The narrative coming into Tuesday’s Round of 16 clash between Atletico de Madrid and Juventus was that a comeback for the Italians wasn’t impossible, but unlikely.
After being absolutely throttled by Atletico in Madrid, it was normal to be a bit skeptical of Juve’s possibilities coming into the game. That the defending Serie A champs would have to play the “perfect” game to stand a chance.
Well, lo and behold, the fabled perfect game happened, and the unlikely comeback became a reality in front of our eyes thanks to Juventus’ 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night. We even got Giorgio Chiellini bleeding, a good luck charm if there has ever been one despite not getting a full-on head bandage.
There is far too much to talk about this historic night, so let’s get to it.
Trending up: Massimiliano Allegri
What is it with Mad Max, big deficits and marvelous comebacks? Allegri shifted the lineup that started the first leg by giving starts to Federico Bernardeschi, Joao Cancelo and Leonardo Spinazzola in an effort to be as offensive as possible.
(Another weird thing about Allegri giving guys that don’t play that often starts in pivotal games: Juve had Rodrigo Bentancur starting against Real Madrid last year and Spinazzola this season.)
Needless to say, those changes worked to perfection. Spinazzola, who we haven’t seen as much as a lot of folks would want, was a welcome surprise as he was one of the better performers on a night where just about everyone shined. Cancelo looked a bit shook early on, but had flashes and was a dangerous presence for most of the game giving width to Juve’s play all night long.
All I’m going to say is that the #AllegriOut crowd is awful quiet after that masterclass.
Winner: Federico Bernardeschi
Readers of the Grab Bag are well aware that I’m a Paulo Dybala stan, true and true. And while I still believe he is one of the best players in the squad, it is undeniable that benching him and starting Bernardeschi was one of the key factors in turning this tie around. It was the right decision.
Fede was all over the place, recovering balls, pressing up high and generating a threat to score almost every time he was involved in the attacking build up. He placed a perfect cross to Cristiano Ronaldo for the first goal and humiliated Angel Correa into taking him down in the box to win the penalty that would seal the deal for Juventus.
His Bianconeri career has been start and stop, mostly because of injuries and an overload of talented attackers, but this is the remainder we all needed to know that Fede is right up there with any other offensive starlet. His game is as complete as it has ever been and if he keeps playing like this, not even the staunchest Dybala stans like myself will be able to justify the Argentinian starting over him.
Only reason he is not the clear cut MOTM is because, well, you know.
Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo
I enjoy poking fun at CR7 fans because it’s amusing, leads to nice debates and, for the most part, they are completely irrational about their adoration for Ronaldo. And while I will continue to say that he should not take free kicks — the stats back me up, not even a troll job here — let me be the first to say, I get the adoration.
How many players can possibly come out and say “Hey, I will win this by myself” and actually do it? Ronaldo was absolutely clinical on Tuesday night, bodying Atletico’s much-vaunted defense for his brace and then calmly executing the game-winning penalty. Sure, he might not have done it by himself like he said he would because it truly was a complete team performance. But scoring a goddamn hat-trick with your team backed up against the wall in the biggest game of the season is pretty close.
Unbelievable stuff from the Portuguese, troll Atletico fans as you damn please.
Trending up: Juventus’ Midfield
A lot has been said about how the weak link of this squad is the midfield, and, to be fair, their performances as a unit for the season have been very much up and down. But continuing the trend of this post, they played an absolutely perfect game.
Miralem Pjanic didn’t put a foot wrong the entire game and managed the possession in the best way possible. Emre Can did everything he was brought in here to do and showed off why he was such a tantalizing prospect and why Juventus’ brass put so much effort into bringing him on board as a free transfer this season. Blaise Matuidi was an absolute engine, suffocating Atletico’s build up and pressing the entire game.
As bad as they have looked at times, this unit is still incredibly talented, and they showed it on Tuesday.
Loser: Atletico de Madrid
Sure, they literally lost the tie, a tie they had pretty much on hand coming into the second leg. But what really stings is yet another European failure in what kind of looked like the last hurrah of a decent chunk of their core.
I have always liked Atletico. They are a gritty team with talent and a very clear identity as well as a similar history of European heartbreak as Juventus. If they had ousted Juve from the competition I would have rooted them on to win the whole thing in their home stadium.
Unfortunate for them, but as French superstar Antoine Griezmann said, they just picked a bad day to … mess up, let’s just say he meant messed up.
Parting Shot of the Week
I’m going to level with you fine folks. I was ready for Juve to be eliminated. In fact, I was expecting them to be out. They had all the tell-tale signs of a team that had peaked too early in the season and Atletico looked like the perfect team, with the perfect game plan and game style to make it impossible to come back from a two-goal deficit while not allowing a goal.
So, of course that’s when they decide to play the best game the have played in all of 2019 by a mile.
The European dream lives on and don’t look now but …
Manchester City is the favorite of the bunch. Barcelona will probably be in as well and either Bayern Munich or Liverpool will be tough outs, but that’s not a terribly challenging field now, is it? With Juventus playing like they did Tuesday night, do we dare say, are they the favorites?
Hey, after Tuesday night? Anything is possible.
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