When a team goes out of a competition with nary a whimper, when it fails not only to score a goal over 180 minutes but also create chances, and when it lacks even a trace of intensity for two matches in succession, it begs the question: did they even think they could win?
Based on their showing over two legs against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, the answer for Juventus would seem to be “no.”
Absolutely battered in the first leg (their 2-0 defeat was flattering) they somehow made things ever so comfortable for their guests in the return match, putting up the meekest of fights before throwing in the towel with a third of the game to play. It was a submissive dismissal from Europe’s most prestigious club competition, and it didn't have to be.
In the run-up to last week’s encounter at Allianz-Arena, there was talk Juventus manager Antonio Conte would break from his 3-5-2 formation in favour of something more pragmatic given the circumstances—those circumstances being an appointment with one of the most dominant teams on the continent this season, which only days before had trounced visiting Hamburg 9-2.
He would have done well to listen to the advice so many were giving him.
Instead, he stubbornly deployed his tried and tested formation, starting Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri up top instead of dropping one of the strikers for Paul Pogba, which would have moved Claudio Marchisio into the hole in something resembling a 3-5-1-1.
As it turned out, he had a lot more to think about after David Alaba opened the scoring shortly after kickoff, but it wasn’t the Austrian’s goal that won the tie for Bayern. Rather, it was Conte’s unwillingness to set up his side to deal with an opponent he should have acknowledged was superior to his own side, at least as far as attacking play was concerned.
Hi might have taken a page out of Roberto Di Matteo’s book. In last year’s semifinal against Barcelona, the former Chelsea manager arranged his team to neutralize the Catalan threat as best it could. He recognized that he was up against superior opposition, and his adjustments conformed with that thinking.
Conte should have prepared similarly for Bayern, and there would have been no shame in it. Juventus’ primary strengths during his tenure have been defense and containment, and his selections for the first leg should have enhanced those strengths instead of providing a place for a pair of forwards who, as a tandem, had combined for fewer than 15 goals in Serie A.
Bayern, on the other hand, had done their homework coming into the first leg and managed to limit Andrea Pirlo to just 37 passes on the night, of which he completed just 70 percent of them successfully (all stats courtesy WhoScored.com). Only two of the seven crosses he attempted found a teammate, and as a group, Juventus had only 45 percent of the ball and two shots on target.
And while there should have been lessons in those numbers ahead of the rematch, Conte’s approach for the second leg was identical to his methods going into the first—another ineffective striking partnership, and a midfield that Bayern already knew how to deal with and would deal with again on Wednesday.
Then there were the questionable substitutions, and other in-game adjustments that might have been made.
Kwadwo Asamoah, who started the season brightly before fading in recent weeks, was non-existent at Juventus Stadium, and yet he played the full 90 minutes. Mauricio Isla, on the other hand, might have provided a better attacking option on the right flank than Simone Padoin, but he had to wait until the 69th minute to be introduced.
By that time, Mario Mandzukic had scored an important away goal for Bayern, and the tie as a contest was effectively over. Juventus simply withdrew from the match, and the final 26 minutes looked more like a training exercise than the Champions League quarterfinal.
Where Galatasaray had fought until the bitter end against Real Madrid, Juventus rolled over for Bayern. And while you can excuse their disappointment after going 3-0 down on aggregate, they might have been in a better position had they shown anything resembling intensity from the opening whistle.
Intensity, and other mental elements such as passion and concentration, is the job of the manager to instill in his players. And as they demonstrated none of it in either leg against Bayern Munich, the finger can only be pointed in one direction.
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