It wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo who was the decisive man in the second leg of Juventus’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie with Olympique Lyon. It wasn’t Paulo Dybala. It wasn’t Gonzalo Higuain. It wasn’t Lyon’s headliners like Memphis Depay or Houssem Aouar either.
The decisive man at the J Stadium on Friday was Felix Zwayer.
The German referee was the one who provided the defining moment of this night, when he made an astronomically stupid penalty call against the home side 10 minute into the game. With Aouar carrying the ball into the Juventus penalty area in the left channel, Rodrigo Bentancur made an incredible sliding challenge. It was perfectly timed and won the ball clean. Aouar hit the deck, and Zwayer’s whistle blew immediately. It was a call that took a significant amount of incompetence to make in the moment and even more audacity to keep in place under VAR review. Those who are either Lyon fans or simply against Juve who point out a reverse angle showing a slight touch between Aouar and Federico Bernardeschi are frankly unconvincing. It’s pretty clear that Aouar goes down under his own power, and if that kind of contact were to truly put Aouar to the ground, he might need to find a new line of work.
It was a truly terrible call, and, when Depay converted the opportunity with a cheeky cucchiaio, it gifted the French team a vital away goal, and ended up deciding the tie. Juve managed to pull themselves back into the game and won 2-1 on the night, but their 1-0 loss in February meant that, with that away goal, the 2-2 aggregate score was enough for Lyon to get through to the quarterfinals.
Maurizio Sarri was handcuffed by some pretty significant injuries, chief among them Paulo Dybala, who had pulled up 12 days before with a thigh injury and wasn’t fit enough to start, though he did make the bench. Also missing with an injury from the same game was Douglas Costa, who could have made a huge difference against a packed-in defense. With those issues, Sarri sent out the best team he could. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal, with Juan Cuadrado, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, and Alex Sandro screening in front of him. Bentancur joined Miralem Pjanic, who as it turned out would be playing his last game for Juventus, and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Bernardeschi played on the right side of the attacking trident, with Higuain, also likely playing his last game for the club, and Ronaldo joining him in the line.
Rudi Garcia’s side was playing only their second competitive game since the coronavirus shutdown. He arrayed his charges in a 3-5-2 formation that was well set up to try to hold the home team at bay. Anthony Lopes was the man between the sticks, with Jason Denayer, Marcelo (no relation to the Real Madrid one) and Marcal forming the back three in front of him. Leo Dubois and Maxwel Cornet were the wing-backs, bookending Aouar, Bruno Guimaraes, and 20-year-old Maxence Caqueret. Depay joined Karl Toko Ekambi in the strike pair up top.
Both teams registered shots on target before the penalty incident, Juve within the first 40 seconds when Higuain could only loop a cross from Rabiot into Lopes’ arms and Lyon a minute before the penalty incident when Aouar half-volleyed a defensive header to the near post that Szczesny tipped behind despite the fact it was likely going wide — better safe than sorry.
Zwayer’s debacle came next, exacerbated by the fact that he should have called a foul when a man went through the back of Higuain before the play.
Juve reacted to the penalty and tried their best to fight back, but were hampered by a good Lyon offside trap that caught Ronaldo offside multiple times as they strove to get on the scoreboard. It looked like the Bianconeri had drawn level on the night when Bernardeschi made a fantastic run, dancing down the byline and faking Lopes into going to ground to block a cross that never came. Instead he surged on and was on the brink of tucking the ball into the post when Marcelo somehow got a touch to it and put it on the other side of the upright. A minute later Ronaldo skied a free header off a good cross by Sandro.
Juventus put a few more decent crosses into the box that were well defended, and managed to gain a pair of free kicks in range of a strike. Ronaldo took both, hitting the first into the wall (normal) and forcing an excellent save from Lopes in the second (less so, although very much welcome). Two minutes after that, Rabiot earned a third free kick near the left-hand corner of the box, and Zwayer added a B side to his hit single.
