Even if a 2-1 home win against Ferencvaros is enough for Juventus to qualify for the last-16 stage of the Champions League with two games in hand, the Serie A giants struggled more than necessary to take the three points home against the Hungarians and there is more than one reason why the Bianconeri should not be happy with their display.
Andrea Pirlo started Paulo Dybala up front alongside Cristiano Ronaldo with Alvaro Morata on the bench and the Bianconeri line-up was without an Italian defender or goalkeeper for the first time in the club’s history.
The injuries of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Merih Demiral forced Pirlo to play Danilo in centre defence close to Matthijs de Ligt, while Rodrigo Bentancur was given a chance in the middle of the park with former Barcelona midfielder Arthur.
Juventus’ reaction after Myrto Uzuni’s early opener was as weak as their approach to the game. The ball was moved too slowly, Dybala and Ronaldo’s partnership was not as devastating as under Maurizio Sarri, mainly due to La Joya’s poor form. The defence was struggling and conceded their opponents more than a chance to score on the counter.
CR7 star netted the equalizer five minutes before half time but failed to celebrate with his usual “Siuuu.” He instead looked around him with an angry face, making his way to the middle of the pitch to resume the game as quickly as possible.
One would expect Juventus to dominate the second half after such an inconsistent display in the opening 45 minutes. Yet again, it didn’t happen. It must be said Pirlo’s men were also a little bit unlucky in the second half as they hit the woodwork twice: first with Federico Bernardeschi and then with Alvaro Morata.
The Spaniard came off the bench to replace Dybala who is still, clearly, not fit. He scored his only seasonal goal against the Hungarians three weeks ago, but the Old Lady are finding their own identity without him on the pitch.
Pirlo needed some substitutions to win the game. He threw in Alvaro Morata, Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski after 62 minutes, subbing off the likes of Dybala, Bernardeschi and Weston McKennie who was also disappointing.
Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot came in to replace Arthur and Bentancur with eight minutes left to be played and Juventus eventually won the game in the injury time thanks to Morata’s seventh seasonal goal. The Juventus bench and Pirlo erupted in a scream of collective joy, hugging each-other after the winning header of the ex-Atletico and Real Madrid. They all know deep inside this can’t be enough.
Morata and Ronaldo combined have scored 16 of Juventus’ 22 goals so far this season. Enough to say the Serie A champions can’t do without their attacking duo. The feeling, however, is that there must be something wrong if Juventus need to put in their best players to beat Ferencvaros, with all the respect due.
Three days before the Champions League game, they had beaten Cagliari with, possibly, the best performance of the season so far and a full-strength team.
The good news from the Allianz Stadium is that the Old Lady can now focus only on Serie A until February as they’ve already qualified for the last-16 stage with games against Dynamo Kiev and Barcelona yet to be played.
In a campaign that will see clubs involved in European competition play one match every three days, however, Pirlo should be able to rely on all his players, not only 12 or 13 of them, otherwise Juventus’ run in Serie A and Champions League is probably not going to last long.