UEFA's Technical Observer panel reviews the victory that sent Juventus into the last 16.
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Juventus strode into the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League with two games to spare thanks to their 4-2 victory against FC Zenit on Wednesday. Here, UEFA's Technical Observers' panel dissect the details of a fourth straight win for the Bianconeri in Group H – the first time they have managed that at the start of a UEFA Champions League campaign since 2004/05.
1-0: Paulo Dybala (11)
A well-worked corner routine in which Manuel Locatelli touched the ball to Federico Bernardeschi to deliver an outswinging centre which Matthijs De Ligt, winning his duel with Yaroslav Rakitskyy, headed down to Dybala. The Argentinian forward produced a fierce left-foot finish, volleying the ball into the turf and up past Stanislav Kritsyuk.
1-1: Leonardo Bonucci own goal (26)
Vyacheslav Karavaev ran at Danilo down the Zenit left, checked back on to his right foot and swung in a cross that Bonucci, alert to the blue shirt behind him, got his head to – only to send the ball looping into the far corner of the net.
2-1: Paulo Dybala (58 pen)
After Claudinho was judged to have tripped Federico Chiesa as the winger cut into the box, Dybala rolled the penalty low past the left-hand post but earned a reprieve owing to encroachment by two Zenit men. Cue a nerveless second kick, low inside that same post.
3-1: Federico Chiesa (73)
The Italy winger concluded a swift, six-man move starting from goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny in emphatic fashion. Collecting a pass in the inside-left channel, some ten metres outside the box, he ran at the retreating Dejan Lovren, checked outside him and drilled a precise low shot inside the far corner.
4-1: Álvaro Morata (82)
The Spaniard held off a blue shirt to start the breakaway move that led to him being put clear by Dybala's lofted pass and finishing first time past Kritsyuk. From a Zenit perspective, Danil Krugovoi will have rued failing to intercept Chiesa's crossfield pass to Dybala in the lead-up.
4-2: Sardar Azmoun (90+2)
From Wílmar Barrios' long ball into the box, Artem Dzyuba rose between the two Juventus centre-backs and flicked the ball down for Azmoun to finish low past Szczęsny.
On his 50th appearance in the competition, Dybala illuminated the match, scoring twice, setting up another goal and earning the UEFA Champions League Player of the Match award in the process. The Argentinian was a constant threat, always wanting the ball and trying to make things happen. Like his team, he was mentally switched on from the first whistle and unrelenting in his energy.
The home side set up in a 1-4-4-2 formation with two strikers and a consistent threat on the right side in high-energy winger Chiesa (No22). When not pressing high, they dropped back at times into their own half, their shape morphing into a 1-5-3-2. De Ligt (No4) was a solid figure at the back, winning almost every duel, though in truth they defended superbly as a team, staying compact and recovering the ball at the right moments.
Sergei Semak's visitors lined up in a 1-3-4-2-1. Defending, they changed their shape to a 1-5-2-3 as wing-backs Aleksei Sutormin (No19) and Karavaev (No15) dropped back alongside the central defenders. Though Zenit tried to keep a compact shape, Juventus's capacity for quick, precise passes meant the hosts still created chances, even in tight spaces.
Zenit's own main creative force was Claudinho (No11), who operated just behind centre-forward Azmoun (No7). With his vision and technique, the Brazilian sought to take the initiative with the ball – and was noticeably the player his team-mates looked to for a spark. For the last quarter of an hour, Zenit changed to a 1-4-4-2 with Dzyuba providing a physical presence up front alongside Azmoun and another substitute, Malcom (No10), adding a threat from the right wing.
Juventus had a clear game plan and were impressive both in open play and in set-play situations as they bounced back impressively from two Serie A losses. They were sharp, strong, energetic, and dictated the game with and without the ball. It was clear that they were fully focused from the off – evidenced by the instant pressure that led to them winning the ball in the final third and Danilo firing in a cross inside 60 seconds. To underline the point further, before Dybala's 11th-minute breakthrough goal, Bernardeschi had already gone close and Weston McKennie struck a post.
McKennie's effort, a low drive from distance, was the product of another high-intensity sequence which showcased Juventus's technical ability as they worked the ball up the centre of the pitch – a foretaste of some of the quick combination play that followed. It was not the only time McKennie would catch the eye; defensively strong and hardworking until the end, he struck the underside of the crossbar too later in the game.
Overall, Juventus's pressing was excellent and so was their transitional play – and it led to two goals on an evening when Massimiliano Allegri's men had 26 goal attempts, 11 of them on target. They also carried a threat from dead balls, as highlighted by the opening goal which, as mentioned above, followed a corner that De Ligt headed back to Dybala. Their repertoire included short corners, another worked back for a third man to supply the cross, and another hit first time over to a player on the far edge of the box who then swung the ball back towards goal.
As for Zenit, they offered fewer variations in dead-ball situations, their only menace coming from the first of their five corners on the night, when Lovren put a free header off target from Rakitskyy's inswinging delivery after just four minutes. If there was a positive for Zenit from their third defeat in four Group H fixtures, their heads did not drop and that persistence brought at least a small reward with Azmoun's goal at the finish.
Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus coach: "Tonight Paulo [Dybala] played an excellent match at a technical level, like the rest of the team. This team has technique, everyone is growing. We have now achieved the first objective of the season. We played well and with intensity but we can improve. The last five minutes were typical of this team. At 4-1, we had four counterattacks that we didn't finish well and we ended up conceding a goal."
Sergei Semak, Zenit coach: "The stronger team won. We still worked hard and fought until the end. The fact that we managed to score in stoppage time is the only positive I can point out."