Something was a little off about the Juventus team that showed up on Wednesday night. It wasn’t the one we have become accustomed to during the 2021-22 season, but it did feel familiar. And for the Juventus fans that enjoyed their time during the original Max Allegri era, that feeling was definitely welcomed.
Juventus grabbed its second consecutive clean sheet to start its Champions League campaign and needed just one moment of brilliance in the attack to come away with a 1-0 victory against Chelsea. It was the kind of victory to bring a little bit of hope for the current squad and it certainly gave a boost to fans’ confidence in the man on the touchline because it had Allegri’s fingerprints all over it, even the ones that don’t make all that much sense at first.
That confidence certainly didn’t show up an hour before kickoff when the lineups were released and fans found out Juventus would be playing without a true striker in a formation that calls for two strikers. Instead, it was Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi who were called upon to play in the center of the attack with the latter rumored to play in a false 9 role. They would get support from Juan Cuadrado on the right, while Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur provided some from midfield. Manuel Locatelli dropped in as the holding midfielder in front of the regular backline of Danilo, Leonardo Bonucci, Matthijs de Ligt and Alex Sandro. Wojciech Szczesny returned to start between the posts after Mattia Perin started over the weekend..
On Chelsea’s side, Thomas Tuchel also made three changes from the weekend after his side’s 1-0 loss to a Manchester City side who did not start a striker. Tuchel had to make his lineup without some key players including Mason Mount, N’Golo Kante and Reece James. Cesar Azpilicueta was moved out to the right side with Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Thiago Silva given the starting spots in the back three. Marcos Alonso got the start again on the left wing with Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho in the midfield. Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech were called upon to support Romelu Lukaku in the attack.
Juventus had a bright start to the game, showing their willingness to use some high pressure through Chiesa and Bernardeschi, but Chelsea eventually got on the front foot and it became clear the Blues would be retaining the possession for most of the night. Chelsea was often sending the ball out wide and attempted to find its big man in the box but without any success.
Despite holding just 23.5 percent of possession in the first 20 minutes, Juventus was the team to create the best scoring opportunities. Chelsea missed on some passes near the halfway line on multiple occasions and Juventus did not hesitate to pounce on it.
The first came in the opening 10 minutes when Bentancur stepped in to intercept a pass from Kovacic. He found Bernardeschi who went a little too direct in his attack, dribbling straight into the Chelsea defense, which dealt with the threat easily. A few minutes later, Rabiot stepped up to make a brilliant interception to start a 2-on-1 opportunity, but his through ball forward was well off the mark, trickling into Edouard Mendy’s feet.
The best chance of the first half came on another bad giveaway from Kovacic in the 20th minute. The ball came out to Chiesa, who took his run into the box a little too wide to the right and instead of playing a square ball to Bernardeschi, he fired a low shot which was always going wide. At this point, it still felt like the Juventus we knew from this season in its failure to capitalize on mistakes from opposing teams but the difference in this one was the defense.
Chelsea struggled to break the final line of the hosts’ defense, which often shaped into a back five with the help of three holding midfielders. Juventus was invited the pressure but as soon as any Chelsea player attempted to break that final line, the defense would collapse on the ball and get the job done.
There was certainly some frustration building from the visitors’ point of view and Juventus continued to use that to its advantage. The counter attack opportunities continued to arrive and one saw Cuadrado getting fouled just outside the box, setting up a free kick chance for Bernardeschi but his shot was blocked by Bonucci.
When the second half arrived, there were certainly some debates still happening on whether or not the attacking duo was working for Juventus and what needed to change in order to take advantage of one of these counter attacking opportunities. But before people could ask for any of those changes, it was Juventus who found the opener and it wasn’t even on a counter attack.
Juventus used the long ball tactic straight from kickoff as Bonucci fired one to the left wing where Rabiot won a crucial header, finding Bernardeschi near the top of the box. He quickly slid the ball past the defender and into Chiesa who fired a shot into the roof of the net just 11 seconds into the half.
It took a few minutes for Chelsea to respond, but it got back on the front foot and played with the ball for a large part of the remainder of the game. The Blues finished with 73 percent of the possession, completing nearly 500 more passes than Juventus. But it rarely led to an opportunity on goal.
Chelsea finished the night with just one shot on goal, which came from the foot of Lukaku off a corner kick in the seventh minute. Juventus conceded seven more corners, but none of them finished with a shot on target.
Juventus defenders were sacrificing their bodies to defend the box, flying through the air to win headers and getting to the ground to cut off any avenues to the goal. According to SofaScore, Juventus finished with seven blocked shots, 13 interceptions and 25 clearances plus it won nine aerial duels in the defensive third.
Chelsea continued to find an answer by using its width. Callum Hudson-Odoi came in on the right side to bring a more attacking minded player into the mix with service maestro Ben Chilwell playing on the left. The visitors finished with 34 attempted crosses, completing just nine to a teammate.
