This post was guest-blogged by Matt Statto. Follow him on Twitter (@ilStatto)
Wednesday night represents an opportunity of redemption for Juventus, salvation if you will. After last week’s 2-0 Champions League first leg defeat to Bayern at the Allianz Arena, The Old Lady know they have an all-mighty mountain to climb in order to progress, however to give up is not the Juventus way – it’s not lo stile Juve. Conte is sure to have the squad rallied and ready to make an impact, whether or not this is to be enough is another question, but you can be for sure Juventus will come out with a point to prove to Europe and, most importantly, to themselves.
As Lars writes in the preview of Wednesday’s fixture, Juventus were uncharacteristically poor against the newly crowned German champions, however the Bianconeri were able to bounce back with a hard fought 2-1 victory over Pescara – who were very much flattered by the close scoreline. Juventus rested a number of key players in order to keep themselves fresh and this is certainly going to be beneficial when going up against a team as physically and mentally strong as wednesday night’s opposition. Bayern didn’t choose to rest as many key players as Juventus, knowing that with a 2-0 first leg lead, they’re in a much more comfortable position and had the small task of wrapping up the Bundesliga title. As expected, they did so with a 1-0 victory away at Eintracht Frankfurt to keep their excellent run of form going.
Personally, I thought that last week’s fixture was one of the poorest performances I’ve seen from Juventus under Antonio Conte. Nevermind the fact the opposition are a truly excellent side, it was a poor performance and one which was very naive tactically, with the Italians making a number of mistakes, especially with regards to the shape of the team when it was clear Bayern were dominant. It makes sense to analyse the game to see what Juve could do better.
April 02 2013: Bayern Munich 2-0 Juventus
As expected, Bayern lined up in the formation they’ve used throughout the whole campaign. This was not a surprise as they are very much a team who only play one way, their coach Jupp Heynckes firmly believes in trying to impose his style of possession based football and his side did this excellently. Like I mentioned during this same segment prior to the game, the battle was to be won and lost in the wide areas and just as I thought, the positioning of Bayern’s wingers proved crucial. Heynckes pushed his wingers high up the pitch, Bayern’s positioning was nearly that of a 4-2-1-3, with Ribery and Robben (who replaced Toni Kroos due to injury very early on) closing down Juventus’ defence whenever the Italians had the ball. Juve had no answer to the incessant pressure and had to resort to kicking the ball long with panicky clearances – even Andrea Pirlo uncharacteristically lacked composure on the ball, with Müller’s pressure proving too much for him to cope with.
Bayern’s ability to squeeze Juventus into their own half caused Lichtsteiner and Peluso to have to drop deep in order to provide cover for Barzagli and Bonucci and this left Juventus with very little width. This proved highly problematic as neither Matri, nor Quagliarella are the most adept forwards at holding up the ball in order to allow Juve’s wing backs to push up and support the attack. Once Juventus’ long clearances found their way to either of the two forwards on the half way line, Bayern easily mopped up, simply stepping in and intercepting the ball as both Matri and Quagliarella were unable to bring the ball under their control. It was clear Juventus missed Mirko Vucinic‘s ability to hold up the ball and buy time with his strength and dribbling ability, this however is hard to blame on the coach, as both Matri and Quagliarella came into the game in excellent form.
Both David Alaba and Philip Lahm were excellent for Bayern, they had free reign down the wings due to Juventus’ lack of width and they made the most of this. Their threat in the wide areas was so constant that Juventus’ shape and structure was all over the place, with Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio both having to pull out to the wings to help out. As you can imagine, Bayern then found themselves able to control the centre of the park, as this then meant both Luiz Gustavo and Bastian Schweinsteiger found themselves without a marker and without anyone to close them down (Neither Quagliarella nor Matri dropped deep to close down Bayern’s deep lying midfielders).
