Thursday September 28 2017
It had to be Higuain

Despite Gonzalo Higuain breaking his drought, Juventus remain in first gear in the Champions League with their win against Olympiakos, says George Rinaldi.

Of course, it had to be Gonzalo Higuain. Regardless of whether or not Max Allegri is simply benching an underperforming player or was resting one of his star men, it would have to be Higuain who came off the bench and gave the Bianconeri a vital win in a less than convincing performance at the Allianz Stadium.

Allegri would be dealt a mini blow during the warm-up when Miralem Pjanic pulled up with a muscle problem, leaving 20-year-old Rodrigo Bentancur to start his second consecutive European match. Bentancur on this occasion played further back with Blaise Matuidi than his more forward-facing role against Barcelona. Juan Cuadrado took his place on the wing with Mario Mandzukic the sole forward in Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 setup.

The performance in the 3-0 defeat to Barcelona was not anything to particularly worry the Juventus support, but their lack of conviction against Olympiakos should be.

At the Nou Camp, the central midfield duo of Pjanic and Matuidi completely closed out Barcelona in the first-half. Even though it would be down to the Bosnian and Bentancur for failing to track Lionel Messi for the game’s opener, they played fairly well.

Yet, the first-half against Olympiakos midfield-wise was below par. The Bianconeri could not run the game the way they did against Torino in the Derby della Mole, where they won 4-0 just a few days before.

Playing a pretty much identical formation, the Piraeus midfield pair of Sasa Zdjelar and Alaixys Romao had covered, on average, 5.5km over the course of the opening 45 minutes. In comparison, Bentancur and Matuidi averaged just 0.1km more, matched almost completely by the Greek side. Missing Miralem? Probably.

This closely contested game in the middle of the pitch meant Juventus were unable to properly run the match their way, even though they had close to 70 per cent possession. Aside from the midfield, the high-press that was so successful against Toro was nothing more than just a hatful of wasted corners. If anything, the telling point of the first half was that Juventus’ best chance was thanks to away defender Bjorn Engels deflecting Douglas Costa’s low cross on to the post.

Juventus did look steadier at the back than they did against Barcelona, but the difference was mainly due to Medhi Benatia being left out in favour of Giorgio Chiellini. The Moroccan was at fault for both of the Catalans’ second and third goals, though the decision to include Chiellini was bittersweet – Daniele Rugani left wondering when he’d start in the Champions League this season.

It was a moment of quality, though – the introduction of the ‘rested’ Higuain - that changed the game completely. A clever flick from Mandzukic to Alex Sandro allowed enough room for the Brazilian to pick out the Argentinian, that saw the game’s opening goal.

The passion showed, proving to some doubters that he’s still one of the world’s best on his day – a match winner.

A first win in Europe this season was confirmed when what appeared a brilliant clearance from Paulo Dybala’s goal-bound dink fell perfectly to Mandzukic. The Croatian’s goal pretty much summed up the match and Juventus’ performance – sluggish but successful, Higuain’s introduction the difference.

One point of note, Bentancur, who had been quite shaky in the first half, played a much more astute game in the following 45. Both Bentancur and Matuidi, who had covered just 0.1km more in the first half than their opposition midfielders, bettered them at full time by 0.6km.

Juventus were by no means dreadful, but far from their best. The only real benefit of such a lacklustre display was that it was against a supposed ‘lesser’ team.

Even though there were issues, Juventus got exactly what they needed to – three points – against a team they need to be winning against to qualify for the knockout rounds. The Italian side must have more conviction in their play, just as they have in Serie A, to really succeed this season in Europe.

Group qualification is never a foregone conclusion, or even a given right for a club of their stature, but ironing out the issues in these six matches is a necessity.

If they do so, whilst also welcoming back their strong contingent of midfielders from injury, then maybe, just maybe, they can learn from their mistakes in this competition and finally lift the trophy.

