Over the summer former Juventus boss Marcello Lippi said: “Juventus need a striker of a great level to win in Europe.” After being convincingly bundled out by Bayern Munich last season, they certainly needed something. And the common-held belief was that, as Lippi said, all they required was one quality forward. And they eventually signed one – in the name of Carlos Tevez.
Yet, the Argentine’s arrival has done little to improve the Old Lady’s fortunes in Europe. Well, at least up until now. Indeed, Antonio Conte’s side were in a better situation at this same time last year, where they had claimed three draws and three points. This time around, they have just two and qualification seems a little further off following Wednesday night’s defeat at the hands of Real Madrid.
Claudio Marchisio admitted as much after the game. “With this defeat qualification becomes more and more difficult.” It is not, however, entirely out of their hands just yet either. They will have to try and avoid defeat when they host Los Blancos in two weeks’ time and then they have to beat both Copenhagen and Galatasaray in Istanbul. It will definitely not be easy and, as Marchisio went on to warn, losing their next game would mean saying goodbye to qualification. And he is probably right.
It is an unfortunate predicament Juventus find themselves in. Perhaps just a little bit more luck and things would have gone a little better for the Old Lady. This was certainly the case at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night.
For the best part of the match, Juventus more than matched their great European rival, particularly in the first half. After 25 minutes the visitors had recorded six attempts on goal with three on target. Real Madrid had just two shots and one on target. It was much the same story after the first 35 minutes, though at this stage they were dominating possession too.
Yet it counted for little or indeed nothing. By the time the half-time break arrived Juventus found themselves trailing. Two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo had the Spaniards in the lead even if Fernando Llorente’s goal gave Juve hope in the second half.
Yet, any such hope dissipated early after the restart when Giorgio Chiellini was shown a straight red card after tussling with Ronaldo. Replays suggest it was a harsh decision, if not outright wrong and that Ronaldo had made a meal of it – and he certainly did. As Conte opined later: “It was absolutely not an elbow, but I still have to laugh, because if that can be considered a ‘clear scoring opportunity’ then so is everything.”
Though evidently frustrated, Conte was nevertheless pleased with what he saw from his men. “Tonight this team proved it can walk on this stage with the right tactical adjustments and at times played better than Real Madrid.” Speaking of tactical adjustments, Conte surprised many when he opted for a 4-3-3 formation, rather than his tried and trusted 3-5-2. And it has to be said, the new system worked to great effect.
The Old Lady has not been at her swaggering best of late and results have reflected this. But she showed on Wednesday night that the swagger is still there. Apart from the early goal, the backline of four were effective in keeping out their ridiculously star-studded opponents for large swathes of the game, even after going down to 10 men.
Further up the pitch, led by a tireless Tevez, Juve were sharp, cohesive and penetrating. In the middle, Paul Pogba once again exhibited his prodigious ability, especially after taking the reins from Andrea Pirlo who was withdrawn on the hour to a standing ovation from the Spanish crowd. It was a lovely show of respect.
Despite all their endeavour, the Italians ultimately ended up empty-handed when they deserved more. Many will point to the referee’s sending off of Chiellini as the turning point in the game and perhaps rightly so. After all, playing away to Madrid is difficult enough. When you are a goal down and then go a man down, well, it becomes an almighty task.
Yet, Juve reacted strongly and they will take much away from their overall performance. Like Conte said, they certainly did show they can match it with the best. If they wish to keep their European hopes alive, come November 5 they will have to show it all over again and be sure that this time they get what they deserve.
Read more from Frank Tigani at The Divine Ponytail