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Napoli 1-3 Juventus: Juventus’ clinical finishing sinks Rafa Benitez’s unadventurous Napoli

CARLO HERMANN/AFP/Getty Images)

CARLO HERMANN/AFP/Getty Images)

Juventus avenged their Supercoppa Italiana misfortunes to claim their first win at the San Paolo in 14 years.

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Massimiliano Allegri handed Martin Caceres a start at right back for Stephan Lichtsteiner, while Arturo Vidal sat ahead of Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba.

Rafa Benitez also opted to leave his attacking six unchanged with Jonathan De Guzman joining Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon in an attacking trio behind Gonzalo Higuain.

In another slow burning contest between two of the top sides in the country, Juventus’ clinical finishing in front of goal was enough to sink Napoli.

Pattern 

While Allegri and Benitez adopted the same attacking personnel, both managers were reluctant to stray away from their initial Super Coppa shape. Unsurprisingly, this meant that the pattern of the match didn’t differ, as the slow, patient buildups that lacked creativity and guile in the final third were evident at the San Paolo.

With both sides displaying discipline and organization without the ball, the non-existent fluidity in attack led to a static, uninspiring match. Put simply, Juve dominated possession, and Napoli intended on breaking quickly in transition.

Without the ball

However, here Napoli were better structured when they dropped into two deep banks of four. Walter Gargano and David Lopez limited space between the lines ahead of the back four, and they received help from De Guzman who tucked infield to limit space in central areas.

Lopez Gargano

Ultimately, this was a logical approach considering Allegri’s decision to field four ball-playing midfielders, as there was an evident lack of invention in central areas. While Callejon was responsible for negating Patrice Evra, Caceres received space on the right to exploit due to De Guzman being pulled into the midfield battle. Oddly, Caceres was reluctant to push forward into this space, yet when the Uruguayan advanced forward he forced Rafael Cabral to make a key save, and delivered a well-weighed ball across the six-yard box that his teammates failed to attack.

Juve equally dropped deeper into a 4-4-1-1 without the ball, opposed to pressing higher up the pitch. Marchisio and Pogba pushed out into wide areas, Pirlo monitored Hamsik’s movement, and Tevez dropped off to track the deep lying Napoli midfielder.

Napoli struggled to create chances from open play, but they continued to pose a threat in transition. The home side’s best – and sole – chance in the opening half saw Hamsik run past three Juventus midfielders, before the ball fell to De Guzman in the box, but the Dutch international skied the ball over the net.

Juventus lacks variety in attack

The one worry for Allegri moving forward was the overall quality of the performance. While Juve dominated possession, and were rarely tested for large portions of the match, both penetration and guile remain non-existent in big matches.

Pogba’s opener was a moment of individual brilliance, while Caceres’ winner was a well-executed set piece combined with poor marking. Juventus didn’t cope well against Napoli’s reactive approach, and with a shortage of creative options available in the final third, Allegri’s side were bound to encounter difficulties.

Juve were often free to play out the back with Pirlo dropping in between centre backs Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Bonucci to play the first pass, but the admirable work from Lopez, De Guzman and Gargano deprived the away side from linking midfield and attack. With Vidal fielded in a trequartista role, the Chilean’ successfully completed tackles higher up the pitch, but his powerful runs from deep were sorely missed.

Allegri’s midfield quartet lacked ideas in central areas, and there was a vast difference in terms of attempted take-ons across the pitch. The decision to overload central areas with ball-playing midfielders wasn’t necessarily incorrect, but Napoli’s ability to maintain a compact shape, along with a lack of variety in attacking areas worked against the current champions.

Juventus Napoli take ons

Tevez – Higuain

Tevez and Higuain were the key men in the Supercoppa Italiana final, scoring both goals for their respected clubs, but the Argentinian strikers were ineffective at the San Paolo. The former was involved in Juve’s best moves in last month’s encounter, while the latter served as a reliable reference point in the box.

Higuain Tevez Napoli Juve

The problem here is that the Argentinian strikers often received the ball yards away from the box.

Here, there was minimal space for Tevez to operate in between the lines. Nonetheless, the Juventus striker was involved in some of their best moves, as his incisive pass should have resulted in a Caceres goal, and he was involved in the buildup to Pogba’s opener.

Higuain, on the other hand, struggled because Napoli sat too deep out of possession. The Napoli striker was involved in his side’s sole break in the opening half, but his involvement was scarce due to Benitez’s caution.

