Well, that was a strange game of football if ever I’d seen one.
Nevertheless, it was our heroes from Turin who managed to get the job done at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, a difficult stadium to visit, against a physical, determined and excellently drilled Sevilla side. Having done so, Juve take complete control of the group, and provided we can get the three points at home against a poor Dinamo Zagreb side who haven’t won a point or scored a goal in the group stage so far, our status as group winners ought to be secured! It feels nice to be completely in control of our own fate at the end of a Champions League group stage for a change.
Straight to the action then.
The game began in a cagey, yet intriguing manner, as both teams sought to test the waters and gain an understanding of the opposing side’s tactics, but it was the home side that quickly took control of proceedings. With virtually the first shot of the match, Sevilla took the lead. A corner and its follow up cross were not convincingly dealt with, and Daniel Rugani’s headed clearance was expertly volleyed home by center back Nicolas Pareja from just outside the box. It was a brilliantly well taken goal.
Juventus immediately tried to respond by droning forward in numbers, but were unable to get their offensive fluidity going, and this gave a large chunk of space between the Juventus midfield and backline for Sevilla to exploit, and they began to do so — looking threatening every time they attacked our third of the pitch. One such moment found Sevilla breaking forward in a 4 v. 3 situation, and Franco Vasquez’s pass found Sergio Escudero in space beyond Dani Alves, and his shot from outside the box was just above Gigi Buffon’s crossbar.
Juve’s first chance of the game came when Juan Cuadrado broke forward with speed and intent, and his forward pass found Mario Mandzukic with space in the box. He took a touch to steady himself, but his shot went well wide of goalkeeper Sergio Rico’s far post.
Another forward foray between Alves and Cuadrado found the Colombian in space down the right flank, and he fired in a low cutback to Sami Khedira, whose first time shot from just outside the box was inches away from the top corner.
Then came the game changing moment. Having just collected a ridiculous first booking for cynically taking Cuadrado out, Vasquez stopped a Khedira counter attack by clumsily sticking a leg out very late and catching the German on the ankle. It was a bookable offense, and as such, the Italo-Argentine got his marching orders.
Sevilla slowly began to lose the plot, as they got more physical and cynical in their approach, and having already given the Italian champions the man advantage, they gifted them a way back into the match in silly circumstances. A Juventus corner was headed out only for the referee to stop play, and to the shock of most watchers, grant Juventus a penalty. Upon viewing the replay, it was clear to see why. In full view of the referee, a Sevilla player had a hold of Leonardo Bonucci by the shirt. As Bonucci lost his man to attack the header, the player continued to hold his shirt, despite being a solid few feet away, and hauled the defender down. The Sevilla players, managing staff, and fans were all livid. In the midst of this fiery atmosphere, Claudio Marchisio stepped up in composed fashion, and tucked the penalty into the bottom corner, although a case can be made that Rico ought to have done better considering he got a hand to the shot. Either way, it was the kind of stroke of luck rarely enjoyed by this Juventus side in Europe, and they went into the break with scores equal, a man to the good, and momentum completely on their side.
However, if you expected Juventus to exploit the momentum shift and come out guns blazing to take the lead, BOY were you mistaken. It is hard to look at the second half Juventus performance and make a case for Max Allegri’s men playing for anything other than a draw. Despite the man advantage, and a growing dominance of possession, it was mostly sterile possession with zero sense of urgency or intent. Sevilla for their part did their best to counter when possible, but spent the bulk of the half resolutely defending within their box.
A Miralem Pjanic shot that was well saved by Rico from distance aside, there were zero chances for the first 35 minutes of the half. The Spanish side were displaying admirable solidarity and positioning to lock Juventus out almost completely.. Until the 84th minute. Moise Kean came on for the woeful Miralem Pjanic, becoming the first player born in the 21st century to compete in the Champions League, and the giant Italian teenager had an almost instant effect.
