Needing a win in Portugal, an under-strength Juventus were easily overwhelmed by an organized and energetic Benfica side 4-3. While some late youthful substitutions catalyzed a comeback attempt, the fact that the score was not more lopsided towards the home side was mostly due their lackadaisical finishing which might come back to haunt them if they don’t surpass PSG at the top of Group H.
Meanwhile for the Bianconeri, the inquest shall continue in a season where the rot within the club has been exposed from top to bottom. The veteran players, who for long have been the spine of the club, are now one of the chief causes of the demise. The coach who led them so resolutely during his previous tenure continues to ensure the club stays mired playing 80’s football. The leadership that brought in the fresh thinking that saw the club rise from midtable mediocrity in the early part of the last decade is still signing injury-prone overpaid players causing Juve to be financially handcuffed.
Speaking during the post-match press conference, Massimiliano Allegri did not try to cushion the blow.
“After the equaliser, you cannot concede another goal immediately like that on a penalty. We made life difficult for ourselves, didn’t take two chances with Vlahovic, then after the break went 4-1 down.
“The elimination was certainly sealed before this, but we still should’ve stayed in the game, as we got the sense despite a poor first half that we could still hurt Benfica.
“Unfortunately, we made it more difficult for ourselves and Soule could’ve scored to give us the hope of winning in the final minutes.”
On where Juve go now for the remainder of the season -
“This elimination hurts, we are angry and disappointed, but we have to focus now on Serie A and catching up because it has not been a good start to the season and we need to recover physical and mental energy.
“We must accept this elimination and turn that disappointment into motivation for the next match against Lecce.”
It appears Allegri’s gameplan had been to hold Benfica in the first half before bringing on Arkadiusz Milik on for Moise Kean to try win the game later.
“Benfica pressed hard at the start, were dangerous on the counter and I hoped Miretti-Milik would improve the quality level in the second half, but by that point we were already 4-1 down. Iling has been training with us for 20 days already, these young players have enthusiasm and don’t feel the pressure.
“We are still in the Europa League right now, we had hoped the final match would be worth more, but unfortunately it is only worth a place in the Europa League.”
Defender Federico Gatti made his Champions League debut start in Lisbon and saw a late header flash wide when he could have made it 4-4, but was also part of the defensive fiasco that ensued. He remained incredulous about the dubious penalty Benfica were awarded that saw the result slip away.
“We are upset because we had scored the equaliser and then, in my opinion, they were given an absurd penalty kick.
“[Juan] Cuadrado was standing still, of course, games change with these incidents. We reacted well, now we must focus on Lecce and then PSG because we want to go to Europa League at all costs.”
Teammate Manuel Locatelli blamed the collective mess on a poor first half.
“It’s a shame, it’s tough to find the words. The last 20 minutes show the team has the balls to play these games. We need to look at the positives, which are the last 20 minutes.
“The approach was wrong, the whole team is responsible, not a single player. There was a risk of facing a bad defeat, the first half was awful, but we reacted as a group.”