The details of how goals are actually scored are often glossed over by fans, pundits, and even coaches and players. Last night, in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal between Juventus and Real Madrid, Alvaro Morata scored a goal which came after a 27 pass sequence. This became the headline, and rightfully so, especially since it set a new record in the European competition.
The easy takeaway is that Juventus demonstrated beautifully the power and precision of possession football (forgive the alliteration). Yet what matters, ultimately, is the final sequence. How did Juventus eventually break through the Madrid backline?
Here to me is the one moment that matters: pass number 23 (I think). Stephan Lichtsteiner finds himself in possession out wide to the left, a little deep from goal. The Real Madrid defense is well-organized. All the lovely passing in the world doesn’t matter much if there is no precise final ball.
Lichtsteiner engages in a simple back and forth passing sequence with Claudio Marchisio. A couple of things to note: a large gap forms in the Real Madrid backline and Juventus’ ability to string the ball around may in part have to do with Madrid’s reluctance to press much in their own final third.
However, Marchisio’s patience pays off as Carlos Tevez immediately runs into the gap left by Marcelo, who may have been having flashbacks to his World Cup semifinal performance against Brazil last summer.
Tevez takes a quick shot to the far post. Had Iker Casillas been a foot to his right, he picks up that ball. Moreover, if Pepe doesn’t take a slight stutter step before Morata beats him to the parried shot, he prevents the goal.
The point of all this is not to negate Juventus’ passing performance. Rather, it’s to illustrate that goals are the stuff of moments, of defensive lapses, pinpoint vision and anticipation, and a little bit of luck.