Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Juventus: Champions League record breakers.
The Bianconeri’s late show in Russia on Wednesday night saw them claim yet another 1-0 victory. It’s their fourth win in a row in all competitions by that scoreline, and seventh away win on the spin in the Champions League group stages – a new record.
The performance was drab for the most part, with a cautious Zenit seemingly content grabbing a point from a game they could’ve done with winning.
Nevertheless, Massimiliano Allegri’s side eventually prevailed thanks to Dejan Kulusevski’s smart header and here are three takeaways from the Matchday 3 triumph in Europe.
System change but cautionary principles remain
So far this season, Allegri had deviated from his favoured 4-4-2 just once (vs Empoli) but against Zenit, he opted for the system we saw plenty of during pre-season: the 4-3-3.
In midfield, Manuel Locatelli functioned as the regista behind a pair of number eights – Rodrigo Bentancur and Weston McKennie – while a fluid, unstructured front line consisted of Federico Chiesa, Alvaro Morata and Federico Bernardeschi. Interchanges were aplenty, especially between Morata and Chiesa.
Despite the systematic alteration, Allegri’s cautious and pragmatic principles remained to inhibit the efficacy of the visitors’ attacking display. Zenit sat deep in a 5-4-1 block, were bereft of any technical quality in their build-up (barring the left foot of Yaroslav Rakitskyi) and lacked any thrust in transition. They were compact and cut out central routes of progression astutely, but they were so there for the taking.
The Bianconeri, though, failed to pounce on their vulnerabilities. Like Zenit, they didn’t press which meant they failed to sustain any sort of pressure on the hosts. There was a brief period at the start of the second half where Juve counter-pressed effectively and were able to attack against an unbalanced defence, but this upturn in intensity was ephemeral. Thus, they were limited to intermittent attacks against a balanced, deep defence, making the task more difficult than it should’ve been.
Juventus would accumulate an xG (expected goals) of 1.0 on Wednesday night all while limiting their opponents’ to 0.6. They were good value for the win, and Allegri’s ploy of blocking space in a 4-5-1 mid-block just about did the job. Centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt were very good, with the latter dominating his duel with Russian giant Artem Dzyuba.
Overall, Juventus’ victory on the road will overlook what was an overly cautious gameplan from Allegri. In the end, they won without having to take a risk. But, on another day, that game easily ends in a stalemate and we’re discussing a major missed opportunity.