Second half changes

Apart from an individual slalom from Lopez in the opening minutes of the second half, the pattern of the match remained unchanged until Benitez introduced Dries Mertens for Hamsik. De Guzman moved to a central role, and Napoli gained an additional direct threat through the Belgian. Mertens’ impact was immediate, as he constantly ran at Caceres – resulting in the Uruguayan receiving a booking – whilst earning, and delivering the corner that led to Miguel Britos’ equalizer.

Allegri quickly responded to taking the lead shortly after Caceres’ goal, by replacing Pogba for Lichtsteiner. Juve sat deeper in the final 20 minutes, reverting to a 5-3-2, with Vidal and Marchisio drifting wide to protect their wingbacks from being overloaded.

Benitez reacted by introducing Manolo Gabbiadini and Duvan Zapata, thus moving to a traditional 4-4-2. Napoli was handed the onus to break down Allegri’s side, but only received chances in the latter stages of stoppage time: Mertens intercepted Angelo Ogbonna’s stray pass and slid in Zapata, but he overran the ball and was booked for simulation. Then, Mertens’ penetrative pass into the box for Higuain, nearly led to an equalizer, but Giorgio Chiellini’s last-ditch tackle preserved Juve’s lead.

The decision to introduce Mertens improved Napoli’s impetus, but the timing of Caceres winner, along with Allegri’s alteration to a five-man defence, halted Napoli’s attempt to claim an equalizer.

Conclusion

A second tilt between the two sides in the last month resulted in a dire encounter that relied on clinical finishing, opposed to an abundance of tactical themes.

Benitez’s attempt to thwart Juventus’ activity in open play was nearly successful, but their threat on the counter was limited. Neither side offered enough creativity and guile in the final third or central areas, and found joy in wide areas.

Although neither side was fully deserving of maximum points, Allegri’s Juve proved that they have enough talent to overcome poor performances, and cruise past their domestic rivals.

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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Fiorentina 0-1 Juventus

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Courtesy of Flickr/Some rights reserved by calciocatania

Kwadwo Asamoah’s first half goal earned Juventus a vital victory in Florence, which sees them extend their lead at the top of the table to 14-points.

ImageVincenzo Montella was without Giuseppe Rossi, and the suspended Borja Valero, while Mario Gomez and Anderson were included in the starting XI.

Antonio Conte introduced Angelo Ogbonna into the back three, and Claudio Marchisio retained his place in midfield as Andrea Pirlo was serving a one-match suspension.

This was a performance that justified Juventus’ title credentials – Conte’s men created the better chances in the first half, and subsequently defended superbly as a unit to preserve a one-goal lead.

Juventus shape

One of the key feats to Juve’s success in matches against the top side’s this season is their pragmatic approach when the opposition sustains possession. Conte’s side relied on their imperious defending in his first title triumph – but considering the side has improved gradually, along with a congested fixture list, there’s no surprise that the champions have adopted this approach.

Conte instructed his men to sit off the Fiorentina centre-backs, while Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal closed down Montella’s full-backs. Likewise, Vidal pressed Alberto Aquilani’s movement in midfield, while Claudio Marchisio closed down Anderson. Fiorentina failed to develop a rhythm in midfield, due to Juventus’ high-press on goal-kicks.

Juventus approached the second half with caution, and preferred to sit deeper in their third and soak up pressure. This was evident in the latter stages when they dropped into two banks of four with Asamoah in line with the centre backs, while Mauricio Isla was introduced to patrol the right flank.

Although Montella’s men dominated possession throughout various periods of the match, his side was unable to unlock Juventus’ solid shape. Fiorentina didn’t create a legitimate goal-scoring opportunity until the second half, which exemplifies the significance of Juve’s work-rate and shape out of possession.

Fiorentina lack a game plan

While Fiorentina sustained majority of possession, their activity in the final third was poor – Montella’s side lacked a game plan. With Pizarro’s threat nullified, and the wide players properly tracked, Mario Gomez lacked service.

Anderson enjoyed a positive opening 15 minutes leading the press with Gomez, and driving forward with his penetrating runs from midfield. The Brazilian, however, was unable to maintain his high energy levels and his impact on the match decreased as time passed.

Distribution from midfield was often played into wide areas, and penetration from Aquilani and Anderson was non-existent, thus justifying Juve’s intent on sitting deep.

