MILAN — It was meant to be the match where Mario Mandzukic showed he could be more than an understudy to Gonzalo Higuain this season.
Instead, the Croatia forward again appeared off form and disinterested as Juventus labored past Palermo 1-0 in Serie A on Saturday.
This was the first time the duo played together in a tactical experiment that appears to have failed. Juventus looked thoroughly unimpressive.
“Their job was to give options to the midfielders and I think they played well,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “They didn’t link up much between themselves, but that’s normal given their attributes. They worked hard and sacrificed themselves at the end.”
Juventus found it hard to break down a resilient Palermo side, and the only goal came about thanks to a slice of fortune for Allegri’s side three minutes after the break. Dani Alves’ long-range effort took a massive deflection off Edoardo Goldaniga’s heel, sending the ball past Palermo goalkeeper Josip Posavec.
Mandzukic netted 10 goals in his debut season at Juventus but has been overshadowed since Higuain arrived from rival Napoli for an Italian-record fee of 90 million euros ($99 million) in the offseason. He has yet to score in six matches, including four starts.
In Sicily, Mandzukic again failed to impress, wasting a free header in the first half and seeing a tame effort saved in the 70th, when he should have done better from close range.
The former Bayern Munich forward did have the ball in the back of the net moments later but he was offside when Dani Alves’ free kick was floated in. Video replays showed Mandzukic should have left it for Alex Sandro, who was in a similar position but onside.
Mandzukic, who played only the final 10 minutes of the midweek 4-0 victory over Cagliari, started in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Inter Milan, but Juventus looked much more threatening when he was replaced by Higuain with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Juventus remained a point clear of Napoli, which is the only unbeaten team in the league.
Next up, Allegri’s side is at Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday, when it needs a win after drawing with Sevilla 0-0 in their opening Champions League match.
NAPOLI 2, CHIEVO VERONA 1
Manolo Gabbiadini and Marek Hamsik proved Napoli’s attack is not all about Arkadiusz Milik and Jose Callejon as they fired the Partenopei to victory.
“Napoli is a team which has even more cards to play this season than last,” Chievo coach Rolando Maran said.
Milik and Callejon have scored nearly all of Napoli’s goals to grab the headlines and help ease the pain of Higuain’s departure.
Milik, who also scored a double against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, was rested ahead of Wednesday’s match against Benfica, although the Poland forward was brought on in the second half.
Callejon provided the assist for the 24th-minute opener, latching onto Hamsik’s chipped pass and cutting the ball back to Gabbiadini, who curled into the bottom left corner.
The second goal also came about from a delightful team move, with Lorenzo Insigne threading the ball through for Hamsik to finish off his 100th for Napoli.
“It’s a great achievement,” Hamsik said. “I’m very happy but results matter more than this. We are high in the table and that’s what’s important.”