A see-sawing 2-2 draw with Real Madrid leaves Juventus’ Champions League future in an uncertain state, but still within their grasp. Luca Cetta writes.
Tuttosport asked for ‘another night like this’ referring to Juventus’ stirring 3-1 victory over Real Madrid 10 years ago in the Champions League semi-final. Meanwhile, the two sides would be doing battle five years to the day Alessandro Del Piero hit a memorable brace in the Spanish capital. Matches between Juventus and Real stir up unforgettable moments for fans of both clubs, yet for Bianconeri boss Antonio Conte their second season meeting was not about history, but a fundamental contest to aid Juve’s chance of progression.
A boisterous Juventus Stadium was treated to a pulsating affair. Both sides traded blows at certain stages. Juve were up, Real down. Real up, the Bianconeri down. What the clash between two of football’s heavyweights didn’t do was make Juve’s situation any easier. The draw means there’s still a way to go to book a spot in the last 16.
When quizzed about their system in the pre-match Press Conference, Conte retorted the key was how Juventus played, not in what shape. “What is more important than the system is the way we interpret the game, because we are playing a candidate to win the Champions League.”
It needed to be a performance of intensity, of spirit and of enthusiasm. For the opening 45 minutes those qualities were all on show. Iker Casillas – supreme throughout, despite his lack of regular playing time – was the busier of the two goalkeepers. He was throwing arms and legs at anything in his path to thwart La Vecchia Signora.
Nearing the end of a first half in which the Turin giants’ midfield dominated and its defence and forward line worked hard to nullify Real’s threats, they were finally rewarded. Paul Pogba was sliced down and Arturo Vidal confidently dispatched the resulting penalty.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side turned the tide after the interval, assisted also by Martin Caceres – who played well otherwise. An errant pass gave the men in orange a chance to equalise, one Cristiano Ronaldo did not pass up. It was the start of a dominant spell for the visitors. In it, Xabi Alonso smacked the woodwork and Gareth Bale put them ahead.
What happened to the Juventus of the opening 45 minutes? Gianluigi Buffon spoke afterwards of being wary every time Real strode forward, so perhaps they aimed to hold. Ancelotti noted half-time tweaks. Yet for Conte, tiredness was the main factor. “In the second half we suffered a little at keeping that tempo with such a packed fixture list. When the intensity drops against Real Madrid, you inevitably risk paying the price, especially when Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are running at you on the counter.”
Juve needed to bounce back and get something from the game. They did just that. Caceres redeemed himself by crossing for Fernando Llorente’s powerful header. It was the Spaniard’s second goal in consecutive European ties and further highlighted what he brings to the team.
Real controlled possession in the final stages, as both looked content with a point. Conte was generally satisfied. “I’d rate our performance very highly. The team did very well and the first half was perfect in every respect, organisation, quality and intensity.” Buffon rated the performance seven out of 10. For La Gazzetta dello Sport, it was a great Juve which took a ‘golden point.’
As the group stage reaches its climax, Juve are now drawn into a must-win situation. Currently bottom with just three points from four games, they were aided by Copenhagen’s win over Galatasaray. That keeps them alive and essentially still in control of their destiny. Victory over the Danes in three weeks would give Juventus an opening. Should Real Madrid defeat Gala, it would even leave Conte’s men in second place.
A 2-2 draw may not have been the wholly desired result last night, but it remains in Juve’s hands to finish second in Group B. They must now grasp the chance.