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Juventus 3-0 Barcelona

Similar to Barcelona’s trip to PSG last month, Juventus’s emphatic first leg triumph further highlighted the Spanish champions’ issues under Luis Enrique.

There were no real surprises to Juventus XI. Gonzalo Higuain started ahead of Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado. Meanwhile, Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira protected Max Allegri’s experience back-line.

Enrique was without the suspended Sergio Busquets, which forced the Barcelona manager to field Javier Mascherano in midfield, whereas Jeremy Mathieu was a surprise member in the away side’s back-line.

Juve’s wonderful start to the match was a combination of exploiting the away side’s weaknesses along with their imbalanced shape, which ultimately defined the overall tempo of the match.

Juve squeeze early

One of the key elements to Juve’s success was their quick start. In the opening minutes, Higuain had already spurned a free header from six-yards out via Pjanic’s free-kick.

But from open play, Juve’s high-pressing ensured Barcelona couldn’t settle into their preferred tempo. Higuain and Dybala monitored the Barcelona centre-backs and Cuadrado occasionally stepped towards Mathieu to make it 3v3 at the back.

An attempt to overturn Juve’s press witnessed Mascherano slot into a deeper zone, which therefore offset Khedira to push forward to limit the Argentine’s influence from midfield. Barca were marked across the pitch due to Juve’s cohesive pressing: the full-backs were tight on the Barca wide players – Dani Alves succumbed to an early booking due to concessive fouls on Neymar – Suarez was isolated upfront, while Pjanic tracked Iniesta’s movement in midfield.

Enrique was infuriated by goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen’s reluctance to play passes over the top for Suarez to chase into the channels and viciously showcased is disappointment within the opening five minutes. Obviously, Juve were unable to sustain this press throughout the match – nor was it likely their intention to do so – but it still represented a significant feat to the Italian champions’ positive start.

Barca’s flawed system

The other key factor associated with Barca’s issues was the initial set-up. What appeared to be a 3-4-3 ahead of kickoff was a back three in possession, but supposed to be a back four when Juve broke forward. However, Enrique’s men were uncertain of their duties from front to back.

Sergi Roberto left his right-back zone to help overload central areas, whilst making vertical darts into the channels to provide penetration going forward. Mathieu, on the other hand, rarely ventured forward in the opening stages despite the hosts allowing the Frenchman space to step into their half to play passes out the back. Perhaps Allegri wanted Mathieu in advanced positions so Juve could break into the right channel in transition, along with the fact that the Barcelona centre-back isn’t the strongest defender on the ball.

Iniesta was unable to control the game – though it’s not one of the traits the Spaniard is renowned for – whereas the other issue stemmed from the left flank. Iniesta started the match as the widest midfielder, but his narrow positioning along with Neymar operating as a wide forward meant there was no cover on the flanks, which therefore forced Mathieu to step to the left to cover space against Cuadrado.

Essentially, there was ample space in the channels for Juve’s wide players to manipulate, and it’s unsurprising that the buildup to both of Dybala’s goals stemmed down the flanks.

Dybala goals

Slack defending contributed to the simplicity of Juve’s opening goals, but the fact that the buildup was nearly identical justifies Allegri’s approach. Higuain switched the ball to the right flank to place Cuadrado in a 1v1 situation with Mathieu, which ultimately resulted in Dybala ghosting into the box and quickly firing the opener past ter Stegen.

Subsequently, Juve sprung on the counter-attack down the left flank for Mandzukic to run at the recovering Sergi Roberto before pulling the ball back for Dybala, who curled another super effort past the Barcelona goal-keeper. Towards the end of the half Alex Sandro broke past Rakitic down the left to provide a pull-back opportunity for Higuain that ter Stegen nearly pushed away into danger.

Barcelona encountered difficulties protecting pull-backs from half spaces, but more worryingly was their reluctance to track Dybala, Higuain and Khedira’s late runs towards the box. Juve’s crucial first half chances followed the aforementioned template that highlighted Barca’s issues in wide areas – against the wide players and tracking Dybala’s movement to the flanks – along with Busquets’ absence ahead of the back four.

Messi Magic

The other aspect of Juve’s quick start meant the hosts could drop deeper, remain compact, and swarm the away side when they attempted to penetrate in central zones.

Busquets’ absence was critical to Barca’s issue because Mascherano failed to dictate the tempo of the match with his passing and lacked the range and confidence to play penetrating passes from deep. Meanwhile, out of possession, the Argentine was culpable for being caught on the ball via pressure and failing to track late runs towards the box.

Therefore, Barca were devoid of creativity in midfield: with Rakitic and Roberto unsure of their roles, and Iniesta marked out of the match, only a dangerous cross from the often open Mathieu nearly troubled Juve, but Giorgio Chiellini blocked Suarez’s diving header. Ultimately, it took brilliance from Messi – forced to beat at the minimum two players whenever he found space on the field – to create the game’s best chances.

