‘Unleash hell’ roared yesterday’s Tuttosport. Preparing for a must-win encounter, Juventus knew they had to spew Bianconeri venom at their English visitors. Starting behind joint Group E leaders Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea, it was imperative Juve took the initiative and more importantly, three points. The European champions stepped into a black and white cauldron and never truly looked comfortable.
The Turin giants welcomed back Andrea Pirlo, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Mirko Vucinic to the starting XI, giving it a typical look and feel. In stark contrast Roberto Di Matteo altered his shape, suggesting they wanted to keep it tight at the back and strike quickly at the other end. Oscar sat behind Eden Hazard and they, along with Juan Mata, were the creative outlets.
Fast starters, Juve had already netted six times inside the opening 15 minutes this term. Only the first and last 15 minutes of the second period had seen more goals scored – seven. One such swift strike arrived in their last European tie versus Nordsjaelland, allowing the pressure to ease and floodgates to open. Lichtsteiner almost played to the script but found Petr Cech unflappable at the near post. The Londoners own plan nearly came to fruition as Oscar slipped through to Hazard, who was denied by the legs of Gigi Buffon. The tone was set before the clock hit double digits.
Chelsea offered a threat when charging forward at pace but like the meeting at Stamford Bridge it was Antonio Conte’s men in control. And this is why Buffon believes Juve deservedly claimed the points.
“We won in every area tonight. We were hungrier, sharper, more attacking, more creative and with a little more precision could’ve scored even more.”
But as witnessed in the past – think back as recently as Saturday – a goalkeeper stood in the way of many Bianconeri attacking forays. They needed to make possession and territory count. Fabio Quagliarella obliged. He continued a rich scoring run by diverting Pirlo’s effort past a stranded Cech just before the break.
As frustrated as they were by Federico Marchetti’s miraculous stop from a near-identical effort on the weekend, this time fans leapt for joy and the stadium erupted. That eased concerns but when faced with three-on-three situations at the other end Juve looked vulnerable. Other than these few occasions, the defensive trio offered unwavering solidity.
Arturo Vidal has looked in imperious form of late and scored his third goal of the group stage on the hour mark. If Quagliarella purposely directed Pirlo’s shot, the touch off Ramires from the Chilean’s drive was very much inadvertent. The result was the same, with Cech bested and Juve taking a giant step toward qualification.
The Old Lady looked irrepressible at this point. Against a disheartened visitor it was almost inevitable that substitute Sebastian Giovinco would round out the scoring. What was bizarre was the sight of Cech, who had kept Chelsea in the contest, inexplicably charging out from goal. Welcome to hell lads.
Angelo Alessio felt Chelsea’s striker-less system – Fernando Torres was benched – aided his side. But he is also aware nothing has yet been assured. “We realise how important the final game will be and we’re not qualified yet. We must play the same way we did today.”
One downside was Claudio Marchisio’s yellow card which means he misses the Shakhtar contest. However, the equation is simple for Juventus. Avoid defeat in Ukraine and they qualify. A win sees them top the group, a draw ensures second spot. Should the latter result occur, they would surpass Chelsea – expected to beat Nordsjaelland – thanks to a superior head-to-head record.
The impressive Shakhtar have already qualified and a draw would suit, leaving them the group winners. This has opened chatter of settling for a ‘biscotto’, the type of result Italy feared at Euro 2012 going into their final group match. But Shakhtar will be eager to prolong their fine season to date in the best possible manner, so nothing can be taken for granted. Nonetheless, after a crushing victory the path ahead is now black and white for Juventus.