Juventus are perhaps the last team a football fan should write off after a heavy first leg defeat in a two-legged tie. However, having they slumped to a 0-3 defeat at home to Real Madrid it is extremely difficult to imagine a scenario that sees them turn the tie around and reach the Champions League semi-finals this season.
That the reigning Italian champions and current Serie A leaders stand so far behind their Spanish counterparts isn’t a testament to a specific tactical philosophy – the two teams were fairly even for the majority of the game. Nor is it a testament to bad luck. Rather, it is a testament to Cristiano Ronaldo’s enduring greatness.
Love him or hate him, CR7 can score. And, as will be discussed in greater detail in this article, he can score well.
Juventus, try as they might, simply couldn’t stop the Portuguese icon on the night, and that was the one major difference between the two sides.
Ronaldo stuns Juventus
Ronaldo scored the first and the second for Real Madrid, then set up the third for Marcelo. In a way, his showing was a 90-minute rejection of the notion that all he does nowadays is finish.
He broke the deadlock on three minutes. No messing about here. Isco got to the byline and crossed across the face of goal; Ronaldo stole in to prod home.
Immediately, memories of Juventus’ thrashing at the hands of the same opposition in last season’s Champions League final came flooding back. The Portuguese gave Real the lead within the first quarter of that match, and his repetition of the feat here was a worrying sign.
If his first goal represented Ronaldo the opportunist, his second represented Ronaldo the innovator. On 63 minutes, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon fluffed their lines. Ronaldo kept the attack alive before getting on the end of a cross with a superlative overhead kick.
Initially, the home crowd were stunned into silence. Then, as what they had just witnessed sank in, they began to applaud.
So often the villain, Ronaldo looked slightly bewildered by the sight and sound of a whole stadium – one that was not the Santiago Bernabeu – recognising his quality.
That moment was just reward for what must go down as one of the defining goals in his goal-laden career.
Juve reacted to Modric and Kroos control
Both teams looked to defend in a flat 4-4-2 and deployed a midfield press. However, Juventus struggled to assert themselves early on when Real Madrid were in possession. The source of the problem was the away side’s central midfield rotation.
Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos, as ever, positioned themselves on either side of the deep-lying Casemiro. Juve’s pressing was focused on the central zone and they often looked to form cover shadows on the Brazilian destroyer.
However, Modric and Kroos simply dropped deeper in the inside channels to enable Real to pass around the Italian side’s first line of pressure.
This worked a treat in the opening half an hour, though Massimiliano Allegri did seem to alter his team’s defensive focus in response.
Sami Khedira pushed up between the Juventus front two and joined them in leading the press, making it more difficult for their visitors to play through midfield.
Dybala sending off was avoidable
At 2-0 down and with the away leg still to play, Juventus’ hopes of progress were severely dented. But what really took the wind out of the affair was the harsh sending off of Paulo Dybala a mere two minutes after Real Madrid and Ronaldo’s superb second.
The Argentine had been booked for diving in the first half and, as he looked to control a ball over the top, he accidentally caught Dani Carvajal. Referee Cuneyt Cakir marched immediately over to the striker, issuing him a second yellow and a sending off without a moment’s hesitation.
Most disconcertingly, Cakir has done this in the past. In 2013, he sent Nani off in a Champions League quarter-final tie between Manchester United and Real Madrid for an almost identical ‘high boot’ offense.
Whatever remaining hope Juventus had of a second leg comeback similar to their turnaround against Tottenham Hotspur in the previous round was well and truly quashed by this poor piece of officiating.
Dybala was arguably their best hope of a goal – he completed two key passes and one dribble during his time on the pitch.
The Real deal yet again
Last season, Real made history by becoming the first team to retain European club football’s most prestigious competition since Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan achieved the same feat back in 1990. And, on the basis of their latest crushing of Juventus, it appears well within the realms of possibility that the Spaniards could make it three in a row.
Should they do that, they would be the first team to win three consecutive Champions League titles since the great Bayern Munich side of the 1970s led by the majestic Franz Beckenbauer. They would also bag their fourth in five years.
They may not be on top of their game domestically, but Real Madrid remain an exceptionally tough nut to crack on the continent. They are almost certain to reach the semi-finals – good luck to whomever they draw in the final four.
OH. MY. WORD! 😱
Cristiano Ronaldo with an outrageous overhead kick!
Insane! 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/PYtT0uRTQ9
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 3, 2018
Mind the gap (or not)
This defeat looked bad not only for Juventus, but for Italian football as a whole.
The Bianconeri are four points clear at the top of Serie A right now, so seeing them put to the sword so devastatingly was a disappointing sight for those who believe in the virtues of calcio, especially as it came on the back of Milan’s aggregate 5-1 hammering against Arsenal and Napoli’s partially surprisingly early Europa League elimination.
However, the 3-0 scoreline perhaps wasn’t a fair reflection of the game as a whole. Juventus were arguably the better of the two teams for the first hour of the match and went close on a number of occasions.
They missed several scoring chances from corner kicks, while Dybala had a free kick deflected agonisingly wide. Throw in Keylor Navas’ saving Gonzalo Higuaín’s show from point-blank range early in the first half, and the Italians could easily have been in the lead going into the final half-hour.
Ronaldo’s genius and a harsh refereeing decision ultimately put an end to the contest, and probably the tie as a whole, but Juventus can take heart from the fact that, in reality, they weren’t that far behind their victorious opposition for most of this game.