The first opportunity involved a breathtaking reverse ball that bisected the Juve defence to play in Iniesta, but his poor finish witnessed Gianluigi Buffon push away the Spaniard’s attempt seconds prior to Dybala’s second goal. Frankly, Messi was involved in two other major chances in the second half that should’ve resulted in away goals.

First, a failed combination with Neymar led to the Argentine sliding a low effort inches wide of the far post. Then, Messi received the ball in a pocket of space to bamboozle Chiellini before playing in Suarez who rolled Bonucci, but fired his shot wide. Majority of Barca’s attacking play was bland and lethargic, and it’s surprising they failed to record an away goal given the several chances created through Messi’s greatness.

Second Half

Enrique removed Mathieu at half time for Andre Gomes, meaning Mascherano moved to centre-back, Samuel Umtiti operated as a left-back and the Portuguese midfielder sat at the base ahead of the back-line. The tactical alteration ensured Barca had cover at left-back, and although Sergi Roberto still charged forward into midfield, Rakitic often moved to the right touchline to maintain width.

While the tactical shift slightly improved Barca’s shape, Juve’s best period of the second half – the build up to Chiellini’s third goal – witnessed Mandzukic charge down the left create another pull-back for Khedira, and Cuadrado also charging into the aforementioned space that led to an identical move where Higuain’s tame effort was easily handled by ter Stegen. Minutes later, a quick free-kick over the Barca defence should’ve sealed the match but Higuain’s preference to shoot rather than play the ball across goal to an unmarked Mandzukic led to another important ter Stegen save.

Barca dominated possession for majority of the match following Chiellini’s goal, while Juve maintained a deeper line and slowly turned to defensive options off the bench to secure the result. Enrique’s men still found pathways to goal via Suarez getting the better of Bonucci on numerous occasions, but largely through Messi finding space in midfield to create.

Conclusion

Juve were deserving winners, here, despite producing a far from perfect performance. Allegri exploited the systematic flaws in Enrique’s unorthodox XI by breaking into space in the channels, combined with the intelligent positioning and individual brilliance of Dybala – who scored two great goals and forced the away side into fouling him across the pitch.

Juve’s initial energetic pressing flustered Barca, and they took a commanding lead, protected key zones around their box for large spells to neutralize Barca’s key attackers in the final third. However, Barca’s poor set-up and Busquets’ suspension was also pivotal at full-time, along with poor finishing around the box as Messi created the two best chances of the match.

Allegri has been the victim of a second leg collapse at the Camp Nou in the past, and though a supreme performance from the Barca front three isn’t farcical, the experience of the Juve defence combined with their tactical discipline and organization suggests Barca may not have enough to turn the tie. Enrique may need more than the individual brilliance of his three star attackers to overcome this well-drilled Juventus side.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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AS Roma 2-1 Juventus

Xinhua News Agency Aug. 31, 2015-- AS Roma's Pjanic (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Juventus on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. Rome won 2-1.

Xinhua News Agency
Aug. 31, 2015– AS Roma’s Pjanic (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Juventus on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. Rome won 2-1.

Roma relied on two goals from Bosnian duo Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko to defeat title rivals Juventus.

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Iago Falque joined Dzeko and Mohammed Salah upfront in Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3. Daniele De Rossi moved to centre-back alongside Kosta Manolas, whereas Seydou Keita formed a midfield trio with Radja Nainggolan and Pjanic.

Max Allegri reverted to a 3-5-2 with Mario Mandzukic and Pablo Dybala leading the line. With Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira unavailable for selection, Simone Padoin and Marco Sturaro joined Paul Pogba in midfield.

Roma dominated possession over extensive periods of the match, and with Juventus unable to pose a threat on the counter, Allegri’s men succumbed to two moments of brilliance.

Roma press

While Roma’s dominance may have been down to Juve’s caution, Allegri’s side have displayed their ability to decrease their route to goal by instantly lobbing balls into the strikers. Juve’s only way to maintain a decent spell of possession was to build from the back, but here, Garcia instructed his men to press from the front, with all three attackers handed a distinct role.

Falque and Salah pressed the exterior centre-backs, while Dzeko possessed a dual role. If Dzeko pushed towards Bonucci – a very good passer of the ball – he instructed a midfielder to close down Padoin, but for the most part, the Bosnian striker stuck goal-side to the Juventus midfielder to negate his influence from deep.

Roma didn’t always press in this manner, as they were keen on dropping into a 4-5-1 when necessary to clog spaces in midfield, yet both methods effectively contained Juve’s threat in open play. The wide players maintained their discipline, keeping the adventurous wingbacks quiet, and Dybala rarely received passes between the lines.

