Monday, December 4

Dusan Vlahovic makes his Champions League mark as Juventus held by Villarreal

Dusan Vlahovic scored 31 seconds into his Champions League debut as Juventus drew 1-1 at Villarreal in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday.

Dani Parejo scored for Villarreal in the 66th minute, leaving the tie poised for the decider in Italy with the away-goal rule scrapped this season. Juventus suffered a further blow when midfielder Weston McKennie was forced off in the 8oth minute with a fractured left foot.

Just moments after kick-off, Vlahovic had shown why Juventus picked him to provide the goals they have been missing since the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo when he scored a superb goal on his first contact with the ball.

After using his chest to control a long pass from Danilo, the 22-year-old Serbia striker did not hesitate to take on the centre-backs Pau Torres and Raúl Albiol. He used one touch to prepare, his shot taken with his weaker right foot while he spun toward the goal. The low effort grazed the foot of a defender before squirting in at an angle past the goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli.

It was his second goal with Juventus since the team secured his transfer from Fiorentina in January. “[Vlahovic] is a very young player and he scored in his very first Champions League game, so imagine what a career he has in front of him,” the Juventus forward Álvaro Morata said of his new strike partner.

Villarreal tried to respond through their speed on the flanks. Alfonso Pedraza stole the ball and sped from the left side of the box before he laid off for Giovani Lo Celso, only for his scuffed attempt to find the top of the left post in the 13th minute.

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Dani Parejo celebrates with Étienne Capoue after equalising for Villarreal.
Dani Parejo celebrates with Étienne Capoue after equalising for Villarreal. Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Vlahovic also impressed with his ability to pull down long balls for his teammates in the first half. But Parejo’s 66th-minute equaliser came just after Albiol made it his mission to take away that outlet.

Following Albiol’s challenge to win the ball from Juventus’s new striker, the Italians betrayed their defensive pedigree when they gave Étienne Capoue time to pick out a run forward by fellow midfielder Parejo. Juve’s backline compounded that mistake by leaving Parejo free of a marker as he fired low to make it 1-1.

“When they score in the first minute, it ruins your game plan. But even so, we knew how to hang in there and go for the match,” Parejo said. “To draw 1-1 after starting from behind, I am satisfied with how we played and the chances we created against a giant like Juventus.”

Vlahovic almost conjured up the winner with five minutes remaining with a powerful shot that Rulli did well to stop. The USA midfielder McKennie was substituted after he received a hard tackle into his lower left leg by the substitute Pervis Estupiñán.

Juventus are trying to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2018-19 after losing in the last 16 in the past two seasons, while Villarreal, last season’s Europa League champions, are back in the knockout rounds of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in 13 years. The second leg will be played in Turin on 16 March.

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