Juventus displayed their tactical expertise, immense temperament and the reason why they are the favorites to win the UEFA Champions League yesterday night.
Max Allegri’s side completed an incredible comeback against Diego Simeone’s high-flying Atletico Madrid who possessed a two-goal advantage over the hosts from the first leg. However, at Turin, Juventus’ main man and the connoisseur of crucial Champions League encounter stepped up to seal the deal against a well-drilled Atletico outfit.
Ronaldo scored a hat-trick, with a goal in the first half followed by two in the second. He was a constant nuisance for the Spanish side and eventually ensured that his team saw through this difficult tie with a remarkable turnaround.
Here, we discuss certain important talking points, subplots and analyze specific situations from yet another thriller in this season’s Champions League.
1: Cristiano Ronaldo, you beauty!
There’s something about great players that make someone not even an ardent fan admire them wholeheartedly. Cristiano Ronaldo in Champions League is one such beasts.
When the stake was high, the Portuguese ace stepped up yet again and completed the task with aplomb; another hat-trick in an all-important European clash. Atletico Madrid arguably possess the best defensive unit in Europe but when you have an ambitious gem like Ronaldo operating in front of you, there is nothing much that a team can do to prevent the inevitable.
The first goal came courtesy a bullet header as he leaped over Godin to put the ball at the back of the net. There was a minimal celebration after that, as Ronaldo looked intent on closing down the lead in the first half itself. Though that was not possible, he did so within five minutes of the second half.
Two headed goals later, Cristiano continued to trouble the opposition with his trickery, some smart runs into the box and couple of good deliveries from lateral areas into the box too.
Finally, as the game looked set to go into extra-time, Juventus earned a spot-kick. Obviously, Ronaldo stepped up to take the decisive kick and coolly sent Oblak the wrong way, whilst guiding his team to the next stage of the competition in his trademark style.
There was a peculiar aura surrounding him before the match. Some questions were raised whether he could continue to demonstrate his goal-scoring prowess in an important match like this one after having scored just twice in seven matches of this season’s Champions League.
However, Ronaldo yet again showed why his caliber at the highest stage should never be questioned; as he has the tendency to single-handedly win the most important of matches for his team even now.
He is really the greatest Champions League player of all time, isn’t he?
#2 Both teams deliver completely contrasting performances over the course of two legs
This is something to ponder upon, as this tie would be remembered as two matches where two teams completely dominated leaving the adversary with no sniff of opportunity whatsoever.
In the first match at Atletico’s home ground, Juventus simply failed to turn up and were suppressed by the home side’s tactical brilliance and defensive rigidity. The likes of Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala delivered listless displays and that played a huge role in their demolishment at the capital of Spain.
Simeone’s team struck two very integral goals that should have ended Juventus’ run in this season’s Champions League easily. However, once the venues changed, the perspective of both the teams’ changed too and there was a major shift in their performance levels as well.
Whilst the Italian club underwent a radical change, attacking from the word go, Atletico showed no ambition and were completely devoid of the incision in their offensive moves that propelled them to success in the home leg.
Whenever they broke on a counter attack, the bluntness in overall shape and structure of the team was clearly visible.
Alvaro Morata and Thomas Lemar surrendered the ball for the first two goals respectively, whilst the third goal was courtesy some shoddy defending by Angel Correa, who conceded the decisive spot-kick.
When a team does not perform up to the desired standards, it is the players who should ensure that they thwart off the onerous phases of the match. Atletico Madrid’s players were certainly not up to it.
#3 Atletico lacked drive and were lackluster in all fronts
Simeone’s side did have the cushion of a two-goal lead but the tie wasn’t over, which was what it seemed from their perspective towards the game. They were content with surrendering the possession completely and put as many men behind the ball as possible.
Atletico do arguably have the strongest, most well-knit defensive unit in Europe currently but a tactically flexible and intelligent team like Juventus are good enough to decipher their weaknesses and strike the blows where it hurts the most at the right time.
Allegri’s team never stopped probing them and eventually, the Rojiblancos had to break down, after a tremendous performance in the first leg at home. Here, they never looked keen to recover the possession and depended on their backline to see off Juventus’ continuous attacking moves.
The midfield was overpowered and outwitted by the duo of Pjanic and Can. Saul never looked like asserting his authority over the game, which he is quite capable of and Atletico resorted to playing catch-up in the game, something that should never have been the option because of their significant advantage from the home fixture.
Juventus are not an out and out attacking team, but they do possess the required armory and firepower to cross the line according to the demand of the situation.
They did exactly that, by changing their style of play at specific junctures of the match and the Spanish side surrendered meekly.
#4: Juventus change approach; cracks widen in Atletico’s setup
When you are chasing a two-goal deficit, the first goal in the second leg is always of the paramount importance. That sets the momentum for the second leg of the tie and hence it is necessary that it comes as early into the game as possible.
Another reason for this is that oppositions tend to tighten up and close the gaps even further as the time progresses, making it difficult for the team playing catch-up to notch their objectives. Hence, a goal in the first 15 minutes is often the primary objective of many teams. Juventus probably started with the same idea but were unable to deliver the first blow until near the half-hour mark.
However, this came through a conscious change in their approach too. The Old Lady increased the gap amongst their players and undertook a more mature, stable outlook towards this game.
Their fullbacks and wingers shifted even wider, almost hugging the touchline, probably to drag some Atletico players away and create more space at the center. The first goal was created through an excellent, accurate cross by Fredrico Bernardischi from the left flank.
The Italian whipped in a perfect ball that was headed thunderously by Ronaldo to cut down half the deficit. Moreover, Juventus introduced some variability in their style of play that disturbed Atletico’s rhythm.
Miralem Pjanic and Emre Can played good passes between the lines on a regular basis. However, they shifted the ball laterally and created opportunities through crosses and lobbed passes into the box equally well too.
Juventus were more threatening in attack once they settled the nerves that were present early on.
#5 Juventus’ early barrage fails to break down Atletico’s resolve
Right from the first whistle, Allegri’s team took complete control over the proceedings and imperiously dominated the possession of the ball. However, their early approach looked a bit hurried and lacked a proper pattern of play at times.
Maybe, the overstated yet significant importance of an early goal played too much in their minds and hence there was a lack of accurate structure in their gameplay. The defenders lobbed the ball inside the box, they overcrowded the box and made matters way too congested for them to have a sense of clarity initially.
Similarly, they won a corner in the first five minutes and after a bit of a gaffe from Jan Oblak, Giorgio Chiellini lashed a shot inside the net. However, the goal was ruled out by the referee as apparently there was foul on Oblak by Ronaldo and hence the Italian side had to restart yet again.
Atletico too looked well versed with what to expect and hence played deep into their half to avoid giving away too much space for Juventus’ wide players to send deliveries into the box.
Led by a level-headed Diogo Godin, they saw off the initial phase of thunderous assaults from their adversaries and hence looked well settled to have the final say on this tie.