Pizarro shackled

Another key factor regarding Juve’s success was the containment of David Pizarro. Fiorentina’s deep-lyer failed to influence in the match, as Conte’s men negated his influence on the match. Vidal, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente shared turns pressing the Chilean, with Llorente often closing down Pizarro when he aimed to pick up the ball in deep positions.

On two separate occasions, Llorente and Tevez dispossessed the Chilean at the edge of his box, but they were unable to punish the home side. Pizarro completed 32 of his possible 34 passes, but majority of his distribution was sideways within his third.

Conte’s decision to nullify Pizarro’s threat in midfield was successful, as Fiorentina struggled to dictate the tempo of the match in midfield, whilst lacking the tempo required to shift Juve’s back line out of position.

1-0

Juventus’ goal was constructed from a moment of brilliance opposed to a well-constructed attack. However, the warning signs were evident prior to Asamoah’s opener as Juve enjoyed freedom in wide areas.

Vidal and Lichtsteiner combined on the right flank, which led to a cross towards the far post, and Norberto Neto pushed away Asamoah’s deflected shot. Subsequently, Asamoah played a ball into Llorente, who cleverly turned his defender and earned a corner.

But in the final minutes of the first half, Asamoah received a pass from Giorgio Chiellini and evaded three Fiorentina challenges before striking a sensational shot past Neto – albeit a slight deflection. Asamoah was the key man in Juve’s attack, and the Ghanaian was involved in several key first half chances.

Second half

Montella turned to his bench in the second half by introducing Matias Fernandez and Rafal Wolski in midfield. The change saw Aquilani become the deepest midfielder, while Fernandez injected creativity in central zones. Still, Fiorentina encountered the same issues in midfield, but Manuel Pasqual became a constant threat on the left flank.

Pasqual delivered a great ball to Gomez in the box but he nodded it wide of the net. Later in the half, he combined with Juan Vargas and his cutback to Wolski led to Ryder Matos directing his header off the cross bar. Vargas dropped into deeper positions to retain possession, while Fernandez drifted into key areas to receive the ball, but Fiorentina couldn’t unlock Juve’s organized back line.

Juve produced a conservative performance in the second half, and their attack was languid. Marchisio was free to string passes together from deep positions but they were often misplaced, while Pogba and Vidal continuously conceded possession. Martin Caceres and Mauricio Isla were introduced in the latter stages of the half to ensure Juve maintained their lead.

Conclusion

A rather dull encounter signified the strengths Juve possess, as they contained Fiorentina’s threat in attack.

Conte’s men enjoyed a successful first half performance, but overall their defensive solidity, and intent on shackling Pizarro was beneficial. 

“We played the first half at a high level, then after the break we dropped back in part due to fatigue after international duty,” Conte said. 

“We allowed Fiorentina only one chance to score, rarely ran risks and held out pretty well.”

While Juve can be ruthless in attack, their defensive performances in key matches have been pivotal towards their success this season. Ultimately, the win practically guarantees a third consecutive Scudetto, along with ending Fiorentina’s Champions League aspirations.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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AC Milan 0-2 Juventus

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Courtesy of Flickr/ All rights reserved by shakatak11

Despite being the inferior side for large portions of the match, Juventus’ clinical finishing proved decisive in their road victory at the San Siro.

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Clarence Seedorf was forced to make a few changes to his starting XI that defeated Sampdoria last week. The Rossoneri were without the suspended Sulley Muntari and the injured Mario Balotelli, so Nigel de Jong and Andrea Poli slotted into midfield. Also, Christian Abbiati, Urby Emanuelson and Daniele Bonera featured in Seedorf’s back line.

Antonio Conte was without the suspended Arturo Vidal, while Giorgio Chiellini was sidelined due to injury. Claudio Marchisio and Martin Caceres slotted into Juventus’ rather predictable XI.

Great teams find ways to win even when they’re not playing particularly well, and ruthless finishing enabled Juventus to replicate this feat.

Milan’s approach without the ball

One of the peculiar feats regarding this year’s Milan side has been their tendency to perform against the top-sides, yet underachieve against lesser opposition. Despite the vast gap between both sides in the table, Milan was expected to raise their game at the San Siro, and their approach without the ball was pivotal towards their dominance for lengthy periods.

Seedorf instructed his men to press Juventus’ back line when they played out of the back. Giampaolo Pazzini, Kaka and Adel Taarabt pressed Juve’s back three, while Poli man-marked Andrea Pirlo. With Milan’s fullbacks quickly closing down Juve’s wingbacks, Conte’s men were unable to build attacks from midfield, and Milan were able to dominate possession.

