Possession, patience and pressing: How Juventus must set up tactically to overcome Inter in the Derby d’Italia – tactical analysis
Antonio Conte’s side have already wrapped up their first Scudetto in over a decade, beating Juventus’ run of nine Serie A titles in a row, and so have nothing left to play for apart from the personal pride of winning the historic match against one of their biggest rivals.
Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus on the other hand have everything left to play for. They are currently staring down the barrel of finishing outside the top four as it stands, which would be a true indictment of what has been an utterly horrific season for the Bianconeri under their new and inexperienced manager.
A loss in the derby this weekend could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for their hopes of playing in the UEFA Champions League next season as well as the final nail in the coffin for Pirlo’s time in charge of Juventus. The idea of Cristiano Ronaldo playing Thursday night football in the UEFA Europa League next season now explicitly lies in the hands of their former manager.
It is likely to be a very exciting match from a neutral perspective and one with plenty of tactical elements to look forward to. This article will be a tactical analysis preview of the game between Juventus and Inter. It will be an analysis of the tactics that both managers will look to deploy as well as where each team can look to hurt each other tactically.
Lineups and formations
Juventus’ starting lineup will be slightly more difficult to predict than Inter’s although Conte may also look to rotate some of his starting eleven to give fringe players some more minutes in Serie A considering the title has already been won.
Total Football Analysis predicts that this will be the starting eleven that Pirlo puts out in the derby although, as already stated, his starting lineups have been very sporadic and unpredictable during his time at Juventus.
What has not been unpredictable though is the base formation used by the Bianconeri in their games. The Italian head coach opts to set his side up in a 4-4-2 base formation, but this shape is only replicated in the defensive phases. When in possession it is far more fluid and generally looks more like a 3-5-2 or 3-2-3-2.
It is likely that first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will get the nod ahead of the legendary Gianluigi Buffon and will protect the goal behind a backline comprising of Danilo, Giorgio Chiellini, Matthias de Ligt, and Juan Cuadrado. It is just as possible that Alex Sandro and Leonardo Bonucci will be part of the backline too though.
The double-pivot in midfield will probably be Rodrigo Bentancur partnering alongside Adrien Rabiot, flanked by Federico Chiesa on the left and Dejan Kulusevski on the right with Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata up top as a strike partnership. Again though, due to Pirlo’s heavy personnel rotation, Weston McKennie, Federico Bernardeschi, Arthur Melo, Aaron Ramsey and Paulo Dybala may also be involved across the midfield and front-line.
Conte has not used a back four at all this season in games where Inter have had all eleven men on the field. He has persisted with the back three throughout the season which has had a massive impact on them. The Italian manager has generally used a 3-5-2 although he has also deployed other variations such as the 3-4-1-2 and the 3-4-3, but for this match, we predict that a 3-5-2 will be the formation choice for the visitors.
Samir Handanovic will more than likely start in goal behind their typical backline consisting of Alessandro Bastoni, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar. The single pivot in midfield will possibly be Marcelo Brozovic with Christian Eriksen and Nicolo Barella acting as the two ‘8s’. Stefano Sensi and Roberto Gagliardini could also be viable options for the Nerazzurri though.
The three-man midfield will be flanked by Ivan Perisic and Achraf Hakimi. However, Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young may also start ahead of the two wide-men.
The strike partnership is almost set in stone with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in incredible form this season. Former Manchester United man Alexis Sanchez could also be a decent option for the away side if Conte wants to rest one of his usual starters who usually lead the line.
Juventus will need cohesion and patience
In the three meetings between the two sides this season, Juventus has averaged 51.36 percent ball possession, whereas Inter have averaged 48.64 possession in those three matches. It is likely that we will have a similar scenario in the derby this weekend.
The strange aspect of this statistic though is not that Inter look to have a lot of the ball. It is rather the opposite. The Nerazzurri have preferred to sit deep in a low block and deny Juventus any space in the midfield area and behind their backline. However, it has been Juventus’ carelessness and negligence in possession that has forced them to cede possession.
In a low block, Inter are so well structured by Conte and move as a cohesive unit to deny their opponents any space inside of their block or behind it, but we will focus more on this later. When Juventus have the ball, they must be patient. They cannot expect to break down a well-drilled deep defensive block with quality defenders such as the one Inter has without having patience in possession.
When they progress further up the pitch, Juventus shift into a formation that tends to resemble a 3-2-3-2 or a 3-2-2-3, although this is not constant, and it fluctuates quite a lot depending on the players’ positions.
This is usually how Juventus set up in possession when they are in the consolidation phase and are looking to progress the ball into the final third and has been their in-possession set-up against Inter Milan this season.
One of the fullbacks stays in the first line for Juventus to create a three-man backline, whilst the other fullback ventures forward up the flank. In this scenario, Danilo has remained in the first line with Bonucci and Chiellini whilst Gianluca Frabotta has pushed forward to join the second line or even to create a third line with the winger on the opposite side of the pitch.
The winger on the side with the advancing fullback inverts and positions himself in the halfspace between Inter’s wingback and wide centre-back, joining the final line alongside the two strikers. This player, which is Ramsey in this instance, attacks the depth quite a lot, making forward runs beyond the strikers to stretch the backline.
The double-pivot remains central, usually behind the opposition’s first line of pressure but when the ball is shifted over to the side with the natural wide-player, the shape changes.