Lukaku saw his best chance of the night in the 83rd minute when he turned well to beat Bonucci, but his shot went high and wide. Giorgio Chiellini was introduced to the Juve backline shortly after that as just another way to frustrate the Belgian forward.
Chelsea’s best opportunities came in the remaining 10 minutes. One came off a free kick delivery from Chilwell which brought appeals for a handball on Danilo but it was waved off and the ball was eventually cleared by Chiellini for a corner kick. Kai Havertz had two openings in the air, beating any defender to the ball twice in the final seven minutes but he saw both headers sail over the goal and Juventus finished off the 1-0 victory to go top of Group H with six points through two matchdays.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY – 6.5. It’s a clean sheet for the keeper and that’s always nice to see, but he really didn’t have to do all that much. Credit to him for keeping the defense intact. Made one save and a couple of nice catches/punches on Chelsea’s crossing practice.
DANILO – 7.5. Certainly one of Danilo’s better defensive performances. He was called upon to do a lot of work in that back third and he made very few mistakes. Looking more and more like an outside center back of a back three if you ask me.
LEONARDO BONUCCI – 8. I criticize Bonucci a lot, but credit where credit is due. He usually steps up to the challenge when facing a strong forward and he did it again against Lukaku. Looked a lot like Euros Bonucci.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT – 7.5. The usual physical force in the defense. Handled Havertz pretty easily. Just a solid night.
ALEX SANDRO – 6.5. Did not get to move forward as much as he would have liked but was solid in defense. Struggled a bit more against fresh legs of Hudson-Odoi but going from defending Azpilicueta to defending Hudson-Odoi isn’t going to be easy for anyone.
JUAN CUADRADO – 6.5. Limited chances to create, but he was the outlet for counter attacks on the right side. Looked lively when he did get the ball, did some decent work when tracking back.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR – 6.5. He didn’t get to do what he does best in this one, but he showed he was more than capable of helping out on defense when he was needed. Would’ve liked to see him take a few more chances with some long balls instead of short passing it out of the back.
MANUEL LOCATELLI – 7.5. We’ve seen every area of Locatelli’s game over the past week. This one was all about him in a true holding midfielder role. Defensive work was excellent, great positioning and good work on the ball as always.
ADRIEN RABIOT – 6. Got the whole Rabiot experience in this one. Great interception led to an awful pass on the break, great cut inside with a cracking weak-footed shot that was the wrong option and a great header won leading to the goal. He does some things and then he ruins some things. It happens.
FEDERICO CHIESA – 8. This guy was fun to watch in his limited opportunities on the ball. Was running past defenders, forcing the issue. Could have made different decisions on a couple of occasions but he was great. And that finish was ridiculous.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI – 7. This may have more to do with the expectations, but Bernardeschi was as good as anyone could have hoped. He was threatening enough in the attack and stayed aggressive the entire time he was on the pitch. The nutmeg assist certainly helps his case here.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI – 6.5. One of the other options who could have started in the attack got about 25 minutes. Didn’t do or need to do much going forward but did help out in the defense. Had one chance on the counter attack, nearly linking with McKennie.
WESTON MCKENNIE – 6. Not much action for McKennie. Couldn’t get a clear look on the squared ball from Kulusevski. Did win a defensive header and had one of the many clearances down the stretch.
MOISE KEAN – 6. Still think he could have started. Looked more active than usual when needed on defense which was a good sign.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI – 6.5. It can be hard to get a rating in just 13 minutes, but he was fun to watch. Crucial blocks, interceptions and clearances to help keep the clean sheet.
You probably know where this is going if you read the first sentence of the recap. We got to see vintage Allegri tactics and vintage Allegri tactics are good. Obviously, there are times where you’d like to see Juventus play better when they are the better team and when they need to be on the front foot but for this opponent on this particular day, this was nearly perfect.
The defense was set up to welcome pressure but gave up very little space in the final 18. It wasn’t exactly parking the bus because there was still some of the passing around the back even when it was ill-advised. It was more about being patient and waiting for the opportunities to come. And the selection was nearly perfect for that style.
Chiesa was the perfect outlet for the night with his speed and direct dribbling. There’s still a debate to be had on if Kean should have started but it’s understandable why Allegri went away from him based off his work rates (or lack thereof) the past couple of appearances.
Meanwhile, Allegri essentially chose five defenders and five midfielders to get the job done. And it worked. It wasn’t pretty and it’s not something you want to do week in, week out but it worked and it’s hard to argue against a result as good as this one.
The drama doesn’t slow down for Juventus as the Derby della Mole is set for Saturday. It will be the last game before the international break. Juventus has the opportunity to keep moving up in the table — Torino sits one spot ahead of them, only on goal difference.