In one of five European semi-final ties involving an Italian side, Juventus faced off against serial Europa League specialists Sevilla – looking to gain a crucial first-leg advantage in Turin.
Juventus’ turbulent season has started to show signs of stability, offering the return to Champions League football alongside the potential of end-of-season silverware. In their way stand a revitalised Sevilla side, with five wins in their last six matches under wily manager Jose Luis Mendilibar.
JUV: Szczesny; A. Sandro, Bonucci, Danilo; Kostic, Rabiot, Locatelli, Miretti, Cuadrado; Di Maria; Vlahovic
SEV: Bono; Acuna, Gudelj, Bade, Navas; Rakitic, Fernando; Gil, Torres, Ocampos; En-Nesyri
It was the home side who started the brightest of the two sides, looking to dictate the play at a high tempo. The visitors wanted to play a high-pressing game, as they were keen to assert their own physicality early on – looking to prevent space and time on the ball for playmaker Di Maria to supply Vlahovic.
In a tight opening period, Juventus saw the first sight at goal. Vlahovic held the ball up well in the centre, before offloading a neat pass wide to Kostic on the left-hand side. The Serbian’s left-footed effort failed to test the visiting ‘keeper, with his low driven effort flashing across the face of the goal and wide of the post.
Sevilla grew into the half, looking dangerous aerially – particularly in set-piece scenarios. Ocampos tested Szczesny for the first time, rising to meet Ivan Rakitic’s corner unmarked. The Argentine couldn’t trouble the Polish ‘keeper though.
Juventus would be wondering how they hadn’t taken the lead minutes later, with a swift counter-attacking piece of play resulting in Kostic bursting free down the left-hand side. The midfielder’s pace allowed him to space to pick a searching ball across the Sevilla penalty area in search of Vlahovic at the back post. His fellow countryman was only able to blaze his shot over the crossbar from twelve yards out.
The half became open, with Sevilla ever increasingly finding room to attack with pace on the flanks. Ocampos was the beneficiary of neat direct running from Gil and En-Nesyri, receiving a pass on the edge of the box. The Argentine’s footwork let him down though, as his shot sailed past the far post.
The Spanish side took the lead minutes later, as Juventus failed to deal with a similar move. Ocampos found room once more on the right to pick out En-Nesyri unmarked at the back post. The Moroccan was cool with his finish, side-footing a first time effort into the right-hand corner of the net – leaving Szczesny helpless.
Los Rojiblancos grew in confidence and looked the more likely to gain a second goal before the break, as Juventus started to look disjointed. Rakitic found space to smash a powerful effort from distance at Szczesny’s goal, but his strike was denied by Sczcesny’s fingertips.
Juventus responded at half time to introduce the dangerous Federico Chiesa and rising English star Samuel Iling-Junior in a bid to target the wide. Chiesa didn’t seem to ever stop running – but when it really mattered, he opted to search for a teammate when a shot arguably would have bore fruition.
Iling-Junior came close as Juventus looked to dominate possession in the final third. A neat piece of play involving Chiesa and Rabiot ultimately saw the youngster’s effort from the edge of the penalty area testing Bono, but the keeper was able to get down low to his left and make the save.
Lacking urgency at times, Juventus missed a decisive penetrative moment of magic in the final third – often taking an extra touch to slow the fluidity of play. The visitors, although spending long periods off the ball, were comfortable with their rivals in possession for the best part.
Juventus sent on Paul Pogba as they pushed for a late equaliser. The Frenchman linked with his international teammate Rabiot to earn a free-kick just outside the penalty area. Juan Cuadrado summing up the Bianconeri’s performance, firing the set-piece wildly wide of the post as yet another opportunity was squandered.
With time running out, it looked like Sevilla would take a slim advantage to the second leg – until Juventus scored late in stoppage time to level the scoring. Federico Gatti broke Spanish hearts, nodding home from close range after Pogba headed Chiesa’s corner back across goal.
That was to be the last action of the night, and it certainly makes next week’s second leg much more interesting. These two teams will now lock horns once more on the Iberian peninsula to decide which team will progress to the final in Budapest at the end of the month.