"May 5 has always proved a momentous day for us. Let's keep that good run going tonight!" Those were the words tweeted by the official Juventus Twitter account Tuesday morning, as preparations — mentally and physically — for the big first leg semifinal clash against Real Madrid were underway. Indeed, the 5th of May is a day that has been kind to us on occasions past; who can ever forget the unexpected title triumph of 5 May 2002? Not this gobbo, that's for sure!
Personally, I felt a mix of excitement and caution. I knew that Juventus could get past Real Madrid, but of course that is different from actually getting past them. As the Champions League anthem rang out through the speakers at the bar I watched the game at, my stomach turned. It's been so long since Juventus has been at this stage in Europe's top club competition, the nerves were really jingling! I was 17 years old the last time we were at this stage. Since I started supporting the Old Lady, I've seen us lose 3 finals ('97, '98 and '03). I rushed home from school to see us get beaten at home and knocked out after taking an away goal back to Turin against Manchester United in '99.
Surely you can understand my nervousness, right?
Ninety minutes later, and while the win is clearly positive (even though Juve conceded, a win's a win, right?), I still err on the side of caution. This tie is FAR from over. Cristiano Ronaldo's uncontested header on twenty-seven minutes gives an offensively stacked Real Madrid team all to play for going back to the Santiago Bernabéu.
Juve's first-leg performance was reminiscent of the first leg against Dortmund, with the only notable difference being that after conceding an equalizer, it was Real who looked more likely to score next (while against Dortmund, it was Juve who were more aggressive). One of the similarities that stuck out most prominently was the fact that we could - and should - have won the game by more.
Regardless, the boys deserve praise for generally playing a smart, intense game, making few mistakes and granting a potent Real attack few clear chances. In the end, Real only had three shots on goal; by contrast, Juve had seven.
The second leg's in eight days' time ... let's see if we can keep our dream alive.
It took less than a minute for the Bianconeri to signal their intent to win this leg; Claudio Marchisio found Arturo Vidal making the run into the box, the Chilean chose to go to ground easily rather than get a shot off. Not two minutes later, Juve were on the attack again; this time it was Stefano Sturaro (making his first — and unexpected — start in the Champions League) gathering Tevez's pass and firing low but straight at Iker Casillas in the Real Madrid goal. There was no let up from Juve and next to try his luck was Morata, who shrugged off the challenge of Pepe and attempted a lob, but it was easy pickings for Casillas to save.
As the saying goes, "pressure busses pipe," and all Juve's early pressure eventually caused Real's defensive pipe to burst! On nine minutes, a twenty-plus passing move, resulted in Marchisio finding Tevez in the box in loads of space. El Apache shot through the legs of Raphaël Varane, his shot parried by Casillas right into the path of the ex-Madridista Morata, who simply tapped in. It was Morata's first goal for Juve since his goal in the second leg of the round of sixteen tie against Dortmund. As was expected, the young Spaniard decided against celebrating his goal.
This goal appeared to wake Real up, as they then started to come more into the game. They had two chances in quick succession. The first came on twelve minutes, as midfield maestro Toni Kroos tested Gigi Buffon from long distance, with the Italian international pushing his bouncing shot around the post. From the resulting corner, Isco lined up a similar shot from distance, but this one was straight at Buffon. Varane headed over after rising highest on a corner on nineteen minutes. One twenty-three minutes Ronaldo, from Isco’s pass, sliced through the inside left channel but dragged his finish badly.
Real Madrid eventually got what they were looking for. James Rodríguez finished off a wonderful passing move with a lobbed pass over Vidal's outstretched lunge for an inexplicably wide open Ronaldo to head home from less than six yards out. Juventus switched off and were caught ball-watching, with Stephan Lichtsteiner failing to track CR7's run.
Real closed out the half on the front foot, and should have gone into the break in the lead. Isco's cross from the left met Rodríguez's diving header, only for the Colombian's effort to hit the underside of the bar and bounce out! It was a let off for Juventus, who had ceded momentum to Real after the equalizer. On a closer look, it appears as if Sturaro got a vital touch to put the ball onto the crossbar!
One all at the end of a pulsating half of football.
The second half, in contrast to the first, spluttered a bit at the start. Both teams had their moments, without either creating anything clear cut. But that all changed on fifty-five minutes. After a Kroos corner was cleared, Juventus suddenly broke with a two-on-two. Marcelo took out Morata (which saw the Brazilian booked) but Tevez continued his run into the Real box. The Argentine's run was eventually ended by a rash Dani Carvajal tackle that got all player and no ball; penalty to Juventus!
In the melee that followed the awarding of the spot kick, Vidal somehow managed to talk himself into a yellow card. Meanwhile, referee Martin Atkinson failed to brandish any card to Carvajal for his challenge, which at the very least deserved a yellow card. Confusing indeed, but alas Juventus had the chance to go back in front in this tie. El Apache took the spot kick duties...and confidently placed his shot down the centre as Casillas dived to his left! 2-1 to the Old Lady!
