Juventus found themselves in the unusual position of making their second visit to Turkey in the space of three months for an encounter that would determine whether or not they advance to the next stages of European competition.
This game was a far cry from the debacle against Galatasaray last December. This game was more of a walk in the park. The game at the Ataturk was like overcoming one of those mud-filled military obstacle courses. Add some wooden poles and barbed wire to the field and it would have been. Literally.
The game versus Galatasaray was, due to earlier incompetence in the group stages as well as circumstances I've eluded to above, an incredibly uncomfortable game that ended with a real sour taste in the mouth for all Juventini.
Coming into Thursday night's game with a 2-0 lead, there was a completely different feel to it and it had a much more relaxed atmosphere. Nevertheless, the Juve players came flying out of the traps and took the initiative immediately. Almost as if Antonio Conte had warned the team to finish this tie off early so that the team could start preparing for Sunday's big game against Milan.
It only took four minutes for Juve to create their first real opportunity of the game with Mauricio Isla's shot being deflected onto the upright. This moment would set the tone for Isla for the night, as the Chilian spent most of the game attacking the right hand flank and causing a lot of problems for the Trabzonspor defence.
Another player who has not been as integral to Juve this season as he would have liked is Claudio Marchisio, and his performance in the regista role was very encouraging. In the space of a few early first half minutes Il Principino had a good effort on goal and put in a muscular tackle in midfield which led to an attack and Arturo Vidal chance. This high-tempo start from Juve was suiting the energetic Marchisio and as the game progressed, he started to show how good his passing range was. Something he normally doesn't get the opportunity to display.
As the minutes started to pass Juve started creating chance after chance. Paul Pogba had a great effort on goal and shambolic defending from Trabzonspor saw multiple efforts from Juve players following a corner which ended with a Federico Peluso strike ruled out for offside.
Conte was becoming irate on the sidelines due to the lack of decisiveness in front of goal but his emotions soon turned to joy after some brilliant interplay between Sebastian Giovinco and Dani Osvaldo led to the opener in the 17th minute by who else but Vidal. This was the Chilean internationals 17th goal of the season. Not bad for a midfielder.
As the first half progressed, Giovinco and Osvaldo's performances improved and their movement was causing havoc in the Trabzonspor defence. This was a team that had not been beaten in the previous seven Europa League games they had played at home this season.
Granted, there is clearly a gap in quality between this competition and the Champions League. The way in which Juve tore apart the Trabzonspor defence was very impressive. It was a very different game to the first leg affair and Juve captain Gigi Buffon could have been playing Flappy Bird on his phone (if he had downloaded it in time) for most of the first half without any problems.
Juve did ease off the gas for a period after the opening goal, but in the 32nd minute some more brilliant play led to the second goal of the night. A beautifully weighted pass (à la Pirlo) from Marchisio to Giovinco who then crossed for Osvaldo to nod it home saw Juve essentially book their place in the last 16 with an hour left on the clock. Conte clearly felt this was the case as he replaced Pogba with Simone Padoin 10 minutes before half time, clearly with one eye on the San Siro at the weekend.
With such a big lead in the game the second half essentially became a non-event. Giovinco, Osvaldo and Padoin all came close to extending Juve's lead and Ogbonna was unlucky not to get awarded a penalty. Conte replaced Martin Caceres and Marchisio with Andrea Barzagli and Andrea Pirlo, respectfully. Both players had put in a good shift and with Vidal's suspension against Milan the 20 minutes rest to Marchisio made sense.
The scoreline tonight was the same as the first leg but they were very different affairs. This performance was impressive in every department and saw many players who have found themselves on the periphery of the first team perform to a really high level. This is very encouraging for Conte and a huge credit has to go to him for getting such a positive attitude from each and every one of his squad players.
You can see that the tournament means a lot to the team with the final being in Juventus Stadium and progression to the last 16 in Trabzponsor will go somewhat towards exorcising those ghosts of Istanbul last December.
Awaiting Juve in the last 16 happens to be Serie A rivals Fiorentina, a team that will also provide Conte's side with the opportunity to exorcise some ghosts of the recent past. Although that defeat in Florence perhaps kick started Juve's season in earnest I'm sure Conte and co will be out for revenge. The fact that both legs are immediately following the Serie A meeting between both clubs makes it all the more intriguing. Let's not forget that Juve and Fiorentina met in the UEFA Cup Final in 1990. I'm sure Juventini will accept a similar scoreline in the next round.
Buffon: 6.5 – Was a passenger for most of the game, but when called upon was up to the job. A familiar days work for San Gigi.
Caceres: 6.5 – A good performance from the Uruguayan in what was not the most challenging night defensively.
Bonucci: 7 – in the absence of Chiellini and Barzagli was the defensive leader tonight.
Ogbonna: 7 - An impressive performance that will improve his confidence. Made some attacking runs one of which could have resulted in a penalty.
Isla: 7.5 – One of the Chileans better performances in a Juve shirt. Turned back the clock to his Udinese days with some marauding runs and crosses down the right hand side. Unlucky not to score early in the first half.
Vidal: 7.5 – Showed great hunger and desire to be there for the opening goal when most midfield players would not be following up. His goals will be vital in Europe.
Marchisio: 7.5 - Great to see him performing so competently in the vice-Pirlo role. Conte will have been impressed with his application and ability on the ball
Pogba: 6.5 – This was almost a SV for the Frenchman as he wasn't really an integral part of the game. Had a nice effort on goal prior to being substituted.
Peluso: 7.0 – Covered the left flank well and had a goal ruled for offside in the first half. Wasn't really tested defensively.
Giovinco: 8.0 – Really impressive performance from the diminutive forward. Excellent movement and passing throughout. The only thing lacking was a goal. Combined really well with strike partner Osvaldo
Osvaldo: 7.5 – Has fitted very well into Conte's side. Scored his second goal in two Europa League games. His signing has already been justified.
Padoin: 6.5 – Came on early for Pogba in a game that was already decided. Almost scored in the second half.
Conte: 7.5 – Credit has to go to Conte in how Juve took this game by the scruff of the neck. These Europa League ties will provide some valuable European experience for him.
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