For the first time in a long time, the real Bianconero spirit comes through in the Champions League, and against the holding winners too!
It's been almost a full day since referee Cuneyt Cakir blew the final whistle at Juventus Stadium and I've been rocking this album on repeat the whole time.
My love for Kanye's idiotic-turned-genius music aside, I believe it really epitomizes what Juventus did today. I'll do my best not to repeat what every other website/pundit has or will say about this game, but c'mon, we played the Champions League winners, in a must-win situation, in our brand new stadium, with zero-to-none European experience (as this core group), and we truly dominated almost every aspect of the clash while putting 3 goals past Petr Cech and keeping a clean sheet. Not only that, but the way in which we did it was beyond impressive. I'm rarely one to exaggerate performances but you saw it - apart from a couple chances on the break-away it was all Juventus for most of the game.
Ladies and gentlemen, your very own Juventus class of 2012!
Hokay, here's why I'm beating the dead horse with this Graduation theme. Some experienced, quality players may have worn the bianconero jersey within the past couple years (Buffon, Pirlo, Vucinic, Chiellini, and Barzagli come to mind), but if you really think about it, this is still a young team. A young project. Parts of it were already there, but the new path we've taken was laid out just 18 months ago, with a coach whose only coaching experience was leading minor Italian teams through the ranks of Serie B. Yet, here we are - Champions of Italy in the first year and after struggling to find our form in the Champions League, emerging victorious when it was most necessary. Is the job done yet? Far from it. But the first huge test in Europe came along and we passed it with flying colors. What was a nervous, boyishly-looking team when the CL group stage begun is now a determined, refocused, deadly team that rises to the occasion.
There will be ups and downs along the way - that is only normal. Heck, we could lose in Donetsk and not even qualify for the final rounds of the CL. But these players now know - they have been there, and they have done it before. They've elevated to that level of European competition with the pressure on their shoulders and the fatigue in their legs. They are no longer the kids that only win in Italy; they are the united, gritty, dangerous motherfuckers that represent Italy in the brightest of lights throughout Europe. It's time for teams all across the old continent to fear the Old Lady again.
Chelsea - People have and will say that Chelsea got lucky winning the Champions League last year, and they may be partially correct. Still, despite all that and their recent lack of wins, I still consider them a top quality team. In Torino, they tried to switch some things up to better show the quality of their team and players, but unfortunately for them it didn't work out.
Zonal Marking has already put up a pretty interesting opinion of Di Matteo's tactical breakdown, but I'll try to complement that view. Honestly, it was time Fernando Torres sat down from the start and Chelsea started using it's attacking midfielders in a more advanced role. The scoring talent among Mata, Hazard, and Oscar is definitely big enough to compensate for the lack of finishing Torres provides. Playing Hazard as a false 9 was very interesting, but I really think he failed to make the most of it. His strength is running at the defense, not playing with his back to the goal and letting it off for others. Playing as a false 9 should have enabled him to run with the ball even as the most advanced player in Chelsea's formation, but it didn't happen that much on the day. He's such a talented player that he can definitely do whatever is asked from him with decent success, but if you're going to get creative, might as well use your players in their most effective positions.
In addition, Di Matteo's 4-2-3-1 set up left a pretty big gap between the 2 holding midfielders and the attacking trio up top. Mata failed to track back, Ramires was at times more interested in a half-assed tackle hoping for a chance on the counter, all the while the MVP trio pushed forward more often and more determined. In fact...
Juventus - ...most of Chelsea's issues I opined about above really came from Juventus' ferocious attacks on goal. We saw glimpses of those attacks against Pescara and Lazio, but even in a high-risk game like today Juventus really pushed forward with numbers and pace. One thing I LOVE seeing in our midfield finally, is the switch of positions among the MVP. Up until the Inter match, all of Vidal, Pirlo, and Marchisio had their own slice of the midfield carved up and they mostly operated within it. Lately, the three have been moving around a lot more - and most importantly, there has been a lot more vertical movement rather than horizontal. We know we can control possession around the box at this point, but it was Marchisio's and Vidal's runs that were sorely missed in some of those stale games earlier this season.
Speaking of runs, the tactical "surprise on the night" if you will, came from the recently-frustrated Sebastian Lichtsteiner. Since the space between Mata and Ashley Cole was so big, the Swiss train of old was back at his best, running his heart out and often cutting in behind Cole and into the middle.
Buffon: 7.5 - The passion, grinta, and focus to win a game of today's challenge had to start from the very back and our tough-guy-in-pink capitano made sure that happened. Gigi was quiet, but superb. Rarely challenged by Chelsea's counter-attacks, he made his mark in the few occasions the ball came dangerously in his box. Somehow managed to block Hazard's early shot with his trailing leg, then pulled up right on time to close down Mata's angle on a potential volley. Also, not sure if you noticed, but he looked a lot more secure with long balls. When he would otherwise punch a swerving ball in a crowd, today he went up and confidently pulled most long balls to his chest before letting it off for one of our defenders. I'm personally ecstatic for his clean sheet - it was well deserved.
