Fiorentina and Juventus have one of Italy’s most intense rivalries which dates back several decades to a close title battle and a later transfer from Florence to Turin by Fiorentina talisman Roberto Baggio. History repeated itself in the summer when Fiorentina’s golden boy Federico Bernardeschi made the move to the champions and on Friday night he made his first return to his former stadium. Far from a regular in Turin, Bernardeschi started following an impressive performance last weekend and wouldn’t you think he would win the game for Juventus. It just had to be him.
Juventus’ 2-0 victory might sound like a solid away win by the black and white winning machine but in truth they really had to battle for the three points. They rode their luck at times and Gianluigi Buffon made a stellar save from Cyril Thereau in the second half. Fiorentina really impressed, but the goals were scored by Juve’s Bernardeschi and Gonzalo Higuain. The game was very interesting tactically and here I take a look at the main tactical talking points from Florence.
Fiorentina set up in a very fluid system which varied from 4-5-1 in defense to 3-4-2-1 in attack. They had Marco Sportiello in goal, Nikola Milenkovic at right-back, German Pezzella and Davide Astori as centre-halfs and Cristiano Biraghi at left-back. The central midfield trio were Milan Badelij, Marco Benassi and Jordan Veretout while the front three included Gil Dias and Federico Chiesa supporting Giovanni Simeone.
Juventus set up in the 4-3-3 Max Allegri has favoured recently with Buffon in goal, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Mehdi Benatia, Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro in defence, Miralem Pjanic at the base of a midfield three with Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio in front of him while Bernardeschi and Higuain were joined by Mario Mandzukic in attack.
Fiorentina’s superb pressing
Stefano Pioli had evidently worked his players well during the week since Fiorentina’s pressing, particularly in the first half, was superb. He chose a very man-orientated pressing scheme when Juventus tried to build from the back. Giovanni Simeone would often mark Chiellini, forcing Benatia to initiate attacks. In midfield, Fiorentina man-marked Juventus’ trio which limited the influence of Pjanic and Marchisio in possession. Below is an example when Fiorentina’s marking forces Buffon into a long goal kick.
Pioli clearly tried to use the insistence of Buffon to build attacks with short passes into an advantage as Fiorentina always pushed high whenever the ball was passed back to the goalkeeper. This forced a number of turnovers high up the pitch as Juventus tried to play out from the back despite the intense pressure.
Below, Chiellini is about to play the ball back to Buffon. Chiesa puts pressure on the defender while Simeone is ready to press the goalkeeper or block off the next pass to Benatia. We clearly see the marking in midfield.
Below is an example of how Fiorentina wanted to force Benatia to act as the playmaker. By man-marking Pjanic and Marchisio as well as Chiellini, Fiorentina removed Juve’s option to build attacks through their three best passers.
Juve were often forced wide, as in the scenario below where Bernardeschi receives a pass with Biraghi at his back while the nearby Juve players are all marked closely.
Below, Chiellini takes the ball forward but Simeone presses him intensely. The three midfielders mark their opponents in the middle while Dias on the right stays centrally until the pass is played wide which is when he can press the full-back.
Pioli’s pressing schemes clearly troubled Juventus who struggled to build organised attacks. The successful pressing led to numerous quick turnovers to the home side who then went on to dominate possession.
Fiorentina’s positional structure in attack
As previously stated, Fiorentina’s positional structure changed when they had the ball. Eerily similar to their approach under Paulo Sousa, Fiorentina used their full-backs to create a vastly different structure in possession. The left-back Biraghi acted as an attacking wing-back on the left with left winger Chiesa coming inside to act as one of two number 10’s along with Benassi. On the right, right-back Milenkovic became a third centre-back with Pezzella as the central one and Astori to the left while right winger Gil Dias stayed glued to the touchline. As mentioned, Benassi pushed up as a number 10 with Veretout and Badelj acting as a double pivot in midfield. All of a sudden, Fiorentina’s 4-5-1 had become 3-4-2-1. An example can be seen below of the new structure.
The attacking formation meant Dias and Biraghi always ensured width down the flanks while the back-three gave a stable platform to build from. In midfield, the four men created a box midfield but their movement was quite fluid which would establish situational diamonds as well. The problems it caused for Juventus was a 4 vs 3 numerical advantage for Fiorentina, which made it difficult for Juventus to control midfield given their man-orientated marking. At least one Fiorentina midfielder would always be left as a free man in the centre. In the below example, Chiesa plays the ball back to Veretout before he’s fouled. Veretout plays it instantly into Benassi who has miles of space behind Juve’s midfield. Unfortunately, the referee awarded the foul and didn’t allow Fiorentina to play on. Note how Juve’s marking of three midfielders opens up the space for Benassi.
Below is an example of how they managed to find space between the lines. Veretout threads a pass into Benassi with Marchisio focused on Badelj and Pjanic ball-watching and aware of Chiesa to his left.
Here, Fiorentina play the ball around the pressing Khedira before Badelj threads a pass into the space behind Juve’s midfield where Chiesa can attack the defense.
The attacking setup also gave Fiorentina an advantage when the ball was lost as the close proximity of the players and the way they were connected to each other gave them good chances to counter-press and quickly win the ball back. One example of such a situation is the one below.
Fiorentina’s superb pressing and impressive possession play didn’t bring goals, but they should have had a penalty when the referee awarded one which was later overruled when viewing video images and Dias hit the post in the first half. In the second. Buffon made a stunning save with his leg to thwart the substitute Thereau.
Juventus weather the storm and win
As you’ve seen by now, Juventus had a difficult night in Florence. In fairness, they didn’t deserve a win, and barely even a point. But Bernardeschi won a free-kick which he then scored brilliantly, and Higuain made sure of the win after being brilliantly played through on goal by Chiellini. However, Allegri had made some important changes after Bernardeschi’s goal to ease the pressure on his side.
First of all he introduced Douglas Costa, who initially played as a number 10 behind Higuain as you can see below.
Costa’s inclusion gave Juventus some much needed pace and someone who could hold onto the ball in transition. Costa impressed with a series of dribbles as he carried the ball through the open spaces in midfield. Costa also linked up well with Bernardeschi on the right on a couple of occasions which created at least one good chance for Higuain. Below is the build up to the chance when Costa plays a one-two with Bernardeschi who lifts the ball into the empty space which Costa runs into. As you see, Costa’s presence has lured Astori out of defense.
Allegri then made another change, his third as he’d earlier swapped Lichtsteiner for Andrea Barzagli at right-back, by bringing Rodrigo Bentancur on in place of Bernardeschi. Costa then moved out to the right with Bentantcur moving into Costa’s number 10 berth. When defending deeper, Juve’s back-four became a back-five with Costa at right wing-back and Barzagli as a third centre-back which made for a really compact Juventus which managed to see out the game and pick up a huge win.
Fiorentina were clearly on top in a tense game between two great rivals. Fiorentina’s pressing and ideas in possession impressed, while Juventus’ resilience and experience once again brought them an important win in the battle for the Scudetto. It might have been destined that Federico Bernardeschi, whistled and booed throughout, should be the difference in this game, but on Friday night, Fiorentina fans surely cursed their own inability to make their dominance count more than they did their former star.