As I just implied, it was Bayern who controlled the midfield by their superior play both on and off the ball, positionally and tactically. Juve’s midfield was very poor and against a midfield as dominant as Bayern, you cannot afford to play in the way Pirlo and Marchisio played. Marchisio was invisible throughout, he didn’t make many tackles or interceptions, his distribution when had the ball was poor and positionally he didn’t seem to offer the sort of defensive coverage he usually does. Andrea Pirlo fared no better, putting in one of the worst performances of his Juventus career, with him being completely overawed by the pressure he received from Thomas Müller in particular. Pirlo’s pass completion percentage was only 70% and he only completed 37 passes, which must rank statistically as one of the poorest games of his career, let alone since joining Juventus. Arturo Vidal looked to be the only Juventus player who showed the sort of desire and work rate expected, constantly closing down and doing his very best to contain Bayern. At times he looked to be the only player playing in Juventus’ midfield. Unfortunately for Juventus he picked up a costly booking which now rules him out of the 2nd leg.
Conte’s substitutions were poor. The game was crying out for a tactical change from the Juventus coach, but he instead chose the safe option, replacing the two ineffectual forwards with Vucinic and Giovinco. The forwards were a problem, but they were by no means the main concern. The concern was the formation and the lack of support the midfield were able to give to those leading the line. Conte’s substitutions did little to change things and Bayern continued to dominate the game, even if Vucinic and Giovinco did perform slightly better than the two they replaced.
It was unsurprising to see Bayern win 2-0 and, let’s be honest, the score somewhat flattered Juventus as on another day, the scoreline could have been embarrassing.
Keys To A Juventus Victory
Obviously a lot of what I wrote about in the 1st leg scouting report remains true here – both coaches’ wide players’ positioning being a key factor, distribution from the back etc. From a performance perspective though, much better is expected from all of those who start in a black and white shirt to have any chance of achieving one of the great Champions League comebacks. The midfield especially need to work significantly harder, both to close down Bayern’s midfield, but also to make space for Juventus’ defenders off the ball. Both Juventus’ advanced central midfielders like to move laterally in order to receive the ball from the defence, but this avenue was unavailable given the high positioning of Bayern’s wingers, so an alternative may be required in the event of a similar situation.
Both Juventus’ forwards must also do more to influence the game. It was quite despairing to watch both Fabio Quagliarella and Ale Matri standing up front waiting to receive the ball without any intention to grab the bull by the horns and try and get it for themselves. Whoever starts needs to be willing to come deep to support the midfielders and give Pirlo and co. some options to play the ball into dangerous areas.
In what would be a highly surprising and unlikely move, but one which could prove beneficial, a tactical switch to a 4-1-2-3 (4-3-3) should be considered. If you recall, for most of the first half of 11/12, Conte lined up his side in a 4-3-3 formation, relying on possession by stretching the opposition via wing play, the counter attack was less prominent and there was a great deal of balance throughout the side. Unfortunately though, this tactical option was discarded. Juventus’ lack of quality wingers, abundance of central strikers, not to mention the incredibly consistent form of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini inspired Conte to change to a 3-5-2 and whilst this works superbly in Serie A where teams are happy to drop off deep to defend, against teams who are intense in their pressing or those who feature three forwards, there are glaring problems. This is especially so in Europe where both features are much more common.
As I said, the change to this system under such short notice would be one which would be very unlikely, but it would allow Juventus to match Bayern up for numbers in midfield (Bayern’s triangle vs Juventus’ inverted triangle), but would more importantly give Bayern’s attacking full backs Alaba and Lahm much more to think about and would stop them from playing so far up the park, with the Bayern pair being wary of leaving their centre backs exposed. Juventus would also be in a similar situation, but at least unlike in the first leg, the Bianconeri wouldn’t be leaving any ‘free’ men to make a crucial impact against them. The match would then come down to which side won the midfield battle, with a lot being decided by the matchup between Pirlo, Pogba and Marchisio vs Müller, Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, plus whichever side was more adventurous with the position of their full backs when in possession. It would be an intriguing battle.
In any case, regardless of the system and structure, the very least Juventini expect is a performance befitting the club’s name and colours. It would take the most bias of Juventino to be highly confident in going through, but if Juve were to get an early goal and inspire Juventus Stadium to be in full force, Bayern’s mental strength would truly be put to the test. And in a similar situation to their previous Champions League round 2nd leg tie against Arsenal, when Arsenal did reduce the aggregate deficit, Bayern looked to be very uncertain and shaky.