It had never been done. Couldn’t be done, went the logic. Juventus had never reversed a 2-0 first-leg defeat in Europe. And they weren’t just fighting history, they were fighting Cholo Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, who many in Italy have likened to a Serie A side.
And yet, remarkably, almost unfathomably - and totally in keeping with recent seasons of the Champions League - they pulled it off. The 3-0 result and performance was as comprehensive as they’ve produced in this competition since the quarter-final first leg against Barcelona two years ago.
While Ronaldo (and rightly so) will be at the centre of every headline for a performance borne out of sheer force of will and unflinching self-belief in a competition he has come to define, one of the standout performers on the night was Federico Bernardeschi.
This felt like Bernardeschi’s coming-of-age. It was a performance where he made that quantum leap, from having potential - and 18 months into his time at Juve, largely unfulfilled – to someone worthy of playing for Italy’s biggest club. This was, by some distance, his finest game in black and white.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival in Turin last summer has had a knock-on effect on Bernardeschi. Last season, many Juve fans - and Fiorentina fans before them - could recall their frustration in seeing Bernardeschi attempt a moment of unneeded flashiness, promptly followed by a flick of his long hair.
In fact, it could be argued that at times he was more interested in playing with his hair than the ball. There was a lack of work ethic, an immaturity that was affecting his game.
Ronaldo’s transfer changed that. Bernardeschi, in what could be seen as a symbolic reawakening, went for the classic short back and sides and knuckled down. He started the season brightly, scoring on the opening day of the season against Chievo, before his form faded during the winter months.
It was the final 10 minutes of the first leg against Atletico that gave Max Allegri the idea of starting him from the off in the return fixture. Bernardeschi replaced an insipid Paulo Dybala in Madrid and showed more than the Argentine had in the previous 80, forcing Jan Oblak into a terrific save from a left-footed piledriver in the dying moments.
And so, to last night. From the kick-off, the winger busied himself, eager to receive the ball and make things happen with a dynamism that Juve sorely lacked in Madrid. He was at the heart of everything good about the Bianconeri. When not in possession, Bernardeschi pressed and hounded the Atletico players, maintaining Juve’s superiority. He, as much as Ronaldo, set the tempo.
His wonderful left foot set up Ronaldo’s opener, hanging the ball towards the back post, knowing that the Portuguese would aerially dominate Atletico’s defence. Sixty minutes later he won the crucial penalty after a strong foray deep into the Atletico area, which saw Juve do the unthinkable and completely turn the tie around.
With such a performance, it now begs the question as to whether Dybala will make another start in the Champions League this season. Allegri’s 4-3-3 is clearly better suited for a player of Bernardeschi’s characteristics. Furthermore, Dybala’s lack of mobility can be a hindrance, especially away from home.
While Dybala hasn’t really kicked on from his own breakout performance against Barca two years ago, last night might just be the turning point towards Bernardeschi becoming the assured, dependable, confident player Juve thought they had bought two summers ago.