Juventus and Fiorentina were the two teams that faced off in Serie A this weekend, each with differing ambitions in the league. Whilst Juventus went into this game in great form, Fiorentina entered the fixture with mixed recent results. Maurizio Sarri’s side had won four of their last five league matches. This form boded well with their title ambitions, especially with Inter’s recent stuttering form. Giuseppe Iachini has recently guided his side to two wins, two draws, and a loss in their most recent game. Relegation no longer looks on the cards for la Viola, but they must stay diligent in their attempts to rise up the table.
Juventus started the game in a 4-3-3 Miralem Pjanić playing as the deep-lying playmaker in the centre of midfield. Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado played as the full-backs. Cristiano Ronaldo played on the left wing with Douglas Costa on the opposite wing. Sarri’s favourite forward Gonzalo Higuaín played as the sole forward.
Fiorentina set up in a 3-5-2, with Rachid Ghezzal, Erick Pulgar, and Marco Benassi in a three-man midfield. Pol Lirola and Dalbert played as wing-backs, and Igor Julio played centre-back with Germán Pezzella and Federico Ceccherini. The Italian pairing up top was Federico Chiesa and Patrick Cutrone, who hasn’t hit the ground running so far for la Viola.
Examining the attack
In the first part of this analysis, we try to look at the midfield choices of both teams in the game. Juventus was set in a 4-3-3 whenever they were in or out of possession, and it is the formation that Sarri will always stick with. The only difference at Juventus compared to his other teams is the individual nature of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo started this game on the left-wing, however, he would drift centrally throughout the 90 minutes and act as more of a striker than Gonzalo Higuaín. Overall, the entire side would look to control possession in Fiorentina’s half, with only Bonucci and De Ligt staying in their own half.
Notice Ronaldo (middle of screen) and the central space he operates on the field whenever Juventus look to get the ball forward.
Here we can clearly see that Ronaldo is dropping deeper to receive the ball. This is something that Ronaldo tends to do all game long, as he is happy to pick up the ball deep and run at Fiorentina’s defence. This is something I would imagine Sarri isn’t ecstatic about, but we all know the power which Ronaldo holds at any club. Although individual skill would have been useful in this game, against a team who basically played five at the back and were relatively hard to penetrate.
Fiorentina, on their part, had a clear pattern of play which they stuck to for the full 90 minutes. This consisted of attacking down the right-hand side through former Juventus player Pol Lirola. He would hit crosses into the box and through balls down the line for Cutrone and Chiesa to get on the end of.
In this example we see Erick Pulgar on the flank, looking to get the ball in the box for Patrick Cutrone, unsuccessfully.
Here we can see Fiorentina struggle to work together as a cohesive unit. Juventus have more than enough men back to defend the incoming cross and potential attacking threat. Contrast this with Fiorentina, who do not have nearly enough men forward yet to create a viable opportunity to take a worthy shot. This is due to their set-up, setting up in a system for this game where they sat back for the majority of the game, frustrating their attacking players with little service.
Once the ball is in the final third, and very close to the touchline, the Fiorentina players did not have the understanding to slow down the play and wait for the backup to arrive. Instead, they would rush their decision making and make the pass that a teammate wasn’t ready for or take the shot which was unlikely to find the back of the net.
In this image, we see Chiesa in possession of the ball approaching the final third. We can see him attempting a back pass to a teammate who is not ready to receive the ball.
This image is just one example of the poor decision making made by the Fiorentina players when approaching the final third. Again, this allows Juventus to recoup the ball and retain possession of their own and attempt to operate a chance of high quality. By doing this, Juventus are frustrating the opposition with very little of the ball throughout the match, as seen by the 74% possession in Juventus’ favour, with Fiorentina mustering just 26%.
If a Fiorentina player was able to produce a moment of individual quality to get past the structured Juventus defence, then they would be met with the quality of Wojciech Szczęsny in the net. He only made 3 saves during the match but this is arguably what makes it impressive. The hardest task for an elite goalkeeper is to keep their concentration for the full 90 minutes, to be ready for a shot at any moment, and this is exactly what Szczęsny was.
