Juventus overcame a heart palpitation scare for goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny with the player coming off in tears after having trouble breathing to score late on and beat Sporting CP 1-0 in the first leg of their Europa League quarterfinal in Turin tonight. It was up to his replacement Mattia Perin however whose reactionary double save from point-blank range in time added on preserved the win.
Speaking after the game, coach Massimiliano Allegri struck a relieved note overall.
“We made a few mistakes, the lads can improve, above all in the final cross when Perin made two crucial saves, we should’ve sensed the danger earlier.
“We did better in the second half with three midfielders, who gave us better width. Sporting pressed high and lost intensity as the game wore on, I had to sort of adapt Angel Di Maria to a wide role and naturally they were causing us a few problems in midfield.
“It was a good performance, it wasn’t easy to win and to keep a clean sheet.”
Leandro Paredes marked a week where he had a spat with Allegri at Vinovo with another ‘duh’ moment, having to run back to the tunnel to get a new jersey as he was not prepared to come on as a late substitution alongside Paul Pogba.
“I was about to introduce Miretti, then Locatelli asked to come off and we changed it to a double substitution. By that stage, Paredes figured he wasn’t going to come on and had already taken off his shirt, so it all stalled for a minute. It was probably a good thing, in the end.”
Allegri went with an aggressive formation to start the game, something he said he did for this critics with a trident of Federico Chiesa, Arkadiusz Milik and Angel Di Maria upfront along with Filip Kostic and Juan Cuadrado as wingbacks in a 3-4-3, but it didn’t quite create the goals he had wanted. In fact, as the first half went on it was visitors who stamped their authority in the midfield.
“I always say that football is not a mathematical equation. I decided to use those three upfront, we were often left unbalanced against a strong opponent like Sporting. We also should’ve done better in the misplaced passes when developing the moves out from the back.
“I saw three forwards did well against Lazio, so I tried it again, but I think it is most important to remember the balance of the team and the various characteristics that players have when combined together. We don’t want to lose the securities we had built up over the course of the season.”
Defender Federico Gatti has slowly established himself as the season has progressed and it was fitting that one of Juve’s most consistent performers got the winning goal — his first for the Bianconeri — slamming home when Dusan Vlahovic’s header across goal was cleared off the line.
“It is not an easy season for us, young lads need time to grow. At times they can look fantastic, at others like they’ve never played football, it is a whole different pressure playing for Juventus. Gatti has so much energy and is like a sponge, he soaks up all the information you throw at him.”
The club will know the result of their appeal against the 15-point deduction by the time they play the return leg in Portugal, but have a trip to Sassuolo this weekend before that.
“Our next objective now is to catch Atalanta in the table and consolidate what would be second place in the table. The lads did very well to believe and we need to keep believing even more. They are responding well. In football I believe that technique and talent counts, but the moral values of the individuals, the passion and heart poured onto the pitch, are the really crucial elements.”
Meanwhile the club announced on social media during the game that Szczesny had gone through some immediate tests and had been cleared. He spoke to the media himself later and talked about what had happened.
“I am fine, I was a little anxious, but we did all the tests and everything is fine. I was scared, it had never happened to me before, I was struggling to breathe and it really worried me.”
The Polish international is known for his cheerful demeanor and unsurprisingly made a joke about his replacement Perin.
“The truth is, I saw Mattia in great shape in training, I felt tired and knew he would have a great double save at the 94th. Nah, they fired it straight at him! I congratulated him, he is also a guy with a heart of gold, we get along well. It’s a shame Carlo (Pinsoglio) didn’t come on, he would’ve had a hat-trick of great saves today.
“Mattia is better at speaking, I am just handsome.”
Perin also had encouraging words to say about second backup Pinsoglio.
“We have this great synergy and Pinso perhaps more than anyone keeps us united and allows us all to improve each other. We joke around, but are the first to be professional and serious when needed.”
What was his take on Juventus’ very odd season?
“I think the team as a whole has been exceptional not to fall into a victim mentality or false alibis, instead we used that negative energy and made it positive, proving we are real men.
“It is only half-time in the quarter-final, there are another 90 minutes to go and we can be happy with this victory, but it’s only half-done.”