Juventus have been very consistent under the first half of the Serie A season and lead the table with four points ahead of Roma and also have a game in hand. Despite continuously winning their matches, the performances have hardly been extraordinary apart from the odd game. Wins against Napoli, Roma and Atalanta has proved their status as Italy’s best team, but their have also been surprising results such as losses against both Milan clubs and Genoa’s total destruction of the champions at Marassi. Injuries to key players like Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini, Dani Alves, Marchisio and Dybala has obviously not helped while star signing Miralem Pjanic has taken a while to settle in Turin. With Dybala now fit, Allegri seems to have settled on the way forward for the champions after tinkering with his formations and tactics thus far. Against Bologna, he found an almost perfect balance.
Defensively, Juventus were set up in a 4-3-1-2 as can be seen above. Neto was in goal with Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Chiellini and Asamoah in defence, Khedira, Marchisio and Sturaro in midfield with Pjanic as the trequartista behind Dybala and Higuain.
When attacking however, the shape changed more into a 4-3-2-1 with both full backs extremely attacking. The change comes because of Dybala’s licence to drop into the right half space from where he would be extremely dangerous.
Finding space between the lines
One of the keys for Juventus dominating display was their ability to find space between Bologna’s midfield and defensive lines. They did this through clever positioning and progressive, vertical passing to find these spaces. Above we can see how Sturaro, Pjanic, Dybala and Khedira all move into threatening positions where they to receive the ball. Asamoah (circled in yellow) provide fantastic width on the right which opens up another passing option for the ball carrier Marchisio. On this occasion, Marchisio found Pjanic (next to the referee) who turned and delivered the fantastic assist for Higuain’s opener.
Here we see the setup again. The three midfielders are circled in red while Pjanic and Dybala (both circled in blue) is in both half spaces looking to receive and attack. Once again note the width on the left provided by Asamoah.
Pjanic and Dybala highlighted again as they pick up really good positions.
And Dybala again.
Here Marchisio has dropped in between the two centre backs while Khedira and Sturaro (in red) has pushed on to join Dybala and Pjanic (in blue) further forward. This extremely centred approach forces Bologna’s defence to defend very narrow, opening up the space for attacks down both flanks. With Sturaro and Khedira’s high positioning, Dybala and Pjanic can move even more centrally to create a 3 v 2 against the centre backs if they receive the ball.
Of course, you can’t just stand in good positions if the ball never arrives. Juve work with a very good build up scheme in where Pjanic or Dybala move to the blind side of the wide centre midfielder and Chiellini, Barzagli or Marchisio will then use their fantastic vertical passing to find these spaces. Here Chiellini breaks Bologna’s midfield line, bypassing six players as he finds Pjanic in the left half space.
From there he can create a 2 v 1 against the right back with the help of the marauding full back Asamoah. Allegri wants Juve to create numerical superiority across the pitch to exploit any space the opposition might leave exposed.
Here we have the build up to Juve’s third goal. Pjanic drops in to get the ball and the number of Juventus players in central areas means Bologna go very narrow. Pjanic exploit the space behind the left winger to unleash Lichtsteiner.
The right back receives the ball and Khedira instantly join him to create a 2 v 1 overload against the left back Masina.
A quick one-two releases Lichtsteiner down the line.
And he delivers a perfect cross which Higuain easily heads home.
Dybala’s half space positioning
Paulo Dybala returned to the starting eleven following his injury and lined up next to Pjanic in a support role for Higuain. Dybala constantly found space in the right half space from where he could threaten Bologna.
With the ball glued to his left foot, he can either play a pass through the defensive line, go on a mazy dribble or make space for a shot. From this position he can control Juve’s attacking play and combine with the impressive Pjanic and the deadly Higuain.
Here he receives the ball and can immediately attack the defence. Higuain and Sturaro both make great runs to create passing options.
Dybala chooses Sturaro’s run and plays a perfect through ball but the Italian midfielder couldn’t quite finish the attack.
