Even without Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus progressed into the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia with a 4-0 win over Udinese. His absence through sinusitis provided the opportunity for Paulo Dybala to demonstrate his value. Despite a turbulent summer his two goals against Udinese will be a reminder to Maurizio Sarri of his quality.
Udinese is far from the team of 10 years ago where they finished 4th, 3rd and 5th in consecutive seasons. However, three wins in five had provided a glimmer of hope of an upset.
With a clean sheet and four unanswered goals, Juventus are looking to overcome their Supercoppa disappointment by claiming the Coppa Italia. This tactical analysis will look at how they achieved this and what tactics did they use.
Juventus continued their flexibility in style and formation through reverting their tactics to a 4-3-3 formation for the Coppa Italia tie.
Gianluigi Buffon continued in his role as the ‘cup’ goalkeeper. Three out of four of their defenders were rotated with only Alex Sandro keeping his place. The changes provided an opportunity for Matthias de Ligt to showcase his talents after limited opportunities in Serie A.
Adrian Rabiot kept his place with Maurizio Sarri resting Aaron Ramsey and Miralem Pjanić. Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Bernardeschi completed the midfield.
A change of shape saw Paulo Dybala moved wide from his usual central role. Douglas Costa provided the outlet on the opposite flank with Gonzalo Higuaín through the middle. The opportunity to move a midfielder forward in a 4-3-3 formation showed Juventus’ attacking intent.
Udinese set up in a 3-5-2 formation that has been providing success in recent weeks but wing-backs Hidde ter Avest and Ken Sema were pinned back. This resulted in a low defensive block with five at the back for Udinese.
Udinese were also missing their ex-Juventus midfield pivot in Rolando Mandragora. After his impressive form, potentially Udinese didn’t want Juventus to activate their €20 million buy-back option.
Udinese rotated their two regular strikers in Stefano Okaka and Kevin Lasagna with Ilija Nestorovski and Łukasz Teodorczyk providing the outlet.
Stereotypical to a Maurizio Sarri team Juventus dominated possession. They had 62% of possession with a 92% passing accuracy resulting in 20 shots and four goals. The principles of ‘Sarriball’ were in full effect but had moved into its next iteration at Juventus. Rather than retaining possession at all costs at Chelsea, ‘Sarriball’ has found a further cutting edge.
Udinese low defensive block
Udinese set up in a 3-5-2 formation which was quickly pinned back by Juventus’ forwards into five at the back. The tactics of a low defensive block had been successful in previous seasons against Juventus. As seen above, Udinese looked to limit space between their defenders to prevent Juventus from exploiting it.
They looked to sit back and absorb the Juventus pressure before looking to gain control and launch an attack. Interestingly, for a team looking to soak up the pressure, they only launched two counter-attacks with neither ending in a shot on goal.
This low defensive block continued in the second half. Their forwards dropped into their defensive third and the wing-backs came narrow to reduce the space available for Juventus to play. The midfield trio stayed compact in the middle of the park as Udinese looked to prevent any through balls. Keeping a short distance between defence and midfield also reduce the opportunity for Juventus to break through their lines.
Udinese’s game plan was to restrict the space for Juventus to play in the final third and then look to build attacks through a period of controlled possession. Whilst they recognised they wouldn’t dominate the game with only 38% of possession, they wanted to use this possession to gradually build attacks. This is highlighted through 21 positional attacks resulting in five shots. This was above their average this season and also a contrast to only two counter-attacks all game resulting in zero shots.
Juventus’ forward passing
Udinese’s low defensive block looked to reduce space for Juventus to play in the final third. This tactical analysis moves on to look at how Juventus used a variety of quick transitions and forward passing to attempt to move Udinese out of their defensive shape.
Juventus used forward passing to exploit spaces between Udinese’s defensive line. Accuracy of their passing into the final third increased by 10% on the season average to 89%. This shows that there was more space in the final third for Juventus to exploit as the continuous off the ball movement and control of possession moved Udinese out of their structured defensive shape.
