Leading into this game, Juventus had a successful Champions League matchday during the week and took all three points vs Bayern Leverkusen with a convincing 3-0 home win with goals from Gonzalo Higuaín, Federico Bernardeschi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Going into this game against Inter, Juventus were full of confidence. This scout report will break down Sarri’s game plan and how he set up his side to edge out their close rivals and continue their impressive season up to this date.
Juventus lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Juan Cuadrado, Leonardo Bonucci, Matthijs de Ligt, and Alex Sandro made up the back four, the diamond in midfield consisted of Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi, and Bernardeshi. Ronaldo was moved more central to partner with Paulo Dybala as Juventus’s front two, which defined Sarri’s strategy to dominant and control the midfield area. Inter deployed Conte’s traditional 3-5-2 in possession and 5-3-2 out of possession. Conte’s line up and tactics were how he usually sets his teams up and brought him success at Chelsea. Romeleu Lukaku returned from injury and started up top. Sarri used the 4-4-2 diamond quite frequently this season as Cuadrado continued to play as the right back.
Juventus take advantage of Inter’s shape
Juventus created a 4v2 in the buildup phase with their centre-backs, goalkeeper, and defensive midfielder. This was a big part of the success of Juventus when building from the back with the positional set up of the two centre-backs (Bonucci and De Ligt) who would drop down the side of the 18-yard box and the central position that Pjanic would take up between the two Inter forwards this would allow them to play out with ease and Inter struggled to deal with this all game.
Juventus also utilised a high central triangle to create a 3v3 in the central channel. This allowed for more combinations and penetrating passes. With Ronaldo moving more central and linking with Dybala and also Bernardeschi playing just behind them, this would force Inter’s midfield three to play very flat and narrow to try and stop any passing lines in the Juve’s front three. This would then allow Khedira and Matuidi to receive in the gaps on either side and with Ronaldo and Dybala taking up positions on the outside of the Inter Milan back three, this would prove highly effective when they did find a pass into Bernardeshi who could turn and drive forward creating a 3v3 in central areas.
The final way in which Juventus took advantage of Inter’s shape was through their control of the central space with their midfield diamond. In my analysis of Juventus the central part of the pitch is really where they had a foothold in the game with the constant rotation of the diamond and interchanging of positions between Matuidi, Bernardeschi and Khedira. Juve found constant passing lines either outside or in-between Inter’s 3-5-2 formation. Pjanic would also have joy taking up positions off the eye-line Milan’s front two. When Inter tried to deal with this and press a little higher Pjanic would play off one and two touch. Also with Cuadrado and Sandro taking up positions high up the pitch forcing Milan into a back five, this gave Sarri’s men a 4v3 advantage centrally at all times.
The influence of Miralem Pjanić
Pjanic played at the base of Juve’s diamond midfield and was instrumental in linking Juventus build-up plus he created numerical overload when they played out from the back. When De Ligt or Bonucci were in possession during the build-up phase, Pjanic would position himself in the space between/behind Inter’s front two (Lukaku & Martinez) and was often between the first line of Inter’s press. When Conte tried to deal with this by pushing a midfield player higher onto Pjanic, he adapted his passing to one touch (backwards to support behind him or sideways to the full-backs) which gave Inter more problems when trying to deal with Pjanic. He was very clever at drawing in Inter’s midfield to pressure and then he would play back or sideways, which created a gap in the Inter midfield line, allowing Juve to pass through and into support players between the lines.
As you can see from this image, Pjanic found himself constantly positioned in between Inter’s two forwards. He would stay in possession and wait for either Lukaku or Martinez to press he would then break the first line with a pass.
Whenever the Juve centre backs would drop deep and create depth, Pjanic would take up clever positions between Inter’s pressing lines; this would allow him time to turn and play forward. When Inter tried to press him he would play off one and two touch with with a bounce pass back to the centre-backs or out to the full-backs; this caused Inter Milan problems all first half.
When building from the back Juve would look to create 3v1 or 3v2 overloads either centrally or in wide areas. Again Pjanic was at the heart of Juve’s play when in possession, constantly finding effective passing angles to receive; he was very clever in drawing players in and releasing the pass at the right time.
Juventus success out of possession
What really stood out in the game was how hard Juve worked to high press Inter from the front – The collective work rate all the way through the team really stood out, and Sarri made his substitutions at the right time to maintain the intensity.
Ronaldo and Dybala set up the first line of pressure and would try to force Inter Milan’s Back 3 inside towards their diamond (into their overload). As soon as Inter passed into midfield areas, this would trigger Juve’s midfield diamond who would aggressively press and prevent Inter players from playing forward, progressing and cutting off Inter’s passing lanes into the forward player. Bernardeschi, Ronaldo and Dybala would sometimes press as a flat three from the front and that would make it more effective to press the Inter back three (1v1). This would then make Juve’s shape a 4-3-3. If Inter transferred the ball out to the wingback, one of the Juve’s midfield diamond, mainly Khedira or Matuidi, would release out and press. Bernardeschi would drop into the diamond to maintain a strong shape. Due to the success of the high pressing tactics, Inter were forced to play long into Juve’s back four. Bonucci, De Ligt, Alex Sandro, Cuadrado won a lot of the 1st phase balls and Pjanic won a lot of the 2nd phase balls. Juventus’ defensive formation switched a lot during the match based on how Inter set up based on the state of the game.
Juventus generally took up a 4-1-3-2 shape with Pjanic (base of the diamond) screening passing lanes into inter Milan’s front two. With Pjanic sitting in front of Juve’s two centre-backs, Juve turned the 2v2 up top into a 3v2 scenario in their favour. When Inter had good possession in the Juventus half, Juve defensive shape adjusted to 4-3-1-2 which provided greater protection in front of Juve’s back four and had two screening midfield players in front of the back four.
Juve’s game plan when the ball was played wide was to press with real purpose. They were really quick to shut off any potential forward passes or switches of play, always forcing Inter to play back this was a real key part of their success in winning the ball back high up the pitch.
The diamond shape in midfield would allow them to have a numerical advantage (4v3) at all times. Ronaldo would shut off any potential pass back to the keeper. This would then allow either Khedira or Matuidi to release and press and force Inter to play backwards.
Sarri’s side’s ability to switch formations during the game was really impressive. Here you can see that they drop in to a 4-3-3 forcing Milan to to play through the central area where they had numbers. Bernardeschi would release from the top of the diamond matching up 3v3 against Milan’s back three also shutting off the passing line into midfield forcing Inter to play long. Due to the success of the high pressing tactics, Inter were forced to play long into Juve’s back four.
In this tactical analysis, Sarri got the tactics spot on in this game. He identified clearly where they could hurt Inter both in and out of possession of the ball. After his spell at Chelsea where he came in for a lot of criticism for being stubborn in the way he set his teams up, it was refreshing to see how flexible Juventus as a team were in and out of possession and everybody had a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities. He made his substitutions at key times to maintain that high intensity out of possession and also bringing on Higuaín just added that little bit of quality that was needed which was proven with the winning goal.