Morata scores for Juve

Image: Reuters

The opening day of the Champions League brought with it a battle between two of the biggest clubs in Europe: Manchester City vs. Juventus. The Italians were coming off of a somewhat unexpected run to last year’s final against Real Madrid, but were missing the likes of Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo in their lineup. For the hosts, a dominant run in the league (five wins in five games) gave fans hope that this might finally be the year that they challenge for European glory. Hopes of an opening day win, however, were dampened by the news that star striker Sergio Aguero would miss the action through injury.

City started the action early after Fernandinho won the ball outside the center circle before starting a blistering counter attack. The Brazilian midfielder charged towards the penalty area and played a perfect lead pass into the path of Raheem Sterling, but the legendary Gianluigi Buffon in net denied the 20-year-old’s close range effort. Juve thought they had found the opening goal in the 12th minute but Paul Pogba’s headed effort past Joe Hart was adjudged offsides by the linesman, but the replay appeared to show the Frenchman level with the City backline.

After this stroke of luck, the Citizens really began to press the Juventus backline in attack. The man who replaced Aguero in the starting 11, Wilfried Bony, had two brilliant chances to put his side ahead, but both times his efforts left Buffon untested. An inability to keep the ball out of their own half meant that Mario Mandzukic and Alvaro Morata had basically no chances to score in the opening 45 minutes, but a lack of finishing touch from City meant that both sides went into the intermission without a goal to show for their work.

A Juventus player finally opened the scoring in the 57th minute. Unfortunately for the Italians, Giorgio Chiellini’s headed effort flew into their own net. A David Silva corner created the chance and some physical play from Vincent Kompany on Chiellini left the Italian international with little control over where his deflection would go. The disastrous start to the second half seemed like a death sentence for Juve considering the glut of chances their English opponents had in the first 45 minutes.

The old saying that a team is most vulnerable right after they’ve scored didn’t ring true for City. Almost immediately after the opener, Sterling had a one-on-one chance against Buffon only for the Italian keeper to deny the former-Liverpool player for the second time in the match. The Citizens had another great chance to score an all-important second goal in the 62nd minute but Bony’s tight angled shot was easily caught by Buffon.

Juventus’ first real chance of the match came less than a minute later after some great buildup play in the penalty area. A pinpointed diagonal ball from Juan Cuadrado on the wing eventually found its way to an open Stephan Lichtsteiner on the penalty spot, but the Swiss international couldn’t find a way past Joe Hart. The visitors’ equalizer came in the 70th minute thanks to a perfectly placed through ball from Paul Pogba to find Mandzuckic. The 29-year-old striker applied the lightest of touches to Pogba’s aerial pass and it was just enough to sneak the ball off the inside of the post to level the scores.

The comeback was finally completed in the 81st minute. This time, it was the former Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata who found the back of the net with a wonderfully curled first touch effort from 20 yards out. The slow-motion sliding celebration following the goal was nearly as entertaining as the goal itself. City almost scored a beauty of their own on the other end, but once again Buffon comfortably kept the shot from the back of the net.

The opening victory puts Juve behind Sevilla in Group D but only on goal differential. Manchester City still have a great chance to emerge from the group ahead of the likes of Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach, but European competition has proven tricky for them in the past. Can both of these titans find a way into the knockout rounds?


Tags: , , , , ,