Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tactical Preview: Juventus vs. Shakhtar

Juventus's Champions League fate will be decided tonight as they head to Donetsk needing only a draw with Shakhtar to secure qualification into the knockout stage. A Juventus loss and a Chelsea win over Nordsjaelland in group E's other fixture will put the Blues through. Shakhtar have already wrapped up qualification.

Starting Lineups
Shakhtar will likely set out in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Juventus will be in their normal 3-5-2.

Antonio Conte's side will be aided by the suspension of Shakhtar center forward Luiz Adriano after he was suspended by UEFA for an unsporting goal he scored against Nordsjaelland. Former Arsenal striker Eduardo is expected to replace him. Tomas Hubschman is a doubt with a hamstring injury and will likely be replaced by Taras Stepanenko.

Paul Pogba is expected to fill in for the suspended Claudio Marchisio for Juventus and Conte will have to select two of Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarelli or Sebastian Giovinco to fill the two forward positions.

Shakhtar Fullbacks Unmarked
Needing only a draw in a difficult away environment Conte will likely ask his wing backs Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtensteiner to be conservative with their positioning, staying fairly close to the back three in more of a 5-3-2 than a 3-5-2. The two will drop in to pick up Willian and Teixeira on the flanks, leaving Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli compact centrally to defend runs into the box. This means Shakhtar's outside backs Srna and Rat should be unmarked when they advance forward. Juventus will allow them to receive the ball on the flanks and focus their attention on crowding the box and winning balls played into the penalty area. Rat and Srna are both decent going forward but it will be interesting to see how adventurous they are with their positioning going forward- when they advance high up the field it will open space for Quagliarelli or Giovinco to float into and spring counters.

3 v.1 Advantage for Juventus at the Back
Juventus will have three center backs to deal with Shakhtar's loan center forward Eduardo. They had the same numerical advantage at the back against Chelsea, who like Shaktar play a 4-2-3-1, and it worked to their advantage. With three center backs Fernando Torres didn't have space to move laterally and collect the ball in the channels. Instead he had to check back into the midfield, taking him away from goal. Three central defenders will also make it difficult for Shakhtar to press. Shakhtar's three forwards can press the three center backs but they run the risk of leaving Asamoah and Lichtensteiner in space on the wings. To effectively press Shakhtar will need to stay quite compact and hold a very high line, leaving them vulnerable to balls played over the top from the back.

If instead Willian and Teixeira drop back and defend Lichtensteiner and Asamoah, as Chelsea did, this leaves Eduardo to defend the three center backs. In this case Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini will be able to comfortably play out from the back.

No Spare Center Back for Shakhtar
Juventus's use of two forwards means Shakhtar will not have a spare center back to provide cover. Against Chelsea, Juventus tried to draw one center back out of position by having Vucinic make runs into midfield. Giovinco (and later in the game Quaglierelli) would then make a diagonal run into space left open by the center back stepping out. Quaglierelli ultimately got the equalizer in this manner. The lack of a spare center back also means that Shakhtar's midfielders Fernandinho and Stepanenko will have to diligently track the forward runs of Pogba and Vital. If they allow Pogba or Vidal to get on the ball in behind them, one of their center backs will be forced to leave a forward unmarked and step to ball.

Expect Juventus to defend deep in a more of a 5-3-2 and try to escape with the point they need. They'll concede the wings to Shakhtar's fullbacks and look to crowd the penalty area to prevent any good chances in the box. Offensively, they'll look to spring counters through Quagliarelli or Giovinco floating to the flanks into space left open by the advancing Shakhtar fullbacks.