Juventus travelled to Glasgow on Tuesday for their first Champions League knockout tie in three years and much was made of the challenge facing them. With Celtic having only lost two of their last 23 European fixtures – both to Barcelona – and with homage being paid to the power of the Park Head atmosphere by all connected with the Bianconeri, it was set to be a huge test for Antonio Conte’s men.
MATCH ANALYSIS by Adam Digby
“With all due respect, this is going to be a bigger challenge than anything domestically,” said Andrea Pirlo when discussing this Champions League meeting last week. He was talking about the gulf in quality between the Scottish Premier League and Europe’s elite completion, as he stated a belief that the Glasgow club had earned their place in the last sixteen by displaying qualities the midfielder and his colleagues are all too aware of.
However, given the relative ease at which the current campaign is going for Italy’s grandest club at home, he could have also been referring to the challenge facing the Bianconeri over the two legs of this tie. While Juve may not have the same fifteen point lead Celtic currently enjoy in the Scottish Premier League, the Serie A season has developed into something of a canter for Juventus. They may have won just three of the six games since returning to action after the winter break, yet have still managed to maintain a five point gap to their closest challengers Napoli.
The recent run of poor results is perhaps the closest thing to a crisis the Turin giants have endured over the year and a half since their former captain took Gigi Delneri’s place on the bench. He came into this match knowing he must do without the ever dependable Giorgio Chiellini in defence and shorn of both his first and second choice left wingbacks. With Kwadwo Asamoah (rested following Afcon duty) and Paolo De Ceglie (injured yet again) missing, the selection of Federico Peluso was perhaps the one debatable choice in the starting XI.
That aside, Conte went with the inform duo of Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic in attack and his choices there and elsewhere were vindicated within four minutes. If the Juve coach made the right decision to rest Asamoah, his opposite number Neil Lennon probably wished he’d done the same regarding Efe Ambrose, who was part of Nigeria’s victorious team just 48 hours previously. Matri’s clever flick from Peluso’s long ball forward left both the defender and ‘keeper Fraser Forster stranded and, despite his shot appearing to be cleared off the line – then slammed home by Claudio Marchisio – the striker was rightly awarded his sixth goal in six games.
Chris Commons was then unlucky to see an incredible overhead effort whistle just wide as he gave Peluso a torrid time at the far post, but from there the game descended into a war of attrition. This culminated in a ridiculous amount of attention being paid to Gary Hooper and Stephan Lichtsteiner basically wrestling at almost every corner. The Celtic player was looking to obstruct Gigi Buffon with the Swiss defender seeking to prevent that at all costs and both men went into the book for their efforts.
Juve’s patient approach paid off as they outlasted Celtic, the Hoops players visibly tiring with around twenty minutes to go after a superb display of pressing up to that point. The Bianconeri broke out to net twice more, effectively burying the tie with ninety minutes still to play. Conte will prevent them from becoming complacent but, to all intents and purposes, as Spanish referee Undiano Mallenco blew the final whistle, he effectively signalled full time on the Champions League season for the Scots.
LE PAGELLE by Adam Digby
Gianluigi Buffon 7.0 - Made a number of routine saves in the opening 45 minutes whilst seeming thoroughly unimpressed by the Hooper vs Lichtsteiner war going on around him. Was utterly dominant at virtually every corner, making the defence almost redundant and negating the drama.
Andrea Barzagli 7.0 - Claudio Zuliani calls him ‘The Rock’ and, while his Swiss team-mate was the one showing off WWE moves Dwayne Johnson would be proud of, Barzagli was doing what Barzagli does. Just impenetrable at the heart of Juve’s defence.
Leo Bonucci 6.5 - Far less involved than usual, he had just 49 touches and completed only 37 passes but was defensively sound, just as he needed to be. His two game domestic ban seemed not to affect him and he slotted back into the line up comfortably.
Martin Caceres 7.5 - Following some poor performances, the Uruguayan stepped up to fill the huge Chiellini shaped hole at the back for Juventus here. Only Arturo Vidal made more tackles than he did while his six interceptions were a game high. Often left exposed by Peluso’s ball watching, Caceres was equal to the task in a superb display.
