Saiguhan Elancheran writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Coppa Italia semi final first leg that ended Juventus 3-1 Napoli.
In the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals, Juventus played hosts to one of their title rivals, Napoli. It was a controversial and entertaining night as two Paulo Dybala penalties on either side of Higuain’s goal have given the Bianconeri the upper hand in reaching the finals of the competition. Tactical tweaks and change in personnel from Max Allegri improved their display in the second half after poor showing the first 45 minutes.
The Bianconeri were in a good run of form, especially at home after having won their previous match 2-0 against Empoli. On the other hand, Napoli came into the game after a shocking defeat at home against this season’s surprise package – Atalanta. After the loss, the onus fell on Sarri and his men to come away with a good result against the home team.
Juventus(3-4-3) : 25 Neto // 15 Barzagli – 19 Bonucci – 3 Chiellini // 26 Lichtsteiner – 5 Pjanic – 6 Khedira – 22 Asamoah // 21 Dybala – 9 Higuain – 17 Mandzukic
Napoli(4-3-3): 25 Reina // 11 Maggio – 33 Albiol – 26 Koulibaly – 3 Strinic // 30 Rog – 42 Diawara – 17 Hamsik // 7 Callejon – 99 Milik – 24 Insigne
After a shocking result against Atalanta in Naples, the attention of Italian football shifted to the Juventus stadium to witness the reaction of Napoli manager Sarri. The away manager made 5 changes for this cup game by resting Ghoulam, Maksimovic, Hysaj, Zielinski and Mertens. They were replaced by Maggio, Koulibaly, Strinic, Rog and Milik. On the other hand, Max Allegri rang in 6 changes. He replaced Sandro, Rugani, Alves, Sturaro, Marchisio and Cuadrado with Chiellini, Barzagli, Asamoah, Khedira, Lichtsteiner and Dybala.
Coming into the game, Allegri shifted his setup to 3-4-3, at least on paper. The BBC guarded Neto’s goal as Lichsteiner, Pjanic, Khedira and Asamoah formed the midfield four. Higuain flanked by Mandzukic and Dyabala were the attacking trident of the team. Allegri surprisingly had reverted his side to a back three after having played the 4-2-3-1 set-up for the past two months.
Through the left
Much like the previous time the two sides met, the game panned out in a similar way. Napoli were very intense in their play possessing very high energy with an aggressive press. And as we have seen in most of the games this season, they dominated the left flank. They favored attacks down the left side as Insigne proved to be the outlet on that side.
Insigne on most occasions went deeper than his original position as he played as a withdrawn wide player. He carried this move as he looked to create pockets of space between him and Mandzukic and also for better link up play with Hamsik. Also his off the ball movement, coming from his higher positioning paved the way for Hamsik to exploit the space left by him.
As we can see from the above instances Insigne played a very withdrawn role and this allowed Hamsik to move into space left by Insigne. This movement also allowed Insigne in better circulation of the ball while joining the midfield. Milik on the other hand played in the same role as Mertens by staying up high up the pitch and occupying defenders. This meant that he left the responsibility of bringing the ball to Hamsik and Insigne from the left flank into the attack.
At certain instances, Milik even drifted to the left flank and kept the defenders busy and this gave the space and time for Insigne and Hamsik to operate without more pressure from the Juventus defenders. And these movements proved to be vital for Napoli as the first goal of the game came from these left sided developments. It was a no-brainer as the goal was a result of a brilliant link up play by Milik and Insigne on the left flank.
Like Napoli, Juventus enjoyed playing through their left as they often looked to play their way through their left flank as well. They also processed nearly half of their attacks through the left flank(46%). It is well known that Juventus often attack through both their wings as Cuadrado and Asamoah/Sandro proved to be the outlets in the previous games on either wing. And it was very surprising to see Allegri opting out on Cuadrado and starting the game with a 3-4-3 formation which certainly raised eyebrows as they had been quite successful in their 4-2-3-1 set up.
Juventus’ tactical shift
It was Napoli who were the better team in the first half as they took a 1-0 lead going into the half time break. They dominated in all areas and had a better share in possession and passing as well. And it was evident from the performance in first half that Juventus couldn’t generate good number of attacks other than their left flank which looked quite dismal in the first half on some occasions.
Juventus started the game in a 3-4-3 shape and the left flank proved the only outlet on most occasions. Mandzukic dropping deep on certain occasions helped Asamoah break into that space with pace. Mandzukic was wasteful on numerous occasions in the first half as he was often caught between the left flank and centre. This didn’t help Juventus’ case and after the introduction of Cuadrado things fared well for them in the second half. Cuadrado replaced Lichtsteiner and Juventus now went to a back four. This meant that the attacking trio of Mandzukic, Dybala and Cuadrado played behind Higuain. This allowed Dybala to play in a more central role rather than coming from the flanks. Now instead of moving on centrally, Mandzukic was able to settle on the left wing and create 3v2s with Dyabala and Asamoah.
From the above instance we can identify the positioning of Mandzukic on the left wing as Asamoah ovelaps him from behind. He is able to find the run of Dybala from the centre. This provided better attacking options for Juventus rather than their 3-4-3 shape which once brought them laurels and has now become a destructive tactic to their team.
In certain instances the approach was quite visible as the team switched to 4-2-3-1. This set-up allows them to play their most attacking players in Higuain, Dybala, Mandzukic and Pjanic. Barzagli played as the right back for the hosts as Sandro replaced Asamoah in the later stages of the game.
This ended as a game that was judged by the performance of the two teams who fared well in two different halves. Napoli played well in the first half and it was Juventus who took great control in the second. Two controversial decisions could have just saved the day for Allegri’s men as two 50/50 penalty decisions went in their favour. One of the talking points of the game revolved around the turnaround the second half whether it was due to the tactical shift or it was just a question of momentum and physical strength. The result sends Juventus as clear favorites going into the second leg and Napoli needs to pull off a brilliant performance should they deny the defending champions a place in the final.
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