Juventus were flagrantly wasteful and were almost punished for their generosity to visitors Maccabi Haifa as they held on in the end to win 3-1 in their Champions League Group H fixture on Wednesday night.
Midfielder Adrien Rabiot had propelled Juve into a first half lead with a shot from a narrow angle before Dusan Vlahovic made it two soon after the break. However, they then missed a hatful of chances to make it 3-0 and instead it was Maccabi who showed more initiative as the half wore on and came very close to making it 2-2 after having pulled one back.
The visitors hit the woodwork thrice through the unfortunate Omer Atzili who also watched the returning Wojciech Szczesny palm away another brilliant one-timer. But the Polish shotstopper was caught in no-man’s land for Maccabi’s only goal as a delightful Tjaronn Chery throughball left Gleison Bremer for dead and Dean David was able to round Szczesny to score.
The unfortunate Vlahovic could have had a hat-trick, but he shot straight at the keeper when through on goal and then after that when he did beat Josh Cohen, VAR decided he was half-a-head offside. Instead it was a hat-trick of assists for Angel Di Maria with Rabiot popping up late to head home from a corner to put the result beyond doubt.
Speaking after the game, coach Massimiliano Allegri was in no mood for platitudes, especially as news filtered through of the draw in Portugal between Paris St Germain and Benfica, both of whom had beaten Juve in previous weeks.
“I was very angry at the end, because you can’t just leave the game in the final 15 minutes and start messing around. You get the chances to score five or six, but if you concede one and then get scared, that is really damaging.
“The lads were intelligent though, because when we got back into the locker room it was deathly silent, no celebrating. That showed me they realised what had happened.
“We tried to be a bit too pretty and then got scared. Let Di Maria do what Di Maria does, let the others focus on what they need to do. Di Maria was marvellous with his passes, an extraordinary player, his first game in quite a while and he did really well.”
Rabiot is only still with the Bianconeri because his summer transfer to Manchester United fell through due to his wage demands.
“He has improved a lot, has matured and at 27 is reaching his peak. He can still improve his forward play and get the passes away quicker.”
Allegri has shown some tough love towards Vlahovic in the past, and today was no different.
“Vlahovic did well on a technical level today, I’d say his best performance on that score, but should’ve scored more as he had four chances and only finished one. He needs to improve the way he gets away from his markers.”
Today’s game was classified as a must-win by the coach, and with the two sides meeting again next week, Allegri insisted nothing had changed.
“We must try to win in Israel and then see what happens in Lisbon, but obviously the final match is going to be decisive.”
Rabiot broke a 50-game goal drought and made it two for good measure.
“I am happy, above all with the attitude of the team. I am glad that I scored, but as I’ve said before the important thing is that the team wins. We played well, a bit less in the second half, but we are on the right track.
“I am giving 100 per cent on the pitch and in training, the coach trusts me, it is important for him to have a player who brings balance to the team. I can score goals too and I proved that tonight. I am happy, I feel good, we had a few difficulties this season, but with the win over Bologna and tonight, we’re doing well.”
Di Maria was happy to have played a key role in securing the victory tonight.
“The group is the most important thing, it was an excellent match. I helped the team win. It’s the second victory with three goals scored, something we’d been missing.
“To win is the most important thing, we fought hard to change the result. I try to do my job, delivering assists is what makes me happy. Assists are more important than goals. I wanted to play like this and I am happy.”
Allegri kept the Argentine playmaker in for the full ninety minutes as he will miss Saturday’s game against AC Milan after being suspended for his red card in the loss at Monza.
“I’m sorry not to play, but I deserve it. I am sorry for what happened, it was a lack of respect for the club and myself. I’ll try not to do it again.”