When most people think of the Serie A, they think of Juventus. They have won an incredible eight league titles in a row, and are on track for their ninth consecutive league title. Their dominance certainly has been challenged at times over the past seasons, but has anybody come close to dethroning them from the top spot? Not many can claim to have really pushed them to their limits.
This is a tactical analysis of how they have fared in the current season in comparison to their previous campaigns. In this scout report, we look at the tactics that helped them stitch together this incredible run of title-winning campaigns. Will their domination in the league continue, or will the chasers finally catch-up?
On the surface of things, it sure looks like Juventus has had an incredible run in the Serie A, in the past five seasons (including the current season of 19-20). They have managed 90 plus points in four of those, and are on course for a fifth consecutive 90 plus points tally this season. No other team, in any of Europe’s top 5 leagues, has shown such domination. In the period under consideration, seasons 15-16 to season 19-20 (ongoing), Juve has won 4 titles and has crossed the 90 point mark in each of those seasons.
Their fabulous play on the pitch, their army of fans, the formidable Allianz stadium, and their deep pockets, have all ensured Juventus enjoy total domination of football in Italy. But looking alone at their points tally may not give out the true picture. In this scout report, we do an analysis of their tactics and study a few more stats.
The above statistics show the table standings for the top 3 teams from season 15-16 until the ongoing 19-20 season. Juventus, despite all the dominance, have not been the top scorers in the league. They have been outscored in every season by the teams coming in 2nd and 3rd. Except for in season 17-18, when they were not outscored by the teams on 2nd and 3rd position, but by Lazio who came in 5th that season. For all the reliability they add, stats can sometimes be misleading. It’s true that winning the league may not necessarily mean leading the goal scoring charts. However, if their goal-scoring is not winning them the league titles, what is?
Their defence. Their back-line. In each of the mentioned title-winning seasons, they have conceded the least number of goals. Arguably, their defensive players can take more credit for the club’s recent titles than the front-line. But can they hold on?
The (not so) great wall of Juventus
The current season has, in the considered timeline, been their poorest defensively. They’ve conceded 24 goals already this season, in the 26 matches that they’ve played, i.e. 0.92 goals per game. In comparison, Lazio have conceded 23 goals in the 26 games that they’ve played, and Inter Milan have conceded 24 goals in 25 games (game in-hand over Juve). That comes to ratios of 0.88 for Lazio and 0.96 (one game in-hand) for Inter Milan. Defensively, Juventus seemed to have found their match. Let us look at the statistics deeper, to spot a trend – if there is one.
Chasers have already led them on the scoring more goals front, but are now closing the gap on the conceding fewer goals front as well. In 15-16, Juventus conceded 12 fewer goals than their nearest challenger (Napoli). This number dropped marginally to 11, in 16-17, with Roma closing in. The number further dropped in 17-18 & 18-19. Juventus had conceded just 5 & 6 fewer goals respectively, than their closest challenger on the front – Napoli. And the current season, although still on-going, they’re not the team to have conceded the fewest goals. Lazio have conceded 23 (to Juve’s 24), and Inter Milan have conceded 24 with a game in hand.
Let’s look at how Juventus have fared defensively, from 15-16 to the on-going 19-20 season.
Note: All stats in the above table, are per game.
In the above table, apart from the goals conceded per game, we also notice the rise in the number of shots that they’ve allowed on goal. The percentage of shots on target can be discarded because that can also depend on the shooting accuracy of the opposition. However, the number of shots allowed can be mostly attributed to the defensive team. In this case, we see a steady rise in the number of shots Juve have allowed on goal, barring season 17-18.
Not just the shots on goal, but it could also be argued that there was a possible fall in defensive intent as well. The below analysis indicates a trend in the same.
Tackles and duels involved largely indicate a team’s defensive intensity and willingness, apart from some other broader factors. For Juve, we see a clear dip in the number of sliding tackles they’ve attempted, the defensive duels that they’ve been involved in, and also the aerial duels that they’ve been involved in. While it can be said that the percentage of tackles won have been roughly the same, the willingness to tackle has come down. Even the number of duels that the players have been involved in has come down. This fall in willingness could be a possible reason for the rise in shots allowed on goal, and therefore the rise in goals conceded.
Could this be due to a managerial change? Not really. Of the seasons in consideration 15-16 to 19-20, Juventus were managed by Massimiliano Allegri from 15-16 to 18-19 & in the current season of 19-20 by Maurizio Sarri. The decline in the willingness and intensity seems consistent across both managers.
The above table shows the number of interceptions and clearances that Juventus have made per game, over the past seasons. The numbers have either declined or remained around the same figure. When looked at in isolation, they seem okay. However, when you view them on the backdrop of increasing number of shots allowed on goal, the increased percentage of shots on target, and the falling number of tackles & duels, it is worrying. We’ve already established that this couldn’t be due to managerial changes. Surely, there’s another factor in play, apart from managerial tactics. The famed back-line that has been key in all of their previous winning campaigns has probably got age catching-up with them, or maybe they just haven’t been as effective anymore.
For this tactical analysis, the scout report takes a look at some of the mainstays in the Juventus back-line in the past 5 seasons – Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele Rugani, and their new man Matthijs de Ligt.
In all of the above charts, a similar trend is noticed.
Barzagli & Chiellini show a drop in their number of interceptions per 90 – possibly due to the drop in fitness levels and age catching up. Barzagli retired at the end of season 18-19, at the age of 38. Chiellini, 35, isn’t exactly going to get any younger either. And with the injury taking away most of the current season from him, it looks unlikely that he’s going to have another 38 game season.
Bonucci is also on the downward slope. One may even argue that he’s past his prime – an argument supported by the drop in season-on-season interceptions made per 90. For all the promise Rugani has shown, he seems to be inconsistent with the numbers. While the lack of playtime may have hampered his consistency in the past years, the on-going season has been good per stats. However, he has played only 669 minutes this season. One can only hope he can better his stats and at least come close to prime Chiellini and Bonucci.
Juventus’ new man, Matthijs de Ligt, is a viable replacement for waning Chiellini & Bonucci. He’s young, strong and agile, and fits the bill of a modern-day centre-back.
The above chart shows de Ligt’s improvement in the interceptions stat. Season 18-19 was his breakthrough season at Ajax, when he led the team in an incredible season which saw them win the league and also reach the semi-finals of the UEFA champions league. This season, he’s fared even better in terms of individual stats.
Games can be won either of two ways:
- By scoring more goals than the opposition
- By conceding fewer goals than the opposition
Evidently, Juve had tactics suiting option 2 over the years. However, this scout report indicates how they have been faltering at the back. A thorough tactical analysis shows that the tactics deployed began to dwindle in not just terms of effectiveness, but also in intensity. They’ve had an increasing GA in the past five seasons.
The signing of Matthijs de Ligt this season sees them attempt to solidify their back-line. However, they do also need a reliable partner for de Ligt – either a new signing or have Merih Demiral and Daniele Rugani step up. As for their front-line, they have signed a world-class goal-scoring machine in Cristiano Ronaldo, presumably in an attempt to have both ends of the pitch covered.
To keep the chasers from catching-up and to extend their dominance in the league, they will need to do both – score more and concede fewer goals. As for if they can hold on, only time can tell.