For the first 45 minutes, Juventus were looking pretty darn good compared to their last game against Fiorentina. They had the lead after just three minutes thanks Arturo Vidal's 18th goal (!!) in all competitions. Their passing was crisp, their ability to create scoring chances was on full display and had Fiorentina's defense scrambling while trying to stop it.
And then, something happened — again.
Bad second-half tactics from Antonio Conte? Yeah, definitely.
Letting your foot off the gas and enabling Fiorentina to get back in the game? Yeah, definitely.
There's other obviously things that contributed to Juventus' 1-1 draw with Fiorentina in the first leg of their Round of 16 Europa League matchup on Thursday night, but it's safe to narrow it down to one distinct statement right here: The team in black and white that was up 1-0 at the half wasn't the same team that came out of the locker room and proceeded to play in the second half.
Juve needed to grab a second goal and never they did. Fiorentina, much to their credit, just hung around. And with Juventus clearly shifting their play to protect the lead rather than pushing for a second goal, Fiorentina was able to take advantage of it, eventually getting their coveted away goal courtesy of Mario Gomez just 13 minutes from full time.
Stupid Gomez Button. I hate you now. More than ever before.
All of the work Juve did in the first half — especially the first 15-20 minutes — gone just like that. But it's hard to say that Fiorentina didn't deserve it. Juventus took their foot of the gas pedal and got punished for it. Fiorentina is a good team and they'll will make you pay for your own mistakes. Juventus' mistake was letting them hang around for far too long. And because of it, we're all headed to Florence knowing that Juve doesn't have a lead in its back pocket.
That damn second half. You just can't help but make a face at it.
We know what happened the last time Juve were in Florence. But it's not like winning there is impossible. In seven days, these two teams will play for the right to get to the Europa League semifinals at the scene of that dreadful day in October. You know Fiorentina will be fired up since they will be in front of the home crowd at the Franchi. The only question will be if Juventus can answer the call and advance.
Random thoughts and observations
- Arturo Vidal could have had a hat trick in the first half if not for a brilliant Neto save and then smashing a header off the stupid crossbar. The opportunities to double the lead were there for the taking. Juventus just couldn't get that second goal they oh so desperately needed in the first half.
- Mauricio Isla's game might be Exhibit A of how different Juventus were in the first half compared to the second half. It was a throwback kind of effort from Isla in the first half, taking advantage of plenty of space down the right flank. The second half? Barely a peep. Polar opposite halves for Isla — and for Juventus as a whole.
- Can you imagine what it would have been like if Gigi Buffon didn't make one of those saves towards the end of the second half? Yep, Oct. 20 in Florence all over again.
- How things change from one game against Fiorentina to the other: Mario Gomez did next to nothing on Sunday afternoon. Thursday night? That first touch, that game-tying goal, that frustration that followed. Gomez gave Fiorentina the exact boost Vincenzo Montella was hoping for when the German striker was introduced for Ale Matri in the 67th minute.
- Even though we're all grumpy because of the result, I want to say something: It's pretty nice to have Giorgio Chiellini back in the starting lineup again.
- Have I said how much I missed first-half Juventus during the course of the second half? Because I did.
- I'm off to go bang my head against the desk a few more times.
- Europa League Game Time Thread: Juventus vs. Fiorentina, Leg 1
- Juventus vs. Fiorentina: You choose the starting lineup for Antonio Conte
- Europa League Preview: Juventus vs. Fiorentina, Leg 1 — Familiar Faces
- Juventus 1:0 Fiorentina - Kwadwo Asamoah's lovely goal makes the difference
- Juventus 1 - Fiorentina 0: Initial reaction and random observations