Maurizio Sarri warned of Lokomotiv Moscow’s trip to Turin being a trap game, and it was a trap game that Juventus certainly got.
So much so that Juve didn’t have to scratch and claw their way to three points. They had to use late-game magic to just salvage a point against a Lokomotiv side that really had no interest in going forward much at all — and that was before they got the lead.
Just like we all thought would happen, right?
Frustration was the name of the game for 70-plus minutes on Tuesday night. Juventus tried and tried and tried again with very little to show for it other than dominating the possession numbers. Then, in what seemed like the blink of our eyes, Paulo Dybala’s magical left foot struck. And then it struck again. Within a two-minute span, Juve’s No. 10 singlehandedly flipped what had been an utterly disappointing showing up until the 77th minute into a 2-1 Juventus lead, a result that the Italian champions were able to hold onto and subsequently remain joint-top of Champions League Group D with their second consecutive European victory.
Essentially, on a night where Juventus desperately needed some individual magic based on how the game was going entering its final stages, Dybala delivered.
And then he delivered again.
Rabbit, you’ve officially been pulled out of Sarri’s hat.
The final numbers will be flattering toward Juventus — 78 percent possession, 28 total shots created. On paper, regardless of the scoreline, it probably looked like Juve dominated their opposition much in the same fashion as they did over the weekend against Bologna. The truth was, however, that with Lokomotiv Moscow dropping deep and packing numbers in from the very beginning of the game — all 10 outfield players were consistently in the defensive half of the field for a large portion of the proceedings — Juve were always going to dominate those types of numbers.
The problem was that up until about the hour mark, all of that possession, all of those shots, weren’t exactly troubling the Lokmotiv defense to the point Juve looked consistently dangerous.
And, with all of one defensive miscue at the back by Juventus, the trap game that Sarri expected was in full effect, with the accompanying nervous energy at Allianz Stadium that has been with this club in Europe the last couple of years making its presence be known.
Leave it to Dybala to change all of that.
Thankfully, I might add.
As the Champions League’s all-time leading goal scorer had one of his more frustrating nights of the still-young season, Dybala was easily Juventus’ best player after the halftime break. The introduction of Gonzalo Higuain had Dybala playing a little deeper than he had been in the first half (and pretty much all season), but he was still getting forward — and that’s exactly what he did on both of his goals.
The first one to tie was one of those beautiful and classic left-foot curlers from Juve’s No. 10, one that you could just tell was one that would finally break the dam. Less than two minutes, a rebound that got loose in the penalty area was calmly slotted home by Dybala to pretty much make ammends for whatever happened while Juve still had a zero on the scoreboard.
I’ll take it.
I didn’t like how Juve played for pretty much the entire night. Neither did you, I’m sure. But hey, we’re used to seeing Juventus suffer, score a quick goal or two late in the game and then leave the field victorious. Rinse ... repeat ... Juve gonna Juve.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Lokomotiv Moscow in the first half: 21 percent possession, 67 passes completed. Seriously, that’s it. And that was the team that held the 1-0 lead at halftime.
- Cristiano Ronaldo free kicks going into the wall.
- (Please do something about this, Mr. Sarri. You’ve got Miralem Pjanic and Paulo Dybala on this team, too, you know.)
- Even before the two quick goals, Dybala was having himself an impressive second half. That’s the commanding kind of presence Juve need from him no matter the situation, but it was even more impressive to see him put the team on his back with others off their game Tuesday night.
- Excuse me while I watch Dybala’s first goal about 500 times on a loop at work and get nothing done. Sorry in advance, boss.
- Also, the pass from Juan Cuadrado to set up Dybala’s game-tying goal was pretty good, too.
- That said, Gonzalo Higuain had a couple of really nice scoring chances that could have given Juve the lead much, much earlier than when they actually got it.
- Speaking of Higuain, when was the last time a Juventus manager put off subbing a player off at halftime only to bring him on two minutes into the second half? That was odd, but ultimately proved to be the right first move from Sarri.
- I don’t really know what make of Rodrigo Bentancur’s start at the trequartista spot mainly because it seemed like he had about 25 guys around him most of the time when he was on the ball. Maybe Sarri wanted somebody with a little more technical ability to his game at the No. 10 spot as opposed to Federico Bernardeschi sometimes-concrete first touch, but it’s not like Lokomotiv packing things in from the opening minute really helped the young Uruguayan out much at all.
- Who here needed the starting lineups being announced to be reminded that, in fact, Juventus had Beneditk Howedes on its roster for a season a couple of years ago? Because I did.
- Now, please, don’t do the same thing against Lecce, guys. I don’t want to deal with this kind of game before the sun rises over the weekend.