Perhaps we got a little too caught up in the Juventus mystique. Or maybe as fans who are used to a strong Serie A, we’re still coming to grips with Italy’s regression. A closer examination of Juve’s fixture list would have told us the Bianconeri had yet to be tested by a true Champions League-contender, yet we convinced ourselves: This one was going to be close.
Then again, Tuesday could have just been a bad day. And this tie is far from over. Yet after 90 minutes in Germany we’re at a loss, left to brainstorm possible for explanations after the Old Lady’s performance in Munich, a 2-0 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich that could have been much worse.
If Gianluigi Buffon wasn’t good for seven saves and some key decisions to clean up balls sent into his area, this would have ugly. And if Bayern had been more clinical with their myriad chances, this tie would be over. But as it stands, Juventus are fortunate to be heading back to Italy with their European hopes on life support.
Worst start possible
All our pre-match talk about Bayern needing to execute went out the window within a minute. That’s when a shot from 30-plus yards beat one of the world’s best keepers, leaving us to debate how much blame Buffon should shoulder.
On one hand, there’s almost never a reason to allow a goal from that distance, particularly when you’re not screened. If the ball isn’t some kind of Roberto Carlos rocket, you’re out of excuses. From half way between the center line and the edge of the area, world-class goalkeepers should adjust to all but the most aberrational scenarios.
Yet when you see replays from behind the goal, David Alaba’s shot looks like an aberration. Though it wasn’t well hit, the Bayern defender’s shot was hit strangely, the ball buckling in mid-air before diving toward the lower right hand corner. By then, Buffon had already committed to a shot that looked to be headed to his right. Caught off-balance as the ball broke, Buffon couldn’t get back across goal.
At worst, it’s one of the bigger howlers of his career, the timing of which allowed Bayern to take early control of the match.
Pressure, counter, threaten
That control allowed Bayern to play without the ball, rely their high pressure to disrupt Juventus, and try to beat the Old Lady on the counter – a plan that worked exquisitely. Juventus conductor Andrea Pirlo lacked his usual influence, meaning Claudio Marchisio, Fabio Quagliarella, and Alessandro Matri were kept out of the match. Forced into turnovers, Juve promoted Bayern’s counters, with Arjen Robben and Frank Ríbery constantly able to threaten when they got the ball behind the 3-5-2’s wingbacks.
As the match went on, Juve’s possession advantage faded. In addition to hogging chances, Bayern was starting to hog the ball. They finished with 55 percent possession after the Old Lady’s number had been around 60 for most of the first half. Bayern also held a 22-8 edge in shots and a 9-2 advantage in chances on goal.
And Bayern were able to accomplish this without arguably their best player. Early in the first half, attacking mifielder Toni Kroos left the game with what was later reported as multiple muscle tears in his left thigh. The midfielder’s season may be over.
In his place, Jupp Heynckes brought on Arjen Robben and moved Thomas Müller into the playmaker’s role in his 4-2-3-1, a move that only made things worse for Juventus. Müller gave Bayern another player who could play closer to goal, while Robben gave FCB a second pacey attacker to exploit the spaces left by the three-man defense. With Bastian Schweinsteiger capable of distributing from deep midfield, Bayern was setup to probe the weaknesses of Juve’s setup.
Changes pay off for second goal
The benefits of Bayern’s changes were evident on their second goal. In the 63rd minute, Robben was able to gain territory down the right before pulling back and playing to Luiz Gustavo 22 yards out. The midfielder’s shot on goal was pushed to Mario Mandzukic, who played back across the six-yard box for Müller. The open net gave Bayern their much-needed second goal.
If Müller were still wide, he might not have headed for the byline, as Robben is apt to do. Müller tends to cross from deeper, when he crosses at all. If he’d pulled up farther from the byline, Gustavo may not have had room in front of a collapsed midfield. Even if Gustavo did get a shot off, who would have been there to provide an option for Mandzukic?
Down the road, however, Kroos’s loss is sure to prove costly. Among the many strong seasons Bayern’s received from their stars, Kroos’s may have been the strongest. Though Müller can play behind the striker, he lacks Kroos’s playmaking abilities. He’s also less apt to drop back and help link play when another man’s needed deeper.
With eyes toward Italy
Juventus were the underdogs coming into the tie, but nobody expected the gap to be this large. Bayern could have easily put three or four on the Italian champions. That they didn’t is the only reason this tie’s left in doubt, because there was nothing in Juve’s Tuesday form that suggests they’ll have success next week.
But in that terrible display lies a grain of ironic hope. Juventus are not this bad, which makes today’s performance seem like an outlier. Given time to see what went wrong in Munich, they’re unlikely to be as inept in leg two. Perhaps Antonio Conte won’t be so bold as to play his whole team this weekend (as he did on Saturday in Milan). And maybe having been humbled by Bayern, Conte will less be convinced Juve’s modus operandi is good enough.
Expect to see changes next Tuesday, but until we know what those changes are, it’s difficult to assess how likely Juventus is to come back. But no team’s had any real success against Bayern this year. For Juventus to go from terrible to terrific in eight days will require something unpredictable.