This post was guest-blogged by FABIO BARCELLONA
English translation by Marco Pantanella
For their league debut, JUVENTUS fielded what appears will be their tactical module of choice this season. Namely a 3-5-2 formation with the following players: STORARI between the sticks, BONUCCI, MARRONE, BARZAGLI (R to L) in defense. LICHSTEINER (right) and ASAMOAH (left) on the wings, with the M-V-P trio of VIDAL, PIRLO, MARCHISIO (R to L) guarding the center of the field. Up top: a striking pair constituted by VUCINIC and GIOVINCO.
Donadoni also deployed PARMA in a 3-5-2 line-up. In front of goalkeeper Mirante, defending trio of Zaccardo, Paletta, Lucarelli took the field. In midfield, Rosi (right) and Gobbi (left) on the wings, Valdés surrounded by Acquah (right) and Parolo (left) in central mid. Attacking duo consisting of Pabón and Biabiany.
The fact the two teams tactically mirrored each other in the middle of the park and on the wings, gave rise to well-defined individual duels between the mezz’ali (inner mids) and wingers from both teams. Duels which — having been clearly won by the Juventus players — ultimately were the determining factor towards the match’s final result.
Juve — like last season — tried to create play starting from the back, using the diamond BONUCCI-MARRONE.BARZAGLI-PIRLO. Parma counteracted the initial phases of Juve’s play by placing its two forwards vertically, man-marking PIRLO and leaving more freedom to the “lateral” defenders BONUCCI and BARZAGLI. After 90 minutes of play, the two center-backs were the Bianconeri with the highest number of pass completion.
On the opposite side of the field, Juventus tried to put high pressure on the ball around the Parma defenders, pushing MARCHISIO up the field on Zaccardo.
In the first 30 minutes of the 1st half, Juventus wasn’t able cope with the pace of the match due to too lengthy phases of ball possession by the Gialloblu. One reason for this is the excess of balls “kept live” by the two Parma strikers. Another reason, in phases of play during which Parma had clear possession, resides in an intrinsic characteristic of the 3-5-2 formation: by keeping 5 players of the defensive line occupied, the line-up reduces by one — compared to a backline of 4 — the number of players capable of stealing the ball in advanced areas of the field. This results in ball recovery taking place deeper into Juve’s half, thus allowing the opponent more time with ball possession.
From the 31st minute onwards, Juve were able to improve the efficiency of their defensive transitions and thus put more pressure on Parma’s defense.
The real turning point, however, was at the start of the second half when — in the early 15 minutes leading to Juve’s two-goal advantage — the features of Juve’s 3-5-2 were indubitably put in the spotlight. A line-up which, as per the usual extraordinary work of Antonio Conte, is able to “adjust” its patterns relative to the specific elements composing it. I am referring in particular to the different movements of the two mezz’ali, VIDAL and MARCHISIO, which also depend on the different characteristics of wingers LICHTSTEINER and ASAMOAH.
Let us look at MARCHISIO and VIDAL‘s preferred runs during the offensive phase.
★ ★ ★
A constant movement in Claudio MARCHISIO‘s game is his vertical penetration up to Juve’s forward line, usually in the center-left of the Juventus attack. For example, in the two slides that follow, we can see how, with the ball on the right side of the Bianconeri’s attack (following LICHTSTEINER‘s pass to VIDAL), MARCHISIO inserts himself deep on the same line as GIOVINCO and VUCINIC.
The next slide shows another one of the many MARCHISIO penetrations inside the area described above.
Much different are VIDAL‘s movements on the center-right however, in particular in the second half.
The slide below shows a very common offensive arrangement for Juve in the second 45 minutes of the game. Note the very high position of LICHTSTEINER and ASAMOAH, on the same line of the attacking pair, and VIDAL open on the right. A position which MARCHISIO, on the other side of the field, never assumes.
VIDAL‘s positioning created enormous problems for Parma. In the following series of slides we see a typical play of Juve’s 3-5-2: Vidal receives the ball wide from PIRLO, opening up and escaping Parolo‘s man-marking. At the same time, LICHTSTEINER cuts inside creating space for VIDAL, and rebuilding a sort of “side chain” that is generally not expected in a 3-5-2.
VIDAL takes the ball in and serves a wonderful assist for VUCINIC, who cuts behind the defenders. A movement which — as we shall see — the Juve forwards execute continuously when they are close to the opponent’s area.
The slide below shows another “chain” movement between VIDAL and LICHTSTEINER.
As evidence of the non-random nature of the Bianconeri’s positioning on their right wing, as well the set of movements highlighted above, the following series of slides illustrates another Juventus play phase quite similar to the previous one.
VIDAL receives the ball wide from BONUCCI, LICHTSTEINER cuts in the middle but then opens up wide again, creating space for VIDAL to serve another assist towards GIOVINCO who, just like VUCINIC in the previous case, cuts in behind the Parma defenders.
