Say what you will about Juventus this season, but there is one competition in which they haven’t been defeated just yet, and they managed to do just enough to keep avoiding taking an L in Europa League play against Sevilla on Thursday.
It was looking bad for most of the game, but after a shaky start, Juventus took control of the match in the second half and, despite still struggling to generate clear cut chances, they did just enough and got a last-second Federico Gatti goal to earn a hard-fought 1-1 result in their first leg of the semifinal matchup.
Defensive Player of the Week: Wojciech Szczęsny
Juventus travels to Spain next week with a shot to advance in no small part due to the performance of the big Polish keeper.
Sevilla didn’t have a ton of chances, but the ones they did have were pretty decent ones. There was little Woj could do on the lone goal from the away side, but he was excellent in the other two clear-cut chances the Spanish side had on his goal.
God knows they needed every single one of those saves, too. This is far from a team that can pour it on offensively if Sevilla had gone two up early its almost assured that Juventus would not have been able to get back in it and have a chance at the tie.
Knockout ties like the one that the Bianconeri are currently in are usually decided by the slimmest of margins. Woj did everything in his power to keep his team in it and for that he gets the nod here.
Winner: Paul Pogba
You know who is a good football player? Paul Labile Pogba, that’s who.
Lost amidst the discourse of his injuries and his salary and his social media posts is the fact that Pogba is just a really, really good player. We got another taste of it on Thursday.
So what if he still hasn't played more than 30 minutes and one game? If he can give you 25 mins of impactful football in the business end of the season, then maybe his season is not so bad after all.
(I’m kidding, it’s definitely a failure no matter what. Unless ... he scores a hat trick in a potential Europa League final. If that happens, I’m willing to reconsider.)
I love the young prospects Nicolo Fagioli and Fabio Miretti, I’m the biggest Adrien Rabiot fan on this whole damn blog, I think Manuel Locatelli can still be great, but when you see what an actual upper-echelon honest to god elite midfielder looks like its easy to see that as good as those guys are — or can be in the future — they are still not at that level.
(Also, Pogba got the assist for the tying goal for his first counting stat of the season. Kind of fortuitous but a nice thing for a guy who could sure use some good stuff happening to him after the year he's had.)
VAR Controversy of the Week
VAR remains the most dumbfounding, frustrating, uneven thing plaguing world football.
They will review offsides calls by millimeters to take goals off the board. They will review plays that happened minutes before a score if they determine there was a foul or a handball that might have influenced one way or another the play. VAR will use technology to make the most ticky-tacky calls nothing plays. But, for whatever reason, VAR completely refused to check a clear-cut, studs-up foul in the box for Juventus in the dying minutes of the half.
We can sit here and argue all day if it might not have been a foul because the Sevilla defender got the ball slightly before butchering Rabiot’s leg, but the fact of the matter is that VAR is supposed to be exactly for those plays. If you are going to use technology, freaking use it!
I’m sick and tired of speaking about VAR, but as long as it remains playing a massive role in the final outcomes of games it unfortunately seems like it will continue to rear its ugly head time and time again.
Tale of Two Halves
Max Allegri messed up the first half of the game.
While Juventus had some chances. by and large they failed to take control of the game. Alex Sandro and Leo Bonucci are both old and slow and to start them together in a game in which Sevilla were more than content to sit back and counter them was playing with fire.
Play with fire and get burnt as a deadly Sevilla counter was exactly the way the visitors opened the score in a play in which Sandro and Bonucci looked every bit of their age.
Then again, Allegri kinda nailed the second half, too.
He introduced Samuel Iling-Junior and Federico Chiesa immediately at the half which made Juventus a much more dynamic team and started to generate some semblance of chances for the home side.
(Stats won’t tell you how many opportunities the Bianconeri had in which they just missed the last pass. It wasn’t an offensively competent performance by any stretch of the imagination but if guys could just make that last pass they could have had a lot more shots in goal.)
(Also, Iling-Junior is awesome. That dude is completely fearless and has legit dribbling skills. So fun to watch.)
He also introduced the eventual scorer in Gatti and Pogba who were both pretty instrumental late for Juventus. Sure, an argument can be made he should have started with Gatti or that some of those changes should have been from the get go, but some credit is due to the fact that he noticed the mistakes and fixed them.
Do you get a lot of credit for fixing your own mistakes? Dunno, but at least Juventus has a shot going to south Spain next week.
Parting Shot of the Week
Juventus is making it a habit to get a draw in the first leg of their Europa League knockout rounds as this is the third time in the competition they have gotten this result in four tries.
They have move forward in every other one so at least in that sense, Juve did an OK job on Thursday. To go into the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán in a Europa League knockout round is probably one of the toughest propositions in all of European football.
It would have been nice to walk in with some sort of a lead but its a one game win all. If the Bianconeri have any aspirations to win this competition they sure are going to have to earn every bit of that silverware.
See you Sunday.