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Juventus clinch 3-0 victory against Celtic
Juventus walked out of Glasgow as 3-0 winners over Celtic in their round of sixteen first leg on Tuesday night. Alessandro Matri opened the scoring, but wasn’t awarded the goal at first as the officials thought the ball didn’t cross the line, but UEFA eventually awarded it to him. Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic then struck in the final 13 minutes to clinch the victory for the visitors.
Celtic surprised many by taking the game to Juve, and while they had 53% of the possession and 17 shots to the Bianconeri’s 10, it didn’t result in goals. The Bhoys came in averaging 8.7 attempts per match, almost doubling that number in one fixture, but five of the seven on target were routine saves for Gianluigi Buffon. Despite getting the ball to the flanks, their crossing for the most part was poor and even when the likes of Kris Commons and Gary Hooper got on the end of them, they wasted the opportunities. As for team selection, a few eyebrows were raised when Efe Ambrose, two days removed from an African Cup of Nations win in South Africa, started at centre back. Manager Neil Lennon paid dearly for that decision. It was Ambrose who was slow in retreating on Juventus’ first marker. He looked knackered, and that’s exactly why the Italian champions’ tactician Antonio Conte didn’t start Kwadwo Asamoah. Ambrose can’t take all of the blame, though. All of the Hoops’ defenders and midfielders looked sluggish in the third minute, their high line and pressing up the pitch cost them on the Matri strike. That was also the quickest that Celtic have conceded at home in the Champions League.
There were some positives for the SPL holders. They did a brilliant job closing down Andrea Pirlo, credit can go to Scott Brown for that. He nullified Pirlo and was impressive in doing so, he was better in that role than anyone else Juventus have played in the Champions League thus far. The squad in general did well when pressing Juve’s midfielders, it forced them to make some sloppy decisions which would’ve hurt them if Celtic were more clinical. This included marking on the short goal kicks, which the Bianconeri love to do.
The good ends there, however. As the game wore on, Juventus didn’t ware down, their fitness was key to their success. Brown, who was immense all night when sticking to Pirlo and being a nuisance, was at fault for Marchisio’s goal. He failed to track Marchisio’s run into the box, who appeared far fresher, leaving Kelvin Wilson and Fraser Forster exposed. It resulted in an easy, calm finish for the Italian midfielder.
Juventus, on the other hand, were prepared, focused, and, above all, proved how versatile they are. Typically their 3-5-2 formation isn’t as defensive as others’. They usually play a possession based game with clever movement from the midfield and strikers, but not tonight. Since Celtic were the ones in control, Juve were content to sit back and wait for their chances, which they did and took them beautifully. That shows that The Old Lady, even when surprised, can still maintain an organized back line and are okay withdrawing. Their attack was underwhelming, but that’s expected when deploying those tactics, the two forwards still managed to score as well despite not getting as many attempts as usual. Matri was the standout of the two, he had a great performance. He’s got his confidence again and may have won back his place in the squad.
As for the defence, they were the heroes. Buffon, for the third straight game for both club and country, was amazing. He made crucial saves, collected crosses and corners, and showed leadership in his 64th Champions League appearance for the Bianconeri. Federico Peluso, who’s been a target of criticism since arriving from Atalanta, was one of the top performers also. He was effective in every aspect in the left wingback role. He was solid at the back, contributed when going forward, and showed a workman attitude, all of the traits needed in that position. Martin Caceres was the best defender for Juve, though. He made key clearances and kept Celtic’s strikers at bay, hence why he was in the discussion with Buffon for man of the match. The most integral part of the back line’s play was how they defended crosses and corners. Conte revealed that the team trained to defend in these situations as the Hoops have scored 40% of their goals off of corners. It worked effectively as they were never menacing from any set piece.
That leads into the hot topic from the match-up, Neil Lennon claimed that they “deserved at least two penalties” for all of the tussling in the box from Stephan Lichtsteiner and Simone Padoin on both Scott Brown and Gary Hooper. First of all, Hooper was in Buffon’s area to obstruct him, so it’s not like his main objective was to win the ball. Second, the home side were also playing just as gritty, so it’s not fair to criticize the other team for that. Third, and most importantly, the referee got every decision correct according to the FIFA rulebook for officiating. In the book, a foul or penalty can be called for holding when all three of the following criteria are met. First, a player must commit the offence, which Lichtsteiner and Padoin did. Next, it has to occur on the field of play, which also happened. Lastly, it has to be called when the ball is in play, which it wasn’t. Therefore, it’s not a penalty and the referee was right.
That doesn’t mean that an offender goes unpunished. At first, the official warns the player, then if it happens again, the referee books him. If it’s committed with the ball in play, he’s obligated to call a foul or penalty, but again, the ball was on the corner circle. Anyone bashing the officiating will now think twice since, according to FIFA, it’s not an offence.
Even if Celtic deserved a penalty, they had ample time to get something from open play and failed, hence why they’re going into Turin down 3-0. Stranger things have happened in the Champions League, so the tie isn’t out of sight. It’ll be a tall task, but if they want to cause an upset, they need to get balls in the back of the net.