To a neutral viewer, the second leg of the Europa League semifinal between Juventus and Sevilla at the Estadio Ramon Sánchez-Pizjuán was one of the most enthralling games of the entire European club season.
For a fan of either of the clubs, it probably made you want to throw up.
For a Juventus fan, it ended in a heartbreak that really hasn’t been felt after a result since Michael Oliver soiled himself and handed Real Madrid the tie in the 2017-18 Champions League quarterfinal.
It was a truly thrilling contest. For the most part, Sevilla controlled the general flow of the contest, but after a frightening opening 20 minutes that saw the game threaten to turn into the wrong kind of Massimiliano Allegri special, things evened out and Juve started using the possession they did have very effectively. With the aggregate even, for most of regular time the two teams exchanged scoring chances like boxers wailing on each other in the middle of the ring. Despite not having the run of play Juve arguably had the better chances in the game, but consistently failed to score despite the positions they gained.
Eventually, though, it was the mistakes that told. After Dusan Vlahovic pounced on a terrible defensive touch to score the opener, a giveaway by Federico Chiesa provided the hosts with the equalizer after only six minutes. Then, in the first minutes extra time, Erik Lamela was somehow given a 5-yard halo of space that he used to slam a header into the bottom corner of the goal and provide the final margin, 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate, that sent Sevilla to the Europa League final in Budapest and sent Juve home wondering what could have been through all those missed chances.
Allegri recognized that his initial approach in the first leg last week had been badly wrong, and made five changes to the lineup. Wojciech Szczesny was one of the ones who stayed in place after getting the weekend match against Cremonese off. He started behind a 3-5-1-1, with the top defensive line of Federico Gatti, Bremer, and Danilo protecting him. Juan Cuadrado started opposite Samuel Iling-Junior, whose great form has finally started generating rewards for him, on the wings. Nicolo Fagioli, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot manned the midfield, while Angel Di Maria was deployed in support of surprise starter Moise Kean up front.
José Luis Mendilibar, unsurprisingly, kept the same 4-2-3-1 that dominated the first leg intact. Yacine Bounou stated in goal behind the back four of Jesús Navas, Loïc Badé, Nemanja Gudelj, and Marcos Acuña. Ivan Rakitic and Fernando formed the double pivot. Lucas Ocampos recovered from the injury that forced him off in the first leg to join Óliver Torres, and Brayan Gil in support of Youssef En-Nesyri in attack.
For the first 15 minutes of the game it looked like Juventus were going to be completely smothered by a rampant Sevilla side that was clearly feeding off their raucous home crowd. In just the third minute Cuadrado committed an awful giveaway inside his own box, but Bremer stepped over to block Rakitic before he could put the ball across. That was the first of what would be 17 corners Sevilla was awarded in the 90 minutes of regular time.
For all that dominance, Sevilla didn’t end up testing Szczesny, attempting only three shots, two of which were blocked. Indeed, it was Juve who nearly took the lead against the run of play. After Badé blocked a shot from Fagioli behind, the midfielder hit the ensuing corner and found Gatti for a free header that he rifled toward goal, only to see Bounou parry the ball away.
Just under 10 minutes later, it was Sevilla’s turn to be denied when Ocampos flicked a cross from Navas at the near post. Goal-line technology showed that the ball was almost two-thirds of the way over the line before Szczesny clawed it off and then kicked it behind to keep the rebound away from Ocampos.
Just three minutes later, Juve should have been in the lead. An excellent piece of holdup play by Kean sent Rabiot on a good run downfield, complete with a spin move to avoid a would-be tackler. The Frenchman split two defenders with an excellent pass to Di Maria, sending him clean through. The winger had Kean alone on his right but was well within his rights to shoot himself from that position. His shot selection, however, was baffling. Rather than simply stroke the ball home, he attempted a showy chip and got it all wrong, not even putting the ball close to the target. It was an outrageous miss, all the more so because it happened because Di Maria was trying to be a hot dog instead of just scoring the goal.
Shots started coming thick and fast as the first half progressed. Acuña loaded up from distance on the half hour and hit a powerful drive that forced Szczesny to rise up and parry it over. Three minutes later Kean turned Badé and came inches from giving Juve the lead, only to see Bounou get the slightest of touches with his foot to maneuver the ball off the post. Sevilla responded to that close call with three shots in three minutes, the last of which was a first-time poke by Ocampos that forced Szczesny into an awkward punched parry.
