UEFA Champions League 2022/23: How Benfica’s press underlined Juventus’ weaknesses – tactical analysis
Juventus’ poor run continues as they generated their second UEFA Champions League loss this season. Apart from being inconsistent in Serie A, where they have two wins and four draws in six games, they are struggling in Europe as well. They got defeated by PSG and Benfica and demonstrated a lack of character and a distinguished style of play, which made it difficult to counteract the collective efforts of their opponents.
Benfica, on the other side, are undefeated since last season, having won all of their last 18 encounters, making a huge statement in the CL as well. The team’s intense pressing and well-executed attacking strategy managed to trouble Massimiliano Allegri’s team and forced them into both individual and collective mistakes, which were crucial for the final 2-1 result.
Juventus’ struggles to escape the pressing situations were underlined again, which resulted in them being unable to create quality chances in front of the goal. Once the team realised they cannot pass through the opposition’s defensive mechanisms through positional attacks, they attempted to expose them on the counterattack but didn’t manage to reach the goal.
Bianconeri’s unclear strategy and Allegri’s inefficient tactical changes made it difficult for the team to keep the early advantage that Arkadiusz Milik gave them.
Juventus’ goal was covered by Mattia Perin, who initially had Danilo, Leonardo Bonucci and Bremer in a three-man defensive line in front of him. The midfield consisted of Fabio Miretti, Leandro Paredes and Weston McKennie, who were flanked by Filip Kostić and Juan Cuadrado. Allegri paired Dušan Vlahović and Milik in attack.
The manager initially set the team up in a 3-5-2 being short on players in certain positions due to injuries. The team were undoubtedly missing the likes of Alex Sandro, Manuel Locatelli, Adrien Rabiot and Wojciech Szczęsny, all regular starters for the Bianconeri.
After Juventus lost control of the game and allowed a complete turnover, Allegri opted for a more attacking approach by switching to a 3-4-3, replacing Miretti with Ángel Di María and Cuadrado with Mattia De Sciglio, in an effort to increase the chances up front and have more stability defensively as both Miretti and Cuadraro struggled in direct challenges.
Roger Schmidt relied on the same starting eleven as in their win over Maccabi Haifa. The 4-2-3-1 formation saw Odysseas Vlachodimos between the bars with a defensive line of Alexander Bah, António Silva, Nicolás Otamendi and Alejandro Grimaldo.
Florentino Luís and Enzo Fernández covered the central midfield, while Rafa Silva was flanked by David Neres and João Mário, who all supported Gonçalo Ramos at the top of the attack.
The team were well prepared and steadily started to apply more pressure until they gained full control. They aimed to dominate both in and out of possession, trying to pin Juventus back, knowing that the team often struggle in bypassing press and also often make individual errors under pressure.
The manager didn’t opt for any changes until the late stages of the game when he tried to keep the 2-1 advantage and give his regular starters a rest.
Juventus’ initial push
The Bianconeri started the game well, initiating some creative attacking movement and trying to supply Vlahović and Milik with quality balls. They tried to expose the opposition through frequent crossing with Kostić having the main responsibility to create chances for his teammates and supply the ball to the box. However, the inaccuracy of the crossing attempts allowed Benfica to counteract, and the central defenders managed to deflect many of the passes.
The team mostly relied on attempts from the left, where they tried to disposition their opponents through smart combinations, but they lacked precision in the final stages which often left the attackers centimetres away from scoring. Kostić, who played in the wing-back position had quite a few responsibilities, starting from ball progression, through being the main creative force upfront but also defending the flank against Benfica’s fullback’s constant invasions.
After having the initiative in the first 20 minutes and having scored from a set-piece opportunity early on, Juventus started to lose their explosiveness. They slowly began dropping back, something that Allegri is often criticised for. Instead of trying to counteract, the Bianconeri reacted to Benfica’s increasing press by dropping back and trying to sustain the pressure in their own half. This led to them not having any more chances on the goal until the end of the first half.
Benfica’s pressing strategy
Benfica’s pressing strategy was the key to their win against Allegri’s side. They steadily increased the pressure off the ball and let Juventus unintentionally drop deeper to defend their advantage.
Once the Portuguese side had the initiative, they relied on multiple pressing mechanisms to block Juventus’ attacking movement and recover the ball. They constantly looked to press high, especially when the ball was with the goalkeeper as by pressing the defensive line, they often forced him into going for long balls to bypass the press. The pressure affected Perin’s accuracy and his long balls often either didn’t have a target or if they had, the ball never reached it.
Schmidt’s players also looked to press the ball carrier, however, they didn’t necessarily always apply man-to-man marking. Instead, they tried blocking the passing lanes by keeping their structure and holding the lines together, making it difficult for the opposing players to sneak between the lines and expose any spaces.
On many occasions, Juve didn’t have enough coverage in certain areas to be able to progress the ball efficiently.
An indicator of Bianconeri’s inability to counteract is the fact that Benfica kept an average PPDA rate of 6.86 throughout the game, which would’ve been extremely exhausting if they had met any resistance by the Juventus players.
The high intensity of Benfica’s actions out of possession allowed them to frequently recover the ball in midfield. That was a great starting point for their attacking movement as they always had multiple players in the advanced areas ready to react, causing havoc in Juventus’ defence and forcing them into individual mistakes.
As shown in the map below, Allegri’s side not only gave away possession too many times (120 losses) but many of those losses resulted in the opposition having a chance on the goal. Juventus’ inability to deal with the overload centrally led to many mistakes and respectively to conceding many shots.
Bianconeri’s three-man backline often lacked support from midfield which would give Benfica the numerical advantage they needed. Paredes was the only player who provided support centrally and tried to get the ball to the advanced areas after that.
The Eagles’ attacking movement
Schmidt’s approach has brought balance to the team and they have increased their efficiency both defensively and in attack. Through their improved pressing strategy, the team have narrowed down the shots they concede from 10.81 per 90 last season to only 6.38 on average this term.
The same goes for their attacking movement. Their actions off the ball have resulted in recovering the ball much more frequently, hence having more of the ball and creating more attacking opportunities. Last season they averaged 11.93 shots (40.6% on target), while now, they average 15.81 shots per 90 with the same accuracy.
This was underlined against Juventus as well, as their efforts resulted in 19 chances in front of the goal. Rafa and Neres were a constant threat to the goal. Neres would constantly move to the half-spaces, instead of staying wide, and was often left uncovered as the Juventus defenders struggled with the overload in these areas.
Rafa’s runs to the edge of the box and smart positioning also caused trouble to Juve’s defence and only Perin’s heroic saves kept him away from scoring.
As our analysis shows, Juventus are on the verge of a crisis as the manager’s lack of flexibility and lack of adequate in-game changes make the team unable to react to the opposition’s tactics. Roger Schmidt and Benfica made it clear that they shouldn’t be underestimated and made an important step towards reaching the knockout stage. Their balanced approach and tactical intelligence were demonstrated against the Bianconeri which was a statement that they could trouble their upcoming opponents PSG.