The distinct feeling here is that when Juve are attacking, the team’s right wing (where LICHTSTEINER, whose technical and athletic characteristics do not make him particularly skilled for one-on-ones, operates), is where the Bianconeri try to create a “chain” situation with overlaps, creativity, and search for open space. A situation more “in tune” with the Swiss defender’s skills. On the other side however, ASAMOAH (whose enormous explosive force and better technique makes him more suited at exploiting one-on-one situations than his Swiss counterpart) is purposefully left isolated against his direct opponent, MARCHISIO usually never opening up on the left.
A brilliant illustration of the tactical choices made on the left wing by Antonio Conte’s Juventus comes from the team’s first goal. The action, as shown in the slide show below, develops from ball switch from right to left between the Juve defenders, culminating in BARZAGLI‘s pass to ASAMOAH. The Ghanaian takes on and dribbles his direct opponent Rosi in order to deliver in the center of the penalty box, occupied by GIOVINCO, VUCINIC, and — coming in from the opposite side — LICHTSTEINER, a low cross of extremely high quality.
★ ★ ★
To conclude this first brief analysis of Juve’s 3-5-2 system, a small mention of the two forwards’ movements when away from the opponent’s penalty box is warranted.
The two strikers are required to play close to each other because, following their initial movement and first reception of the ball, Juve’s tactic operates around a rapid and close combination between the two. To begin his movement in support of the ball carrier (often a member of the three-man backline, in the Parma match usually either BONUCCI or BARZAGLI), the forward is expected to come towards the ball. His next move may include (as previously mentioned) a close interplay with his striking partner, as illustrated in the series of slides that follows.
With a defender (BARZAGLI) in possession, VUCINIC moves towards his teammate and receives the ball vertically. VUCINIC‘s first touch is for GIOVINCO, who immediately returns the ball to his partner who then skips past Zaccardo in order to obtain a shooting opportunity.
Returning to the match specifics: with a remarkable first 15 minutes in the second period, Juventus were able to achieve their two-goal (and final) advantage and — for the rest of the game — manage their lead with relative ease. It was only though a few avoidable moments of Juventus “sufficiency” that a rather mediocre Parma side were able to obtain a few scoring chances.
Juventus needed only 15 minutes played at exceptional levels to win this game. The first half (and in particular the first half-hour) showed how important defensive transitioning is for this team, especially given that its effectiveness is what determines the squad’s ability to manage their own rhythms and play developments. It also highlighted one of the 3-5-2′s limitations: with the opponent in firm possession of the ball, inevitably, committing five men in the defensive line lowers the team’s center and is not conducive of rapid ball recovery.
As soon as, between the end of the first half and the first 15 minutes of the second, defensive transitioning was corrected (with the added benefit of a greater efficiency in fast ball recovery by Juve’s defenders), the offensive phase improved as well, particularly the movements of VIDAL (who played an absolutely storming 15 minutes) and Juventus became the absolute masters of the match only need a quarter of an hour to win it.
Juve’s first league game also merits a preliminary comment on some of the team’s new recruits.
Let’s start with Luca MARRONE who, though not being new to the team, is featuring in a totally novel role of both center-back and Serie A starter. Regarding the young defender/midfielder I can only confirm what has been already said by many and the arguments made by Antonio Conte: he’s got physique, personality, and a playing ability suited for a center-back, especially as the central element in a three-man backline. He’s also got the foot skills, timing, and vision of a midfielder, all fundamental qualities for a modern-day defender. Only match experience will make him improved during the purely defensive phases of play, especially man-marking and close-contact plays with opponents.
Now on to ASAMOAH, Juve’s man-of-the-match on Saturday. As I already mentioned, he’s a player with great explosive leg power and excellent left-foot technique. I had my doubts (which were partially confirmed during the Supercoppa match in Beijing) concerning his ability to play with continuity on the whole 100m of the field and for 90 minutes straight. However, if the person we witnessed Saturday is really the athlete Asamoah can be, Juve have won the lottery as far as the role of left winger in a 3-5-2 is concerned. The Ghanaian couples the ability to run long distances for lengthy periods of time, with an explosive capacity enabling him to use (and win) one-on-ones with little or no run-up. Not to mention he’s still got a very good understanding of the duties required of an inner midfielder.
Lastly, let’s talk about GIOVINCO who, rather excessively, was considerably criticized by the Italian media for his Saturday performance. My opinion of Giovinco is that his basic technique is overestimated, and that the player suffers from a lack of continuity during the game. Seba’s seemingly inexplicable and too frequent errors at first touches & distribution can thus simply be explained by a not particularly “clean” technique — especially during high-speed plays (in which Giovinco is often involved in) — and by lapses in concentration. If we rate Giovinco to be a champion, a top player, then we will always be setting ourselves up for disappointment. If we consider him for what he really is however, a very quick player with often decisive flashes of speed and who’s able to make rapid passing exchanges with another striker, then we are looking at player who — as he improves with continuity — may become particularly well-suited to the tactical plays used by Antonio Conte.
Originally published in Italian on uccellinodidelpiero.com