Conte leaves Juventus on the brink as Buffon & Pirlo flop like never before

The coach failed to change the course of his side's destiny, while his two most experienced players came up short as Bayern Munich took a decisive first-leg lead
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer

Juventus’ worst performance under Antonio Conte could not have come at a more inopportune moment. The Bianconeri were overrun by Bayern Munich on Tuesday to leave their Champions League future hanging by the most slender of threads.

Bayern may have struck lucky in that Toni Kroos’ injury led to a substitution which helped to ask extra questions of the Old Lady’s backline, but there can be no doubting that the Bavarian giants were very good value for the 2-0 lead they take to Turin for the second-leg of their quarter-final tie next week.

Indeed, with Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon suffering on the big stage like never before, and Conte being asked to provide answers and coming up short in almost every sense, this was one of the biggest adverts ever for earning your own luck. The hosts dominated and were deserving. The Bianconeri were ponderous and paid the price.

Juve went into the match defending an 18-game unbeaten run in European competitions, but they were blown away by a Bayern side that looked more powerful, more structured and downright hungrier on the night.



"As Juventus looked to continue their path to the top of European football, they were taught a harsh lesson by Bayern Munich, a team with hopes of reaching their third Champions League final in four years.

Their showing against the Bianconeri was marvellous. The defence stood firm, repelling any threat that came their way, producing the sort of discipline which wins titles, the midfield were dominant, despite the early reshuffle into which they were forced, and Mario Mandzukic did a great job as a lone striker, hassling his opponents all night long.

It was precisely the performance one could hope to see in the Champions League. At the end of the day, Bayern's desire, tactics and class were a step above Juve's."

Enis Koylu

It certainly wasn’t meant to be Pirlo who would come up short on the big occasion. The normally reliable regista completed only 51 per cent of passes in an abysmal showing by his high standards. Regularly run off the ball and constantly rushed into misplacing through-balls, the midfielder looked less than average on this performance, despite having successfully handled much more important fixtures than this one before.

"I am the first to say I’m not satisfied with my performance, as I made many mistakes in such an important match and it’s disappointing," admitted Pirlo afterwards.

He wasn’t helped by many of his team-mates shying away from the spotlight and asking him to provide all of the answers, but there can be no denying this was a Pirlo display the likes of which we very rarely see. Buffon would also come up short when it mattered.

In the very first minute, David Alaba fired in a speculative long-range effort that took a deflection and swerved away from goalkeeper into the bottom corner. The touch off the boot of Arturo Vidal added spin onto the ball which deceived him, but there was enough time for Buffon to react. Instead of taking the extra half-step he needed to shorten his dive, the Italy captain went down early and was beaten all ends up.

Later, he would fail to convincingly deal with Luiz Gustavo’s free-kick, parrying only as far as the onrushing Mario Mandzukic, who squared for Thomas Muller to make it 2-0. His usual knack of shuttling the ball right out of danger failed him on this occasion, and while he wasn’t helped by a Juve back-line slow to react to the follow-up, he will believe he could have dealt with it better.

But neither Pirlo nor Buffon was helped by their coach’s lack of tactical vision. "We now have to analyse why we had so many misplaced passes,” Pirlo added in a post-match interview, but such analysis could and should have taken place during the game itself. For too long in the first period the Bianconeri succeeded only in constantly handing over cheap possession in their eagerness to recycle the ball quickly.

Crucial second | Muller nets after Buffon could only parry Luiz Gustavo's free kick

Conte showed no urgency to halt an alarming trend as Juve continued to waste possession and even at half-time he did nothing to change his side’s fortunes. Arjen Robben had wasted a couple of glorious chances after roasting the Bianconeri down the left, but while the substitution of the outclassed Federico Peluso appeared a no-brainer, Conte persisted with the full-back and paid the price.

The ball just kept coming back once more after the break, and when Bayern’s second goal sparked Conte into action, it was only a pair of like-for-like changes up top that he had up his sleeve. The switch did nothing to alleviate the pressure nor change the general flow of the game. The Juve coach will need to deliver a much more convincing tactical approach in the second leg if his side are to get out of this hole.

Luck was not on Juve’s side, and neither were some of the key decisions made by referee Mark Clattenburg. Mandzukic was offside as Gustavo shot at goal in the build-up to Muller’s clincher, while Stephan Lichtsteiner will miss the second leg after a baffling yellow card for an unavoidable collision with Luiz Gustavo in the penalty area. Clattenburg deemed it to be an act of simulation, but he was clearly wrong in his assertion. Franck Ribery also deserved a red card for a ridiculous stamp on Arturo Vidal, but none was forthcoming.

Vidal and Lichtsteiner will both sit out the second leg due to suspension, further weakening Juve’s slim chances of reaching the last four. Their usually stronger right side could undergo the kind of examination their left flank received on Tuesday, but that is for another day. Today, the Bianconeri are on the brink, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

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