The back-and-forth rhythm of the game was interrupted just before the break when Fagioli was chopped down hard by Gudelj in the center circle. He went down in a heap before receiving medical attention and eventually being stretchered off. Gudelj got off with a foul and nothing more on a play that should’ve produced a yellow card at the least, while Fagioli was stretchered off with what is reportedly a broken collarbone, to be replaced by Leandro Paredes.
Both teams got lucky as the half closed. Juventus had the ball in the net when Locatelli fielded a neat long ball by Danilo and pulled it back for Rabiot, but he had started his run just too early and was correctly flagged offside. Sevilla, meanwhile, were absolutely furious when Cuadrado went sliding into Torres just on the edge of the penalty area. In real time it looked clean, but replay showed Cuadrado got precious little of the ball before wiping the midfielder out. Dutch referee Danny Makkelie waved play on, and after the ball finally went out of play again he was swarmed by Sevilla players demanding a penalty. Every angle looked potentially damning, but VAR official Pol van Boekel either agreed with Makkelie that the tackle was clean or ascertained that the contact was centimeters outside the penalty area, and did not call for a review as the seconds ticked into the half.
The pattern of punch/counterpunch continued in the early phases of the second. Rabiot and Gil each had shots easily saved early on, and the former whistled a shot wide and Bremer grazed the outside of the post of a short free kick routine. Machinations began in both dugouts. Mendilibar sent on former AC Milan midfielder Suso, who had missed the first leg with a hamstring injury, for Torres, while Allegri reached for his biggest guns and sent on Vlahovic and Chiesa in place of Kean and Di Maria.
Both moves shifted the game.
Both of the goals the teams exchanged in the middle stages of the half came off mistakes. Vlahovic pounced after Badé’s attempt at redirecting a headed pass by Rabiot instead dropped right into his path, and he made no mistake, clipping the ball over Bounou and into the goal with a finish that reminded us all just how lethal he can be when he’s put into the right spot.
It was a euphoric moment, but it only lasted for a few minutes.
Six, to be exact, before Acuña stole the ball off Chiesa in the defensive third and left it to substitute Lamela, who tipped it forward to Suso. The Spaniard belted a 22-yard shot into the top corner with such power that it rolled all the way back to the penalty spot after it struck the net.
Momentum had turned, and Sevilla spent the rest of normal time on the front foot searching for a goal that would win the tie. Szczesny had to make saves against Suso, Gil, and En-Nesyri in the last seven minutes of the half, each of them with a degree of difficulty that was above average. The final whistle saw the teams level after 120 minutes, and the players retreated to their benches to prepare for extra time.
It looked like that break had put some wind back in Juve’s sails. They forced two saves out of Bounou in the first five minutes, but after the second Sevilla broke the ball back upfield, when a collective brain fart gifted them the go-ahead goal. Lamela, who spent two years at Roma in the early part of the last decade, was inexplicably given a five-yard halo of space as he drifted into the Juve penalty area. Gil got a sliver of space to cross past Cuadrado and delivered an excellent ball that Lamela headed the into the bottom corner from 12 yards. It was a beautiful header from a guy that doesn’t score often with his head, but he never should’ve been given so much space in which to operate.
Vlahovic was denied on a weak header a few minutes later, but Juve’s best chance to score an equalizer came with 10 minutes to go when the ball fell perfectly to Chiesa, only to see the winger blaze the ball over. Juve never came close again, despite a late opportunity when Acuña was handed a second yellow card for time wasting on a throw-in — a moment that almost saw Makkelie forget he had booked the Argentine already in the game. The Dutch referee added an unusual four minutes on to the second half of extra time due to the hosts’ excessive time wasting, but Juve couldn’t make the late man advantage pay, the only shot coming from outside the box when Paredes belted a defensive header from a corner toward goal, but it rose just a little bit over the bar. Makkelie finished a bizarre game for himself by blowing for time while one last desperate pass from Paredes was in the air, confirming Juve’s defeat and ending their last chance at silverware for the ‘22-23 season.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 8. Made a bunch of absolutely immense saves. Had he had a night any less on point than he was, Juve is losing this game by a huge margin.
