A Cristiano Ronaldo first-half brace consigned the Bianconeri to their first Champions League defeat of the season in this evening’s 2-1 reverse at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu.
Juventus will have every reason to rue their misfortune after a positive reaction to Real Madrid’s opener in the form of Fernando Llorente’s equaliser was subsequently undone by a penalty conceded seven minutes later, dispatched with aplomb by Los Blancos’ fifth all-time top goalscorer.
A tough test became even more taxing when Giorgio Chiellini was given his marching orders inside the first three minutes of the second half, and despite battling bravely in the face of adversity, Antonio Conte’s men were left empty-handed as Real hung on for all three points.
As anticipated, Conte opted to shuffle his pack for the trip to the Spanish capital, making three changes to the starting line-up from Sunday’s clash against Fiorentina. In came Martin Caceres, Angelo Ogbonna and Arturo Vidal at the expense of Simone Padoin, Leonardo Bonucci and Kwadwo Asamoah, while there was also a change in formation, with a flat back four deployed to try and contain Real Madrid’s threat on the flanks.
The Bianconeri made an encouraging start to proceedings, with Claudio Marchisio, operating on the right-hand side of midfield, drawing an early save from Iker Casillas, who palmed his drive wide for a corner.
But it was Los Blancos who drew first blood when Cristiano Ronaldo gathered Angel Di Maria’s pass and rounded Gigi Buffon before slotting into an unguarded net.
The early setback failed to knock Juventus off their stride, though, and they moved the ball around patiently in their attempts to carve out an opening. Fernando Llorente linked up well with Carlos Tevez, with the Argentine going close courtesy of a curling left-footed strike that drifted just wide of Casillas’ near post on 15 minutes.
And with the Bianconeri growing in stature, Tevez went even nearer to bagging his first Champions League goal of the season moments later, cutting inside menacingly before unleashing a right-footed piledriver that fizzed just over the crossbar.
It seemed as if a Juventus reply was only moments away, and so it proved. With just over 20 minutes played, Caceres galloped down the right and found Paul Pogba lurking at the back post. The Frenchman’s header was pushed out of harm’s way by Casillas, but only as far as Llorente, who swept home for his second goal since his summer move from Bilbao.
With confidence brimming after finding a richly-deserved equaliser, Juventus were then handed another hurdle to overcome on 27 minutes. Manuel Grafe was alerted to an infringement by Giorgio Chiellini on Sergio Ramos in the area and awarded a penalty which was confidently converted by Ronaldo for his sixth goal of the current Champions League campain.
The Bianconeri fought to muster another quick response, but were prevented from breaking through by a disciplined Madrid side who saw out the remainder of the first period with long spells of possession.
A solid start to the second half, in which Pogba went close to troubling Casillas in a one-on-one situation following Pirlo’s sumptuous pass from deep, was soon to become an uphill task after Giorgio Chiellini was shown the red card for blocking Ronaldo’s route to goal. The defender’s sending off saw Llorente sacrificed for Leonardo Bonucci, who slotted in alongside Andrea Barzagli at the heart of the visitors’ rearguard.
With numerical advantage as well as the scoreline in their favour, Real committed bodies forward in their quest for a third. Karim Benzema will feel he should have established a two-goal cushion when Di Maria set him up with a seemingly unmissable opportunity, only for the French frontman to fluff his lines with the goal gaping.
It proved to be the striker’s final contribution to the game, with world-record signing Gareth Bale introduced to the action on 67 minutes. There was also activity in the other dugout, where Conte made his final roll of the dice by bringing on Sebastian Giovinco in place of Ogbonna.
The Piedmont-born frontman almost made an instant impact on proceedings, unleashing a low drive that skimmed off the turf and required turning away to safety by Casillas on 70 minutes.
Despite pushing further forward and trying to unlock the hosts’ defence as the second half wore on, Juventus were ultimately kept at bay by a well-marshalled Real Madrid backline.
The heart and spirit on display in the Spanish capital, acknowledged at the end of the game by the 2,500 travelling Juventus supporters, will be one of the positives to take on board when Conte and his men analyse their performance, with revenge very much number one priority when the two sides lock horns in Turin in just under a fortnight.