F inally, another glorious European night in Turin! Reigning European Champions Chelsea FC visited the Juventus Stadium looking for the draw that would send them through to next round of the tournament with only the formality of beating Nordsjælland at home. Let’s just say they didn’t get what they came for! Here are Lars and John with the break down of the match that finally saw Juventus re-enter the hierarchy of top clubs.
MATCH ANALYSIS (by Lars Pedersen)
In what was a somewhat a surprise move, Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo decided to bench the under-performing Fernando Torres and start with Eden Hazard as a “false 9” in front of Mata, Oscar and the surprise inclusion Azpilicueta in a more advanced role. Much like in the group stage game between Italy and Spain at the European Championships, a striker-less formation did not manage to trouble the “BBC” back three too much, though.
During the opening minutes, the course of the game was laid out pretty clear: Juventus pressured aggressively while Chelsea were quite contend with sitting back and sending away their pacey and tricky front three on the break.
Both plans worked initially, as the Bianconeri piled on the pressure and created numerous chances in the first half hour, notably a Stephan Lichtsteiner finish in the fourth minute cleared onto the post by Petr Čech and a Claudio Marchisio long range shot after a smart corner-routine, again parried by the ‘keeper. At the other end, Chelsea looked very dangerous on the counter through Oscar, Mata and Hazard.
In the 25th, Andrea Pirlo tried a smart under-the-wall free kick, but Cech was alert. The game settled for a while, Juve still seeing the most of the ball, but just after the half hour mark, first Leonardo Bonucci and then Pirlo gave balls away to some threatening Chelsea plays.
However, the Juve pressure paid off soon after, as a hopeful Pirlo-shot was crucially deflected by Fabio Quagliarella, who made sure the ball got just enough spin to escape the unfortunate Cech in the visitors’ goal. Looking at the replay, Quags actually, like the effort so marvelously saved by Marchetti vs. Lazio at the weekend, had clear intend when putting his foot to the ball. As Top Strikers do!
Juventus continued to press on for the remainder of the half, resulting in a few half chances and a huge scare, as Mata was denied by Gigi Buffon at point blank range after another swift play by Hazard.
The second half continued as the first had finished, Juventus very much looking to extend their lead while the Blues still tried to penetrate the Juve defence with clever runs. Those were impressively stifled by the Bianconero back-line, whilst the home team threatened through Quagliarella and Pirlo before the hour.
At the 61st minute, the Chelsea defence was carved open via a long throw-in from Giorgio Chiellini, a smart pass from Mirko Vucinic to Kwadwo Asamoah who laid it back for Arturo Vidal to fire a shot (deflected by Ramires) into an open net. 2-0, and the Juventus Stadium erupted with a hitherto withheld roar of triumph and relief.
From the on it was rather smooth sailing for the Bianconeri, surrendering possession to the opposition, soaking up pressure and, crucially, not allowing for those dangerous counter attacks. The introduction of Victor Moses and Fernando Torres did little for Chelsea, whilst Martin Caceres came on for a burned-out Lichtsteiner to secure the right flank.
Chelsea naturally sought the crucial goals in the last half hour, but to no avail, or indeed any real threat. Instead, Vucinic skied a golden opportunity in the 74th. Later he would make way for Sebastian Giovinco who was set to come on for Quagliarella, but at the last minute it was the Montenegrin who opted out, seemingly still not entirely fit.
It proved a good move at any rate (Quags eventually subbed with Paul Pogba in the dying minutes), as Giovinco would go on to finish the game off, exploiting a quick counter-attacking move by simply prodding the ball home instead of taking on the bemused Cech, who was left rooted well outside his box.
LE PAGELLE (by John Cascarano)
Buffon 7.5 – At first I wanted to give Gigi a slightly above average score, only for lack of work. Then I began working off my notes, and considered the saves off of Hazard in the 9th minute off of a quick break, and off Mata who almost made it 1-1 during the first half. Although he otherwise had little else to worry about, those were pivotal saves at pivotal moments, and kept the game firmly in Juventus’ control. Extra .5 for always looking tidy on any dribbles or passes into the box, aggressively charging and scooping up any danger.