Juventus shape

Where Roma pressed higher up the pitch in various spells, Allegri instructed his side to drop deeper into their half and pressed aggressively in midfield. This allowed De Rossi time on the ball, and Nainggolan, in particular was free to retain possession, stringing passes from flank to flank.

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Essentially, Roma overloaded central areas with several passers, and it could explain several reckless tackles and eventual bookings in midfield. The transition to a 5-3-2 negated Dzeko’s aerial threat, as he was always outnumbered around the box, but in general their approach was too conservative, allowing the home-side too much space to dominate.

Roma’s balanced attack

Ultimately, there were two ways to describe Roma’s dominance over the current champions. First, Enrique placed Gervinho to the bench for Falque, who in fairness offered the hosts genuine width. With Falque stretching the pitch, Salah operated in narrow mixed positions, before charging into half space to create chances.

Gervinho and Salah are similar players – both thrive when there’s space to break into on the counter attack – but here, both the latter and Falque created chances in their respected positions. Salah’s first half pull-back resulted in Pjanic directing a shot off the post, whereas Falque delivered a devastating ball across the six-yard box that went amidst.

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The hosts’ attack would improve with a trequartista in the XI, but the cohesion between the front six was an improvement from last year. There was balance in wide areas, and each midfielder was able to fulfill their role due to Juve’s setup. Keita sat deep to protect the back four, Nainggolan retained possession a few yards ahead, and Pjanic scurried between the lines to receive possession and force Chiellini and Pogba into first half bookings.

Lack of familiarity upfront

Juve’s deep defensive line limited the possibility of creating chances from deep, but the away side still appeared perplexed during the rare occasions when they sustained possession in Roma’s third. One of the keys to Juve’s success last season involved Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata understanding their roles – the former dropped deep to receive the ball, while the latter sprinted behind the defence.

Tevez’s departure deprives Juve of a creative threat between the lines that can score goals and effectively link play with his teammates, which resulted in flat possession in the final third. Dybala’s lateral movement in these areas was positive, but a sole individual slalom sufficed from his presence upfront.

Likewise, Mario Mandzukic doesn’t offer a threat behind the last defender, and with Juve maintaining a low block, the Croatian was isolated for long spells. This, nevertheless, is also related to a lack of familiarity between the pair, along with one of the downfalls that comes with Mandzukic.

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The Croatian’s denies his team of natural pace upfront, but he was equally reluctant to drop deep to link play with his teammates. There was one moment towards the conclusion of the first half where Pogba was clearly frustrated with his attackers’ movement upfront, as neither attacker aimed to drop deep to receive the ball.

More so, Juve’s deep line, combined with a new strike partnership lacking Allegri’s basic attacking concepts is partially responsible for the away side’s blunt productivity in the final third.

Allegri adapts

Pjanic’s superb free-kick put Roma ahead at the hour mark, but Roma’s threat from wide areas decreased significantly. Majority of the hosts’ buildup play was narrow, and with Pogba offering improved protection for Evra, Garcia’s men relied on distant Nainggolan efforts on goal that forced Buffon to make a few saves.

Allegri instantly reacted to Pjanic’s opener, introducing Morata for the subdued Mandzukic, but the away side’s best chances stemmed from corner kicks. Then the Juve manager altered to a midfield diamond, sacrificing Lichtsteiner for Roberto Pereyra.

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Pereyra represented the ideal player suited for Allegri’s approach as his pace offers a genuine threat on the counter, and it was odd to see the Argentinian reduced to a bit-part role considering the circumstances. The Argentine forced Dzeko into a booking, while his pace and clever combination with Morata led to Dybala’s consolation goal – Morata dispossessed Keita in midfield to ignite the swift break.

Evra’s second dismissal proved costly in the final stages of the match, but a change of shape and additional space from Morata and Pereyra nearly inspired a comeback.

2-0

Roma, though, quickly pounced on the champions’ mistakes. Subsequent to Evra’s dismissal, Pjanic played a lovely diagonal behind Juan Cuadrado for Falque, and his cross into the box witnessed Dzeko tower over Chiellini to notch his first goal for the hosts.

The significance of the goal may be overlooked, but it distinctly highlights two areas that Garcia seeked to improve this summer. Put simply, it was another dangerous delivery from Falque in a wide area that was converted by a legitimate centre-forward.

There’s a chance that the signings may not elevate Roma into potential champions, but the goal provides evidence that Garcia has made it priority to offer variety to an attack that was mightily predictable last season.

Conclusion

Juve’s apathetic display enabled Roma to dominate the match, as a moment of brilliance and a defensive lapse punished the champions in the second half.

