Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero warned Atletico Madrid on Wednesday that his old club had a new game plan that “almost always delivers excellent results in the Champions League: It’s called CR7!”
Certainly, Cristiano Ronaldo repeatedly proved decisive for Real Madrid in Europe: he scored 50 times in the knockout stage alone for the Blancos.
Hardly surprising, then, that a giddy Italian press expected the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to almost singlehandedly win the tournament for new club Juve.
On the morning of Wednesday’s last-16 first leg against Atletico Madrid, the Gazzetta dello Sport even demanded, “Giant, you take care of it!”
He couldn’t, though. Ronaldo may have stood tall on his return to the Spanish capital but even he could do nothing about a dire team performance.
It wasn’t for the want of trying, with the 34-year-old very nearly opening the scoring inside eight minutes with a thumping free-kick that Jan Oblak did well to palm over the bar.
Ultimately, though, the Portuguese proved powerless to prevent Juventus from slumping to a 2-0 defeat at a vibrant Wanda Metropolitano that leaves the Old Lady staring elimination in the face.
We should haven’t been surprised either. Ronaldo has scored a staggering 22 goals in just 31 games against Atletico but those numbers are somewhat misleading.
He has endured nearly as many frustrating meetings with the Rojiblancos as he has fruitful.
Indeed, he had failed to score in four of his previous five Champions League games against Atleti. Make that five of the past six now.
Ronaldo was not to blame at all for Juve’s loss, though. He took the fight to Atleti right until the end but he was let down by a midfield devoid of creativity and an unusually sloppy defence.
This was, rather, a collective failing, with Juve enjoying plenty of possession but demonstrating next-to-no penetration.
By contrast, Atletico saw little of the ball for long periods during the first half but always carried the greater attacking threat.
They were by far the more dangerous side in the second period too.
Diego Costa fluffed a one-on-one, Antoine Griezmann hit the bar and Alvaro Morata had a header harshly ruled out by VAR for a slight push on Giorgio Chiellini – all before Jose Gimenez deservedly broke the deadlock by pouncing on a loose ball in the area.
Sensing blood, Diego Simeone’s snarling side then doubled their advantage through their other Uruguayan centre-half, with Diego Godin firing home after Juve had once again failed to deal with a cross.
“We knew they were very dangerous from set-pieces and we had to be more focused in those situations,” Chiellini lamented afterwards.
Juve appealed to VAR to save them again after both goals but their luck had run out.
They then looked to Ronaldo to bail them out but, as he desperately extended himself to reach a deep cross to the far post in the dying seconds, he could only divert his header over the bar.
“Having Cristiano is an advantage,” coach Massimiliano Allegri said of Juve’s Champions League hopes beforehand, “but it’s not enough.”
It certainly wasn’t here in Madrid. And it won’t be in Turin in three weeks’ time either unless Allegri and Juve come up with a proper game plan.
Relying solely on CR7 is no longer an option.