Tuesday May 5th, 2015

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 76th career Champions League goal, taking over the all-time lead from Lionel Messi on Tuesday, but Carlos Tévez created one and scored one of his own, as Juventus won the first leg of its Champions League semifinal, 2-1, at home against Real Madrid.

A fast start from Juve gave the home side an early lead, as former Real forward Álvaro Morata scored in the ninth minute. Ronaldo equalized after nearly half an hour, but Tévez restored the lead on a second-half penalty.

The Italians held on for a narrow victory, although Madrid just needs a 1-0 win next week to progress, taking into account its away goal. Playing for a shutout as the away team at the Santiago Bernabéu is a tough ask for any team. Although Juve has shown immense defensive ability throughout the season, it could have used a third goal on Tuesday. 

Here’s what stood out from the first leg, as Juventus takes a one-goal lead into next week’s return:

Tévez’s resurgence continues since leaving England

After nearly every Juventus match this year, the same question comes to mind: How was Tévez left off Argentina’s 2014 World Cup squad? His club’s top goalscorer with 21 in all competitions in 2013-14 and 28 so far this year, it’s amazing how he’s come back after an unceremonious departure from Manchester City.

Tévez has shown every positive aspect of South American football since joining Juve, combining an insatiable work rate with fast dribbling and cold-blooded finishing. He led the way for the Bianconeri again on Tuesday, setting up Morata’s opening goal before regaining the advantage for his team in the second half.

He gave the Real back line trouble all game, comfortably finding time on the ball ahead of Raphaël Varane and Pepe. Juve took the lead in one such moment, and his deserved penalty came on a breathtaking run on the counter. Tévez linked the midfield and attack well, leaving Arturo Vidal to chase defensively and facilitate with balancing runs in the attacking third.

Juve up to the task—as long as it attacked

Juventus began the game with the majority of possession and comfortably circulating the ball from defense to attack. Madrid didn’t look too interested in defending, and in its rare moments of pressure, Juve alternated from short to long passes and unlocked the defense.

But after about 20 minutes, Real began to sustain more pressure. Juve’s defense flattened out and invited Madrid forward, where the Galácticos’ individual skill took over. James Rodríguez worked in a cross in the 27th minute that Ronaldo easily headed home.

Despite Juve’s disciplined defense, Real’s high-powered attack caused major problems when it gained momentum without the threat of being counterattacked. Even for the best defensive teams, an opponent with Madrid’s individual ability will be hard to contain; Juve’s best bet is to keep the ball away from Real, as it showed it can for long spells on Tuesday, or at least maintain a threat moving forward through Tévez.

How the second leg shapes up

Juventus manager Maxi Allegri knew he had to go for the win at home, putting out an attack-minded lineup in a 4-3-1-2 shape. However, his team has also frequently played with three in the back, and an away match at the Santiago Bernabéu could see a return to that system.

The moment Carlo Ancelotti brought on Javier Hernández on Tuesday and went to a 4-3-3, Allegri moved his team to that 3-5-2 by introducing Andrea Barzagli. Juventus held its 2-1 lead by breaking up the tempo even more and playing on the counter.

On the other side, Real could use more of an attacking presence and confidence, as it had in the quarterfinal second leg against Atlético Madrid. It’s going to be a tough ask for Juventus: it can’t afford to sit back for 90 minutes and risk being overpowered, but throwing too many numbers forward invites Real’s lightning-fast counterattacks that buried Bayern Munich at this stage last year.

The first leg played out about as evenly as it could have. Possession stayed close to 50-50, and each team had a similar number of chances. Credit to both teams for playing positively and trying to control the match—which only sets up an intriguing tactical battle between two astute squads and managers in the return effort.

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