Alves did brilliantly well to find space on the right flank and fire in a dangerous cross. Kean was there to put tremendous pressure on the defender, something Mandzukic struggled to do all night, and the headed clearance, in almost identical fashion to the opener, set itself up for Bonucci to come flying in and fire a beast of a left footed shot first time straight into the bottom corner of the goal. The game looked to be heading towards a drab draw, and it needed a moment of genius to decide itself, and man, did Big Leo provide!
The home side tried their best to fight their way back into the game, winning a number of freekicks and corners, but in stark contrast to recent times, the Juventus defense accounted well for itself. In the very last minute of injury time, with the game all but decided and an exhausted Sevilla side having no fight left in them, Marchisio played a wonderful ball through to Mandzukic, who broke into the Sevilla box, dummied his man, and fired in a wonderful placed finish beyond Rico’s desperate dive.
It was a fiery first half, followed by a drab second, and its hard to think that this game was not decided by a few key moments, yet the boys did well to not lose their heads the way the Spanish side did, and came away with the crucial three points.
With no attacking options besides Mandzukic and the 16-year-old Kean, Allegri made the most of his available personnel and rolled out a 4-5-1 formation, with Sandro and Cuadrado playing as orthodox wingers and Mandzukic leading the line. Naturally, though, Cuadrado was the more attacking of the two wingers, and was the primary source of creativity for the side. Sevilla for their part lined up in BWRAO readers’ favorite formation, the 3-5-2, but one that looked very different to what we would be used to. Both wingbacks, Mariano Ferreira and Escudero attacked freely and frequently found themselves in very advanced positions. Vitolo played in a sort of mezzala role, doing the free roam style to support the forwards, very similar to how He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (read: most expensive player in the world) used to play within our 3-5-2 setup last year.
Following their early lead, and our attempts to make an instant response by droning forward in numbers, the X-factor for all the wrong reasons seemed to be Marchisio, who struggled with their press, and to affect proceedings. In rare circumstances, he and Khedira left acres of space between them and our centerbacks for the likes of Vitolo and Vasquez to exploit, and as a result Sevilla were able to look menacing every time they won the ball and broke forward. However, slowly Marchisio grew into the game, and its no surprise that simultaneously our offense began to click, and we began to threaten the Sevilla defense more. Cuadrado was crucial to this as he used his quick turn of pace and feet, and the advanced passes from those behind him, to break the Sevilla press and attack the space between the midfield and defense.
Vital to these proceedings was the red card to Vasquez, as he had been the primary culprit when it came to shackling Marchisio. Losing him not only lost Sevilla a creative brain to link the defensive and attacking phase, but also their shackled hold on Marchisio. Such games really do highlight the Turin native’s importance to the side. Despite not having the best start to the game, the moment Il Principino finds his footing, everyone’s game seems to raise a notch and the chemistry and wavelength start to establish itself. Marchisio completed a dominant 90% of his passes, misplacing only seven. His positioning was also crucial in keeping Sevilla quiet after the first 20 minutes, as seen by his impressive 12 recoveries of the ball.
Alves and Cuadrado were crucial down the right, as they did very well to keep Escudero quiet, and their chemistry was the biggest source of creativity to the side. On the other side, this is exactly where Sandro and Evra struggled. They were unable to bring each other into the game, and team up to double up on Ferreira and threaten from the wing. Sandro in particular, while having a very decent and fighting game, lacked his usual sharpness in the final third, and this did hurt us, considering we were targeting the wings in the absence of Paulo Dybala and Marko Pjaca.
