Juventus headed into their Champions League opener on a high. Three wins out of three had left them top of the Serie A table, a place they’ve become accustomed to, having won the Italian title five times on the trot.
Most teams would dwell on the loss of a €100 million star man, but Juve seemed to have taken the loss of Pogba to Manchester United as an opportunity to strengthen their already incredible squad. Gonzalo Higuain arrived from Napoli for £77million, one of a dying breed of traditional centre-forwards, bucking the trend of the false number 9. They strengthened in midfield with Pjanic, Pjaca, Lemina and a strange three-year loan agreement for Chelsea’s Juan Cuadrado, bringing the closed season’s outgoings up to £138.5million.
But it was arguably a free transfer from Barcelona that went down as their best piece of completed business. Dani Alves made his name at Sevilla, where he was discovered by their mastermind director of football Monchi. Spending five seasons at the club, his stock rose until he was widely recognised as the best Brazilian wing-back since the great Cafu. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, desperate to bring him the Nou Camp, forked out almost £30million to see him turn out for the Blaugrana, making a 3700% profit for Sevilla. In his time at Barca he perfected the wing-back role, assisting Messi in more goals than any other player whilst bagging 14 goals for himself. At the age of 33 he’s lost none of his ability and energy, still ready and willing to run the wing all game long.
Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri’s natural conservatism led him to chastise Dani Alves on his Serie A league debut for being too attacking, reminding him that Serie A is a tighter league than he is used to in Spain – although you do wonder why you sign Dani Alves if you want a reserved right-back.
Sevilla have had a busy summer themselves. The five-time UEFA Cup winners replaced their manager with the exciting Jorge Sampaoli, a self-confessed disciple of the controversial and mercurial manager Marcelo Bielsa. Monchi had to work hard to replace the core of their team, with many players lost to some of Europe’s biggest spenders. Krychowiak, Gameiro, Immobile, Llorente, Coke and Ever Banega were all out, with Vazquez, Correa, Ganso and Samir Nasri coming the other way through Sevilla’s revolving door of talent.
Sampaoli comes from the same footballing school as Pep Guardiola – a focus on high intensity pressing, swarming defenders and giving them no time to settle and pick out a pass. Holding on to Bielsa’s belief that any more than one extra defender to the opposition strikers is a waste leads to some interesting looking formations, often playing with one recognised centre-back with fullbacks on either side. His opening game against Espanyol led to a stunning 6-4 victory, and they produced two goals after the 89th minute to beat Las Palmas. Sampaoli has brought a style of attacking football to Sevilla that their fans haven’t been used to under the defensively-minded Unai Emery, and it will take his new players time to settle into the new system.
A mixture of their uneven start to the season and a respect for the physical qualities of the Juventus line-up led to Sevilla starting with a traditional back four with three defensively-minded midfielders in front.
There were no surprises for Juve at the back, sticking with their back three that has served them and the national team so well – Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli. Chiellini hasn’t had a fantastic start to the season, sent off in Italy’s opening World Cup qualifying win away to Israel, but he was strong and composed early on when shielding Vazquez away from a ball fizzed in across the six yard box.
Sevilla’s high pressing was causing mistakes at the back for Juve, but they were unable to capitalise. Juve’s Lemina, in particular, was lazy on the ball and lacked the urgency to get the ball out of his feet and passed off.
With the shackles firmly attached to Dani Alves, Juventus lacked width, and with the lack of space and punishment for the slightest of loose touches, they were largely reliant on direct balls over the top. The best of the first half chances fell to Sami Khedira, who first found himself through on goal before screwing his shot wide from just 10 yards; played in by a flick on from Higuain, he couldn’t hold off the attention of the Sevilla defence for long enough to get a clean shot away.
Sevilla really needed a target man, someone to work off of when attacking and to hold up play. The ball was all too often coming straight back at them. Sampaoli, famous for utilising a false number 9 with his teams, with strikers on either side that pull out to the wings to stretch defences and link up with marauding full-backs, stuck to this blue print for this game. He has been known to stray away from this on occasion, swapping a false 9 for a more traditional centre-forward if it’s more suited, and perhaps he would have been wise to go with that option in this game.
Asamoah was symptomatic of large parts of Juve’s night. Unable to bring the ball under tight enough control, he was closed down quickly, harassed into losing the ball time and time again. His game was summed up when he tried a Cruyff turn only for the ball to get lost under him and cleared before he could spot it. He was outshone by the aged Patrice Evra on the left. Three seasons ago at Manchester United he looked washed up, his legs were shot; at Juve, however, Evra has been reborn, ever present with boundless energy.
As the Juventus crowd’s pressure rose, Dani Alves started to get forward, pushing the Sevilla back-line and creating more space for his back four to settle on the ball. It was Alves that created Juve’s best chance – a whipped cross to a waiting Higuain who could only power the ball against a reverberating crossbar.
Sevilla had set their stall out to frustrate and upset Juventus, adding constant time-wasting and niggly little fouls to their high tempo pressing. Every free-kick and throw-in seemed to take an age as the crowd’s agitation increased with each second ticking by.
It was no surprise when Pjanic was brought on to replace Asamoah, with Allegri going with a double substitution bringing on attacking full-back Alex Sandro for Evra as well. It was, however, a difficult game to come on in – a strange pace with all the hold-ups and no real flow. Dani Alves had grown into Juve’s biggest threat with his buccaneering runs and crosses aimed at Higuain, causing all sorts of problems for the Sevilla defence, offering the width that Juve had been craving the the entire first half.
