Tactical Analysis: Juventus 2-1 Monaco | Experimental system sees Monaco’s chances dissolve


Eric Devin provides a detailed tactical analysis about the Champions League semi-final second leg that finished Bayer Juventus 2-1 Monaco.


Juventus (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli (Medhi Benatia 85′), Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Dani Alves, Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira (Claudio Marchisio 10′), Mario Mandzukic, Alex Sandro; Paulo Dybala (Juan Cuadrado 54′), Gonzalo Higuaín

AS Monaco (3-4-1-2): Danijel Subasic; Andrea Raggi, Kamil Glik, Jemerson; Djibril Sidibé, Joao Moutinho, Tiemoué Bakayoko (Valere Germain 78′), Benjamin Mendy (Fabinho 54′); Bernardo Silva (Thomas Lemar 69′); Radamel Falcao, Kylian Mbappé

Juventus’ 2-1 over Monaco was, at least in terms of the match’s ebb and flow, a near-carbon copy of first leg. The hosts endured some nervy early moments, including Kylian Mbappé hitting the inside of the post, but once again prevailed, mainly through the industry of Mario Mandzukic and the brilliance of Dani Alves. Monaco, by necessity, played a very open match, and were too often caught on the counter, namely on the left flank, but Juventus deserve credit as well for recognizing their opponents’ weaknesses and exploiting them.

Debate raged on social media when Leonardo Jardim announced a starting eleven with all of Fabinho, Benjamin Mendy and Thomas Lemar on the bench. Mendy’s absence was understandable as he was recovering from an injury, but the protection that Fabinho affords in midfield and the technical ability of Lemar made them strange exclusions. Some thought this meant Monaco were setting up to play a 3-5-2, even as the team published a 4-4-2 with Nabil Dirar and Silva as the wide midfielders. As it was, Monaco did play something close to that, but that system that Jardim used from the off may have been an alternative with Dirar suffering an injury in the warm-ups.

In using this system, as seen in the first image, Mendy played as a left wingback, with Sidibé on the opposite flank. Silva played in a free role (more on that later) with Moutinho often playing higher up and Bakayoko sitting. Moutinho’s inclusion, being a more creative presence than Fabinho, was the impetus for the suggestion that Jardim had intended to use this formation all along, but he has also partnered Bakayoko in a 4-4-2 as well. The back three sat fairly deep, with Jemerson and Raggi to either side of Glik, both of them moving forward with the ball at their feet on occasion in the absence of any pressure from Juventus’ attackers.

Juventus, then, played deeper with their “back three” than they had in the first leg, not wanting to give Monaco any early impetus. As see here, Alves and Sandro played more often as orthodox fullbacks than wingbacks, not wanting to give Sidibé or Mendy any opportunity in wide areas. Dybala and Higuaín generally didn’t drop here, which did, as seen here, allow Jemerson and Raggi forward on occasion, but also freed the hosts to double Falcao and Mbappé. Mandzukic thus played as more of a central midfielder in situations like this, playing wide to track Sidibé, with Sandro doubling Falcao and allowing Pjanic and or Khedira/Marchisio to track Silva.

Much like the first match, this plan, which relied on the mobility of Jemerson and Raggi in particular, did have some promise, at least in the early going. Mbappé hit the post and Falcao had a few chances as well, but soon enough, the shape began to suffer. With more attacking presence in wide areas, Monaco sought to stretch Juventus’ defense, and here, they have succeeded, as Mendy turns to cut inside (red arrow), dragging Alves with him as Barzagli comes to cover Mbappé.

While that does succeed in putting the dangerous Mbappé one-on-one with Barzagli, it also leaves the young striker very far from goal and thus makes him less of a threat. On the opposite flank, Sidibé has gone beyond Mandzukic (white arrow), cutting inside as Sandro doubles Falcao, but the former Lille man, much as he had in the first leg, too often sought similar positions even when not trying to stretch play, thus leaving Monaco without much width and their most dangerous player, Mbappé in a position that, from a Juventus perspective, was relatively benign. The second image shows Monaco’s average positions, confirming this, with Sidibé (19) and Mbappé (29) in positions that do little to get the best out of their talents.

Compounding this, as Monaco wingbacks failed to stretch play in attack, they also frequently failed to track back as well. Dybala played more as of a striker, or very close to Higuaín in this match, likely with the idea of offering more space ahead of Alves, but he could also, as this image shows, find a great deal of space himself on the counter. Here, Monaco have been caught on the counter and Mendy and Jemerson, the left-sided centre back have totally lost Dybala, who has peeled wide into acres of space. Although Alves was more of a threat in occupying this space, with Mandzukic coming inside, as he has here, Dybala frequently moved wide as well, to stretch play and give the Croatian more space in the box.

