Juventus fell at the Champions League Round of 16 hurdle to a less-heralded side yet again, this time losing out to FC Porto. The hosts struggled to break down a disciplined and determined visiting side but were able to win 2-1 after 90 minutes thanks to a Federico Chiesa brace. However, with the tie in the balance in extra time and having wasted multiple opportunities to put the game out of reach, they conceded another and would need two goals in the last five or so minutes to progress. Adrien Rabiot got one to level the tie on aggregate, but Porto’s stout 10-man rearguard held and Juve went out on away goals.
Speaking after the game, coach Andrea Pirlo remained stoic with the Bianconeri now realistically only in the running for one trophy - the Coppa Italia with the Final to be played on May 19th against Atalanta.
“When you make four big errors over two legs in the Champions League Round of 16, you can get eliminated.
“We didn’t get it wrong when Porto were down to 10, as all we could do was try to spread them out by moving the ball side to side and packing the penalty area with bodies. That is how the goals arrived.
“It will take a few days to cancel this game from our minds, but then we must face every game with the right attitude, realise we’re still only in March and have time to climb the Serie A table.”
Thrice in this two-legged fixture Juve conceded early, including after halftime in the first leg. Is there a problem with how his side are approaching these games?
“We had started well and there was a chance with Alvaro Morata to take the lead immediately. It didn’t go in, there was an error for the penalty, we could’ve conceded a second, but then played the game we should’ve done in the second half, helped also by the extra man.
“I don’t think our starts are a problem. We knew Porto would play like this, the game could change if we scored in the opening minutes. When you concede, then it becomes a completely different match.”
Cristiano Ronaldo and Adrien Rabiot were both facing away from the ball in the wall when Porto’s second goal on the night went under them.
“We choose the players to go in the wall. It had never happened before that they’d turn around, maybe they felt it was so far out that they didn’t sense the danger.
“It was a mistake, it usually doesn’t happen, the players didn’t feel it was a dangerous situation and conceded a goal.”
This is the first elimination in Pirlo’s young coaching career, how is he going to bounce back from this defeat?
“There are games and games, these things happen in the life of a coach. It’s the first for me, it’s bad, but we have to roll our sleeves up, knowing it’s only March and we have young players who are growing with every match and put the effort in.
“I don’t think we can complain to the players or ask for more, as they gave their all today and it can happen that some players have an off night.”
Last season Maurizio Sarri was let go after Juventus won the Scudetto but were knocked out at this same stage of the Champions League, was Pirlo concerned about his future?
“I don’t know why Sarri was removed. I am the coach of Juventus, I was brought in for a more ample approach, a project that was always meant to develop over several years, so I am not concerned.
“I am not happy to be working with a full week, as I’d have preferred to stay in the Champions League. Now that we’re in this situation, we can work on various aspects in training, which we haven’t had time to do so far this season, and try to improve on those.”