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Gatti’s last-gasp goal keeps Juve in Europa League semifinal

The latest of late goals sent the tie to Spain level.

Juventus v Sevilla - UEFA Europa League Photo by Isabella Bonotto/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

One of the biggest, and perhaps overlooked, factors in Juventus’ run to the semifinals of the Europa League has been their performance in the first legs of their knockout ties. They haven’t been utterly brilliant, they haven’t dominated, but in all three of their ties before Thursday night, Juve have gone into the second leg of the tie either leading (Freiburg, Sporting) or tied (Nantes).

The importance of that cannot be overstated. If this season has proven anything, it’s that this Juventus team has extreme difficulty mounting a comeback. Despite the attacking talent populating the roster, Juve are often unable to rack up the multi-goal games you need if you’re running from behind. Indeed, until last week’s wins over Lecce and Atalanta, it had been six weeks since Juve had scored more than once in a match. It then comes as little surprise that the Bianconeri have only won one game this year in which they did not score first.

That’s why the first legs — all of which have been at home — have been so critical, especially as they have gone deeper into the tournament. To have to go to a place like, say, Sevilla’s Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, in need of a big result to turn around a first-leg deficit would be an ask that, frankly, the team simply hasn’t shown they can fulfill.

So as the seconds ticked away and Federico Chiesa sprinted to take one last corner kick while trailing Sevilla 1-0, things weren’t looking great. Sevilla have dominated the Europa League in the last decade and a half, and things have gone their way in this tournament with a frequency that borders on the metaphysical. Now, Juve were staring down the prospect of going to Andalusia in a week’s time needing to mount the kind of comeback that they’ve proven incapable of pulling off this season.

Then Chiesa took the corner kick. And Danilo headed it toward the far post. And Paul Pogba headed it back across the face of goal. And Federico Gatti, of all people, slammed a header into the net from point-blank range just ahead of his own teammate, Arkadiusz Milik, who was waiting to do the same. And the game ended 1-1.

And just like that, Juventus went from needing to make up a deficit when the tie moves to Spain next week to going in on even footing, making a trip to Budapest at the end of the month a far more attainable proposition than it would have been had they had to go to the Pizjuán a goal down.

Massimiliano Allegri was down only two players heading into the match, Mattia De Sciglio and Bremer, who popped up with muscle fatigue in the run-up to the game. The absence of the latter would end up being pretty dire, as Allegri’s decisions how to replace him would be a key factor in Juve’s first-half struggles. He deployed the 3-5-1-1 that has become the season’s standard. Wojciech Szczesny was in goal. In the back three, Danilo was joined by Alex Sandro and Leonardo Bonucci, who was marking his 500th career appearance for Juve. Juan Cuadrado and Filip Kostic served as wing-backs, sandwiching the midfield of Fabio Miretti, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot. Angel Di Maria was deployed in the hole behind Dusan Vlahovic.

Sevilla was led by José Luis Mendilibar, their third coach of the campaign after Julien Lopetegui and Jorge Sampaoli. Mendilibar has only been at the helm in Seville for six weeks, but he’s led a charge up the table that has seen the team push themselves clear of a potentially shocking brush with the drop zone and into mid-table. He sent out a 4-2-3-1 formation. At its base was Yassine Bounou, one of the heroes of Morocco’s run to the World Cup semfinals this winter. Jesús Navas, Loïc Badé, Nemanja Gudelj, and Marcos Acuña were arrayed in front of him. An old European nemesis, Ivan Rakitic, patrolled midfield along with Fernando. Lucas Ocampos, Óliver Torres, and Bryan Gil supported another of Morocco’s World Cup heroes, Youssef En-Nesyri, in attack.

The game’s early stages looked exceedingly cagey, as the two adversaries felt each other out. For a few minutes, it looked like Juve had a mind to come out swinging. They actually controlled most of the play for the first 10 minutes or so, culminating in a good chance for Kostic that he pushed wide from the left channel.

Sevilla started to work their way into the match, and in the 14th minute fired a warning shot when Ocampos somehow pushed his way past Sandro and connected with a bullet header that Szczesny got down quickly to hold. Three minutes later, it was Ocampos again, this time on a corner when Rabiot popped his clearing header in the air, allowing the Argentine to put another header on target. This time, Szczesny had to dive to his left to parry with one hand before it was finally cleared away.

