Juventus outclassed holders Chelsea 3-0 at home on Tuesday, leaving them on the verge of becoming the first title holders to be knocked out in the Champions League group stage since the competition began.
The Serie A champions could have doubled their tally with a more effective strikeforce as troubled Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo’s gamble of dropping Fernando Torres and playing without a recognised striker failed to pay off.
Fabio Quagliarella opened the scoring with a fortuitous effort, Arturo Vidal side-footed a deflected second and substitute Sebastian Giovinco completed Chelsea’s misery with a stoppage-time goal as Juve moved closer to the last 16.
Chelsea’s previous visit to Italy ended with a 3-1 defeat at Napoli in February which contributed to the sacking of coach Andre Villas-Boas and his replacement Di Matteo is looking increasingly vulnerable barely six months after winning the Champions League.
“In a big club like this if you have a few bad results, of course you are going to be under pressure,” the Italian told Sky TV.
“It was the same from day one and that’s how it is, you have to live with it, pick yourself up and pick the players up and try to get that next win for the club.”
Chelsea were left in the helpless position of hoping that Shakhtar Donetsk, who qualified with a 5-2 win at Nordsjaelland in the other Group E match, beat Juventus in their final game in Ukraine on Dec. 5.
The Londoners are at home to bottom side Nordsjaelland but even a handsome win against the unheralded Danes may be in vain given Chelsea are on seven, Juve nine and Shakhtar 10.
“We have hope because mathematically it is still possible for us. Nobody says Shakhtar can’t win against Juve at home, we just have to make sure we do our job,” added Di Matteo.
A point in Donetsk will be enough for Serie A leaders Juventus and give Shakhtar top spot, a scenario that could well spark wild conspiracy theories of an arranged result, bizarrely known as “biscuits” in the Italian media.
“I certainly don’t consider it a formality, we have to play the game and fight hard, we don’t expect anything unusual,” Juventus assistant coach Angelo Alessio, standing in for the suspended Antonio Conte, told reporters.
“Chelsea are a great team but we have produced similar performances recently, this is important for our confidence but there is still room for improvement.”
FALSE NUMBER NINE
Twice winners Juve have recently been in the Champion League wilderness themselves and the game could have turned out very differently if Eden Hazard had not missed an excellent chance early on.
The Belgian dallied and saw his close-range effort deflected wide by Gianluigi Buffon’s legs after Oscar ran 50 metres through the Juventus midfield and slipped the ball to him.
Even at that stage, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who made a superb early save to turn Stephan Lichtsteiner’s close range shot onto the post, was infuriating the home crowd with his pedestrian approach to goal kicks.
Juventus hassled Chelsea incessantly in midfield, refusing to allow them to settle, and their approach work was often superb, but they lacked the final pass.
Chelsea, with Oscar, Hazard and Juan Mata alternating in the “false number nine” role, posed an attacking threat in the first half but fell apart after Juventus went ahead in the 38th minute.
Andrea Pirlo beat a hesitant Oscar to the ball and hit a weak long-range effort which deflected off Fabio Quagliarella into the net past a wrong-footed Cech.
Almost immediately, Ashley Cole made a desperate clearance off the line to keep it to 1-0 at halftime but Chelsea’s nightmare was only just beginning.
The visitors were fortunate not to concede a penalty after Gary Cahill held down Quagliarella before Juve’s forwards wasted more good chances.
Chelsea’s only real opportunity to equalise fell to Juan Mata who squandered it by sending a free kick straight into the Juventus wall.
The hosts killed the game off when Kwadwo Asamoah burst into the area and laid the ball off for Vidal, sent off in his last two appearances for Chile, to sidefoot home via a deflection.
The last half hour was painful for Chelsea and substitute Giovinco provided the coup de grace in stoppage time when he poked the ball past Cech, who had recklessly rushed out of his penalty area to try to hoof clear a through-ball.
Giovinco, who has struggled for goals since his move from Parma, was booked for taking his shirt off while Di Matteo was left to face the music.