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Atletico 1-0 Juventus | The second gameweek of the UEFA Champions League had some tasty encounters in store for all viewers, with a number of top teams clashing. In terms of results and entertainment too, it didn’t disappoint, with lots of goals, and a lot of good, competitive football.
One of the tastiest fixtures was Atletico hosting Juventus. It was a clash of Champions from Spain and Italy. Coming into the game, Juventus had a 100% record, with no goals conceded. Atletico have made a good start, but find themselves in third after a few indifferent results. This was a different situation, as Atletico had lost their opening fixture in Greece, and a positive result against Juventus was absolutely vital. The Italians were up against it, as a daunting home support, combined with Atleti’s usual aggressive approach had meant that they had 17 wins in their last 19 European fixtures.
Altetico: Moya; Juanfran; Godin; Miranda; Ansaldi; Raul Garcia; Tiago; Koke; Turan (Siquiera 89′); Saul (Griezmann 53′); Mandzukic (Suarez 84′).
Juventus: Buffon; Lichtsteiner (Giovinco 89′); Caceres (Pereyra 78′); Bonucci; Chiellini; Evra; Marchisio; Pogba; Vidal (Morata 83′); Tevez; Llorente.
Goals: Turan 74′
Juventus lined up with 3 at the back, with Evra and Lichtsteiner serving as wing backs, getting up and down with unerring frequency. Obviously, the weaknesses down the wide areas of this system left it open, and could be exposed by Atletico Madrid. The home side had a few good wingers, with the likes of Koke also getting wide on regular occasions. The idea was that getting the ball in wide areas of the pitch will cause the Juventus defence to shuffle across and create space on the other side. Also, it was obviously where the space was for Atletico to play in. With the likes of Lichtsteiner and Evra getting forward, Atletico were keen to utilise the space behind them and attack it to get crosses in the box, aimed at the likes of Mario Mandzukic.
In particular, Atletico went down the right hand side, to target the defensively weak Patrice Evra. While the Frenchman can be quite a handful for opposition defences, there has been a clear decline in his defensive game in the last few years, something that almost every Manchester United fan can corroborate. 47% of the Atletico attacks were down the right hand side, with Raul Garcia stationed there to gain and maintain the aerial adavantage. The goal too, came from a cross that was played from that side of the pitch, with Arda Turan slipping in ahead of Lichsteiner after the entire Juventus back line had been dragged across to the left hand side.
In the Manchester City-Roma game, we saw a two man midfield up against a three man one, and the three of Roma had a gala time, dominating proceedings from start to finish. Juventus too, had a three man midfield against a two man midfield that Atletico put up in the middle of the pitch. They did manage to dominate possession, with Juventus holding 2/3rds of the ball, but couldn’t really do much with it. They didnt have any real clear cut chances, unlike their opponents on the night, and generally had to rely on chipped balls at their target man, Llorente to take them forward. Atletico were also able to press a lot more effectively when they did get the chance, and won the ball in high areas of the pitch on a number of occasions.
The domination that Juventus achieved over the ball was quite sterile really. They completed 449 passes, which makes the 203 by Atletico look pathetic, but importantly, they only had 147 in the final third, as opposed to the 112 that Atletico had. The implication of this was that Atletico were keeping the ball in the opposition half much better, and consequently heaping a lot more pressure on the Juventus backline. The defending Serie A champions on the other hand enjoyed most of the ball possession in their own half, and struggled to really attack effectively. The fact that they couldn’t even muster up a single shot on target is a testament to the tenacity of Atletico Madrid.
Atletico have every reason to take full credit for this, and Toure and Co. might even learn a lesson or two from Simeone’s team. The two Atletico central midfielders made 4 tackles each, and 4 interceptions together. They got a lot of help from players like Saul and Garcia as well, who tucked in centrally, and helped Atletico to keep the game very narrow, and stop Juve from utilising the width that they had. Essentially, Juve also played themselves into trouble. They didn’t really try and get in behind, but were happy to hit long passes at Llorente, and have players around him feed off the scraps.
The Atletico backline was quite deep, as well, and very compact, and this made it very difficult for the Old Lady to create chances, as the likes of Vidal, Pogba, and Tevez barely got any time on the ball in attacking areas of the pitch. As you can see in the image above, in the higher areas of the pitch, the focus is on stopping Juve from accessing the wide areas. A number of fouls are committed here. As Juventus then try to work the ball through the middle of the pitch, Atletico mark their opponents tightly, reducing time and space, and forcing errors, especially when Juventus try to release a final ball, or get a shot off.
Both sides lined up with the big man up front, and Mandzukic and Llorente are both players who are quite excellent, and on their day can demolish defences almost single handedly. However, what made it tough for them was the lack of support, and the attacking plans used by both teams. Neither side looked keen on getting in behind the others’ defence, with Atletico happy to cross the ball at the Croatian battering ram, and Juventus looking to play off the big Basque striker.
Mandzukic, starting as a lone striker with Saul playing just behind him, had to contend with three defenders, and while the Croat did a a fair job, he couldn’t really impose himself, as he had three to contend with. However, this was a great benefit for his team, as they had a numbers advantage in other areas of the pitch, and their wide men could get forward easily, along with their full backs, to overpower the Juventus wing backs, and make a telling contribution. Allegri really should have switched to a back two (four with wing backs) and added an extra presence in the midfield to try and win the battle and add more penetration there. So while Mandzukic did have a tough time, and couldn’t, on his own, make much of an impact, he was sacrificed for the plan, and in this sense, did a good job for the team.
Llorente on the other hand, was the focal point of the Juventus attack. Up against aggressive and physical defenders like Godin and Miranda, the Spanish striker worked hard to win a number of aerial battles, and get his team mates opportunities. However, the fact that Tevez had to keep dropping deep to pick up the ball and create, combined with the inability of Vidal and Pogba to really influence proceedings, meant that his efforts were really not rewarded.
After the shock opening day defeat to Olympiakos, Atletico Madrid have bounced back in typical fashion. A battling victory at home where they thoroughly exhausted their opponents with their aggression and physical display was exactly what the doctor ordered, and if they can keep up this form, it’s hard to see who can stop them at this stage of the competition.
For the Bianconeri, it isn’t the worst result in the world. Atletico are the Champions League runners up and Spanish Champions for a good reason. What they will bemoan though, is the manner of the defeat. Juventus have consistently underachieved in Europe in the last few seasons, and they really need to replicate their domestic dominance on the international stage as well. In Allegri, they have a talented manager, but the lack of proactive decision making on his part seems to have hurt them last night. While they probably wont crash out at this stage of the competition, Juventus fans might have to live with some more European underachievement for now.
Written by Vishal Patel