Written by R, o, r, y, , , m, i, t, h, ob
Memo to Juventus: Remember the substance.
The all-conquering Turin giants have made more than 100 appearances in the Champions League finals and won 14 Serie A titles, but past glories can’t take away from the clinical, exhibitionistic bang of the six-and-a-half-minute first goal they unleashed against Arsenal, in a 2-0 win in Moscow on Wednesday evening.
Equally concerning was their insistence to play so creatively against what was currently the biggest and most decorated club team in European football.
Massimiliano Allegri’s team – certainly not the type to possess the range or creativity of Arsenal, champions of Europe for the past 15 years – took their time in possession, giving clearances and defensive organisation, in equal measure.
Juventus, for many years under the stewardship of the enigmatic coach Antonio Conte, were among the most disciplined and disciplined sides in European football.
But Allegri’s flying 4-3-3 formation is unrecognizable. The flexibility it offers in the attack – a single striker, two wide players and two conventional wing-backs — and in the holding midfielder, allows Juventus to move the ball from flank to flank and interchange throughout the season with no pressure at all from its central players.
That was certainly evident against Arsenal. Striker Gonzalo Higuain took over the game at the start with a couple of fine runs, but it was Paulo Dybala who found the finishing touch, breaking away from his marker to create space between him and Petr Cech for a quickfire double.
Dybala’s raison d’etre in the game was a series of darting runs down the right, followed by a beautifully weighted low cross.
With the Italian team increasing its tempo and working for each other and creating more openings on the counter-attack, the best strategy for Arsenal would have been to stifle the home side by constantly dominating possession.
Unfortunately for them, that isn’t their greatest strength and, with his defence reorganised — the only perceived weakness by two competent keepers and an alert back four — Arsene Wenger had little choice but to have a semi-decent go at it.
By then, the result was inevitable. With his squad decimated, Wenger made a triple substitution in the second half.
Wenger’s team only conceded eight goals in all competitions last season and played such a high line that it allowed Juventus’s strikers time to craft excellent chances.
The Argentinian, Mario Mandzukic and Torino’s Andrea Belotti were playing out of position. But with so much so-called quality in the Juventus team, it’s perhaps no surprise that the two forward-thinking strikers picked the wrong day to make that adjustment.
It could’ve been even worse for Arsenal had Alisson been provided with the service to the back of his goal. Alexis Sanchez’s back post flick was deflected over, Ben Davies robbed from him near the line, but the visitors couldn’t capitalize on that momentum.
Juventus’s ruthlessness and superiority of the game saw Arsenal’s chances of knocking them out diminish.
The three points are gone. And with the wins away to Real Madrid last week and an outing in the Europa League final in the Europa League final on May 24, what is in the bag is almost hopeless.
Even when Juve faced stronger opponents last season – Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – they were far from disgraced and were unlucky to go out in the semis on away goals.
Arsenal’s professionalism and commitment — especially in the face of last-minute elimination by Bayern Munich — is one of the reasons it has, after all, maintained its status as a top-four Premier League side.
So, would Arsenal have wanted to win? Of course they would.
But the grind that Serie A has proven over the last few seasons, as well as the athleticism and physicality of the English Premier League, means that one season just isn’t enough to challenge the top sides. And Juventus’s attitude and style can’t adapt to that as readily.
Juventus should keep winning. They should keep entertaining. The style can’t win the battles over winning trophies though.
If they don’t, it will be because of the substance that most leaves with them.