It was a night when Thomas Tuchel came to want something, anything, in the last third. At first it was to blow up this meeting of the Champions League Group H bigwigs open up and later, when Juventus enjoyed the dominance given them by the impressive Federico Chiesa right after the break, it was simply to save a point.
the Chelsea Manager tried a lot. He sent five substitutes in the second half, including the youngest, Ross Barkley, and made adjustments to his system, the biggest of which was when he pushed Kai Havertz as second forward.
But it was a night when Chelsea ran aground, when they simply lacked the cunning to overcome a Juventus defense directed by Leonardo Bonucci. The captain had one of those nights where you wondered if there was a better defense in Europe.
In the 83rd minute, Romelu Lukaku finally walked away from him to the left of the goal only to cut his shot slightly and sent him wide. That was the great opportunity, the main regret for Chelsea. It wasn’t Lukaku’s night and it wasn’t Havertz’s either. He headed a half-chance out of goal in the 88th minute and another at the end.
Juventus is in a strange stage. For the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season, they cannot call themselves champions of Italy and it was certainly shaken on Tuesday of last week when Max Allegri, who is back in charge of management, described the game in Spezia as a “Relegation showdown”.
His team had their worst start in 60 years and, although they won and followed with a victory over Sampdoria on Sunday, they are only 10th in the table.
Allegri had started with Chiesa on the left but moved him in quite quickly; the 4-1-4-1 turns into a 4-4-2, with Adrien Rabiot left. Federico Bernardeschi, who started as the false nine, also fell at times. Chiesa’s rhythm was a tonic for the hosts.
It was very tactical: a game of patience, of pressing for a mistake or just waiting for one. Mateo Kovacic had two in the first quarter and Chelsea was lucky to get away with it. The first was a loose pass that went straight to Rabiot, who made ground and could see Bernardeschi free on the other side. He only had to play with him alone that he hit the ball too much, much to the frustration of the local support.
The second came when Kovacic shorted Andreas Christensen midway and Chiesa walked away. Christensen, who was the last man, thought about controlling it and then thought better of it. Chiesa, chased by Antonio Rüdiger, opened up a bit more than he would have liked before drilling past the far post.
Chelsea offered nothing as an offensive force in open play before the break. His only clear opening came early on when Marcos Alonso threw a corner back for Romelu Lukaku, who had escaped into space. He had to do it first time in the turn and the technique had to be perfect. It was not like that, the shot lacked power and went straight to Wojciech Szczesny.
Juventus cursed when Bernardeschi hit a free kick from the edge of the box into the Chelsea wall. It was a forgettable first half.
But the second period broke out at the beginning. Rabiot won a header and it was Bernardeschi who pushed Chiesa, who, in general, was already moving from right to left, giving an option, sensing the possibility. Rüdiger fell back, but Chiesa’s shot was just too cute, hitting the near top corner.
Tuchel had traded Alonso for Ben Chilwell at halftime. Now his team needed to respond. They needed to move the ball faster to break the Juventus lines. At the start of the match, the home team seemed a bit nervous. How they grew. It became a test of Chelsea’s credentials.
Tuchel shuffled around. Trevoh Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek entered midfield, which felt quite experimental. Callum Hudson-Odoi came in from the right side. The staff changed, but the focus did not. Chelsea probed slowly and patiently. And yet it was Juventus that came close to scoring again, as they looked sharper and sharper at halftime.
Rabiot played a long diagonal down the right and was a well-cushioned first-half center that created an opportunity for Bernardeschi in front of goal. He had to score just to get up.
Tuchel moved Kai Havertz to the front with Lukaku in a 3-1-4-2. When he brought in Barkley, he dropped Chaloabh in the bottom three. The rear of the wings pushed high. But there would be no way to get through it.