Juventus came into the game in buoyant mood after Saturday’s hard-fought 2-1 victory against close rivals Napoli. The hosts were fully aware that victory would guarantee a place in the knockout phase of the Champions League for the third consecutive season, so coach Max Allegri sprung a curious surprise for the starting-lineup: the resurrection of the 4-3-1-2 and Miralem Pjanic reclaimed his beloved trequartista position for the first time in Bianconeri colors.
Despite the excitement over the new formation, however, it was Lyon that had the first sight on goal. Alexandre Lacazette, looking to put his woes from the first game behind him, played a neat through-ball into Maciej Rybus after Lyon overloaded the left wing but Buffon neatly saved the Polish international’s subsequent shot. Juventus responded with a good chance of their own as Leonardo Bonucci launched a trademark inch-perfect pass to Gonzalo Higuaín who laid the ball off to his strike partner Mario Mandzukic. The Croatian striker tested Anthony Lopes with a stinging drive, but the Lyon goalkeeper managed to keep hold of the ball and prevent the opening goal.
The opener came soon after, though, as Higuaín spotted Stefano Sturaro’s smart run in behind the defense and played the ball to the Italian midfielder. Sturaro was judged to have been pushed over the young Mouctar Diakhaby in the box and the penalty was awarded to the Bianconeri. Higuaín stepped up to confidently slot the ball into the back of the net to give the hosts the lead!
The goal really put Juventus in their swagger and the momentum was well on their side with the home crowd cheering in full voice. They dominated possession and attacking play as Lyon struggled to cope with the occasion. Claudio Marchisio almost scored the second goal soon afterwards after a lovely passing interplay by the Bianconeri. Patrice Evra’s cross was cleared to the edge of the box but Sturaro picked up the loose ball and flicked it on to Marchisio, whose stinging half-volley kissed the post on its way wide. The Bianconeri had another gilt-edged chance minutes later after Mario Mandzukic’s defensive hassling forced Lyon defender Emanuel Mammana into a costly error. The Croatian fed the ball into Higuían, but, as the ball was slightly behind him, the Argentine couldn’t quite get his balance right and skied the shot well over the bar.
For some bewildering reason, though, Juventus completely eased off the pressure in the closing stages of the half which Lyon to take control of proceedings and force two chances: a Rachid Ghezzal shot that went about a meter wide and a Maxime Gonalons header from a corner. The first half ended with Juventus in the lead after dominating the first 25 minutes of the half, but complacently easing off to allow Lyon back into their stride.
The home side started the second half looking to calm the tempo of the game and play steady possession football. The first chance, however, came very quickly: Bonucci played another impeccable ball over the top to Pjanic who cushioned a header to Mandzukic, but the striker sliced a poor shot well wide of goal. Soon afterwards, the customary injury curse hit the squad once again: Bonucci and Pjanic picked up niggling injuries and had to be replaced by Benatia and Sandro respectively, prompting a return to the 3-5-2 formation. The latter made an instant impact by bamboozling two Lyon defenders and laying the ball off to Higuaín, whose subsequent shot was well saved by Lopes. Lyon, however, were well on the ascendancy from the 70th minute onwards. The first sign of this came from Sturaro
being frightened by his own shadow losing the ball in midfield which resulted in a Lyon counter but substitute Cornet couldn’t capitalize on it after shooting wildly over the bar. Lyon’s dominance (and Juventus’ laziness) finally paid dividends as they scored the all-important equalizer. Standout player Ghezzal floated in the free-kick and Corentin Tolisso, one of two players totally free in the box, nodded in the header past Buffon to give the visitors a deserved equalizer.
Juventus were misplacing pass after pass and it was no wonder to see them punished by a resolute Lyon side. The visitors were going for the kill and continued to push forward for a goal but couldn’t fashion any clear-cut chances. Just when the final whistle was about to blow, the usually-flawless Andrea Barzagli made an absolutely dreadful error to allow Lacazette through on goal on his own, but the defender recovered enough to force the Frenchman into a difficult angle such that he could only fire into the side-netting. Juventus fans could breathe again after escaping from an almost disastrous ending to the game, but the anger and discontent was palpable all throughout the stadium after this inexplicable implosion. What seemed like a relatively straightforward victory ended in a fortunate 1-1 draw.
BUFFON 6.5 – Couldn’t do much about the goal. Very smart save in the 8th minute from Rybus’s shot.
