A Comfortable Win
Juventus critics and haters, even some Juventini were not impressed with the win against Bayer Leverkusen. Antonio Barilla, a journalist working for La Stampa and covering Juventus said that this Juventus is certainly Allegriana, inferring that the team still played the same way they did last year with Allegri. What we can say for sure is that Juventus dominated the game and was the most dangerous going forward. Let’s have a closer look at the game and see whether Sarri was able to leave his strategic imprint on the match.
First, let’s see how well the betting experts predicted this game. In my last article, I posted odds on the Juventus-Bayer game for the betting lovers. Let’s see how these went:
The bookmakers predicted that Juventus would win the game with a score of 2-1. As we found out, there were three goals but Juventus was the only team that scored.
Sarri really surprised everyone with this lineup. Everyone predicted that Ramsey would be selected in a 4-3-1-2 formation as he did in the last two games. Instead, against all odds, Bernardeschi played from the first minute as a left winger in Sarri’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. That was a real shocker because it seemed that Bernardeschi has not convinced Sarri so far. Higuain was picked instead of Dybala and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo started the game (I don’t even need to mention that). In midfield, the usual trio (Pjanic, Khedira and Matuidi) was picked and in defense, there were no surprises either with Bonucci and de Ligt in the center and Sandro and Cuadrado on the sides.
Bayer Leverkusen did not play in its regular formation (4-2-3-1) but instead played in the classic 4-4-2 with Alario and Volland upfront. Havertz was used as a right midfield instead of a central one. Demirbay got a rare start after being signed this summer to replace Brandt. At the back, there were no big surprises except Weiser replacing Lars Bender as right back.
In the first half, Juventus let Bayer control the tempo with 63% possession to Bayer vs 37% to Juve. Juve, however, scored after only 17 minutes from a mistake by Tah. Higuain showed why he is still a top striker with a quality movement and a well-placed shot. That pass from Cuadrado though was a thing of beauty. He is improving with every game in his “new” (Cuadrado was a right back earlier in his career) role.
It is true that Bayer players kept the ball, but mostly in their own half. They were not able to penetrate the Juventus side of the pitch except on a few rare occasions. Juventus were pressuring very high which did not allow Bayer to move the ball with ease. All forwards and midfielders defended man-to-man all over the pitch and the defenders held a high line.
The second half started with the first substitution of the game. Bayer’s new number 10, Demirbay, did not convince again and was replaced by the young prospect Nadiem Amiri. That had little to no effect as Juventus started controlling the ball (54% possession in the second half) and looked for opportunities to score more goals. Indeed, 15 minutes into the second half, Higuain passed a beautiful ball in front of Bayer’s goal, Ronaldo missed it but Bernardeschi was right behind him to score Juve’s second goal.
Juventus made three changes in the span of ten minutes with Bentancur, Ramsey and Dybala replacing Khedira, Bernardeschi and Higuain. Dybala had a direct impact with a shot on goal and then a beautiful through ball to Ronaldo who scored the third goal in the 88th minute. Cristiano was not very happy after scoring the goal, having had a frustrating game with missed chances, but he still thanked the fans.
According to Tuttosport and Gazzetta dello Sport, the man of the match was Gonzalo Higuain. He scored a beautiful goal, he linked up well with Cristiano Ronaldo, made a great assist, and pressured the Bayer defenders. He had two shots on target, two successful dribbles, and one clearance. Performances like this one are keeping Dybala on the bench. It seems that Higuain will start against Inter on Sunday.
Both Bonucci and de Ligt had an amazing game. De Ligt has improved a lot and is becoming solid at the back, giving little space to the opponents (a lot of his critics who kept on saying he made a mistake joining Juventus seem to have quieted down). From the heat map, we see that the defenders were mostly in front of the Juventus box but rarely inside. As a result, Bayer had 9 shots with 0 on target.
Bonucci is doing what he does best with long passes and now short vertical ones to strikers. There were great performances by Sandro and especially Cuadrado (Danilo and De Sciglio who?). Cuadrado provided an amazing pass to Higuain that led to the first goal. He was really solid defensively as well.
Pjanic was controlling the tempo by providing options to defenders when they had the ball and distributing the ball to either fullbacks. The movements of Khedira and Matuidi allowed the fullbacks to have lots of spaces up front. Short triangle passes between the three midfielders and with fullbacks allowed a fast ball passage from the Juventus half to the Bayer goal (Sarriball is real and is being implemented).
I already talked about Higuain but I’ll show you some pictures from Tacticano that displays how the movement of Higuain allowed for Cristiano to be free in front of goal on one occasion.
Whenever Higuain detected uncovered spaces, he would place himself there to receive the ball and pass it back to destabilize Bayer.
And finally, here is another example where Higuain saw Cristiano next to him, passed the ball and ran into space behind the defenders. He received the pass back from Cristiano before sending it across to Cristiano and Bernardeschi. This led to the second goal.
According to statistical websites such as whoscored.com, Cristiano was picked as the best player because of all the shots he took. Watching the game though, we know that he could have scored more than one goal. On two occasions, Cristiano should have easily put the ball past the goalie. The Bayer goalie, though, made some heroic saves to prevent Cristiano from scoring a double or even a hattrick. Cristiano was not happy about it and we saw it after he scored the third Juve goal (we were expecting a SIUUUUU but he just pointed at the fans).
With this goal, he matched a new record in UCL. Only Raul and Cristiano have scored against 33 different sides in the UCL.
Sarri’s Thoughts on the Game
Sarri was very happy with the performance, especially in the second half because he knew that Bayer Leverkusen couldn’t be taken lightly.
My Final Take
I was very happy with the result and the performance (notice that I put result first). We have to win our games against Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow. Atletico won against Lokomotiv away so we cannot lose concentration.
I was surprised with the Bernardeschi selection. What I have seen earlier from him this season has been really disappointing. He did not disappoint against Bayer, scoring a goal and placing himself well. His performance was not exceptional, but it was a decent one.
I am really impressed with Higuain, Cuadrado, and Bonucci. Bonucci has taken the leader role well (I’m still not over it but I appreciate the effort). Cuadrado surprised us with some nice defending and beautiful crosses. Maybe, that should be his permanent role and they should stop classifying him as a striker. Higuain is showing why he is keeping Dybala on the bench. I think we talked enough about him. Another player that is improving a lot is de Ligt and is quickly silencing his critics.
Now, we should prepare for a real battle in the next game: the Derby d’Italia.