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.

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EURO Italy v Germany: How Loew stopped Italy, an analysis

Highly anticipated Euro quarter final between Germany and Italy didn’t disappoint even if only one goal was scored from open play and the game itself dragged through the extra time and then penalties. In the end Simone Zaza, who made more steps running up for penalty than in actual game, together with Pelle, Bonucci and Darmian sealed the faith of Italy while Jonas Hector brought Die Mannschaft through to the semis.
It wasn’t only the name and reputation of the teams that made the game intriguing. That little bit was added up by two managers who were up against each other and were expected to make few surprises for their counterpart. In the end it was JoachimLoew who came up with tactic that mirrored his opponent to cancel Italy out of the game. Conte had little space for manouver as, already mediocre individual quality of his players, was furtherdepletedd by injuries to Candreva and De Rossi while his back upThiago Motta got suspended.

German manager stated after the game he decided immediately after Italy v Spain match how his team is going to confront Italians. Easier said than done. It was a surprise when official team sheets for Germany came out with positions marked on the pitch. It is always a risk for manager to change the shape of the team in just four days and for such an important game. However, Germany showed its versatility and individual class to adopt so well and counter the team that masterfully countered everyone else, including the defending champion Spain.

Germany had a plan to defend three different situations when Italy had the ball and they all had the same goal. Prevent the ball easily reach either of the forwards.

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First rule of playing against Conte: Don’t let them easily move the ball forward

At goal kicks Joachim Loew set up marking tasks to block passing lanes but also to immediately pressure any player Buffon would hastily pass the ball. This forced Italian goalkeeper to punt the long balls forward where Germany had numerical advantage to win any second balls.

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Second rule of playing against Conte: If they get on the ball in defence, mark the strikers tightly and cover passing lanes to middle zone

Once the ball reached Italian defensive line, and if his team wasn’t able to press immediately, they went to block passing lanes into the middle zone from front. Lot of credit has to be given to Mueller and Gomez as well as Oezil who was joining them in this. You can see above how they looked to cover the midfield letting the Italian defenders on the ball. Although Bonucci and Chiellini are exceptionally dangerous when they are allowed time and space to pick the pass this was fine as last line of German defence had time to man mark Pelle, Eder and Giaccherini who was often playing as third attacker making runs from deep. Wide players, Kimmich and Hector are in half spaces ready to support Kroos and Schweinsteiger as well as their direct match ups. This combination of man marking in last line of defence and passing lane block in the first line ensured two things.

Italy had eventually to punt the ball forward where Loew’s men had a spare man (Hummels in this case) and firmly marked opposition ready to get to any second balls, or risk making a mistake and lose position very deep in their own half.

However, whenever opportunity presented, Germany would press immediately the carrier of the ball with the aim to push him to sidelines and then gang up to take the ball and counter. This wasn’t particularly successful, however, you can see below they managed to tackle the ball carrier six times during 90 minutes of play and intercept it twice in Italy own half.

Even when on the ball Germany positioned itself on the pitch very high to congest the space for Italy forwards who need the space as they drop deep. This worked well for Loew as even when they lost the ball Germany could execute quick counter press to win the ball back high up the pitch.

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Third rule of playing against Conte: Even when you have the ball push high so if you lose it you can counter press quickly and deny space for their strikers who’d love to drop deep before spreading the play down wings

Although we didn’t see too much from Italy in the first half mainly because defensive phase of Die Mannschaft, elaborated above worked so well, Italy managed to show what happens when defence loses concentration for a moment on image below. All principles of German defence failed to kick in and in 43rd minute Italy was allowed unopposed possession in middle zone. Germany had a backup plan but even that failed.

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If all the above rules fail, set up the offside trap but take care of Giaccherini’s run from midfield

As Bonucci picked up a ball unopposed German defence pushed up to make an offside trap successfully leaving out of play Eder and Pelle. However, Kimmich fails to react in time and lags behind just enough for Giaccherini’s trade mark run from deep. Schweinsteiger has forgotten him and was moving out with defensive line to set up off side. Didn’t take long for Bonucci to spot that deep run as it is rehearsed move and hi lofted a long ball over the defence for Bologna midfielder to run on to. Despite a cut back and follow up shot by Sturaro Italy fails to punish rare mistake from German defence.

First half finished as a hard fought battle with Germany more in possession due to Italy playing a waiting game, similar to their first match against Belgium. Die Mannschaft countered this very well mimicking Italian shape and had more options in attack. However, that was cancelled out by great defensive effort from Italy.

While both teams were defending in very similar fashion, except Italy was less eager to press high up the pitch, they attacked quite differently. Above example from Italy is their typical move and their limited squad offered little diversity to what was seen before. It was either long ball from Bonucci to on rushing Giaccherini or for strikers who dropped deep to receive the ball and spread it to wings. If opportunity arose, they would quickly combine to get directly to goal. However, Loew had all those moves well studied and largely prevented.

Germany, on other hand offered much more versatility going forward. Frequent rotations of offensive players had Italian defence constantly on toes. Additionally, Germany didn’t hesitate to move both outer central defenders, Hummels and Hoewedes, up the pitch where Hoewedes would often overload right side with Schweinsteiger, Mueller and Kimmich while Kroos was dropping deeper to help out Boateng.

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Even if Germany pushed their center backs forward, they only broke Italy on penalties

Above you can see how far Hummels went to create overload, same happened on the other side where Hoewedes would go high (although, not with the ball). This high positioning of center backs drained slowly drained the energy from Italian team that had to defend and keep concentration high throughout the match. Finally, Germany scored due to overload on left and cut back for Oezil who wasn’t tracked as he was running from deep.

Italy was lucky to equalize fairly quickly from a lucky penalty but the game essentially change little from second half till the end. Germany was ever more dangerous with numbers and towards the end of 90 minutes Italy switched to 5-4-1 with Eder dropping back to cover for German CB’s going forward.

There were few key areas that shaped the game. First, Joachim Loew who decided to mimic Italian shape in order to cancel it out and, consequently, Germany defence from front. Both teams defended extraordinarily well but Germany did it so well that they defended even when they had the ball. Pushing central defenders high up the pitch allowed them to regain possession quickly with counter pressing when they lost the ball and also provided them with more players in offensive zone to control the possession tiring Italy out.

In the end, limited Italian talent stifled Antonio Conte and his ability to change anything in a way he attacked, he made most with this squad and only penalties denied Italy the chance to progress to semis beating current World Champions.