The first leg of this Europa League quarter-final was like most games Juventus have played over the past month. They narrowly defeated Lyon 1-0 on Thursday and scored late in the second half.
They preserved another clean sheet, with Gianluigi Buffon sprawling on two occasions to keep the game scoreless, but again Juventus did not overpower an opponent clearly inferior to them. Juventus left Lyon with the chance to score first. That Juventus ended up winning the game was almost predictable: They squeeze the most out of the tightest games.
To start the game, Juventus looked a little hesitant. Kwadwo Asamoah, the enterprising winger on the left side, was the only player from the away side to show any real momentum in attack. It was as if they were holding back, at one point with eight players defending against Lyon.
Juventus and Lyon each had just a single shot on net after the first half, and Carlos Tevez and Dani Osvaldo were largely ineffective. Tevez still hasn’t scored in Europe since 2009, and Osvaldo has just one goal and four shots on net in 13 matches with Juventus. There was little creativity.
Coach Remi Garde started the game with Jimmy Briand up front instead of Bafetimbi Gomis, who has scored three goals in the Europa League. Briand caused some early trouble, nicking the ball over Buffon and over the crossbar, but the threat was not steady.
Lyon put some more pressure on Juventus to start the second half, forcing three corner kicks in succession, but the game changed when Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco ran on the pitch.
The two added life to Juventus, and they sprang forward on the attack with more conviction. Giovinco supplied a few dangerous crosses, and so did Vucinic, an unselfish player, even if wasteful. The Montenegrin missed a sitter in the closing stages of the match.
It was Bonucci, however, who had the greatest impact on the game for both good reasons and bad.
Bonucci all over the field
Bonucci was left looking like the fool. Jogging in and around the halfway circle, the defender had no choice but to send a long pass forward, again and again. The ball almost always passed through him. There were no ideas; no one free.
Lyon vs Juventus match report pic.twitter.com/4JCQN1rldq— Cristiano Acconci (@MrAcconci) April 3, 2014
Bonucci touched the ball 103 times, per WhoScored.com, and he looked a lot like Andrea Pirlo back there. But he was spraying the ball far and long—too long. He made 27 long passes. He was an architect without a plan.
The goal was a result of chaos, Claudio Marchisio sending the ball into the box, Paul Pogba attempting a shot, Bonucci finally scoring. Who needs a striker? Bonucci was all over the place, but he only touched the ball once in the opposing 18-yard box, per Squawka, and it was with that touch that he scored the winner.
HEAT MAP: Leonardo Bonucci touched the ball once in the Lyon 18-yard box, he scored with it. pic.twitter.com/oVeDY8WxaY— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 3, 2014
Another clean sheet for Buffon and Co.
Lost in all the eulogies for Juventus is Buffon, who keeps on making big saves at big moments. Juventus have won 10 games in all competitions by a score of 1-0, and that is some thanks to the 36-year-old goalkeeper. The game against Lyon marked the 700th club appearance for Buffon, and it was clean like so many others. He was an anchor for Juve when they were struggling to impose themselves on the game.
On one particular play, Juve’s defenders left a huge lane open. Corentin Tolisso slipped the ball for Steed Malbranque, who dashed into the open space, but Buffon was there. Juve did not look sharp to start the game.
Buffon doesn’t have to make a high number of saves—such is the strength of the defence in front of him. But he can still stretch his gloves to make that crucial stop and limit the rebounds. He is still careful of his clearances, punching the ball above or away from the play.
Not to be ignored is Martin Caceres, who quietly does his job on the right side of the three-man defence. He hit 41 passes, per WhoScored.com, good for 95 percent rating. For most of the game he was perfect.
PASS MAP: Martin Caceres still boasts a 100% passing record tonight. Up to 33/33 now. Immaculate. pic.twitter.com/JO1Dx7mWCq— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 3, 2014
Juventus conservative away from home
Maybe it is the sheer volume of games that Juventus have played.
“We are playing so many games right now,” coach Antonio Conte told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Yahoo! Sports) on Wednesday, “and always with the same players due to injuries.”
Arturo Vidal was suspended for this match, and Angelo Ogbonna and Andrea Barzagli are only now starting to return to the squad. “Most of my players are tired as they haven't had a chance to rest,” Conte said.
Over the past month, Juventus have not played the full 90 minutes. Against Genoa in Serie A and later Fiorentina in the Europa League, they needed Pirlo to score off a free kick to win the game. They have scored just eight goals in their past eight matches in all competitions, and again Juventus did not play a strong game throughout at Stade Gerland.
"We do tend to do better in the second half than the first recently, against Fiorentina and also Napoli," Conte told Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia) after the game.
Too often they were loose with the ball, and there was no steady buildup to any play. They were throwing the ball into the wind, hoping for a good bounce. Giovinco added some pace and ideas to a team lacking both, and it was no coincidence that Juventus picked up their game once Osvaldo left for a substitution.
Paul Pogba was the only real force in midfield. He committed hefty challenges, but at least he left a mark on Lyon. He was always in the fray, making contact and breathing down anyone within his reach.
Conte insisted after the match that he wanted his team to attack and win. But they were tentative, and they didn’t stretch or expose themselves too much.
Umtiti a bright spot for Lyon
Samuel Umtiti is just 20, and he was making his return from an injury. He was excellent, sliding to deny Osvaldo in the penalty area on one occasion. Umtiti also hammered a free kick that looked wide, but forced Buffon into a diving save. Per WhoScored.com, Umtiti made five interceptions—the most of any one player in the match—and seven clearances.