Allegri has used a diamond before, but this attacking setup with Dybala and Pjanic playing somewhat free roles behind Higuain is likely to create huge problems for opposition defences. They dominate central areas with their five central players (three midfielders and two attacking midfielders) and always have the width from the full backs. Dybala thrives in this free role, as do Pjanic who was Juve’s best player on the day and when freed of his defensive responsibilities he could use all his creativity to construct Juve’s attacking play. Sturaro, Khedira and Rincón are all perfect for the wider midfield roles, while Marchisio is excellent as the holder. With Alex Sandro perfect for an attacking full back role as well as Lichtsteiner and Dani Alves on the right, this system makes sense for Allegri to utilise more often. He will still be flexible with his formations, but this 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1 hybrid shape is perfect for his current squad.
Genoa impressed against Roma, but left Marassi empty-handed due to Armando Izzo’s own goal in the first half. Roma earned their first away win since October, and show some consistency which will likely see them seal a Champions League spot again. They’re hardly ever really impressive, but they grind out wins and that is vital at the top.
City rivals Lazio continue to chase the top three and a 1-0 win at home against Crotone keeps them in the hunt. Ciro Immobile were back among the goals as he sealed the win late on with the only goal of the game. Crotone worked hard, but once again lost narrowly to a team with more quality. The gap to safety got bigger after Empoli’s win.
Atalanta have been heavily destabilised in recent weeks after the imminent sale of Roberto Gagliardini to Inter, the rumours surrounding Franck Kessie who’s away with the Ivory Coast on international duty and bigger clubs circling Andrea Conti, Mattia Caldara and Alejandro Gomez. Away to Chievo, not many would have expected points. However, a changed side went out and smashed Chievo 4-1 at the Bentegodi. A terrific first half saw the visitors go 3-0 up following well worked goals from Gomez (2) and Conti. Pellisier pulled one back but Remo Freuler restored the three goal cushion for the Nerazzurri. With Gagliardini on the bench ahead of his reported 28 million euro move to Inter, Gasperini handed another young academy product a start in Alberto Grassi. With Gomez in sensational form, more talented youngsters and the team functioning well even without key players, Atalanta can keep soaring.
Inter won for the fourth game in a row after an Ivan Perisic double was enough to beat Udinese in a tough match at the Friuli. Luigi Delneri’s men took an early lead through Jakub Janktu and should really have added to it before the end of the first half. They didn’t, which was penalised through Perisic’ equaliser just before the break after brilliant work by Mauro Icardi. In the 87th minute, he headed home a Joao Mario free-kick and sent Pioli’s men celebrating in delight.
Two very attacking 4-3-3 teams, Sassuolo and Torino, played out a goalless draw at the Mapei Stadium. A good point for the home side who increased the distance to the relegation places, but disappointing for the often free-scoring Torino.
Sampdoria played almost the perfect game at Napoli after defending extremely well for an hour at San Paolo. They also counter-attacked with conviction, especially through Ricky Alvarez, and went ahead thanks to an Elseid Hysaj own goal. It seemed like Marco Giampaolo were about to mastermind a famous win for Samp. Then Matias Silvestre were sent off in highly controversial circumstances and Napoli rallied. Sampdoria still restricted the big chances, but Manolo Gabbiadini equalised with 15 minuter left and in the last twenty seconds of the five added minutes, Lorenzo Tonelli sealed the win for the Partenopei. Devastating for Samp.
Milan also keep winning, this time in dramatic fashion at San Siro against Cagliari. Cagliari kept their sheet clean for almost 88 minutes before Gianluca Lapadula battled the ball to Carlos Bacca who finished emphatically. Big, big win for Vincenzo Montella’s Milan.
Empoli have started to earn some points in recent weeks and they won the big game at the bottom against Palermo thanks to Massimo Maccarone’s penalty. This gives them a seven point cushion over their opponents who are in 18th, with Empoli in 17th. The pressure is on the teams below them to start closing that gap, but Empoli couldn’t have found form at a more important time of the season.
Player of the week
Alejandro “Papu” Gomez was stunning to watch at the Bentegodi where scored two goals and fired the shot which rebound led to Conti’s goal in a superb display of both Atalanta and Gomez himself. In the best form of his career.
Coach of the week
I’ve said many times in this column that Chievo away is one of the toughest games in Italy. Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta made light work of the home side though in another impressive display where Gasperini showed he could mastermind a big win and performance even without key players like Caldara, Kessie and Gagliardini.
Goal of the week
Not many to choose from really this week, for the first time, but Gonzalo Higuain’s opener was something special because of Miralem Pjanic’ glorious pass.