By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
They have long been Italy’s most profligate side, questions have been asked about their ability to soak up long periods of pressure, and seven years on from their last Champions League knockout win there were doubts as to whether they’d be able to manage such a game situation. But Juventus answered every question with overwhelmingly positive answers in beating Celtic 3-0 at Celtic Park to take themselves to the verge of qualification for the quarter-finals.
Whereas much of the reign of Antonio Conte has been focused on retention of the football, dominance of territory, and high pressing of the opposition in order to gain cheap possession in dangerous areas, large spells of Tuesday night’s fixture were spent in the Bianconeri’s half as the Glasgow side attempted to respond to Alessandro Matri’s early goal by running over the top of Juve.
But they just couldn't do it. Too many of their shots came from distance, too few of their runs to the bye-line resulted in them getting in behind the reinforced bank of black shirts, and the vast majority of their crosses were sent into the air, meaning either that Gianluigi Buffon was clutching easy catches out of the sky, or the Bianconeri back line were able to use their most overwhelming attribute to outmuscle the Bhoys’ lone striker Gary Hooper.
This was not the best Celtic side ever to play in Europe, but with a passionate home support and a phenomenal home record in the Champions League era – with only Barcelona ever having beaten them in the East End of Glasgow in their 23 previous fixtures under the new banner – it was still a huge hurdle that Juve were being asked to climb.
|MATCH FACTS | Celtic 0-3 Juventus
After soaking up such a long period of pressure, the Old Lady seemed more than anything to be playing a waiting game, expecting Celtic to tire after their exertions which had seen them overshadow the Bianconeri’s star-studded midfield. That eventuality came around the hour-mark, and Juve capitalised with two further goals which killed the tie.
On 77 minutes, Matri’s fantastic flick sent in Marchisio, who was cool enough to cut inside and allow Scott Brown to embarrass himself with a flailing attempted tackle before slotting past Forster. With the bit between his teeth, the midfielder, who was excellent in the final third throughout the match, added an assist after substitute Simone Padoin had dispossessed the lethargic Ambrose, sliding the ball to Mirko Vucinic to send much of the home support heading for the exits.
Those Celtic fans were also left fuming by apparent penalty claims, but it was little more than an act of straw-clutching, apparently justified by equally one-eyed complaints from the British broadcasters covering the game. On several occasions, Celtic corners were preceded by long periods of jostling and pulling between players on opposing sides, but as the larger part of the tangling came before the set-pieces were taken, the referee was in no position to give a penalty under Law 12 of the laws of the game.
Add in the fact that Stephan Lichtsteiner, against whom there were the most vociferous claims, was also being fouled by Hooper in their particular round of confrontations, and it would have been as harsh to penalise the Swiss as it would have been to give Juve a free-kick.
Complain all they like, the Scottish champions, whose very presence in the last 16 came thanks to a penalty awarded for a blatant Georgios Samaras dive in the 81st minute of their Matchday 6 clash with Spartak Moscow, were ultimately beaten because they offered nothing in attack, while Juve were simply destructive when their few chances came along.
And it is this Italian-like ability to manage a fixture in such a way, a skill so rarely seen in Juve under Conte, which proves that there is more than one string to their bow as they begin to look ahead and plot a route to the final. There is a long way to go yet, with much sterner and better-equipped opponents than Celtic lying in wait, but the Bianconeri have proven they don’t need 60 per cent or more of possession in order to get the job done.
They now have to be taken very seriously by any team that hopes to lift the Champions League trophy aloft at Wembley on May 25.Follow Kris Voakes on