This was an improved display for Garcia’s side, following a poor draw to Verona, with the most intriguing theme involving the balance within his attacking trio. In the past, the attacking options at Garcia’s disposal represent a team suited to play on the counter, and natural width combined with an aerial threat can improve Roma’s difficulty breaking down organized back-lines.

Miralem Pjanic (15) of AS Roma competes for the ball with Paul Pogba (10) of Juventus FC during the Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

Miralem Pjanic (15) of AS Roma competes for the ball with Paul Pogba (10) of Juventus FC during the Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy.
CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

Allegri’s approach was logical considering the scheduling of the fixture and limited time to integrate his philosophy, but here, his personnel selection was incorrect. Perhaps match fitness prevented Morata from starting, but Pereyra’s pace in midfield proved crucial in transition, and was the missing piece to a disjointed attempt to break on the counter.

Still, it would be harsh to prematurely criticize Juventus as the club lost a leader in Andrea Pirlo, and the league’s best attacker and midfielder in Tevez and Arturo Vidal, last summer, leading to several new additions in Turin. Allegri will be assessed attentively in the upcoming weeks, as the Juventus manager rightly requires time to find the correct balance, and welcome back injured players on his quest to retain the Scudetto.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid

TURIN, ITALY - MAY 05: Alvaro Morata of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images) Credit: Marco Luzzani / stringer

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 05: Alvaro Morata of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Credit: Marco Luzzani / stringer

Juventus recorded an impressive home victory against reigning European champions Real Madrid, courtesy of goals from Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata.

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Massimiliano Allegri was still without Paul Pogba in his preferred 4-3-1-2, and handed Stefano Sturaro a place in midfield alongside, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo in midfield.

Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo formed a pacy strike partnership upfront in Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-4-2. Sergio Ramos maintained his makeshift role in midfield with Toni Kroos, whereas James Rodriguez and Isco drifted infield from the flanks.

This was something of a traditional European Juventus performance under Allegri: the Bianconeri attacked directly with balls into the strikers, and once they regained the lead in the second half, showcased the ideal manner in closing out a match through organized defending.

Juve welcomes pressure

The most interesting tactical approach throughout full-time was Juve’s approach in the first half. Most Serie A teams are often ridiculed for their inability to cope with intense pressing and dynamic opposition, but under Allegri, Juve have managed to overcome the stereotype.

Similar to their victory over Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16, Juve intended luring Real forward with patient passes in their half, and then bypassing the press with simple lofted balls into their strikers. Real, however, weren’t keen on blitzing the hosts with pressure in the opening minutes, and were at times reluctant to move higher up the pitch as a unit. A simple Leonardo Bonucci punt saw Morata’s presence fluster Pepe, but the Spaniard’s audacious chip nearly fooled Iker Casillas.

Nonetheless, with Vidal dropping deeper into midfield to create overloads, Juve were free to play vertical passes into advanced positions, and Tevez shifted into space behind Ramos and Kroos. It was Pirlo’s ball into Tevez between the lines that led to Sturaro recording Juve’s first shot on target. Following a terrific Juventus passing move, it was Tevez again that drifted into an ocean of space between Marcelo and Raphael Varane to receive a pass from Marchisio, and fire a low shot at Casillas, which ultimately resulted in Morata’s tap in.

Juventus goal real madrid

This was a brave decision from Allegri, but Morata’s positioning on the last defender stretched Real’s shape, and the Spanish side’s reluctance to press, combined with Juve’s overload in central areas, enabled Tevez to find space between the lines.

Real sloppy in possession

Juve was equally proactive without the ball in the early stages. The shuttlers pushed forward on the wingers, and while Kroos was free to retain the ball, Juve’s centre backs weren’t scared to step forward ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

There was a moment when Chiellini stepped forward to dispossess Bale, which resulted in Tevez receiving the ball in space and firing an audacious effort wide of the net. Sturaro also nicked the ball off Ramos in the opening half and broke down the left channel before cutting the ball back to the Argentine striker, but his effort was poor once again.

More importantly it was Morata who led by example: the Spaniard forced Casillas into a poor pass to Marchisio that led to a Vidal penalty shout, and dispossessed Varane in Real’s box, but was harshly penalized for a foul. While lackadaisical play from several Real players resulted in several Juve transitional moves, the hosts’ discipline to quickly close down their markers proved beneficial.

Real attacks

Real eventually settled into the match once Juve dropped deeper into two narrow banks of four. This was the identical shape Real adopted when Juve monopolized possession, but where the Italian champions appeared perplexed when required to break down the opposition, the away side overcame their issues through width from the full-backs.

With James and Isco moving infield, central areas were congested, which could also explain the former’s delivery into the box for Varane serving as Juve’s first scare. Prior to Ronaldo’s goal, it was the Portuguese forward’s diagonal run between the centre-backs to meet Isco’s delicate through ball that stretched the Juventus back-line.

