Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It Happened in Europe: Juventus puts the champs in a hole

Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid
Carlos Teves was the hero again for Juventus as the Italian champions get a big first leg win over Real Madrid.

The match started out with a good end-to-end pace. Both sides were off and running and playing quite positively. Juventus got the first real chance in the opening minutes of the match when Arturo Vidal got a hold of a bad clearance and was through on goal, but the Real Madrid defense closed him down.

In the ninth minute Juventus had their breakthrough. Carlos Tevez put the original shot on Iker Casillas and the rebound came right to former Real Madrid man Alvaro Morata for the easy tap in. It was Real's first goal conceded in over 450 minutes of pay away from home in the Champions League.

Afer a brief spell of attack from Real Madrid right after conceding, Juventus were back at it with Tevez peppering shots on Casillas. None were overly threatening, but it became clear that Juventus was the better team in the first 20 minutes of the match. There were questions about weather Juventus would play this one not to lose, or if they would go for glory and get a big first leg lead on the Spanish giants. It was clear that they were playing to win early, even after the  first goal went in.

Real's chances did, come along however. Cristiano Ronaldo had a one at the stroke of 23 minutes when he got wide behind the Juve defense, but his shot skidded wide of the target. After that, Real were able to keep possession for quite some time. They got their just reward in the 27th minute when James Rodriguez played a nice flick on to Ronaldo, who had way, way too much space, for an easy header for the all important away goal.

After the score was tied, the frantic pace that defined the opening 20 minutes or so slowed down. Both sides concerned themselves more with retaining possession and waiting for the right chance to pull the trigger on the attack.

Just after the 40 minute park, James Rodriguez was puzzled as how he and he didn't put Madrid ahead. A beautiful link up play down low saw James able to get his head from a perfect cross from Isco. The Juve defense was a little more alert this time and the challenged header clattered off the crossbar. The follow up chance floated barely above the goal.

The second half started off with a little more pace than the end of the first, and it culminated in a penalty given against Dani Carvajal after a blinding run down most of the pitch by Carlos Tevez. He would convert the ensuing PK with confidence and force. Arturo Vidal apparently thought it was more than a penalty, probably asking for a red card for denying a clear chance on goal, and was booked for running his mouth at referee Martin Atkinson.

Real had a chance to get level again in the 64th minute after Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was brought on as a sub. The Mexican international started a nice passing play with his very first touch of the match that almost ended in a sliding tap in from Ronaldo.

Real's chances would end there. In fact, Juventus was closer to making it 3-1 as the final whistle approached. Real Madrid was pressing up high and the Italians were able to get Fernando Llorente behind the defense. He just ran out of space wide. Andrea Pirlo almost set up Llorente again at the close of the 90 minutes with a free kick header that Casillas was just able to get to.

The story of the match was Real Madrid's lazy play at the back. It was a poor clearance that led to Juve's opener. It was an unnecessary challenge and penalty that led to the winner. On several other occasions the back line of Caravajal, Pepe, Raphael Varane, and, to a lesser extent, Marcelo was very disjointed. They didn't play as a unit the way you would expect the back line of an elite squad like Real Madrid to play. They will have to clear up the confusion that led to their downfall if they want to mount a comeback in the home leg next week.

Real should also be concerned with how well Juventus shut down Ronaldo in the second half. He had zero touched inside the penalty area after the interval, and was pretty much no existent for the last 45 minutes. In fact, other than the easy header for theri first goal, Ronaldo might as well have been riding the bench for much of the match. Gareth Bale should be another concern. He was so ineffective that he was subbed off in crunch time.

They will take the result, however. They got their away goal and are only down one when they head home to finish the tie. Juventus has the lead right now, but they can't take it for granted. The San Bernabeu is a fortress that could easily see their home side win 3-0 against any squad, even the Italian champions. Juventus would be quite wrong to come out of the gates and try to park the bus in front of their own goal. They will need a goal of their own if they hope to be playing in the final in Berlin.

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