Current Sports News: Cristiano Ronaldo must hate Lyon. The last time he lost in the Champions League round of 16 was in 2010 with Real Madrid, and Lyon knocked him out then too. On Friday, the Ligue 1 side did it again, at the same stage of the competition, becoming the first French club in history to beat Juventus over two legs in Europe.
The frustration was obvious on Ronaldo’s face throughout the game, and especially once the dream of winning the Champions League with a third team was shattered once again, like last year when Ajax surprised Juve in the quarterfinals. How many times did he roll his eyes at the poor display produced by some of his teammates?
Ronaldo was pretty much the only good thing Juve had on the pitch. With Paulo Dybala not fit enough to start, it was all down to the Portuguese superstar to carry his team once more. He almost did it, like last season’s hat trick against Atletico Madrid in the round of 16. Juve have been a collective liability all season, incapable of defending well and hardly capable of attacking properly. Ronaldo can be Ronaldo, but he cannot do everything on his own. This proved it again. Two more Champions League goals were added to his collection (numbers 129 and 130 in 170 games), a big contribution but not nearly enough from those around him. Juve had no creativity, no cohesion in midfield, and little from the full-backs.
It was too comfortable for a Lyon team full of spirit, determination, heart and passion. A team which was well-organised and believed from the beginning that a big upset was possible. Coach Rudi Garcia and his players had a clear plan with a solid back five, together with a low and compact block. They were ahead in the tie after their 1-0 win in the first leg and were ready to run, to fight, to defend and to ride their luck a bit. That’s exactly what they did.
When the draw was made in December, not many people put a penny on Lyon going through. Eight months later, their exploits will be forever remembered. They won’t get such an easy ride against Manchester City in the quarterfinals in Lisbon next Saturday, but over 90 minutes and with such team unity, you can’t write them off.
On the Italian side of the Alps, however, they will try to forget Friday night as quickly as possible. It won’t be easy. The introspection has already started. Losing in the Champions League round of 16 for a club like Juventus is a failure. Losing over 180 minutes to a team which finished seventh in Ligue 1 and who had only played one competitive game in the last five months — when losing to Paris Saint-Germain on penalties in the Coupe de la Ligue final — is a massive failure.
The blame lies first and foremost on Maurizio Sarri, who has struggled all season to implement a DNA, his DNA, to this team. Of course, you cannot go from a Massimiliano Allegri style of football to a Sarri style in a blink of an eye, but there has been no improvement since he took over. Juve are playing now exactly like they were a year ago. This is a sum of individuals, not a team. The former Chelsea boss can come up with all the explanations he wants, even that he was quite satisfied by his team’s performance on Friday, but this was simply not good enough. It seemed inevitable that this result would cost him his job, and on Saturday afternoon Juve confirmed his sacking.
But this is also a failure of the Juventus hierarchy; Andrea Agnelli, Fabio Paratici and to a lesser degree Pavel Nedved. For years, the club was rightly lauded for the way it operated, for being so shrewd in the transfer market, clever and switched on in image and marketing. What they were building looked impressive. Yet, they have lost their way massively in the past three years. The signings of Matthijs De Ligt and Ronaldo look out of place, a chase for galacticos rather than actually building a properly balanced team.