In the second half, Sampaoli and Sevilla changed things up by taking Vietto off, bringing on the tricky Sarabia to play on the left, and pushing Vitolo up into a kind of false nine position. They also transitioned into a more classic 4-4-1 formation, with Escudero and Gabriel Mercado playing as fullbacks, and Mariano Ferreira and Sarabia playing as wingers. The biggest struggle Juventus faced was trying to bring Mandzukic into the game. Pjanic’s complete no show as a mezzala, meant that Sevilla could task the industrious duo of Vicente Iborra and Steven N’Zonzi to keep an eye on him, leaving the big Croat alone against the Sevilla center backs. And considering we were playing with wingers, a lot of Bonucci, Marchisio and Pjanic’s attempts at incisive long balls, were aimed at the wing instead of forward towards Mandzukic, hence making no use of Mario’s physicality. Sandro’s struggles in the final third meant that Mandzukic was feeding off scraps for most of the game, and barely got involved. I am still not convinced that Mandzukic can be of use when there isn’t a player playing off him, and the play isn’t directed through the center. Unless of course we have wingers like Robben and Ribery delivering monster crosses for him, which we don’t.
The heatmaps give us a straightforward assessment of the match, and second half in particular, as Sevilla were pushed further and further behind, and we began to dominate possession all over the pitch, all the way up to their 18-yard box, yet we had next to nothing to show for it. In between Marchisio’s penalty and Bonucci’s winner, we mustered only a single shot at all, which is quite poor.
Perhaps could have done better on Sevilla’s goal, but his vision was obscured by a large number of players and the chances that none of them would get even a touch on the ball were slim, so its hard to fault him. Had little to do after the first 20 minutes.
I was actually very impressed with Alves tonight. He showed excellent chemistry with Cuadrado, and was very sound defensively. Most hearteningly, his random positional changes and flair moves were kept in check and not overdone. He had the most touches of anyone on the pitch, and had a stunning 96 percent passing accuracy rate.
Rugani: 8.5 (MotM)
My personal choice for Man of the Match, Rugani had a monster game. He was instrumental in not letting Sevilla run away in the first 20 minutes, as he wonderfully stemmed the flow of Spanish attacks, with wonderful positioning, and reading of the game. He had Vietto in his pocket throughout the first half, and won a number of headers and balls that made me think he was Bonucci. His new found composure on the ball is very impressive, as he confidently brought the ball forward and was not afraid to play the odd long ball. Still managed an impressive 88 percent passing rate. Did not put a foot wrong all game, in a difficult stadium with an electric atmosphere against a strong and physical team. His composure belies his age, and sky’s the limit for him!
Continues to establish himself as not only one of most important outfield players, but also one of our most clutch game winners. Despite question marks (unfounded, in my opinion) about him in a back four, he too didn’t put a foot wrong, on the ball or positionally, all game. Capped off a solid defensive performance, with a stunning match winner from distance on his “weaker” foot.
I’m starting to have my doubts over Evra being more “safe” than Sandro, and Max’s first choice on European nights. It’s not that he isn’t solid, it’s that he’s slowly starting to show signs that he’s going to lose every 50-50 occasion most of the time, even occasionally losing fights/moments/positions where he ought to be the favorite. This is a serious concern. A solid game is pointless when he loses focus in a key moment, which is far likelier to be punished in Europe. Didn’t offer much going forward either.
The Colombian is fast earning a place in my good books, after a series of impressive performances over the past month and a half. Shockingly, he had a 90 percent passing rate, and he seems to be in the kind of form where all his dribbles and moves end up being productive in one way or another, even if all they’re doing is making space for a teammate, which is extremely important. He’s found his niche within the team, and I’m very grateful to have his skillset within the squad!
Solid, if unspectacular game from the German. Struggled to get into the game early on, similar to Marchisio. However, there onwards, he was always where he needed to be. Came agonizingly close with a first time shot from outside the box, and his improved shooting/attacking positioning this year is turning out to be a hidden weapon for us. Still, with Mandzukic struggling to effect the game, he didn’t have anyone to play his usual quick passes with in the final third.
Vital to this squad. The first half is the clearest indicator of what he brings to this squad. When absent or off his game, the team struggles to find cohesion going forward, and the defense is far more exposed than they normally would be. His composure, quick thinking and efficiency on the ball is what can make the difference in games like today, where one team lost their heads and the plot completely, while the other, his team, didn’t. A little lucky with his penalty, but fully deserved his first European goal in almost four years. Loses half a point for a poor opening 20 minutes.
