Why Juventus Struggled to Contain Bayern Munich's Attacking Force
Juventus have hardly lost a game in two seasons. They're nine points ahead of Napoli in an extremely competitive Serie A, and after beating Chelsea earlier in the season, had been touted as one of the favourites for the UCL crown. So how did Bayern Munich make them look so ordinary?
The first half at the Allianz Arena was electric, and having gotten off on the wrong foot, Juve struggled with the pace set by their hosts throughout.
Rarely—if ever—has Antonio Conte's team looked so poor, but then it's not everyday that they come up against such fierce opposition.
The Germans got off to a great start, scoring within the opening minutes thanks to a long-range effort from David Alaba. They pressed extremely well, and Juve managed little of any note in the opening 45.
The Italians were slightly better after the break, but a tap-in from Thomas Mueller wrapped up the win and left the Old Lady with a mountain to climb in Turin.
The game was an entertaining and clear-cut one, and the reason why Bayern dominated was plain for everyone to see: they were simply better. After the game, Giorgio Chiellini said as much to Sky Sport Italia:
We hoped to earn a better result tonight but there are 90 minutes left; we will have to play with more intensity, like Bayern did today. We know we can play better and I'm sure we will. We will continue to dream and we will make sure that we won't have any regrets after the return leg.
Conte has his work cut out for him. The Germans completely neutralised his 3-5-2 formation, forcing the normally impeccable Gianluigi Buffon into rash, long-range clearances and the peerless Andrea Pirlo into only completing half of his attempted passes.
The former AC Milan midfielder is absolutely vital to all that the Bianconeri do, and though teams often try to take him out of the game, it's rare that anyone is as effective at it. Toni Kroos man-marked the Italian and reduced his normally imperious pass completion rate to a mere 51 percent, more than 35 points down on his average.
Pirlo's passing range and vision allow Juve to do two things: control the game's tempo and launch surprise attacks through small areas of space picked up on by the gifted regista. Against Bayern, they could do neither.
All of this put the Old Lady's defence under enormous pressure.
Like all of the greatest teams, Juve are a sum equal to more than their constituent parts. The defence, though mighty, is no different.
The dominance of Chiellini & Co. normally relies on a certain amount of assistance from farther up the field. With Pirlo on form and Mirko Vucinic—absent at the Allianz—looking to create space in the unlikeliest of places, teams can't press that back three quite as much.
In this game, Juve felt the full force of Bayern Munich, a force that at the weekend had put an incredible nine goals past Hamburg in the league.
Bayern didn't allow Juve to control this game in their usual fashion, and it was clear that the Italians struggled to adapt.
Conte's set-up is not based on ball-retention, as Celtic found out in Glasgow. Juventus are one of the few teams in world football that are truly comfortable on and off the ball, but there's a caveat: they need to control tempo.
Against Bayern, they couldn't, and they were made to look flustered and incapable, two adjectives not normally associated with the Turin side.
Kroos and Mueller, in particular, wreaked havoc with their pressing and forced the Juve back line into several uncharacteristic errors. Pinned back, they were then subjected to wave after wave of Bayern attacks that in truth should have yielded more than two goals.
That it didn't is a small miracle from Conte's point of view. He can now plan for the mother of all comebacks in Turin, and though it will be a tough task, he'll know that it's not beyond their reach.
Juventus know that they can perform. They slaughtered Chelsea 3-0 in Italy, and with only Pescara to deal with at the weekend, can rest key players ahead of the return leg with Bayern. Arsenal showed that the Germans aren't infallible, either.
As Arjen Robben put it afterwards (via UEFA).com:
We'll have to wait and see [if 2-0 will be enough]. We've already been warned once. When we played against Arsenal [in the round of 16] and won 3-1 away everyone was thinking the tie was over. Of course then everyone was disappointed and angry with our result at home, but it was a good lesson for us.
Juve will be hoping to cause some more disappointment. Stephan Lichtsteiner and Arturo Vidal will be missing after picking up bookings—something they should have worked harder to avoid—but Vucinic should be back, and the Montenegrin's presence will change much.
The former Roma frontman often adds the finishing touches to Pirlo's work, and is a much more intelligent and nuanced player than either Alessandro Matri or Fabio Quagliarella.
The duo used against Bayern are both capable strikers, but they lack the vision that Vucinic brings and were never going to get much opportunity to poach against opposition this good. To score against Bayern, Juve will need a defter touch.
If Conte can find a way to rebalance his side and protect Pirlo a little more, the addition of Vucinic should have the Bavarians a little more troubled closer to their own goal. And that, in turn, will relieve the pressure at Buffon's end. Because at the Allianz, the problems manifested in the Juventus box were born farther up the field.
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