23 February 2016
Juventus kept their chances of progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals alive after fighting back from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Bayern Munich in a high octane last 16 first leg encounter at Juventus Stadium.
A pulsating first half saw the visitors control possession (71 per cent) and carve out the greater amount of openings, but they were unable to make the most of them until Thomas Muller fired into the bottom corner just two minutes before half-time.
Just ten minutes after the break, matters worsened for the hosts when Arjen Robben struck a second away goal for Pep Guardiola’s men.
In what could easily have represented a turning point on the night for all the wrong reasons, the Bianconeri prospered in the face of adversity, hitting back in the 63rd minute through Paulo Dybala’s cool finish following fine work from Mario Mandzukic.
And they kept their tails up to hit a 77th minute equaliser, when Stefano Sturaro bundled home Alvaro Morata’s centre to salvage a fully merited draw that leaves this last 16 tie evenly poised ahead of the return leg next month in Munich.
Starting the match after recovering from a muscle injury at the end of last week, Mandzukic was put through on goal within the very first minute, but the Croatian’s strike lacked the power required to beat Manuel Neuer from the edge of the penalty area.
Having survived that early scare, Bayern began passing the ball at pace and quickly fashioned a chance of their own when another player facing his former club, Arturo Vidal, unleashed a ferocious drive from distance which Gigi Buffon did well to get firm gloves to.
With Guardiola’s attack-minded system seemingly in full flow, Juve were being made to chase the ball for long spells and exploit any opportunities to hit on the break. One such counter-attack in the 12th minute saw Dybala race down the left before whipping in a fine cross with which Mandzukic could not quite make the right connection at the far post.
Just a minute later, Bayern spurned the game’s best chance so far when Robert Lewandowski found himself in a one-on-one with Buffon but opted to square for the better positioned Muller, whose scuffed effort enabled Leonardo Bonucci to clear the ball before it could reach the goalline.
Shortly afterwards, the defender would find himself down the other end of the pitch heading Claudio Marchisio’s free-kick into the embrace of Neuer.
Defending would, however, be the priority for the Bianconeri, as another forward foray from the visitors resulted in Robben’s half-volley ending up inches over the crossbar.
Around the half hour mark, they’d be presented with yet further chances to open the scoring when Buffon parried Juan Bernat’s stinging drive from distance. Just moments later, the 38-year-old stopper would be at hand once more to block Lewandowski’s point-blank header.
Paul Pogba was putting in a strong display in the middle of the park for the hosts, using his power and trickery to shirk away from a number of challenges before passing forwards. In the 41st minute, he picked out Dybala and the Argentine’s centre led to a goalmouth scramble before being cleared for a corner, which did not lead to anything.
Bayern, meanwhile, showed no signs of easing off the gas and would eventually break the deadlock on 43 minutes when Muller coolly sidefooted into the bottom corner after Douglas Costa’s cross deflected into the striker’s path off Bonucci.
In a bid to shake off the disappointment of conceding so shortly before the interval, Massimiliano Allegri’s men began the second period brightly with a couple of quick passing moves in and around the visitors’ penalty area.
However, just ten minutes into the half, they would find themselves two goals behind as Robben cut in from the right flank on to his favoured left foot before arrowing an unstoppable strike inside Buffon’s far post.
Far from letting their heads drop, the Bianconeri rolled up their sleeves and reacted in the most positive of fashions, pushing Bayern back and playing with the sort of confidence that made a goal of their own seem increasingly likely.
And when Dybala pounced on to Mandzukic’s clever reverse pass to slide past Neuer in the 63rd minute, few could have said that they deserved to reduce the deficit and start pursuing an equaliser with renewed hope and optimism.
In stark contrast to the first period, Juve were now the team firmly on the front foot and they came extremely close to drawing level on a couple of occasions within the next five minutes. First Juan Cuadrado, latching on to Mandzukic’s brilliant pass, was denied by Neuer. Then Pogba shimmied past his marker to fire whiskers above the top corner.
By now, the match had completely change complexion, as Bayern failed to fashion any efforts on Buffon’s goal, with Neuer now the far busier keeper.
In the 76th minute, the Germany international was retrieving the ball from the back of his net. Sturaro had been on the pitch for all of seven minutes when he burst into the box to lash home Morata’s knockdown via the crossbar.
Driven on by the roars of a vocal home crowd, Juve searched for a winner, with Pogba heading just over the bar, while not losing sight of the visitors’ attacking threat. Indeed, the backline stayed on their toes to prevent Bayern from delivering what would have been a very damaging late blow.
Allegri will be heartened by the admirable reaction of his troops to claw their way back into a tie that threatened to drift out of their control. Those fighting qualities will certainly be called upon in three weeks’ time at the Allianz Arena, with a much wanted Champions League quarter-final spot at stake.
**Buffon, Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Bonucci, Evra, Cuadrado, Khedira (Sturaro 69), Marchisio (Hernanes 46), Pogba, Mandzukic, Dybala (Morata 75)
Unused substitutes: Neto, Rugani, Pereyra, Zaza
Neuer, Lahm, Kimmich, Alaba, Bernat (Benatia 74), Müller, Vidal, Thiago, Robben, Lewandowski, Costa (Ribéry 84)
Unused substitutes: Ulreich, Rafinha, Alonso, Götze, Coman