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Milan Women faced Juventus Women at Stadio Brianteo on 17 November 2019 while having distinct targets in mind. The former team’s was to consolidate their previous wins and keep hold of their second spot and Juventus, the visitors, were confident of preserving their lead in Serie A Women.
Due to heavy rain, however, managers’ game plans were not always possible to apply on the field and the tactics needed to be altered during the game according to match circumstances, considering the poor grass conditions affected by rain.
Ganz preferred to play with four defenders – Stine Hovland and Laura Fusetti as centre-backs, and Francesca Vitale and Linda Tuccerri as full-backs ahead of the goalkeeper, Mária Korenčiová. In midfield, Milan played with Refiloe Jane as a defensive midfielder and Nora Heroum and Dominica Čonč as central midfielders who participate both in attacking transition and in defensive plans.
Valentina Bergamaschi and Lady Andrade played as two wingers who did not always play as wingers but switched roles with Valentina Giacinti, the team’s forward. In other words, at times, V. Giacinti played as a left-winger and one of V. Bergamaschi or L. Andrade had to fill her position as a forward. And at certain actions in the game, L. Andrade dropped to the centre to play as a trequartista behind V. Giacinti and V. Bergamaschi.
For Juventus, Guarino also opted for a defensive line composed of four players – Linda Sembrant and Sara Gama as centre-backs ahead of the goalkeeper, Laura Giuliani, and Lisa Boattin and Tuija Hyyrynen as full-backs who they relied on both in defence and in supporting the two wingers Eniola Aluko and Valentina Cernoia. In midfield, Juventus played with two pivots named Aurora Galli and Sofie Junge-Pedersen while Martina Rosucci, the team’s playmaker, also called trequartista, was responsible for getting the ball to the wingers and more importantly to Cristiana Girelli, the team’s striker.
First half tactics
At the start of the game, the two teams were overwhelmed by the wet grass’ effects on the ball, and it took some time to adapt their game to these circumstances. In the first minutes, Juventus were the ones who suffered most from these conditions. They were pressed in their own third so often by Milan’s players and especially by Giacinti, who, after missing a scoring chance in the first minute, created another scoring opportunity in the second minute with a solo effort, knowing that Juventus players were still getting used to the pitch and therefore their passes were lacking accuracy.
Even though Ganz asked his players to continue the high pressing, Juventus started to play their game as a reaction to the two dangerous Milan attacks. Nevertheless, Milan players were successful intightening spaces for Juventus’ midfield by pressuring with the whole team, including forwards/wingers, as the picture shows.
And despite Juventus’ continuous efforts to keep possession and reach the opposition final third, Milan were more determined to pressure and close almost all possible pathways in the first half and keep hold of possession through precise and short passes. This is reflected in their 52% possession.
However, due to their lack of experience, Milan did not exploit their possession of the ball in the best possible manner as they were not able to threaten Juventus’ goalkeeper so often and at many times gave away easy balls to the opposition. And they were punished by a well-prepared goal against the run of play. This goal was composed of only three touches: one long-pass behind Milan’s defensive line, one through pass in the final third and a shot.
The whole action was executed because of Milan’s lack of defensive maturity and incorrect marking. In the below picture we can see how Vitale, Milan’s right-back, gave up on marking Cernoia and allowed her enough time to run past her and pass the ball easily later on.
After the goal, Juventus gained confidence and started to keep the ball, preserving their lead in the first half. They also created some chances, keeping the same playing style that relied on ball progression through passes and individual runs that generated 17 fouls in the first half only.
Milan tried to react to the conceded goal by bridging the distances between lines and being compact in defence and in the build-up by performing short passes in tight areas before reaching the opposition final third. This close distance between Milan players and short passes between defence and midfield to reach the opposition half are displayed in this image below. It highlights the movement without the ball of Milan players, a method that allowed them to get many chances and win the midfield in this half, even though they weren’t able to score.