Stephan Lichtsteiner 6.5 - Like Bonucci, he was far less involved offensively than usual but did his job defensively as well as anyone. Defending deep. he still gave opposite number Emilio Izaguirre a torrid time when opportunity presented itself.
Arturo Vidal 6.5 - Another who gave a typical performance, Vidal pressed and harried Celtic’s midfield and defenders relentlessly and was a major factor in wearing down their resistance. His game was perfectly suited to this encounter as his incredible work rate and limitless energy came to the fore.
Andrea Pirlo 7.0 - For just over an hour, Scott Brown did a superb job in tracking and haranguing Pirlo, perhaps a perfect indicator of how this game played out. In the last thirty minutes his class, like that of Juventus, eventually told and he dominated the closing stages.
Claudio Marchisio 8.5 - The boy is just class. A dominating, commanding display from the Turin native who more than anyone played with a control and intelligence so vital to Conte’s game plan. Broke forward with perfect timing, not least to finish from Matri’s superb flick for the second goal.
Federico Peluso 6.5 - Superb going forward, his naivety and ball watching in defence could and perhaps should have proven far more costly for the Bianconeri. Also fortunate not to punished for an elbow to Kris Commons, his display was yet another which highlighted the importance of Asamoah to this Juventus.
Simone Padoin 5.5 - Came on following Peluso’s injury, did very little other than receive a yellow card.
Alessandro Matri 7.5 - Worked hard and had the quality finishing touch when needed, this was the kind of display that his supporters feel vindicates his spot in the team. His ability to hold up the ball and make the right pass – often an overlooked facet to his game – were essential to the win and relieved pressure on Juventus during the spells where Celtic dominated the match.
Paul Pogba sv - Played for ten minutes but was barely involved.
Mirko Vucinic 6.5 - Yet again showed that Juve really don’t have a functioning strike partnership to speak of, he struggled in this game. Blew an incredible chance to make it 2-0 far earlier than Marchisio’s second strike, he eventually popped up with the third goal which effectively ended the tie from a competitive stand point.
Nicolas Anelka sv - Made his Juventus debut just four minutes from time.
Antonio Conte 8.0 - Totally changed Juve’s approach and style of play while making a brave choice to go with the under-performing Caceres and Padoin. All those decisions paid off, as did the move to grant extra rest to Asamoah. Seemed to get everything right, very few coaches will have enjoyed such a wonderful Champions League debut.
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP by Adam Digby
“If they want to play football, we’ll play football. But if they want to battle, we are ready to go to battle,” said Pirlo in the build up to the match and so it proved. Both teams had their tactical approaches misrepresented in the build up to this game. Celtic, in almost every preview of the game, were tipped to play a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation, depending on the fitness of Georgios Samaras.
The Greek striker did not prove to be ready in time however, but Neil Lennon instead set out in a 4-3-2-1 shaped designed to frustrate and nullify the threat of the Bianconeri midfield. With Commons and James Forrest making up numbers, Celtic’s game plan was clear as the sought to attack via the flanks and looked to exploit wide areas behind the Juve fullbacks.
For Juventus, Conte did away with the possession based style of football we have grown accustomed to seeing. In its place came a side prepared to sit deep, allow Celtic to come on to them before striking on the counter attack using Pirlo’s précising passing and the speed of Lichtsteiner, Marchisio and Matri. It was essentially vindicated by the final scoreline which, while it did not reflect the tough and hard fought nature of the game, did ultimately highlight the difference in class between the two teams.
With the tie now effectively over, Conte will need to balance his selection for the next match carefully as it will undoubtedly provide the opportunity to rest one or two players and give others a decent run out at a stage of the competition they may otherwise be unable to experience. A superb display that means such breathing room is undoubtedly deserved. Bravo ragazzi!
ANTONIO CONTE IL NOSTRO CAPITANO!
Celtic 0-3 Juventus – All 3 Goals plus Highlights Video