Juve weren’t being shut out just yet. Twice in two minutes Vlahovic was put through with excellent balls, the first time a ball through the middle by Di Maria that, after missing his first attempt, got a second effort on frame that Bounou managed to get a hand to—but the flag had gone up, rendering the whole play moot. Seconds later Kostic sent a fantastic cross along the ground that Vlahovic ballooned over from close range. There were hints of offside on this play as well and had he scored VAR may well have come into play.

Sevilla slowly began to take more and more control over the match. Ocampos just missed after being set up by an excellent flick on by En-Nesyri, pushing wide with only Szczesny to beat.

All that pressure finally paid off a minute later, when Sevilla went on a lightning-fast counterattack. Ocampos was released by an excellent ball over the top from Torres, and as Juve’s geriatric back line struggled to get back in time, Ocampos stroked a gorgeous ground cross that found En-Nesyri complete alone on the back end of the play. The striker had all day to measure up his first-time strike, and Szczesny could only guess and hope as the ball was stroked past him.

Juventus v Sevilla FC: Semi-Final First Leg - UEFA Europa League Photo by Chris Ricco - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Sevilla nearly had a second straight away when pressure forced an error by Sandro, but En-Nesyri’s first touch was just too long and Szczesny was able to pounce on it. A few minutes later, Danilo chased the Moroccan down from behind and prevented him from taking a shot one-on-one, looking like he tweaked an ankle in the process. There were a few nervy moments before he was waved back onto the pitch.

Indeed, it was Sevilla who ended up having to make an enforced change in the first half when Ocampos ended up lame and had to be replaced. Gonzalo Montiel was sent in, pushing Navas forward into the winger role but depriving Sevilla of a key element of pace on the wings.

But there was still one more chance for Sevilla, who were now completely bossing things, before the break. It was Rakitic who made the attempt from 24 yards or so. The swerve on the shot wrong-footed Szczesny but he still got a strong hand to it to push it up and over the bar.

Things absolutely had to change as the teams came out of the tunnel to start the second period, and Allegri did indeed respond, sending on Chiesa and Samuel Iling-Junior at the expense of Miretti and Kostic. This left Juve mirroring Sevilla’s 4-2-3-1.

The effect was immediate. The two wingers, especially Iling-Junior, provided a jolt of energy that the team simply hadn’t had. Chiesa perhaps should have drawn the team level when Di Maria looped a free kick down the middle of the field towards him, but he whiffed at the ball when a touch could have seriously troubled Bounou. Iling-Junior was dancing all over the place on the left, beating defenders but then not quite getting his final ball to come off, particularly in the 57th minute when he slalomed into the box only to try to set up Vlahovic as opposed to taking the shot on himself.

Juve were in complete control of the second half, but Allegri’s ability to fine tune things took a hit when Bonucci waved at the bench and asked to come off. It was Gatti who replaced him, and Milik replaced Vlahovic, who was visibly frustrated by coming off.

Finally, in the 64th minute, Juve picked up their first shot on target. Fittingly it was from Iling-Junior, who never stopped moving, intercepted a defensive header from Gudelj and ripped one low and toward the far corner that Bounou had to get down to stop.

But for all their newfound ability to play in Sevilla’s half, Juve simply couldn’t figure out how to score. Iling-Junior should maybe have been a bit more selfish in the box, more often looking to set up a teammate rather than shoot himself. Sevilla also started breaking the flow of things with a series of frustrating fouls that German referee Daniel Siebert somehow several players on both sides went into his notebook in quick succession.

As much as the game was now being played firmly in Sevilla’s half, the real chances were coming few and far between. Four minutes from time Juve really should have had the chance to equalize from the spot after Rabiot’s attempt to volley home a cross was thwarted by Badé—who did so by planting his cleats into Rabiot’s shin. The Frenchman remained down for several minutes, but, inexplicably, neither Siebert nor Bastian Dankert in the VAR room decided that there was anything untoward in the challenge that left Rabiot’s shin a mess.

The clock ticked into stoppages, and Sevilla looked like they’d have a huge victory to take to the second leg and work with.

Then Chiesa happened. And Danilo, and Pogba, and Gatti. And so the game ended 1-1, setting up an exciting leg with all to play for in the second leg.

Juventus v Sevilla FC: Semi-Final First Leg - UEFA Europa League Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images


WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Made a couple of really excellent saves in the first half. The defense was all over the place at times, but I think that was more do with the personnel involved than the keeper’s leadership. Absolutely nothing he could do on the goal.

