Andrea Pirlo at Fatih Karagümrük 2022/23: What tactics can we expect from the former Juventus boss in Turkey – tactical analysis
Andrea Pirlo only finished his playing career in 2017. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to focus on his managerial and coaching skills. His first role in football was set to be with Juventus under 23’s, however, after the sacking of Maurizio Sarri, Pirlo was handed the job to become Juventus’ first-team boss, with the challenge of retaining the Scudetto.
The architect, Pirlo, received his UEFA Pro License on 16th September 2020, four days before taking charge of his first-ever competitive game as a manager. It’s fair to say this all happened in a rush. Pirlo has said that his ideas have been inspired by the Barcelona sides managed by Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, Louis van Gaal’s Ajax, Antonio Conte’s Juventus and the AC Milan side led by Carlo Ancelotti.
This tactical analysis examines Andrea Pirlo’s tactics at Juventus during the 2020/21 season. This will be an analysis of his coaching philosophy, and what can be expected from him at his new club Fatih Karagümrük.
At Juventus, Pirlo had varied the systems he liked to use, perhaps as a result of being new to the job. At times he deployed a 3-5-2 system, but most of the time he opted for a 4-4-2. This wasn’t hugely relevant, as the formation used when trying to penetrate the opposition was often the 3-1-6, with specific profiles needed in certain areas.
This was the structure that Pirlo tried to ensure always remained. A full-back would drop into the back line to form a back three whilst the other would stay high and wide. The key is to have one player positioned high and wide on each flank, with the quality to be an outlet. The back three all have to be comfortable on the ball whilst the pivot in front needs to be technically sound, press-resistant and possess the ability to dictate the play.
Pirlo, like other modern coaches, required two players who are able to play in the half-space, and a midfielder who can link the play through the thirds. The final piece of the puzzle is to have a striker that is mobile enough to get around the pitch and be able to link play.
Andrea Pirlo has been particularly impressive with his innovation in the 1st phase of play. A big part of the build-up phase for Pirlo is to involve the fullbacks in the central areas. Being central means that a player has options all around him, rather than having one side cut off if they were to have possession of the ball out wide. In the image below, Danilo has moved into the centre of the pitch which allows Arthur Melo to pass him the ball quickly, where he has two options to progress the ball forward. If Danilo had stayed wide, the pass to Adrien Rabiot wouldn’t have been on. The only option would be to pass the ball down the line, which quickly becomes predictable.
Something else that has been particularly interesting is the use of different horizontal passing options during the build up. Seeing as Leonardo Bonucci is deep, Matthijs de Ligt recognises he is blocking a passing option and moves into a different area of the pitch. This movement helps create the diamond shape that Pirlo craves, whilst also giving Aaron Ramsey three easy passing options to beat the press.
While Pirlo has shown his tactical ability to retain the ball in deep areas, this next image shows how he has coached his players to learn to progress the ball through central areas. As stated before, being central means that you have more options, so naturally, you’d want to attack the box from the centre. In the image below, you can see a passing pattern Pirlo has created where Rabiot drops deep from a high starting position, and Rodrigo Bentancur makes the opposite movement. This allows Bentancur to run into an open space and receive a first-time pass from Rabiot, where Juventus can attack the AC Milan half from a central area.
Yet again, Andrea Pirlo has demonstrated his intelligence through another well-crafted pattern to escape press even when there is no numerical overload in the first third. Early off-the-ball runs are key to Pirlo’s system, where players can run into advantageous positions early, as they have the confidence that their teammates will keep the ball and end up in a position where they can play it to them. The image below shows the Bianconeri midfielder running away from his marker early, who is still ball-watching. A simple one-two gives Juventus some separation and the ball is played through the press.
Whilst it is fair to say the Old Lady weren’t the most creative team in front of goal that season, they did have some clever moments in and around the final third. The image below shows Cristiano Ronaldo dropping deep to open up the space behind, which Juan Cuadrado attacks. This was one way in which Juventus created gaps in the opposition back line.
Another key weapon of Pirlo’s Juventus was the crossing ability of Cuadrado. Pirlo usually started a front two of Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata, both players who are great at heading the ball. Juventus were successful in forcing the opposition deep, which allowed Cuadrado to have plenty of time on the ball to pick out the deliveries he made.
This next image shows the numerical overloads Pirlo achieved in wide areas. a 4v3 caused the defence dilemmas, which allowed Alex Sandro to find the spare man and play a key pass into the box. This was made easier in the match against Porto, due to them being down to 10 men.
