Juventus Advance Past Freiburg, Draw Sporting In Europa League Quarter Finals

The UEFAEFA Europa League seems to have been a welcome distraction for Juventus in recent weeks as the Italian club continued their progress and advanced to the quarter-finals on Thursday night.

In fact, before the second leg in Germany, the Bianconeri had lost just one of their last 10 games, a streak dating back to early February when they quickly found balance in the constant rhythm of midweek games in Europe followed by a weekend in the streak A

Juve were already 1-0 clear of SCSC Freiburg thanks to their first-leg win in Turin and headed to Germany to build on that advantage and maintain the momentum they saw in eliminating Nantes from the Europa League and beating Salernitana at home Fiorentina, Spezia, Turin and Sampdoria.

Things got more difficult as Leonardo Bonucci, Paul Pogba, Arkadiusz Milik and Alex Sandro were all out injured, while Angel Di Maria and Federico Chiesa could only be called up as substitutes due to lack of fitness.

Freiburg almost equalized immediately when Ritsu Doan missed a huge chance before Wojciech Szczęsny saved a superb Matthias Ginter header from a well-crafted corner.

Manuel Locatelli missed Juve’s best chance when his shot went straight to goalkeeper Mark Flekken before VAR was on hand to deny Dusan Vlahovic a long-awaited goal.

A dangerous set piece saw a header from Gleison Bremer land on the crossbar, only for Moise Kean to send the rebound straight to Vlahovic, who fired in from close range.

Kean was caught offside in replays and the next 20 minutes passed almost without incident before the visitors besieged the Freiburg goal just before half-time.

A shot from Kean was blocked by Flekken’s legs and then Ginter cleared a follow-up attempt from Ginter’s Federico Gatti on the line, only for the VAR to decide Manuel Gulde’s raised arm had stopped him first.

The defender had already been warned, so referee Serdar Gözübüyük only gave Juve a yellow-red card and a penalty.

Vlahovic started, no doubt aware of his long goal drought that stretched back to 16 February against Nantes. In fact, the 23-year-old went six games without scoring, a streak that saw him go five Serie A games without a goal for the first time in his career.

Adding to the drama was the fact that Vlahovic even missed a penalty against Sampdoria just four days earlier, leading to this La Gazzetta dello Sport giving him a rating of just 5.5 out of 10 and calling the striker “inaccurate but also unlucky”.

It was no surprise that Vlahovic was then a bit nervous but his shot had enough power to go in, although Flekken’s leg almost saved it and Juve went into the break 2-0 on aggregate.

Despite an extra man advantage, Freiburg did well after the break and kept trying to force their way back into the lead. However, their resistance ended when Max Allegri introduced Chiesa. The winger made an instant impression after coming on as a substitute in the 70th minute.

A solo run produced a shot that tipped the crossbar before finally finding the back of the net in added time and smashing home an Adrien Rabiot pass with consummate ease.

“I want to be here, I want to help the team and the club after what they did for me,” Chiesa, who was out for almost a year with a cruciate ligament rupture, told Sky Italia shortly after the final whistle.

“My priority is to be available to the coach,” he continued. “Unfortunately that wasn’t possible in the last few games. I’m working hard to be even more ready, but I’m still a little uncomfortable.”

Allegri also admitted his own unease, the coach completely unhappy with the way his side were allowing Freiburg to play against each other despite playing with 10 men for over an hour.

“It was important to get through, we played well in the first half but we need to improve when we’re in the lead and have an extra man,” Juve coach told Sky Italia in his own post-match interview .

“We have to make better decisions when we’re on the ball. We lowered our intensity and focus and made life difficult for ourselves. Whether they had 10 or 11 men, that shouldn’t change anything.”

From Juventus’ point of view, progressing was important and they did with Friday’s draw for the quarter-finals where they face Sporting before the winner takes on the winners of Sevilla and Manchester United.

They’ve started to gain momentum but with league and cup games against Inter next week, followed by games with Lazio and Napoli on either side of Sporting duels, the coming month will certainly see the old lady’s newfound resolve put the test.

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