Max Allegri decided it was time for a more conservative approach, and introduced Andrea Barzagli for the impressive (in the circumstances) Sturaro. This meants a switch to 3-5-2. This changed worked well, as Real's attack was kept at bay, with only another long range effort from Kroos of note for the visitors. Juventus, on the other hand, had two further chances to increase their lead.
On eighty-six minutes, a missed interception by Varane led to substitute Fernando Llorente (who came on for Morata) rounding Casillas and crossing into the middle where unfortunately, there were no black and white shirts. Tevez was withdrawn a few minutes earlier, and one can't help but think that he would have been in the position to finish that play.
The last chance of the game came in stoppage time. The disappointing Andrea Pirlo curled in a great ball to the far post for the wide open Llorente, who headed into the ground and allowed Casillas to eventually fumble to safety.
The game ended 2-1 to the host — a deserved victory, but one that should have been by a larger margin.
Buffon: 6.5 Surprisingly was not troubled as much as one would have expected coming up against this Real Madrid attack. Did what little he had to with ease and was unfortunate to concede.
Lichtsteiner: 5.5 Dealt with the threat posed by Ronaldo, Marcelo and Isco on the left fairly well — often aided by Marchisio or Vidal. However, he did lose Ronaldo on the Real goal, which obviously costs him marks. Got forward when the opportunities arose, but his final ball was often found wanting. Solid performance nonetheless.
Bonucci: 6.5 Picked up a booking early on for a foul on Gareth Bale, and needlessly gave away possession late on which could have been costly. Other than those incidents, gave a confident and assured performance and continues a great personal campaign.
Chiellini: 7 You know Giorgio has had a great game when he leaves the field bloodied and bandaged. A vintage display, he dealt with the threats posed by Real's forward players with relative ease. Imperious tonight, hopefully this marks a return to form for Giorgio.
Evra: 6.5 Aided in part by the poor performance of Bale, Evra had a comfortable evening. He did his defensive duties without much fuss, and got forward in attack when possible. Could not have asked for much more.
Sturaro: 6.5 Based on some of my prior match reports, it may be apparent that I did not rate the young midfielder. However, thrown in at the deep end for his first Champions League start, he put in a top class display. Appearing confident on both sides of the ball, Sturaro's hard work also saved what would have been a certain goal from Rodríguez's diving header.
Pirlo: 5 The worst Juve player on the night. Despite covering a lot of ground, Pirlo's usual pinpoint accurate passes often failed to hit their target and he gave away the ball a number of times, once which led to a Real Madrid break. His best moment of the match came from his free kick in stoppage time which resulted in Llorente's header.
Marchisio: 6.5 Another top notch performance from Il Principino. Involved in the first goal, he was also involved in other key plays for Juventus. Was not fooled by Ronaldo's trickery on any of the occasions he was up against him, and even one-upped Isco. Well done.
Vidal: 6.5 King Arturo continues to make Juve fans salivate with his performances of late. He was everywhere against Real, doing everything. Let's hope that his return to form is permanent, because we'll need it. Loses 0.5 of a grade because he got himself booked and is now on a tightrope for the second leg.
Morata: 7 Got the opening goal against his former (possibly future) employers, and was a thorn in their side all game. His movement off the ball and hold up play was quite good, the latter could still do with some work though. He worked his socks off as well, as was evident by him visibly being out of breath when he was substituted.
Tevez: 7.5 Had an assist and scored a penalty, which he won with his brilliant solo run. It's becoming harder to find words to describe Tevez when he puts in these types of performances in big games. Was visibly irritated when he was subbed out, which only shows he hunger to succeed at this stage.
Barzagli: 6.5 Came on for Sturaro and slotted in seamlessly alongside Bonucci and Chiellini in a back 3. Continued his great form since coming back from injury.
Llorente: 5 Held the ball up well, and did well to round Casillas but was unfortunate to have not been able to get a shot in on goal himself. He should have scored his header on that Pirlo free kick.
Pereyra: N/A Came on late for Tevez and did not make much of an impression.
Allegri: 7.5 Was tactically spot on! Barring a period just after the equalizer, Juventus were really under pressure from Real's attack. His decision to start Sturaro instead of Pereyra looks to have been a master stroke. Juve's intermittent pressing of Real's midfield and defence, along with their staunch defensive organization, did the trick as Real were forced off their game for the most part. Now, Allegri has to plan for the return leg.
In 2013, Allegri went to the Nou Camp with his Milan team leading 2-0 and lost the second leg of that round of 16 tie by a score of 4-0. This Juventus team is much better than that Milan team, and this Real Madrid not as explosive as that Barcelona team. But Real will be coming at us with all that they have on May 13th, and it will be up to Allegri and the team to respond appropriately. We are so close but still so far.
Oh, why can't it be May 5th everyday?!