Szczęsny in the image above is forced into a reflex save by a Chiesa backheel. No one but the Old Lady goalkeeper anticipated this. This chance was created from a shot of another Fiorentina player. Chiesa then changed the path of the ball which made it awkward for the Pole to deal with.
Juventus’ struggles from open play
Despite having almost 75% of possession, Juventus managed only 7 shots on goal, which is proportionately low. This has been a feature of Sarri’s tactics for quite some time. His sides tend to keep a high amount of possession, but they do have games where they will struggle to create a high quantity of chances. In this game, they clearly became frustrated, with over half of their chances coming from distances or angles which cannot be as a high-quality chance. Of their 13 shots, 6 were off target, highlighting the inadequacies of their attacking play. Of course, this could be attributed to Fiorentina’s defensive set-up, but given the near-total statistical dominance that Juventus enjoyed in the match, they would be reasonably expected to manage more shots overall, and more shots on target.
Above, we can see an opportunity that was actually well-defended by Fiorentina. They have enough men back to provide cover for the goalkeeper. However, we can see that Dragowski has left a large space of the net open, for an attacker to put the goal in the back of net. Instead, we see Adrien Rabiot manages to shoot it right at the keeper. By any Expected Goals metric, this would be rated as a fairly decent chance for a top attacker to finish.
In this screenshot, we see Cuadrado look to whip the ball into the 18-yard box. Circled in orange, we can see the area one would believe would be most beneficial to create an opportunity of high quality. This suits the path of the incoming Ronaldo, and he could potentially get a toe on the ball to tap it past Dragowski. Instead, Cuadrado lofts the ball into the far post, which is headed away by a Fiorentina defender, to result in a Juventus corner. This is another example of the lacking decision making by Juventus in open play this match.
Overall, quality in the final third was severely lacking in this match, from both sides. Juventus and Fiorentina had a combined 22 shots at goal in the match. Of that number, only 10 shots were on target, with the majority of those efforts straight at the keeper. Due largely to two penalties, Juventus managed 2.95 xG, whilst Fiorentina mustered just 0.68.
Ronaldo back to his best?
To answer this question briefly, no. As stated previously, he quite clearly favours the centre of the pitch, and that tends to be where Juventus focus the majority of their play. At the Allianz stadium, it should be noted he his not quite the dribbling force he used to be. Nonetheless, he still completes plenty of take-ons, completing 4 of his 8 attempted take-ons in this match. Many of these came from collecting the ball deep and running at the Fiorentina defence himself, looking to provide the attacking impetus. In this match, he also managed 2 key passes which is around about his average for his Serie A campaign of 1.7 key passes per 90. This is average for a forward in a generally dominant attacking side and is indicative of his overall attacking performances. His shots were also lower than usual in this match, where he managed 2 shots on target out of 4. These 2 shots on target also came from 2 penalties, which is how he managed his brace in this game.
Here we see Ronaldo stepping up for his first penalty which he coolly converts. Fiorentina goalkeeper Dragowski stated in an interview prior to the game that he had studied Ronaldo’s movements when taking a penalty and felt confident in his ability to save one if the moment did arrive. Unfortunately for him, Ronaldo converted both penalties.
We saw in this match that Ronaldo is still completely dependable from the penalty spot. We also saw in this match (and this season in general) that he is physically deteriorating. He does not complete as many dribbles, which is linked to the fact that he is not as agile as he used to be. This is to only be expected of a 34-year-old forward who has been playing professionally for nearly 18 years. When watching Ronaldo, it almost feels like his brain is playing at a certain speed whilst his body plays at another. The intelligence is still there, but his body is slowly failing him at the highest level. Despite this, he continues to score on a regular basis for Juventus, scoring in each of his last 9 Serie A appearances.
Neither Juventus nor Fiorentina played convincingly in this match. Despite this, Juventus were comfortably the better side, by virtue of individual errors by Fiorentina. Juventus’ ability to keep possession to deny Fiorentina many opportunities would have pleased Sarri. Giuseppe Iachini, however, will be wondering how to get his side to perform better against the top sides in Serie A, rather than always succumb to the pressure.