Much was familiar when Roma visited Juventus on Saturday night in Turin. Juventus had three former Roma players in their line up, Juventus beat Roma at home with the score 1-0 for the third season running and Allegri’s men added another game without a goal conceded. Their defensive record is now zero conceded in the eight games since their loss at Sampdoria. In that run of fixtures they’ve played Barcelona, Napoli, Inter and now Roma. They really do look like their gearing up.
It was a great game between two superb sides led by two very intelligent coaches. In the end Juventus edged the game thanks to Mehdi Benatia’s goal in the 18th minute, but Roma showed how strong they are this season. It was also a highly interesting game tactically which I’ll look closer at in this article.
Juventus continued with a 4-3-3 which saw Wojciech Szczesny in goal behind a back-four of Andrea Barzagli, Mehdi Benatia, Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro. Miralem Pjanic anchored the three-man midfield with Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi either side of him. Up front, Allegri retained the trio of Juan Cuadrado, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic, leaving Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa on the bench throughout the 90 minutes. This meant Szczesny, Pjanic and Benatia went up against their former club.
Eusebio Di Francesco played his normal 4-3-3 and the team was the strongest possible: Alisson in goal, Alessandro Florenzi, Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and Aleksandar Kolarov in defense, Radja Nainggolan, Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman in midfield with Stephan El Shaarawy, Edin Dzeko and Diego Perotti up front.
Both coaches chose to try to disrupt the opponents when building attacks from the back. This was expected given the effectiveness of both teams in their build-up play. Both sides adopted high-pressing with clear man-orientations when their opponents initiated attacks. Below is an example of Juventus pressing-scheme. Khedira has left midfield to remove Alisson’s option of using his centre-backs numerical (2 vs 1) advantage against Higuain to ensure a safe progression. Juventus are therefore matched 2 vs 2 against the centre-backs. Matudi in the centre picks up De Rossi while the two wingers pick either full-back. Pjanic is just out of frame matched up against Strootman.
Here is another example of Juve’s man-orientations high up the pitch. In this sequence, Matuidi has joined Higuain in the first line to mark Manolas as Higuain picks up his countryman Fazio. De Rossi drops in between the centre-backs to create a 3 vs 2 but Pjanic follows him to take away that option. In this way, Juventus stifled Roma’s ability to build attacks like they want to do and forced them into long-balls where Chiellini and Benatia dominated.
Di Francesco, as usual, also adopted a man-orientated pressing-scheme. His approach differed slightly though as it was often the ball-near winger who joined Dzeko in the first line of pressure. In the below image with Szczesny in possession, Perotti has stepped up to mark Benatia with Dzeko marking Chiellini. They are then matched up 3 vs 3 in midfield and Juve’s left-back Alex Sandro is also marked. Barzagli on the right is left alone.
On other occasions though, it would be one of the central midfielders who stepped up into the first line of pressure. Below, Strootman has stepped up to press Benatia with Dzeko again orientated towards Chiellini. De Rossi picks up Pjanic while Nainggolan marks Matuidi. Perotti and El Shaarawy marks either full-back. Given Roma’s press with six players and Juve’s seven, it would always be a free man somewhere and in this case that’s Khedira, highlighted with a yellow circle. Remember this image.
The high-pressing from both sides strongly impacted the match. As I’ll now come to, Juventus used Roma’s pressing to their advantage to take control of the game.
Juventus overcome the press
Allegri was well-prepared in regards to Roma’s approach. Contrary to the Tuscan, Di Francesco rarely changes his template. Allegri had identified different ways to overcome Roma’s normally highly effective pressing. The first approach was third man passes to create a free man between the lines. If you remember the image below when I highlighted Khedira as a free man between Roma’s first and second line we’ll now look at what happened later in that sequence. Benatia takes the ball infield and Strootman continues his press. Benatia then plays a pass towards Pjanic who has a few yards on De Rossi after escaping the Italian’s marking. Pjanic then quickly lays the ball off to Khedira who can continue the attack forward. A quick third-man combination to overcome the press.
The second method Juve used to overcome was by attracting pressure from Nainggolan to attack the space to the right of De Rossi in the half-space which Nainggolan had just vacated. In the example below, Nainggolan continues his press towards Chiellini after Pjanic had lured him in. The Belgian’s pressing led to Strootman compensating by picking up Pjanic. Chiellini quickly breaks Roma’s midfield line with a vertical pass to Matuidi who has started high to get away from any possible marking before dropping into the vacated space. The high positioning of the front three meant Roma’s defense were pushed back and couldn’t follow the Frenchman. In this way Juve could exploit Nainggolan’s aggressiveness to access space behind him due to clever movement within Allegri’s positional play.