However, Juventus’ deep positioning prevented Ronaldo and Bale space to run into, and their narrow shape limited Real’s creative players from sliding incisive balls behind the back four. Where Juve bypassed Real’s midfield band with balls into the forwards, the away side countered their issue by pushing the fullbacks forward. Coincidentally, the duo completed the most passes in the attacking third at Juventus Stadium.

Marcelo Carvajal juventus

It was Dani Carvajal’s clever ball into half-space for James that bamboozled Juve’s defence and allowed the Colombian to deliver the cross for Ronaldo’s equalizer. It was one of many long passing moves – and also similar to Juve’s patient buildup for Morata’s opener – that eventually prevailed due to width. Real nearly took the lead minutes from half-time from a similar move that saw Marcelo and Isco overload the left flanks, but James’ nodded the latter’s cross off the bar.

Second half

Juve started the second half with the energy that was displayed in the early stages of the first. Allegri’s men pressed higher up the pitch once again to prevent Real from playing out the back, and created the first legitimate chance of the half when Tevez turned Pepe and fired a shot directly at Casillas.

Although the home side’s ambition to win possession higher up the pitch was successful in the first, the initial ten minutes of the second was stop-start due to Real constantly breaking lines. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sturaro and Bonucci all committed cynical fouls to half Real breaks, and it appeared the match was shifting in Real’s favour with every passing minute.

2-1

Then came the equalizer. While it may have been another direct move involving the two Juventus strikers, it was rather fortuitous then planned. Still, Real were caught on the break, a situation Ancelotti should have been wary about heading into this tie – particularly following Juve’s triumph over Dortmund earlier this year.

Marcelo’s shot ricocheted off Kroos, igniting a 2v2 break between Juve’s strikers and Real full-backs, which resulted in both men being fouled – Carvajal clipping Tevez in the box. Tevez notched his 29th goal of the season from the spot, but also shifted the match back into Allegri’s hand despite a nervy start to the second half.

Both managers react

The goal forced both managers into significant system alterations. Ancelotti turned to his only fit striker, Javier Hernandez, to replace Isco, as Madrid effectively became a 4-3-3. Allegri instantly reacted by inserting Andrea Barzagli into defence for Sturaro to make Juventus a 3-5-2 that eventually transitioned into a 5-3-2 out of possession.

Bale Ronaldo Juventus

Bale was finally involved in the match, receiving space downn the right flank, but Real’s attempt to blitz the penalty area with hopeless crosses proved unsuccessful, as Juve’s experienced back trio and Gianluigi Buffon coped well. In theory, the move was supposed to provide a focal point upfront, but also offer more service into Ronaldo, but the Portuguese star’s threat in the final third was scarce.

Juve, however, comfortably managed the final quarter of the game. They were organized defensively, whereas Morata held up the ball well to bring his teammates forward. Allegri’s substitutions were equally impressive, replacing Morata for compatriot Fernando Llorente, and Tevez for the energetic Pereyra.

Llorente was involved in the two best chances of the match subsequent to Tevez’s winner. Once again a simple Marchisio ball over the top troubled Varane – who had a poor outing – enabling Llorente to round Casillas, but Carvajal intercepted his pull back to the onrushing Pereyra. Then, from a stoppage time Pirlo free kick, the Spaniard nodded a tame effort at Casillas.

Tevez’s winner forced the Italian managers to alter their approach, but in terms of preparation and overall efficiency, Allegri outwitted Ancelotti.

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Carlos Tevez of Juventus celebrates as he scores their second goal from a penalty during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) Credit: Michael Regan / staff

Conclusion

The overall pattern of the match went as expected when you assess Juve and Real’s road to the semi-finals. Ancelotti has often relied on width from the full-backs to overcome narrow defensive lines, whereas direct balls into Morata and Tevez has been Allegri’s method of bisecting the opposition’s pressing.

But Juve’s method of baiting Real into pushing higher up the pitch was interesting. Yet it’s difficult to understand Ancelotti’s approach in this tie. Surely several players performed poorly – Bale, Varane, Ramos, and to an extent Marcelo – but Real appeared flabbergasted by Tevez’s movement in the opening stages, and constantly looked vulnerable when balls were played into the strikers.

It’s unlikely that Real will perform this poorly at the Bernabeu, but they haven’t been entirely impressive at home this season.

Allegri’s second half changes preserved a positive home triumph over the reigning champions, and it’s likely he may stick with a three-man defensive system with the wingbacks maintaining cautious positions, and rely on quick counters led by their dynamic front two in the return leg at the Bernabeu.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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AC Milan 3-0 PSV

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AC Milan advanced to the Champions League group stage with a convincing victory against a young PSV side.

