Juventus came into Wednesday night's game against bottom-of-the-group Borussia Monchengladbach as overwhelming favorites, as the German club -- affectionately known as The Foals' -- entered with no points in their first two games. Juventus, on the other hand, were looking confident and assured in the Champions League; something that they were yet to replicate consistently in Serie A.
Coach Max Allegri recently said that the priority for now is the Champions League, so there was great expectation that the Bianconeri would go out to make the most of their home advantage and take another step towards winning the group and sealing a place in the Round of 16 -- especially with Manchester City facing a tough home test against Sevilla the same night.
Alvaro Morata and Gianluigi Buffon were on the doorstep of big nights by beating two records held by Juve legend Alessandro Del Piero. With a goal, Morata would have beaten Del Piero's record of scoring in five consecutive Champions League games. Buffon would become the Juve player with the most minutes clocked for the club, barring an injury that would force him off.
The first half started off slowly, with Juve seemingly content to play patiently; with six points from six points, Juventus did have the luxury to do so.
The first chance of note came at around fifteen minutes; some good pressing from the Juventus midfield resulted in Gladbach losing possession and a Juve counter-attack. The ball eventually got to Paul Pogba, who passed wide for Morata; the young Spaniard went for the first time shot and hit well over.
After a corner came back out to Juan Cuadrado on the left, the Colombian cut inside and let fly but his effort was wide.
On 35 minutes, some great work by Andrea Barzagli to win the ball back after losing it sent Cuadrado free down the right wing, who squared for Morata. But Morata went for a spectacular goal rather than passing for Pogba, who was making a run into the box on the left.
On 41 minutes, there was a real moment of controversy. Gladbach defender Alvaro Dominguez tried to pass out from the back, but his pass was intercepted by Morata. As the forward was sprinting through on goal, Dominguez tripped up the young bomber. The Spanish defender was the last man back, but the Scottish referee gave only a yellow; a strange decision as Morata was surely clear on goal.
The half time whistle went with Gladbach, despite running some risks, looking fairly comfortable. Juventus, even though they had the chances, never got out of second gear.
The second half started with a bit more attacking impetus from the home side, with Pogba lashing a shot on target from outside the box, forcing Yann Sommer into a decent save.
A free kick cleverly won by Giorgio Chiellini led to a Pogba shot on goal, again pushed away safely by Sommer.
The first change came on sixty minutes, with Roberto Pereyra replacing the largely ineffective Juan Cuadrado.
On sixty-four minutes Barzagli - now moved to right full-back -- charged down the right flank and put in a great cross which fell perfectly for Morata, but the Spaniard went for a spectacular overhead kick which went way wide. Almost immediately, Juventus had penalty appeals waved away after Mario Mandzukic went over in the box under the slightest contact from Dominguez.
The crowd at Juventus Stadium were audibly getting frustrated. With seventy minutes gone, Simone Zaza replaced the disappointing (once again) Mario Mandzukic. Zaza's first input into the game was a needless giveaway on a promising counter attack.
Morata was not able to continue his run of scoring in consecutive games, as he was substituted on eighty minutes for Paulo Dybala. Another record was set, however, as stalwart Gigi Buffon beat Del Piero's club record of 48,867 minutes played for Juve. He was rewarded by being serenaded by the home fans. A lovely moment.
Juventus seemed to finally wake up in the late stages, and put the Gladbach defence under some sustained pressure; Pogba and Chiellini with the most notable (half) chances.
All in all, a very poor performance, void of intensity and any real quality from the Bianconeri. Twenty-one attempts, and only two on target (and those two came from okay long range shots from Pogba); sums up just how terrible we were tonight. With Manchester City's last minute win versus Sevilla, things are suddenly closer in the group, as City are now just one point behind Juventus.
Buffon 10 - I mean, he literally had nothing to do all game (The Foals had zero shots on target). So that means he did nothing wrong, right? What the hell, a perfect score for the record-breaker!
Barzagli 8 - He just seems to be getting better with age, doesn't he? Another top class performance by 'Barza', both at centre back and at right full back.
Bonucci 7 - Made a couple mistakes and misplaced a few passes, but was largely untroubled and did what he had to do well.
Chiellini 6.5 - He was the busiest of the centre backs, but was also largely untroubled. Loses half a point for the late yellow card.
Cuadrado 6 Lacked effectiveness in the final third (he wasn't the only one). Understandably taken off early in the second half.
Khedira 6.5 - A small step back for the experienced German midfielder after impressive performances since making his debut. Didn't get into the box anywhere near as often as in his recent games, and had less of an overall impact.
Marchisio 8 - Along with Barzagli, he was our best outfield player. Kept possession with smart passes - I don't think he misplaced a pass all night. Maybe he could have brought the ball up field sometimes and played some more key passes in the final third; Lord knows the game tonight was crying out for that.
Pogba 6.5 - Still waiting for the Paul Pogba of the last two seasons to show up. He had some good moments tonight, but still made many bad decisions - like taking difficult shots when their were better passing options.
Alex Sandro 7 - Defensively he was solid. Offensively, like Cuadrado, he was largely ineffectively, with very few (if any) of his crosses finding their target.
Morata 6 - The young Spanish international had the chance to make history, with goals in six consecutive Champions League games - beating another Del Piero record. But it wasn't to be. By far our most dangerous looking forward, but that isn't saying much given the other performances. He looked too keen on scoring, and that led to a number of bad decisions, much like Pogba.
Mandzukic 5 Once again, 'Super Mario' looks nothing like the player we thought we were getting when he was brought in over the summer. Had one chance early on that he failed to connect with, but other than that he looked anything but dangerous.
Pereyra 6 - The Argentine had some bright moments when he came on for Cuadrado and added much needed pace to the attack, but didn't do much to change Juve's fortunes.
Zaza 5 - Is it possible to send Zaza back to Sassuolo already? I'm struggling to see what exactly he does well. His first input today was to pass the ball straight to a Gladbach defender when Juve were on a promising counter attack. His first touch (and often subsequent touches) are poor, he isn't a good dribbler, his shooting is all over the place. Simply put, he is not Juve material. Those rumours that Allegri was not impressed by him and was willing to let him leave are looking more believable when he gets on the pitch.
Dybala 6.5 - Looked more threatening and able to make something happen than both Mandzukic and Zaza combined. It looks more and more obvious that the forward line going forward should be Morata and Dybala, but Allegri does not seem to agree yet.
Allegri 5.5 - While Allegri surprised most with his tactical decision-making and smart personnel changes, he has seemingly regressed in those departments so far this season.
THINGS I THINK I THINK
Firstly, I've personally never been a fan of 3-5-2, as it makes our attacking play so labored and predictable. Further, for 80 minutes there was such a lack of intensity in our play. I get that you don't want to rush things and leave yourself open for counter-attacks, but there is no good reason why Juve played with such a lack of fervor for so long. Then, there's the decision to once again leave Dybala on the bench. I don't get it. Even without scoring, Dybala is often a spark; which is more than can be said for either Mandzukic or Zaza. So why is he being left on the bench so often? And then Allegri brings Zaza on before Dybala. And Zaza proceeds to be poor, as one would expect, because he is simply not very good.
A win would have put us more or less in the last 16 and as group winners. Now, things are less rosy, as Juve needs a win away to Gladbach and at home to City to make sure of winning the group. Gladbach would almost certainly play better and be more dangerous on their home turf. This was definitely a big opportunity blown by our poor approach and Allegri's inability to positively change things.