Juventus comfortably disposed of Nantes to go through to the Round of 16 draw in the Europa League, thanks to Angel Di Maria’s inspired hat trick in a 3-0 romp in France.
After scoring what should be one of the goals of the season just five minutes into a game the hosts started off with great positivity, the Argentine would then go on to weave and wind his way through the Nantes box to earn a penalty and a sending off for the floored Nicolas Pallois less than fifteen minutes later. Di Maria dispatched the spotkick to make it 2-0 against a shell-shocked 10-man Nantes to end this as a contest before adding a third for insurance late in the game.
Speaking after the final whistle, coach Massimiliano Allegri was satisfied having negotiated a potentially tricky return leg.
“I am happy with the performance, it was not an easy game after the first leg result, as the crowd here is very passionate.
“It’s only natural that we still need to improve the speed of our passing and realise how the goals came about, because we used the width of the pitch. That is where we have an advantage.”
Di Maria has completed a turnaround in his Juventus fortunes after starting the season off on awkward terms with the fanbase.
“He is a champion and different to the others. Everything comes easily to him, he raises the overall level of the squad and the others all feel more relaxed in his presence. He sees things that others cannot. Di Maria is in the category of real champions.”
Should Juve fans be thinking about a possible continental trophy in a season where they turned in one of their worst ever Champions League performances?
“Just because we were eliminated from the Champions League does not mean it will be easy to win the Europa League. It isn’t, but we have the duty to try and go all the way, just as we do in Serie A.
“We are trying to get there slowly, because apart from Napoli who are practically in their own league, all the teams are more or less on the same level.
He went on to expound that there still are some positives to take away from this season.
“We got it wrong in the Champions League, but still earned 47 Serie A points and would be level with Inter.
“We are in the Coppa Italia semi-final too. So I realize it is strange to see Juve on 32 points, but I see a more than positive season. We were missing Pogba, Di Maria, Vlahovic, Bonucci, Cuadrado for long periods, but found some interesting young players. Now everyone is getting back to fitness and we will need everyone.”
Should the 15-point deduction in place still hold, Juventus will be out of the Champion based on league position, so will he be prioritizing the Europa League from here on out?
“We will not snub either of those competitions.”
For his part, Di Maria stayed humble and credited his teammates.
“I am truly happy to have been able to finish off the good work of the team and turn it into goals.
“We wanted to get through to the next round, the Europa League is very important for us. I had been waiting a long time for an opportunity like this with the Juve jersey and I have been able to raise the bar.
“I try to help the team, we won and are in the Round of 16. This result means a great deal for our season, winning here with the entire stadium cheering against us, but we got what we wanted.”
The 35-year-old appears to be turning back the clock at a time when his team needs him the most.
“I know that there was criticism and I felt bad because I knew I could’ve given more. It took me a while to find my form, then I had relapses with the injury. It wasn’t easy on a psychological level either, but I am happy now.”