Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tactical Analysis: Juventus 1-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Juventus emerged with a surprisingly comfortable 1-0 win in Ukraine over Shakhtar Donetsk to overtake their opponents for first place in group E and send Chelsea crashing out of the competition despite their 6-1 win over Nordsjealland.

There were no big surprises in the formation or starters for either side. Massimo Carrera (Antonio Conte) selected Giovinco over Quagliarelli to partner Vucinic up top. Eduardo started in place of the suspended Luiz Adriano at forward for Shakhtar. Juventus played their usual 3-5-2; Shakhtar played their usual 4-2-3-1.

Wide Play
One of the biggest tactical surprises was just how high up the pitch Juventus's wing backs were willing to move when in possession, particularly Lichtensteiner on the right. In my preview to this game I said I expected Lichtensteiner and Asamoah to stay a bit deeper in more of a defensive 5-3-2 since Juventus only needed a point to qualify. My thinking was that by having the two wing backs sit deeper, Juventus wouldn't open up space down the wings for Willian and Teixeira to counter into. But their more adventurous positioning turned out to be a great move from Conte. It forced Willian and Teixeira to drop deep into their own half alongside Shakhtar's holding midfielders, forming a second bank of four, and left Eduardo isolated against the three Juventus center backs when Shakhtar won possession back.

The positioning of Shakhtar's holding midfielders Fernandinho and Stepanenko played an important role in allowing Juventus to create overloads down the right flank. Fernandinho was positioned in his normal spot towards the right side in the center of midfield. Defensively he was responsible for tracking Pogba. Stepanenko sat in front of the back four and tracked the runs of Vucinic and Giovinco back into midfield. I noted in my preview to the game Juventus like Vucinic to make runs back into midfield, pulling one center back along with him and opening up space for Giovinco to make runs in behind. You can therefore understand what Shakhtar were thinking placing Stepanenko just in front of the center backs- he could track Vucinic's runs into midfield, allowing Kutcher and Rakitskiy to retain their shape in the center of defense. However, this also left Vidal unmarked for Juventus at right center midfield. He was able to freely push forward, forcing left back Rat to pick him up when he got the ball. This opened up space for Lichtensteiner to make overlapping runs around the outside (see diagram above). For Juventus's goal it was Vucinic and not Vidal who had shuffled right forcing Rat to close down on him but the idea was the same. It allowed Lichtensteiner the space to get around the outside and cross for Giovinco to finish. 

Juve's 3 v. 1 Advantage at the Back
The fact Juventus's three center backs were only occupied with one Shakhtar center forward played a key role in the game. It meant Eduardo was always going to struggle to get on the ball and that there were no gaps in the center of the Juventus defense to play balls in behind. Having two spare center backs also proved crucial in dealing with Willian and Fernandinho when they were able to dribble past Juventus's three central midfielders. When the two talented Brazilians were able to break behind the Juventus midfield, one of the two spare center backs was able to close them down. This still left Juventus with one center back to man mark Eduardo and another spare center back to provide cover. The box was simply too crowded for Shakhtar to create much down the middle.

Giovinco and Vucinic Movement
Because Juventus were playing with two forwards in Vucinic and Giovinco, it was 2 v. 2 at the back for Shakhtar's center backs Rakitskiy and Kutcher. When Shakhtar lost possession, one of the two Juventus forwards would float to space in the channels left open when Rat and Srna pushed forward to join in the attack. Juventus would hit long balls into this space on the counter, forcing one of Shakhtar's center backs into a wide area to close down the ball. This created huge gaps between the Shakhtar center backs for either the other forward or Vidal and Pogba to run into. In the first half Vucinic collected a long ball in space on the right, forcing Rakitskiy wide to close him down. This left Giovinco in space at the edge of the box but he put his excellent chance wide.

Juventus's movement was clever all over the field. 3-5-2 can be quite an effective formation to play against 4-2-3-1 and today's game demonstrated this perfectly. Shakhtar had no spare center back to provide cover and their center forward was outnumbered around the penalty box 1 to 3. Shakhtar's advantage should have been their unmarked fullbacks but neither Srna nor Rat were particularly effective moving forward. When they were able to get the ball in space on the wings, there were too many Juventus bodies in the box to provide a decisive delivery. Juventus were deserving winners.