DANILO - 8. Made a mind-altering 11 clearances on the night, to go along with four tackles, four interceptions, and a key pass. He stopped En-Nesyri from scoring a quickfire double in the firstr half with a tremendous tackle, had a key pass at the other end, and of course his contribution to the goal is much appreciated.

LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5. Shouldn’t have been out there against a side with as much pace as Sevilla. My guess is Allegri wanted to utilize his passing ability over the top, but he was just outmatched for speed by the Sevilla attack, as evidence by how far behind the play he was on Sevilla’s goal.

ALEX SANDRO - 5.5. A little too slow for Ocampos at times, although he sured up by game’s end and ended with a more respectable stat line of two tackles, three interceptions, and one clearance.

JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Put in a pair of key passes and completed 90 percent overall. He also co-led the starting lineup in dribbles and drew a whopping seven fouls.

FABIO MIRETTI - 5. Wasn’t his best day, as evidenced by the 58.3 percent pass completion. Next to invisible in the first half.

MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Led the team with five tackles, and helped seal Sevilla into their half in the second half.

ADRIEN RABIOT - 5. Just kinda ... there. He mishandled a couple of entry passes into the box that could’ve been really dangerous, and in general didn’t stamp his impact on the game the way he has in the past this season.

FILIP KOSTIC - 5. Had a key pass and a good opportunity in the first half to score, but fluffed it and couldn’t provide any other service for Vlahovic. Likely suffering the effects of so many minutes on his legs this season.

ANGEL DI MARIA - 5. It was a game of almosts for Di Maria, as a couple of his passes could have done something had a teammate gotten the right touch, but other than that he wasn’t really able to provide the impact that he has in the early phases of the season’s second half.

DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 5. He touched the ball 10 times. TEN TIMES. In 60 minutes. This system neuters him, and it’s sad to see. At least he had a key pass in there.


FEDERICO CHIESA - 6. Had a key pass and completed 88.9 percent overall, although he wasn’t quite as effective slashing through the defense as we’ve become accustomed to.

SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 6.5. Bamboozled the defenders on the Sevilla right flank on numerous occasions. His final ball was lacking just a little bit, and he perhaps could’ve been a little more selfish once or twice, but his presence changed the game.

Juventus v Sevilla - UEFA Europa League Photo by Soccrates/Getty Images

FEDERICO GATTI - 7. Talk about a flair for the dramatic. That’s consecutive ties he’s scored in the first leg, after his debut goal against Sporting last month. Defended solidly when defending was needed.

ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 5.5. Another low-touch day for a striker, as he had only eight in his 30 minutes of work, although he was ready behind Gatti in case he hadn’t gotten to that last corner.

PAUL POGBA - 6.5. Looked really smooth at times, and is starting to finally look like the guy we thought we signed. His first assist back in the team was perhaps not the way we expected it to come, but it was most welcome.


Yeah, Allegri screwed this starting XI up big time.

I have no idea what he was doing starting Bonucci in a game like this other than to make an offering to the god of experience. There is literally no other explanation — and that one’s a bad one. Bonucci’s lack of pace was on full display against the likes of Ocampos, and it’s worth wondering whether that second half would have been quite so successful had the Argentine winger not had to come off the field to leave the aging Navas in his place, who really isn’t going to be blowing the top off anyone right now. Still, Sevilla changed tack a little bit and kept the ball for much of the first half, and Allegri really was lucky not to be down multiple goals by the break.

Things were better in the second half, yes, and it’s commendable that Allegri at least recognized what he had done and acted to change it. but one would certainly prefer if the coach didn’t make a catastrophic mistake in his starting lineup and have to make that kind of change at half to make things better.

Perhaps more damning in the long run is something that I noticed throughout the match.

Even when they performed better in the second half, Juventus still looked like a team that had met for the first time two days ago. Sevilla, meanwhile, were a much smoother team, working as a unit and knowing where to go with the ball, who was going to be there to get it, and then what to do next.

Need I remind you that Sevilla has had their coach all of six weeks, and he’s still managed to make his team look like a better collective unit than Allegri has in two years.

Not great, Bob.


Juve stay home to face Cremonese on Sunday, then head to Seville to play the second leg on Thursday, where the objective is clear as day: win, and you’re in to the final.