Celtic came through on all the things we expected from the fighting Scottish - an amazing home-ground atmosphere, a furious pace of the game for 60 minutes, a very physical, at times comical Champions League encounter, but so did Juventus show their most important qualities - preparedness, grinta, and rising to the top when most necessary.
3 goals up with a return leg at our own stadium - gotta say i am feeling really confident we got this tie wrapped up already. All we need to do is not mess up something good, and knowing the character of our coach and players I am fairly certain we won't relax too much and give this away.
I can go on and on about the "clinical" side we saw today from our Bianconeri, but let's all be honest - you are as surprised by the 3 goal difference in the end as I am. I don't think anyone in their right, objective mind considered this result a realistic outcome before the start of the match, no matter your bold ass predictions to friends in passing.
Nonetheless, Juventus did turn out to be brutally clinical in front of goal, scoring a key goal early, then tiring wasteful Celtic out, and finally putting the nails in the coffin with two late goals in the second half.
In summary, a wonderful result for our team that was well prepared for what was coming and took what was given to them in brutal fashion. Well done boys, we are all as proud of you as we can be - enjoy the convincing triumph and make sure to tie this thing up in the return leg at home. We'll worry about who and what comes next when we get to that bridge in a week's or more time.
Celtic - The 4-5-1 set up by Neil Lennon couldn't have been more on point for the type of team Juventus are in away Champions League games. Conte was always going to try and stick with our team's strengths and a 3-5-2 was unlikely to change for this game as well. Celtic fielded a physical and motivated line up full of energy in midfield and a lot of scrappiness up front. Not only that, but the intense, high pressing by Celtic in the first half gave Pirlo and our defense a lot of trouble taking the ball out of the back and keeping it on the ground.
Unfortunately for Celtic, Juventus were deadly from the very beginning in taking their hard-to-come-by chances. In the very first minutes of the match, a wonderful ball by Peluso found Matri one-on-one with the keeper and the newly refreshed striker finished the chance cooly for his first ever Champions League goal for Juventus. Celtic's defenders almost cleared his shot off the line, but it wouldn't have mattered as Marchisio was going to finish the rebound anyways. Either way, Juventus had the early lead and struck first right in the middle of the deafening Celtic Park - always a good place to be at when playing in a hostile environment.
Then Celtic got tired of running around after an hour and Juventus took over the result completely. Matri set Marchisio up brilliantly with a one-touch pass for the beautiful second goal, while the latter set up Mirko for the third and final goal in Celtic's hearts.
Juventus - Conte had a hard game to prepare for during the weekend for the Viola derby, but Juve's strategy against Celtic was evidently on queue and well practiced. We defended, but never too deep. We played the counter and took advantage of Celtic's over-enthusiastic and quality-lacking defense. We tried keeping possession at times, and definitely failed at that, but kept our composure and fought Celtic's pressure with maximum possible calm and control given the situation. You can really call it either way - we either played the perfect game or the perfectly lucky game. Whichever the case, we took Celtic head on, played our butts out in the middle of the deafening Celtic Park, and walked away with a comfortable victory and left our opponents deflated. You have to give it to the team, players, and coaching staff for pulling this off.
Buffon: 7.5 - I'll try not to get carried away with the superlatives and generous ratings today, but can already feel that I will. Here's my explanation for Buffon's 7.5 - he didn't have to produce any goal-saving interventions throughout the match, but anything the wasteful Scots threw at him he was prepared for and handled with ease. Was right there to smother most corner kicks - an area in which Celtic was supposed to be dominant in. And lastly, he was a very, very calming presence in the last line of defense. Celtic lacked quality to finish any of their chances, that's true, but having the ever-present Buffon in front of them certainly made the task even harder. Overall, a very solid performance by our keeper and leader.
Barzagli: 7.5 - A 7 would've simply been too harsh on Andrea. He admittedly started the game off very slow and shaky, misplacing passes and giving Commons just a little too much space. But then he gathered himself as he got used to Celtic's way of play and made some key interceptions.
Bonucci: 7 - I got frustrated with his long passing attempts when all we needed to do is keep the ball in possession and on the ground. Nonetheless, Leo played a spirited 90 minutes in Scotland and fought physicality with equal drive and composure. Good to have him back after his domestic league suspension.
Caceres: 7.5 - Replacing Chiellini in that backline is no easy task, but if there is one thing you can count on Caceres to do is match Giorgio's no-nonsense style of play in defense. Had some great clearances and overall was there to intercept and clear tricky through balls or shots in our area. Covered a lot of space when Peluso made his ballsy runs forward. Very, very positive performance by the Uruguayan.
