Juventus 2-1 Lyon: 6 Things We Learned
Juventus made tough work of Lyon in the quarter-finals of the Europa League on Thursday, eventually edging out the French side 3-1 on aggregate, with a 2-1 victory on the night at the Juventus Stadium.
The Bianconeri took the lead through a sublime Andrea Pirlo free-kick, but Jimmy Briand shocked the Italian champions by equalising not long after. As a result, the Ligue 1 side were just one goal away from progression.
A deflected Claudio Marchisio strike from range gave the aggregate score a more emphatic look, putting the Old Lady one step away from hosting a European final in their own backyard.
Here are six things we learned.
Andrea Pirlo Is the Best Direct Free-Kick Taker in Europe Currently
Andrea Pirlo struck another gem of a free-kick on Thursday night.
It's the third time in recent weeks that the 34-year-old has hit the back of the net from a direct free-kick, which puts him into a position to brag that he is the best dead-ball specialist in Europe currently.
He has always been a threat in these situations. This one follows strikes against Fiorentina and Genoa in recent weeks, which defeated two of the better goalkeepers in Serie A in Neto and Mattia Perin, respectively.
It is his sixth goal from a free-kick this season, and it appears to me that he is better than ever at this trick.
Juve can be thankful that Pirlo has such deadly accuracy from range in these situations, as he can be the difference in tight contests when they fail to carve open the opposition in open play.
Marchisio Brings Something Extra to Juve Midfield
Claudio Marchisio has slipped out of the starting line-up for Juve this season.
But "Il Principino" proved again what he brings to the table against Lyon in the second leg of the Europa League tie.
The Azzurri international was lucky with his strike from distance that clinched a semi-final berth, but it is his willingness to take aim from distance that gives Juve such an edge.
Paul Pogba can hit them well from range, too, but he lacks Marchisio's dribbling ability, and when the 28-year-old is closed down, he can work space in tight areas with his quicker feet and lower centre of gravity than the Frenchman.
Antonio Conte would love to accommodate both midfielders alongside Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, but that would involve changing the formation.
At this stage of the season, that seems unlikely.
Given that Pogba is struggling for form lately, it may be an opportune moment to drop the player and reward Marchisio with an extended run of starts. On the basis of Thursday's performance and recent games, he deserves that.
Lyon Must Now Take Heart from This into Cup Final
Lyon were beaten by two goals on aggregate, but it was a bit closer than that scoreline suggests.
The French side can take heart from this result. On paper, they were clearly outclassed by Juve, but they made up for that with defensive organisation, restricting the Bianconeri to two set-piece goals and a vicious deflection from distance.
Lyon now have the league cup final to look forward to, as the top three is more or less beyond them now.
PSG await in the final, and given they were also eliminated from Europe this week, they will be solely focused on this game as well, as the title race is long since wrapped up.
The defensive solidarity and resilience can be replicated against Paris, and the fact that Lyon were one goal away from eliminating the Bianconeri will be encouraging.
Remi Garde will now be able to rest up the players and manage their schedule to peak for that game at the Stade de France. A victory would make their season jump from disappointment to success.
Juve Really Want to Win This Now
Juve have been hard to work out since they dropped into the Europa League.
The Bianconeri have greater ambitions in Serie A than just securing a third successive Scudetto.
The Old Lady will likely win a third league title in as many years, but the ambition to make history in the process is potentially jeopardising their desire to win the Europa League.
To exceed the record points total of 97 points, set by Inter Milan, would be one target.
Another would also be to break through the 100-point barrier, which would be a much trickier task, given they would only be able to drop two more points to reach three figures.
But the reaction to Marchisio's tie-clinching goal on Thursday was enough to convince all that Juve really do want to succeed in this tournament.
Andrea Agnelli, Beppe Marotta and Pavel Nedved were seen to be celebrating wildly in the stands, which explained how they felt about this tournament more than any words could do.
Briand Justifies Selection Ahead of Gomis
Jimmy Briand took his chance to start over Bafetimbi Gomis, poaching a fine goal to give his side a chance of claiming a famous victory over Juventus.
His movement was a constant problem for Juve, as he often slipped between markers and looked to attack crosses from the flanks.
The 28-year-old is a very different option to Gomis, and Garde picked the right man.
His ability on the ball and link-up play with Alexandre Lacazette show great signs of encouragement that he can pose the same problems for PSG in the league cup final in a few weeks.
Given that Gomis is supposed to be the bigger threat in the air, Briand won six aerial duels, per WhoScored.com, and therefore he offers the best of both worlds.
Juve Will Not Fear Anybody in the Draw on Friday
Juve will now be confident that they can secure the consolation prize of the Europa League and use it as the foundation to approach the Champions League in a better manner next season after such a disappointing campaign this season.
Benfica, Sevilla and Valencia await the Serie A champions in Friday's draw now.
The Bianconeri will not fear any of those though, and in reality, if Conte's side play to their potential, they should sweep aside any of those three teams.
Benfica may be the strongest threat, and as such, Juve would like to avoid them until the final, when home advantage will be so crucial.