Juventus’ tactics were ideally suited to demise of Di Matteo and Chelsea
European Champions Chelsea were humbled last night, beaten 3-0 by Juventus in Turin following a consummate display by the Serie A leaders. It was a result which leaves qualification almost impossible for the Stamford Bridge club and has ultimately cost Roberto Di Matteo his job. For the Turin side however, the performance has brought redemption for both the club and a number of players as Adam Digby explains.
Winding back the clock to little over a month ago and the hopes of progression for Juventus took a serious blow when they were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw away to Nordsjælland. A distant third in the Group behind holders Chelsea and an impressive Shakhtar Donetsk, the Bianconeri looked a shadow of the side which had dominated the domestic landscape for over a year, having not lost since the arrival of Antonio Conte the previous summer.
It gave them what was something of an unwanted record, becoming the first team to ever draw nine consecutive European fixtures, a string of results which encompassed an ill fated Europa League campaign in 2010-11 and the opening three rounds of this season’s Champions League. Following two relatively easy games – marred by a controversial win over Catania – their schedule looked increasingly difficult and they had just three days to prepare for a tough meeting with arch rivals Inter following a midweek round of matches.
That game had something of an air of inevitability around it as, deflated by their recent displays, a sub-par Juventus were dismantled in their own home by a rampant visiting side who became not only the first Serie A club to triumph in the brand new Juventus Stadium, but also ended a forty-nine match unbeaten run spanning across three separate seasons. The reigning Serie A Champions were left in tatters, their fortress ransacked at the hands of a team despised by all connected to Juve.
In much the same manner as Manchester United ended Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ – on the exact same number of games – it meant so much to their opponents to be the one to achieve what had seemingly become impossible. Observers everywhere put the Grand Old Lady of Italian football under the most intense scrutiny, keen to see what the reaction would be now she was robbed of that air of superiority.
Sometimes, you just know.
Nordsjaelland were the first victims, looking every inch like the proverbial lambs to the slaughter, beaten 4-0 in a game that was over by half-time as the Bianconeri served notice that the defeat was merely a blip. The result was immediately cast aside, not seen as a true test of recovery and so they moved on, demolishing Pescara 6-1 in one of the most one-sided games of Conte’s reign, but again it was instantly meaningless, yet another minnow trampled underfoot.
This past weekend saw Lazio travel to Turin and once again it was a dominant performance from the home side, only to be thwarted by the heroics of goalkeeper Federico Marchetti who almost single-handedly denied Juventus a goal. It led to much criticism of the battery of strikers available to Conte and in particular Sebastian Giovinco, a player once seen as the future of the club but one who was now averaging a league goal every 223 minutes.
“We knew that we had to bring more than 100 per cent from ourselves to beat the reigning European Champions. We had to fight for every ball and work to the last drop of sweat. That is Juventus.” – Leo Bonucci
Into all of this came Chelsea, knowing a win would see them safely through to the second round and Di Matteo took the bold decision to start without his own misfiring striker, £50 million man Fernando Torres. That saw Eden Hazard operate as a false nine but those tactics only helped Juventus as they pressed the Blues from the first whistle, the Chelsea midfielders forced deeper and deeper with no reference point or outlet ball to relieve the pressure.
As Petr Cech kept them at bay with some impressive stops, the home crowd could have been forgiven for recalling Marchetti’s performance but then up stepped Andrea Pirlo, skipping past his marker before his shot took a fortunate deflection off Fabio Quagliarella to open the scoring. The crowd erupted, seemingly releasing years of pent up frustration and finally able to celebrate putting a genuine European rival to the sword. “We believe!” read a giant banner behind one goal and it seemed the players did too, raising the intensity of their performance higher still.
Another goal followed, this time from Arturo Vidal, a player drawing admiring glances from many of the continents top clubs after a consistently high level of performance over the last twelve months. Pirlo, Vidal and the tireless Claudio Marchisio are the true soul of this side, the latter two shuttling back and forth to provide both space and options for the veteran Italian who often appears to have time to stop and admire his resplendent beard before placing his next impeccable pass. It seems Italians even do Movember better too!
Then from the bench came Giovinco, dwarfed by even the fourth official as he made his way onto the pitch, the smattering of boos he received at the weekend undoubtedly still fresh in his mind. He too would find the back of the net and, while his strike-rate in Serie A may be well below par, he now has two goals in his last 67 minutes of Champions League action.
The English side can reflect on two deflections effectively costing them the points but to do so would deny the fact Juventus controlled this game from beginning to end. Their passing, movement and determination was visibly greater than their opponents and Antonio Conte’s tactics – decried as going “back twenty years” by Fabio Capello this week – were ideally tailored to the game. The same cannot be said of Di Matteo’s and, while his sacking is a ridiculously hyperbolic overreaction, he and Chelsea both came up short here.
Sometimes, you just know.
Adam Digby is the Italian Football Correspondent for ESPN, the co-founder of JuventiKnows.com and host of the “Il Verdetto del Campo” podcast.
Picture:Getty ImagesTagged in: chelsea, football, Juventus, Roberto Di Matteo, UEFA Champions League
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