Massimiliano Allegri made one change to his lineup that featured in the first leg, introducing Mattia De Sciglio at left back for Urby Emanuelson. Besides that, Allegri stuck with his traditional 4-3-3 that saw Mario Balotelli lead the line, alongside Kevin-Prince Boateng and Stephan El Shaarawy – while Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel de Jong and Sulley Muntari formed a midfield three.

Phillip Cocu made no changes to the side that earned a draw in last week’s first leg showdown. Tim Matavz led the line, with Memphis Depay and Park Ji-Sung on the flanks, while Adam Maher, Stijn Schaars and Georginio Wijnaldum formed a midfield three.

PSV started the match well, but Milan’s experience proved to be vital against a young side that lacked penetration.

Pressing

Similar to the first leg, PSV’s energy and will to attack, allowed the Dutch side to start the match brightly. Cocu’s men had a fair amount of possession, but they looked dangerous when they didn’t have the ball. PSV pressed Milan higher up the pitch when the Italian side played the ball from the back, forcing them to concede possession or clear their lines. Considering Milan’s centre backs aren’t great on the ball, it was a logical plan – Cocu wanted his men to win the ball in Milan’s final third, but also keep the Italians away from their net. Milan were keen to get the ball wide, so Park and Depay closed down the Milan fullbacks, while Jetro Willems and Joshua Brenet got tight to the Milan wide men, further up the pitch.

Milan’s pressing was less rigorous, but it worked to fruition and led to Boateng’s opener, in the ninth minute. Opposed to pressing higher up the pitch, Milan worked hard to win the ball, when they conceded possession in their final third. They hounded PSV’s inexperienced side relentlessly, which made up for their lack of creativity, as they constantly won the ball in key areas.

Milan’s shape

Milan went through large portions of the match without the ball, but they were content without possession. They often dropped into a 4-5-1 with El Shaarawy and Boateng tucking infield – Milan covered spaces well as a unit, and nullified activity between the lines. Boateng and El Shaarawy worked hard tracking back to prevent potential overloads, while the midfield (de Jong and Montolivo) made a total of eight interceptions throughout the match.

For all the possession Cocu’s men had, they were often in deep positions. PSV’s wingers failed to find space between the lines when drifting centrally and they were unable to get in behind the Milan back line, due to the lack of penetration.

Milan’s shape defensively was superb – their midfield trio was compact and organized, which proved to be difficult for the young Dutch side to break down.

Midfield battle

One of the distinct elements in the match was the midfield battle, due to both sides playing identical systems. Milan thrived in this aspect due to their solid shape, leaving PSV’s midfield trio frustrated. Montolivo tracked Maher’s movement in advanced areas – more so to the left – Muntari was keen on lunging into tackles when Wijnaldum pushed forward, while De Jong stepped higher up the pitch to press Schaars. PSV’s midfield three offered no substantial threat in Milan’s final third, often taking shots from 25 yards out, due to their inability to play penetrating passes between the lines or get behind the Milan defence.

De Jong was one of the top players on the night – defensively he was superb, but his safe, reliable passing set the tempo for Milan’s attack. Despite the early pressure, Milan’s midfield was able to play passes freely into wide areas, and unlike the Dutch side, they played passes between the lines – Boateng received a pass between the lines from midfield, which led to his opener.

The match was relatively tight in the first half, but Milan’s dominance on both ends in midfield, merited their lead.

Overlaps

A constant theme in the first half was Milan’s aim to attack the right side. Depay wasn’t providing Willems protection, thus allowing Milan to create overlaps. Boateng drifted into central positions on numerous occasions, which allowed Abate to push forward and deliver crosses. Allegri’s intent to isolate Willems was evident, and Milan nearly took the lead when Montolivo attacked a large gap of space, due to Boateng’s movement, but the Italian midfielder fired is shot inches wide of the post.

Milan’s successful overlaps wasn’t decisive in the result, but it was one of the various outlets Allegri’s men used when going forward, getting them into dangerous positions in the final third.

Balotelli

Balotelli had himself arguably his breakout match in Europe, despite this only being a qualifier. The Italian striker displayed why many around the world are so fond of the abilities he possesses. Balotelli scored the second goal of the night, putting the tie out of reach, and although the significance of the goal was high, the Milan striker was imperious in other aspects.

One of the key traits in Balotelli’s game is his ability to turn on either foot when holding up the ball. This adds an unpredictable element to Balotelli’s game, leaving defenders questioning how to defend him, without committing a foul. The Milan striker used his brute strength to hold up the ball and bring his midfield towards him, as they sat relatively sat deep throughout the match – but his vision to link play with galloping wingers and fullbacks was exceptional. Albeit being booked for committing a cynical foul, Balotelli led the press well, and during the second half, he dropped deeper to help Milan sustain their shape.