Juventus also deployed quick transitions. Firstly, after a period of controlled possession with eight shots from 38 positional attacks. This was on par with their season average with their 21% of positional attacks ending in a shot. Secondly, through counter-attacks with 50% of their six counter-attacks ending with a shot which was 15% higher than their season average.
The tactical analysis of the two different approaches to quick transitions is below.
Quick transitions from controlling possession
Juventus used quick transitions to exploit Udinese’s defensive block. For the first goal, they have control of possession before transitioning quickly into an attacking move.
Juventus went ahead in the sixteenth minute with a trademark goal of the Maurizio Sarri era. A long passing move ended with three successive one-twos between Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín before Gonzalo Higuaín slotted past the Udinese keeper Nicolas. The quick, short passing stretched the Udinese’s centre backs creating space for a one on one with the goalkeeper.
The move started halfway inside the oppositions half. Firstly, Gonzalo Higuaín drops deeper into the number 10 positions and pulls Udinese centre back out of his defensive line. He then acts as a pivot to provide space for Paulo Dybala to move into.
As Gonzalo Higuaín acts as a pivot, he opens up space for Dybala to move into and automatically takes Udinese’s two holding midfielders out of the game. This allows him to play the ball into Dybala’s path.
This one-two has resulted in Udinese being reduced to three men behind the ball as opposed to seven. The quick transition then provides Juventus with an opportunity to move Udinese’s low defensive block.
The series of one-twos culminated with Paulo Dybala on the edge of the box threading Gonzalo Higuaín through one-on-one with the goalkeeper. This attacking movement managed to shift Udinese’s defenders from their low defensive block. Firstly, Gonzalo Higuaín shifted the centre-back out of position and the one-two left three players behind the ball. Secondly, the pace of the move opened up space between the Udinese centre-back and left-back to provide a final pass for Gonzalo Higuaín to finish.
This is indicative of Juventus’ approach throughout the match.
Quick transitions on the counter-attack
Building on the development of ‘Sarriball’, Juventus showed how they offer more than just controlling the game through possession. For the first penalty, a swift counter-attack showed how rapid transitions provide another threat from this Juventus side.
Within 10 seconds, Juventus had taken a goal kick and won a penalty. The speed of the transition is yet another string to the Juventus bow.
The counter-attacking move results in three Juventus players running the length of the pitch, exploiting spaces in behind Udinese’s midfield and defence. It culminates in the forward run from Paulo Dybala in between the centre-back and left-back. The exploitation of this space, in behind the defence, is key to winning the penalty. The forward runs pull the Udinese defence out of shape and result in the Udinese keeper taking a risk at intercepting the ball.
This alternative attacking threat for Juventus will be crucial in their hunt for silverware. Controlling possession has become the norm for Juventus in Serie A. However, in the latter stages of the Champions League adding a swift counter-attacking threat will help them when they are not always the dominant side.
A key component of this counter-attacking threat will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s clinical finishing. Even though he was absent midweek, it’s clear to see how this alternative threat would play to his strengths. Exploiting space and swift counter-attacking helped Real Madrid to three Champions League titles and Cristiano Ronaldo will be hoping that this alternative approach will reap the rewards for Juventus.
Juventus’ attacking movement is key to how they break down opposition defences, as shown by this analysis. Udinese settled into a low defensive block looking to restrict space available to Juventus in the final third. They looked to unsettle the Udinese backline by shifting the ball left to right looking for an opportunity. This control of possession was patient and allowed Udinese to settle into their defensive shape. However, the series of one-twos picked up the pace of the attack and shifted Udinese out of their settled defensive shape. Without the change in pace, the gaps would not have opened up.
This tactical analysis highlights the progression of ‘Sarriball’ through adapting to the pace of the modern game. Previously, Maurizio Sarri’s tactics focused on the control of possession and it’s critics highlighted a lack of penetrative passes. The attacking moves for the first and second goal on Wednesday night show an emphasis on the speed of attack, which could be crucial to Juventus progressing further.
As we highlighted in the summer through tactical analysis, Maurizio Sarri’s tactics needed time to provide results and it now appears to be providing dividends.