FEDERICO GATTI - 7. Desperately unlucky not to open the scoring early, he was a rock at the back, doing some great defensive work and not letting any crosses that came his way get go anywhere but away.
BREMER - 8. Made 10 clearances in defense, hardly putting a foot wrong. His header shaved some paint off the post just before Vlahovic opened the scoring.
DANILO - 9. The numbers next to his name are insane, even for a 120-minute game. Eight tackles, seven clearances, two interceptions, a block, and a pair of key passes. If you want to talk about leading by example, look no further than the captain.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5.5. His defensive stats pop — five tackles, three clearances, and an interception — but he was just that step slow against Gil on the winner, and he was almost a non-entity attacking, contributing practically nothing of note.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 6.5. He only attempted nine passes in his 40 minutes of work, but two of them led to shots, and he also had a pair of tackles in midfield before Gudelj poleaxed him. If the diagnosis of a broken clavicle is confirmed, that would obviously end his season.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. Present enough defensively, but was a nothing burger in the attack, which was especially disappointing after he was freed from the regista role and pushed a little further forward where we’ve seen his play really improve.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 7. Another stat-heavy day, Rabiot racked things up. He had five tackles, five clearances, and an interception defensively, a pair of key passes, more aerials won than anyone else on the team (3), and put one of two shots on target. The only ding is that one shot that was off — he really should’ve had the ball on frame there.
SAMUEL ILING-JUNIOR - 6. Didn’t shrink from the moment of having his first European start in a semifinal in a raucous atmosphere at the Pizjuán. Didn’t rack up attacking stats but had three tackles and a very good sense of positioning in getting back. Reminds me of a certain Croatian everyone used to love around here.
ANGEL DI MARIA - 4.5. Decided to get cute early instead of just taking his chance, which was a theme in terms of how ineffective he was. He did have one key pass, but he was pretty much a passenger for the majority of the game.
MOISE KEAN - 6. Made some intelligent runs, held the ball up tremendously well—he had two key passes and both were a result of his holdup—and really deserved a goal were it not for a fantastic stop by Bounou to, Kean exceeded expectations for his first start coming off that thigh injury.
LEANDRO PAREDES - 5. Had a key pass and also one of the better passers on the field in a day where Juve as a team completed less than three-quarters of their passes. But Paredes was in the fault zone for one or both of Sevilla’s goals, missing Suso with a tackle right before the equalizer and, most crucially, failing to pick up Lamela for the winner. By my reckoning that was his man to pick up in that situation.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6.5. Put all three of his shots on target, and that goal was absolutely exquisite. If only Allegri could scheme a way to get him chances like that wihtout the defender doing it for him.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 4. He was on a different world today. So many passes that were nowhere near their intended targets, and that shot he ballooned over in extra time was an asbolute killer. When he’s right he scores that 80 percent of the time.
FILIP KOSTIC - 6. Worked like a madman down the left and put in a couple of good balls, but was ultimately unable to push in an equalizer.
FABIO MIRETTI - 4. Unlike Iling, the occasion seemed to overwhelm him a little bit, and he was far too hasty in possession.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 5.5. Had a key pass in his 15-minute stint to try to find the equalizer, but was ultimately unable to turn the tide.
When the lineup first came out, I was petrified.
This season, Kean has been Allegri’s “counterattack striker” all year now, and between him and Iling-Junior I thought he would park the bus and use the pace of those two to get things downfield.
While Allegri didn’t exactly seize the day offensively, what difficulty Juve had came not from his coaching backfiring. Quite the opposite, really. This is one of the few games this year where I really had no problems with Allegri. His starting XI worked — at least after the first 10 minutes — and he made the right subs at mostly the right time (Milik would’ve been on earlier in extra time for me).
This was a game where the players’ finishing simply let Allegri down, which isn’t something that we’ve seen a lot in big games under Allegri this year. This wasn’t a down result based on the manager, it was because of the players and their inability to finish.
I’m still very much the conductor on the #AllegriOut train, but one has to admit the fact when they’re in front of him, and the fact is that Allegri simply didn’t mess up Thursday night.
Juve get an extra day of rest before facing Empoli on Monday. Then, the team travels back home to face AC Milan for a top-four six pointer before ending the year at Udinese.