Juventus and Roma went head to head in Turin, in a top of the table clash in the Serie A. Roma have surprised everyone with their excellent run of form, that saw them unbeaten in 17 games, and prior to this game they were the only side along with Bayern Munich to be undefeated in the domestic league across Europe’s top leagues. But a run of consecutive draws saw Juventus take advantage, a side that has dropped points in only two games. Juventus had a 5 point lead at the top coming into the game, Roma knew that they had to close it down to 2 points or risk Juventus running away with an impressive lead.
Juventus 3-0 Roma
Juventus: Buffon | Lichtsteiner | Asamoah | Barzagli | Bonucci | Chiellini | Pirlo | Vidal (Marchisio 78′) | Pogba | Tevez (Vucinic 60′) | Llorente (Quagliarella 81′)
Roma: De Sanctis | Maicon | Dodo (Torosidis 55′) | Benatia | Castan (sent off 76′) | De Rossi (sent off 75′) | Pjanic (Destro 55′) | Strootman | Gervinho | Ljajic | Totti (Florenzi 72′)
Goals: Vidal 17′ | Bonucci 48′ | Vucinic (penalty) 77′
Rome encouraged forward as Juventus look to tighten the midfield area
Prior to this game, all the talk was about the mouthwatering midfield battle between the two sides. The duel between the two sides’ three-man midfield was also one of our things to watch out for this weekend. Juventus’ midfield combination of Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal is arguably the most well-balanced and intimidating midfield in all of Europe (despite their poor showing in the Champions League). Rudi Garcia has found a trust-able trio to provide balance themselves in midfield, with new signing Strootman and the rejuvenated De Rossi/Pjanic establishing themselves in the league. You can read a Scout Report on Strootman here to better understand his playing style, and thus understanding his role in midfield while this article on De Rossi explains his role in the midfield area.
So all eyes were understandably on the midfield battle, as the way that shaped up would have a telling effect on how this game would go. And as the result bears witness, Conte won the battle of wits over Garcia by nullifying the danger of Roma’s midfield, preventing the Giallorossi from playing their usual game. Juventus thus focused on stopping Roma rather than implementing their own game.
Juventus encouraged Roma to come forward, an invitation that can’t be refused. If one side sits deep, the opponent automatically moves forward and it looks like they’re in control of the game (possession wise they are but tactically, not quite). The idea behind sitting deep was to ensure that the midfield space which Roma revel in, is made as tight as possible and thus preventing any link up play between the 3 man midfield and the retreating Francesco Totti. Juventus crowded out the midfield area and reduced any space that could crop up. They were okay with Roma playing it into wider areas, but they had cover for that as well (more on that later).
Roma thus were unable to find any form of meaningful flow in the midfield area, with a lot of lateral and backward passes. Even when a ball was played into the attacking third, the player had no support and was easily dispossessed.
As you can see in the illustration above, the Juve defence has maintained a deep line, while the midfield ahead of them are ensuring that Roma can’t find any space in the central area. Juve are more than happy in letting the Roma defenders bring the ball forward, but once they do, all their options are covered.
What’s particularly striking in the image above, and something which was a common occurrence throughout the first-half, is that all 11 Juventus players were in their own half, even the strikers were tasked with preventing Roma from playing their natural game. They would press slightly higher up than the midfielders, but in their own area. Conte clearly won the tactical battle, preventing Roma from playing, encouraging his side on the counter and taking any advantage that they could find.
Duality of roles for Pogba and Vidal
Juventus’ 3 man defence along with 2 wing-backs is a system and sight we’re accustomed to seeing. It enables them to stay compact defensively while the width is provided by the 2 wing-backs rushing forward to join the attack at every opportunity. However, yesterday both wing-backs played in a more contained manner (more on that later) especially in the first half. One would imagine that this would compromise the attacking threat of Juventus but Conte, Pogba and Vidal had other ideas.
Pogba and Vidal played on either side of Pirlo in a 3 man central midfield. Pirlo’s role was fixed as he was always the deepest of the 3 using all his experience in containing the Roma midfield and using his famed distribution to construct attacks. Defensively Juventus maintained their solid shape throughout the game with Vidal and Pogba sitting deep in their own half either in central or wide positions always ensuring that the defence had numerical advantage over the opposition attackers.