Lichtsteiner: 7.5 - Yeah I may sound like a broken record, but Steiner RAN HIS HEART OUT all game against the spirited Celts. His "protection" of Buffon on corners reached almost legendary status, and one has to admit - you have to have guys like him on your team in games like these. Offensively he timed his runs just slightly off, but was always there as an option on the counter.
Pirlo: 7 - Label me harsh, but Pirlo failed to cope with the physicality the Scots used to shut him down. Misplaced a lot of passes and he seemed genuinely affected by the atmosphere and high pressure by Celtic. Eventually came into his own late in the game but when it was most necessary - in those first 60 minutes - I thought he failed to be the calming presence everyone needed him to be. I was personally looking for an Effenberg-type performance; the legendary German was absolutely stone cold when it came to putting the ball down on the ground and keeping possession against head-loose, physical teams that lacked technical quality. He could've and should've done better overall.
Marchisio: 9 - I feel it's almost impossible to truly measure Marchisio's performance with a single digit grade. He did so many things right on the night. He defended (well, more like guarded zone space) very well, he covered for Pirlo and Peluso when needed, he tracked back, he stepped on the ball when given space, he got rid of the ball smartly when pressured, he scored when presented with the smallest of windows, and he assisted Mirko with the right pass for the third goal. If Matri hadn't made that genius one-touch pass for Marchisio's goal, our Principino would've been my man of match. Actually, screw it, he is my MOTM. Just plain out honest opinion. Huge kudos to our "hidden leader" on the night who carried us in many different ways. Needless to say, I love this guy and have nothing but respect for him. The past, present, and future of Juventus.
Vidal: 7.5 - Started off a bit on the ineffective side, though made it all up with his grinta and perseverance (as usual). Was a constant torn in Celtic's aim to control the pace and the dynamics of the game. Offensively lacked some determination and was (perhaps by instruction) focused on the defensive duties a lot more throughout the whole match. Still, he's key for us when we intentionally play this style of football.
Peluso: 7.5 - Atta boy, that's the simplest way I can put it. The newcomer stepped up in a huge role, played with no respect towards the thugs that were Celtic on the night, and ran a shit ton to provide width in attack all the while keeping his left side tidy in the back. He may actually deserve an 8, though I feel a bit generous giving it to him. Loved his cockiness (as I mentioned against Fiorentina) - hopefully it's something that can rub off on poor old De Ceglie who still, after all these years, plays like every single touch he makes will make or break his career.
Vucinic: 7 - I'm usually one to over-appreciate Mirko's contribution, but it's hard to do so after that performance. Yes, he scored the third and final goal cooly, but did very little throughout the game in his position and failed to hold up ball when given the opportunity. It was always going to be unlikely for him to put in such a spirited performance like the one against Fiorentinta - the Montenegrin just isn't one for back to back passion games. Gladly for us, Ale Matri is still going strong...
Matri: 8.5 - ...and playing like he's finally found his place and joy on this team again. Matri ran back and helped out on defense A LOT! Nothing to scoff at. He also made every correct run either out wide or through the middle. He took his chance in the first few minutes with a lot of composure, then kept on pushing. Had a brilliant one time pass to set up Marchisio for the second goal. A non-flashy yet beautiful performance by Matri who's now not only scored in 3 games in a row, but has a (crucial) Champions League goal under his belt. Welcome back Sir, I'll be the first one to admit I doubted you will ever come back to make such contributions in this stage of the season, but I'm glad Conte stuck with you and you are repaying him back in style. Just please, oh please, keep this run going. Even for just a little while longer.
Conte: 8 - Just like the game against Chelsea, Conte was ready when most needed. He kept his formation but switched the style of play significantly. He played the right defensive style but never gave up too much depth. Did he get a bit lucky that Juve scored 3 goals and just made him look like a genius? Hells yeah. Sometimes though, you make your own luck. I firmly believe that was the case today.
THINGS I THINK I THINK
Celtic - all thug, no quality - I just have to get this out of my system - Celtic did not deserve to play in this round of the Champions League. I'm not hatin', okay maybe I am a tiny bit, but c'mon - their lack of actual football quality was so evident on the night. They looked to hack hack/chop chop more often than any other team I've seen in a long time, and other than putting crosses in the box and hoping for a miracle had no idea how to actually score a goal. Sides in Serie B are better technically and could've easily punished us with a goal or two if they could play with such physical intensity. I give them credit for fighting hard, but at the end of the day all they proved to be are thugs who can run and wrestle while knowing very little about the finesse part of the game. That's what ultimately led to their own demise, combined with Juventus sudden ability to be "clinical."