In the end, it wasn’t meant to be for Juventus. In fact, it hasn’t been meant to be for a while now: The Old Lady has lost five consecutive Champions League finals.
Juventus have lost 5 consecutive Champions League finals:
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 4, 2017
Prior to Juve’s 4-1 loss to Real Madrid on Saturday, ESDF previewed the game and said it was going to be one of the most tactically versatile games in UCL final history. The game of two halves proved to be just that, with Juve pressing high, playing the ball out from the back with authority (in the first-half only) and collapsing into a low or pressing mid-block immediately after Real Madrid passed the halfway line.
Zinedine Zidane’s side, on the other hand, started quite shaky, grew patient once in possession, played on the counter in a few phases in the first, and played a high line with their killer passing game in the second half. Madrid’s counter-press, sheer class in transition, and Juve’s lack of confidence combined with their (or Massimiliano Allegri’s) stubbornness to only play out from the back defined the second half.
Biggest issues #Juventus had
1. Poor play out the back in 2nd
2. Transition plays were 💩
3. Never thought to Long ball to relieve pressure
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) June 4, 2017
After Casemiro scored a deflected goal in the 60th minute to make it 2-1, what worked for Juventus in the first, didn’t work in the second. Allegri’s side’s confidence dropped and showed that a lot of their ball management, especially in transition, relies on their confidence while sides like Real Madrid and Barcelona, no matter the pressure, will likely be successful in their buildups regardless if they’re a goal down.
The difference in technical quality isn’t much, but Real Madrid were always going to have better possession discipline than Juve no matter how well they can attack. It makes you wonder if, perhaps, what would have happened had the Old Lady simply taken a long ball approach to the second; Diego Simeone is rarely consistent about building out from the back against Real Madrid due to their transitions basically being a death wish if your side isn’t properly drilled in winning the ball back in your own zone after you lose possession.
Juventus’ defenders work better as a unit (especially if they have midfield cover), they can stop counters, too, as they are world class, but you can only do so much in transition against Real Madrid; their skill will capitalise on the slightest error in the smallest openings of transitional spaces. And that’s what happened in the second.
— #UCLfinal (@ChampionsLeague) June 3, 2017
After the match, Allegri gave his thoughts on where his side need to get better:
“We need to improve our management of games, our management of the ball. We need to improve our ability to decide when we accelerate and when we need to slow down.”
Anyway, read on as ESDF briefly breaks down the good approach of the first-half and where it went wrong in the second.
The first-half started with Juventus on the front foot, really pressuring Real Madrid, but both teams were transitioning from attack to defence really well. Juve were building out from the back with confidence and were moving the ball quickly around Madrid’s pressing and counter-pressing.
However, although the half finished 1-1, it was really only Mario Mandzukic’s individual brilliance that was all Juve had to show for in terms of threatening Madrid’s penalty area. Allegri’s side didn’t create much.
But they did do many things right in other aspects of their play in the first half.
Juve’s good midfield press with emphasis on Isco – 4-4-2
Allegri knew he had to find a way to disrupt the flow of Madrid’s midfield and opted for a containment style press, especially from his forwards, to help cause overloads and prevent passes into Toni Kroos, Isco, and Luka Modric.
He did this by using a 4-4-2, causing overloads, and shifting over for the eventual switch of play from Real Madrid. If Isco got the ball, then the Old Lady, at times, would put four players around him, not pressing, but by forcing him to pass and not dribble. Watch below.
Juve’s ability to transition from attack to defence
The way Allegri’s side transitioned from attack to defence was absolutely done to perfection in the first half with the exception of a Giorgio Chiellini mistake on Ronaldo’s first goal. We’ll get to that later.
Anyway, in the video below, we see Juventus initiate a counter-press, react well to it being broken, and then stop Real Madrid from overloading their right side. They did this all in one transition. It’s very Italian and very organised.
Ronaldo’s first goal via counter attack
Juventus’ transitions from attack to defence were never bad as a unit, but when Kroos bypassed two players, which led to a switch of play with Ronaldo and Carvajal running into large spaces, you have to mark perfectly 1v1.
Chiellini failed in that aspect for Ronaldo’s first goal. (He, along with Miralem Pjanic, would make another big error later in the second-half).
The second-half started with Real Madrid getting very comfortable on the ball and Juventus holding strong in their low-block. However, after Casemiro’s deflected goal off Sami Khedira, Juventus lost confidence at a time when Real Madrid had already gained the creative upper hand.
Ronaldo’s second goal
Ronaldo’s second goal shows Alex Sandro trying to play a header out from the back to Mandzukic and the Croatian not playing the ball aggressively and, as a result, lost possession.
The error on both parties led to numerical superiority for Real Madrid in transition, and Pjanic and Chiellini would fail to adjust with tight markers on Ronaldo.
Juve’s poor ball management
After Casemiro’s goal, Juventus had trouble getting out of their own zone. After Ronaldo’s second goal, the Italian giants had some decent transitions and possession phases but failed to threaten at all due to poor ball management.
Real Madrid were better. There’s no way around it. Allegri’s side had a solid first half, not a great one, but a solid one. They managed to tie the game, transition back to defence well, and their low-block hadn’t been penetrated yet. In fact, their low-block never got beat other than Casemiro’s deflected goal, but they got beat on transitions (self-inflicted) with specific personnel offering poor execution in marking and passing.
The second-half was horrible.
Allegri should make adjustments next season, but their mental toughness needs to improve because their technical ability dropped when their confidence dipped, and against Real Madrid, in this form, you’ll never beat them if you can’t even threaten them in transitions. Allegri shouldn’t be blamed for Juve’s poor execution in many aspects of the second-half. The players lacked the mental toughness to finish off their promising start.