TURIN, Italy (Reuters) - Juventus were left to pick up the pieces on Wednesday after being stunned by Cristiano Ronaldo’s overhead goal in their Champions League clash against Real Madrid, with questions aimed at their stalwart defenders and playmaker Paulo Dybala.
Utterly dominant in Serie A, where they are on course for a seventh successive title, the Turin side have been found wanting in their most recent meetings with Europe’s elite clubs.
They were hammered 4-1 by Real Madrid in last year’s Champions League final, beaten 3-0 at Barcelona in the group stage this season and then lost by the same score to Real on Tuesday in their usually impregnable Allianz stadium.
Juventus fans have been left wondering whether their team were just the victims of Ronaldo’s brilliance or if the Turin side have been flattered all along by their Serie A results.
Juve played well for about an hour of Tuesday’s quarter-final first leg, when only a Keylor Navas reflex save denied them an equaliser, but they were ultimately outclassed and grateful to be spared more humiliation in the final 10 minutes.
Perhaps the biggest question mark concerns playmaker Paulo Dybala, who was sent off for a high challenge.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri had promised a “great performance” from the Argentine but, not for the first time, the 24-year-old known as ‘The Jewel’ did not quite live up to his billing, despite a lively and confident start.
He sent two free kicks into the Real wall and squandered a Juve counter-attack by kicking the ball out because Real’s Dani Carvajal was apparently injured, even though the referee did not stop play.
Dybala also reacted to the slightest touches by tumbling dramatically to the turf, an unfortunate aspect of his game which tends to go unpunished in Serie A but which had serious consequences on Tuesday.
A studs-up challenge on Carvajal just after Real’s second goal saw Dybala given his marching orders after he picked up a booking for a dive in the penalty area in the first half.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain, often criticised for faltering in big games, was largely blameless but the much-lauded Juve defence, which seemed to revel under pressure against Tottenham Hotspur in the previous round, suddenly looked vulnerable.
Real scored their first goal with nonchalant ease when Ronaldo was left unmarked in the penalty area and defender Andrea Barzagli, 36, acknowledged it was his mistake.
Ronaldo’s overhead masterpiece would not have happened without an awful mix-up between talismanic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, both part of the Italy team which astonishingly failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup.
Buffon rushed off his line but Chiellini touched the ball away from him, allowing Ronaldo to intercept and start the move that ended with his amazing bicycle kick goal.
Buffon has kept the public guessing over whether he will continue playing after this season but doubts are beginning to creep in over the form of the 40-year-old and there are suggestions he should stop while the going is good.
Second-choice Wojciech Szczesny has arguably looked more solid than Buffon when he has stepped in recently
“I don’t know when Buffon will stop but, for sure, a champion must leave when he has no more passion for what he does, when he cannot improve or when he does not play,” said former Juventus and Italy forward Alessandro Del Piero.
Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Ken Ferris