Are Juventus ready for top European teams?
Juventus secured a 3-1 aggregate win over Lyon at home in Turin on Thursday night and the place in the Europa League semi-finals that comes with it. But their performances are not what one expects from a side perceived to be the favourites for the trophy. One-dimensional at times and lacking in energy and ideas, the Bianconeri were good enough to defeat their French opponents, but will they be good enough against better challengers?
It’s important to note that whilst the performance was not up to par, it is not right to criticise these players too harshly. At this stage of the season, players are exhausted. Antonio Conte’s tactics and style of management impacts the squad both psychically and emotionally and it’s time to realise that whilst superior technique may carry them in certain games, until Juve bolster the squad to allow for tactical variants, they may not be able to leave their mark on the greatest competition: the Champions League.
The Bianconeri lack various skills that would have helped them overcome Lyon’s physical and suffocating method of play more easily. Their tactics are predictable due to a lack of options. There is no direct player that intelligently utilises the space on the wings, nor a player capable of delivering accurate crosses, whilst the midfield is heavily reliant on Andrea Pirlo’s vision. Leonardo Bonucci simply doesn’t have enough to rely on as an alternative in these matches.
Despite how much Rafa Benitez continues to point out the squad depth Juventus can boast due to their revenue, it is simply not as deep as one would like. Intensity- and energy-expending styles of play can only get you so far. Juve’s game lacked intelligence, which only further highlights why this competition should be the club’s priority going forward.
Whilst this blog places great emphasis on winning for the sake of Italy, a European success would benefit Juventus players the most. They desperately need the experience of playing against other European teams and their coach needs the practice to improve his tactical tinkering when facing continental opponents -- even the lower-level ones. Having already suffered certain troubles against the French side last week, one assumed the Italian tactician and his men would look at ways of exposing Lyon’s flaws and ensuring they don’t fall into the same traps. Yet it seemed Remi Garde’s men were the more prepared whilst Juventus continued to deliver their usual ball over the top on the off chance a forward could latch on, control and score.
For such a strategy, one cannot understand why Fernando Llorente did not start. The fact that Juve’s game is based around pinging balls over the top, who better to keep the ball and bring others into play than the tall man up front? One of the main reasons he was brought into the side was because he offers a Plan B, a plan the Old Lady has had to resort to in these matches against Lyon due to the French side’s sheer strength and ability to man-mark effectively. Perhaps it is a question of resting Llorente. But it seems more logical that Conte would play his best side in these European matches -- and the post-match questions from Italian media indicated the same. Rotation? If it must happen, and it must, then let them rotate in Serie A matches as one Juve fan opined.
These long balls and predicable passes were terribly easily for Lyon to handle. Forward balls were being forced as opposed to managing composed maneuvers and ball retention in the final third. Keep it, hold it and rotate it until avenues are opened. Runs must be made to create gaps, mobility is key but most importantly, possession of the ball in the right areas must be kept.
Juventus were sloppy and careless when on the ball. Lyon were gifted possession on too many occasions and for a side that hardly boasts great quality, they had control of the ball for far too long and much more than they should have been allowed. Juventus simply couldn’t find a way to penetrate effectively or to speed up their actions whilst still maintaining accuracy.
The bottome line is that Juve’s tactics must be worked upon and more quality players added to the squad if they are to make the step up in Europe.
Nonetheless, it was a special night for Italy’s Old Lady as finally after six years, the peninsula has a representative in the semi-finals of the competition. For all that they have achieved this season and under Conte, they certainly deserve to be celebrating their glories even if one cannot help but demand more from the country’s most successful footballing side.