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article imageBenfica's defensive solidity ends Juventus' European dream

By Tyrrell Meertins     May 1, 2014 in Sports
One of the key characteristics involved in Juventus’ record-breaking season is their imperious home form. While 30 wins in 35 league games is a remarkable feat, it's difficult to ignore Juventus’ flawless home form.
But the Bianconeri’s first half display signified mediocrity opposed to superiority, as Antonio Conte’s men lacked the dynamism and confidence that’s often vivid at Juventus Stadium. Their buildup play from midfield was laboured, and the ruthless conviction required in the final third was non-existent.
A one-goal deficit didn’t worry Conte heading into a second leg showdown against Benfica, especially with the return of Arturo Vidal and Fernando Llorente in the starting XI. Jorge Jesus’ men were resolute, nonetheless. Unlike their first leg performance – which saw the newly crowned Portuguese champions dictate possession – Jesus’ men were exceptional without the ball. Despite Juventus requiring one goal to progress, Benfica relied on their defensive organization and admirable team spirit to negate the Italian champion’s threat.
Benfica didn’t mind that Juventus had the ball – six Juventus players attempted more passes than Ruben Amorim who attempted the most passes for Benfica – and their only shot on target came in the 75th minute when Guillherme Siqueira’s powerful run through the Juventus midfield encouraged the Benfica left-back to fire an audacious effort from over 35 yards into Gianluigi Buffon’s hands.
Jesus instructed his men to press Juventus on goal-kicks with Rodrigo and Lima closing down the Juventus centre backs, while Enzo Perez pressed Andrea Pirlo. Ezequiel Garay was handed the task of fending off Fernando Llorente, whereas Luisao was proactive and kept tight on Carlos Tevez when he dropped deeper.
With that being said, Juventus’ passing moves didn’t shift Benfica’s compact shape out of position. The one issue with the away side’s shape was the amount of space they left vacant down the left flank. Conte’s men exploited Lazar Markovic and Maxi Pereira’s narrow positioning, and Juventus’ best moves were constructed in this area.
Paul Pogba’s ball into the left channel saw Fernando Llorente control Kwadwo Asamoah’s cross, and the Spaniard teed up Pirlo, but Jan Oblak pushed the Italian’s shot over the net. Subsequently, Pogba and Pirlo both delivered crosses towards the far post to Arturo Vidal from the left channel, but the Chilean failed to beat the 21-year-old goalkeeper. Pogba created Juventus’ best chance of the half, when Asamoah received the Frenchman’s delicate chipped ball into half-space and Vidal nodded the Ghanaian’s driven cross towards goal, but Luisao completed a remarkable goal-line clearance.
Nevertheless, Benfica looked dangerous on the counter attack through Markovic and Rodrigo, but the Portuguese side lacked the final ball and touch to attain a valuable away goal. Juventus continued to surge forward and it forced Benfica deeper into their zone with Lima, Rodrigo and Perez sitting behind Pirlo to maintain a compact shape. Oblak’s key saves, Garay and Luisao’s aerial superiority, and a timely intervention from Markovic ensured Benfica kept Juventus off the score sheet.
Perez’s sending off in the 66th minute forced Jesus to sacrifice Rodrigo for Andre Almeida and Benfica effectively became a 4-4-1. Yet, the sending off didn’t alter their approach – Benfica have displayed their ability to win with 10-men this season – as Jesus’ men were set-up to complete a job. The two banks remained in front of Juventus’ midfield, negating penetration and productivity between the lines.
Conte reacted by introducing Giovinco and Dani Osvaldo upfront, while Claudio Marchisio replaced the fatigued Vidal. Juventus’ 4-3-3 didn’t improve the home-side’s attack; Giovinco’s pace was futile with minimal space in the final third, and Osvaldo found himself trailing offside opposed to posing a threat in the box. Juventus received opportunities in the latter stages but Oblak’s heroics and Stephan Lichtsteiner’s mental lapse secured Benfica’s place in their second consecutive Europa League final.
“Benfica earned the Final because we played better in both legs, better than Juve in Lisbon and Turin. Juve are a good team, but defensively Benfica played very well,” Jesus told Sky Sport Italia.”
“We had the advantage from the first leg and controlled all their movements in the second leg. We deserved to reach the Final because we were better than Juve.”
Benfica carried out Jesus’ approach with extreme efficiency, producing a well-rounded defensive display on a monumental European night. Juventus’ performance levels have dipped over the past few months, but their ability to earn results have somewhat overshadowed various sub-par performances. While Benfica struggled to create clear-cut chances of their own over the two legs, they equally limited Juventus’ threat in the final third.
“It’s a shame, as with two shots on target over two legs Benfica went through. Over the two games Juventus certainly deserved to go through.
“I think Juventus gave all they had. It is an exciting, but also very exhausting season, because for the first time we’ve reached the final stages of European competition.
But Conte should have assumed Benfica would adopt a cautious approach in the second leg, and here he didn’t possess a solution to the Portuguese side’s defensive solidity. In the span of 12 months, Jesus has risen from the obscurity of failure and is now a win away from augmenting Benfica’s European credentials.
More about Benfica, Juventus, Europa league, Jorge Jesus, Antonio Conte
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