After the opening 45 minutes Wednesday night, nobody could be blamed for being a little ... bored with what Juventus and Zenit St. Petersburg were putting forward. There was no real flow, there were all of a couple of shots from either side and overall level of play left so much to be desired that you could have just fast-forwarded through the opening 45 minutes and not missed a thing if you were watching on delay.
So, basically, the bar was low for the second half.
And like so many times before in the Champions League, it just so happened that Juventus’ lone goal came right as we were starting to think about stoppage time.
Maybe not exactly in stoppage time like in years prior, but pretty damn close.
After 85 minutes of some rather drab and uninspiring play from both Juventus and Zenit, it was second-half substitute Dejan Kulusevski who allowed the Bianconeri to quickly go from “still unbeaten in Group H” to “still undefeated in Group H.” Kulusevski’s goal, a header off another fine cross from the left wing off the right foot of Mattia De Sciglio, in the 86th minute gave Juventus the 1-0 win over Zenit in Russia and allowed Max Allegri’s squad to stay perfect in group stage play despite actually playing far from as well as they have in recent games.
Despite the struggles, despite all of the ineffectiveness Juventus had on Wednesday night, Juventus did what they’ve done during the last three times they’ve taken the field:
That’s all that really matters here. Sometimes in the Champions League, it’s the result more than the performance that matters most. And especially with Chelsea beating up on Malmö at the same time as Juve were trying to find a goal in the same stadium where the Champions League final will be held in May, simply getting the win and the three points is what Juventus needed to keep the distance between themselves and the reigning European champions.
They did that.
I will take that.
Sure, some will be mad about how Juve played. But a completely uninspiring win that keeps Juve on the top of the group sounds a whole lot better than Juventus dropping points in a very winnable game in which the opponent doesn’t do much. We’ve seen that before in fixtures like these. We’ve seen that before in trips to the Eastern part of Europe, too. Sometimes you just gotta forget the performance and just remember that Juventus won the game.
I will remember very little about what Juventus actually did in Russia. (Good thing it’s not much to begin with.) But I will remember that Juve won thanks to a Kulusevski goal and a Mattia freakin’ De Sciglio assist. That’s better than nothing. And it’s a whole lot better than being frustrated because Juve dropped points in a game they shouldn’t have.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Go ahead and pick a word to describe that first half. Do it. You won’t be wrong.
- Go ahead and pick a ward to describe Mattia De Sciglio over the last two games. Do it. You won’t be wrong. (OK, you could be wrong, but it’s a fun little game to play.)
- Seriously, De Sciglio playing a key role in the last two goals Juventus has scored and playing pretty well overall. Call it a pretty massive surprise, folks. A very, very pleasant surprise.
- Who had a team-high three key passes? That would be Mattia De Sciglio.
- Juventus landed three accurate crosses in this game. They were all from Mattia De Sciglio.
- Four straight 1-0 wins in a row. Seriously. Welcome to Max’s world.
- That also means four straight shutouts in a row. I will take that any day of the week.
- Weston McKennie had two of Juventus’ best scoring chances of this game. One was saved, the other one went just wide. This was probably the best McKennie has looked all season, covering so much damn ground defensively and also nearly scoring a pair of goals. Who knows just where McKennie fits into Allegri’s side still, but this was a much-needed step in the right direction for the American.
- Another 1-0 Juventus win in which Wojciech Szczesny doesn’t have a ton to do, but he was very much capable with the saves he had to make. The first one — which turned out to be the most difficult — was a weird shot and obviously had him redirecting his body right before making the save itself. But, again, Juve got another shutout, and that’s good.
- A second straight game in which Federico Chiesa wasn’t all that great. Paulo Dybala’s return will be very much a welcome sight if only because it will get Chiesa back on the wing where he belongs.
- There was a point in the second half where Alvaro Morata had green space in front of him and instead settled for a long shot — probably around 25 yards out — that never really had a chance of going on goal. If ever you could find a moment to define Juve’s performance up until that point, there you go.
- Arthur and Aaron Ramsey on the field at the same time. Seriously, it happened.
- Despite just coming back from muscle fatigue and taking a nasty foul to his ankle in the second half, Matthijs de Ligt was a complete monster in the air against Zenit. He’s good ... really freakin’ good.
- Juventus had two shots on target. Their second one just so happened to win them the game.
- During the final free kick/corner kick combination in the dying seconds of stoppage time, Max Allegri couldn’t watch. So much so he walked off the field and down the tunnel. I think we were all feeling that way and hoping that there was no last-second madness that came out of those two final kicks of the ball by Zenit. If my heart rate was where it was, I can’t imagine how Allegri was feeling in that moment. No wonder he couldn’t bear to see it all play out.
- Just take the points and move on. Juve’s got a big one this weekend, and they’re going to have to play a whole lot better if they want to come out victorious over Inter. Pretty sure Allegri knows that. He’s a smart guy.