As Claudio Marchisio spoke to the media at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday, he talked about how Juventus are "right at home in European competition." Based on what he said, it wasn't like he was just pulling it out of nowhere. Some of Juventus' best — and most important — results this season have come in the Champions League. And seeing as Marchisio has quite a bit of clout when he speaks, you tend to pay a little more attention when the words are coming out of his mouth.
Well, following Juventus' 1-0 win over Manchester City in Turin on Wednesday night, we can add another one to the list of fine European performances.
Was it perfect? No, of course not. Marchisio played a role in that, potentially gift-wrapping a goal to Man City if it wasn't for the ever-lasting heroics of one Gianluigi Buffon shutting things down once again. There were missed scoring chances in both halves. Those were goals that could have essentially put the game on ice and would have prevented us from having a few of those late-game heart-up-in-your-throat situations that always seem to happen when watching this team.
But the end result was one we all wanted.
Juventus won. Juventus got the three points. Juventus clinched their spot in the Champions League knockout round. We can rest easy now — at least a little bit.
And that's what matters, right?
We've seen this team struggle in the first half of the group stage before and have to essentially dig themselves out of a 15-foot hole because of what they did a month or two earlier. This season, though, they got the win over Man City away from home in the group stage opener, then handled Sevilla and now guaranteed to be playing Champions League football come the beginning of the 2016 calendar year. We don't know if they will be the top team coming out of Group D or in second — all Juve needs is a draw against Sevilla to wrap up first place — but we know they're still in the dance.
That's because they won at home. And, as Claudio's words once again proved to be the absolute truth, they're at home in Europe. Fitting, that.
.@OfficialAllegri: "I'm very happy with the lads. Reaching the knockout stages in a very tough group with a game to spare wasn't easy." #UCL— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) November 25, 2015
Random thoughts and observations
- Into the knockout stages with a win and a clean sheet. Good times.
- Alex Sandro has three assists in his last four appearances. For a fullback, that's pretty damn impressive. We knew he was a very good threat on the left wing when it came to his offensive impact, but making this kind of impact virtually every time he steps onto the field? Yeah...
The way he's playing, he definitely deserving more time in the starting lineup. But with Patrice Evra around and still playing as solid as ever, that's not going to be an easy choice for Max Allegri. Luckily he knows either option is a pretty good one. When was the last time that was the case when it came to Juventus' left backs?
- Mario Mandzukic's first goal-scoring opportunity was shanked as far right as you can get when faced with an entire goal to work with. But, like good strikers do, he didn't let that happen again. Juventus' goal was a beautiful one — the run from Paul Pogba, the on-point cross from Alex Sandro and the one-time volley by Mandzukic to beat Joe Hart. A team goal if there ever was one, and nice to see the big Croatian get a goal after a inauspicious opening to the game.
- How many of times in the last few years have we said the following: "Well, Gigi Buffon didn't have much to do, but when he was called into action, he was more than capable of handling it."? Buffon had to make two saves against City, according to WhoScored, but both of them were absolutely massive. The save after Marchisio's errant backpass was maybe the single-most important moment in the game. And the stuffing of Yaya Toure right on the line in the second half kept the shutout intact. This guy, he's good.
- If you mention Buffon, you have to mention the three central defenders playing in front of him — Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini — and how well they did. See? Rolling out the tried and trusted three-man defense ain't so bad, people.
- This game was proof of what Stefano Sturaro does well. And also proof of what he doesn't do well. He can do battle with anybody defensively, and he was great in that regard against Manchester City. But the part that still lacks in his game is the technical part. He's still young at 22, so he's not a finished product. And the way he is right now isn't so bad — he's had 12 tackles in his last two appearances — but you can't help but wonder how special of a player he would be if he had that technical ability to compliment the absolutely bulldozer-like workrate on defense.
- Speaking of special players, how good was Pogba against City? I mean, seriously, some of the moments he had on the ball Wednesday were pretty damn special.
- Knockout stages here we come, man. Good times, good times.