Sitting in my den of iniquity, the daylight gaining brightness and seeping through the rips in the curtains, I looked upon the entirety of extra time with my heart sinking with every passing second. Even the brief flurry of an always unlikely late comeback failed to register in my baleful glare any change. For we were beaten in the 91st minute, not the 120th. The capitulation and subsequent stay of execution was deeply painful for us all to endure. Yet now is the time for reflection, as we allow the despondency to work its way through our system, knowing that like everything else in life, it won’t last an eternity, no matter how horrid we presently feel.
It is all too easy and natural, when losing after finding ourselves so desperately close to an outstanding triumph, to embrace the blame game. Try to make sense of what hurts so much through pointing the finger, yet this helps nobody, neither ourselves or the accused.
I am proud of the club, the players, the manager, and each of every one of us, whose tides flow with Juve as the moon and the wind. The most valuable conclusion I can make of what transpired at the Allianz is as follows…
Firstly, and most poignantly, we were 90 seconds away from a victory which very few were confident we would achieve, or that any team could achieve, but Barcelona. Other than which, we were disastrously and unfairly hard done by the decision to wrongly disallow Morata’s goal.
The reasons for our collapse are myriad, yet to place the responsibility solely in Allegri’s lap is damn wrong. For we cannot enjoy and praise his success, without accepting that sometimes, like the players, like ourselves, he will fail. Yes, without any doubt whatsoever, the substitutions proved as much our undoing as the goal which never was, but I can understand Allegri’s thinking. We were tiring, which was naturally inviting pressure onto our rearguard and Bayern were inching ever closer. We had given so much, the decision to make was to try freshen the side, by turning to the bench.
It was strange to find Morata removed, for he had been our finest offensive weapon and despite his spurned opportunities, he created a goal beautifully, had another chalked off wrongly and gave his strongest performance of the season. Had he signalled to the bench his fatigue? Had Mandzukic been included when not fully fit. I suspect the latter. Why not Zaza instead? He is quicker, more focused on the final third and has suffered no injuries of late. Still, his experience on such a stage is nominal when compared to that of Mario.
The move to replace Sami Khedira was understandable, as he was walking more than running, and whilst in hindsight I scream into the past ‘NOT STURARO, BRING ON ASAMOAH’, at the time I agreed with the move.
The final sub, Pereyra, again made some sense, given his ability, yet in light of his complete absence of form after missing most the season, the move was questionable.
Every player brought on proved far less valuable than those they replaced. The subs backfired, in a huge way. In complete contrast to the first leg, one of many parallels, such as the flow of the game with the away side dominating, creating chance after chance, yet only managing 2 goals, before been clawed back to level terms.
I place no blame on Allegri. The experience will be enriching in the long run, for both manager and players. And we must understand where we were just a few months back. In dire straits in the league, suffering our worst injury crisis for many years, miles off the pace and facing a season of struggle wherein even champions league qualification seemed a very tall order indeed.
I could delve into analysis of the misfortune of suffering yet more injuries before the match, yet it will not change a damn thing. So I prefer to focus on the many reasons to be cheerful.
Presently, we have just lost to one of the top two sides on the planet, after dominating them on their own patch and finding ourselves within a whisker of deservedly beating them, we are top of the league and have the opportunity to complete the domestic double for the second year on the trot. We have two new world class players in our ranks, Sandro and Dybala, a strong nucleus, and if Pogba remains, we are only going to come back stronger next term. Even if Pogba departs we will receive a king’s ransom which can be reinvested in other proven talent.
We changed many players last Summer, lost three of world class calibre, have found two more in their stead and will find more in next transfer window. A team in transition, slowly finding its identity. Who took the battle magnificently to an established powerhouse of the elite. We emerge with our pride and respect nourished. And will be seen rightfully as a team no other wants to face next time the balls are swirling and the group stages are decided. Even more so in the knock-out phase.
I am happy to ponder us in the 3-5th bracket, alongside the two sides from Madrid, in my own global rankings. It signifies progress and a steady, consistent return to the upper echelons of continental football. To thrust ourselves to the very top, we simply need more of the same, more experience and to add greater talent to the squad in depth. All of which I see running on schedule. To reach the final, lose to one of the best sides of history, then be turned over, in odd circumstances, by a poor mistake by the officials and the side most feel as number 2 in the world, is no reason to cry and curse and feel anything other than our forward momentum.
