Juventus are hoping to avoid a third consecutive Serie A defeat as they host Fiorentina on Saturday evening.
The Bianconeri’s defeats to Sassuolo and Hellas Verona forced Massimiliano Allegri into putting his slumping side into a training retreat. However, Allegri’s measure paid immediate dividends as Juve blitzed past Zenit in the Champions League on Tuesday to secure their place in the knockout phase of the competition.
The Old Lady teased their attacking potential in the win, as Paulo Dybala and Federico Chiesa ran the show for the hosts. They must now bring that form onto the domestic scene.
Fiorentina, however, are stern opposition. Buoyed by the arrival of coach Vincenzo Italiano and the continued goal scoring form of Dusan Vlahovic, La Viola sit above Juve in the Serie A table heading into Saturday’s contest.
With their Scudetto hopes all but dashed already, this is a game Juventus must win, and here are three key battles that’ll determine whether they do so.
Juve’s build-up vs Fiorentina’s press
So far this season, Allegri hasn’t deviated from his 3-1 build-up structure. Typically, Danilo and the two centre-backs create a back three with Manuel Locatelli the sole metronome in midfield offering an immediate progressive option.
Left-back Alex Sandro advances higher upfield, as does Locatelli’s midfield partner. He aims to find pockets of space between the lines alongside Paulo Dybala and whoever plays the hybrid role. Thus, this gives Juve a source of width, reference points between the lines and a threat in behind (Morata/Chiesa/Cuadrado).
However, that’s the ideal situation. For the majority of the season, Juve’s build-up has been dysfunctional. Locatelli can be easily marked, while there’s little to no resemblance of any possession structure. Dybala is relied upon to create something out of nothing by dropping as deep as possible to get on the ball, while Chiesa has often been an outcast when deployed on the flank.
On Tuesday, though, Juve’s build-up and possession play was transformed. There was cohesion and collective understanding that facilitated fluidity. Positional play principles were adhered to for the first time this season, and this brought the best out of Dybala and Chiesa.
Against Fiorentina, Juve must continue on this path of fluency. Rotations and interchanges will be pivotal to disrupting La Viola’s defensive structure, but the major key is mitigating against the visitors’ press. While Italiano’s side aren’t perennial high pressers (their 360 pressures in the attacking third ranks 11th in Serie A), we saw them press successfully against some of Italy’s best, namely Inter Milan. In a bid to combat Inter’s superb build-up play, Fiorentina pressed with a fierce man-orientation to stifle the Nerazzurri at source.
I expect Italiano to press Juve high on Saturday considering their vulnerabilities. Italiano will attempt to seek control through their work off the ball by forcing the hosts into direct/long passes.
However, as Napoli proved in their 2-1 victory over La Viola, their 4-2-4 pressing structure can be bypassed if the defenders are secure in possession and rotations in the second phase are efficient enough to disorientate Fiorentina’s man-orientation.