ISTANBUL -- Three things from Galatasaray's 1-0 win over Juventus that knocked the Serie A champion out of the Champions League ...
Istanbul's weather runs riot
In the daily dose of exaggerated Italian news headlines ahead of this fateful match, Tuttosport had warned Juventus of the "inferno of Istanbul." What greeted them, however, was not inferno, but hail, ice and snowstorms as Istanbul's unique climate dictated the order of proceedings before Wesley Sneijder saw Galatasaray claim second place in the group with a 1-0 victory.
The hail and snow came as the clock approached 30 minutes in the first half Tuesday, transforming a reasonable playing surface into a white blanket. The orange ball was summoned but did no good. The snowstorms continued through the night after the referee decided to abandon the match in the 31st minute, taking us into Day 2.
Wednesday, at 3 p.m. local time, saw the resumption of the game right where it had left off, with a dropped ball in the Galatasaray half. While the weather had steadied a few hours prior to kickoff, we were once again greeted with a blurry sky of snow as the first half began for the second time.
Paradoxically, the weather both made and destroyed the match as a spectacle. The novelty of a snow-covered pitch and the darting of the orange ball soon gave way to groans as passes lost their way in the stodgy mud of the halfway line. That spectacle, though, was reignited by Sneijder's winning goal in the 85th minute, allowing the Galatasaray fans to shake off their covering of snow in joyous excitement.
Mancini the tinkerman
Italian managers are often renowned for the tactical approach to the game and their canny ability to try different formations and combinations of players. Chelsea fans will remember their very own "tinkerman," Claudio Ranieri, and here in Istanbul, Galatasaray look to have theirs in Roberto Mancini.
Perhaps acutely aware of the way Juventus were to set up, Mancini sent his team out in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Gokhan Zan, Semih Kaya and Aurelien Chedjou comprising the pivotal back three. The former Manchester City boss had begun his Turkish tenure with a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid before opting for a 4-4-2 against second-placed Kasimpasa few weeks ago.
The challenge in all of Mancini's selections is to find a way to accommodate Sneijder in a free role, while remaining solid in the defensive part of the field. Before this match, Mancini had overseen just one clean sheet in his Galatasaray tenure, a particularly troubling statistic for a manager often praised for instilling defensive solidity into his team. Yet the roaming role afforded to Sneijder was to pay dividends for Mancini, as the Dutchman darted to the far post to prod home the winner, and secure Galatasaray’s place in the knockout stages.
The decision to field a 3-4-1-2 also drew upon the conundrum of integrating Didier Drogba and Burak Yilmaz into a coherent starting formation. At the beginning of his reign Mancini had fielded Burak on the left side of the "three" in a 4-2-3-1 system. His predecessor Fatih Terim had also, in part, done the same, though Burak continually looked unhappy, unwilling and unsuitable.
But in recent matches, including the 1-1 draw with Kasimpasa, Mancini pushed Burak centrally, allowing link-ups with Drogba and a more balanced attacking formation. Whilst the stodgy pitch prevented any attacking fluidity from either team, Mancini's tactical evolution as manager of Galatasaray looks to be coming to fruition.
Pogba restricted in Pirlo's absence
Given Manchester United's current midfield woes, the form of current European golden boy Paul Pogba has been keenly contrasted with the players at David Moyes' disposal. Yet in this truncated match and in the absence of Andrea Pirlo, the 20-year-old was asked to play a more defensive midfield role, sitting in front of Juve's defenders.
Patrick Vieira, a player whom Pogba is often lazily compared to, recently praised the young Frenchman as being more technically adept and attack-minded than he ever was. The "Pirlo-role," as the Italian's success has thus termed it, shackled Pogba, removing his possible influence from the attacking third.
Perfectly adept at performing that role and doing it comfortably, Pogba had a steady game. But steady isn't the benchmark for his blistering talent, capable of brushing off defenders and plunging long-range strikes beyond goalkeepers.
On numerous occasions the Frenchman set off on the gallop forward, only to check his run and remain in the conservative role Antonio Conte had ascribed to him. In many respects, his positioning and performance corresponded to Juve's overall display, comfortable in accepting the 0-0 draw that they presumed could be secured, unwilling to force the issue and secure a definite route to the Champions League knockout stages.
How sad that choice turned out to be for Juventus.