After a disappointing collapse midweek away at Atletico, Juventus were looking to bounce back with an expected domestic win at home to Verona. Making five changes from the game in midweek, Juventus struggled to another win in Serie A and still have not won a game by more than a one-goal margin so far under Maurizio Sarri.
This tactical analysis will ascertain as to how Juventus struggled in their second home game of the season and how Verona almost walked away with a season-defining result. Our tactical analysis will also evaluate the tactics on display in this game and predict just what this means for both teams for the rest of the season.
Sarri stuck to his preferred 4-3-3 system despite the five changes made for this game, the most notable of which saw Paolo Dybala line up as the central striker as well as Aaron Ramsey making his full debut for the Italian champions.
The Verona Press
Refusing to be intimidated by the occasion, Verona travelled to Turin with a gameplan to aggressively hunt down and press the Juventus backline. Utilising a back three to set up their side in a 3-4-2-1, Christmas tree formation, Verona deployed their central attackers in a pressing trident in a bid to disrupt the Juventus buildup. With man-marking a key feature of their pressing orientation, Verona bullied Juve into inaccurate long balls in order to prevent the champions from playing out in their favoured short-passing style.
This tight man-marking style of press severely limits Juve’s options on the ball and usually forced the home side to play back to Gianluigi Buffon in goal, thus restricting Juve’s progression up the pitch. Verona were also just as comfortable pressing the Italian keeper as the front three were often closely supported by their midfield and wing-backs high up the pitch and this was the easiest way in which Verona could force the early long ball to create a turnover.
The mavericks of Turin
For a side that boasts as much talent as Juventus does, this side should have had enough quality to play around this pressure. However, perhaps it was because of the maverick nature of a number of this team’s stars that made it easy for the home side to be disturbed in this fashion. An unnerving trend of Juve’s buildup consisted of the fact that on too many occasions, their players were slow to adopt expansive positions during this phase of play, thus allowing Verona to capitalise on Juve’s narrow buildup.
Because Juve were slow to create a wider and deeper shape with their positioning, this made it easier for Verona’s defenders to remain compact and press the home team in an organised and efficient manner. The above image illustrates how Juve’s full-backs needed to be positioned wider and higher up the pitch whilst their centre-backs also had to drop deeper and wider. This would help to stretch the Verona press which would also help to create the space in the centre of the pitch for Juve’s midfielders to drift in and out of in order to escape from their man-markers.
A distinct lack of urgency was also apparent in other phases of Juve’s game, specifically when out of possession. Despite the success of the away side’s press, Juve’s players appeared disjointed in their pressing efforts off the ball with certain players often left pressing the opposition alone and thus opening up gaps within their own shape.
The spaces these incidents opened up in midfield threatened to down the Turin faithful and contributed to Juve’s lack of punch in the first half as they struggled to control the game. From the above image, Verona were able to pounce on the mistakes from Juve’s midfielders and force the penalty which led to the outstanding sequence that saw Verona rattle the woodwork twice before Miguel Veloso thundered in the opener from a 20-yard volley to put Juve 0-1 down.
The value of Juve’s Box-to-Box midfielders
Because of Verona’s press, a lot of Juve’s penetration had to first be created from their play out wide and from what they could conjure off of second-balls. With Verona marking central options out of the game in Juve’s early possession, Buffon and the full-backs were conditioned to force play early into the feet of their wide attackers.
Due to Verona’s press and formation however, the likes of Ronaldo and Cuadrado would receive the ball with their back to goal and under pressure from the Verona backline. This meant that the Juve attackers rarely received the ball in space where they could turn and drive at the Verona defence. It was vital then that supporting runs were made from Juve’s full-backs and midfield in order to create the space necessary for Juve’s wide men to have an impact on the game.
In better plays for Juventus, Matuidi and Ramsey displayed their box-to-box natures in bids to exploit the gaps created by Verona’s press and in turn create the space for Ronaldo and Cuadrado to turn on the ball. Because Verona’s midfield pressed so high alongside their front three, they actually left themselves exposed to the forward runs from Ramsey and Matuidi if the ball wasn’t won from Juve’s long balls forward.
This was because Ramsey and Matuidi could easily make runs away from their man-markers, and into the spaces they left behind where they could attack the gaps between Verona’s back three if Ronaldo, Dybala or Cuadrado could hold up the ball. It was from one of these runs that Ramsey was able to attack the space left in the centre of the pitch after Ronaldo was able to hold up the ball and hit his shot for the equaliser late in the first half.
Dybala, the false 9
Despite Sarri’s love affair with Gonzalo Higuain, the Italian has never been averse to starting players of smaller stature up front in his 4-3-3, having previously utilised Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard in this central role before. In this match, Paulo Dybala got the nod ahead of his fellow Argentine and it proved to be an inspired decision from the latest Juventus manager.
From the early seconds of the match, it was clear just how much of a threat Dybala’s movement could be to the Verona defence. As is the role of the false nine, Dybala would often drop in between the lines of Verona’s midfield and defence to create that temporary overload in midfield in the hope of drawing one of Verona’s centre-backs with him. This, in turn, would open up the opportunity for the Argentine to combine with the forward runs of Ramsey and Matuidi in order to play in either Ronaldo or Curadrado had they made a third-man run.
This movement can easily confuse opposition centre-backs as they are unwilling to allow their midfield to be so easily overrun yet they don’t want to leave the space behind them for wingers to attack with diagonal runs. Dybala made sure to vary his movement, however, and in order to keep the backline guessing, he even interchanged positions with Ronaldo on the left to keep the Juve attack fresh.
Dybala enjoyed great success in disrupting the Verona backline especially when he was tracked by a centre-back as this often meant Amrabat had to temporarily fill in the backline. During the changeover, this would open up further spaces along the backline which even Dybala could now exploit with late runs into the box like his fellow box-to-box midfielders.
Juve’s second goal of the game which turned out to be the winner started with Dybala dropping deep in order to receive off his centre-backs. Tracked by a Verona defender, Cuadrado then had space down the right to attack where once he was past his full-back, he could drive into the box where he forced a foul from the recovering defender resulting in the penalty which Ronaldo dutifully tucked away.
It’s clear that Juve’s squad is still adapting to Sarri’s influences and despite the scoreline and positive stats for the victors, nothing from this game suggests that Juventus’ early season struggles are nearing an end. You feel it won’t be long before the reigning champions become compelled to up their game, even when considering the strong start of Inter, you’d imagine there’s still enough quality in this squad to soon right the wrongs we’ve seen so far with relative ease.
Verona can be proud of their performance in this game and on another day this team could’ve easily walked away with an impressive point. If this side is to give themselves any chance of staying up, they must maintain this aggressive and positive mentality in every game and if this is possible, they’ll pull off more than a couple upsets this season.
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