Europa League verdict: Juventus 1 Manchester City 1
Goals: Gianetti 43 mins for Juventus. Jo 77 mins for City.
City came away from a sub-zero Stadio Olimpico with the result they needed to finish as group winners, following a second half strike by Jo levelling Gianetti’s 43rd minute opener. While City predictably fielded a reserve team, Juventus put out a strong side featuring the likes of del Piero, Krasic, Chiellini, Melo and Sissoko.
Consequently a draw was a more than satisfactory result, even if the match itself was never going to be a classic in front of 6,992 supporters. Mancini showed his quality when bringing on Zabaleta and enabling City to take control of midfield and force the equaliser.
The starting line-up was closer to a 4-4-2 formation than we’re used to seeing by Mancini. Jo and Alex Tchuimeni-Nimely started up front, with the 20 year-old making his first start for the senior side.
As expected Wright-Phillips and Adam Johnson played on the flanks with Vieira and Milner in the middle. The central pairing did a steady job, as they had against Salzburg.
Whether they would be good enough at the highest level is open to question. Vieira shows moments of quality, finding space and spreading the play. Milner is better for being more involved, but still plays too many poor balls.
Boateng and Boyata were a new centre-back pairing and it showed at times. Several times Boateng strayed out of position and there wasn’t the resolute tackling we get with Kolo and Kompany.
Forgotten man Wayne Bridge made a surprisingly decent return to the side. Up against Krasic this could have been a weak link in our defence, but the former Chelsea man defended stoutly and augmented the attack with his trademark runs.
After a bright start where Jo could have scored from a Richards cross, Juventus gradually came into the game. The match became a midfield stalemate with neither side pushing too hard for a goal.
Del Piero looked the greatest threat and City needed to keep a watchful eye on the veteran. In the second half, the introduction of Zabaleta with his more abrasive tackling managed to subdue the old maestro.
One City attack towards the end of the first half resulted in Milner having a shot blocked and Juve broke upfield. Del Piero exposed the limitations of Richards defending, turning him inside out before sending over a cross. A well timed run by teenage debutant Gianetti enabled him to steal in ahead of Boyata and score. Another lesson here for the Belgian youngster.
In the second half, City again started the brighter with Jo coming close to getting on the scoresheet. The Brazilian had a goal disallowed for offside after 50 minutes. It could have been given as he looked to be level with the full-back.
A Jo cross was laid off by Nimely for Adam Johnson, who elected to cut inside rather than shoot first time, and saw his effort deflected over. Chiellini then blocked a Nimely shot with his arm and got away with it after 58 minutes.
It proved to be Nimely’s last contribution as Mancini used his tactic of replacing an attacker with a more defensive player when we were chasing the game. It worked.
Zabaleta sat deep in midfield, allowing Vieira and Milner to push up. It was a subtle change, but one that enabled us to dominate possession and play higher up the pitch. Jo played as a lone striker. Juve conformed to the Italian stereotype and appeared content to defend the 1-0 lead.
Adam Johnson became a stronger influence and eventually played in Jo after 77 minutes. A lovely turn and low shot into the corner brought us deservedly level.
City continued to press for a winner before Juve ventured forward themselves. The final few minutes then saw both sides settle for a draw with Mancini giving an injury time debut to Chris Chantler on his birthday.
“I am delighted, because that was what we wanted before the game.
“I am happy with the result, but especially I am happy for the players with the way they played.”
Juventus depart the Europa League unbeaten after a remarkable six draws. City, as group winners, now have the satisfaction of a reasonable draw against Greek side Aris in the knockout stages.
It’s a draw that is likely to see Mancini continue to rest some of his senior players. The longer he can do this, the better for our Premier League campaign. That is the real bonus of finishing top of the group.