Real Madrid secured a berth in the Champions League knockout round as they earned a valuable draw in Turin.
Antonio Conte introduced Leonardo Bonucci to his starting eleven for the suspended Giorgio Chiellini, while Kwadwo Asamoah slotted in at left back for Angelo Ogbonna.
Carlo Ancelotti made a few changes to the side that defeated Juventus at the Santiago Bernabeu a few weeks ago. Gareth Bale and Xabi Alonso made their first starts in the Champions League this season, while Raphael Varane’s inclusion in the back four, pushed Sergio Ramos to right back.
This match showcased a recurring theme that’s been displayed by both sides this season – Juventus dominated the opening 45 minutes, but Real Madrid’s energetic pressing led to a vast improvement in their second half performance.
Conte’s men mirrored the approach utilized at the Bernabeu, by dropping into a 4-5-1 without the ball. Claudio Marchisio and Carlos Tevez were instructed to prevent Sergio Ramos and Marcelo from pushing forward, but they sat narrow alongside the midfield three to minimize gaps. They had a fairly easy time coping with Madrid due to the lack of cohesion in Ancelotti’s attack. Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were higher up the pitch, while Modric and Khedira sat close to Alonso in a deeper position.
With Madrid’s full backs monitored, and their midfield unable to find gaps in central areas, Conte’s men didn’t face many issues on the defensive end. Khedira didn’t offer any attacking threat going forward, and Vidal admirably tracked Modric, when he attempted to dribble forward. In particular, Vidal was superb in midfield, breaking up play with his combative tackles, intercepting passes and quickly leading the transition from defence to attack.
Similar to the fixture two weeks ago, Madrid was stifled in midfield, and this was down to Ancelotti’s approach and Juventus’ shape.
Pirlo vs. Alonso
Ancelotti was pleased to welcome back Alonso to the side, seeing as they missed a player of his stature in midfield. Like Pirlo, Alonso sits deeper in midfield, but he tends to play diagonal cross-field balls to build the attack. It’s a key element in Madrid’s game that they’ve lacked during his absence, as no other midfielder in Ancelotti’s squad possesses his passing range.
The key feat in both approaches was the ability to nullify the prolific deep-lying playmakers. At the Bernabeu we witnessed Karim Benzema press Pirlo for a small portion of the match to some effect, but allowed the Italian to dictate the match in the latter stages, prior to Giorgio Chiellini’s sending off. And once again Benzema was handed the duty to track Pirlo when Juventus had possession of the ball.
Nonetheless, one of the main components that led to Juventus’ superiority in midfield was Pirlo’s freedom and Conte’s intent on nullifying Alonso. Benzema’s defensive work on Pirlo didn’t improve, and once again the Italian maestro was free to facilitate passes into the channels and wide areas.
However, Conte was weary of Alonso’s threat, and instructed Llorente to close him down whenever he received the ball.
The contrast in forward passes is evident between the two deep-lying playmakers, and it was down to the work ethic of both strikers.
It was strange seeing Bonucci given time on the ball considering his proficient range of passing, and for the most part Juventus had two exceptional passing outlets available going forward. Ancelotti’s defensive tactics were once again naïve, and it led to Juventus’ first half superiority. Alonso’s impact on the match was limited, and this is an approach most sides will take if they encounter Madrid in the latter stages of this competition.
Space in wide areas
Although Juve’s attacking approach was logical, they enjoyed space in wide areas due to Madrid’s shape. The initial aim was to drop into two banks of four without the ball, which explains why it was odd to see Ancelotti’s men defend with seven men – leaving the three attackers higher up the pitch.
With Madrid already outnumbered in midfield, Ancelotti’s men couldn’t afford to leave their fullbacks without sufficient protection. Initially Asamoah was cautious about surging into advanced position – which was logical based on Madrid’s threat on the counter – thus handing the onus to Caceres to get forward. The Uruguayan took advantage of the space behind Ronaldo, and was one of Pirlo’s favored passing option aft. In the second half, it was Caceres’ cross that found Llorente in the box, which saw Conte’s men equalize.
