Serie A 2022/23: Why Juventus were unable to capitalise on early lead despite poor Roma performance – tactical analysis
Matchday three of the 2022/23 Serie A campaign saw the clash of two giants of Italian football – Juventus and Roma. Both clubs have a dazzling history and remain amongst the best in the country. In 2021/22, neither side could keep pace with Inter and AC Milan in the title race, but both qualified for European competition this season. Juventus came in fourth to secure UEFA Champions League football, while Roma could only clinch sixth place to qualify for this season’s UEFA Europa League.
This tie saw the hosts take an early lead through Dušan Vlahović, only for it to be cancelled out in the second half by former Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham. This tactical analysis will provide insight to how the game unfolded, with an analysis of the key aspects and tactics that were present throughout.
Hosts Juve lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Vlahović led the line with wide support coming from Juan Cuadrado and Filip Kostić. Fabio Miretti came into the team to replace Weston Mckennie who has lately been the subject of transfer rumours, linking him to the likes of Everton and Tottenham Hotspur. Danilo was moved to play in the centre of defence to allow Mattia De Sciglio to slot in at right-back – Daniele Rugani missed out as his future at the club is also unclear. Wojciech Szczęsny returned to the starting lineup after missing the previous game against Sampdoria.
Meanwhile, José Mourinho sent his side out in the usual 3-4-2-1 formation as they looked to flood the midfield areas. Lorenzo Pellegrini moved position from Roma’s last fixture, this time lining up alongside ex-Juve star Paulo Dybala in the attacking midfield/shadow striker role. Nemanja Matić, a player Mourinho knows extremely well, came into the side, playing in a central midfield role next to Bryan Cristante.
Early lead sets the tone
The Old Lady took the lead after just two minutes thanks to an absolute peach of a free kick from Vlahović. This seemingly unsettled Roma but fired Juventus up – the hosts would look to attack with intensity and aggression, but also displayed a cool and composed approach when in control of comfortable possession. This segment will provide an analysis of the tactics used in Juve’s approach play in various areas on the pitch.
To no surprise, Roma went in search of an equaliser after falling behind so early, but their tactics just wouldn’t click. Juve smelled blood and would launch counterattacks where possible. In most of their attacking cases, the build-up play was effective, but often lacked enough quality at the end of the move to make it count.
With Roma’s defence unsettled and disorganised after losing the ball in attack, Juventus were able to commit the attacking unit forward to try and outnumber them. The wide players would burst forward, offering support on the flanks but wouldn’t stray from the path too far, allowing themselves to both offer support to the man on the ball as well as occupying open space/dragging a defender out to create space elsewhere.
It wasn’t just in the final third that Juve showed some class on the ball – they also remained calm in their own half when being pressed by the visitors. It is worth noting that, especially in the example above, Roma’s press was well organised as a unit, with good shape that should’ve limited Juventus’ options to get out of danger, but small individual details were the downfall – not pressing the man on the ball quick enough was one major aspect, and the other was not marking tightly enough.
Juve were able to get the ball down the line, meaning the ball bypassed all but one member of the pressing unit with just one pass. Rabiot was then able to weave his way past his marker and drive into space in midfield.
While this highlighted Roma’s shellshock of falling behind early – and the impact this had on their approach off the ball, it also showcased Juventus’ quality on the ball as well as the confidence they have in Massimiliano Allegri’s tactics as they looked to stick to their guns by playing their way out of danger rather than simply clearing their lines.
One of the most important qualities that Allegri has instilled into his side is the ability to identify opposition weakness and use it to their own gain. We saw it with the counterattacking mentioned earlier, as well as beating the Roma press deep in their own half. Roma’s defensive shape extended into more areas than just defending counterattacks – their midfield unit struggled to adjust to situations and often looked disorganised and somewhat desperate. Juve recognised this and used it to progress the ball into higher areas of the pitch.
The example above shows just that – Danilo playing a line-breaking pass into the midfield zone after Miretti entered the open space, totally unmarked. This allowed the midfielder to receive the ball with little pressure, presenting the opportunity to carry the ball into the attacking third.
Mourinho’s half-time team talk was likely directed at a number of issues from the first half, one of the major ones being their defensive shape and organisation. There was some improvement in the second half, especially after their equaliser in the 69th minute. Roma seemed to be aware that they couldn’t match Juventus’ quality and momentum for the full game and looked comfortable with a point once they got their goal.
Now, they didn’t “park the bus”, but their tactics leaned towards a defensive nature with the intention of holding onto what they – something Mourinho has mastered over the years. Their shape stifled Juve’s attack, especially when they set up as they did above. The highlighted midfield unit gives off a shape that shows security, unity, and organisation, while the team as a whole defended in a compact nature, leaving very little space to exploit.
