Serie A 2018/19: Fiorentina vs Juventus
The rivalry between Fiorentina and Juventus goes back a few decades and is perhaps the most fierce rivalry in Italy with clubs from different cities. On Saturday, the two clubs faced off yet again and Juventus produced a mightily impressive performance to leave Florence with a 3-0 win and three further points to stretch their lead at the top ahead of Napoli’s clash in Bergamo on Monday night. This tactical analysis will look at both sides pressing schemes and Massimiliano Allegri’s in-game tweaks which helped Juve dominate the game.
Fiorentina set up in a slightly more controlled fashion with Stefano Pioli preferring central midfielder Gerson on the right of his three-man attack in place of Marko Pjaca, Kevin Mirallas or Valentin Eysseric. The hybrid 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation remained with Marco Benassi the most attacking of the three midfielders. Importantly, German Pezzella was back in central defence alongside Vitor Hugo.
Allegri set up without Miralem Pjanic and Alex Sandro and surprisingly opted for Juan Cuadrado to replace the Bosnian midfielder. This meant Rodrigo Bentancur was deployed as the defensive midfielder behind Cuadrado and Blaise Matuidi. Mattia De Sciglio replaced Sandro with Joao Cancelo moving to left-back. Up front, the impressive trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic remained in Allegri’s fluid 4-3-1-2.
Pioli opted for a man-orientated pressing scheme when Juventus looked to build from the back. We can see this setup in the image below. The Fiorentina players pick up a direct opponent and looked to lock Juve in and overload around the ball.
As you see in the below image, Fiorentina really went after Juve’s players. The front six went really high when pressing to disrupt Juve’s build-up play from the back.
The high-pressing was very successful, initially. Fiorentina managed to win the ball in dangerous areas on a number of occasions. One of them is the situation below when Bentancur received the ball with his back turned against the play. Fiorentina midfielders, Jordan Veretout and Edimilson Fernandes are already on their way towards the Uruguayan. Fernandes wins the ball and starts a counter-attack but as on most occasions, Fiorentina’s counters lacked the quality to carve Juve open.
No real big chances or goals came from the pressing scheme Pioli instilled in his players but they caused Juve a lot of problems in the first 20 minutes when the game was very chaotic. The pressing also forced Juve to change their setup as Allegri quickly identified the need to change.
Juventus’ defensive set up
As mentioned in previous analysis on this site, Allegri has had Juve playing in a very fluid 4-3-1-2 this season. Bentancur has been a revelation next to Pjanic and Matuidi with Dybala and Mandzukic joining Ronaldo in a superb attack. Attacking full-backs like Cancelo and Sandro has thrived on the wings and Juve have looked great in many games. Allegri kept the setup at Fiorentina despite Pjanic not playing. As mentioned, this meant Bentancur took Pjanic deeper role with Cuadrado playing as the right-sided central midfielder. This decision caught the eye immediately given the Colombian winger usually plays on the touchline as a winger, wing-back or full-back. Now though, he was deployed as a central midfielder. We can see this positioning in the image below with Juve’s midfield diamond highlighted.
Allegri, as usual, also opted for a man-orientated pressing scheme. Juve’s front-three was perfectly suited to press Fiorentina’s situational back-three when building up (right-back Nikola Milenkovic acted as a right-sided centre-back in possession). Juve removed easy options and caused Fiorentina to struggle when playing out from the back. Normally La Viola do this well but Juve made it difficult for them. As you see below, Juve also committed players when pressing high.
It was also clear to see Allegri’s willingness to block off the central areas and force Fiorentina wide instead. The front-three of Juventus worked in tandem with the midfield three to close off the centre and allow Fiorentina space out wide. As the ball then travelled there, Juve were in a good position to press with the ball-near full-back and central midfielder.
Juve’s defending is always lauded and they were once again impressive defensively in a tough away game.
Allegri’s in-game tweaks
As mentioned earlier in this analysis, the opening 20 minutes of the game were quite chaotic. Due to the impressive pressing of both sides, it was hard to build attacks effectively. Allegri then showed off his tactical intelligence as he analysed the early part of the game and made some tweaks to Juve’s attacking setup. This tipped the game into Juve’s favour as it gave them more control. This is what he did.
As you see below, Allegri changed the build-up shape to something akin to a 3-5-2. He instructed right-back De Sciglio to remain deep as the third centre-back in possession while the left-back Cancelo (black) bombed on down the left. To balance this, he moved Cuadrado wide in possession to act as a right-winger. Bentancur (white) remained as the sole defensive midfielder with Matuidi to his left while Dybala (blue) dropped deeper into the right-sided half-space and acted as a very attacking central midfielder. Ronaldo and Mandzukic worked more as a duo up front.
The formation change allowed the outer centre-backs Chiellini and De Sciglio to step forward more with the ball and create problems for Fiorentina’s midfield. We can see the attacking setup below with Cuadrado and Cancelo wide. De Sciglio has moved forward and attracts pressure while Juve maintains plenty of central options to create numerical advantages in the central areas. Ronaldo (black) often dropped into the space between the lines from where he picked up the ball in good areas and forced Fiorentina’s midfielders to worry about yet another player.
This shift in formation gave Juve more control and allowed them to get a grip of the game. It also caused Fiorentina’s man-orientated defending problems. The opening goal was a telling example. It also showed why a player like Ronaldo creates space for his teammates just by being who he is.
Below we can see Bentancur in possession in midfield. Crucially, he’s under no pressure which forces Veretout to step up. Dybala has moved into a good passing angle behind the Frenchman and attracted the attention of centre-back Vitor Hugo. Cuadrado has also moved inside and attracts the attention of Fernandes, which leaves Veretout alone in midfield. Bentancur plays a one-two with Dybala and receives the ball on the other side of Veretout.
Now, Ronaldo comes into play. He makes a run away from Bentancur and, knowing it’s Ronaldo, Milenkovic follows the forward. This leaves a huge space in the heart of Fiorentina’s defence. Bentancur skips past Pezzella and slots home calmly.
The goal could, therefore, have been avoided for Fiorentina had Fernandes kept his position instead of focusing on Cuadrado. This had a knock-on effect as Hugo then picked up Dybala which then forced Milenkovic to follow Ronaldo’s run as he would otherwise be free in Hugo’s space. The goal also highlighted how to overcome a man-orientated defence and how a superstar like Ronaldo attracts extra attention because of his record in the game.
Juventus are comfortably the best team in Italy, at the moment with a magnificent squad and one of the best coaches in Europe. Their start to the season has been insane with 13 wins and a draw from their opening 14 matches. They’re already eleven points clear of Inter and it seems only Napoli might be able to keep up. Fridays Derby d’Italia against Inter could see Allegri get an even tighter grip of the Scudetto. Against Fiorentina, they showed off their strength in depth with the likes of Miralem Pjanic and Alex Sandro missing out. It hardly mattered as Juve keep marching on.
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