Juve’s superiority in midfield was clear in the first fixture, and the spare man was often Paul Pogba, as Khedira failed to track his runs. Pogba produced another decent outing on the left side, specifically on the break as he freely attacked space. Specifically, there were two separate occasions – besides his outside foot cross that deflected off of Pepe – that led to legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.
- Vidal did well to sustain possession and played a scintillating ball to Pogba, who drove forward and played a pass to the oncoming Tevez. Tevez looked up and delivered a quality cross to the back post towards Marchisio, but Iker Casillas denied the Italian midfielder.
- Llorente received a flick-on from Vidal, and dropped deep with the ball to play a pass to Tevez on the flank. Tevez drove at the defence, and played an incisive ball into the box for the advancing Pogba. Pogba received the ball, forcing Varane to come across and make a last-ditch tackle on the French midfielder, thus resulting in a penalty.
Juventus were exceptional in the first half, and a few top-class Casillas saves prevented Conte’s men from increasing their lead. Nevertheless, Madrid’s shape without the ball was bizarre, yet beneficial to Juventus, who penetrated space in wide areas.
Ancelotti’s men enjoyed a great start to the second half, and that was down to their work rate without the ball. Opposed to the first half, where Juventus was allowed to freely play out of the back, Ancelotti instructed his men to press higher up the pitch. Madrid’s front six squeezed Juventus in their own half and forced them to either play long balls or concede possession in their own half.
Conte’s men were unable to sustain possession and break past Madrid’s press, which ultimately led to Ronaldo’s equalizer. Luka Modric pressed Caceres, Ronaldo cut off the passing lane to Andrea Barzagli, Karim Benzema was near Bonucci and Alonso closed down Pirlo. Caceres played a poor pass into Benzema, and the Frenchman ran towards the Juventus defence, before playing in Ronaldo, who solemnly chipped Gianluigi Buffon.
Ancelotti’s men posed a sufficient attacking threat when they pressed high, as they won the ball in key areas in the final third, and began to dictate the match.
There’s been a recurring theme in the way both sides perform in the final 45 minutes of matches, and it was displayed in the second half. Madrid have produced more adventurous displays in the second half, while Juventus endure massive energy dip in their performance levels.
There was an overall improvement in Madrid’s second half performance, and the success of their high press proved to be beneficial. Juventus began to drop deeper into their third when Madrid had possession of the ball, and Modric was more inventive with his passing.
The Croatian midfielder began to push forward into attacking positions, as he picked out positive passes between the lines and in wide areas.
Also, Ramos began to push forward in the latter stages of the second half, as Tevez failed to track his runs. There were two separate occasions that saw Ramos fouled by Bonucci at the edge of the box, and his shot being blocked in the 18-yard box, after beating Asamoah in a 1v1. Madrid posed a larger threat on the break – Ronaldo and Benzema were receiving balls between the lines and Ancelotti urged his men to play Ronaldo into 1v1 situations. Juventus did have their chances in the second half, but a lack of penetration in the final third and quality in their passes, prevented them from nicking a winner.
Casillas’ brilliance in the opening 45 minutes, along with Madrid’s improved second half display secured first place in Group B. Both sides looked threatening on the counter, but all four goals were down to defensive miscues, highlighting how vulnerable both sides were without the ball.
Ancelotti’s initial tactics were questionable, but once again Madrid produced a positive second half performance to earn a point. Their defensive shape, and their overall build up play between midfield and attack still needs grooming, but Madrid continue to find ways to win during this significant transitional period.
“I’m leaving here feeling satisfied with my team’s second-half performance,” Ancelotti said.
“The reaction was very good on our part. After the break we were much better in terms of courage and aggression,” he added.
On the other hand, Juventus are in a favourable predicament ahead of their final two matches. Conte will be disappointed with their second half dip, but progression is still attainable. Two wins and they’re in. It sounds straightforward, but Conte’s men will need to improve on both ends if they want to achieve maximum points.
“We deserve more points than we have, but when you face a team like Real Madrid, who have players that can turn the match around in a few minutes, there’s not much you can do,” Conte said.
“My team played a great game tonight – we played very well especially in the first half, just like we had planned to. It’s the sixth game in 18 days for us and it’s normal to be a little tired,” he added.