Juve still remained patient for the most part, trying to work the ball in wide areas to positions where a deep cross was on the cards, or simply recycling possession and looking to progress down various avenues. This was definitely a contributing factor to Juve’s register of 57% possession and a total of 502 passes – 103 more than their counterparts.
Roma’s struggle in finding a response
It’s difficult to predict how Roma would’ve approached the game if they hadn’t fallen behind so early in the game, but it was obviously a spanner in the works, and they struggled to recover from it. The first half was mainly a tale of them surviving until the break and were lucky to go in at the interval with the score at just 1-0. Here, we analyse how Roma performed in reaction to Juve’s early goal, highlighting their struggles in attack.
This first image encapsulates the difference between the two sides. Gianluca Mancini is the man on the ball for the away side as they looked to penetrate Juve through the thirds. Roma found a break into a dangerous area of the midfield unit as Dybala found a pocket of space having not been picked up by a Juve shirt. While his first touch on receiving the ball did not help matters, it was the reaction of two Juve players that ultimately killed the attack for Roma.
New signing Gleison Bremer, last season’s Serie A defender of the year, quickly realised his team’s mistake and burst out to close Dybala down as the ball came in. Bremer’s pressure forced Dybala backwards, which triggered a reacting press from Manuel Locatelli. This, as mentioned, put an end to Roma’s quest on goal and in turn set up a transitional attack for the hosts.
Roma’s approach play, performance in possession, and general tactics all gave off the impression that the players were somewhat lost and unsure of their jobs. In an attempt to gain some momentum, they had to build possession – they incorporated playing out from the back in line with this, but looked uncomfortable doing so, and showed zero alert to the pressure from Juventus.
Above, we see two things – Roma looking to play out from the back with very little support in the area of possession, and a tremendous shape and press execution from Juve. Captain Juan Cuadrado applied pressure on Roma’s Ibañez, forcing the defender to make a move. He opted for a pass to LWB Leonardo Spinazzola, to which De Sciglio was looking to close down before the ball even arrived at the feet of the Italian. The left wing-back showed signs of panic with no solution and tried moving the ball forward, but the ball was only collected by Juve’s Bremer at the half-way line.
We mentioned Juventus’ talent for identifying weaknesses, well Roma showed a big struggle in doing the same, as well as struggling with problem-solving too. Their decision-making on an individual basis was often very poor and played a huge part in their failure to impress in this fixture.
The image above portrays a promising phase of play for Roma – a good number of players both ahead of the ball and in supporting positions, possession in the front area of the midfield unit with a very good opportunity to progress into the attacking third. But it comes back to poor decision-making as Matić takes the ball a few yards further forward before attempting a shot from at least 30 yards. This would be an understandable move if he had no support around him but that wasn’t the case – the obvious pass was right in front of him in Spinazzola, but there was also strong support on the right flank from Rick Karsdorp and Cristante. Opting for none of those and instead shooting from range must have been extremely frustrating for Roma supporters.
Juventus deserve some credit for this as their defensive tactics were effective – the midfield unit in a tight, compact shape with the closest man still pressing the ball; and the shape of the back four also left very little space for Roma to attack immediately.
Another image that portrays a promising attack for Roma: another example of poor decision-making. With four players in/around the box, you would expect from here that Spinazzola would either look to get past Cuadrado or put a cross into the box. Instead, he turned back towards his own goal and played pass to a deep midfielder – a pass that almost handed possession to Juve by the way.
This particular failure was entirely down to Spinazzola alone. From his perspective, he may have seen Juve’s strong presence and decided against a cross and may have been waiting for close support. This support didn’t come, but could’ve been provided by Stephan El Shaarawy: instead of waiting around at the edge of the box next to two teammates, he could’ve made a darting run into the gap behind Cuadrado, allowing Roma to get inside the box.
There is an argument that this phase, and the way it panned out, was actually successful for Roma as they came forward again after the backwards pass, with the ball ending up in a similar position to where it is in the image above. A strange decision to attempt a long shot from a wide position – but the shot was blocked and ricocheted out for a Roma corner, which they scored from. But Mourinho, Roma’s fans, and the players, surely can’t be happy with the fact that most, if not all, of their eight attempts on goal were either long-range efforts or headers from corners.
This was a poor performance from Roma, an aspect of the game that was almost definitely influenced by Juventus taking an early lead. Roma will be happy to come away with a point as they could have been two or three down by half-time. Their lack of organisation off the ball and lack of creativity going forward was constant throughout the game, and only showed small glimmers of hope in their approach play to reach the final third.
Juventus will be satisfied with their performance for the most part – their final product needs some work, though. Given the good attacking chances they carved out, particularly in the first half, they will be disappointed not to come away with three points.