A night of Champions League shocks looked on the cards during the opening 45 minutes. Celtic led at Barcelona, Manchester United found themselves two goals down and Chelsea fell behind. In Denmark, minnows Nordsjaelland went blow for blow with Juventus as it remained scoreless.
There was to be no fairytale for Celtic, while Braga let their lead slip to lose 3-2. Shakhtar have proven to be dangerous opponents – especially at home – so perhaps the shock value was not as high when they claimed a win over Roberto Di Matteo’s side. Meanwhile, Juve toiled for little reward after falling behind to Mikkel Beckmann’s fine 50th minute free-kick. That was until Mirko Vucinic rescued a draw. A relief? Yes. The desired result? No. The Danes gained their maiden Champions League point in a result not many saw coming.
It means the Bianconeri have drawn for the third time in Europe this season and for the ninth consecutive game in European competitions. For a club of their stature that record is not good enough. Just as much as winning has become a habit domestically, not winning is prevalent on the continent.
The aura of invincibility which powers the Juve machine in Serie A is not present. When they needed to get out of a tight spot against Napoli they found a way. Here it did not occur. The typical grinta was missing. While a different regime and scenario to when the Turin giants drew their way through the Europa League two seasons ago, this side has not yet altered the pattern.
The same old problem with this Juventus reared its ugly head in. The lack of a clinical edge in attack was evident once again. A total of 33 shots, just nine on target and only one found its way past the impressive Jesper Hansen. The self-confessed Juve fan did his best to frustrate time and again with a series of saves. Gianluigi Buffon and Angelo Alessio claimed Juve deserved to win after creating ample opportunities, but the fact is they failed to capitalise.
The Danish champions should be commended for their performance. They contributed to an entertaining first half, at times holding more possession than Juventus and nearly opened the scoring, only for a superb Buffon stop to deny Joshua John. However, Juve’s captain could do little to prevent the opening goal and for the third straight contest Juventus conceded the lead. Nordsjaelland were then pinned back in their half but defended stoutly, led by youngster Jores Okore.
Could Alessio have looked to the bench sooner? In between Beckmann netting and Vucinic appearing Juve were pressing, but the game followed a predictable pattern. Once the fresh injection was made the Bianconeri looked livelier. Beside his goal the Montenegrin was readily involved, while fellow substitute Nicklas Bendtner was vigorous. On home soil and with something to prove a longer run in place of Alessando Matri may have done the trick. On a disappointing night, the Dane’s cameo and the showing of Sebastian Giovinco – who continued on from an impressive display on Saturday – were bright spots.
Group E has reached the halfway point and Juve lie third. They will fail to gain six points against Nordsjaelland as expected, but now cannot do with less than four. Shakhtar’s win over the reigning champions throws the group wide open, with the Ukrainians currently leading by three points. Should they take something away from Stamford Bridge it will aid the Old Lady’s cause. But Antonio Conte’s men must be concerned with their results as Juve’s European destiny remains in their hands. Seven points from a possible nine is the minimum required. As recent at 2009-10 Inter drew their opening three matches before qualifying and going on to claim the trophy, so all is not lost. Yet what Juventus requires above all is that winning aura to follow them into the Champions League.