Barcelona, the team that overcame the most yawning deficit in UEFA Champions League history just over a month ago, once again looks toward a second-leg match in which their opponent is in the driver’s seat – in control. Barcelona’s 3-0 defeat to Juventus on Tuesday triggered another Barca-Twitter meltdown and also issued an Italian scream to the rest of Europe. Barcelona – once again – have to call upon their stars (or refs, depending on who you ask) to overcome another daunting deficit against a side that, in all honesty, is better at defending and holding onto leads. A comeback against Juventus, in short, will be a lot harder.
The future narrative aside, there is something mystical about this particular encounter. It’s always been. Juventus vs. Barcelona has been essential European viewing for years, and, on Tuesday, it didn’t disappoint. Luis Enrique’s failing and inconsistent-midfield-plus-MSN-reliant Barca squad were led to the slaughter against an Italian outfit that showcased their superior balance and tactical flexibility. As Massimiliano Allegri put it after the match, the team is now “respected in Europe.”
He also added that this 3-0 win over Barcelona was the greatest result of his three years in Turin, and we at Eat Sleep Drink can’t disagree with the Italian gaffer. His side was superior. They were clinical when the chances arose, but more importantly, they were focused and calculated in defense, the backline plus Gianluigi Buffon, the ageless wall, the real standouts.
But where has it changed for the Bianconeri since that 2015 3-1 final defeat at Berlin’s Olympiastadion that saw MSN and company lift the Big Eared trophy? Well, for one, the personnel has since changed. Many have left since that 2015 showdown, with Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez, and Paul Pogba being the biggest departures. However, this past summer Juventus added much-needed depth and some world-class talent in Gonzalo Higuain, Dani Alves, Juan Cuadrado, and Miralem Pjanic, most of which have stood out all campaign and, of course, in Tuesday’s win.
Tactically, however, Allegri has shifted away from Juve’s bread-and-butter 3-5-2 to a 4-2-3-1 formation in attack and 4-5-1 in defense. With Pjanic and Sami Khedira shielding the defense, Allegri can now use the Bianconeri’s abundance in attacking talent with Higuain up top and Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala, and Mario Mandzukic in more advanced attacking roles.
The gritty Croatian is perhaps the most underrated factor of the formation switch. He offers a physical presence with his target-man style and adds another dynamic to the speed and flare of his attacking teammates. In defense, he also has bought into Allegri’s strict defensive organization where he is often seen helping Alex Sandro in a defensive winger role.
In this match, in particular, his awareness in defense allowed for Dani Alves to man-mark Neymar while the backline shifted and was rightfully protected. Per usual, there was much more going on the pitch, and Eat Sleep Drink has the match analysis. Read below to find out.
Take a page from PSG’s first-leg game plan
Massimiliano Allegri outclassed Luis Enrique, and he did so by taking into consideration the effectiveness of Paris Saint-Germain’s high-press when they beat Barca 4-0 in Paris.
Lately, in LaLiga, teams have realized Barca’s cohesion is off and have found that their play out the back is not what it once was. As a result, teams find they can neutralize the confidence and passing to MSN if they high-press with fluidity and maximum intensity.
Above, we see that Juventus used six players to match Barca’s six that were helping build the play out the back. Through cover shadow and good positioning, ter Stegen was forced to make a high-risk vertical pass that resulted in two clearances and allowed for Juventus to use the hang time on the ball to force a 2v1 scenario and stop their build-up.
Dybala’s first goal
The young Argentine scored twice against Luis Enrique’s men, and both goals showcased his tremendous accuracy and Barcelona’s poor penalty area defending. However, his first goal illustrated how Juve looked to exploit Barca’s left side, especially with a Cuadrado match up against Mathieu.
In the video below, we see that Barca essentially had the upper hand in a 4v2 scenario and still failed. Dybala’s penalty area instinct was killer, however.
Juventus flexible in switching from 4-5-1 to 5-3-2
As the game went on and Dybala scored his second goal of the night, Barca was going to open up and commit more bodies forward. As a result, Juve, who are very organized and very Italian in that regard, decided to put Mandzukic’s work-rate to the test.
In the next video, we see that Juventus have no issues deploying a low-block, but they know that how they react to switches of Barca’s play, and how certain players cover spaces left by high-pressuring fullbacks like Dani Alves, is very important.
How Juventus react when high-press is broken
When teams’ high-press during a match, they will often have to deal with their pressure being broken. Teams deal with this threat in a number of different ways, some try to force their opponent to one side to initiate a counter-press, others will man-mark the most dangerous opposition players, and some will retreat to a safe zone.
Juventus, in the video below, showcase their ability to stay compact when their two forwards can’t apply pressure. Their centre-backs will mirror their advanced teammates to form a box while the midfield will mark their opponents through space-oriented positioning and add width to deal with wide passes.
Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini come up big
Often times when MSN don’t perform well, we’ll see people wondering what went wrong with them as if they were poor by their own doing and not by defenders simply being better on the night.
On Tuesday, they were negated by Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – simple. The video below doesn’t show tactics, but instead shows that defenders can very well make a difference on their own.
1. Bonucci’s sliding tackle on Neymar:
2. Chiellini’s block on Neymar’s shot:
3. Chiellini’s ownership over Messi:
Barcelona’s inconsistency this season is strange considering their strength and depth, but it seems as though they are not a unit, a team, at all. They don’t look like they’re a side that is giving it their all and Luis Enrique looks like a manager who is exhausted.
Juventus were the deserved winners. After Dybala’s second goal, Chiellini would score a massive header, gliding over Javier Mascherano in the process, and would give his side the cushion they needed to sit back and organize defensively.
Allegri’s outfit played a complete tactical match, and it was their excellent reading of Barca’s attacks, Dybala’s clinical finishing, and Bonucci and Chiellini’s excellent tackles that lifted them past the Catalan giants.
We shall see what awaits us for the second-leg at the Camp Nou, but I don’t think another comeback is in the cards for Barcelona.