Our lead-up to this opening fixture of european competition was generally positive yet very much fragmented. Our victories had been deserved, with virtually zero threat of defeat, though we were clearly very much a work in progress. I pondered this as I researched Seville and my instinct was that we may well end up with a draw. Which would be fine, given the larval state of the campaign and my conviction that we will improve week by week, as the new and old players return from the various Summer endeavours and injury whilst Allegri works towards cohesion and momentum. Which is simply impossible to expect early doors given the renovation of the squad and lack of rest and fitness for many others.
Sampaoli is a quality coach who has performed very well indeed as boss man of Chile. He is renowned for instilling in his team a high octane approach to closing opponents down and also, encouraging aggression and a myriad of traditionally Italian methods of breaking momentum, wearing the opposition into frustration.
It was an odd decision to greatly lessen our creative potency on the left flank, by replacing Pjanic and Sandro with Asamoah and Evra. Other than which, there were no surprises by Allegri.
We began well enough, and for the first 15 minutes seemed close to grabbing control of the game. Yet Khedira failed to make the most of his opening chance, which preceded a wretched move towards scrappiness. Seville had many players behind the ball, were warned for time wasting as early as the 34th minute and we struggled to break them down or to build any steam. This was the obvious plan of Sampaoli, and it worked a damn treat against our industrious midfield.
Khedira had two great chances, other than which there was little to cause excitement.
The second period continued in the same vein. Poor movement off the ball, high pressure from our opponents who refused to commit players forward. Yet…we did manage one gilt edged chance, with Alves set free down the right, who swung in a perfect cross for Higuain to head firmly against the bar. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be our night. Despite a flurry of half chances which came late on after the long overdue arrivals of Sandro, Pjanic and finally Pjaca. Sandro could and perhaps should have won it before the final whistle brought a welcome end to a forgettable encounter.
Buffon – Nothing to report. 6
Chiellini – Slowly moving back to what we expect of the titan. His scything challenge was the highlight of the first half. 6.5
Barzagli – Rarely involved. 6
Bonucci – Attempted a few clever long balls, other than which fought hard, took a few knocks. 6
Evra – Failed miserably to penetrate and was rarely tested at the back. 5.5
Alves – Produced the best cross of the match, could have been booked for standing on a player’s thigh, and winged and whined appallingly when he fell to the ground…without being tackled. 6
Khedira – Found himself in two great goal scoring positions, yet failed to hit the target. Lacked support and pace. 6
Lemina – Ineffective, out-muscled, his distribution was poor. He is nowhere near ready to prove reliable at this level in a position which demands he imposes himself on the centre of the field, and ideally dominates. The effort was there, just not the quality. 5
Asamoah – He huffed and puffed, but looked rusty on the ball. Fights hard, makes himself felt by the opposition, yet still feeling his way back to a CM role. Which will take time. 6
Dybala – By far our liveliest attacking threat, young Paulo worked damn hard, consistently sought the ball, yet was undone by an ocean of yellow flooding all before him and was kicked around as much as the ball by the opponents. 6.5
Higuain – The service was lacking, yet he managed to find one brilliant chance. Alas, it was not to be…6
Pjanic – Too late for him to effect the game considerably, though he created a chance or two for others and was unlucky with a header late on. 6
Sandro – He changed the dynamic of the game soon after his entrance, was on hand to defend when required and could well have won the tie in the latter stages with a header which was well saved. 7
Reasons to be cheerful
The strongest opponent in our group came to Turin to defend, to foul, to harass and never looked like scoring. When a team is time wasting from the first half hour onwards, committing endless niggling fouls and for the last 30 minutes deploying a 5-5-0 formation, we can do little but hope for a flash of genius, which nearly came.
We were not outplayed, nor outfoxed and I retain high hopes that we will top the group.
Despite the possession statistics, we were the only team making any attempt to score and we created enough chances to win the game. At this stage of the season, with players such as Pjanic, Pjaca, Higuain, Cuadrado and Lemina yet to find their rhythm in the side, the least I can expect is maximum effort and solidity at the back. This much was achieved. Nothing less, nothing more.
I doubt Seville will improve much, yet our potential is staggering. There is no need for concern. We have not returned to the Conte era when we approached Europe with fear and trepidation. We came up against an opponent well drilled and afforded too much by the officials in my opinion, who were restricted to perhaps two shots on goal, to our ten. I counted 6 clear chances for Juve, 0 for Seville.
Dybala continues to dazzle, even when faced with a brutish war of attrition.
Just try to ponder the aforementioned players yet to be integrated, as well as Marchisio, Mandragora, Benatia, Sturaro and Rugani match sharp, and the future remains bright and bountiful.
Reasons to be bothered
Sampaoli’s face and T-shirt and eyes and tattoos were putrid to witness. He appears eager to present himself a latino hitman or enforcer and clearly encourages his side to deploy the antithesis of sporting conduct.
Lemina was woeful. He is doing his best, yet has not the experience to provide the presence or mentality required of the role as fulcrum of the side. He will only learn through playing, though in hindsight, I suspect that the experience of Hernanes would have proven a wiser choice for this fixture. For whilst the Brazilian has his fair share of detractors, he knows where to position himself and is far more confident and composed in his passing. That role in our 3-5-2 is immensely important. And for the majority of the game we carried Lemina, who was either misplacing passes or a ghost.
When we come up against teams prepared to play the Gentile card, we have not one player prepared to offer the same in return. A player prepared to make a savage tackle, take a yellow for the team whilst making the opponents understand that we are not only superior in technical terms but jolly and eager to play dirty when need be. There was a tackle by Iborra late in the first half, which summed up my point. It may have been Lemina who had played the ball away, yet the Spanish prick kicked through him regardless, earning a yellow in the process.
When we are playing the likes of Munich or Bayern such spite is not required, yet against sides like Seville we let ourselves down in this vital area of the game. It is one of the reasons why I was so keen on Witsel. Not because he is a nutjob, but because he has quality on the ball and is never physically put in his place. Sturaro has this berserker zeal of which I speak. Yet who else?
It is a man’s game and part of the manliness required is to give as good as we get. I was crying out for someone to make a crunching tackle, take a yellow, risk a red, but rouse the spirit of the troops, demand they fight as we are being fought against. We lacked grinta. Which our opponents had in spades.
A former captain of a team in which I played always told the side before kick-off…
‘Make the first tackle count.’
By which he meant, go in hard, try to go in fair if possible, but set out your stall so your opponent knows you mean business. We lack this bite. We lack this fear factor. It comes solely from our technical prowess, not our physical, other than at the back. I do not want to see our players getting kicked all over the field. As much as I cringe to see Alves crying when he has fallen over his own feet and rolls around in mock agony as if he has been mangled by a steam roller.
We missed Lichtsteiner.
Essentially, we got what we deserved. A win would have been preferable, yet a 0-0 draw is acceptable. Allegri and the squad will have learned something from this bruising encounter. Seville made the game a street-fight and we had in answer, only pirouettes and technique on the ball, which was simply not enough. We must learn to fight fire with fire.
However, the bottom line is that we are yet to find anywhere near our ideal starting XI. Progress is the key and we remain favourites to win the group.
Our squad is brimming with talent. We must get everyone fit, adjusted to whatever system Allegri deems for the best and await the return of Marchisio. If we can continue to win domestically and improve incrementally in Europe, this season is one of great promise.
And we have the perfect opportunity this coming weekend to prove our mettle, for the response to what could be considered a set-back will provide an indication of where we presently find ourselves, in terms of spirit, in terms of grinta…