IVO'S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PRELUDE REFLECTION
I did one of these rants for the first Real Madrid game review, why not do one for the second too.
Not sure if you guys share this sentiment, but I feel like these two games were two missed opportunities to show the world that Juventus can beat even a team like Real Madrid.
Is Juventus actually a better team than Real? Let's not kid ourselves here - Real is overall superior. But because football is beautiful like that, pit any two teams together that have something to play for and you just cannot predict the result. Especially when on one side you have a fighting team like our Bianconeri.
After a disappointing result in Madrid where we all felt like we deserved a lot more from that game, the second round in Torino left me with a similarly sour taste in my mouth - regret.
At halftime, I was in a huge personal struggle to hide my elation of our performance in fear we would give it all away in the second half. Which we almost did. But man, that first half was beautiful. Could it have been better? Yes, we could've taken a couple more of our chances and really put Real to the test. But the way we played, we fought, we suffocated Real in almost every sense...that was spectacular. Vidal's world-class penalty was the cherry on top.
Then the second half came and our whole team sat back, inviting Real to score. Which, of course, they did. You can blame individuals (and later I will), but in summary we allowed Real to play at their strengths and they punished us like any big team would.
At the end of 90 minutes, the result was fair, but the opportunity cost of our second half performance was way too high for me to be satisfied. Regretfully, David once again failed to beat Goliath. There is plenty to take from our performance, but man, I just wish we crossed that bar. You know, the way we crossed a similar bar last year against Chelsea.
I'm keeping my head up high though, proud of the team I support each and every day. We'll just have to finally learn some things, fill the holes that are still gaping on our squad, and get 'em next time!
Conte turned to his now tried and tested 4-3-3 with Bonucci coming in for Chiellini in defense, Caceres on the right, and makeshift left back Asamoah on the left. Marchisio played on the right in an attacking midfield role, Tevez spread play on the left, and Llorente was right in the middle of Madrid's defense.
The first half, as already discussed, was fantastic for Juventus. We dominated possession, were first to every ball, and overpowered the powerhouse that is Real Madrid. Even their counter attacks were mostly taken away from them, with clever and quick pressing and defending. Vidal capped off our performance with a beautiful penalty right before halftime for the 1-0 lead.
The second half brought a lot more goals, and a lot more heartache for Juventus fans around the world. Not only did we significantly decrease our intensity, but we pretty mach sat back and let Real Madrid come at us. Then, Caceres' terrible pass under pressure allowed Benzema to set up Cristiano Ronaldo for the equalizing goal. It wasn't long until another counter attack, this time ending up on the right side at Bale's feet, allowed Real Madrid to go up 1-2. Just like that, all our efforts in the first half went down the drain.
Was Caceres' pass terrible? It was teeeeerrrible. But overall, his error wasn't our demise.
In the post-match comments, Conte blamed our fatigue for the lack of intensity to start the second half. Errrr. Wrong again. Not that either.
Imagine, just for a second, how the game might have transpired if Juventus started the second half as determined and as hungry as we did in the first 45 minutes. You say that's impossible due to the nature football goes after one team scores a goal? Fine, let's imagine we had 75% of our desire in the first half. Real Madrid wouldn't be able to press so high, Caceres' mistake if it repeated wouldn't necessarily cost us a goal, and we may have even scored a second before Real Madrid had a chance to equalize.
Why do I think it wasn't fatigue? Because this team is in better shape than just 45 quality minutes. I would've loved to see Conte push and challenge our team to continue playing like we did in the first half, so that we actually SAW the fatigue on their faces and in their legs late in the second half. Instead, we found ourselves having to push for a point, when we needed and could've won all three.
Damn, I'm going into mad rant mode again here. Let's just move on to the ratings.
Buffon: 7 - Cleaned up what he could clean up, and couldn't do much on either goal really. He was as vocal as ever, organizing that 4-man defense as best as he could from behind. Ultimately outshined by Cassilas on the other end.
Caceres: 6.5 - If we're brutally honest here, his mistake is inexcusable and he single-handedly gave Madrid a goal in a sense. I still will defend him, however, and laud him for the excellent first half and the beautiful cross to Llorente for Juve's second goal. What can I say, I like him on that right side, because of his potential in attack. He provided a lot of width by pushing up often. I hope he doesn't get too down on himself for that errant back pass.
Barzagli: 7 - Did his job defensively against a team whose style is Andrea's Achilles heel. Can't ask much more than that.
Bonucci: 7.5 - Not sure how it happened, but Bonucci ended up being one of our best performers of the match in my opinion. I was actually ready to tweet that he's our weakest link after 15-or so minutes, but the man cleaned up so many counter attacks and intercepted key passes. Fought out Benzema as well. Great game for Bonucci.
Asamoah: 6.5 - I went back and forth on Asamoah here. For what he is - not a left back - he had a pretty decent game. That said, he didn't really contribute anything notable offensively, though you can say he played a bit more conservatively to prevent Ronaldo/Bale counter runs.
Pirlo: 7 - As was the story with most of our players, he had an excellent first half and a poor second. In the first 45 minutes, he mostly directed our attacks to the sides and tried to seek out Llorente centrally when possible. In the second, I do remember a couple decent long balls forward but there should've been more.
Vidal: 8 - If Pogba hadn't given such a half-hearted effort on Bale's goal, he would've probably been my man of match despite not scoring. However, Arturo Vidal is clearly a complete two-way player, who gave an incredible performance in defense and scored a beautiful penalty in a high-stakes match. Screw his second half practice of invisibility, I am giving him an 8. The joy he brought me throughout this game was immense.
Pogba: 7.5 - This is what I wrote of his performance in Madrid: "His first half performance had me mesmerized. It's no secret I'm a fan of the boy, but how he handles himself in big matches at his age is truly amazing...In the second half, he failed to really make an impact, though he did very well supporting Tevez on the left side of the field when possible. My biased man of match." Deja vu, anyone?
Marchisio: 6.5 - We've talked about this - we are all worried about our Principino. To be frank, his position today did not suit him, and he did...okay in it. Had a couple scoring opportunities on which he probably could've done better. I was generally okay with his performance as it could've been much worse. His real wake-up game is yet to come, and it's not gonna happen in a 4-3-3 formation on the right.
Tevez: 7 - He wasn't lethal, but he was very useful. Played his role almost to perfection at times, spreading the defense wide left then cutting in and linking up with our midfielders/Llorente. However, he hasn't had his shooting boots on for a second game in a row. Defensively, helped out incredibly as always.
Llorente: 7.5 - A very similar game to the first round in Madrid - nothing flashy but he got on the scoresheet when it most mattered. Did well linking up with Pogba, Tevez, and the rest of the midfield. He's not David Trezeguet, and it will be a while if ever that we sing "Quando gioca segna sempre Llorente," but I would love to build up his confidence and integrate him well in our team. He is very, very talented in that box.
Conte: 6.5 - He will have to teach this Juventus squad to be a two-half team instead of just play for 45 minutes in game that matter. That's on him. The first half display was a thing of beauty, and he should completely get credit for it. Similarly, I put sole blame on him for the way we handled ourselves in the second half.