Vlahovic’s opener was perfect for Max Allegri. It gave him an excuse to sit deep, contain the hosts and hope for the best on the counter-attack.
Immediately, Juventus set up in a 5-4-1 low block – a similar blueprint to how they overcame Chelsea 1-0 back in September. Danilo and Alex Sandro tucked inside to support Matthijs de Ligt, Juan Cuadrado and Mattia De Sciglio were deep wing-backs while Alvaro Morata offered De Sciglio plenty of support down Villarreal’s right. In this instance, Vlahovic played the role of Federico Chiesa with the Serb occupying the last defender.
Initially, the plan was a success. Juve were compact and controlled in the opening 45 minutes and they looked a distinct threat in transition. Space was aplenty in behind the Villarreal defence. The hosts, meanwhile, were desperately missing the presence of Gerard Moreno in the box. With Juve so compact, their two primary avenues of chance creation were their overload and combinations down the left, and Samuel Chukwueze beating De Sciglio one-on-one. They were reliant on crosses and cut-backs, essentially.
Villarreal’s possession structure was competent throughout but they lacked a killer instinct in the final third. As a result, barely 0.5 xG was accumulated in the opening period between the two sides.
The visitors began the second half brightly before quickly fading. Errors started to creep in, the midfield lost control and Villarreal ominously started to sustain pressure. Eventually, their persistence told with Dani Parejo grabbing a deserved equaliser just after the hour. Juventus, even after Villarreal drew level, showed no intent to score again and their second shot on target didn’t arrive until the 85th-minute with a Vlahovic snap-shot.
By the end, the visitors had racked up a meagre xG of 0.6 with Villarreal’s haul 1.2. For 45 minutes, Juve were impressive and they executed Allegri’s plan to near-perfection. But, the second half proved the unsustainability of the manager’s default ideals. He’s utterly reliant on game state, and there’s no way he changes his ways throughout the knockout stages of this competition.
Every game will be a carbon copy of its predecessor and, in short, Allegri isn’t giving this Juventus side the best chance of winning football matches.