How second-string Juventus’ midfield diamond dismantled Udinese
Juventus rotated almost their entire team ahead of their crunch Champions League return leg against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, yet still dominated Udinese and won 4-1. This tactical analysis looks at how Juve managed to dismantle Udinese with clever positioning and some superb individual performances. The result puts Juventus 19 points clear at the top of Serie A, albeit with one more game played.
Apart from Szczesny in goal, only Alex Sandro, Blaise Matuidi and either of Emre Can or Rodrigo Bentancur could be considered starters. As we’ll see, the decision to use Federico Bernardeschi as a number 10, his best position, proved inspired. For Udinese, there was a first Serie A start for young English midfielder Ben Wilmot, on loan from Watford.
Tactical analysis: Allegri’s positional structure
Juventus set up in a 3-5-1-1 and their positioning highlighted Max Allegri’s tactical flexibility. You can see the setup in the image below. Juventus were extremely well-organised in attack with each player’s positioning filling a purpose.
The midfield four created a diamond with Bentancur at its base and Bernardeschi at its tip. The two wing-backs Alex Sandro and Leonardo Spinazzola kept full width at all times with striker Moise Kean always stretching Udinese vertically.
With Udinese defending in a 5-3-2 Allegri looked to exploit the space outside Udinese’s midfield three. As you can see in the image below, Can and Matuidi (black circles) were always positioned outside Udinese’s midfield three. This stretched the midfield of Udinese and opened spaces between the lines for Bentancur and Bernardeschi.
The two of them were always positioned between the lines of Udinese’s shape. This would create problems for Udinese as Wilmot had to step up to press Bentancur, thus leaving space behind the midfield line for Bernardeschi to exploit.
Allegri also sought to overload the wide areas by doubling up on Udinese’s wing-backs. The image below shows Spinazzola keeping width while right-sided centre-back Martin Caceres steps forward to double up on Udinese’s wing-back. Normally, Can would do this rather than Caceres, but with him more centred in this situation, Caceres could go forward instead.
As we’ll see below, Juventus’ excellent positioning pulled Udinese apart.
Udinese’s midfield struggles
Udinese really struggled to keep control of Juventus’ midfield diamond. The image below highlights these problems. Firstly, the presence of Bentancur in front of the midfield and Bernardeschi behind it made it difficult for Wilmot in the middle of Udinese’s midfield. He either had to press Bentancur, which left space for Bernardeschi, or stay deep to cover Bernardeschi, which left Bentancur free to run the game.
Secondly, due to the need to keep compact against Juve’s setup, Udinese struggled to defend the areas outside of their midfield. The image below highlights the huge space Can has to operate in. By playing the ball into these spaces Juve forced Udinese’s midfield to move, thus opening them up to thread passes through to Bernardeschi.
The image below highlights the issue Udinese’s left-sided midfield Seko Fofana (yellow) had to deal with. Wilmot has stepped up to press Bentancur. Notice the presence of Bernardeschi and Can either side of the Frenchman. He can’t close down both and thus Juve could dominate the ball easily in central areas.
Finally I’ve highlighted another situation where Can found plenty of space outside Fofana. Wilmot again presses Bentancur and the Uruguayan easily progresses the attack to the German midfielder.
Juventus’ superb positioning in midfield, where they created numerical as well as positional superiority with Bentancur and Bernardeschi between the lines, dismantled Udinese’s defensive shape. It beggars belief why coach Davide Nicola didn’t just order one of his strikers to mark Bentancur which would have allowed Wilmot to concentrate on stopping Bernardeschi. The Udinese front two were out-numbered against Juve’s back three anyway.
Brilliant Bernardeschi shines
Federico Bernardeschi has had a mixed spell at Juventus so far. He’s getting games, and winning trophies, but he hasn’t been at his breathtaking best that he showed at Fiorentina. One big reason for that is that he’s rarely been played in his best position as a number 10. Against Udinese he was, and he showed why he was so highly rated when he came to Turin.
Firstly, Bernardeschi is extremely clever with his positioning and played his role to perfection on Friday night. The image below highlights the area he usually occupied. Udinese’s midfielders are attracted to Bentancur and Matuidi, and that opens up spaces behind the midfield for Bernardeschi to roam in.
Juve’s back three were always 3v2 against Udinese’s attackers which allowed at least one of them to step forward with the ball. Bernardeschi was often their intended target has he found space behind the young Wilmot.
What makes Bernardeschi such an intriguing number 10 though is the fact he combines his intelligence with excellent technique and, crucially, clever movement. He’s not a static 10, instead making movements into depth and the wide areas when needed.
The image below is a good example of how he reads the game well. Matuidi makes a run towards the wing and takes the centre-back with him. Bernardeschi then moves into the vacated space, receives the pass and fires at goal.
The image below is another good example. Again he reacts to Matuidi’s movement as the Frenchman moves towards the ball and drags a defender with him. Bernardeschi then attacks the wide space where he can isolate the defender one on one.
Bernardeschi had an excellent performance where only a goal or assist was missing. If he gets more chances in his natural position then we are sure to see more performances of this ilk.
Despite rotating more than half their team, Juventus easily dismantled Udinese. No one probably expected anything else, but regardless of the opposition and their struggles, Allegri once again showcased his tactical flexibility. Great individual performances from the likes of Bentancur, Bernardeschi and Kean are sure to please the coach as well. For the Champions League make-or-break return with Atletico, however, the regular team will return, but perhaps one of these younger players can prove the difference from the bench.
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