As we move into the new club football season, Outside of the Boot will be publishing regular Tactical Previews of the sides from across Europe’s top seven leagues. This one focuses on Italian Champions, Juventus. Nikhil Krishna takes a look at their basic formation, analyses their tactics, key player and their potential key young players of the 2014/15 season.
After a hat-trick of domestic titles in just as many years, manager Antonio Conte’s departure as Juventus boss was nothing short of a bombshell. Conte nurtured a team that went from strength to strength and gained great laud and plaudits playing a 3-5-2 which has since become synonymous with the Bianconeri. His replacement much to everyone’s great surprise was Allegri, who was shown the door at AC Milan just six months before after a disastrous campaign. The general feeling that Juventus are much weakened is a rather shortsighted opinion, but one not too far from the truth. It’s easy to forget that Allegri won the Serie A with AC Milan’s aging, yet quality, squad in 2011- something Milan hadn’t been able to provide him with in the years since. The 2014/15 season will be one to keenly observe.
Formation | How will they set-up?
Even if Conte had stayed, it might have been a good bet to say that Juventus would have been looking at a slight tactical rethink this season. While the 3-5-2 has been remarkably dominant in Italy, Conte found his fingers burnt in the Champions League and Europa League far too often by pacey wingers who ruthlessly exploited the space on the flanks left by the back three. His summer pursuit of wingers of the likes of Juan Iturbe in a bid to change to a 4-3-3 backs this idea up even more. His plans though will now never be known as Allegri brings his own blueprints to the hot-seat.
3-5-2: Juventus through and through, the 3-5-2, at least for the beginning of the season, will remain the norm as stated by Allegri having deployed it to the usual great success in the pre-season tours. Key elements of the Black & Whites’ success over the last three years such as the three man engine room and the strike partnership upfront ( both to be explained in detail later) are maintained while at the same time leaving three pure centre-backs in the side, with quality centre-backs being nothing short of overabundant in Turin. Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah are two of the best wing-backs in the world and are nothing short of a joy to watch motoring away on both halves of the pitch.
4-3-1-2 Allegri’s “personal favourite” setup is the 4-3-1-2. It’s a unique system which manages to once again maintain the aforementioned key aspects of the three man midfield and the two strikers upfront. The most fruitful aspect about the formation though is the ability to integrate a flat back four, enhancing much needed defensive solidity. Conte’s biggest hurdle against playing a back four was the lack of a quality left back. Asamoah was overburdened by his defensive duties when played there and Chiellini and Ogbonna were both just left footed centre backs looking incredibly out of their depth while attacking. Signing Patrice Evra was a sheer masterstroke in this respect as Juventus finally have an experienced and attacking pure left back who has maintained a splendid balance between his attacking and defensive duties, season after season. Another slight dilemma Allegri will be faced with is his choice of personnel in the “hole” or No 10 role behind the two strikers. First glance into the squad, and new signing Robert Pereyra looks to have the tools to play there. Another and perhaps more viable alternative would be to break up the “bromance” between Llorrente and Tevez (Keep those tears back!) and play Tevez behind the front two. The other striker berth could go to somewhat forgotten man Sebastian Giovinco. The pint sized man they lovingly called Formica Atomica or Atomic Ant has fantastic pace and finishing ability that can batter many a defence. New signing Alvaro Morata too could vie for the spot.
Analysis | What can we expect from them tactically?
As touched upon earlier, certain aspects of both these potential systems are likely to be constant. Here’s an in depth look at them.
Three men in the centre running the show: Juventus can boast of a truly glorious midfield. Arturo Vidal despite an uncertain transfer window looks set to stay put in Turin. I am surely not alone in rating the Chilean as one of, or if not “the best” box to box midfielder the game has to offer, rivaled in ability perhaps only by Yaya Toure. His remarkable stamina sees him consistently pushing up and down the pitch for the whole 90 minutes, pulling the strings with some sleek passing in the final third and at the same time tracking back and making those crunching tackles on the opposition midfielders.
Paul Pogba is a player I simply can’t spend more time raving about. His dynamism and willingness to get consistently in and around the opposition penalty box is fantastic, chipping in with delightful passes and a tracer bullet of a shot. His aerial prowess and strength adds a unique dimension in midfield. His primary role can be classified as the aggressive ball winner. When not in possession he’s quick to close in on the opposition and makes the first wave of aggression to win the the ball back and launch deadly counters.
The third and final midfield slot and unarguably the most important one is the Regista. Bearded Maestro Andrea Pirlo has made the position almost his own, and is one of the very best to have ever graced the football pitch. His sublime passing range is what keeps Juventus ticking. Whether it’s a more direct approach aimed at target man Fernando Llorente or shorter and quicker ground balls through to the advancing fullback/wingback, Pirlo is the man for all occasions. He slots in right in front the three centre backs, with his two “bodyguards” if you will in Vidal and Pogba.
