Juventus excellent in Europe again thanks to Sami Khedira masterclass
Nothing quite revives the Old Lady and inspires the fluidity of a harmonious team unit quite like the melody of the Champions League anthem. In Europe, Juventus are a different beast, inflicting defeat upon great champions to top the Group of Death.
On Wednesday night in the Juventus stadium, Sevilla were the latest side to experience the brilliance of a determined and aggressive Bianconeri side desperate for European honours.
El Pais described the match as a fight between children and men. La Gazzetta dello Sport dedicated Thursday's front page to "The Lady of Europe." In a match between two teams struggling for domestic success, Juve showed great maturity by putting their problems aside and working together towards one objective -- European victory.
Never once betrayed by nerves or slight hesitation, the club and its fans can be optimistic again. The character of the side is still very much alive and kicking and with Sami Khedira back and performing like the experienced champion he is, one can only imagine a brighter future.
This blog has consistently noted the importance of recovering Claudio Marchisio and Khedira. In a squad full of young talent and new recruits, the team requires intelligence, experience and leadership in midfield to help direct the game and inspire the others.
Throwing Khedira into the starting line-up despite his recent return from injury, Massimiliano Allegri's gamble paid off as the midfielder dazzled from start to finish, earning the loud cheers of the fans who passionately applauded his performance.
A champion whose midfield displays flutter the heart, Khedira immediately understood Allegri's tactical patterns to make a huge impact. Occupying space, making intelligent runs and taking up the right positions to facilitate his teammates' movements, the German international played as a leader does, always and only for the sake of the unit.
At long last, there is a midfielder on the pitch who can help direct the talent of the youngsters around him, helping to expose their unique and varied skill set. His presence alone considerably improved the team's performance, one only imagines how much better the team would perform once they welcome Marchisio back into the fold.
With the pressure piling and critics viciously demanding answers for Juve's collapsing identity, Allegri showed courage and won the tactical battle against a coach heavily coveted by Italy's top teams all summer, Sevilla's Unai Emery. Allegri opted to play his best men in a formation that dazzled as it not only masked the absence of a real right-back but it exploited the surprising strengths of certain players, such as Andrea Barzagli.
Finally, critics and fans were allowed to watch Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata together again, a treat for those who believe this is the perfect attacking partnership. Friends off the pitch, the Spaniard's confidence and ruthlessness perfectly complement the creativity and intelligence of the Argentine alongside him, one who worked tirelessly for the sake of the team.
Mesmeric on the ball, Dybala is a special talent who with a little time and continuity can grow into a champion. Many doubted his ability to make the jump to a big team, especially considering the considerable fee paid for his services yet the youngster has proved himself, showing off the mentality of a winner. Fighting for every ball before executing wonderful dribbles forward, Dybala is a player for the future, especially if he can improve his physicality and polish off his raw talent.
With Morata alongside him, one can already see the perfect partnership blossoming. The Spaniard certainly knows how to score in Europe, notching up five goals in his last five matches in the Champions League. A player of immense ability and superb technique, he is the man to entrust to lead the Bianconeri line.
While the new kids on the block impressed those who still yearn for the departed, Juventus' win was largely thanks to the veterans within the team. Leonardo Bonucci gave yet another commendable performance while Giorgio Chiellini was his usual monstrous self, closing down the little danger Emery's men created.
However, it was Barzagli who truly dazzled, interpreting Allegri's skewed 3-5-2 formation perfectly. A defender who has yet to slow down, he ran relentlessly and perfectly managed the duality of the role required of him -- penetrating the wing with ease to dispatch accurate crosses as well as securing the defence. After all, it was he who delivered the all-important assist to help Morata score Juve's first goal of the night.
Taking nothing away from the brilliant Old Lady, Sevilla hardly put up much of a challenge. The Spaniards have struggled this season and are missing several of their first choice players but many still expected a little more desire or at least a little more aggression from a side that won the Europa League only a few months ago.
Shackled by nerves and focused on playing a defensive game where their only objective was not to concede, they made life difficult for the Italians when it came to creating but Gianluigi Buffon could have taken the night off and we would have been none the wiser considering the lack of interest shown in attacking the Juve back-line.
Managing only one shot at goal, Los Nervionenses saw plenty of the ball yet struggled to keep it for long enough. As soon as a Bianconero applied enough pressure, the Andalusians would surrender possession and accept defeat.
Noticeable against Rayo Vallecano and again so on Wednesday evening, Sevilla are struggling with the physical toll of playing in so many competitions. As Emery himself admitted, the intensity of the performance required in Champions League matches are different to those needed to win Europa League games and his players are exhausted, seemingly incapable of playing energetically for the duration of the match.
It was only a matter of time before they conceded a second, especially when Simone Zaza and all his determination arrived on the pitch.
A night to celebrate, Juventus deserve to top their Champions League group. All they need now is to show they can manage similar performance levels in the league.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.