By Cesare Polenghi
Juventus should not feel ashamed for their 2-0 loss at Bayern Munich, one of the best teams in the world. However, the way in which the Bianconeri were subjugated at the Allianz Arena begs for some analysis.
Antonio Conte’s troops have dominated domestic football for the last two seasons, and entered the quarter-finals having won five Champions League matches in a row without conceding.
David Alaba’s early goal was a complete shocker, made worse by how it came about; from a ball goofily lost by Juventus talisman Andrea Pirlo. The play mirrored that of a similar goal, given away just three days earlier against Inter in Milan.
The skipper appeared totally overwhelmed by the pace of the Bavarians and was the greatest disappointment of the evening, losing the ball an incredible 16 times. His partner Claudio Marchisio put on an anonymous performance, which forced Arturo Vidal to carry the entire midfield on his shoulders.
The Chilean, surely Juventus’ best man on the night, put on a brave show; but in the process of closing the countless gaps neglected by his absentee colleagues, he earned the yellow card that could very well mean the end of his European campaign for this season.
Gianluigi Buffon's inconsistent performance swung wildly between key saves and crucial moments of uncertainty on both goals, and while the three defenders in front of him played decently overall they were nowhere as dominating as they are in Serie A.
Juventus other big problem was up front. Conte tried four of his strikers, starting with Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella before throwing in Sebastian Giovinco and Mirko Vucinic once the team was already two goals down.
None made a single play worth remembering in 90 minutes. At the other end, Bayern's attacking players Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, and Arjen Robben rampaged with impunity.
But the Italian side didn't lose the game because of poor individual performances; they were overwhelmed as a team and it's for this that coach Antonio Conte deserves some of the blame.
It was evident after less than half an hour of play that his men were at a physical disadvantage, especially in midfield. The addition of Paul Pogba in lieu of one of the two ectoplasmic strikers would surely have helped.
As another potential change, perhaps for once Conte could have abandoned his creed of playing every single ball, and seen what happened if Buffon and his defenders had booted a few upfield.
The final proof of Juventus’ impotence came in a cruel snapshot of the game, courtesy of a last gasp free-kick earned by the Italians in the 94th minute. Pirlo, rather than placing the ball in the penalty area, squared it for a team mate who, under pressure, did not know what to do with the ball, as referee Mark Clattenberg whistled the end of the game.
The Englishman certainly didn’t do Juventus any favours. He conjured a caution on Stephan Lichtsteiner for an alleged simulation (the Swiss international will join Vidal in missing the return leg), and missed Ribery clipping Vidal on purpose from behind in what could easily have been a red card. Linesman Simon Beck had a poor outing as well, missing a clear offside on Bayern's second goal.
But Juventus cannot in any way blame the referees or tough luck for a result that, if anything, was gentle to the visitors in its 2-0 scoreline.
Conte and his players have already achieved beyond expectations this season. They reached the Champions League quarterfinals after a two-year hiatus from European football and are cruising toward a successful Serie A title defence.
The return match against Bayern will probably be their last International game of the season; few Juventus supporters expect them to win it easily, let alone achieve the result needed to knock out the Germans.
However, the Bianconeri owe it to themselves and to their fans to do better than they did last night in Munich. Antonio Conte has built this team on audacity more than on anything else; hopefully we will see some of that next week in Turin.