Chiellini 7.0 – Another solid performance by Giorgio. Cleared away any danger and himself looked dangerous in the air on set pieces. I could pretty much copy and paste his pagelle game after game.
Bonucci 7.0 – A couple of nice steals, and some slick defending by he and Barzagli off of a nice run of play by Ramires and Oscar. Constantly cleaning up in the back. I dare say…he’s looking like a sweeper.
Barzagli 6.5 – Andrea capped off a Juventus defense which holistically gave fans little to be concerned with on the night. Constantly stayed on his men and somehow kept up in foot races against fast-breaking (and much faster) attackers.
Asamoah 7.0 – Man, I love this guy. He didn’t seem like a typical left winger, and he really isn’t… but he’s getting the job done. Some nice fancy dribbling, good hustle, and some dangerous crosses, all night long. A great signing for his versatility alone.
Marchisio 8.0 – I will probably be ridiculed mercilessly for giving Principino such a high score, but he was simply all over the field. Constantly running in the midfield, darting through gaps in space on both sides off the ball, and if not for (yet another) beautiful Cech save, would have opened the floodgates himself in the first half.
Pirlo 6.5 – Has looked like a far more complete midfielder since joining Juventus, and nothing changed this evening. Every time he wins the ball, I get excited, but he’s been doing far more of that than I’d expected (bonus!). Credit for having the balls to constantly shoot from outside and make things happen (i.e. Quagliagol), but loses 0.5 for a dangerous giveaway in the 30th immediately after a wasted free kick straight at Cech.
Vidal 7.5 – Our Top Player, and our top striker, period (I know he’s not a striker, that’s the point). The model of consistency in the midfield, and – much like Marchisio – seems to have a knack for coming up with a vital goal in a pinch when the strikers are running dry.
Lichtsteiner 6.5 – Bombed up and down the field, nearly scored early on if not for Cech doing a Marchetti impression. A constant source of energy, I thought he was playing striker at times. Watching him shout at Quagliarella is always fun.
’68 Caceres 6.0 – Martin provided Stefan with some rest, and got off some nice crosses from the right side. This team is looking very deep.
Vucinic 6.5 – Overall played well. Looked sharp, and moved well with the ball in tight spaces. Loses a .5 for missing a sitter in the second half that would have put the game away for certain (earlier).
’83 Giovinco 6.5 – Provided a perfect spark off the bench, playing well and making things happen immediately. Scored a goal off of a beautiful finish off of a beautiful run, but loses a .5 for proving that Napoleon’s complex is indeed real, and earning a foolish yellow card for removing his shirt afterwards. Hey, Seba… you’re not that jacked.
Quagliarella 7.0 – Seemed to be trying too hard at first, with a couple of desperate shots straight to the keeper. Finally got it right this time, as a deflection off of Pirlo’s boot found its way past Cech (unlike against Marchetti last weekend).
’89 Pogba s.v. – Could you imagine being 19 years old and even warming up on the sidelines before a Champions League match against the defending champions? Neither could I. Glad he got some mop-up minutes at the end.
Conte / Alessio 9.0 – Completely out-managed, out-prepared, and out classed Di Matteo. The staff have done well thus far with one Conte tied behind their back.
ANALYSIS WRAP-UP (by Lars Pedersen)
Apart from the individual displays, impressive as they were, what Juventus should take away from this game is the very simple fact that they could. Being dominant in Italy doesn’t necessarily transfer to the European stage, especially not in these times of crisis.
In holding her ground firmly and resoundingly against a team that is de facto an improved version of the one winning the Champions League six months ago, the Old Lady has every reason to believe that the progress she has made is indeed worthy of some of her previous incarnations. Finally.
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