For so much of Wednesday night, things looked to be going Juventus’ way. Not only were they beating Malmo, but Zenit were actually helping Juve out with a shocking four-minute stretch to score a pair of goals against one of the best defenses in all of the world.
The cards, as they say, were turning up all in Juve’s favor before a Timo Werner goal seemed to kill all hope of Juve pulling the rabbit out of Max Allegri’s hat and finishing atop of Group H.
Zenit, thankfully, had one more trick up their sleeve.
Juventus, somehow, have indeed finished atop of Group H thanks to some craziness on the final day of the group stage. Juve had the relatively drama-free side of the two early games, with Moise Kean’s first-half header standing tall in a game where there were plenty of frustrations regarding the Bianconeri’s finishing once again. But, it was over in Russia where the drama was truly taking place. Chelsea went from 1-0 to down 2-1 to then up 3-2 before Zenit scored in the 94th minute to tie things up and give the opening Juventus needed to leapfrog the reigning European champions and finish in first place in the group.
And ... exhale.
This was the only way that Juventus could have finished in first place in Group H. They needed to both win and hope that something crazy happened in Russia with Chelsea and Zenit. With how Chelsea have been playing of late — including the 4-0 beatdown of Juventus last month — that didn’t exactly look likely. But it was something that maybe, just maybe, there was a little bit of hope surrounding it.
That only got more prevalent once Zenit took its first lead of the night.
That probably took a serious hit when Chelsea took the lead after Werner’s second goal of the day.
But when Zenit hit in the final moments of stoppage time right as the final whistle was sounding in Juventus’ win over Malmo ... well, that was completely unexpected but totally welcomed.
So, because of all this, Juventus will avoid some of the true big boys in the Champions League Round of 16. As we know, this hasn’t exactly worked in Juve’s favor in the last few years. And even if it’s the fourth year in a row that Juventus has finished atop of its Champions League group, it hasn’t equated to anything close to deep runs in the knockout stages, with the last two years coming to an end in the round of 16.
That’s the biggest thing to come out of this night. Sure, Juventus didn’t play great, but they did enough to get the win — and on a night like this one, that was the most important thing. Then you have a little help from our Russian friends, and that small chance of madness happening actually did happen. How ‘bout that?
See? We’re all friends here.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Never gonna stop watching that cross from Federico Bernardeschi to set up Moise Kean’s goal. Remember, this is the same player who was an absolute bust of a player not so long ago. Then the man goes and wins Euro 2020, gets married, changes his jersey number and now he’s getting assists in that kind of way? My word.
- Juventus’ first shot on goal taken by ... Daniele Rugani.
- Koni De Winter!
- In all seriousness, to see De Winter make some club history and look pretty cool out there is quite the accomplishment for a guy who is still 19 years old. Pretty solid night and hopefully it’s a sign that Allegri can turn to the young Belgian a few more times while Danilo is out injured.
- If you had to pick, who do you want playing atop the 4-2-3-1, Moise Kean or Alvaro Morata? They are very different kinds of strikers, but at some point Max is going to have to make a decision — especially with the form Morata has been in for the vast majority of the season.
- I guess when it comes to the two of them, at this point you know what you’re going to get with Morata. He’s going to work hard no matter what, but he’s also going to be extremely streaky and could score in five straight games as easily as he could be scoreless for five straight weeks. Kean is more of the wild card, and the more explosive option of the two. I hope Kean gets some consistent run just to try and get him in a groove because, right now, it’s not like Morata is scoring goals and showing he deserves to be the No. 1 option up top.
- Allegri wasn’t happy with how his team played in the second half, and he has every right to be. It certainly shouldn’t have been a 1-0 win, with both the lack of a finishing touch and just the overall performance of the team letting them down.
- Also of note: Allegri said that Paulo Dybala was subbed off at halftime due to the fact he wasn’t feeling well. It had nothing to do with an injury, Allegri said. You could tell from some of his expressions that Dybala wasn’t looking all that comfortable out there, so hopefully he’s all good to go for the weekend.
- I guess the good thing is that Mattia Perin, fresh out of COVID protocol, didn’t have to do all that much. Maybe not the stand around for the entire 90 minutes like Wojciech Szczesny over the weekend, but Perin had just a couple of moments where he was called into action.
- Rodrigo Bentancur had six tackles?!
- Arthur completed nearly 95 percent of his passes?!
- Just some fun on the final day of the group stage, right? It’s a cold, cold world sometimes —and not just because it was snowing in Turin (and around other parts of Italy) on Wednesday.