This time it was Pjanic who lined up to take the kick, and he aimed for the near post, hitting Depay on the end of the Lyon wall. Specifically, the ball struck his arm, which was tucked into his chest for protection, with his elbow protruding maybe an inch from his body. Zwayer called for a penalty kick and booked Depay to boot. It was an incredibly harsh call, although perhaps not quite as bad as the first. This call was an extreme interpretation of a rule that no one quite regards the same way, the first simply hadn’t existed.
Ronaldo stepped up for the penalty and dispatched it easily, sending Lopes the wrong way and giving Juve a lifeline as the half drew to a close.
The opening stages of the second half didn’t see too much in the way of progress. Cuadrado in particular didn’t look very good, giving away possession with several awful passes and hitting crosses to absolutely nowhere. But hope suddenly burned a little brighter right on the hour, when Ronaldo took a simple pass from Bernardeschi on the right, found a shooting lane, and unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot with his left foot. It was headed for the top corner, and Lopes flew to try to parry it, but only managed to palm it into the post and back into the net. It was a fantastic goal, and it gave Juve half an hour to find the goal they needed to win the tie.
Sarri put Aaron Ramsey onto the field immediately, while Garcia, needing fresh legs in the back after the long layoff, replaced a struggling Denayer with Joachim Anderson, who immediately made a series of good defensive plays in the box. In the midst of that series Bonucci went up for a header with on a corner with de Ligt the only one close to him, but sent it wide. Six minutes later, Ronaldo used some of those stepovers of his to get himself into a good crossing position and sent in a good ball, but Higuain put his header over the bar.
Zwayer called for the cooling break after the miss, and Sarri played what he hoped would be his trump card: he sent on Dybala for Bernardeschi, at the same time replacing Cuadrado, who seemed to be having a muscle problem of his own, with Danilo. Five minutes after play restarted, the Argentine sent in an excellent corner kick that gave Ronaldo a free header — and he put it over.
A few minutes later, the Bianconeri very nearly gave the game away when Szczesny missed a punch, causing a scramble in the box that almost gave Lyon a second penalty when a man hit the floor, but Zwayer, who had come out for the half looking a little bit sheepish, wasn’t interested in penalties in this half.
Once it was cleared up it looked like Juventus was ready to redouble their efforts, but those efforts took a demoralizing blow when Dybala pulled up while on the ball and put the ball out. He’d made a valiant effort to play in an important game, but his leg just wouldn’t let him do it, and he was replaced by Marco Olivieri.
Zwayer showed equal unwillingness to give more spot-kicks when Sandro flicked a corner kick onto a Lyon player’s arm, but despite what looked like a brief conversation with the VAR official no call was made — although there aren’t a ton of complaints to be made about it.
Lyon packed the middle of the field and forced Juve to try to fling crosses into the box, but Juve did have one last roll of the dice in stoppage time when Higuain earned a foul in shooting range. With Pjanic and Dybala off the field, Ronaldo was the only guy left on the field to take the shot. He did, and while he hit the wall again, this one was a different kind of wall strike—it was a really good free kick that would’ve been destined for the net had it not gone off Marcelo’s head.
Lyon managed to burn some time in the Juve half after that, and Juve never put together a decent threat again. The minutes ticked down, Zwayer put that cursed whistle to his mouth one last time, and Juve had crashed out early in Europe yet again.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. Made the only save he could have been reasonably expected to make, but made a bad miss on a cross that nearly let Lyon put the tie away.
