A night that showed how Juventus are caught between the past and the future, but it gives them enough of a chance in the present.
Federico Chiesa’s late goal completely changed the complexion of this Champions League last-16 first leg against FC Porto, after over an hour when it looked like they were going to be comprehensively beaten by the type of vintage Italian approach they used to specialise in, but are now trying to move away from.
Instead, in what might have been a symbolic moment as well as a significant one, one of Juve’s new generation displayed the limits of the Portuguese approach. It crowned a belated period when they started to outplay Porto, and sets them up for the second leg.
They have a lot to think about in the three weeks in between, however, not least how to set up their game.
Much of this match emphasised a recent identity crisis at the club in terms of how they play, and it was telling that their biggest name could do nothing other than tell the referee and team-mates off. Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t rise above Leo Messi to actually match Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland in this week that felt like it could be a historic juncture as regards one generation taking over from another.
The Juve forward’s only meaningful contribution was falling over, as he went down looking for a penalty for that late call. The problem for Ronaldo is that he by now suits a more counter-attacking game, of the type Porto were playing so well – the type that put them ahead.
Their first goal, just 61 seconds in, might just have come from a classic football mistake, but it’s difficult not to link it to what the modern Juve are trying to be. Pirlo has been charged with introducing a proactive identity, and part of that is developing the confidence in the plan to regularly play it out from the back. Such coaches often insist on persisting with it come what may, as it’s the only way you really develop that trust.
That is obviously sensible thinking with the way the game is going, but it can look extremely foolish when half of your team – and many of your best players – are just not suited to it. It can lead to parody goals. That’s the way to describe this. It was like a team getting to the grips with the basics of playing it out from the back, but not really understanding how to. Hence it looked so calamitous. Wojciech Szczesny wasn’t at his sharpest in playing the ball to Rodrigo Bentancur in the first place, but the ponderousness of the midfielder thereafter was almost baffling.
You really wouldn’t have said this was the Champions League last 16, or the competition Bentancur’s club are more obsessed with than any other. It was as if he was feeling no pressure, but the problem was there was actually relentless pressing from Porto.
This was the story of the game. This was the winning of the game.
Mehdi Taremi immediately snapped onto Bentancur’s languid pass to beat Szczesny and almost tackle the ball into the net.
It was fitting, because Porto won virtually every duel. This was another reason why Juve’s attempt at some classic possession was so aimless and pointless. Porto were letting them have it where it didn’t hurt, and then just pouncing when the opportunity arose.
Another of those came 20 seconds into the second half, as they just cut through Juve for Moussa Marega to finish.
In contrast, it said much that Juve’s only chance for well over an hour was Adrien Rabiot’s speculative – albeit spectacular – bicycle kick. It was a Hail Mary out of nothing, which met a strong hand from the superb Agustin Marchesin.
Juventus don’t quite need a Hail Mary in the second leg because of Chiesa’s fine late goal. It was almost a get-out-of-jail moment given how bad they’d been for so much of the game, but they did start to look much better after Pirlo introduced Alvaro Morata.
It changed the game, and changed the look of the tie.
Juventus now just have to work out the look of their team, to try and go through.