Italians in the Champions League: Review of Juventus and Roma
Both first legs are now over, so we'll dive into the performances of both teams and whether or not either has a chance to overturn their results in the second leg...
Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid
This was the more surprising of the two results. Real Madrid is definitely a better team than Juventus, no question about it, but the bianconeri have been so good in the past few years of staying compact and making it very difficult for the top teams to score against them, especially at home. Going to Madrid with a 0-3 deficit means the tie is all but over. So what went wrong for Juventus?
Surprisingly, they didn't play badly for the entire match. They gave up an early goal thanks to some poor man marking on Cristiano Ronaldo, but they were able to settle down and get themselves back into the match. In fact, they actually controlled the match until the second goal, however, they weren't able to capitalize on any of their chances. Dybala was very good and threatening in the match and Douglas Costa was lively but it seemed like his decision making was letting him down. The Brazilian often dribbled too much, hesitated to pass and made the wrong pass once he did decide to get rid of the ball. There were definitely positives from Costa's performance and if he can just adjust his decisions in the second leg he can be a threat to score and create. Dybala on the other hand played really well and helped Juve control the match. He was poor with his free kicks, which were golden opportunities for Juve to get back into the match, however, he did well to create especially from the dead ball situation far away from the box where he swung it in and Higuain was stopped by an incredible Navas save. Unfortunately, Dybala will miss the second match because he let his frustration get to him and received two yellow cards. If the Argentine is to make the next step and really be in the conversation with the players right under Ronaldo & Messi such as Neymar, Hazard, Mbappe etc..., he will need to control his temper and show up in the big matches.
Moving onto the part of the match where it got away from Juventus. While everyone is talking about the beautiful bicycle kick Ronaldo scored for the second goal, and it was indeed magical, let's take a look at the lead up to that play. Marcelo kicked the ball into the path of Giorgio Chiellini, and the defender was uncharacteristically not on the same page as goalie Gianluigi Buffon. The Juve number one could have easily claimed the ball, but Chiellini knocked it away and sent the bianconeri defense into a frenzy, which ultimately led to Ronaldo being open for that fantastic goal. After the second goal, Juve fell apart. As we mentioned earlier, Dybala received a second yellow card and was thrown out, and playing against Real Madrid with 10 men is not an ideal situation.
Juve will now look to the second leg where they will have Pjanic and Benatia back in the lineup, two players they undoubtedly missed in the first leg. The damage is done, however, and it would be a miracle to win by 3 at the Bernabeu. Juve will have to push to try and score which will allow Real to counterattack, something they do better than anyone thanks to their skill and pace. Look for Juve to give a good account of themselves but the circumstances are too much for them to overcome.
Barcelona 4-1 Roma
The scoreline here does not do the match justice, as Roma can hold their heads high after a courageous display at the Camp Nou. The giallorossi started well by not sitting back and letting Barcelona attack in waves. Instead, they tried to control the game and attack against the Blaugrana. It's a bit unfortunate that they were able to get themselves back in the tie by scoring when they were down 3-0, only to give up the fourth goal and essentially end it. Luck played a factor in it also as the Romans conceded two own goals in the match.
Roma did well to control the game and keep Barcelona's threats at a minimum, but then once the Spaniards were able to create some chaos they scored. This was an unfortunate goal as the ball was being directed to Lionel Messi and Daniele De Rossi had no choice but to try and intercept the pass. Unfortunately for the captain, he redirected the ball right into the back of his own net, but it was really a bad situation for il capitano. If he didn't get a foot on the ball, Messi most likely would have received it and put it away anyway. De Rossi had a fine performance up until this point as he seemed to be a calming presence in the center of Roma's team.
The referee didn't help matters as Roma should have had a penalty kick but the ref judged that it was just outside of the box and gave a close range free kick instead. At that point it was 1-0 and if Roma were able to convert a penalty, a 1-1 scoreline could have completely changed the complexion of the match. Roma, however, were not able to capitalize on the free kick and they conceded on another own goal later in the second half, this time from Manolas. It was a sloppy exchange in front of the Roma net and the ball bounced off of the Greek defender and passed through Alisson. Pique scored a few minutes later to make it 3-0, but here is where it really got interesting.
Roma kept pushing for a goal and were able to find the back of the net through Edin Dzeko, and it seemed like they were given a lifeline back into the fixture. Heartbreak continued for the giallrossi in the 87th minute, as substitute Gonalons inexplicably knocked the ball right towards Luis Suarez instead of booting it out of the box. This essentially ended the tie as Roma now have to win by three goals at home against Barcelona, an impossible task.
As far as individual players, Roma had some good performances. As mentioned earlier, De Rossi had a solid performance despite the own goal. In addition to him, Perotti was very lively and often threatened the Blaugrana while Dzeko had a good game as well. The big Bosnian scored and should have had a penalty himself in the first half but the ref decided against making a call.
Going into the second leg, Roma is pretty much playing for pride. It is worth thinking whether or not they would be in this hole if Radja Nainggolan was able to play in the first leg. Nainggolan's injury almost certainly caused the inclusion of Lorenzo Pellegrini, who was not up to this type of European fixture. Nainggolan's athleticism and physicality could have caused Barcelona some problems going forward, and he would have been able to recover and help defensively. It will be interesting to see if the Belgian player is fit enough to play in the second leg and if so, what type of difference he makes. Roma should have the same approach and go all out in Rome in front of their own fans. A slender win or a draw would be a very positive result and a great way to end what was a great and impressive Champions League campaign.