For all of Pirlo’s importance there are a few fears of him ousted from the team. They are understandable considering new manager Allegri infamously preferred a more defensive minded anchorman instead at AC Milan which led to Pirlo being released for literally nothing and gifted to Juventus. The rest as they say is history. It does seem a repeat of the whole scenario is rather unlikely. But dare I say, even though the bearded maestro ages like a fine wine there might be a time when his age just might catch up to him and he might suffer the fate of being left out for Claudio Marchisio, a far more defensive contributor.
The nature of Juve’s midfield under Conte was of stout disciplined performances. The three were almost always immaculately positioned, both on and off the ball. Conte’s Juve were never afraid of pragmatism and put in a number of “reactive” performances with the midfield soaking up pressure and winning the ball back at the right times before launching deadly counters. A vintage performance was against Roma last season where they ran out convincing 3-0 winners is a good example. An interesting feature to note in this game and in many others was how Vidal and Pogba were “auxillary wingers” as such, spreading out wide when allowed and supporting the advancing wing-back. Expect to see much more of this, especially in the 4-3-1-2 with most of the defensive burden lifted off their shoulders.
Expect more of the same from Allegri, a man who at times can be accused of being over pragmatic.
Striker Bromance: If Juventus don’t boast an impressive enough midfield, leave it to their strike partnership to destroy the opposition. In an era of football where the tactic of playing two up front is not fashionable, Juventus last season proved that strike partnerships are well and truly alive. Quite simply put the dynamic duo of Llorente and Tevez is everything you’d ever dream of in a strike partnership. On one hand you have Spaniard Fernando Llorente standing at a towering 6’5, and is the very personification of brute strength and brawn capable out-muscling almost any defender as he unleashes a clinical strike or header at goal. On the other you have Argentine Carlos Tevez “a little dynamite” who mesmerizes those around him with his deft control of the football, commanding it through some killer through balls, combined with his absolute “poacher” like instincts always on the hunt for goals.
They are almost perfectly the Yin to each other’s Yang. Tevez once joked that he spent more time with Llorente than with his own wife. It’s a possible explanation for their almost telepathic communication on the pitch, always knowing where the other one is as if they’ve been playing together all their lives. They both combined to score over 38 goals. Tevez and Llorente both only arrived last summer and in a single season have become integral members of Juventus. Before both their arrivals, Juventus were plagued with finding the right combination upfront, having tried and chopped a number of attackers such as Giovinco, Quagliarella, Matri, Vucinic and even quite shockingly the man himself Nicklas Bendtner.
It would be very foolish of Allegri to even attempt to break this ever-flourishing partnership up. Having said that though, age is not on both their sides with Llorente a year away and Tevez already at the big Three-Zero mark with both at the peak of their careers. Young blood in the form of Alvaro Morata will mark an ever present threat to their starting places.
Key Player | Who will be the stand-out player for the system?
It’s incredibly hard to pick just an individual as “key” in this incredibly talented squad. If there is someone who has a significantly greater responsibility to the team than the rest, it’s Arturo Vidal. In both attack and defence he is the “spark plug” of Juve’s engine room. He seems to be growing each and every season and seems to be close to the peak of his powers. Having said that, it would be a great crying shame if I had to read this a bit later and see that Vidal has left Juventus. Both he and the club still have a lot to offer each other.
Talent Radar | Who will be the key young players this season?
Paul Pogba: The still only 21 year old has exploded over the last two seasons since arriving at Juventus and displacing fan favourite Marchisio. His hard hitting aggressive style at central midfield is exactly what Juventus needs. He keeps getting better and better. Already a key member of Juventus squad and fresh from a fantastic display at the World Cup in Brazil for France, the funky haired Frenchman will be raring to go this season. Expect more of that tackling, cheeky passing and devastating long shots with a “Pogboom”!
Alvaro Morata: Somehow in their relentless pursuit of big money signings, Real Madrid have once again let an absolute gem from their academy slip through their hands as Alvaro Morata was signed for fee of around £16 million. Standing at an impressive 6’3 the 20 year old has impressed greatly over the last two seasons. Powerful yet blessed with a fine burst of pace, he’s the quintessential modern target man. He can even put a great shift out on the wings, cutting inside towards the goal. His fine performance at the UEFA U-21 European championship in Israel gave a glimpse of his great potential as he ended the tournament’s top scorer. At Real Madrid chances were few, but he still managed to impress greatly. He may not be a definite starter this season but he stands to gain fantastic experience from experienced strikers and is expected to be phased into the squad. He can be a great option to have on the bench. Despite a seemingly bad omen in him being ruled out for a month barely a week after joining the Bianconeri, he’s set for a bright bright future at the Juventus stadium.
Written by Nikhil Krishna.
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