Second half plans
At the start of the second half, Milan scored in the first five minutes following a free-kick towards Heroum who passed the ball to Čonč and the latter exploited the assist perfectly. This combination couldn’t have been successful if Čonč hadn’t followed the action and if she was not aware of the importance of her movement without the ball.
In fact, her movement without the ball and her runs from behind were the source of many goals for Milan this season and enabled her to become their secret goalscorer since she plays in midfield and defences do not always expect her to advance, shoot or score goals.
Despite Čonč’s smart movements in the final third, however, Juventus’ defence was also responsible for conceding this goal since Galli, the midfielder who was marking Čonč, gave up on following her as soon as the ball reached the far post and kept looking at the ball instead. The whole action became dangerous because of this wrong one-on-one marking and these few seconds were exploited by Čonč accurately, as you can see in this picture.
After the goal, Juventus kept playing with the same style but with more determination to score even though conditions were not in their favour since Milan players handled the wet grass in a much more effective way and committed less passing mistakes. Even when Juventus’ manager made two substitutions in midfield, players’ roles and positions on the pitch did not change throughout the game. Only one minor change was made when right midfielder Cernoia went to cover the left midfield and Andrea Stašková was subbed on to play in right-midfield.
Milan, however, changed their attacking lineup by moving Giacinti to the left-wing, Bergamaschi from left to right-wing and subbing Salvatori Rinaldi on to play as a forward in an attempt to confuse the opposition defence, especially by crossing the ball directly to Juventus’ final third, which was recurrent throughout the second half.
Yet, Juventus’ centre-backs, Sembrant and Gama, defended with courage and with the help of the two full-backs and the two defensive midfielders. They also tried to threaten Milan after the subbing of a fresh trequartista, Arianna Caruso, in the place of Rosucci.
As the game went on, chances were created from both sides but with no real danger from either until the 80th minute when Stašková was able to escape the poor marking of Tucceri and score Juventus’ second goal. In the picture below, the distance between both players when receiving the ball shows how the defender left too much room for the Czech winger to run and shoot and it confirms the weaknesses of Milan’s defence.
Following this goal, Ganz decided to change the formation from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. In practice, this meant that the team played with two forwards and two wingers, Bergamaschi and the newly subbed on Sandra Žigić, in an attempt to make numerical superiorities in the final third and have more chances to reach that area while at the same time being secured at the back with four defenders and two midfielders who participate in the build-up but also defend.
Once again, due to a marking mistake in a free-kick, Juventus conceded a well-deserved equalizing goal for Milan at the last minute of the game after they left Vitale alone in a perfect position to score, as shown in this picture.
During this game, many players from both sides shined and created some real danger. Yet, Giacinti’s two missed goal opportunities in the first two minutes of the game could have turned the tides in Milan’s favour.
And in the same context, even though Giuliani conceded two bitter goals, especially the second one in the last minute, she has saved Juventus numerous times and helped to keep them in the game despite some serious threat from Milan.
Credit goes also to Juventus’ two centre-backs who, although at first were not consistent in defending Milan attacks, with time they gained more confidence and made the mission harder for Milan’s attack who struggled to reach the goal.
Vitale can also be considered as the woman of the match since she played a very good game in which she was 100% concentrated in defence and also in passing and attacking participation. It is enough to mention that she was the goalscorer of the equalising goal in the last minute with a brilliant header.
In midfield, Čonč from Milan and Rosucci from Juventus have both shined in their attacking contribution without neglecting their defensive duties, as both of them were well-positioned throughout the game which enabled them to score the two first goals of the game and, at the same time, helped in securing their defence and pressuring opposition defenders.
This game was full of duels that were won from both sides but especially from Juventus with 53% win rate. Still, that was not reflected in the final score of the game since Milan’s determination and Juventus’ recurrent defensive mistakes, especially in set pieces, allowed Milan to obtain a merited draw against the leader of Serie A Women, who, although they were winning until the last minute of the game, were not affected by this outcome as they retain their place in the table.