The second image shows a combined heat map of Dybala and Cuadrado; it is somewhat skewed because the Colombian played as more of an orthodox winger, but does much to show how the two got about the pitch consistently. They readily dropped to guard against Mendy’s forays forward, but also played wide to stretch play laterally as well, particularly when Mandzukic sought to get into the box. In this way, then, the two South Americans were quietly as influential as Mandzukic had been in the first leg in assuring that Monaco’s attempts at playing the ball wide were frustrated.

Here, we see Juventus on the counter again, and once again Alves (yellow arrow) has plenty of space to run into as Dybala has stayed central, occupying Glik. Pjanic, too, hasn’t been picked up by Bakayoko centrally, giving the little Bosnian space as well. The ball eventually (second image) comes over the top to the Brazilian, and he is once again in space (yellow circle), with Mendy tracking back. Centrally, Monaco’s defense, without Sidibé, has got into position to guard against a cross to Dybala or Mandzukic, but Pjanic has slowed his run in the absence of Moutinho to make himself a target for a cross.

Even when Mendy did track back though, as in this image in the build-up to Mandzukic’s goal, Sidibé continued to abdicate his position. Here, with Alves on the ball, the burly Croatian prepares to make his run to the back post (yellow arrow). Sidibé more than has the physical presence to cope with Mandzukic, but he fails to mark him, or Sandro behind him. Perhaps he could have had more assistance from Raggi, but on the whole, his positioning was poor indeed and allowed Juventus’ attack to get into dangerous positions too frequently.

While their defensive positioning failed them, Monaco were also often guilty of wasting what opportunities Juventus did allow. Jemerson’s improvement this season has been rather unheralded, as the arrival of Glik has massively boosted the Brazilian’s reputation. Glik plays a more stationary role in their partnership, with Jemerson the more mobile of the two, and with Raggi in defense as well on Tuesday, the former Atlético Mineiro man took full advantage of Juventus’ lack of pressure. It should be said that Juventus didn’t necessarily fail to press, but with the visitors having three centre backs against Juventus’ two strikers, there was generally an easy pass to make for Monaco’s defenders.

Thus, Jemerson and Raggi were often able to stride into midfield, as the image shows, with Glik staying deep. Indeed, as the second illustrates, Jemerson’s passing was often done from a position more akin to a defensive midfielder than a centre back. The problem in Jemerson being allowed into these positions is that he lacks the passing nous to take advantage of them. In the first image, Jemerson can make a simple pass to Mendy, but instead, seeing Mbappé (red arrow) starting a run past Barzagli, he elects to play a ball over the top for the young striker. The pass, inevitably was over-hit and Mbappé was frustrated with his teammate. Glik is a better passer than Jemerson or Raggi, but with him rarely getting forward, Monaco’s centre backs’ good positions ended up being wasted.

Thus, Monaco failed to either get Mbappé into promising situations or to take advantage of Juventus sitting off, but they could at least hope for more of Bernardo Silva’s creativity, with the little Portuguese being given a free role off Mbappé and Falcao. However, as these images demonstrate, that was rarely the case, with the wingbacks failing to create the space that would have aided Silva in front of Juventus’ defense. In the first image, Silva turns to play the ball back to Moutinho, with Falcao and Mbappé ready to make runs for a ball over the top from one of the two Portuguese players. However, with the fullbacks not in sight, it’s too easy for Juventus to counter this by sitting deep.

In the second image, Monaco have won the ball and Silva turns inside. Moutinho is in support and Mbappé and Falcao are poised to run at the defense, but once again the wingbacks are nowhere in sight, allowing Sandro to pressure Silva and the centre backs to check the strikers’ runs. Defense-minded when Monaco were in attack, too narrow or too wide, Mendy and Sidibé were at the root of much of what was wrong with Jardim’s plan, but can they be blamed? Playing an experimental system on the road against a superb defensive team, Monaco were always asking for trouble; Jardim has seldom put a foot wrong this season, but in going for three at the back and trusting his two talented but callow wingbacks, he let his team’s chances dissolve.


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Eric Devin

Eric Devin

Eric Devin is an Oregon-based football writer. He writes about Ligue 1 for Get French Football News and Outside of the Boot.
Eric Devin