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UEFA Champions League

End of Higuain goal drought must spark massive improvement

2:15 AM GMT+4 08/12/2016
Gonzalo Higuain Juventus Dinamo Zagabria
The €90 million man was again outperformed by Mario Mandzukic against Dinamo Zagreb but his sweet strike will hopefully propel him on to bigger and better things


An acute sense of timing is essential for any top striker. Gonzalo Higuain's had been betraying him for over a month. It returned on Wednesday - just when both he and Juventus needed it most.

Higuain helps Juve take top spot

In the context of Champions League Group H, Higuain's sweet second-half strike was important, as it broke the deadlock in a game that the Bianconeri needed to win in order to ensure that they will be seeded in the last-16.

However, it was also hugely significant for the fact that it ended a worrying run of four games without a goal. Not since November 2 had Higuain netted for Juve. Even that last goal, against Lyon, had come from the penalty spot.

Furthermore, Higuain had also missed a sitter in that game, after being teed up by the tireless Mario Mandzukic. The Croat has been outperforming his fellow forward ever since, a worrying state of affairs for the €90 million summer signing from Napoli.

Consequently, with coach Massimiliano Allegri revealing on the eve of the visit of Dinamo Zagbreb that Paulo Dybala was ready to return from injury, there was the very distinct possibility that Higuain might lose his place in the Juve starting line-up for the weekend's derby clash with Torino.

He still might, of course, but Higuain's fine goal might just have changed things. Certainly, Higuain was once outperformed by Mandzukic. The Croat has been at his brilliant, bustling best for Juve in recent weeks. Against Atalanta at the weekend, he was everywhere: causing havoc in attack but also dropping back to help out his defence.

It was a similar story against Dinamo, with the former Bayern Munich man even popping up at full-back to make a crucial intervention at a time when the game was still in the balance.

Higuain, by contrast, was struggling to justify his inclusion. He was bought to score goals – and he wasn’t delivering. Not even against one of the weakest teams that the Champions League has ever seen (Dinamo have become only the third side to fail to score in the Champions League group stage). Not even when he was put in on goal, as happened just five minutes into the game.

Mandzukic (who else?) claimed a long ball forward and helped it on to Miralem Pjanic, who had been moved into a trequartista role within a new 3-4-1-2 formation with the dual goal of getting not only the best out of the Bosnian but also the Argentine attacker in front of him.

However, although Pjanic promptly lobbed a pass into Higuain’s path, the No.9 was denied by the feet of teenage goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. His frustration only grew from there, manifesting itself in a reckless challenged that earned him a merited yellow card.

At that point, a dismissal seemed as likely as a goal but Higuain kept going and, luckily for him, Lemina did too when he ran into several defenders on the edge of the Dinamo area early in the second half. The French midfielder looked to have lost possession but he powered through and the ball broke invitingly for Higuain, who smashed it home to end both the visitors’ resistance and his own goal drought.

With Dybala having featured for the final 15 minutes, Higuain might just have bought himself more time to justify his transfer fee.