One year later, same stage of the Champions League, same feeling of frustration for Juventus fans…
Once again the UEFA Champions League returned for the knockout stages of the tournament, and once again Juventus fans were dealt a swift and harsh dose of reality when it comes to their hopes of witnessing the Old Lady lift a trophy that she has been unable to grasp since 1996.
Pre-game most conversations centered around Juventus absentees, most notably Cuadrado who despite his defensive limitations has proved valuable when it comes to the offensive side to his role as wing back. Also missing would be Arthur, who prior to injury was finally beginning to make a difference in what overall has been a very average midfield, something that would quickly become apparent during tonight’s game. The other question was who would start up front to partner Ronaldo? Out of form Morata? Or would Pirlo try something different by starting Kulusevski instead?
Danilo, De Ligt, Chiellini, Alex Sandro
Rabiot, Bentancur, McKennie, Chiesa
Juventus took to the field in their usual 4-4-2, which of course changed throughout the game into “something something Ronaldo up front”. Unsurprisingly both Alex Sandro and Danilo started in the wide defensive areas with De Ligt and Chiellini as the centre partnership, with options lacking Pirlo once again trusted Rabiot and Bentancur to play alongside each other in the centre of midfield, despite both being similar in the roles that they play.
On paper Juventus would be considered favourites to progress to the quarter finals at the expense of Porto, but as everyone knows the game of football is not played on paper. However, even the most pessimistic fan wouldn’t have expected Juventus to begin the night as badly as they did.
It took a full 61 seconds for Juventus make their first critical mistake, and it would come at the price of a Porto goal, Szczesny passing the ball roughly 5 yards to Bentancur on the edge of the penalty area who then somehow managed to underhit his passback to Szczesny and allow Taremi to capitalize and put the ball beyond Szcesny for 1-0. Worst start possible.
Despite this mistake, Juventus seemed hellbent on trying to repeat it, as the defence and goalkeeper continued to persist with the notion of playing out from the back… Despite Porto eagerly pressing and closing down the space to force Juventus into making another costly mistake.
This would continue throughout the opening half. With 22 minutes on the clock Juventus once again proved to be their own worst enemy, this time Szcesny taking the role of villain as he passed the ball straight to Sergio Oliveira who would have his shot blocked by De Ligt to spare Tek’s blushes. Things got worse after the half hour mark, as captain Chiellini would have to be replaced by Demiral, one can only hope that it is not a serious injury with the defence already missing Bonucci through injury also.
Around the 40th minute Juventus would finally have a serious effort on goal, Ronaldo taking the role of provider to whip a cross in from a set piece position that was headed down for Rabiot to attempt an overhead kick style effort on goal, but the alert goalkeeper was able to prevent the ball from hitting his net for 1-1.
Juventus began the second half as they did the opening 45, by conceding an early goal. This time Marega made the Old Lady pay with a run into the penalty area and a strike to put the ball beyond Sczesny for 2-0. At this point fans could be forgiven for thinking to themselves just how bad could this night get.
Pirlo’s side continued to play at a lethargic pace and play right into their opponents hands, who happily gave away possession and waited for an opening to quickly hit Juve on the counter attack. Pirlo would finally make a change (albeit after over an hour of the game played) by replacing McKennie with Morata, who would go on to have a good attempt on goal but to the surprise of no one was offside anyway.
Then, in the final ten minutes of the game Juventus fortunes took a turn for the good, Rabiot making a run into Porto penalty area only to cut the ball back for Chiesa who met it first time for a shot on goal from 14 yards out and scored what could be a vital away goal. 2-1. There was more drama to come however, as with roughly a minute left to be played Ronaldo went to ground inside Porto penalty area and appealed for a late penalty, the referee was having none of it, much to the frustration of Juventus number 7.
Should it have been a penalty? Well, it was much a case of “I’ve seen them given” but in this case the referee thought no, however it was disheartening to see the referee have zero interest in reviewing the incident on the pitch side monitor, especially what many deemed a soft penalty decision made during the previous nights meeting between Barcelona and PSG.
Pirlo and Juventus have problems, big problems. Not for the first time Juventus struggled against an opponent predominantly set up to defend in numbers, willingly conceding possession and hit Juventus on the counter attack, and time after time those attacks were more than a concern for bianconeri fans watching.
There is a difference between controlling games and being allowed possession by the opponent, tonight was very much a case of the latter.
Dealing with the high press is also an issue for this Juventus team, as no matter what happened around them the defence continued, some might say stubbornly, to play out from the back. Porto, on several occasions successfully pressed and closed down the space as Juventus played their usual slow build up play.
Another issue is the lack of quality in midfield, especially for a manager that wants his side to play short passing football. The problem occurs when that team lacks a playmaker in the midfield to split defences with their passing and bring teammates into the play with those moves, the closest player Juventus have to that type is Arthur who happens to be injured which in itself is a problem.
Similar to the previous result against Napoli the attack was toothless and caused few problems for Porto until the end of the night when Porto seemed to switch off after persistent defending for Chiesa’s goal. On the positive side, Juventus have an away goal and are only behind by one goal.
History has shown time after time how important the away goal can be in deciding these ties, Juventus have theirs, but will need to ensure that Porto are denied that luxury in the second leg to have any hope of progressing, and improving on the previous seasons limp exit to Lyon at the same stage of the competition.
Written by GRAEME