But based solely on this performance, a lot of work needs to be done.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
Good for Piguan. Keep scoring the way you eat your pasta and paninis and all will be good.
on the 29th September, 2017 at 3:04am
@ putuco

Read the article next time, not just the title...
on the 28th September, 2017 at 8:13pm
I am wrong or now Olympiakos is the new Barcelona?
on the 28th September, 2017 at 5:02pm
The solution is to bench Higuain before big games and mock him in all of the papers so he's fired up coming off the bench and save the day.
on the 28th September, 2017 at 3:30pm
LOL hype over scoring in a group stage match against Olympiacos. He's still a big game flop and will always be one.
on the 28th September, 2017 at 2:47pm
I still prefer Mandzukic up top. His link up play is second to none and his aerial game is 100 x better then Higuain. Mario just seems to overall be a smarter player. That then free's up the left side for Costa, and hopefully enough with Cuadrado and let Bernardeschi play on the right. Also Bentancur is PURE CLASS, what a game he had. Far better then Pjanic. He has more pace, he's better with the ball at his feet, and his passing is crisp. He's gaining confidence with every game.
on the 28th September, 2017 at 1:37pm
Bring us the UCL or nothing is going to convince me otherwise. Getting hype over a top performance in a game which our team was dominating (atleast in possession), Sturaro would be worth 90m after Madrid 2015. But credit where credit is due, and I'll give Higuain for only this game. Had Pjanic playing in that midfield, I wonder if we even need Higuain. Bentancur and Matuidi are solid MFs albeit attacking movement is non-exceptional and we clearly needed that penetration.
on the 28th September, 2017 at 12:45pm
Also I think Allegri needs the team to work on finishing crosses from Douglas Costa. He plays like a maniac on the wings (in a good way) and his crosses come in with pace.... but usually the Juve players are in a poor position or they watch the ball zoom past them.

If you look at Bayern games, when Costa whipped a cross in, the players were usually in better positions to finish it
on the 28th September, 2017 at 12:41pm
Allegri was brilliant to bring Higuain off the bench. He is not is the best of form and when defenders have the energy they mark him hard causing him to play alot with his back to goal. As much as I think he is a great striker, he is one of the worst strikers playing with his back to goal (his control is poor and he turns in slow motion right into a defender almost always
on the 28th September, 2017 at 12:38pm
I hope this goal will lift him up a bit. Games like this should be his bread and butter where he should get his name on the score sheet. He def changed the dynamic of the team when he came on - which was positive. Juve really MUST learn to quicken things up a bit. At times they look really slow. A faster paced game would suit Higuain more...
on the 28th September, 2017 at 10:23am
@give me a break
At least Higuain scored much needed goal for the team by coming off the bench. Barca was searching for Messi's 100th UCL goal for 90 minutes, only to be saved by an own goal. Anyway who cares...

@Sanrella So is Messi who regularly fails Argentina too!
on the 28th September, 2017 at 10:11am
Rinaldi, you represent the hysterical media reaction to anything that happens in Italian football. Of course Juve have more gears and they have several months to move into them in the time it matters. @Sanrella..."once again"? How about dismantling Barca in the knockouts last season?? Go back to sleep. @give me a break - all games count, otherwise you end up like Roma who perform against big teams and then lose points against marginal teams: the difference between big and small team thinking.
on the 28th September, 2017 at 9:43am
Juventus barely qualified through the group stage in 2015, and they went on to reach the final. Knocking Dortmund and Real Madrid on the way.

Olympiakos just had an extreme makeover including a new coach.
They were fired up and they played well.
Juve did not dominate.. So what?
We barely saw Buffon in the game. What matters is Juve got the result. This is only match day 2, calm down.

@ Sanrella with the selective memory

You wish Dybala was on your team, and you know it.
on the 28th September, 2017 at 8:38am
Once again Dybala fails to show for the big games.It's ok scoring in Serie A but he needs to do it in the CL.
on the 28th September, 2017 at 7:22am
There seems to be a bit of a shift this year, with the epl teams in with more of a shout than they have done for ages.

Not because they are particularly great, but the standard of Barca, A Madrid, Bayern, Dortmund has dropped.Juve are much the same but no stronger.

The German teams look the weakest I've seen for years, and the EL is probably their best hope of silverware.

As for the Italian trio, Juve should be fine, Napoli have it all to do, and Roma will probably fall short, and into the EL
on the 28th September, 2017 at 1:52am
Had to be Higuain to come off the bench and save the day against a 3rd tier team!
If it happened against Barca fair enough but Olympiakos?
Who cares....
on the 28th September, 2017 at 12:17am

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