A week after their 1-1 draw at Turin, Nantes and Juventus faced off in a bouncing and buoyant Beaujoire with a Europa League last 16 spot on the line. Les Canaris started brightly, mounting pressure on the visitors’ penalty box. Juventus bit back immediately. Out of nowhere, Angel Di Maria whipped a first-time curler from the edge of the box in Alban Lafont’s top corner – a stunning goal. The Antoine Kombouaré-led side kept dominating proceedings though, with Juventus ready to pounce in the counter-attack.
Things went from bad to worse for the hosts. Di María made a mockery of Nantes’ backline, rounding past Lafont and shooting, only for centre-back Nicolas Pallois to deflect the attempt with his arm. Spanish referee José María Sánchez pointed to the spot and sent Pallois off, the Argentine world champion coolly dispatched. With a man and two goals down, Nantes had a proverbial mountain to climb.
Kombouaré reverted to play a 4-4-1 formation with Delort as sole striker while I Bianconeri made sure the game was played as slowly as possible. Juventus were close to making it three before half-time with Filip Kostić picking the ball from Fabien Centonze’s feet before slamming Lafont’s left post. With the advantage in numbers, the Serie A side enjoyed more time and space in the hosts’ half and set the tempo of the game as they pleased.
Juventus were all over Nantes’ penalty box to settle the tie once and for all but Lafont came to the fore. At the other side of the rain-soaked pitch, Wojciech Szczęsny had too little to do as the visitors made light work of Nantes’ strikers thanks to their tactical discipline. Eventually, Di Maria made it three in heading the ball just over Lafont’s goal-line. Nantes’ late push for a consolation goal was in vain.
Juventus prevailed and booked their place for the Europa League last 16 round. For Nantes, the European journey that started with their Coupe de France title ended here, but the Antoine Kombouaré-led side exceeded all expectations. In any case the gulf in class and standing, as shown by Di María, between Nantes and Juventus was there for all to see.
Nantes players ratings
Alban Lafont, 4 – Hard to blame him for Di María’s opener as nobody could have expected the Argentine to shoot, let alone score, from the edge of the box. But he really should have done better in the build-up leading to the second Juventus goal. Better in the second half with some class saves but, all in all, not decisive enough.
Fabien Centonze, 4
Andrei Girotto, 6
Jean-Charles Castelletto, 5
Nicolas Pallois, n/a – Sent off rather harshly and very early in the game as he deflected a Di María shot towards goal.
Moussa Sissoko, 4
Pedro Chirivella, n/a – For his 100th game for Nantes, the Spanish midfielder offered plenty of presence and solutions to his teammates. Unfortunately, as Nantes went a man down, he was replaced by right-back Charles Traoré.
Florent Mollet, 6 – It has been a while since Nantes had an attacking midfielder this good in ball-carrying abilities. Defense-wise, he looked the part too.
Ludovic Blas, 5 – The mercurial playmaker failed to provide his side an attacking spark, although he was very involved when going forward.
Moses Simon, 4 – Lost the ball to Nicolò Fagioli in his half leading to the opener and not really inspired in his decision-making on the right flank. A dull performance all around.
Andy Delort, 3 – Plenty of physicality and runs from the former Nice man, but he was expertly manhandled by Bremer and Danilo and was no threat for Szczęsny. Replaced at the break by Ignatius Ganago.
GFFN | Bastien Cheval