A third method used by Juventus was by overloading the left wing where Chiellini, Pjanic and Alex Sandro attracted pressure and given their calmness and resistance to this pressure they could combine with the higher positioned Matuidi and the strong Mandzukic to switch the play to Roma’s weak side. As you see below, Roma are so attracted to the ball that Khedira is uncounted for. A quick switch to the German, and this happened continuously, could then see Juventus progress through their right half-space.
There was actually a fourth method Juventus used to progress their attacks if any of the three mentioned wasn’t possible. The deployment of Mario Mandzukic on the left against Roma right-back Alessandro Florenzi gave Juventus a huge height advantage. Aerial balls towards the Croatian was therefore always a possibility. In the example below Mandzukic contests an aerial ball with Florenzi and nods it into the path of Matuidi who has reacted quickly and realized the opportunity to get in behind Roma.
Roma had more difficulties in playing through Juve’s press and was forced into longer passes as mentioned. They rarely threatened in the first half but did as always display some interesting structures in possession. I’ve detailed Di Francesco’s midfield rotations in the past and will quickly show what they tried to destabilize Juventus’ defensive setup.
In this example I’ve used empty circles to highlight the players inital starting positions before rotating. Strootman has moved wider to create space centrally for Perotti who has left the wing and moved into the centre. He could have been reached by this pass given Khedira having been attracted to Strootman’s movement but Manolas pass went to the Dutchman. Dzeko has dropped off the front to become an option which has created a situational midfield diamond.
Against Juventus almost impenetrable defense though, these types of rotations didn’t prove effective and Roma instead focused on overloading the flanks with their wingers wide with full-backs overlapping and crosses was pumped into the box. With some luck, and if Juve’s impeccable standards in the box had dipped slightly, this could have created the equalizer they pressed on for.
Juve’s positional defending
Allegri is a complete coach tactically and can coach any style of play imaginable. He showcased that ability when mixing the clear man-orientations when pressing high with a positionally-orientated approach when defending deeper. The 4-5-1 defensive shape limited space centrally which forced Roma wide and when the crosses came in, despite some nervous moments towards the end, the defense defended brilliantly.
That is one compact team! No wonder Roma struggled to play through that centrally.
Mandzukic creates problems
Mandzukic didn’t only create problems for Roma with his physicality and aerial ability, he also impressed with clever movement which was a key component of Juventus’ wing-focused attack in this game. From his position on the left, he made diagonal runs into depth which brought Florenzi inside and opened up the wing area for the attacking Alex Sandro to exploit. If the Brazilian didn’t, then Matuidi would also attack down the left. From the space Mandzukic run had created, Juventus got into several great crossing positions which brought a few good chances to finish the game off.
And another example below.
Pjanic finds space – and dominates
Miralem Pjanic went up against his former side and ran the game from the base of midfield. The Bosnian’s development under Allegri in 2017 has been remarkable and he showed why he’s so highly rated at the moment. Roma and Juventus had identical setups in midfield with one holder and two in front which meant De Rossi and Pjanic would always be tough to pick up when the team had been pushed deeper. Pjanic used this space to dominate proceedings, with only De Rossi and Kolarov making more passes than the Bosnian and no other player reaching his tally of four key passes. The verticality of Pjanic’ passing is a key asset for Juve’s attack and Roma’s struggle to deal with his movement, dribbling and constructive passing led to Juve dominating large parts of the game.
Above, Pjanic turns away from Perotti before splitting Roma’s team with an outside of the boot pass into depth for Higuain whose subsequent pass was blocked.
Here, Pjanic is facing forward just in front of the penalty area and drops the ball in for Matuidi who shoots over.
When Pjanic has the ball and is facing forward and can overlook the pitch, his range of passing means it doesn’t matter if you have your team behind the ball. He can play any pass imaginable and this is a position you really don’t want to find yourself in. Stop Pjanic and you stop much of Juve’s creativity, especially when Dybala isn’t playing, but Roma never got a grip around the Bosnian playmaker.
Juventus vs Roma was a great game; high tempo, two attacking sides, two clever coaches and top class players. Juventus proved too strong in the end, but Roma created some pressure late on and if Patrik Schick had capitalised on Benatia’s late mistake then we would have had a draw. As it stands, Juve are one point behind Napoli while Roma are seven behind Napoli with one game in hand. After Inter’s successive losses, it looks like it will be between Napoli and Juventus to settle the destination of the title and Massimiliano Allegri’s sublime tactical ability might give Juve the edge in that battle. Against Roma, he once again got it just right.