It was to prove as equally frustrating a night for Higuain as when he last faced a Sampaoli side in the final of the Copa America Centenario, missing a penalty to give Sampaoli’s Chile the title for the second tournament running.
Lyon now head Group H with their resounding 3-0 victory over Dinamo Zagreb, while Juve and Seville share second spot on one point each.
Manager – Massimiliano Allegri – 5
Was too conservative in his approach. Shackling Dani Alves was a mistake as Juve lacked width. Probably should have brought on Mandzukic in the dying minutes as opposed to Pjaca for his aerial ability.
GK – Buffon – 6
Sevilla had plenty of possession away from home but rarely troubled the experienced ‘keeper.
CB – Barzagli – 7
The imperious 35-year-old bossed at the back. Was strong with great positioning. Took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half when charging forward with the ball.
CB – Bonucci – 6
Marshalled his co-workers well to snuff out what few chances Sevilla managed to muster. Wasn’t able to use his distributional abilities to their max though.
CB – Chiellini – 6
After a poor start to the season, he showed signs of playing himself into some form. Was quick to close down on the left with very little getting passed him until substitute Correa made him look a mug with some neat footwork in the dying moments of the game, sending Chiellini one way then the other before breezing past him.
RB – Dani Alves – 8
Had a subdued first half but looked every inch of the world-beating wing-back we all know and love in the second. Allegri needs to learn how to use this valuable asset.
LB – Patrice Evra – 7
Was solid at the back without being outstanding. He’s checking his runs more as he gets older, but started bombing forward before being substituted.
MF – Sami Khedira – 7
Had the best opportunities of the first half and should have scored at least one of them. It wasn’t his night, but at least he had the intelligence to make those runs beyond his strikers.
MF – Mario Lemina – 5
Had a lot of lazy touches and lazier passes. Couldn’t get to grips with the dogged style of Sevilla and was made to look distinctly ordinary under pressure.
MF – Kwadwo Assamoah – 5
Another talented midfielder who couldn’t handle the pressure exerted by Sevilla’s pressing. Couldn’t get the ball under control quick enough to show off his undoubted talent.
FW – Paulo Dybala – 6
Had a pretty good first half, managing to find space when others in his team were bogged down. Dropped too deep in the second half to be effective though.
FW – Gonzalo Higuain – 7
Made some fantastic runs into the box but his finishing let him down. Like Sami Khedira, he’ll have worse games and score goals but it just wasn’t happening for him Wednesday.
MF – Miralem Pjanic – 6
Managed some good touches and almost set up Higuain in the box, but struggled to get grips with the stop-start nature of the game.
LB – Alex Sandro – 8
Had the pace and attacking mentality that Juve were lacking. The perfect reflection of the great Dani Alves on the other wing. Almost popped up with a headed goal as well, ghosting into the box only to bring out a great save by Rico
FW – Marko Pjaca – 5
Brought on as a last minute desperation attempt to get a goal. Didn’t have time to influence the game.
Manager – Jorge Sampaoli – 9
Curtailed his own attacking principles to battle for a draw. Set up his team to harass and frustrate the better Juve to great effect. Rode their luck on occasion and deserved the draw.
GK – Sergio Rico – 8
Through all of Juventus’ chances he actually didn’t have to pull off too many saves. Did dive sharply to his right though to deny Alex Sandro what looked like a certain goal.
CB – Adil Rami – 7
Was strong at the back but couldn’t keep close enough control of the great Higuain. Clearly relished his battles with Chiellini at set plays.
CB – Nicolas Pareja – 7
Was instrumental in keeping the clean sheet and good at playing as a conduit between defence and midfield with the ball.
RB – Gabriel Mercado – 8
With Juve’s lack of width, Mercado had plenty of opportunity to plough forward, rarely turning down the invite. If only he’d had more successful strikers to feed.
LB – Sergio Escudero – 8
Played his role very well and was particularly adept at the darker arts. Served as the main instigator of niggly fouls and time wasting. The ref called him up on his slow throw-ins only 30 minutes into the game.
MF – Steven N’Zonzi – 8
Was strong and dominated particularly in challenges. Was wrongfully booked when he got the ball. Showed a good range of passes.
MF – Matias Kranevitter – 8
Brought in to disrupt play and that’s exactly what he did. Broke up move after move.
MF – Iborra – 8
Swarmed all over Juventus when they atracked. Boundless energy kept him harrying until the end.
FW – Pablo Sarabia – 5
Never managed to get into the game. With tactics that rely so much on strikers dragging defenders out wide, he rarely succeeded.
FW – Vitolo – 6
Ran the channels well but all too often failed to get the crucial ball in the box.
FW – Franco Vazquez – 6
Was creative but looked a little out of position playing as a false number 9 as opposed to his preferred traditional number 10 slot. Didn’t manage to get into the box quite enough to be effective.
FW – Joaquin Correa – 6
Looked dangerous with his very first touches, skinning Chiellini and making him look very ordinary. Didn’t get the ball much after that and had to play a lot in his own half.
DF – Mariano – 6
Brought on for the tiring Kranevitter to waste time and add another body at the back.
MF – Daniel Carrico – 5
As Sevilla looked to make sure they didn’t lose, Carrico was brought on for Vazquez with just a couple of minutes left.