If you’re reading this piece on Wednesday after watching the second leg of Juventus versus Porto, odds are you still haven’t processed what happened in the 120-minute match. The Portuguese outfit knocked the Italian giants out of the UEFA Champions League—despite losing the second leg 3-2—after one of the craziest European matches in recent memory. It had everything a neutral spectator could ask for: goals galore, disciplinary drama, late game heroics and David defeating Goliath. In addition, it also had a sprinkle of Chelsea influence on both sides.
For Juventus, Alvaro Morata and Juan Cuadrado rifled multiple shots into the outstretched hands of the keeper and off the bar. The former Chelsea men failed to convert a plethora of chances on the night, which could’ve seen the Old Lady advance. That being said, it was Chelsea loanee Malang Sarr who stole headlines amongst Blues faithful.
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Sarr did not start the game, but he was introduced in the 62′, replacing Otavio following striker Mehdi Taremi’s red card minutes earlier. Porto was down to 10-men and trying to cling to a one-goal advantage in the tie. Ultimately the Portuguese side was unable to do so, relying on an extra time Sergio Oliveira goal to get it through after conceding the tying goal 50 minutes prior. Despite all of this, the defender on loan from Chelsea played a crucial role in helping Porto advance.
Sarr was pivotal in shutting down countless Juventus attacks throughout the closing stages of the UCL tie. This included a few one-on-one clashes with Cristiano Ronaldo. As much as reading that sentence is enough to stop a majority of people in their tracks out of fear; however, the 22-year-old was more than up for the task. Aside from one careless giveaway moments after coming on, the Frenchman didn’t put a foot wrong in the match. His performance had Blues fans buzzing. Not to mention, he almost broke the internet with one of the best shots of the night from 25-30 yards out. Sarr’s wonderful attempt was ultimately saved, but his defensive contributions booked Porto a ticket into the quarterfinals.
Does Sarr’s success at Porto translate into him getting a shot at Chelsea soon?
Sarr’s future at Stamford Bridge is unclear seeing as the club was always focused on sending him out on loan after buying him. The Blues have also had a managerial chance since then. Funnily enough, the hiring of Thomas Tuchel may work in the defender’s favor. Tuchel spent time at Paris Saint-Germain before arriving in west London and while there, his side faced the former Nice man on numerous occasions. The young centerback displayed his versatility front and center for the German gaffer to see a few times. Sarr played at his natural position in 2018 versus PSG, while also being deployed as a left back twice in 2019. Tuchel will be pleased to know that he is capable of playing in a back four or back three, as well.
Sarr’s quietly been one of the world’s best young centerback prospects for years now. He’s got a tremendous CV for a 22-year-old and the fact he was able to join Chelsea as a free agent was nothing short of a miracle. The back line is crowded at the moment, but if the Blues decide to part ways with multiple first team defenders, Sarr will be one of the first names on the list of potential substitutes.
The young Frenchman hasn’t played as much as his parent club perhaps would have hoped at Porto, but learning under Pepe is an invaluable experience. Sarr has also played a pivotal role in getting the Portuguese club into the quarterfinal of the Champions League, which is great for his development.
The fantastic tie between Porto and Juventus was exactly the event Sarr needed to take part in to announce his arrival to Chelsea fans. For many, this was the first time seeing the centerback play and it was a helluva first impression made by the Frenchman. Sarr will have to put in a lot of work if he wants to get into the Blues’ first team, but if Tuesday’s Champions League match was anything to go by, he’ll pass any test with flying colors.