Following a rare setback in Serie A last Sunday, an away Europa League tie in France was a perfect opportunity for Juve to respond and get one step closer to that coveted final in Turin. It took until five minutes before the end to seal a victory and valuable away goal against Lyon. This Lyon side is a far cry from the team that dominated Ligue 1 and proved a very difficult opponent in European competition throughout the 2000's, but they were a solid defensive unit that did not give much away.
Juve started the game well with Carlos Tévez having a good chance in the 5th minute but he placed his header wide. From the outset, it was evident that Lyon had a game plan in which stopping Juve was priority as opposed to taking the initiative and creating anything themselves. This was very much an indication of how this Lyon team has regressed in recent years and considering the players at their disposal made perfect sense.
To stop Juve, you need to stop Andrea Pirlo, and the attacking midfielder Steed Malbranque was assigned this role — an unusual one for Malbranque, who is more recognized as a creative attacking threat from midfield. This game plan seemed to work in Lyon's favour as Pirlo's time on the ball was limited and it was up to Leo Bonucci to step up and become the playmaker coming out of defence. Unfortunately, Bonucci didn't have his passing boots on tonight as many of his long-range passes failed to find teammates.
Malbranque did have an impact in an attacking sense in the 26th minute when his angled shot was stopped by Gigi Buffon. From the resulting corner Briand went close but his effort went over the bar. Likewise, Pirlo did get some space in the 29th minute and provided a fantastic through ball which Tevez ran on to but couldn't force past keeper Anthony Lopes. The 'Tévez not scoring in Europe' narrative looked set to continue but as always it was never through lack of effort. That half chance proved to be the last effort of significance in a very uneventful first half. Lyon's game plan was working so far.
The second half had a frantic start with Lyon pressing hard and Juve failing to get any sustained period of possession and it was the French side who had the first chance of the half with an Umtiti free kick pushed wide by Buffon.
Shortly afterwards some good play from Kwadwo Asamoah saw the ball come to Tevez, who advanced and took a shot from distance that didn't trouble Lopes. This was the Argentine's last involvement in the game as he signalled to the bench to be substituted. Mirko Vucinic entered the fray in the 56th minute and immediately had an impact as he held up the ball and combined with his team mates but some of them — Osvaldo in particular — did not appear to be on the same frequency as him.
Osvaldo had a chance after brilliant ball from Pirlo which the Oriundo controlled well but had his effort blocked by the Lyon defence. This was Osvaldo's last participation in the game in what was probably his least effective performance in a Juve shirt as he was replaced by Giovinco.
Shortly after his introduction, Sebastian Giovinco did well from a short Pirlo corner to dribble past Lyon defence and cross a dangerous ball into box which was parried by Lopes only as far as Asamoah whose long range effort was deflected for another corner. At this point it was clear Lyon were starting to tire as Juve were well in control and the Ligue 1 side's game plan of holding out for a 0-0 draw was entering the crucial final third of the game.
Vucinic continued to impress on the ball, as did Giovinco who provided another good cross which Pogba attempted to meet with a bicycle kick. The ball eventually fell to Chiellini whose shot went well wide. His partner in defence would make up for it later. In the 77th minute Lichtsteiner replaced Isla as Juve's final substitute of the game but it was the previous substitutions that continued to have an impact on the game as Giovinco and Vucinic combined before the Montenegrin hit his shot over the bar.
Finally the breakthrough that Juve were waiting for came in the 85th minute. It started form a short Pirlo corner to Marchisio who crossed into the area. A shot by Pogba was then blocked and fell to Bonucci who rifled it into the top of the net. This was the defenders 3rd goal in all competitions this season and although his passing may have been off tonight his shooting most definitely was not.
The late away goal sets up Juve nicely for the return leg in Turin next Thursday and although the Tevez injury could be a setback Arturo Vidal will be available again. The Chilean's absence was felt tonight as Juve struggled at times to create space in midfield. Put your money on El Rey Arturo sealing a Semi Final spot next week.
Buffon: 6.5 – Dealt well with any shots that came his way.
Caceres: 6.5 – Solid performance from the Uruguayan. Was rarely threatened but snuffed out counter attacks when called up.
Bonucci: 7.5 – Filled in for Pirlo as regista at times but not his best passing display. Made up for it with a clinical finish and solid defending
Chiellini: 6.5 –Powerful in the air, gave away the odd silly foul but was not his busiest night as a defender
Isla: 6 – Didn't really have an impact on the game going forward. Wasn't threatened defensively
Pogba: 6 – Quiet night for the Frenchman in his home country. His shot did lead to the winner.
Pirlo: 6.5 – Was well marked by Malbranque for a lot of the game. Played some wonderful passes when given the space.
Marchisio: 6.5 – Industrious as ever. Put in a very solid defensive performance and crossed the ball which led to the goal
Asamoah: 7.5 – Some very impressive dribbles and attacking play during the game and coped very well defensively when called upon.
Tevez: 6 – Had a few chances to break his European duck. Worked hard but night ended in disappointment with injury.
Osvaldo: 5.5 – Probably the Oriundo’s worst performance in a Juve shirt. Failed to make any real impact apart from one shot on goal
Vucinic: 6.5 - Played well when he came on. Should start in the return leg
Giovinco: 6.5 – Very lively performance off the bench. His movement caused Lyon defence
Conte: 6.5 – Job done for Conte. It was always going to be difficult breaking down a side that were playing so defensively. Subs worked out well.