With vertical, slick, speedy possession football complemented by a clear and effective pressing scheme, the Bianconeri were able to overwhelm Claudio Ranieri’s Blucerchiati.
And after such a performance, it’s pretty hard to write a piece regarding their faults. However, the once imperious Juve are fourth in Serie A and seven points off the summit for a reason: it hasn’t always gone to plan.
Here are a pair of factors that have set Juve back this season, with one game, in particular, standing out as one where it almost all went wrong.
Achieving control at transitions is incredibly tough, but it goes a long way in determining the success of possession-based sides.
As I noted in part one, Pirlo is all about establishing control via ball retention and counter-pressing – with the Bianconeri boasting the highest share of possession, on average, per game in Serie A this season. Thus, due to their monopoly of the ball and fierce counter-press, Juve have done a pretty good job at limiting the number of counter-attacks they succumb to.
However, there are still one or two teething issues.
Pirlo’s 3-2-5 possession structure should, in theory, protect Juve against the counter quite effectively due to five players providing central compactness. But, with auxiliary centre-back Danilo often advancing upfield to create overloads, Juve’s centre-back pairing can be woefully exposed due to the gaping holes on both flanks. Roma, on matchday two, particularly exploited Juve in this regard.
Also, and this is more of a personnel issue than it is systematic, but when Arthur Melo is utilised in Pirlo’s pivot, Juve are undoubtedly more vulnerable to rapid breakaways due to the Brazilian’s sub-par athleticism. Although he adds tremendous value in possession, there’s no doubting where Arthur’s primary weakness lies, and that’s in transition. He can be overrun pretty easily.
With Pirlo introducing a fairly complex build-up structure, while also looking to progress upfield via line-breaking passes and penetrate via balls in-behind – as well as other methods – he’s heavily reliant on the technical security of his players as to whether his system is effective or not, as are the majority of coaches.
‘Technical security’, by the way, can be defined as the reliability of one’s technique.
One Juve player who lacks such an attribute is Rodrigo Bentancur, who, for much of the season thus far, has been the deepest pivot player in Juve’s midfield and a significant contributor to Juve’s build-up.
For me, that’s strange considering who he’s been playing alongside as of late: the master of the first phase, Arthur. Bentancur simply makes too many unforced errors to be the metronomic figure in the Juve midfield, that has to be Arthur. In the recent victory over Sampdoria, we saw the Brazilian and the Uruguayan almost swap roles in the build-up phase, leading to a much cleaner performance from a possession perspective.
This subtle alteration will go a long way to increasing the effectiveness and reliability of Juve’s already competent build-up play.
Case Study – Inter Milan 2-0 Juventus
This was the night where everything went wrong for Juve, both individually and collectively.
Facing up against Antonio Conte for the first time, a coach who he touted as one of his major influences, Pirlo was comprehensively outwitted.
In possession, Inter handed Juve a false sense of security by sitting in a deeper 5-3-2 block and rarely pressing high. Thus, the Bianconeri were able to retain possession in the first and second phases with ease, but the compactness of the Nerazzurri meant penetration was mightily hard to come by. The hosts were comfortable in their mid/low block, nullifying the space Alvaro Morata had to work in behind as well as the likes of Aaron Ramsey and the distinctly poor Cristiano Ronaldo between the lines.
Down their left, however, was where Juve had a serious problem. Achraf Hakimi vs. Gianluca Frabotta proved a horrible mismatch, with the Moroccan’s aggression pinning the young Italian, preventing him from having an impact in possession, while Conte did a tremendous job isolating his electric wing-back against the Juve man.
This was achieved by baiting Juve’s press over to Inter’s left during the build-up phase by overloading that flank before a quick switch of play let Hakimi loose against Frabotta. Left midfielder Ramsey’s lack of defensive support allowed Nicolo Barella to wreak havoc from the right half-space, while Milan Skriniar would also advance from centre-back to overwhelm poor Frabotta.
Overall, Juve’s press was overly enthusiastic and erratic (naive, considering Inter are one of the best teams in Europe at playing out from the back), and it wasn’t until Nicola Barella had doubled the Nerazzurri’s lead early in the second period before Pirlo took a more conservative approach in that regard.
Inter’s second goal, in which Alessandro Bastoni bypassed the Juve press with ease before dissecting an unbalanced Juve defence with a wonderful pass to Barella – once again lurking in that aforementioned right half-space – who finished wonderfully, epitomised Juve’s woes in a microcosm.
Andrea Pirlo has introduced a system in which, should they minimise errors, means they’re a tremendous watch. A major upgrade on the often turgid Sarriball.
And although at times, Juve’s press can be pretty wild and chaotic, Pirlo’s intentions are clear and with a bit of fine-tuning, the Bianconeri can evolve into a demonic side out of possession. They remain as stout as ever once they settle into their 4-4-2 block as well.
Overall, there are plenty of positive signs and with a bit of investment in the right areas in the summer, Pirlo may be the man to spearhead the Bianconeri’s new era.