As the fourth round of matches got underway this week, the first of the big ones to be played was at the Juventus Stadium. The Bianconeri hosted the Galacticos 2.0 in what was a must win encounter for the Old Lady. A win for real would see them secure their place in the next round very early, and spell doom for Juventus.
Conte started his side in a 4-1-4-1 formation. The back four consisted of Caceres, Barzagli, Bonucci and Asamoah from right to left. Pirlo was the regista in front of them. The 4 ahead of him were expected to run up and down the pitch to provide defensive cover and attacking thrust. Llorente was the lone striker.
Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. Ramos began at right back, with Pepe and Varane in the middle, and Marcelo on the left. The trio in midfield were Alonso, Khedira and Modric. The front three were Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema.
Real Madrid came into this game hoping for a win, but they wouldn’t mind a draw, as their position at the top of the group was probably secure. So, initially, Ancelotti opted to keep his cards in his pocket, and the full backs generally stayed back. The only person who was going forward to join the attacking trio was the energetic Sami Khedira. Alonso and Modric were also told to stay deeper. The rationale was to keep the ball, and force Juventus out. Having more men back meant that it was much easier for them to keep the ball, and have “sterile possession”. When they did attack, it was down to the trio trying to counter in wide areas. The top 3 Real Madrid touches came from Varane, Modric and Ramos, all whom were playing much deeper. Of course, Juventus opting not to press the Los Blancos also helped Real keep the ball and make long strings of passes.
In the second half though, Real needed to chase the game to get something out of it, and therefore Ancelotti decided that the team needed to get forward a lot more. In order to do so, the full backs got forward a lot more to try and contain the Juventus midfield. The increased number of opposition bodies in their half made it difficult for Juventus, and the Old lady often found itself boxed in their own half.
Real’s Narrow Defence
While pressing in front, Real Madrid offered quite a narrow front, and were quite happy to let Juventus play through the wide areas. The attackers consistently showed the Juve players wide. Ancelotti and Real wanted to get the Juventus full backs forward and then use the space left behind by them for the counter attacks that Bale and Ronaldo were to effect with their pace. Juventus played their part and allowed only 1 full back to venture forward at a time, keeping a measure of defensive surety.
This enforced play from wide areas did have benefits for Juventus though. The Bianconeri managed to score a goal from a martin Caceres cross, and threatened enough from wide areas. Paul Pogba’s exquisite cross was another example of Juventus using the wide areas well. Overall, 3 of the 5 crosses they attempted were succesful, and that is a very healthy ratio.
Space in Midfield for Juventus
The fact that Real left 3 up almost all the time, meant that going forward, Juve had a fair few chances to make space and exploit it. As they pushed their full backs forward, one of the Real midfielders had to come and close down or take the full back. This meant that there was a reduction in numbers in the Real central midfield, and it allowed the likes of Pirlo and Pogba to get space. The fact that they kept getting forward to get beyond Llorente also meant that the Madrid midfield had to back-track. There were occasions when Real had men across the breadth of their own penalty box. This was another reason why Pogba and Pirlo could run the game in the first half. In the second half of course, this changed a bit, as the Madrid full backs became far more adventurous and willing to take on their counter-parts. This allowed Real to gain a foothold in midfield, and the likes of Modric began to dominate the game in the second half.
Juventus trying to attack through the middle
As mentioned above, Real basically forced Juventus wide early in their build up and defended the breadth of their penalty area well. Juventus also happened to cause Real a few problems from the wide areas, but the game plan for the Bianconeri seemed to be to play through the middle. Tevez, a very right footed striker, was put on the left, and he cut inside very often. There were many occasions when the likes of Vidal and Pogba chose to play the ball to Pirlo or to an option in the middle, rather than give it to the full back who was in space. The attacking plan from Juventus was to get it to Llorente who would bring the runners into play. A number of flick ons were utilised by the Old Lady, and one such move resulted in the penalty that got them their first goal. It seems that Juventus didn’t really want to exploit the wide areas/crosses at all. Despite the fact the their full backs had space to run into, the duo of Asamoah and Caceres hardly overlapped. 3 out of 5 is a good ratio, but the number of crosses attempted isn’t very high. Even from corners they seemed to want to take it short, rather than lift it into the area. They might have profited more if they had gone with a crossing strategy, as even Casillas looked a little unsure when he charged out to deal with them.
Juventus needed a win, but a defeat for Galatasaray has meant that Juventus are still in with a real sniff going into their final 2 games. real, on the other hand, need to win their next game to secure top spot in the group. The Spanish giants have been exceptional in the Champions League, and will hope that this form carries on in the next round.
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