Collective strength overcomes individuals as Juventus dethrone Real Madrid
There will now be no Clasico final, and that is because Juventus’ ultimate victory in the Bernabeu came down to many classical elements of the sport. It remains remarkable how these are still overlooked, not least by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez.
Here, a true team were able to overcome superior talent by staying strong together, whereas a group individuals couldn’t link up well enough when it mattered most. An Italian side defended superbly, while an attack of too many illogically assembled parts failed to find that extra formula to break through. Some unexpected figures stood up, whereas more famous stars stepped off. All of that may sound simplistic, even somewhat cliched, but then it was striking how even the flow of this game stuck to classic patterns; how the nuance of psychology swayed things to allow deeper truths to dictate the final result.
All of that may sound simplistic, even somewhat cliched, but then it was striking how even the flow of this game stuck to classic patterns; how the nuance of psychology swayed things to allow deeper truths to dictate the final result.There was a rather long period, it must be admitted, when it looked like Real would blow
There was a rather long period, it must be admitted, when it looked like Real would blow Juve away. Once the now-deposed champions had adjusted to early Italian breaks to go ahead through Cristiano Ronaldo’s somewhat fortuitously-won penalty, they were suddenly rampant.
Juventus struggled at first as Pirlo failed to deliver
Juventus looked on edge, and even someone as assured as Giorgio Chiellini seemed to have been psychologically affected by the spot-kick decision after being adjudged to have fouled James Rodriguez.Andrea Pirlo was, meanwhile, perhaps suffering his worst performance since the World Cup. It’s certainly difficult to think of a match where he had less control.
The Italian master offered no shots, no key passes, no tackles and no interceptions. His normal rate of 73.3 passes per game fell to 47, and if that is forgivable because of the pattern of a tie in which a big club had to assert themselves at home, his unusual drop in accuracy is less explainable. Pirlo’s pass success plummeted from an average of 88.9 to 80.9%. The maestro couldn’t seem to make anything happen.
Andrea Pirlo was, meanwhile, perhaps suffering his worst performance since the World Cup. It’s certainly difficult to think of a match where he had less control. The Italian master offered no shots, no key passes, no tackles and no interceptions. His normal rate of 73.3 passes per game fell to 47, and if that is forgivable because of the pattern of a tie in which a big club had to assert themselves at home, his unusual drop in accuracy is less explainable. Pirlo’s pass success plummeted from an average of 88.9 to 80.9%. The maestro couldn’t seem to make anything happen.
It was no surprise he was eventually sacrificed - in what was still a bold move that manager Max Allegri deserves credit for - and less of a surprise that Real were finding such joy on the counter before then. The Spaniards were creating a series of chances, and could have been out of sight. That could be seen in the shots. Real had 13 efforts on Gigi Buffon’s goal in the first half, but only four on target. As rampant as they were, they couldn’t get that insurance goal.
Alvaro Morata and Giorgio Chiellini shine
That raised a feeling that has run through football since time immemorial. The sense gradually grew that, if Real failed to make good on it, they might leave themselves open to a side as canny as Juventus nicking a goal.
That happened, but came much earlier than expected. Alvaro Morata scored his second goal in successive games against his old club to send this tie into new territory. The deeper team issues beneath the players’ base talent began to have an effect. Now that it actually mattered and the mental pressure was greater, Real couldn’t link up in anything like the same way, whereas Juventus had new belief.
That was personified by Chiellini, who recovered all of his normal resilience, and led the team in so many ways. It is telling that, despite the pressure Juventus were under, he didn’t have to make a single tackle. Instead, he was clever enough to get in and just get rid, making 12 clearances - six more than Patrice Evra in second, and nine more than anyone else in the Juve team.
The ease with which Chiellini cleared and stayed calm wasn’t just down to the defender’s nous, though. It was also down to the poverty of Real’s attacking. Despite all the space that Juve were conceding in the middle, Carlo Ancelotti’s team couldn’t do anything special with it.?They couldn’t find the cohesion. That is hardly surprising when their own midfield featured a more mechanical passer and two number-10s, while their attack involved two powerful players who are very similar in style, if not in ability. Again, it points to the illogical way this team was constructed.
Real Madrid’s midfield struggle
Things admittedly might have been different had Luka Modric been in the side for such a challenging moment, and Ancelotti did want another midfielder signed in the summer. Without the Croatian, though, Real were without fluency. There wasn’t the sleekness of movement in midfield.
Toni Kroos is a fine player in his own right, but facilitating that kind of mobility is not his best role. He has a great range of passing but not a great range of movement. It sometimes felt like Madrid were just manoeuvring a particularly powerful catapult into the centre, and trying to launch things from there.
Kroos only provided one key pass and didn’t offer a single through ball. That is why his team went down the wings slightly more often than normal, putting balls down the flanks 75% of the time rather than 71%. They were funnelled out there.
Those areas, however, were where the next problems arose. That was never more evident than with two of the most famous wingers of all. Ronaldo receded from view and had next to no influence on the game. Gareth Bale was the opposite and tried to do too much, but ended up bringing more grief on himself.
Consider their figures. Ronaldo only had two shots from open play, and barely impacted on the match at all in the second half, other than one cross for Bale. That was one of a total of seven efforts that the world record signing failed to score with.
The reactions among the Real team and the fans were such that it looked like this might be that night of realisation for Bale, that he might be better off elsewhere, in a side that could make better use of his talents. For his part, and unlike some of his teammates, Bale refused to hide. He persevered, offering more interceptions than usual (3 to 0.3), more passes (35 to 28) and more long balls (4 to 1.1).
He was not cowed and tried to make things happen, even if they were not happening for him. He wasn’t the only one. Isco was marked out of the game and the best that James was offering by that point was trying to manufacture more penalty incidents.
Juventus had made it too difficult for them, also emphasising how Florentino Perez’s vaunted project has made life difficult for so many Real Madrid managers. Their stars failed to align. That was not the case for Juventus.
The Italians return to the Champions League final as Wednesday night's game returned to so many core truths.