SERIE A: Inter shows how defence wins games, Inter v Juventus match analysis

Inter has shown great character to overcome Juventus in what was supposed to be the last match in charge for Frank de Boer. After poorish start to season Inter lost at home to Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Europa League and in a game that Massimo Allegri described as “real test of Juventus’ title ambitions”, they had to face reigning champions in Derby d’Italia.

 
While Ivan Perišić was doubtful as he got minor injury during the week, de Boer had rest of his preferred squad available. Eder filled the Croatian winger spot and Dutch manager was good to go. On the other side Allegri rotated his Champions League squad as both wingers, Evra and Alves, were substituted with Liechstensteiner and Alex Sandro while Lamina was replaced with Miralem Pjanić and Higuain with Mario Mandžukić. In defence Allegri decided to shift Barzagli for Benatia so five out of 11 new players found their way into the biggest match in Italy.

 
While both teams went out fairly cautious, Inter seemed more determined to close down their opponents. Although they didn’t press all over the pitch they did prevent easy distribution from the back.

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First part of game plan for Inter was to disturb short distribution from Buffon. Next phase was good team pressing in middle third and quick direct attacking once on the ball

Above you can see how de Boer tried to minimize attacking threat from front. All easy passes are blocked off or, at least under immediate pressure. This forced Buffon to play long balls which were lost quite frequently.

 
Aside preventing easy transition to middle third, Inter also disrupted the rhythm of their opponents rendering them unsure of their game plan.

 
This, combined with good team pressing in middle third, put pressure on Juve players which resulted in a lot of misplaced passes and lost second balls. At same time, it offered opportunities on the break for Inter.

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You can see how well Inter worked off the ball. They executed de Boer’s plan perfectly as they won possession twice more than opponents. If you add the interceptions Inter was again on top with 14. Particularly satisfying was interception by Candreva in 78th minute after which hosts scored the winning goal through Perišić’s header

Above you can see the diagram of lost possession for both teams between 15th and 70th minute and it clearly shows how well Inter pressing worked as they managed to force Juventus into losing the ball 14 times. If you add the interceptions which are also result of good team pressing it gets even worse for current champions. Inter losses six balls but manages to get it from their opponents 14 times. Including the 78th minute interception from Candreva who finds Icardi that crosses the ball for winning header from Perišić.

 
All the match had nothing to do with attacking patterns but was won and loss without the ball. Inter aggressiveness is shown in fouls made as well. They went particularly hard especially on Dybala who gets tackled hard in the first minutes just as a warning he will not be allowed to move freely.

 
De Boer did very good to motivate and pump his players for the match and they had responded very well in a difficult moment for the team. Dutchman’s first idea was to prevent Juventus from moving the ball freely and his team followed him brilliantly. They closed down goalkeeper short distribution and then went hard as a team on closing down the midfield.

 
Any attacking from Inter was secondary as they relied mainly on long balls down the wings or, equally quick, direct passes to Mauro Icardi. However, they never committed huge numbers forward as their plan was to wait for Juventus and go quickly forward.

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When they got on the ball, Inter forced a lot of quick forward balls either to one of the wingers or directly to Mauro Icardi

Above you can see such quick transition where ball gets to either full back who then goes for quick direct ball to winger. Juventus was good as always in transition so these balls were largely dealt with. What really killed them off was losing possession.

 
To conclude, both teams went on the pitch with idea not to lose the game. However, it was Inter who had more will and character on the night and they knew how to stop Juventus from building up their passing game. From there they relied on quick transition and direct attacking.

 
Although Juve scored first, Inter kept plugging and showed great determination to overcome difficult situation the club got in. Massimo Allegri didn’t have an answer to opposition’s pressing and usual game plan of combinations on right side with Dybala didn’t work as team struggled to get the ball there. They did muster a trademark goal when Liechstensteiner scored after a switch of attack from right to left, but those situations were too few to overcome determined Inter side which deservedly came from behind showing some great team spirit.

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SERIE A: Juventus v Fiorentina analysis; Dybala as Messi

First game of Serie A offered a great match up in Turin where eternal favourite for the title Juventus hosted historical rival Fiorentina. Despite selling Pogba to Man United, Juventus managed to assemble the squad deemed capable of mounting serious challenge for Champions League so conquering Italy yet again shouldn’t really be in question. All the stars in the team and expectations put a pressure on Massimo Allegri to show off this force from the first match.
On the other hand, anything but a heavy loss would be acceptable for Fiorentina. They went on the pitch in a formation rarely seen outside of Italy, a strange 3-4-3 which was really a 3-4-2-1 with Milan Badelj as deep lying playmaker and young prospect Federico Chiesa in attacking midfielder role paired with Josip Iličić. They were, however, missing midfielder Borja Valero with an ankle injury.

