The Italians cried foul, Antonio Conte couldn’t help but laugh and Italy’s premier sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote of an Old Lady that had been mugged. Real Madrid may have won the challenge against Italy’s Juve but they have once again failed to impress, benefiting from dubious refereeing decisions even if they were penalised by poor finishing.
A victory was achieved in the third matchday of the Champions League group stage and yet, despite the win over Italy’s best, doubts linger as to the solidity of this team. Lacking in cohesion and balance, Carlo Ancelotti is yet to create a squad that exhibit fluidity and clarity of play. The defence, especially the full-backs are always culpable of leaving holes behind them. The midfield suffers in comprehensively securing the back-line as well as pushing forward whilst the attack is somewhat reliant on the vertical edge Angel di Maria provides and the remarkable individual ability of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese, once-upon-a-time accused of selfish play, is the driving force behind the team. His efforts to push forward, remain engaged and sacrifice himself for the cause has lifted the side and reminded his many critics that he is indeed a team player. The same cannot be said of Karim Benzema. Whilst the Frenchman was forced to sacrifice himself for the sake of his defence by following Andrea Pirlo around, his poor finishing coupled with his inability to affect the attack has created problems for Los Blancos this season.
Di Maria, as Pedro San Martin writes in his AS column, provided the assist, participated in 65 plays and ran 8,666 miles in the 78 minutes he was on the pitch. Relentlessly troubling Juve’s Angelo Ogbonna, the Argentine’s dribbling ability and wicked intelligence created goal-scoring opportunities for his side and for Ronaldo, who fought to keep him in the club. He was the man behind most of Madrid’s excellent plays.
However, it’s the midfield that is the source of much of the problems. Through the middle, several errors were committed to allow Juventus to take numerous shots from the edge of the box whilst Arturo Vidal’s presence limited the creativity of the midfielders capable of affecting the side’s attacking play.
Juventus have never been particularly capable on the wings, in fact most of their forays forward this season have come through the middle. Yet Ancelotti’s men gifted them ample opportunity to create something in the wide areas.
Carlos Tevez and Paul Pogba were deployed on the left to trouble what the Italians perceived to be the weakest link in the back, Alvaro Arbeloa. Marcelo’s consistent forays forward on the other side also left gaping holes in the back for Martin Caceres to exploit – which he did to secure Fernando Llorente’s goal.
Asier Illarramendi may have showed promise and confidence in his delivery and accurate plays but he is still capable of needless challenges that could well result in stricter punishment. Meanwhile Sami Khedira despite his pressing was at fault for the Llorente goal and missed a glorious chance to score a third for his team.
It’s the lack of cohesion, the ability to handle the dual task of defending and attacking and the manner in which Juventus controlled proceedings in the first half that worries the critics. Even when down to 10 men, the Old Lady still looked capable of finding that equaliser.
Ancelotti continues to insist that it takes time to create a team in his own image and it certainly will. However, balance must be restored soon should they hope for a trophy this season.