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AC Milan vs Juventus has widely been considered to be the biggest match (traditionally) in Italian football. The two have won majority of the domestic league titles and performed commendably in Europe as well, representing the Italian peninsula. However, Juventus have won the last two Scudetto’s & look set to claim a third, while Milan haven’t won a trophy since 2011. What’s worse is that while Juventus enjoy a lead at the top of the Serie A this season, Milan are struggling to stay in the top half.
But when these two sides meet, it’s always a tight affair. The rivalry, the history, the passion adds to the experience and this fixture rarely disappoints.
AC Milan wanted to ensure they turned up for this big game; Seedorf’s men played with a desire to win and looked the better side. Juventus sat deep and Milan were encouraged forward. However, Milan were guilty of not taking their chances as Llorente scored at the stroke of half-time. A similarly story followed in the second before Tevez’ long-range effort doubled Milan’s advantage and sent Milan to yet another defeat. The game itself though, was a tactical spectacle.
AC Milan 0-2 Juventus
AC Milan: Abbiati, Abate, Emanuelson, Rami, Bonera, De Jong, Montolivo (Honda 71′), Poli (Saponara 53′), Taarabt (Robinho 75′), Kaka, Pazzini
Juventus: Buffon, Lichtsteiner (Padoin 84′), Asamoah, Caceres, Bonucci, Barzagli, Pirlo, Marchisio, Pogba, Tevez (Giovinco 90′), Llorente (Osvaldo 90′)
Goals: Llorente 44′ | Tevez 68′
There was a distinctive difference to the approaches of both the sides. AC Milan ensured they kept the pressure up throughout, with their frontman constantly pushing forward and not allowing the defense any time on the ball. They forced Juve to play the ball out quickly from defense; the pressure didn’t make it easy but Juve’s players are adept and experienced at dealing with such a scenario. They got the ball out, despite the pressure with fair amount of ease. Credit to Milan though that they prevented Juve from dwelling on the ball, the pressure kept the pace of the game up and ensured a good open game.
Clearly Milan were more attack minded than their opponents. There was more urgency in their gameplay, with attackers ensuring they prevent time on the ball to the opponents.
Juventus on the other hand sat back and invited Milan forward; a completely different approach to that of Seedorf’s men. It was an approach that Conte’s side have been accustomed to and are now recognized with. Conte’s basic tactical gameplan involves inviting pressure, wearing the opponent down and hitting them with a quick attack. It requires clinical finishers up front to take the limited chances they get.
What’s particularly interesting about the illustration above, beside the obvious game plan being followed by Juventus (with all the players in their own half), notice Conte ushering his players to stay back, at the bottom of the screen. One must note that Milan didn’t peg Juventus back but the away side implemented this as a deliberate tactical measure. A risky one, but an effective one.
The above heat-map perfectly sums up Juventus’ approach. They sat back throughout, ball in their own half. Entire team in their own half, yet they come away with all three points and a cleansheet. Remarkable.
AC Milan were arguably the better team throughout the 90 minutes, but Juventus came away with the three points. A testament to why Juve are aiming for their 3rd consecutive Scudetto with a comfortable lead at the top, while Milan struggle mid-table. They have a disciplined approach, organised set-up and an honest dedication & work ethic to their game plan as a team.
Antonio Conte’s approach involved all the eleven players to sit deep in their own half and prevent Milan from finding space in attacking areas, but at the same time inviting them forward. Each player had a distinctive role to play, that made Milan’s attacking area compact and difficult to play within. Note that this approach isn’t a “park the bus” one, but a calculated smart tactical ploy.
The three man defence is present to ensure the defensive line isn’t breached. The lone striker, Pazzini, is heavily marked and prevented from influencing play. Kaka and Taarabt will make darting runs into the box, the back three combined with the full-backs who are not encouraged to go forward will sit deep and provide protection against these attack minded players. Note that despite this approach, Milan did get in couple of times through some slick play.
Pirlo in the middle will counter any attacking approach from the central areas, with the midfielders on either side i.e. Marchisio & Pogba, will counter the approaching full-backs and the central midfielders. Tevez and Llorente are tasked with countering the central midfielders when they are in possession or offering a passing avenue on their side.
Now as you can see, 8 of Milan’s players are in Juventus’ half with the exception of the two central defenders and the goalkeeper. The gap this has created in Milan’s half is immense, and begging to be exploited. It is with this in mind that Juventus invited pressure forward, opening up the gap at the back, and quickly attacking when possession is retained.
The forwards and wing-backs had a crucial role to play in this aspect. The forwards would need to ensure they can quickly get into dangerous positions when possession is retained. The wing-backs provide the creative edge, quickly and effectively. That is how Juventus’ first goal arrived as well. Against the run of play, a quick attacking counter and clinical finishing from Juventus’ frontline.
60% possession, 22 attempted shots. AC Milan dominated this game from start to finish. Their three front attackers did a good job of penetrating the Juve backline which sat deep throughout the game. Pazzini, Kaka & Taarabt were finding space in dangerous areas and always looking to get into the box. Urby Emanuelson was also proving to be dangerous at the start, and in phases throughout the game with bursting runs (explained later).
But despite the superior possession and constant opportunities, Milan failed to find a way past Juve’s rock solid defense. In moments where they managed to get in behind the defence, they fluffed their chances with a poor effort. Here’s another place where the two sides differed.
Despite Milan’s domination, you always got the idea that Juve would punish them and the first half-decent chance that presents itself. And at the worst possible time, right at the stroke of half-time, clinical Juventus took the lead through Llorente.
Milan were left to reflect on a first half that could have seen them 3-4 goals up easy. Unfortunately and unlucky to be the victim of bad luck and poor finishing but this is what separates teams at the top from those at the bottom. At this level, taking your chances is crucial and failing to do so is suicidal.
The same theme continued with Milan creating chances even in the second 45, but again they failed to show for their efforts. Once Tevez’ goal went in midway through the second half, Milan heads dropped. They realized the gulf in class between the two sides. Just 5 shots on target, 2 of which hit the bar, and two goals up. Juventus knew how to play the big games. Full marks to Conte’s men.
AC Milan’s season continues to be a struggle, as their top half status is yet to be secured. An outside chance at European football is a distinct possibility, with a Champions League game to look forward to. However, the season can’t get over any sooner for Milan, as the summer brings another fresh start.
Juventus look set to retain their Scudetto, and win it for a third consecutive year. The disappointment of their Champions League run will haunt them, but their dominance domestically makes up for it. Some work is needed to ensure Juve can take their domination into Europe as well, but for this season, Conte’s men are more than set for triumph.
If you’re interested in reading more such Tactical Analysis articles, this is the place to go to.