With the wing-backs especially Asamoah sitting deep, it was up to Pogba and Vidal to provide width to the attack. In particular Pogba often played the role of a left winger in attack. With Maicon showing a readiness to attack, as we’ve come to expect from him, Pogba constantly pulled out to the left and found space for himself. The Frenchman was instrumental as his powerful running with the ball was a constant threat to the away side.
Unlike Pogba, Vidal preferred to take up more central roles in attack. One of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world right now, he was more than happy to bypass the strikers in front of him and occupy advanced positions. And it came as no surprise that he opened the scoring for the home side calmly slotting home Tevez’s neat through ball.
Juventus did well to maintain their tactical discipline off the ball and their system worked perfectly. The implementation of such a system was made possible by the positional flexibility of both Pogba and Vidal. Whether in defence or attack, the duo were instrumental in Juventus’ important victory.
Totti drops deep, wide men not allowed to move forward by deep lying full-backs
Many players have been credited with the success of Roma this season, the likes of Gervinho, Benatia, Strootman and Pjanic all have taken the plaudits. But club legend, Francesco Totti, remains the star performer in the eyes of many.
Totti has found success again in the false 9 role he made famous in modern football. The role, as everyone knows, has a front man playing deeper than usual with encouragement for the wide players to cut inside. This has worked wonders for Rudi Garcia’s men. Although not having a man up top can always be an issue, the wide men have been more than competent at providing a threat in the wide areas.
But against Juventus, the system was not allowed to work by the disciplined tactical display of the Bianconerri. As they did with the midfielders, Juventus also attempted to prevent Roma’s other attacking avenues, the wide areas. The area which has proved to be so successful this season. With the wide areas cut out, in addition to the central positions, Roma ran out of options.
Here we can see, as the midfield areas has been crowded out by Juventus, Totti dropped deep with the hopes that Roma could benefit with an extra man in there. It obviously meant that Roma now were without a player upfront, and thus no one to play the ball into, even if they managed to find time and space in midfield.
The wide attacking players, Ljajic and Gervinho, in addition to the Roma full-backs, Dodo and Maicon, tried to provide width or move inside narrowly to provide an attacking avenue. But unlike most Juve games, their full-backs (Lichtsteiner and Asamoah) sat deeper than usual to prevent any wide threat from Roma. The away side thus had no player over in the attacking third, no central player, no wide player, no one to play through balls to, no one to put crosses into. They were completely shut out by Juventus.
Juventus swarming forward in attack and transitioning quickly
We’ve already seen how Juventus contained Roma’s attack from both out wide and centrally by staying staying goal-side of the ball and refusing to grant Roma any space at all. We tend to associate such performances with dogged teams set up with 2 banks of 4 players in a system providing little or no attacking threat. However this was far from the truth in the case of Juventus.
Once they did recover the ball, they swarmed forward in attack and caught out the Roma defence. Pirlo’s calmness helped them play the ball out quickly and from then on it was all about the power of the Juventus side. Pogba and Vidal’s athleticism came to the fore as they surged forward with the ball. Tevez was happy to play in deeper roles and link the play which helped them catch out a Roma side who couldn’t cope with the dynamic attack. The key to the attack was the speed at which they took the ball forward.
This commitment of men forward for attacks did not however compromise the defensive solidity. If the transition from defence to attack was quick, then the opposite was true as well. As soon as an attack petered out, all the Juve outfield players were quick to retreat and take up their defensive positions. These quick transitions enabled them to maintain the balance between attacking threat and defensive solidity and ultimately ensured the snaring of an important 3 points.
Where does this leave them?
Juventus now are a massive 8 points clear at the top of Serie A, a fantastic position to be in going into the second half of the season. They had a disappointing Champions League campaign, but now are favourites for the Europa League. Domestically, it is their title to lose. Juventus have the depth and experience to see this title race through, barring a complete breakdown, it’s hard to see past Juventus for another Scudetto.
No one saw Roma as title contenders for the season, and many will say they have been punching above their weight throughout the campaign. The goal for Roma remains Champions League qualification, a goal they are more than capable of achieving. It’s no accident that Roma went on a 17 game unbeaten run, that was a result of sheer tactical discipline and organisation by Rudi Garcia. It is well within their means to get back into Europe’s elite competition.
This article was written by Sami Faizullah and Arnab Ray.
What did you think of the game? Did you notice anything else tactically? Have we missed out on something? If so, do leave a comment below.