The legend made a couple of solid saves and blocks, and its a nod of respect to the remarkable quality in the Bayern offence to add, that its the first time I have seen Santo Buffon concede four goals in one match which he had no chance of saving. At 38, I believe I have heard whispers suggesting the elder statesman of the side will play until he is 40. End with a world cup and champions league victory in 2018! Why not eh? 6
The rock gave his best, worked tirelessly and fought damn hard. I cannot presently bear to watch the goals again, other than the first two, and so cannot confirm if he was at fault for any we conceded, yet I saw a commendable, solid showing of dear Andrea. 7
Unfortunately, my memory suggests that I was disappointed with Big Leo, for losing his player on a couple of all too important occasions. His standards have been set so high, that this performance must be seen as below par. The burly stopper was unable to find time on the ball to distribute from the back and resorted to too many fouls and dramatic efforts at play-acting to suggest he had been hard done by, some of which he got away with, some he didn’t. World class on occasion, yet not last night. 6
The Brazilian, finally afforded a role as a true winger, proved a sabre sharp thorn in the Bayern side throughout. Tackling, bombing forward, dribbling, spreading the play, all of his endeavour deserved better than the result we were forced to accept. A very bright future indeed. And yet another amazing signing. When I see a player who improves game after game, I am thankful of his presence in our ranks. 7
Like many of his comrades, he ran out of steam. And once the wind stopped blowing in his sails, and the spritely Coman entered the fray, his age began to show. His mentality and intelligence and wealth of experience is welcome, yet this game proved to me that we need to implement Sandro or purchase a new LB for next season. I must add that Douglas Costa was superb, yet matched on the whole by Evra, until he moved central for our old chum Kingsley to take his place on the wing, when our destiny took a turn for the worse. Perhaps that was Guardiola’s plan. Wear the frenchman down then bring on his young compatriot. Patrice gave his all, yet it was simply not enough. 6
Stephan tackled well, covered and supplied decent support on the flank. He has more work when Cuadrado plays, and faired well enough against top drawer opponents. Missed a chance when finding himself in front of goal on his left peg, yet considering he is a fullback, I cannot criticise, for its welcome enough to see him finding such chances. 6.5
I was worried about his fitness, as always, yet he was formidable. His intelligence on the ball and in the tackle is a joy to behold when he is in such form. Not in any way overawed, picked out smart passes and displayed exactly why, when fit, he remains good enough to mix it with the very best. 7
Took his goal brilliantly, created for others, recycled the ball gloriously and reminded many why he has the reputation of one of the most complete midfielders in the game, even at the tender age of just turned 23. Much of our potential to further improve next season is rooted in whether he remains in our colours or departs. When you see Pogba tired, you know we have been in a very serious battle. And tired he was, yet he kept going, to his credit. Driving the team onwards, always seeking the ball. A commendable showing. 7.5
This is where the ratings become tricky. I simply didn’t see him, though felt or assumed when we were in the ascendency that he was making himself useful. Yet how, when, where? Perhaps he was covering? Drawing players away from the action? Yet the fact remains, I simply never saw him. Maybe he looks a little similar to a short haired Khedira from a distance? And in the thick of the fray, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he was Khedira! What is for certain, is that he did not impose himself on the game, as all and any central midfielders must, as a bare minimum. Due to my total non-recollection of his participation aside from his grimace as he faced a free kick from the flank…5
We saw exactly why I have problems with accepting the Colombian is good enough to compete at the very top. He took his goal remarkably well, it was a brilliant piece of control and composure. Yet just before half time was called, he had what seemed an easier chance, and tamely failed. His pace is a wonderful asset for the side, yet his lack of consistent potency in the box lets him down time and time again. I’d be happy enough if we sign him, yet not at all bothered if we send him back to Chelsea. As a squad player, especially when deployed high up the field, he can be a match winner as much as a persistent failure. With the right coaching, perhaps his composure could become more telling, which when added consistently to his lightning fast feet and simple tricks on the ball, would make him a much better player. However, as things stand, for me, he is mainly making up the numbers presently. And had others been fit, I expect he would have begun on the bench. Regardless, I salute his effort and well taken goal. 7
