Juventus 1-1 Nantes: Dominant Bianconeri held after ruthless Blas leveller

By Sports Desk February 16, 2023

Juventus dominated throughout but were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Nantes after Ludovic Blas scored a priceless equaliser in the Europa League play-off.

Massimiliano Allegri's side fell into this competition after a dire Champions League campaign, finishing third in Group H, but looked good value for their early first-leg lead on Thursday.

Dusan Vlahovic tapped home after 13 minutes at Allianz Stadium, only for Blas to finish a flowing counter-attack in the second half before Juve were left aggrieved after a late VAR check deemed Andrei Girotto had not handled for a penalty in the dying minutes.

That left it all to play for in the return meeting at Beaujoire Stadium on February 23 after a wasteful Juve offered Nantes the chance for a memorable European night at home.

Angel Di Maria stung the palms of Alban Lafont with an early drive and Nantes did not heed the opening warning signs from Argentina's World Cup winner.

A delicate Di Maria chipped pass found Federico Chiesa to selflessly nod across for Vlahovic to convert from point-blank range.

Lafont parried another ferocious Di Maria long-range effort as a tepid Nantes were fortunate to head in at half-time just a goal down.

A clinical counter-attack drew Nantes level on the hour as Blas capitalised on Bremer's slip to race onto Mostafa Mohamed's pass and fire past Wojciech Szczesny.

Chiesa rattled the crossbar and Lafont's left post with a venomous left-footed strike that somehow bounced off the line and away from goal as Juve looked to respond.

Danilo blazed over on the volley before Girotto was deemed not to have handled when challenging a late Bremer headed chance, with the referee awarding a free-kick for a push on Girotto instead, leaving it all to play for in France next week.

What does it mean? Juve falter in rare Europa League appearance

Juve had played their last 84 matches in European competition in the Champions League, as has been their dominance in recent years on the continent.

On their first appearance in the Europa League since reaching the 2013-14 semi-finals, Allegri's side failed to make their superiority count and were punished for a profligate outing.

Any hopes in Serie A have diminished due to their points deduction, therefore Juve need to recover in the return leg as a run in Europe or April's Coppa Italia semi-final against Inter could be their only hope of salvaging a positive season.

Chiesa and Vlahovic finally link-up again

Star Juve attackers Chiesa and Vlahovic have rarely played together due to injuries hampering the pair this season, but Allegri will be delighted to see them together once more.

The duo linked up in ruthless fashion for the opening strike, just their second combination together for a goal – the other coming in August 2019 when Vlahovic assisted Chiesa for former side Fiorentina.

Lafont leads the way

Lafont produced a captain's performance as Nantes battled with their backs against the wall to keep their hopes alive in this two-legged affair.

While the majority were far from eye-catching, the France goalkeeper made six saves in a vital performance to stave off Juve's prolonged periods of pressure.

What's next?

Juventus return to Serie A action at Spezia on Sunday, when Nantes travel to Lens in Ligue 1.

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