BARZAGLI 5.5 – His yellow card was totally unnecessary and then succumbed to a woeful error at the death.
BONUCCI 6.5 – Hit some fantastic balls over the top and was generally one of the better performers on the night.
EVRA 5 – Wasn’t quite “loving this game” so much, as he likes to say. Had a difficult time containing Ghezzal, who was probably my man of the match on the night.
DANI ALVES 6 – Played alright, but his performance dropped off after his cheekbone grew to the size of a baseball.
KHEDIRA 5.5 –He’s a player that’s generally invisible because he does the dirty work in midfield, which is good and bad I suppose. In this case, it wasn’t particularly useful.
PJANIC 5.5 – He dropped deep a lot to pick up the ball but contributed very little creatively. His poor form is extremely worrying…
MARCHISIO 6.5 – Tidy display and good passing as he feels his way back into match fitness after his injury.
STURARO 6 – Started brightly but faded badly as the entire side slumped dramatically in the second half.
HIGUAÍN 6 – The penalty was well-taken but he skied that golden chance in the first half and had a few misplaced passes in the first half. Despite that, he contributed decently in the buildup play.
MANDZUKIC 5.5 – He also looked off-color after his knock at the end of the first half. Contributed defensively but, once again, offensively he’s very poor.
BENATIA 6.5 – Didn’t do much wrong in his brief 20-minute cameo.
SANDRO 7 – Added a breath of fresh air into the side. It’s amazing that, with Dybala injured, he’s the currently brightest spark in the team.
CUADRADO N/A – Played for 7 minutes. As a sidenote, he always looks so confused when he’s playing centrally which is so strange given all the time he played that position for Fiorentina.
ALLEGRI 5 – Totally botched up the midfield battle. Lyon were playing a totally straightforward 4-4-2 formation, so it’s shocking how little Allegri managed to exploit the numerical advantage in central midfield. The first half was, at best, narrowly acceptable but the second half was an embarrassment. His use of Pjanic is, once again, also very confusing (discussed further below).
Tactics: Everywhere but nowhere
Lyon played a very basic 4-4-2 formation, although Fekir dropped off Lacazette once in while to make it a quasi 4-4-1-1 in attack. Nevertheless, there was little tactical novelty to their play: the full-backs bombed forward (which was especially noticeable due to Juventus’ narrow midfield formation), the wingers hugged the touchline and stretched the play, and the strikers looked to exchange quick passes with each other. Given that Allegri started with a surprising 4-3-1-2 formation, I decided to focus on that and, the main man this formation, Miralem Pjanic:
Lyon were happy to have Pjanic play in front of them instead of behind them, especially as they had such a numerical disadvantage in the center of the pitch. Juventus (and Pjanic) made almost no use of this strength though, aside from a few cute passing exchanges in the first half.
Pjanic spent most of the game wandering around in deep positions. He aided the buildup play a lot, but it felt like he was trying too much to do everything: to come deep to help Marchisio, but then run all the way forward to link up with the strikers as well. By trying to do everything, he eventually did nothing really and Allegri has to take the blame for how he instructed the Bosnian to play. As much as I tried to focus on Pjanic, there was little to see as he labored through a difficult performance.
He just did not have a defined role. Was he supposed to start attacks from deep and allow Khedira to run in behind him? Was he supposed to overload the center of midfield and play between the lines? Did he want to draw Tolisso and Gonalons out of position to create a hole in the center to exploit? I have truly no idea. Lyon could allow him to play in front of instead of through them, which they were comfortable doing. All in all, an unspectacular tactical battle that resulted in an unspectacular performance by the home side. Dire stuff...
The architects of our own destruction
As a writer for the blog, I generally have to maintain a degree of level-headedness and leniency in my match assessments because writing emotionally-charged articles would be a bad endorsement for the blog. Make no mistake about tonight though: this was a deplorable performance. We were playing in front of our home crowd, had secured a solid, early lead, and faced a timid Lyon side playing an uncreative 4-4-2 formation. Yet somehow the team fell apart in utterly abject, depressing, and infuriating fashion. There are all kinds of problems that need to be fixed and a potential Axel Witsel signing in the January transfer window will absolutely not solve them. It’s certainly time for some deep soul-searching, because slowly but surely this team is losing control…
You fall asleep at night with worry
The saddest man in Babylon