Juventus went into the second leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 clash with Bayern Munich facing the toughest of challenges, the Turin-based side trailing their opponents on away goals and forced to play without some of their music most influential players.
The day before Wednesday’s meeting at the Allianz Arena, the club’s official website revealed leading scorer Paulo Dybala and key midfielder Claudio Marchisio had injuries, the duo joining defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Martin Cacreres on the sidelines.
Those absences forced Massimiliano Allegri into a tactical reshuffle, and the Juve boss once again found an almost perfect solution. Starting the clash with a four-man defence, the coach deployed Alvaro Morata as a lone striker with wingers Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado regularly providing support from the flanks.
And both men were heavily involved in a number of promising attacks in the early going. Yet perhaps the most important shift was to allow Paul Pogba a much freer role, the Frenchman given licence to join Morata whenever possible.
Just five minutes had passed when that decision paid dividends, Stephan Lichtsteiner pouncing on a mistake from David Alaba to feed Pogba, who hit a low shot beyond Manuel Neuer to hand Juve a surprising lead.
The 23-year-old continued to disrupt Bayern’s usual rhythm, his advanced position allowing him to break up attacks before they began. And Juve soon doubled their advantage, Morata breaking away before delivering a perfectly measured pass to Cuadrado.
He paused to outfox Philipp Lahm before firing the ball home, an excellent finish to a wonderful attacking move from the Bianconeri. The Colombian was denied a second goal by a sprawling Neuer—with Lichtsteiner then blasting the rebound over the bar—yet the first hour of the match undoubtedly belonged to Morata.
The Madrid native saw a 22nd-minute effort incorrectly ruled out for offside, robbing him of the goal his performance in Munich undoubtedly deserved. As the FourFourTwo Stats Zone graphic in the tweet below highlights, Morata took four shots, completed four of his six take-on attempts and connected with 90 per cent of the passes he made.
He also worked hard without the ball, winning one tackle while making two clearances and an interception before being withdrawn in the 71st minute. However, after replacing Morata with Mario Mandzukic, Juventus became far too negative, sitting deep in their own half and relinquishing the initiative they fought so hard to gain.
Bayern punished that decision mercilessly. They subsequently netted four unanswered goals and eliminated the Bianconeri, leaving the visitors ruing their mistakes but filled with a huge amount of pride, as Gigi Buffon explained to reporters shortly after the final whistle:
It is one thing to be eliminated from the competition, but it’s another altogether to be sent home after that result and that performance. I am very proud of the team we are. This match has shown us that we are playing on a different level compared to last year.
We are constantly improving as a group and tonight should give us great belief in achieving our goal of going all the way in this competition within the next two years.
To do so, the Old Lady must have Morata at the level he showed here, a vastly improved performance in comparison with his recent form, which has seen him fall behind Dybala and Mandzukic in the pecking order.
With just eight goals in all competitions this term—and only one since the end of January—there is much room for improvement from the Spaniard, but perhaps this outing can inspire him in the coming weeks.
His direct approach and pace in the transition from defence to attack make Morata an invaluable weapon for Juventus and Allegri, one they will undoubtedly need as they pursue a historic fifth consecutive league title.