Immense. His pace and control and awareness are world class. Yes yes! He missed a couple of chances, but he made a goal through his incredible dribbling at manic speed and was horrifically unlucky to have a legitimate goal called wrongly offside. He caused Bayern no end of trauma. As much as I am a fan of the industry and grit of Mandzukic, the Spaniard proved he is back, and we must integrate him into the starting XI for the remainder of the season, make him feel loved, allow him to blossom, pray he chooses to stay…if he has any choice in the matter. In terms of how? That is Allegri’s job, not mine. The only issue with Morata is that sometimes I sense he still feels he is playing for Real Madrid! Which is ridiculous…or is it? For he fires up almost solely when we face the strongest sides, as if such is his confidence and expectation, that he doesn’t need to focus so potently against weaker opponents. Considering his injury problems, and haphazard season, this was a sterling performance. 8
He has a lot more to offer than what we saw against Munich. His lack of games of late revealed itself awfully and regrettably, yet I am convinced of his mental strength and after such a wretched outing, he will bounce back ever more determined to prove himself worthy of the shirt. My instincts lead me to conclude that Allegri saw him as our lucky charm in Europe, for good reason, and he trains as a natural apprentice to Khedira. Unfortunately, he was shocking. 4
Other than a chance to strike on goal in extra time, when he fluffed his lines, Mario was woeful and no threat whatsoever. He had assuredly been told to stay high, attack the centre-backs, replace Morata as our reference point in attack, use his strength to hold up the ball and allow others to flow past him, to then find. The reality was far from those ideals. For Mario played more in the midfield than the final third, did little of use with the ball, appeared aggressive, nothing else. Poor pace, schoolboy control, a terrible end to his European campaign. He has done ever so well whilst Morata has been recuperating from his physical and emotional travails, yet now we must accept, that the Croatian is a squad player, at best. And is too one dimensional to trouble the likes of Bayern. Picked a poor time to offer a useless performance. 4.5
Injured for most of the season, barely a taste of regular first team action this calendar year, he was a strange choice to bring on in the 89th minute, when Asamoah or Zaza would have
surely potentially offered more vitality. Still, his former ability – of last season – to link the midfield and attack was perhaps worth a roll of the dice, yet it was a serious risk at such a vitally important pivot of proceedings. Roberto was shocking in every aspect of the game. At best, he is a player who needs a steady run of games to regain his rhythm, at worst, he may prove a one season wonder. And that season was now long ago. 4
Whilst his substitutions played into Bayern hands, the manner in which he set up the team, in a fashion I have not seen before, nor expected, proved absolutely perfect. I take the rough with the smooth. Given the titan performance of Bayern in the first leg, we would not have been in with a shout, were it not for Allegri’s alterations. He wrought from our patched up ranks a phenomenal performance, which went so close to making our shared dreams reality. I remain, very happy indeed to have him as our Manager. 6.5
The battle was almost won, yet lost. We gave a wonderful account of ourselves, ran out of steam after giving our everything, which was so nearly perfect. Ask yourselves if you would have preferred to find us listless and dominated and beaten 4-0 or to have ridden the rollercoaster of emotions which transpired? I will always opt for the bliss and the agony. One never comes without the potential for the other.
You often learn more in life from a defeat than you do from a victory. For Victory teaches us little, Defeat teaches us how to become victorious. I believe this to be the case with Juve. We know where we belong and are well on our way to reaching our destination.
The odd formation of Cuadrado and Sandro as true wingers worked a treat. I believe that this is where we can glean the best of the still blossoming Sandro, and if we can add a comparably consistent counterpart on the right flank, we will become…something similar to the Bayern side which just put us to the sword.
There is work to do for Beppe and his hatchet-man Paratici; they have got us this far and I have total confidence they will continue to work diligently to forge our path ever deeper on our journey to rejoining the best of the best. We are clearly, not far off at all. 90 seconds! So look upon this as doom and gloom if it suits and brings you some solace, whilst I will smile, and be proud, of what we have achieved and what I know we will achieve. For of all the drenched with brutally earned wealth teams like PSG, Chelsea, Man City…Juve have a soul, a heart and I am so amazingly proud of our effort and quality and spirit. And to feel that my own heart beats in time…
We came so close, yet this isn’t to be our year…I am convinced, such a result is merely the – to be expected – birth pains of the creation of a side set to year upon year rub shoulders with the elite, for that is where we are headed, and that is where we shall find ourselves.
So have faith, my fellow Juventini, we are well on our way to supreme glory…