On Tuesday, the bianconeri progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and overcame Porto on aggregate by a score of 3-0. Despite their progression, Allegri will not be too pleased with his side’s performances.
Coming into this round of sixteen clash with Porto, Juventus were optimistic. They had just switched to a more progressive 4-2-3-1 formation and the results were rolling in easily. After dominating possession in the first leg, Porto defender Alex Telles picked up a double booking and was sent off, effectively sealing his side’s fate. The Italian champions took full advantage of the Brazilian’s mishap and returned home, a place where they haven’t succumbed to defeat in their last 46 competitive affairs, with a two goal advantage. Despite possessing a stranglehold over the tie, Juventus came out timid and sat deep, inviting Portuguese pressure. While Porto failed to make the most of it and eventually got a man of their own sent off late in the first half ending the tie, a European giant like Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid will not afford Juventus the same luxury.
If Juventus continue to approach games in the Champions League with a fearful attitude, they quite frankly stand no chance against Europe’s big three. Over the two legs against Porto, Juventus were clearly the better team and will have probably progressed, with or without the red cards. However, what transpired on the pitch over 180 minutes was truly worrying from a bianconero perspective. Instead of pressing Porto and putting them under pressure, Juventus conceded half the pitch and invited them in their own half. Do this against Barcelona and they will make you pay. In Europe, the top teams win dominating in possession and forcing the opposition to turn it over high up the field. The last ‘defensive’ team to win the Champions League was Chelsea in 2011-2012. Other than that, recent history suggests that in order to win in Europe you need to be bold. Tonight and recently for that matter, Juventus have been far from that.
When the Turin-based giants finally got in possession, they failed to create anything of note. And this was largely against ten men! Out of the bianconeri’s 674 passes on the night, 207 were backwards while 158 were sideways. The most common pass combinations ALL included a defender. Bonucci passed to Alves 34 times. Alves to Marchisio, 33 times. Benatia to Bonucci, 23 times. And Marchisio to Bonucci, 21 times. What does that tell you? Juventus were far too cautious and wasted an opportunity tonight and in the first leg to try something more offensive. But at least Allegri is aware of this. After the game, the Italian tactician voiced his displeasure at the performance.
“The objective was to reach the top eight, now we’ll see who we end up with. We need to improve the quality of our football, which in the second half today left a lot to be desired, as the result isn’t everything,” Massimiliano Allegri to Mediaset Premium.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think David Moyes managed Juventus tonight against Porto. Despite establishing their dominance early, Juventus resorted to crossing the ball a staggering 21 times in this game, 13 of which came AFTER the red. A team consisting of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Claudio Marchisio and Leonardo Bonucci down the spine should not have to resort to aimless wide play. While we’re on the subject, let’s address the Gonzalo Higuain issue.
When given proper service, Higuain is among the most lethal number nines in football. Recently, however, Allegri’s tactical setup has left the Argentine stranded for service despite his best efforts to get involved. With the ball constantly being shifted wide, Allegri is reducing his 90 million dollar man’s influence and rendering him a mere target. Tonight against Porto, the former Napoli hitman only mustered two shots on target and completed 18 passes. After the red card, Higuain somehow saw even less of the ball and only managed to complete a further eight passes. If Juventus are to challenge for the Champions League this season, Allegri needs to get Higuain more involved and reduce his side’s dependency on wing play.
Outside of Higuain, Juventus didn’t fare much better. They barely threatened Casilla’s frame and truly struggled to break Porto down. After the red card, Juventus only had three shots on target and that’s including Dybala’s penalty shot. Considering the circumstances, that’s disappointing.
In any case, Juventus are through to the next round and will await Friday morning’s draw with a keen eye. At the moment, it’s looking increasingly likely that the final eight will be made up of Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leicester, Manchester City/Monaco, Atletico/Bayer. Considering the teams left in the competition, Juventus will need to step up their game and finally take the shackles off in the final third. The Champions League is indeed a competition of luck and you know what they say: luck favours the bold.
As we’re about to enter the business end of the competition, Allegri will need to be more willing to take risks or Juventus’ European drought will be extended by another year.