Defending Italian champions Juventus took on defending Champions of Europe Chelsea in a must win clash for the home side in Turin. The Bianconeri displayed a stunning performance that now leaves the defending champs on the brink of elimination (and the first ones to not make it through to the knockout round while being the title holders). It also led to the dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo as Chelsea boss, just months after he did a Champions League-FA Cup double.
After a lot of speculation, Chelsea went in with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, however a couple of alterations were made. Eden Hazard played a false 9 role as the Blues started without a recognised striker. Spaniard Azpilicueta played in an unconventional role on the right side of midfield.
Juventus continued with their favourable 3-5-2 formation that has been highly successful. Fabio Quagliarella who scored a crucial goal in the reverse fixture in London, coming off the bench, started this time round. No surprises from the Italian otherwise.
Juventus exploiting the wings
A move that Juventus constantly used was shifting the ball out wide to take advantage of a narrow Chelsea defence. The 4 men at the back stuck close to each other, choosing not to drift wide often.
This allowed Asamoah and Lichtsteiner to run down either flanks in an attacking phase giving them tons of space.
When either one of Chelsea’s full-backs did move to cover the wide areas, a centre back drifted to cover the void left by the full back, inadvertently making more space in defence by leaving gaps in the center of defence.
Chelsea playing defensive, hoping to counter attack
Di Matteo knowing that Juventus needed the win more, set out his team to play a defensive strategy, choosing to stay back and hoping to catch the Italians on the counter. There were occasions where the entire Chelsea squad was back defending barring either one of Hazard/Oscar.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, the more possession Juventus were given, the more chances they created and comfortable they got on the ball. They enjoyed the possession Chelsea allowed them.
That counter attack though never worked out, Chelsea didn’t have enough players going forward, with most of the squad back defending. Two defenders (usually Bonucci and Barzagli) were constantly back in defence for Juventus. The Chelsea player running on the ball, on the counter, had no support and eventually lost the ball early in the attack.
No centre forward to play the counter
Something that allowed Chelsea to play the counter so well last season, which won them the Champions League (and knocked out Barca along the way) was the ability of a world-class centre forward, Didier Drogba, who helped implementation of the counter attack effectively.
However Chelsea were without Drogba, or a recognised striker for that matter which prevented any sort of penetration. The players at Chelsea’s disposal in attack were those from the midfield.
The man in possession usually had a marker on him, and no options. The players making their way forward were also closely tracked and as the picture above shows Juventus still had ‘spare men’ in defence and won the numbers game. The Juve players seen above are also those getting back from an attacking phase.
Juventus midfielders finding space in midfield
One crucial feature of Juventus’ play is the solid efficiency of its midfield. Winning the midfield battle can go a long way in determining which way the result goes.
Juventus had an interchangeable midfield trio of Marchisio, Vidal and Pirlo. They controlled the midfield and were able to find tons of space. Chelsea had mainly a 2 man midfield, with Mikel and Ramires both sitting very deep. With the Italians outnumbering the English side, they were always going to dominate possession.
The space came to the Juventus midfielders naturally with Chelsea choosing to defend deep. Only Ramires would make a rare forward run. While the Juventus midfielders were constantly threatening, constantly moving forward, playing through balls and Chelsea found it difficult to deal with. Chelsea invited them forward, and Juve duly obliged.
The first Juve goal had a bit of luck attached to it with Quagliarella deflecting Pirlo’s shot. The below screen grab shows the moment just befor Pirlo took possession and got the shot off. There was tons of space for him to run into, and he was basically allowed to take the shot. A bit of luck yes, but Chelsea can blame themselves there.
Chelsea similarly inflicted another goal on themselves in the second half. Defence was at fault but the midfield was all over the place as well. Mikel in particular could be at fault. 5 Chelsea players were back defending, desperately, failing to check the late runs of Vidal and Lichtsteiner. The duo were given acres of space at the edge of the box and plenty of time to get a short off. Vidal made no mistake.
The illustration above includes Oscar but the Brazilian had very little impact. He didn’t get into the game enough and caused no real trouble to the Juventus midfield. The Juve defenders were able to keep him quiet throughout the game.
Vucinic-Quagliarella ‘drop and run’
The Juventus attack was threatening throughout and gave no respite to the Chelsea defenders. David Luiz was criticised for his performance and has often been accused of lacking general game intelligence (despite making it up with his skill).
A ‘bit’ of a trick used by the Juve forwards was the drop and run. Vucinic would just drop a little bit deep and Luiz would leave his defensive position and follow the player like a magnet. The midfielder in possession would then take advantage of the gap left in the defence and play a through ball to allow Quagliarella to run onto.
Poor Defensive play from Chelsea
There were a couple of occasions where Chelsea’s defensive play went from timid, to just awful. Poor marking, poor movement, out of position, it all just went wrong for the defence.
The first example shows the movement of Vucinic, a better finish could have killed the game off. Like the 2nd goal, the Chelsea defence moved into a completely defensive position, parking the bus right in front of Chelsea’s goal. Once again, the Chelsea defence, criminally allowed Juventus players time and space.
Luiz could be at fault here as well, allowing Vucinic to take a shot from just a few yards out, while he should have been covering the space.
The 3rd goal was blamed as a mistake by Cech, coming out too early. However it was surprising how disorganised the defence was in allowing Giovinco run onto the through ball played by Vidal.
Luiz was once again out of position, Cahill had drifted forward in attack, but didn’t track back. Ashley Cole made a last ditch attempt to stop the run of the Giovinco, but lack of communication with his keeper allowed Juventus to score a third.
It was a poor performance from Di Matteo, too many changes for an important game, especially the lack of a proper striker was not a good move. The defence for Chelsea was unfortunately, horrible, to say the least.
Juventus showed their superiority, and dominated the game, deserving their victory. The midfield controlled the game and proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Chelsea are on the brink of elimination, if Juventus do progress, the experience and class present in the side would be one to reckon with. The Champions League is there for the winning.
- Juve push Chelsea towards exit (skysports.com)
- Juventus vs. Chelsea: Score, Analysis and Grades (bleacherreport.com)
- UEFA Champions League: Chelsea vs. Juventus tactical preview (soccerwithoutlimits.com)