JUAN CUADRADO - 4.5. One of the worst possible times for Bad Juan to show up. He gave the ball away multiple times and his crosses, bar a solitary one that was the victim of some good defending, were awful. A depressing coda to a pretty good year.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6. Blocked a shot late and was generally solid at the back, but couldn’t do much to help up front, and might’ve gotten in Bonucci’s way on a second-half corner.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. Led the team with four interceptions, but missed a great opportunity to put Juve in the lead on aggregate in the second half.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Made a good cross or two, added a tackle and an interception on defense, but couldn’t get very high up the field without leaving too much space on the counter.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 5.5. He doesn’t get dinged for Zwayer’s mistake. Made a key pass and two tackles, but couldn’t dictate things against Aouar and the rest of the Lyon midfield. He’s improved a lot this season and is going to be a building block on this team for years to come, and will only get better with a better midfield around him.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 5.5. Completed 93 percent of his passes and co-led the team in tackles with three, but didn’t manage to move the attack forward at all. He’s given his all these last four years and will be missed.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Not nearly as bad as he was in the first leg. Made three tackles in midfield and was generally tenacious, but there wasn’t a whole ton of end product. Still, he’s proven his worth since the restart.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 5.5. Led the team with two key passes and was denied by that fantastic stop by Marcelo, but needed more today. I guess that’s his Juve career in a nutshell.
GONZALO HIGUAIN - 4.5. Missed a good opportunity in the second half and was generally too slow. Age has robbed him of the dynamism he still had when he first joined Juve.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 7. His penalty was clinical and his second goal was outstanding, but he also missed two free headers, either of which could have potentially won the tie.
AARON RAMSEY - 5. Never made any of the forward runs that were desperately needed to disrupt the Lyon defense. He was coming on before lockdown but never looked close to that in the restart.
DANILO - 5.5. Didn’t provide much of an overlap down the right side, though he did defend as solidly as he could.
PAULO DYBALA - NR. It was a valiant effort, but his muscle just didn’t have it in him.
MARCO OLIVIERI - NR. Did his best up top after Dybala came off but didn’t have much of the ball to work with.
Maurizio Sarri had little to work with going into this game with Dybala hobbled and Douglas Costa not capable of playing. Dybala was the one throw of the dice he had, but it was a dangerous one and it came up snake eyes.
It was a microcosm of what Sarri has had to deal with all year. This team was never built to work with the system he was brought in to install, and for all our talk about Juve’s depth, it’s hard to see it given the circumstances.
There definitely were some tactical problems issues in this game. Lyon’s wingbacks generally outplayed Juve’s fullbacks, pushing up far enough that Cuadrado and Sandro could never really get far enough forward to effectively join the attack, while the three-man back line funneled any attempts to play through the middle into narrow corridors. The team’s off-ball movement still isn’t good enough to move a defense as entrenched as Lyon’s was out of alignment. With time and the right players, these can probably be fixed. The question is whether or not Sarri will be allowed that time. If he is, this abbreviated offseason is going to be hugely important.
Still, I can’t stress enough that I think Sarri managed to get enough out of this team on the day. Zwayer’s terrible penalty call gifted Lyon the margin of victor in this tie and changed the tenor of the game. If you were to remove it and assume everything else played out the same, Juve win 2-0 and head to the mini-tournament in Lisbon. Remove both controversial penalties, and they’d still have had a 1-0 win and extra time at a bare minimum, and that’s to say nothing of the fact that we’ll never know what might have happened to either team mentally without that early gut-punch. While acknowledging the technical flaws above and the general struggles of the players on the field, at the end of the day this is a game where Juventus got the shaft from the referee.
On behalf of Danny, Chucks, Sergio, Hunter, and Calvin, I’d like to thank you all for staying with us through this long and challenging season. There have been things far more important than soccer going on in the world these last six months, but we hope we’ve been able to provide a diversion in the hardship, and a glimmer of normalcy in these very abnormal times.
Stay with us through this offseason for transfer rumors, opinions, transfer rumors, looks back into history, and transfer rumors. And The Old Lady Speaks won’t go silent over the break either—we’ve got more episodes planned beyond the coming reaction to this game. The new Serie A season is due to begin on Sept. 19.
That’s all there is. There isn’t any more.