Chelsea could squeeze in the end. But the first half – a master class of counterattacks from Juventus
Juventus and Chelsea won in the first round and could determine the group favorite in the match. First of all, this concerned Chelsea: the team is very impressive at the start of the season, Lukaku started scoring without swinging, and against this background, the problems of Turin at the start of the season look especially contrasting. In addition, the next two matches Chelsea will play against Malmö, clearly the weakest team in the group, which gives a good chance to finish early with formalities and reach the playoffs.
Playing difficulties Massimiliano Allegri was aggravated by injuries. In the last match he lost Dybala and Morata at the same time, so the question “who will play at all” became unexpectedly acute. Allegri surprised by leaving Keane, the only available striker, in reserve. The top three were Chiesa, Cuadrado and Bernardeschi. Bernardeschi in the role of a false nine is, of course, a mini-sensation and practically an anecdote. But lately, Allegri did not hide his dissatisfaction with the team, this could affect the decision.
Thomas Tuchel has minimal rotation. In Turin, Chelsea played 3-4-3 from the first minutes, so Ziyech and Havertz appeared in the attack, in addition to Lukaku. Of the three midfielders this time, Kante remained in the reserve, while Jorginho and Kovacic took the start.
From the first minutes it became clear that Chelsea intend to possess the ball for as long as possible and as far from their own goal as possible. True, the possession was not very impressive: for the most part, it was a roll from flank to flank through Jorginho or three defenders. Azpilicueta and Alonso as wingbacks are fundamentally different flanks, but both are vulnerable to counterattacks. Alonso flirts ahead and often leaves the zone, and the disciplined Azpilicueta is simply not very quick for this position, therefore he rarely aggravates – or comes back for a long time.
Juventus lined up at 4-5-1 without the ball, and in the low block – at 5-4-1 due to Cuadrado’s deep position on the flank. This provided a numerical majority in every phase of the game: Chelsea had one fewer midfield players at the start of their attacks, and outside the net, they also could not benefit from Alonso’s daring connections to the first line.
Therefore, although Chelsea ended the first half with a huge advantage in possession (72%) and a minimal advantage in strikes (four versus three), it will not work to call this half a domination of guests. On the contrary, the most striking episodes of the half were Juventus’ rare counterattacks. In one of them, Rabiot failed to cut out the last pass to Chiesa, which would have brought him one-on-one, in the other, Bernardeschi pressed Kovacic in the center of the field, he made a mistake with a back pass, and Chiesa jumped out at an angle and shot dangerously into the far corner.
I was also surprised by the lack of creativity among the guests. Despite the release of Ziyech and Havertz from the first minutes, their possession boiled down to delivering the ball to the center and returning it to the flank. There was not enough play between the lines – although this is a reason to praise the owners for their compactness.
Chelsea needed adjustments. Tuchel’s plan did not work: on the one hand, the total advantage in possession did not bring chances at the gate of Szczęsny, on the other hand, it did not help prevent counterattacks. True, replacing Alonso with Chilwell at half-time is more likely a consequence of the Spaniard’s stupid yellow card, and not a tactical change. In his position, it is important to have the right to error and foul, and Alonso received a warning for pushing Cuadrado in a non-play episode.
Tuchel needed even more adjustments right after the break. It seems that Chelsea slept through the starting segment, otherwise the goal is difficult to explain. Bonucci launched his trademark diagonal to 40 meters, Rabiot dropped from the edge to Bernardeschi, who, surrounded by Jorginho and Silva, took the ball, processed it, turned around and put it on the move under Chiesa’s jerk into the penalty area. Everything is very impressive.
Soon, Chelsea made a triple substitution. Chalobah, Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Chick appeared in place of Jorginho, Azpilicueta and Ziyech. A slight change in the formation (35-2, Chalobah in midfield), but a radical change in the play structure. Previously, the guests rolled the ball, trying to stretch the defense and create corridors in the semi-flanks. It didn’t work, and the concept changed: now Lukaku and Havertz were constantly running into the penalty area, and the ball was delivered to the flanks in order to serve from the top. In the next 10 minutes, the Chelsea players made five crosses. After one of them, Lukaku hit the goalkeeper in the opposite direction from 10 meters: he missed, but it was very dangerous.
In the 75th minute Tuchel made the last substitution. Unexpected: Barkley came out instead of Christensen. Chalobah returned to the defense. True, in the very last minutes, the alignment did not matter anymore: Silva and Rudiger remained behind, Loftus-Chick and Chilwell created width, and everyone else loaded the attack line.
We must pay tribute to the guests: in the last half hour, their superiority was no longer a formality. 10: 2 in shots and a couple of excellent opportunities for Lukaku. His most dangerous moment (in the 82nd minute) turned out to be partly accidental (the ball bounced), but this is also a consequence of powerful pressure, when the ball is constantly at a distance of a couple of meters from the penalty area. In the last seconds, the guests had the last chance: Havertz hit his head after a corner kick, hit a little higher.
Allegri had to release Chiellini instead of Bentancourt in the last minutes. Giorgio put a block effectively a couple of times, but did not calm the game down: Juve chaotically fought back with a low block, and the guests created chances and half-chances.
We can say that Allegri’s starting plan – to radically abandon the ball and play strictly on counterattacks – was better than Tuchel’s starting plan. Therefore, even with a zero score at the end of the first half, Chiesa’s early goal in the second looked deserved. It was a goal from the team that knows the best way to the goal. Chelsea were unpleasantly surprised on this stretch.
But it must also be said that in the last half hour (after the triple substitution), the Londoners have transformed and played enough for the return goal. Even without cool combinations and subtle passes – just due to constant pressure – but they created enough chances to score. An equal match. On the other hand, a dry win, which is very necessary for Juventus, is the first over a top rival.