If you’re seeking teams with history and tradition in Italian football, you’ll be hard-pressed to find two more dominant teams than Juventus and AC Milan. The two women’s teams, however, have only played each other twice, however, both recording a win each. This fixture, therefore, would be a good forecast into the future of these two Italian behemoths.
The game will also play a significant role in the title race as both these teams will feel like they can finish top. Juventus have won all of their first 5 fixtures and employ the league’s top scorer in Christiana Girelli. Milan too have made an unbeaten start in Serie A, and had it not been for a tenacious Fiorentina snatching a point last week, they would also boast maximum points.
There’s not been much to shout about for the red half of Milan this season as their male counterparts have made their worst ever start to a season in 8 decades! However, matches against the Bianconeri always seem to bring the best out of AC Milan so as the rain lashed down on a wet night in Monza, the unbeaten contenders for the title locked horns for the third time in their history.
Juventus Women boss Rita Guarino will have been pleased to have a fit Sara Gama in a defence tasked with keeping the leagues most clinical attack at bay. Gama is one of the best players in the world right now in her position and partnered an experienced Linda Sembrant in an exciting 4-3-3 formation.
This has been the formation that Rita Guarino has favoured this season. As Gama was fit to return to the lineup, she was afforded a like-for-like change for the suspended Maria Souza.
Juventus (4-3-3): Laura Guiliani; Tuija Hyyrynen; Sara Gama; Linda Sembrant; Lisa Boattin; Sofie Junge Pedersen; Aurora Gall; Valentina Cernoia; Martina Rosucci (Ariana Caruso 66’); Eniola Aluko (Andrea Stašková 46’); Christiana Girelli
Maurizio Ganz also adopted a 4-3-3 formation for his Milan side. The main beneficiary being Giacinti. As the no.9, she can utilise the speed and trickery of Bergamashi and Andrade to create goalscoring opportunities.
AC Milan (4-3-3): Mária Korenčiová; Stine Hovland; Francesca Vitale; Laura Fusetti; Nora Heroum; Refiloe Jane; Dominika Čonč; Valentina Bergamaschi; Valentina Giaciniti; Lady Andrade
Both sides chose to play three in the midfield showing their desire to dominate the midfield battle. The way they operate their front three has differences. Milan’s Giacinti prefers to be involved with link up play whereas Juventus’ Girelli operates more as a target.
Juve attacking with width whilst Milan stay narrow
In the first half, the contrast in offensive strategy was noticeable. Juventus favoured width to stretch the Milan Women defence whilst Milan would attack more centrally. However, something that can’t be overstated was the pitch condition as a key driver for these styles. Milan did try to use width early in the game and as the left hand side of the pitch was more suited to a game of water polo than football, Bergamaschi was often frustrated to see the ball hadn’t travelled in the same direction as her.
The flanks for Juventus in the first half were dryer and made for fertile ground for Girelli, Rosucci, Aluko and company. Both outside forwards would drag their opponent full-back out wide whilst Girelli occupied the two central defenders to create gaps in the Milan defensive line.
Not only would this open up space between defenders, but it also meant the ball carrier would have options to switch flanks. In this case that ball carrier was the instantly recognisable Eniola Aluko – capped 102 times for England and sister to the Reading midfielder, Sone Aluko.
This was a key element to the Juventus attack all game and was rewarded in the second half for their second goal. Juventus attacked with speed and width leading to Cernoia executing a precise through ball to slice through the Milan backline and gift Staskova with a one on one opportunity.
In contrast, Milan preferred a more narrow shape when attacking. As earlier discussed, the playing conditions at the Brianteo Stadium were difficult for a ball playing team. It seemed at times the wide areas of the pitch were one part grass and 3 parts water. Perhaps because of this, Milan tactically operated more within central zones.
By attacking in close proximity they mitigated the slow pitch issue and had a greater chance of creating passing triangles around defenders. However, as you can see in the above clip, this is also easier to defend against as defenders can get tight to attacking players without fear of being dragged out of position.
In the first half and most of the second, Milan’s attack were unsuccessful as the lack of width amongst their front three was easy to deal with. Juventus had only conceded 3 times in the season leading up to this game so breaking this defence down would require varied attacks.
A missing element to the attacks was an attacking playmaker sitting behind the front 3. In the clip above, another attacking option in the build-up would disrupt the Juventus backline and create more space in between the defensive channels.
Milan’s deep freekicks to expose the Juventus keeper
Milan have a depth of technical talent, and players with good technique will often win fouls. This means that Milan tend to win a lot of freekicks and therefore get more practice to ensure set-piece effectiveness. In this game Milan won several freekicks and tended to cross the ball deep into the box, exploiting the often hesitant Laura Guilina.
The above free-kick was sent into the box from a deep position and although the ball was airborne for quite some time, the Juventus keeper relied on her defence to clear. Although on this occasion the Milan header was off target, Guiliana adds extra pressure on her defenders by not dealing with the danger.
As the game progressed Milan continued to win headers from set-pieces as the Juventus and Italy’s no.1 continued to stay rooted to the spot.
It could well be argued that a deep position is beneficial for a goalkeeper to increase reaction time from the header. However, it was evident throughout the game that Milan were winning the aerial battles and therefore a goalkeeper presence could have helped to defend these set pieces.
In the clip above it looks as if the Juve goalkeeper has decided to tactically hold the edge of her box and will claim anything that comes near. The eventual goalscorer, Francesca Vitale, is wrestling with defenders on the edge of the box.
As the ball enters the box – Guiliana actually retreats from the position where the ball is headed back to the comfort of her goal line. Unfortunately for Juventus, Vitale out leaps everyone to head in a stoppage-time equaliser. You have to think, if the keeper had stuck to her high position would she have collected the ball with ease? Milan weren’t waiting to find out, and ran around in jubilation.
Juventus’ ball retention
Rita Guarino’s Juventus were undoubtedly the most comfortable side in the first half. They held onto possession better than their Milan counterparts and built up play well. One key aspect to their ball retention was attacking within close triangles of each other, providing the ball carrier with options.
In the above clip, you can see Juventus are always providing options to the ball carrier. Players are within close proximity and show for quick passes which helps nullify the Milan press.
This looks like a clear tactic by Rita Guarino as all the usual suspects are forming a triangle to provide options in attack. In both occasions Eniola Aluko is has pulled away from the formation and is ready to burst forward.
In the above tactical analysis, we’ve delved into what elevates Rita Guarino and Maurizio Ganz as two of the most distinguished coaches in the league. Both teams have their unique styles which allows for a great game of football – both for the spectator and analyst.
Juventus have great retention of the ball and that was evident most in the first half. They used width to stretch the play and varied it with intricate passing triangles to move at pace. This reflected from their two goals coming from open play.
Milan, on the other hand, were more pragmatic. Both their goals were a result of well-rehearsed set-pieces. A deep ball into the box plus a hesitant Juventus goalkeeper were the ingredients for both goals and Milan took them well.
With both sides eyeing up title glory this season, you’d imagine a point each wouldn’t have bruised either side. For Juventus though, dropping two points at home in the 93rd minute will have hurt and now they travel to Rome next for another difficult tie in the Feminnile Serie A.
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