Juventus almost always use one natural wide player as a winger while the other winger is generally a midfield player who can play in the halfspaces such as Ramsey and McKennie. When the ball is played to the side with the natural wide player who sits in the wide channel as opposed to drifting inside, Rabiot moves across into the halfspace to create a triangle with the ball-near defender and wide player.
He also uses combination play with the wide player to try and break through the opposition’s defensive block down this side. Often, this does not quite work out at the first few attempts. Instead of circulating the ball back around with patience to try and find little gaps in the opposition’s defensive block, Juventus are impatient and try to play over them or to go long to the front men.
In doing so, they are extremely uncoordinated and have a very poor support structure to win second balls.
Here is an example of this poor support structure from a direct pass which leads to an easy turnover of possession for Inter. Bonucci plays long to Morata who knocks the ball down but there is nobody close to him to win the second ball and so Inter regain possession and transition forward. It also makes Juventus poor in their defensive transition when they seek to counterpress the ball as the players are so far apart.
Against Conte’s men this time around, they will need to be far more coordinated if they are going to try and play more direct, although their best bet would be to remain patient in possession and not to give the ball away cheaply. If a pass into space is not on then they must re-circulate the ball back around to the other side and try their luck.
A team as defensively disciplined as this Inter side will not be easy to break through, but patience is a key factor into breaking down their low defensive block.
Inter’s set-up to nullify Juventus’ attack
As we have mentioned numerous times throughout this tactical preview, Inter will look to cede possession to Pirlo’s side, sit in a low defensive block, and then ultimately hit them on the break as they have done so well in previous matches against the Bianconeri.
Their base formation is the 3-5-2 which will switch to a 5-3-2 in the defensive phases as the wingbacks drop back into the final alongside the three central defenders.
They do look to press their opponents high though when the other team is in the build-up phase of their attack.
When they do this, their shape changes to more of a 3-4-1-2 with Brozovic pushing up to mark the other side’s ‘6’ while the wingbacks are tasked with pressing the opposition’s fullbacks/wingbacks.
This is usually a man-oriented pressing system, but when the opposition break through Inter’s initial press, the Nerazzurri look to quickly drop deep into their own half with the backline sitting on the edge of the penalty area holding their line.
Inter compact the space between their midfield and defensive line which makes it extremely difficult for any team to create chances centrally as they have all but blocked any access into ‘Zone 14’.
However, there is a way to provoke the Inter midfield players from coming out and leaving gaps in this area which Juventus can potentially exploit. Brozovic presses the opposition’s ‘6’ in the initial pressing phase but quickly drops back in between the two other midfield players.
Nonetheless, when the ball is central, as the two strikers tend to be quite far apart to press a back three, Brozovic also pushes up to mark the ‘6’ even when Inter are deep in their own half. This only occurs when the ball is in the central areas and the formation briefly resembles a 5-2-1-2. When it shifts out to the wide areas, Brozovic returns to his initial position.
Juventus have a possibility to find space between the lines by utilising this. As Brozovic returns, there is a possibility for the ball to be played from out wide to the space behind the first line of pressure. Then, Brozovic, or any player playing in the holding role for Inter, will be forced to step out once more to engage with the ball-carrier.
We can see this occurring in the image above. Cuadrado has played the ball from out to in to Bentancur who is able to take the ball on the half-turn and look to play behind the midfield line.
One key detail from this image is that Brozovic is holding his hands out screaming at his teammates for not closing the passing lane into Bentancur as he knows that he will now be forced to step out and engage which will leave space for an attacking player to receive on his blind-side by creating a passing angle.
Juventus’ failed man-oriented pressing
Pirlo has undertaken a very similar approach to that of Massimiliano Allegri from his five years in Turin in terms of his man-oriented pressing system in the defensive phase. However, unlike his mentor, this system certainly does not work as well, particularly because of how it is.
The Italian manager wants at least one of his midfielders high to man-mark their opposite numbers and the fullbacks are also involved in the high press, but this can be manipulated through the in-possession side’s positioning of their players in the build-up phase, meaning that players can drag their markers around which will leave massive gaps to be exploited.
In the build-up phase of this Serie A match back in January, Inter had pushed de Vrij up into the midfield to join Brozovic behind the opposition’s first line of pressure. Arturo Vidal was positioned quite high and had dragged his marker Chiesa inside whilst Young stayed wide on the left.
This ensured that Bastoni would have no other players pressuring him on the ball if he came out from the back with it. This worked successfully and Barella, who seemingly had no marker, made a run straight down the centre as the four defenders were all occupied with their own marker. Bastoni played an excellent ball straight through the Bianconeri’s entire team and set Barella through on goal to score the second goal in a 2-0 victory.
Juventus will need to ensure that structural mistakes like this can no longer happen as it is criminal to give away goals like this from a poor defensive system in top-flight football. Pirlo may decide to go slightly more zonally in this game or to maintain his man-to-man structure but perhaps instruct his midfield players not to commit too deep.
Tactically, this is likely to be a really interesting battle in the Derby D’Italia between one of European football’s greatest tacticians and an up-and-coming manager with fresh ideas, albeit some questionable ideas. It will be very intriguing to see how Pirlo tweaks his side’s tactics to ensure that they are not killed in transition as well as how Juventus set up in possession to try and break down Serie A’s best defence.