Victory will come as a relief to boss Maurizio Sarri, who had seen his team struggle to break down a resolute Lokomotiv defence.

The result sees them keep pace in the table with Atletico Madrid, with the two sides looking well placed to reach the knockout phases after their respective successes on matchday three.

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