After many months of absence, the famous spine-tingling anthem of the Champions League returned to the Juventus Stadium. As we all know, this season is extra special after an eventful summer mercato brought bags of excitement and expectation to Turin.
But when it all comes down to it, the only thing that matters is what happens on the pitch.
Unfortunately, what did happen on the pitch last night was awfully anti-climactic.
My fans cheer, my time is finally here.
The past depart the present cause the future is near,
Anticipation, magnified my motivation
Great Expectations; Jurassic 5
It looked like it would be so much different, though, based on the opening few minutes. The game started at a wonderfully high tempo as the Bianconeri quickly got a few interceptions in and counterattacks going. Sami Khedira managed to get himself into great positions on two occasions: once driving a low right-footed shot wide and another time scuffing a tame left-footed shot into the hands of the grateful Sergio Rico, after Paulo Dybala had found the German with an amazing piece of skill while falling to the ground. Sevilla seemed a little flustered early on, but they managed to compose themselves quickly to calm the pace of the game.
They almost switched off again, though, as Rico’s awkward clearance fell to Mario Lemina, who quickly pinged the ball to Gonzalo Higuaín. The Argentine in turn managed to thread the ball to Dybala who couldn’t quite fashion a clear-cut chance for himself as Rico stormed off his line to make a dangerous, but fair, tackle to stop the danger. That was as close as it got in the first half as Sevilla stood resolute and gladly went to half-time with the score level at 0-0.
The second half started in more positive fashion as the Bianconeri upped the tempo. Dani Alves, especially, saw much more of the ball compared to the first half and looked to offer an offensive outlet on the right wing. Even some of his crosses were remarkably poor, one cross was right on the money. Higuaín thought to have opened the scoring with a glancing header, only to see it crash off the inside of the bar and cleared.
It was the closest Juventus had — and would — come to a breakthrough all evening. Aside from a half-chance from a Khedira cross, again from the (inside) right channel, there was little else to shout about except for the introductions of Miralem Pjanic and Alex Sandro for Kwadwo Asamoah and Patrice Evra, respectively.
Juventus manager Max Allegri then looked to Marko Pjaca to add a breath of life and a last-gasp salvation to the game as he replaced Dybala. This salvation was desperately close to happening when Sandro forced an fantastic save from Sergio Rico with a low header after Khedira’s floated cross from deep, but it was not to be. Pjaca had a strong penalty shout waved away on after tumbling under a challenge, but referee Deniz Aytekin wasn’t interested despite the winger’s pleas.
The final whistle soon blew as Pjanic booted the ball away in frustration, aptly summing up the sentiments of Juventus players and fans alike.
BUFFON N/A. - Quite literally had nothing to do all game.
BARZAGLI 6,5 - Didn’t put a foot wrong all game, but wasn’t challenged all that much defensively anyway.
BONUCCI 6 - Couldn’t dictate the play from deep at all and was uncharacteristically sloppy with his passing a few times.
CHIELLINI 6,5 - Ditto as with Barzagli, but did show a few nice offensive forays in the 2nd half when Vitolo forgot to track him and N’Zonzi didn’t quite know how to deal with him.
Dani ALVES 5.5 - Strong defensively, but offensive output was quite poor. Although he was very involved in the second half, his crossing was really off the mark (except for the Higuaín header.
KHEDIRA 6.5 - I could downgrade him for scuffing those chances or I could upgrade him for getting into the position for those chances in the first place. I choose the latter. His cross for Sandro late on was also fantastic.
LEMINA 5.5 - Not spectacular, but protected the defense well. If there is one key aspect he needs to improve, it’s to figure out how to impact the game from deep when playing against super-congested sides/midfields.
ASAMOAH 5 - A bit ponderous on the ball and really struggled to escape his marker throughout the game. He’s supposed to offer offensive drive from midfield but eventually it was Khedira that did that dirty work for him. Disappointing.
EVRA 5,5 - Very little offensive output from the Frenchman and was very quiet throughout the game.
DYBALA 6.5 - Tried very hard to create something, through passing and a few dribbles, but it was just too congested in the middle of the park. Dropped increasingly deeper as well to pick up the ball.
HIGUAÍN 6 - Starved of service all game as he struggled to escape Rami’s attention. His header seemed to have rescued the game but it was inches too high.
SANDRO 6.5 - Almost won the game at the death and was very lively in possession.
PJANIC 6 - Didn’t have enough time to truly make his mark on the game. Will be raring to go vs. Inter though.
PJACA N/A - Showed a few flashes of life, but we’re all still waiting for him to get a real chance to dazzle us.
ALLEGRI 5,5 - Of course, people will point at the decision not to start Pjanic as the sole reason to crucify Max. The lack of a tactical shift during the game when things were clearly going nowhere was disappointing, though, and he didn’t quite know what to do to outsmart Jorge Sampaoli here.
Tactical Roundup: A tough nut to crack
The difficulty in building up play from the back, especially in the first half, was largely due to the Sevilla wingers, Pablo Sarabia and Vitolo, wandering around Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini in order to prevent them from playing simple balls into central midfield. Vázquez didn’t really bother himself greatly with pressing Leonardo Bonucci too much, but instead, like the aforementioned wingers, simply stood off the defenders, let them have the ball, and blocked their central passing options. Add to that the solid block of (the giant) Steven N’Zonzi, (the even bigger giant) Vicente Iborra, and Matias Kranevitter stifling play in said central midfield, and there was really little the BBC could do in possession other than mostly just play it between them. It’s no wonder that there were so few (successful) passes in that middle third zone, just from looking at Bonucci’s passing pattern.
Consequently, Alves and Evra were not really picked up as Gabriel Mercado and Sergio Escudero felt uncomfortable moving that high up the pitch to challenge them, but it mattered little because they could almost never be reached with a pass. When one of the wingbacks was reached, though, the right hand side with Alves seemed to be the far more offensively fruitful one than the left as showed in the earlier graphic. The Brazilian, and Khedira, managed to fashion the biggest chances from that side from Higuaín’s and Sandro’s headers.
Onwards and Upwards
As much as last night was terribly disappointing, and puts us a bit in a bother in terms of the group, we don’t have time to let this result get to our heads. With the always-massive Derby d’Italia on the horizon, we must cast our sights forwards and learn from the shortcomings of this group stage game. For all the hype that this summer’s mercato raised, this game was a humbling reality check to show that so much remains to be done and that, for the most part, we are the only ones hindering our path to success.
More! I can be so much more!