Matchday four in the UEFA Champions League is the start of the home straight towards qualification. A strong run of form from earlier in the group can now be rewarded with an early progression. Great for the side’s who are mounting a domestic challenge who can use the spare games to rotate their squad, safe in the knowledge of their guaranteed passage. Those with a disappointing start enter into the now-or-never phase, where tricky away fixtures must be turned into three points in order to stay in the challenge for a top-spot or face slumping out of the competition before the real fun starts.
In this tactical analysis, we look at how Juventus sealed their qualification despite looking unconvincing in their tactics. We also provide an analysis of how a lively Lokomotiv Moscow side nearly shocked the Italian giants on home soil.
The hosts started in a 4-4-1-1 system, deploying Aleksey Miranchuk in the ’10’ role, starting slightly behind Eder. His duty out of possession was to drop into midfield to make up a narrow, congested midfield that sought to block the passing lanes from a contained lower block. In transition, the Russian used his speed to break away from a slowly retreating Juventus defensive unit.
Veterans Benedikt Höwedes and Vedran Ćorluka started as the centre-back pairing, their lack of pace was protected by the narrow, deeper shape occupied by the Lokomotiv midfield who set-up tactically to ensure defensive protection at all times.
That’s not to say that Lokomotiv battened down the hatches in any sense, they merely focussed on reducing their defensive transition times by quickly occupying a robust shape with small vertical spaces between the lines. From this shape, Lokomotiv then looked to exploit the spaces left by the advancing visitors who pushed players forward in an attempt to breakthrough. The Russians found success in this tactic, with 36.36% of their counter-attacks ending in a shot at goal.
Maurizio Sarri started his side in a 4-3-1-2/4-D-2 shape. The midfield diamond consisted of Aaron Ramsey, who took up a slightly more advanced position behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuaín upfront. Sami Khedira and Adrien Rabiot occupied the central midfield line, which was hinged by Miralem Pjanić who adopted a deep-lying playmaker role in the heart of the pitch.
The diamond remained narrow to reduce passing distances in order to use quick interchanges between the technical midfielders, who also used positional rotations in an attempt to play through the rigid hosts. Conversely, however, the narrow diamond played into the Lokomotiv’s strengths as Juventus failed to stretch the home side’s shape and got bogged down in a heavily congested central zone. Alex Sandro and Danilo were the starting full-backs, they often found themselves under-used in large unoccupied spaces due to the narrow nature of both side’s tactics.
Lokomotiv didn’t see too much of the ball, they only achieved a possession percentage of 33%, demonstrating their focus on defensive shape over the creation of sustained attacks using build-up play. As we can see above, there was little interaction between the central defenders and the central midfielders Grzegorz Krychowiak and Dmitri Barinov. The home side averaged just 2.89 passes per possession in their attempts to counter-attack using direct passing through vertical lines.
When in controlled possession, the home side looked to exploit the space vacated by the 4-D-2 system used by their opponents. We can see the stronger links came from the advancing runs made by full-backs Vladislav Ignatyev (20) and Maciej Rybus (31) who forced the Juventus diamond to shift laterally, turning it into a distorted rhombus. This lack of defensive organisation from the visitors when shifting laterally created large spaces to play through and yielded success for Lokomotiv, which we look at later on.
An unpolished diamond
In the early stages of their attacks, Juventus occupied a high line, with the central defenders heavily involved in the rotations of possession. The success of a 4-D-2 comes from a mobile midfield making sharp movements into passing lanes as the possession rotates across the back four.
Sarri and his men will be pleased to guarantee an early progression to the latter stages of the competition. However, on closer inspection, the Italians will be disappointed with a poor performance in the tactical aspects of their game. Instead of tactical fluidity, they relied on grit and individual skill to yield a result. Though these are necessary traits if you want to win a competition of this magnitude, you can’t help but feel against a better team Juventus will need to improve otherwise they’ll be exploited with severe consequences.
Lokomotiv can reflect positively on this performance and will feel they deserved at least a point from the chances they created. This result has effectively ended their chances of qualifying from the group stages however, they will look to finish strong using the confidence from this match to believe they can get a result in Madrid – who knows.
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If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the November issue for just ₤4.99 here