Roberto Di Matteo's line-up was so unfamiliar that nobody outside the Chelsea dressing room was certain even what formation he had chosen. Uefa's official team sheet showed three centre-backs, a best guess to which Di Matteo lent credence when he spoke pre-match of tactical tweaks that would make it "difficult for the opposition and give us a bit more cover when we're defending". But when the game started Chelsea's back four was intact, and César Azpilicueta's first Champions League appearance came in midfield rather than at wing-back. His presence in front of Branislav Ivanovic on the right may explain why in the first half Stephan Lichtsteiner did so much attacking on the other flank, where Ashley Cole had no such support. The importance of Azpilicueta's role became clear within a minute of his substitution, when Kwadwo Asamoah found space he had never previously enjoyed to set up the second.
When Di Matteo, below, refused on the eve of the match to guarantee a place in the side for Fernando Torres, the inference was that Daniel Sturridge might take his place in the starting XI. In the end neither was included, with a hamstring injury ruling Sturridge out of the match altogether and Eden Hazard the notional spearhead of a front three also including Juan Mata and Oscar, who had scored twice when the teams met in September. "We want to not give them a point of reference," Di Matteo said before kick-off, explaining Torres's omission in somewhat cryptic terms. Whatever he meant, Juventus were panicked at times by the fluent running of his attacking trio, certainly before the first goal swung the match in their favour, but Chelsea badly needed someone to act as a focus for their attacks and to profit from their creativity. A Didier Drogba figure, if you like.
The removal of Torres left Chelsea without anyone who has even faint memories of being considered a natural finisher, and meant that their most clinical penalty-area predator was probably Gary Cahill, who as a centre-back was unlikely to spend much time predating. This was an issue on the three occasions when the away team got the ball into dangerous positions within Juventus's penalty area. On the first Hazard might have shot first time, but took an extra touch and Gianluigi Buffon saved; on the second Oscar might have shot first time, but cut inside and found his path blocked; on the third Mata reached Hazard's excellent cross but appeared to want to control the ball, which bounced fairly harmlessly to Buffon. A natural striker, no matter how poor his form, might at least have mustered a shot from those three opportunities, and could only have made Chelsea more likely to score.
Since his majestic performance against England at Euro 2012, Andrea Pirlo has been all but beatified in parts of the British press but his performance here was far from saintly. While certainly not disastrous he was occasionally guilty of giving the ball away, once quite carelessly allowing Cole to take possession just outside Juventus's penalty area – excluding substitutes, 10 players passed more accurately. But his hex over the English is such that he won the game all the same, with the match decisively turned in his side's favour by a 30-yard shot from Pirlo's right foot that was far from masterful and would have presented little danger to Chelsea but for a fortunate deflection. It is a footballing cliche that "you can't win a raffle if you don't buy a ticket", but Chelsea were reminded of its truth – at both ends – last night.
The choice of a goalkeeper as captain remains controversial, conventional wisdom suggesting that a defender or midfielder is more likely to be able to influence a referee and show the chest-thumping spirit which supporters at least find more uplifting. But both teams here were led from the very back, and in the opening minutes it was clear that even if goalkeeping captains are not always inspirational, captaincy can inspire goalkeepers. In the opening 10 minutes Petr Cech spread himself well to deny Lichtsteiner an apparently certain goal,and dived smartly to push Claudio Marchisio's shot wide of the near post, while Buffon did even better to deny Hazard.