We don’t get to see Balotelli play at this level often, but it’s evident that he’s capable of doing so, and these European nights may be beneficial to the Italian striker, who intends on being one of the best players in the world.

Second half

PSV started the second half in fine fashion, and nearly equalized when Depay delivered a cross to Wijnaldum, but Abbiati saved the Dutch midfielder’s shot from five yards out. Cocu made a tactical change introducing Florian Jozefzoon for Park, who in fairness had a quiet outing. Jozefzoon’s direct threat was what Cocu felt his side needed, and the Dutch attacker constantly tried to get the better of De Scigilo, but the Italian full back handled the situation superbly.

Abbiati had little work to do, compared to the first half, where he had to make a few key stops from distance. The second half lacked any significant themes – Milan sat deeper and deeper as the match wore on, keeping their 4-5-1 shape intact and PSV’s midfield didn’t provide creativity, penetration or the final ball needed to create clear-cut opportunities.

Conclusion

Milan’s defensive approach nullified PSV’s attack, whereas on the attacking end, their superiority in midfield, along with being clinical in front of goal, proved to be vital.

PSV’s young side held their own against Allegri’s men, but their main strength in midfield was cancelled out. Conceding goals in the opening nine minutes of each half, despite good starts, also didn’t play into their hands. Whether they can replicate last year’s success this season is indecisive, but this is a great lesson for the several young players in Cocu’s side who aim to move abroad in the near future.

Allegri’s men were a class above their Dutch opponents on the night – Balotelli’s mature display, the midfield trio’s ability to nullify and expose PSV, along with the standout outings from Abbiati and De Sciglio, all led to an impressive Milan performance. While they do enter the Champions League group stage, failure to strengthen the midfield and defence, could harm them later on in the tournament. In hindsight, their key men rose to the occasion, and will need to do so throughout the season, if they intend on challenging for trophies.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Inter Milan 1-1 AC Milan

Match in a sentence

AC Milan fail to increase the gap between themselves and city rivals Inter Milan, as Andrea Stramaccioni’s half time changes earned his side a valuable point in the Derby della Madonnina.

Analysis

  • Stramaccioni fielded his side in a 4-4-2 with Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio leading the line. Fredy Guarin and Ricky Alvarez played on the flanks, while Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Gargano marshaled the midfield.
  • Fresh off their historic 2-0 win against Barcelona, Massimiliano Allegri opted to go with a 4-3-3. Mario Balotelli led the line with Stephane El Shaarawy and Kevin-Prince Boateng on the flanks. Allegri’s midfield three consisted of Riccardo Montolivo, Sulley Muntari and Antonio Nocerino.
  • Inter was looking to bounce back from a 4-1 drubbing by Fiorentina last week, but unfortunately for Stramaccioni’s men, the onslaught on Inter continued. Milan mirrored Fiorentina’s approach in attacking Inter by targeting Inter’s right hand side. El Shaarawy’s movement and diagonal runs dragged Yuto Nagatomo central, literally making him a third centreback. This was key because it allowed Montolivo and Muntari to play balls to the advancing Mattia De Sciglio. De Sciglio provided width to Milan’s play and created several chances, because Guarin was unable to track his runs.
  • Another narrative in the half was the space in between the lines. Inter’s midfield two in Cambiasso and Gargano were forced to pressure Milan’s midfield three, and with Inter’s backline failing to get forward, that left space for players like Balotelli to drop into. Inter was vulnerable to overloads not only on the left hand side, but also in the midfield. Boateng would occasionally drift into the midfield and in between the lines, which allowed Milan to take control of the game.
  • The space available in between the lines was key to Milan’s opening goal. Cristian Zapata dispossessed Cassano, and Boateng was able to pick up the ball in between the lines. Boateng then played in El Shaarawy, who precisely slotted his shot past a superb Handanovic.
  • Milan frankly should’ve been a few goals up, because they were by far the superior side. Unfortunately, the Rossonieri ran into a hot goalkeeper by the name of Samir Handanovic. Handanovic made three fantastic saves on Balotelli, to deny Milan the opportunity to increase their lead.
  • It was a disappointing half from Inter, and Stramaccioni’s only change was to go back to his initial setup, which meant Javier Zanetti and Nagatomo swapped flanks. The change nullified Milan’s main threat in the first half, which was De Sciglio’s width. It also allowed Nagatomo to get forward, and provide width.
  • In the 68th minute, Stramaccioni brought on Ezequiel Schelotto to play out wide and he pushed Guarin into the midfield. Three minutes later Stamaccioni was rewarded as Schelotto met Nagatomo’s cross, and Christian Abbiati could only watch it soar into the net. Prior to the goal Inter looked threatening as Guarin was drifting centrally, linking up with Cassano. Milan despite controlling possession was flat in the second half, as fatigue began to kick in.
  • Inter dropped into a 4-1-4-1 pushing Palacio out wide and introducing Zdravko Kuzmanovic to sit deep. Stramaccioni’s side attacked with caution as Milan continued to dictate the game in terms of possession. Both sides had chances to claim a winner late on, but were unsuccessful.
  • It was a game of two halves that saw Milan dominate a first half, where they frankly should’ve been up by a few goals. Stramaccioni’s side came out aggressive and motivated in the second half, and the Italian gaffer’s changes paid off to earn his side a valuable point. Handanovic’s saves proved to be vital, but Milan wasn’t clinical in front of goal and that gave Inter a lifeline.
  • Both sides seemed fatigued after midweek fixtures in Europe, but out of the two sides, Inter should be worried. The race for a Champions League spot might go down to the wire this season as the gap between 3rd-8th place is five points. Failure to stay consistent during this final stretch of the season will be crucial if these sides intend on playing in Europe’s elite competition next year.