Juventus indeed started off in extraordinary fashion. Since big signing Gonzalo Higuain isn’t ready yet for full match, Dybala was paired with Mario Mandžukić which suited perfectly Allegri as Croatian striker is more adept at high pressing game than Higuain. Juvenuts’ coach had a clear idea how to stop visitors from Firenze and during the first half Fiorentina found itself under constant pressure unable to string three passes in a row.

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Well executed team pressing from Juve in first half was key as it made Fiorentina insecure on the ball and disorganized in defence which will prove crucial in Juve’s first goal

Above you can see how well Juventus closed down their opponents. Four Juventus players were able to cancel out six of their opponents and only way out for Fiorentina is to pass the ball back to goalkeeper and clear it up field. This was an approach taken throughout the first half that forced Fiorentina to give the ball away every time they got it. Once cleared three Fiorentina forwards had trouble getting to the ball since they were outnumbered two to one by Juventus players. Allegri’s plan was clearly to prevent Fiorentina to get onto ball with his high defensive line and well executed team pressing. It worked to as a charm since Fiorentina had the ball only 39 per cent of time in first half.

Once visitors were forced to aimlessly clear the ball Juventus was ready to take over and go with lower tempo build up shifting the ball and opposition defence from side to side in order to find a hole between the defenders.

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Juventus was patiently probing left and right to catch Fiorentina defence out of balance (source: @11tegen11)

Above you see Juventus’ average positions coupled with passing lanes and you can clearly see the “U” shape pattern as hosts probe around the defence to get into scoring position although they didn’t refrain from direct long balls. It was Asamoah and Chiellini who were searching mostly Dani Alves and Dybala on right side once Fiorentina was concentrated on left.

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Constant pressure put fear into Fiorentina players and they gave away possession. This insecurity translated into defensive phase as they went too deep and with lines too close allowing Juventus time and space on the ball

Constant pressure and inability to keep the ball made Fiorentina insecure and quite disorganized. Above you see how their defensive block compressed in five yards. Paolo Sousa must have been tearing his hair watching his team give so much space in central areas. In fact, less than 10 minutes later Juventus scores precisely because of this defensive disorganization.

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Pressure finally payed off as Khedira’s run through the disorganized defence got on the end of Chiellini’s cross

Again you see Fiorentina defensive block compressed in five yards of space leaving Juventus with all the time and space on the ball. Chiellini, who often surged forward, notices run from deep by Khedira and pings a perfect cross on to his head for one nil lead. Important part of this goal were previous 37 minutes of hard pressing that took away all the confidence Fiorentina might have brought to Turin. The other part was Allegri’s confidence and bravery to push forward in numbers. If you count, you will see nine Juventus players 30 yards from Fiorentina goal and that includes two central defenders one of which made an assist.

While Juventus attacked from both sides quite evenly, attacks from left were far more direct while on the right side they were much more eager to use skills of Dybala who tried to pass around the defence. This was all more visible in the second half once Juventus refrained from such high pressing and looked to shift attacks to left.

Second half brought a change in Fiorentina game as they switched to defending in 4-4-2 which allowed them to control better the spaces and also keep the distance between the defensive lines.

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Both teams altered their approach in second half. Juventus didn’t press so high and Fiorentina changed into 4-4-2 while defending. All this meant Viola had more time on the ball but didn’t prevent defeat. Dybala’s role changed significantly as he dropped deep and looked to connect the middle and attack as well as finish himself. Kind of what Messi does in Barcelona.

You can see above Fiorentina in their new shape. It is difficult to say if it was this change from Paolo Sousa that tamed Juventus a bit, or a fact that Juventus stopped their high pressing that was so effective in first half. You can also notice Dybala playing somewhat different role from the second period. He isn’t anymore high up the pitch but in Messi’s position and role. He is searching to get the ball deeper on the right side and move the team forward with his vision and dribbling abilities. With Dani Alves (player with most assists to Messi in Barcelona squad), that doesn’t seem like an outrageous idea.

With numerous changes in second half (offensive shape change to 4-3-3) Fiorentina managed to control the match better and regained possession. They even managed to score off the corner but Juventus was never in danger to lose the track of the match. They went to 5-4-1 and saw off the game although they gave much more space to their visitors.

In conclusion, Juventus did what they had to do. They have won confidently and showed few new things. Incredibly well organized team pressing, no fear in pushing numbers forward and Dybala in new Messi like role on the right side of the pitch. Allegri’s plan to completely stifle Fiorentina worked to perfection as Viola was completely lost in first half that made confusion in the defensive lines which, ultimately, was key in scoring first goal. Slight shadow of doubt was cast on the second half as Juve stopped playing so aggressively but they controlled the game nevertheless. Fiorentina showed they can adapt well and threaten even the biggest club in the country so nobody will be really disappointed with result.

