It was another night of misery in the Champions League for Juventus, as The Old Lady were again sent packing in Europe’s elite football competition. The feeling of disappointment will be overwhelming for Juventini, but what will perhaps hurt the most is that this latest elimination is not at all surprising.
With two wins from their last eight Serie A matches, the Bianconeri came into this game in dreadful form and had been made to look average domestically by teams with less quality than Lyon. This outcome had been on the horizon for many months, whilst in previous years they could have perhaps hid behind the success of another Scudetto, this time around Juve’s flaws have been well and truly exposed.
Missing their creative jewel Paulo Dybala was undoubtedly a devastating blow to Juve’s chances of recovering from the first leg deficit, but there was hope that Cristiano Ronaldo would have another magical night in the tournament he thrives in. However, a truly woeful penalty decision inside the opening 15 minutes from German official Felix Zwayer gifted Lyon a crucial away goal. Converted expertly by Memphis Depay, it was a call that ultimately knocked the Italian champions out.
Terrible officiating aside, over the course of 90 minutes La Vecchia Signora were in no way superior to a Lyon team that had played just one competitive game in over three months. To the French side’s credit, they matched Juve in every department and had no physical problems later in the match.
The visitors replicated the 3-1-4-2 that served them well in the previous meeting. Rudi Garcia’s team took few risks and were calculated in their use of the ball. Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes used a nice mix of long and short passes from the back, allowing Lyon to maintain control over how the game was played.
Juve never got to grips with Lyon’s shape. La Madama were unable to press when their opponents did play short, as they simply lack the dynamic players required to cover distances quickly. If Sarri’s team pressed against Lyon’s back three, Bruno Guimaraes supported from his holding midfield position to provide an overload. If a Juventus midfield player jumped onto Guimaraes, they would simply use their wing backs to escape.
The width provided by Max Cornet and Leo Dubois was key in allowing Lyon to have important spells of possession. Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro could not push high through fear of leaving spaces around the side and Juve’s narrow midfield were not releasing early enough to apply pressure in wide areas.
If Sarri’s men were being asked questions without possession, when they had it, the problems continued anyway. If an onslaught was expected from the home team, what materialized instead was Cristiano Ronaldo on a one-man mission carrying a laboured attack on his shoulders.
It was the same old problem that had been seen time and again this campaign. Ball speed was slow, there was little in the way of vertical progression into dangerous spaces beyond and around Lyon’s midfield line. On occasions Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur flirted with the idea of positioning themselves higher, but in general when Miralem Pjanic had possession, there was almost no way of playing forward.
As anticipated, the away side reverted into a 5-3-2 block, and as in the reverse fixture, it proved effective. Rudi Garcia knew the Turin giants would prefer to play through central areas, so they remained compact and were happy to concede the ball to Juve’s deeply positioned full-backs, where they knew could squeeze play. Aside from the spectacular or a spot-kick, this Juventus are extremely limited and it is a trait that has been developing over the last couple of years, but has been emphasised even further this season.
Play in the final third was again disjointed and it turned into a desperate case of attempting to find Ronaldo at every opportunity, be it via crosses or other avenues. The Portuguese superstar did everything in his power, at times it was a throwback to his best days. A team that should have been built for Ronaldo again relied on him to do the job, but this time not even one of the greatest could make up for the mediocre supporting cast.
Cohesion was always going to triumph here, a characteristic that Juve sorely lack. Mister Sarri has a distinct lack of tactical flexibility and it is highlighted on these occasions. When Plan A is faltering, that’s where a coach earns his salary by making a difference from the sidelines. Worryingly for Juve, Sarri has shown an inability to do this at the top level where it is needed most.
The inquest into this defeat will run for weeks, the new season is around the corner and the pressure on Sarri will be significantly ramped up following this embarrassing exit. Fingers will be rightly pointed at the former Napoli tactician, but the issues here run beyond the coach. There are problems in multiple departments from the management, to the playing squad and how recruitment has been handled in recent times.
For the first time in years Juventus are vulnerable, their normally unwavering self-belief appears to be breaking. There is no quick fix, a revolution is needed and the next few weeks could be decisive in shaping Juve’s future success.
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