Off-the-ball runs are key to Pirlo’s systems. A third-man run allows a player who doesn’t seem interested in the ball to suddenly appear in a dangerous position from a different angle. This is evident here, where Paulo Dybala seems to be hiding behind his marker, which only gives him a head start in the race to get into the box. Dybala has seen De Ligt’s intention to play the ball more direct, and so he positioned himself higher up the pitch and by the time the ball travelled through the air, Dybala was already on the last line of the defence. This situation ended up in Dybala being 1v1 against a defender in the box, and using his superior technical quality, he managed to break the deadlock.
This last image of Juventus’ attacking threat is taken from Pirlo’s final game in charge. Off-the-ball runs from both full-backs helped to stretch the back four whilst Rabiot and Dejan Kulusevski roamed in the half-spaces. Federico Chiesa makes a darting run across the defender and receives a pass from Dybala. The second that Dybala plays the pass, both 10s already know what movements to make.
Kulusevski comes close to the ball to receive the pass, recognising that the space in the back four is on Rabiot’s side. Rabiot attacks the open space and receives a first-time pass from Kulusveski. This attack also ended in a goal and shows just how well Pirlo drilled fluid attacking principles into his side.
Every manager wants patience, and this example from Pirlo’s last game just shows how the team was starting to understand and put his ideas to life, something that might’ve occurred more often had he not been sacked.
Out of possession
Andrea Pirlo wants to dominate games, which is something you won’t do regularly if you don’t press high up the pitch to gain control. In the image below, it is evident that Pirlo wants to prevent teams from playing out from the back, with the front six all pressing aggressively to prevent the Napoli defenders from having time on the ball. The two strikers and two wide players match up to the opposition’s back four, whilst the midfield two mark the opposition’s double pivot. When the ball is moved to one side, the far side winger shuffles over and covers the far centre back, to allow a forward to prevent the ball from being played back to the goalkeeper.
At times, a centre-back will have to step out of line to help with the press, but when it’s not possible due to the distance being too big, it leaves Juventus’ wide players with lots of problems. In the image below, Ramsey has two players to mark, which means that there is a free man in the build-up. This causes the Bianconeri’s block to fail, be played through and concede a goal as a result of a poor press.
Here is another occasion, where this time two players have dropped deep and not been followed. The press is pointless if the opposition can just boot the ball over it into an unmarked player. Pirlo needs to ensure his deep players are more aggressive in the press otherwise they will be played through on most occasions.
Although the players aren’t always brave in stepping out during a high-pressing situation, they are more inclined to do so when the distance between them and the opposition is lesser. In this image, de Ligt feels comfortable following a striker that has dropped deep to prevent them from being able to receive the ball with time and space.
Andrea Pirlo has demonstrated that when his team are leading, they are perfectly happy to see a game out by sitting deeper and not allowing the opposition to play through them. Sitting in a compact 4-4-2 block, Barcelona’s technical players have no space to receive the ball. The only space is in wide areas, which Juventus are happy to defend in.
In offensive transitions, Andrea Pirlo aims to target the holes left behind by offensive full-backs from the opposition teams. This means that he wants to be direct when regaining possession so that the opponents don’t have time to recover their position. Pirlo instructs his players to instantly play the ball into a player behind the midfield line, who can turn and drive the team up the pitch at pace. This varies and sometimes it is a striker who drops off, or it can be a winger who receives the ball ahead of him.
When the Old Lady lost the ball, they were quite old-fashioned in the sense that they didn’t aggressively counter-press to regain possession of the ball. If this is something Pirlo keeps up at his next job, he will not be able to sustain pressure effectively and will concede more chances through counterattacks, although this is something that may be down to a lack of running power in his midfield players.
Andrea Pirlo has displayed some very exciting qualities during his stint as Juventus manager. His attacking patterns began to look more exciting at the latter end of his reign, which is only natural. The more a team is used to a manager’s ideas, the more they get attempted. It was also an extremely difficult season to start management in with fans not allowed in stadiums, and there being pretty much no pre-season due to a delayed Champions League tournament.
At Fatih Karagümrük, Pirlo will take charge of an ageing core of players such as Fabio Borini and Ahmed Musa. These players should be sound technically, and their off-the-ball movement should be up to standard, but the energy in the press may not be there which will cause Pirlo’s team to lose control of games. There are a lot of very young prospects coming through, and Pirlo will have another test in his ability to develop players that hasn’t been seen yet. Nevertheless, Pirlo has demonstrated an ability to help his team control games with the ball but will need to help make them more decisive, and more aggressive without it.
Pirlo has a big task at hand, and a long summer ahead, but it will be very interesting to see if he carries on these principles that got him fired from his only job as a manager, or whether he has designed new ideas in the year since his sacking.