A shambolic 1-0 defeat to Lyon exposed the near-impossible task for Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Champions League.
Cristiano Ronaldo entered the first leg of Juventus’ last-16 Champions League tie against Lyon brimming with confidence. Doubts over his form were long gone, with 19 goals scored in his last 15 games across all competitions. The stage seemed set for the next great chapter of his career.
But the Bianconeri’s defeat in France was a wake-up call to everyone dreaming of a first European crown since 1996. Not once did the squad create a clear opportunity before Lucas Tousart’s first-half goal.
The winner came at an opportune moment while a cut to the head sidelined Matthijs de Ligt. It left Juventus temporarily down to 10-men. But the warning signs were already there long before then.
Despite starting strong, Juventus paid the price for not converting their ball possession dominance into chances. No matter what they tried, the Lyon defence was impenetrable.
Too reliant on Ronaldo
Lyon entered the tie billed as underdogs following the loss of Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide. A mere seventh place in Ligue 1 this season only tipped the scales further Juventus’ way.
But the Serie A leaders offered no serious threat to Lyon throughout the match. They were sluggish in the attack and never looked threatening. It was a weak performance, which left Sarri frustrated. Failing to make a single shot on target was the tip of the iceberg.
“We got the first half wrong,” Leonardo Bonucci told Sky Sport Italia.
“We were second to every ball. In some games, you pay for the tiniest error. We were too stretched out, not aggressive enough, and that is an issue of mentality, we should’ve woken up earlier.”
Cristiano Ronaldo was the greatest threat to the Lyon defence throughout the 90 minutes. His positioning was flawless, while he also whipped in some decent crosses. But even the five-time winner wasn’t enough. The team simply lacked creativity in a rather dreadful display.
The midfield looked particularly bad compared to Lyon’s solid unit. They relied heavily on Ronaldo to pull off something magical, but he shot wide on all four of his attempts. Lyon coach Rudi Garcia’s bold decision to have no ‘anti-Ronaldo plan’ proved to be spot on.
0 – Juventus have not made a shot on target against Lyon: in the Champions League, since 2004/05, it is only the third time that the Bianconeri have failed to do it (vs Atletico in 2014 and vs Arsenal in 2006 ). Off. #OLJuve
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 26, 2020
Juan Cuadrado, meanwhile, was wasteful altogether and offered very little upfront. Therefore, Sarri replaced him with Gonzalo Higuain in the final 20 minutes to ramp things up. The Argentine, though, fared no better with two off-target attempts.
While Paulo Dybala only really came to life in the second half itself. He made 83 touches of the ball, with a passing accuracy of 87%. However, he had a late equaliser ruled out for offside to cap off a miserable night.
And while Lyon only had 36% of ball possession, they were more effective going forward. The first sign of trouble came when Karl Toko Ekambi’s header hit the crossbar. Houssem Aouar then superbly set-up Tousart’s winner with a sublime pass.
Pjanic a concern for Juventus
It’s no secret that one of Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatest problems at Juventus is a lack of support. The current midfield is a far cry from the one he enjoyed over at Real Madrid. How the Italians expect him to deliver the Champions League under these circumstances is baffling.
And Miralem Pjanic’s recent performances are becoming a growing concern for Sarri. He seemed off the pace right away and only managed 49 touches in the game. That’s way below the target of 150 touches-per-game that the Juventus coach set him.
Although the Lyon squad focused more on shutting him down following Tousart’s goal. Therefore, Pjanic had less space than usual to exhibit his creativity with his replacement, Aaron Ramsey, faring no better. It was a troubling sight for the visitors.
But Pjanic has delivered no convincing performances lately, with just one goal and assist in his last 23 games. This clearly isn’t good enough for the club’s main playmaker.
Meanwhile, Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur had forgettable performances of their own. The ‘Sarriball’ concept isn’t working out in Turin.
“We lacked determination and aggression when attacking, and for 15 minutes lacked it defensively too. We were unlucky to concede when De Ligt was off injured,” Sarri told Sky Sport Italia.
“The second half was better, but frankly it’s not enough for a Champions League match. I don’t know why I cannot get the players to understand the importance of moving the ball quickly.”