EURO2016: Italy – Spain 2:0, analysis: Conte makes two key moves

First big match in knock-out phase at EURO saw an extraordinary clash between Italy and Spain that, as today newspapers notice, finished an era of Spain football dominance in Europe. Both teams came in after losses in final minutes of group stage last matches, however with different attitude. As one twitter user noticed, “Italy almost considers it bad manner to push in a match that means nothing to them”. Spain, however, the reigning champions have a mentality to win every match and win it with class. No doubt loss to Ireland meant little to Italians while Spain was a bit shaken after losing first time in Euro since 2004.
While Italy has already shown they can defend in the tournament while patiently waiting for a goal by long passes to two center forwards from defensive line, Conte came up with a surprise for Spain. A surprise Furia Roja didn’t recover until about 70th minute.

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Unlike previous games, Italy  actively searched to retain the ball in own defensive third to negate possession to Spain and did so perfectly

In group stages Italy had 51 pass in defensive third, however, for match against Spain they upped the passing in front of Buffon goal by 20 per cent. More over, they had 4 misplaced passes on average in that zone during group stage. However, in the first knock out match against Spain famous for their pressing from front, they didn’t have a single misplaced pass.

This was a huge surprise for Spain and completely threw them out of their comfort zone as they are not used being unable to recover the ball, and what was even more hurting, they aren’t used not having the ball longer than it is required to take the throw in.

That was exactly what Conte was hoping for when he decided not to shy off from possession battle, a practice no manager had tried since Inesta took that number six shirt in Spain dressing room a decade ago.

This back third possession trick Conte pulled out served two goals. Firstly, Spain didn’t have the ball and couldn’t hurt Italy with their possession. Second goal of Conte’s approach came as a result of well achieved first goal. Spain was obviously shaken from unexpected situation where they couldn’t get on the ball. As a result, as time passed they became ever more nervous, de concentrated and unsure as what the match will bring while they, as champions, should win nonetheless.

To make things worse for Spain, their opponents executed perfect pressing in offensive zone. Italy wasn’t as much interested in winning the ball high up the pitch (while that would surely be a bonus), but more concerned how to disrupt the distribution into the middle third where Spain attacks get formed.

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Disruption of transition into middle third, a second key aspect of Conte’s approach and a novelty compared to group stage games

Above you can see a typical situation where Spain isn’t allowed easy transition of the ball from defence into middle third as all passing options are covered. Instead, De Gea is forced into uncharacteristical punt. Key players here are two forwards who are marking Busquets and one of the central defenders while the other is picked up by Giaccherini or Parolo, depending on which side is the ball. At the same time Italian wing backs, Florenzi and De Sciglio are positioned to get in time to cover the full backs.

How effective this pressing was are telling the statistics. While in first half Spain averaged 196 passes in middle third during the group stages, against Italy they were missing roughly a third of those passes. Another fact is striking, while their passing average in middle zone during group stage was 93 per cent, against Italy Furia Roja was red of fury as they got only 85 per cent. This might still be very high for your average team. However, combined with 30 per cent less passes made, almost 10 per cent more mistakes and almost identical possession, it had to be frustrating. Even if players on the pitch weren’t aware of the numbers they felt them in their heads, in their feet and in their conciousness.

Key points of Conte’s approach to a match against defending champions were in this two things. On the ball, retain possession in defence to minimize opposition possession and off the ball, disrupt the distribution of the ball to middle third.

Once on the ball and through the Spain pressing Italian game didn’t significantly change compared to their group matches. They still went for direct balls to one of the center forwards, usually tall and strong Pelle who could hold up the ball and pass it either to his partner Eder or to one of the wing backs who would then put the cross in. Important roles while on the ball had Giaccherini and Parolo who drifted wide to further liberate space in the middle for dropping center forwards or to overload the wide areas and make life easier for overlapping wing backs.

Little really changed deep into the second half when after 70 minutes Italy started to drop off till the point at 80th minute when Conte essentially dropped wing backs to full back position for more solidity in defence. By that time Spain was already so disrupted they couldn’t do much. If you look at @11tegen11 diagrams you can see how much different Spain approach was. More due to Italian game than their volition. There was a huge hole where once stood links between Busquets, Ramos, Iniesta and Fabregas. Essentially, the link between defence and midfield, a famous half back Busquets was outplayed from the game compared to a match against Croatia six days ago. As a result Silva, Fabregas and Iniesta have much less ball at their feet while their attacking positions are higher in the lap of Italian block.

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Spain was denyed the middle third and it shows as the link between the lines, Busquets, is completely cut off  Diagram source: 11tegen11.net

Although famous for their movement off the ball and precise short passing, Spaniards were in disbelief after game developed so different to what they are used to and Vincent Del Bosque failed to adapt. In the end once again a tactical genius of Antonio Conte prevailed and it will be interesting to see how he prepares for Germany. Since Die Manschaft plays somewhat similar to Spain, it shouldn’t look too different either. However, Germany will have a strong tall striker to battle in the middle of Azzurri defence and much more diversity in their approach to final third compared to Spain.