When the traditional Zurich draw for the group stages put together the first pieces of the 2014-2015 Champions League jigsaw, this match was seen as the group A finale. Last season’s surprise runner-up, Atletico Madrid, were placed next to Juventus, Olympiakos and Swedish debutants Malmö. On paper, the two teams that have just locked horns seemed to be one class above the others and were expected to battle for the first spot, promising to spark some fireworks in their meetings.
They did not disappoint, but the fireworks were not quite what we expected.
As always, tactics was the big debate before the game. How will Juventus’ backline stop the powerful Mario Mandzukic? Will the Bianconeri be able to turn to advantage their superiority in midfield and how will they cope with the high-pressing game style of Atletico? But this game was not all about tactics. Diego Simeone managed to infuse again his gladiatorial temperament through the ranks of his players, running alongside them at the edge of the pitch and inciting the crowds to support their team. He’s been way more proactive than his counterpart Max Allegri, whose careful approach was reflected by his lacklustre side.
The home fans present on Vicente Calderon made sure Juventus’ biggest test of the season so far takes place in an atmosphere which resembles the inferno. The result? I would assume it’s not really a passing mark, but the Old Lady will get a re-sit two months from now in Turin. Despite dominating possession, Juventus were not clinical enough and couldn’t create too much throughout the game, missing that cutting edge on the final third. Atletico’s high pressure gave Bianconeri few options and even less space to dictate the play, hence the lack of chances; but some creativity should have emanated regardless what the opponent had done and here is where Andrea Pirlo’s absence was really felt.
However, it is a loss from which Juventus can learn a lot. In the end, we are talking about the team that won last year’s La Liga title and was just seconds away from a historic double in the Champions League final. The Old Lady is still first in the group and has just played arguably the most difficult match from this phase of the competition. Qualification should still be relatively easy secured, but Allegri has to figure out why it didn’t work for his team tonight and sort things out sooner rather than later. The next big game against Roma is just around the corner.
There was very little action in a first half marked by tension and countless interrupting of play, where neither team took any risks, with Juventus having a sterile possession of the ball. Leonardo Bonucci received an early yellow for an elbow on Mandzukic in the 12th minute.
The Croat was the first to test Gianluigi Buffon after 25 minutes, with a powerful shot from 20 yards out, when Arturo Vidal needlessly complicated himself and lost possession just outside the box. The shot wasn’t placed well enough and Buffon parried it away to safety.
Shortly afterwards came Juventus’ response through Paul Pogba, who found a bit of space near Atletico’s penalty area and tried to find the far corner with a placed shot, only for the ball to fly wide of the post.
Juventus imposed a higher tempo at the start of the second half but chances failed to occur. As the midfield was packed with players from both teams, Simeone decided to make his first change shortly after the break, introducing Antoine Griezman for Saul, a change which made Atletico more present on the counters.
On the hour mark, after one of the countless crosses the Spanish side tried, a deflected ball hit Martin Caceres hand in the penalty area, but referee decided against pointing to the spot and waved play on, despite the vehement protests of the home side.
Atletico's urgency on crosses for their Croat target man paid off eventually and with 15 minutes before full time, Arda Turan scored the only goal of the game. The Turk took Stephan Lichtsteiner’s face at the far post to turn home a ball delivered by Juanfran.
Allegri reacted immediately after the goal, replacing Caceres with Roberto Pereyra, and shortly thereafter Arturo Vidal with Alvaro Morata, but it turned out to be late. The Bianconeri pressed for the equalizer goal with no success, as Atletico broke the play whenever had the chance, and the away side had to return to Turin without any points.
Buffon: 6.5 The club captain was only tested by Mandzukic’s first-half shot and dealt with every cross confidently. There was nothing he could have done to prevent the goal.
Caceres: 6.5 Having just recovered from injury, he was one of the best performers of the night, winning most of his aerial duels, except the one that lead to the goal, though he can’t be blamed for it.
Bonucci: 6.5 Received a silly yellow card early on, but looked steady at the back.
Chiellini: 7 Had the most touches of the ball (108) and this says a lot about Juventus’ game. Played a great first half and managed to block Raul Garcia for most of the game.
Lichtsteiner: 6 Lost his man on the goal and had no impact on Juventus’ attacks whatsoever. Below-par performance from the Swiss.
Vidal:6 Looked lethargic on the ball and played quite a few wrong passes. It wasn’t the best night for the Chilean, who didn’t show any of his trademark runs behind the defenders.
Marchisio: 6.5 Quiet game for the deep-lying playmaker. Was forced to play several long balls which lead to nothing, but had the best pass accuracy from the team.
Pogba: 6.5 Created Juventus’ only chance in the game, but was often left frustrated, committing lots of fouls. Couldn’t impose his physical presence in an extra-crowded midfield.
Evra: 6 Was often caught in an advanced position, especially at the goal when Juanfran had enough time to prepare his cross. Didn’t create anything in attack either.
Tevez: 6.5 Tried a few individual actions but was dispossessed too often. The Argentine had no space to link-up with Llorente.
Llorente: 6.5 Although he kept trying to hold up the ball and create space for teammates, the Spaniard had no attempts on goal or key passes. It was another frustrating performance from him.
Pereyra: 6 Came in for the last 15 minutes with no effect.
Morata: 6 Replaced Llorente 10 minutes from time, but only to receive a yellow card.
Giovinco: N/A Introduced with little time left to play. Got booked
Allegri: 6.5 The Italian made a typical cautious approach to a game where Juventus had to prove they belong to Europe’s best and a draw would have been a good, fair result for him. Juventus was unlucky to concede such a cheap goal with just 15 minutes left to play, which gave Allegri little time to react. However, he couldn’t mount players to push for a goal when needed, as there was chaos on the pitch near the end of the game.
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