Making your season debut in the Champions League with the competition’s greatest ever player among your ranks, only to see him sent off in controversial circumstances after just 30 minutes’ play, would rattle most teams. But not Juve. The Bianconeri – who had dominated up until the red card – produced a display full of the experience, character and class we’ve come to expect over the years, condemning Valencia to a 2-0 defeat courtesy of two invaluable Miralem Pjanic penalties.
JUVE STAND TALL
FLURRY OF CHANCES
The Mestalla had waited three years to see Valencia make their return to the Champions League. And the fans certainly made themselves heard in the opening minutes, roaring their team on as the home side looked to set the tempo of the game.
Yet Juve weathered the early storm and soon took charge of affairs. Max Allegri’s side could have been ahead after just ten minutes, but Mario Mandzukic fired over from close range following a cross from Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese was again involved five minutes later, barrelling down the left and supplying a perfect cross for Federico Bernardeschi, whose sumptuous touch found Sami Khedira in space inside the six-yard box. With the goal gaping, the German failed to hit the target.
Juve’s best chance of the opening half hour came on 20 minutes. Alex Sandro crossed to Mandzukic, with the ball finding its way to Bernardeschi after a challenge on the Croat. Bernardeschi put his boot through the ball, but former Juventus man Neto produced a wonderful save to deny first the Italian and then Blaise Matuidi’s follow-up.
KHEDIRA INJURED, RONALDO SENT OFF
The match was firmly in Juve’s grasp, with the Bianconeri playing with freedom and menace. Yet things were about to take an unexpected turn. First Khedira was forced off through injury on 23 minutes, replaced by Emre Can, but the real shock was to come in the form of a red card to Ronaldo. It stemmed from an off-the-ball incident, while the ball was way out on the left touchline. Ronaldo and Jeison Murillo exchanged angry words in the box, and though it all seemed perfectly innocuous, referee Felix Brych consulted with additional assistant Marco Fritz and promptly waved a flash of red at Ronaldo, whose anguish was clear to see. It was his first sending off in 154 Champions League appearances.
The red card seemed to galvanise Valencia and Michy Batshuayi was soon forcing Wojciech Szczesny into a smart save from a close-range effort. Juve maintained a threat on the break, however, with Bernardeschi proving a great outlet for the Valencia pressure. The Italian was at the heart of Juve’s final move of the half, bursting forward and finding Joao Cancelo in the Valencia box. The Portuguese smashed a shot off the crossbar, the ball bouncing back into the mixer. Poised to shoot again, Cancelo found himself fouled by Valencia’s Dani Parejo, with the referee pointing to the spot. Up stepped Miralem Pjanic, in flew the ball for 1-0.
The second half resumed with Valencia on the front foot. First Batshuayi and then Rodrigo – a header set up by a Jose Luis Gaya cross – called Szczesny into action. But once again Juventus stood firm, with Cancelo bringing the ball out and winning a corner for his team. Pjanic swung it in towards Leo Bonucci, who was summarily upended by Murillo. Another penalty. Pjanic duly obliged, again finding the bottom-right corner.
Carlos Soler did his best to rally his team-mates with two long-range efforts, the second of which drew a save from Szczesny. Allegri made his second change of the game on 65 minutes, sending on Douglas Costa in place of Pjanic and tweaking the formation to a 4-4-1. It was time for the Bianconeri to catch their breath, let their opponents have the ball and defend with their trademark discipline. Valencia managed only a few shots from distance and another Rodrigo header.
SZCZESNY THE PROTECTOR
Just before the 90-minute mark, a limping Douglas Costa forced Allegri into his third substitution, with Daniele Rugani the man chosen to replace him. It seemed the perfect change to contain Valencia’s final attempts at salvaging something from the game, but deep into stoppage time Rugani was penalised for a supposed high arm against Gabriel in the Juve box – enough for the referee to hand the home side a penalty. Parejo took aim but found only the palms of Szczesny, whose save was the final flourish of a masterclass in Champions League football from the Bianconeri.
VALENCIA 0-2 JUVENTUS
GOALS: Pjanic pen. 45’, pen. 51’.
VALENCIA: Neto; Ruben Vezo (Cheryshev 57’), Gabriel, Murillo, Gaya; Soler, Parejo, Wass, Guedes (Santi Mina 70’); Rodrigo, Batshuayi (Gameiro 70’).
Subs not used: Domenech, Torres, Piccini, Diakhaby.
JUVENTUS: Szczesny; Cancelo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Khedira (Emre Can 23'), Pjanic (Douglas Costa 66’ (Rugani 89’)), Matuidi; Bernardeschi, Mandzukic, Ronaldo.
Subs not used: Perin, Benatia, Cuadrado, Dybala.
Coach: Massimiliano Allegri.
REFEREE: Brych (GER)
ASSISTANTS: Borsch (GER), Lupp (GER)
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Häcker (GER)
ADDITIONAL ASSISTANTS: Dankert (GER), Fritz (GER)
YELLOW CARDS: Parejo 43, Murillo 50, Ruben Vezo 54, Alex Sandro 59, Szczesny 82, Rugani 90+6.
RED CARDS: Ronaldo 29.