Three Stars

1.    Samir Handanovic

2.    Stephane El Shaarawy

3.    Riccardo Montolivo

Honourable mention to Mattia De Sciglio

Tyrrell Meertins

Follow @TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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AC Milan 1-0 Juventus

Match in a sentence

A superb team performance, combined with a controversial penalty call, equaled a second Juventus loss this season against a side from Milan.

Analysis

  • Massimiliano Allegri opted to line up in a 4-3-3 that saw Kevin Prince Boateng start in the middle with Robinho on the right and Stephan El Shaarawy on the left. The midfield three consisted of Nigel De Jong, Riccardo Montolivo and Antonio Nocerino.
  • Angelo Alessio stuck to a 3-5-2 that saw Mirko Vucinic and Fabio Quagliarella start upfront. Martin Caceres replaced Giorgio Chiellini who wasn’t fit and Mauricio Isla was preferred over Stephan Lichsteiner.
  • Juventus controlled possession from the start of the game, pegging back Milan into 4-3-1-2 with Boateng dropping deeper to help out in the midfield. Milan pressed well and Juventus lost possession several times and it allowed Milan to break. Like they did against Chelsea, whenever El Shaarawy and Robinho ran at the Juventus backline, they looked vulnerable.
  • Juventus found space on the right hand side through Isla, but the Chilean was extremely poor. His crosses weren’t good enough and Milan defender Kevin Constant made easy work of the limited amount of times Isla came forward.
  • Like last seasons 1-1 draw, there was controversy in this game and Isla was involved. Nocerino nodded Robinho’s cross into Isla’s ribs, but the referee pointed to the spot. Robinho placed his shot past Buffon and Milan took the lead.
  • After seeing the replay it was clear that the ball hit Isla’s ribs, but Isla does deserve blame for having his arms in the air while trying to block the shot.

  • In the second half, Simone Padoin replaced Isla, and he had more impact on the game. Padoin stretched the pitch and whipped in dangerous balls into the box. The problem was Juventus players were unable to get on the end of them.
  • Milan had a different approach to the second half as they transitioned into a 4-3-1-2. Boateng stayed deep and helped Montolivo and Co outnumber Juve in the middle, as Milan sat deeper and deeper as a team. They slowly became a 4-5-1 as El Shaarawy tracked back to help Constant and a tiring Robinho led the line.
  • A few changes were made towards the end of the game as Giampaolo Pazzini replaced Robinho for Milan. Paul Pogba and Sebastien Giovinco replaced Fabio Quagliarella and Kwado Asamoah. Pazzini led the line and didn’t offer much, but he held the ball up, which allowed Milan to mount a few counter attacks.
  • Juventus’ changes left them in a 2-6-2 for the final quarter of the match. Caceres provided the width on the left, Pogba was on the right with Padoin, Vidal sat deeper, and Pirlo and Marchisio were advanced. Juventus threw everything at Milan, but were unable to get a goal.
  • Many will blame their midweek fixture against Chelsea for Juventus’ sloppy and fatigued play, but that’s not the case. Juventus lacked creativity in the final third, where they struggle to score goals and create chances. Against Milan they simply weren’t good enough.
  • Milan replicated what their city rivals did earlier this month, as they put in a terrific performance. The midfield of Nocerino, Montolivo and De Jong nullified Marchisio, Pirlo and Vidal. Fullbacks Constant and Mattia De Sciglio did a great job on Juve’s wide men. Milan was organized, compact, and worthy winners on the night. The win caps off a great week as they also advanced into the knockout round of the Champions League. Will this be enough to save Allegri’s job? Possibly not, but it’s a start.

Three Stars

1. Riccardo Montolivo

2. Mattia De Sciglio

3. Kevin Constant

 

Tyrrell Meertins

Follow @TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Match Recaps

 

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