An early defensive blunder from center half Efe Ambrose gifted Juventus a third minute lead, leaving Celtic 87 minutes to try and salvage a result in the home leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup. Never able to breach goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Celtic were ultimately handed a humbling 3-0 deficit, with late goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic putting this tie to rest after only 90 minutes.
Celtic fans may be able to convince themselves they had the better of play for most of the night, but when you give up a goal to Juventus so early in the match, the game’s bound to look lopsided. Particularly in a competition where road goals are so valuable, Juventus is content to sit back and wait for you to over-extend.
After Alessandro Matri’s early goal, that’s exactly what Juve elected to do, a decision that proved prudent as the home side continuously failed to put a credible threat on Buffon. Lacking the ingenuity to match their industry, Celtic allowed Buffon to rack up seven saves without every truly being tested.
Conversely, Juventus put only four shots on Frazier Forester. Three ended up in the back of his net, the product of a game that was destined to wage Juventus’s counter against Celtic’s creativity. It was never a fair fight.
So the Glaswegians were left to rue their early, match-defining mistake – a long ball out of Juve’s end from Federico Peluso that was misjudged by Ambrose. Forester compounded the mistake by putting himself in no man’s land on the resulting bouncer, with Matri able to get his shot just over the line before Kelvin Wilson could defend the empty net.
In the 77th minute, Matri set up Claudio Marchisio for Juventus’s final goal, his one-touch pass behind a tracking Scott Brown allowing the Italian international to cut back onto his right before doubling Juve’ s lead. Six minutes later, Vucinic capped the lopsided result.
The match was typical Juventus, a team whose success over the last two years has been predicated on taking advantage of others’ mistakes. Their ability to do makes them one of the best teams in Europe and in a different class from Celtic.
The Scottish champions knew about that disparity going into the match, yet their group stage success against Barcelona gave them reason to think their approach could neutralize better sides. On Tuesday, it didn’t come close.
Man of the Match: When you sit on your heels for most of the match, few players get a chance to give Man of the Match-caliber performances, but with some late, confident grabs of Charles Mulgrew and Kris Commons crosses, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon proved Juve’s most valuable player. While none of his seven saves were difficult, Buffon did well to prevent opportunities for followup shots. He also made some astute reads on shots that went just wide of goal, giving his team possession instead of conceding dangerous corner kicks.
Threesome of knowledge: What we learned
Somebody needs to ask about Efe Ambrose – It’s too much to say Neil Lennon made a bad choice in going with Ambrose over sliding Charles Mulgrew into central defense (or starting Adam Matthews and moving Mikael Lustig in from right back). Ambrose played in Sunday’s Cup of Nations final. Asking him to report for 90 minutes in Glasgow 48 hours later may have been too much. But we don’t see Mulgrew and Matthews in training, nor do we know how Ambrose felt when he came back. All we can do is ask questions, but it’s possible Lennon deduced a sub-par Ambrose was still his best option.
Matri’s hard work pays off – The third minute confusion wasn’t the only time Alessandro Matri’s willingness to challenge Celtic defenders was a factor. Multiple times in the first half, Matri’s ability to match Ambrose physically allowed Juventus to play long balls out of the back while still challenging for possession. Given how much of the game Juve had given to Celtic (and how deep into their own end that had pushed them), the tactic proved a nice way to relieve pressure. Matri’s goal and assist may overshadow his more subtle efforts, but some of the Juve striker’s best contributions weren’t recorded on the scoresheet.
Celtic couldn’t play their game – In fairness, we don’t know that Celtic were going to approach this game the same way they did Barcelona. Juventus is a completely different team, one that doesn’t need possession to be effective. Yet there was still an assumption that the underlying philosophy would be the same: Defend, take few chances, and wait for opportunities. It’s a lot like Juventus’s approach, and since Celtic made the first mistake, we never got to see if their plan would have worked. It’s difficult to see how a conservative approach would have led to anything but a boring game, but down 1-0 in after three minutes, Celtic had to play into Juventus’s hands.
Packaged for takeaway
- Because of the way this one played out, we didn’t learn much about Juventus. There are still questions about where, in the European pecking order, we should slot this Juve team, mostly because they didn’t compete in last year’s Champions League. After today’s result, we’re no closer to answers. Early goals make games aberrational.
- Martin Caceras, in at left-central defender for the injured Giorgio Chiellini, was one of Juventus’s most effective players. Along with Buffon and Matri, he had a Man of the Match claim.
- Celtic went with a 4-3-3/4-3-2-1 formation that set up Commons, Gary Hooper and James Forrest to press Juve’s back three man-for-man. Unfortunately, because of the early goal, we didn’t get a chance to see how the approach would have worked. Still, it was a minor surprise from a Celtic team many assumed would play closer to a 4-5-1. It also casts doubts on whether Celtic was ever going to be as deferential and defensive as we saw against Barcelona.