Barzagli: 7 - Was caught out of position only once or twice in defense and mostly stayed very tidy in the back. Not only that, but he spent a lot of time in Chelsea's half providing a back pass opportunity for Lichsteiner and Vidal who were trying to wreak havoc down the right.
Bonucci: 7.5 - It may be a bit generous, but c'mon - did you see that goal-saving sliding block? It was perfectly timed. That, his really nice and accurate balls to our wings out of the defense, and his pace to stay with Hazard, Mata, and Oscar on their bursts was more than enough for a 7.5 in my mind.
Chiellini: 7.5 - If Arturo Vidal's performance wasn't so effective on every end of the pitch, Chiellini would've been my man of match - easy. Vintage performance from our center back, whose only error was a bad pass which could've led to an early Chelsea goal. Other than that, he was ALWAYS either in front of his man or right there behind him to cause a disturbance, and did well to help out in attack as well.
Lichtsteiner: 7.5 - Now this is a Forrest Gump I can get used to! For the first time in a big game, the Swiss came out not only prepared mentally, but also on queue technically. Did ever so well to create down the right flank and was always an option for Pirlo and co. Was prevented from scoring early by a great reflex save from Cech, then continued to link up well with Vidal and Quagliarella. Gave Ashley Cole a lot of trouble. If only Mr. Eta Beta was a bit more generous at times, he would've bagged a goal for sure. Keep this up Stephan!
Pirlo: 7 - Early on I was petrified of his advanced position on the pitch. Given the nature with which our whole team attacked, I really hoped he would stay back more and try to hit up long balls over the defense as he usually does. While he managed to do so in decent volume, he also spent a lot of time right outside Chelsea's box, pressing and waiting to start up an attack. Thank God Marchisio and Vidal were around to switch with him and cover back when needed. He was rested, and it showed. A lot of his delivery was pin-point, and his set piece plays from corner kicks were a pleasant surprise. Oh, and this has to be mentioned - Pirlo tackled against Chelsea! He was getting stuck in and was determined to win that ball back. Great to see him play passionate defense as well.
Marchisio: 7 - Claudio's and Arturo's level of fitness is absolutely incredible. I recently read an article by James Horncastle in which Borussia Dortmund's coach talked about how being physically in shape and having stamina enabled you to perform and show your technical skill more effectively. I absolutely agree with that, and these two guys are an example of that each and every day. Principino had a great shot in the first half which Cech saved but most notably - everytime he was needed on the pitch, he was there. On offense, on defense, in midfield, on the flank, he was truly everywhere. Warrior.
Vidal: 8 - King Arturo is officially back. Rising to the occasion the same way he put Juventus on his back in the first leg in London, Vidal was, erm, vital for Juventus once again. Not only scoring that decisive second goal to put the game to rest, but his overall coverage of the field was spectacular. He notched a great assist on the third goal too. Again, warrior.
Asamoah: 7 - After a bit of a dip in form, Kwado was up against a solid centre-back-turned-full-back and a helping Azpilcueta the whole game. Still he managed to beat Ivanovic on a couple of runs and made the perfect back pass to Vidal for the second goal. Was obviously helped out by Stephan's more active role on the right which we have to see more of.
Quagliarella: 7 - Our most in-form striker continued his fine form with another goal in the Champions, again against Chelsea. His runs were a lot better today mostly because Vucinic did the bulk of the hold up play. When lined up alongside Giovinco, Gio's first touch can often betray him and spoil the run Quagliarella makes behind him. With Vucinic, the pass comes in a bit later but the control that Vucinic has makes it a lot easier for him to position himself correctly for the right run. A great instinct deflection on Pirlo's shot and a couple mild shots on goal at Cech was really what I mostly remember from him in the game. Key timing on that first goal though. Wish he is less selfish sometimes.
Vucinic: 6.5 - It may be harsh on the Montenegrin, but he missed a sitter in the box, took some wild shots when he should've passed the ball, and was too quiet at times. He did very well to put Asamoah through for the second goal and that shouldn't go unnoticed.
Caceres: 6.5 - Lichtsteiner ran so much that by the 60th minute he was visibly gassed. Caceres brought a fresh set of legs and his interception started the play for the 3rd goal.
Giovinco: 7 - Was energetic and immediately made an impact with his offense and then icing-on-the-cake goal. The goal didn't help his reputation of scoring only when we have a comfortable lead though.
Pogba: sv -
Conte/Alessio: 8 - It wasn't so much Conte's genius that won the game but the lack of one by Di Matteo. In fairness though, the way in which Juventus attacked made it very difficult on Chelsea to get out of their box on a more consistent basis. It was encouraging to see the faith the coach has in these players to pull off something like that in such an important game.
THINGS I THINK I THINK
Dat Stadium - Mamma mia what a crowd at the Juventus Stadium! That place was visibly shaking from minute 1 and the support that they gave our players was fantastic. Games like these is exactly what's going to make our fortress irreplaceable. The fans were absolutely fantastic.