Milan negated Juve’s midfield by stifling Pirlo, and ensuring that distribution from the back was limited – without Vidal’s energy in midfield, Juve struggled to compete in central areas.

Midfield battle

The biggest surprise was Juve’s poor display in midfield. The aforementioned absence of Vidal was clearly a massive loss, and with Pirlo shackled, Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba were expected to carry the weight. Pogba, however, was languid in midfield, thus producing arguably his worst performance this season, whereas Marchisio’s runs from midfield were promising – it was vital in the build up – but his overall impact was minimal.

In stark contrast, Milan physically imposed their authority in midfield. De Jong was fielded higher up the pitch, aiding Milan in retaining possession through pressing in Juventus’ third, whereas Riccardo Montolivo produced an extraordinary performance. He recovered the most balls in midfield (12), while his five interceptions and four tackles in midfield typified his overall impact.

Milan attacks

With Seedorf fielding Poli as his no.10, Milan’s creativity came from wide outlets. The movement from Milan’s wide men created space for Milan’s fullbacks to push into advanced positions, despite early pressure from Juve’s shuttlers. Ultimately, there were three elements to Milan attack.

  • Fullbacks push forward: Emanuelson and Ignazio Abate’s advanced positions posed a threat for a short period. Buffon comfortably saved Emanuelson’s shot from outside the box, and later on, Taarabt overloaded the right flank with Abate, but the Juventus goalkeeper easily coped with his cross. Emanuelson continued to push forward throughout the half, and his ball into the box evaded Pazzini, and fell to Poli, but the Milan striker skied his shot over the net.
  • Direct balls into Pazzini: Over the course of the first half, Juventus’ back three failed to cope with Pazzini’s movement. In the 8th min, Pazzini nodded down a long ball to Kaka, but his shot flashed wide of the net. Minutes later, Taarabt’s ball from the right flank were flicked on by Kaka towards Pazzini, but his header flew over the net. Towards the end of the half, the Italian did well to hold up the ball and turn on Andrea Barzagli, but Buffon comfortably held his tame effort.
  • Kaka direct runs: Pazzini was behind Kaka’s first legitimate goal-scoring opportunity, as he beat Leonardo Bonucci to a loose ball and drove towards goal, thus leading to Kaka forcing Buffon to make a key toe save, and his rebound was cleared off the line by Bonucci. The Brazilian tormented Juventus later in the half, when he drifted infield from the left flank, but his curling effort was pushed aside by Buffon, and Poli blasted the rebound over the net. Lastly, his direct running from the left created space for teammates as well, as he squared a pass to Montolivo, whose effort was also saved by Buffon.

Milan created an abundance of chances to take the lead, but a terrific showing from Buffon, along with woeful finishing prevented Seedorf’s men from taking the lead.

Juventus goals

While Milan struggled scoring goals, Juventus’ ruthless finishing signified the difference between both sides. Fernando Llorente’s opener stemmed from a simple long-ball that Adil Rami couldn’t clear, in which it fell into space that Marchisio ran into. The Italian located Tevez in the box, while Stephane Lichtsteiner’s forward run enabled him to latch onto the Argentine’s clever forward pass, and complete his cross for an unmarked Llorente to tap the ball into an open net.

Juventus found more space in midfield in the second half, and it was evident when Tevez received time to fire a venomous shot off the crossbar to secure three points. Tevez, in general, displayed his significance to the side – his creativity created Llorente’s opener, and his goal-scoring prowess led to his fantastic strike for Juve’s second.

In truth, he epitomizes a striker fit for Conte’s system. His willingness to press Taarabt in Milan’s third, thus creating a chance that Lichtsteiner shockingly missed, along with using his strength to easily brush aside Rami and force Abbiati to make a save illustrates what he offers Juventus. The Argentine’s remarkable goal was his 15th in 26 Serie A appearances, and it’s fair to say that not only was Tevez the best striker in the match, but he’s possibly the best in the league.

Conclusion

Usually matches between two top-sides – disregarding the Milan’s position in the table – are decided by the narrowest margins. Although, Milan produced a positive performance, their inability to beat an impressive Buffon haunted the Rossoneri.

The win puts Juventus in pole position to claim their third consecutive Scudetto, and this match indicated the significance of Llorente and Tevez’s arrival. The strike duo has formed an unparalleled partnership this season, as they combine superbly within the final third, while providing flexibility, consistent performances, and goals.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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