Juventus opened their Champions League campaign with a 2-0 victory over Valencia the Mestalla which was littered with more controversy than quality.
In a generally scrappy affair dominated by fouls, undesirable incidents and referee interventions, Cristiano Ronaldo’s red card was undoubtedly the headline moment of the match.
The Portuguese star was dismissed from the match with a straight red card just half an hour into the match, following an altercation with Valencia defender Jeison Murillo.
Juventus powered on with ten men, however, and found the break through against a defensively frail Valenica side as they converted a penalty either side of half time courtesy of Miralem Pjanic to seal the three points, after some poor finishing in the first half from the Italians had set the tone for a match of a disappointing lack of quality.
Key Talking Point
Valencia’s game plan was clearly to sit deep and keep things tight against a technically superior Juventus side, deploying a traditional 4-4-2 with the modern twist of Diego Simeone-style aggression in their attempts to break up play with their two banks of four and press forward towards the front two.
However, by contrast to Juve’s more fluid 4-3-3 setup, Valencia’s shape proved to be overly rigid and inflexible, often too flat and incapable of swift transitions through the lines. Rodrigo and Batshuayi offered little up front in terms of pressing onto Juve’s backline, despite having the pace to trouble the ageing pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. The midfield four struggled to deal with the more fluid and overlapping play of the opposition, with Juventus’ full backs getting forward at will and outnumbering Valencia in key areas of the pitch.
Valencia looked weak at the back, too, with Marcelino’s side missing the protective cover of Geoffrey Kondogbia in midfield to shield the back line. Jeison Murillo and Gabriel Paulista were often left exposed in the centre of defence and struggled to live with the barrage of Juve’s attacking players. Murillo in particular was reckless, and cost his side the match in conceding Juventus’ second penalty of the match.
Starting XI: Neto (5); Vezo (6), Gabriel (5), Murillo (4), Gaya (7); Soler (6), Parejo (5), Wass (6), Guedes (6); Rodrigo (6), Batshuayi (5)
Substitutes: Cheryshev (6), Gameiro (5), Mina (5)
STAR MAN – Jose Gaya
Though Joao Cancelo looked to overload his former teammate with marauding runs down the right hand side throughout the match, Gaya remained one of Valencia’s most composed and assured players in what was often an otherwise erratic performance permeated with defensive deficiencies.
Gaya’s performance was of a maturity which defied his young age, and the Spanish left back was comfortably Valencia’s strongest performer on the night.
Wow, what a 45 minutes! #UCL
Young Boys 0-2 Man Utd
Man City 0-2 Lyon
Real Madrid 1-0 Roma
Valencia 0-1 Juventus
Benfica 0-1 Bayern Munich
Viktoria Plzen 2-0 CSKA
Cristiano Ronaldo 0-1 Red Card pic.twitter.com/s0nllhEZ1O
— Goal (@goal) September 19, 2018
WORST PLAYER – Jeison Murillo
Erratic and unsettled from the start, Murillo was at the heart of the controversy on the night. A dramatic reaction to the incident which saw Ronaldo sent off was followed by a clumsy challenge on Leonardo Bonucci in the box to hand Juventus their second penalty of the night which effectively ended the match as a competition so early in the second half. It was a poor and costly performance from the Colombian.
Key Talking Point
Undoubtedly the big moment of the match came when Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off just before the half an hour mark for an altercation with Jeison Murillo in the Valencia penalty area.
Following a frustrating opening to the match for the Portuguese, in which he had looked angered by teammates missing chances and asking the referee for decisions in Juventus’ favour, Ronaldo was shown a straight red card for an incident which saw the forward collide with Murillo.
Ronaldo left the field in tears, with suggestions that a combination of the dramatic response from Murillo and the roaring Valencia crowd were enough to get the Juventus star sent off. Whether it was justified or not, it was certainly not the way Ronaldo would have wanted his first Champions League game for the Italian giants to end.
Starting XI: Szczesny (8); Cancelo (8), Bonucci (8), Chiellini (7), Alex Sandro (7); Khedira (5), Pjanic (9), Matuidi (8); Bernardeschi (8), Mandzukic (6), Ronaldo (5)
Substitutes: Can (6), Costa (6), Rugani (5)
STAR MAN – Miralem Pjanic
A cool head in a generally heated and often erratic match, Pjanic’s composure and class prevailed and guided his side to victory by confidently converting both of Juventus’ penalties at crucial times in the match either side of half time.
The 28-year-old has become an increasingly influential player from the middle of the park for Juventus, and on a night in which their star man’s frustrations saw him sent off, Pjanic stepped up to make the difference.
WORST PLAYER – Mario Mandzukic
Typically one of Juventus’ most consistently reliable performers for work rate and key contributions, Mandzukic missed a big chance at 0-0 in the first half which set the tone for an underwhelming performance.
The attacking burden on Mandzukic following Ronaldo’s red card, and the 32-year-old failed to step up.
Ronaldo and Sami Khedira were both poor, too, but only lasted 21 minutes and half an hour in the match respectively.
Valencia’s next Champions League fixture promises to be another tough outing for Marcelino’s men as they travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United on matchday two in Group H.
Before then, Valencia face three La Liga fixtures between their European commitments, with tough matches against Villareal, Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad.
Juventus, meanwhile, face the likely whipping boys of Group H next in the Champions League as they take on Young Boys during the second round of European fixtures.
In the mean time, Max Allegri’s side face Serie A clashes with Frosinone and Bologna, before a tough test against last season’s runners up Napoli comes just three days before Juve’s game against Young Boys.