Dire performance from the Bosnian, who is really struggling. Struggled to get into the game, and Marchisio next to him had almost double as many touches and passes as him, which is quite startling. When he did get the ball, he didn’t do anything useful with it, and lost it often. He also reacts to fouls/referee decisions with far too much impulsiveness, and it’s only a matter of time before he collects a booking at a very bad time for him and the team.
Decent game from our Brazilian bomber, who was absolutely everywhere down the left flank. Very solid defensively, and after the opening 20, he did well to understand the threat Ferreira was posing down the left, and help Uncle Pat to double team him. Lacked his usual sharpness going forward, in the final third in particular, but that is to be expected considering the stunningly high levels he’s displayed this season so far.
Struggled badly. This game wasn’t for him, and it brought back flashbacks of how he looked in comparison to a more dynamic forward like Morata in this 4-5-1 setup vs Bayern Munich last year. That said, he was isolated against two, if not three defenders, and he received very little service, or crosses to attack. However, full marks for a wonderful composed finish at the very end to leave the game beyond doubt.
He is such a mass of contradictions. His positioning is actually surprisingly brilliant, but it’s his finesse, or lack thereof, that keeps letting him down. That said, on two separate occasions he did lose the ball, only to immediately hunt it down and win it again. In that sense, he is reliable but for his atrocious passing and touch on the ball, which are glaring flaws for a midfielder to have.
Don’t know what to rate the young lad, but he showed what a more agile and physical threat can do, although it was against 10 pairs of tired legs. He is certainly an impressive specimen for his age, and his growth under Allegri will be interesting to see. With the number of injuries we are accumulating, and both Mandzukic and Higuain entering the tail end of their careers, it will be interesting to see Allegri’s plans for him. I think he has an excellent sense of developing youngsters, so fingers crossed..
Didn’t get injured on his return game. Shocker. He stupidly had his hands all over Iborra on a late corner, and had the midfielder gone down, who knows how the referee might have ruled. Its annoying he doesn’t seem to be able to change this aspect of his game..
Got the lineup right, but his hand was forced. Going behind early in that fashion certainly had an impact on our poor opening 20 minutes, but the team did very well to fight their way back into the match for the remainder of the half, and credit has to go to his setup for that. That said, his negative approach in the second half was very obvious, and very very annoying. Normally you’d expect the side to at least try to take the initiative for 10-15 minutes, before going into safe mode, but they came out in the second half aiming not to lose, and that is shameful. Still, gave Kean a chance in a key game, and in some small way it made a difference, which took guts.
- We need Dybala and Pjaca back soon.
- More of this please, Cuadrado and Alves.
- For heaven’s sake, there is zero need to rush Chiellini back into the starting lineup. Rugani’s performance ought to be enough to convince anyone that Chiellini does not need to be rushed back to fitness.
- Bonucci is the real Clutchmeister.
- I’ll end with a lovely paragraph I found on an Adam Digby article:
“As with many aspects of modern life, the Italian language has numerous words that have been adopted into English analysis of football. It is not uncommon to hear words like regista or trequartista pop up during conversations about the beautiful game, but perhaps for once it is Calcio that would do well to borrow a foreign term to describe one of its most under-appreciated players.
Not as incisive in his passing as predecessor Andrea Pirlo, Marchisio occupies the central midfield role as what Brazilians would call a volante. The term describes a player who not only protects the defence, but also ensures the ball continually flows in the right direction, literally translating as ‘steering wheel.’
Tactically aware and technically superb, he may lack the other-worldly passing ability of the man who left for New York City FC, but he brings increased physicality, stamina and awareness to the position. On Tuesday night, when the Old Lady most needed him, it was Marchisio who drove her to victory. It was not the first time, and it will not be the last.”
That’s all from me, guys, and thanks for reading! Top of the league, top of the Champions League group, it could have been worse! Forza Juve!