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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.