Freitag, 26.05.2017

2nd Leg: Stalemate in Catalonia

Juventus and Barcelona were drawn in the quarter-final of the Champions League. The tie pitched the 2015 finalists together, giving the Italian side the chance for revenge. The Spanish champions came into the tie on the back of the miracle comeback against PSG whilst Juventus coasted past Porto. Juventus’ outstanding defensive structure would clash against Barcelona’s world class attackers, an exciting tie lay ahead.

The starting line-ups

The starting line-ups

Barcelona in attack

Methods of attacking the channels

One of the key aspects in the first leg was the channels between Juventus’ full backs and centre backs that due to the full-backs’ man-marking of Neymar and Messi. In this game Sandro and Alves carried out similar roles, meaning that when Messi and Neymar in particular, were positioned wide the channels to the centre backs were quite large. In Turin, the wingers were responsible for blocking easy passes through this space. From their narrow positions Cuadrado and Mandzukic could retain access to press Barcelona’s first line, since Barcelona played with a back 3 spanning around the width of the half spaces.

Expecting this, Lucho’s side came with a number of ways of attacking these channels, based heavily around Iniesta’s movements.   Potentially intending to further open the channels between full-back and centre back, Enrique played with a back four. This meant that Cuadrado and Mandzukic would need to defend wider if they were to press Alba and Roberto respectively, leaving the channel without the cover it had in the first leg. Alternately, it would require Pjanic and Khedira to assist with covering the channel, reducing their cover of the centre.

At times the Spanish playmaker would make a 3rd man run into this space as Alves pushed forwards to press Neymar. This movement was enough to make the Brazilian full-back more hesitant to leave his position and press on the wing. As such, Neymar was able to receive the ball and bypass Alves by playing Iniesta through to advance the attack, alternately he could dribble infield if Pjanic dropped to cover Iniesta’s run.

On other occasions Iniesta would drop whilst Alba had the ball. Without the threat of Iniesta running in behind, Alves was quicker to press Neymar on the wing. However this was a cue for Neymar to run into depth diagonally to access the space Alves left behind. By dropping towards the ball Iniesta was able to reduce Pjanic’s ability to cover as well as encouraging Alves forwards to press.

Iniesta opens channel

Full backs giving depth

Another contrast to the first leg was in the threat that Barcelona posed in depth. Whilst the Catalans sorely missed runners in behind in the first leg, they focused far more on this aspect of attacks in this game. Key to this was the return of Jordi Alba, a full-back with great speed and a great understanding with his timing of runs in behind opponents.

In a trademark Barcelona move, when Messi was on the ball in the right half space, Neymar would move more centrally bringing Alves with him and vacating the space for Alba to run into. This gave Barcelona a means of entering the box and creating dangerous situations.

Alba attacking depth

This was also the case on the right side where Roberto would make similar runs into depth. By playing on one side, and dribbling with the ball, Barcelona could encourage pressure and narrow Juventus’ shape in the process. This would create the conditions for the far side full-back to run, allowing Barcelona to enter the box on the weak side of their opponents’ structure.

Counterproductive positioning

However, Barcelona’s increased focus on depth was not always well executed and was often counterproductive to their aims. When the Alba or Roberto timed these runs late, they could enjoy a dynamic advantage as well as having more space to run into since Juventus were not well prepared to cover the runs.

As the first half progressed however, Barcelona began to focus too heavily on advanced positioning from Alba and Rakitic or Roberto on the right. By starting in high positions Barcelona’s wide players reduced the space for them to run into since Cuadrado or Mandzukic would drop to the sides of the defensive line to cover the width. With Barcelona consistently retaining high and wide players on both sides they were increasingly met by a Juventus back line of 6, with Juventus’ wide players defending alongside their full-backs.

The increased focus on depth thus became counterproductive. With Juventus in a back 6 they were able to defend larger width, making the Alba and Roberto runs far less viable. Khedira and Rakitic were still on hand to assist with covering the centre, and Barcelona thus found it far more difficult to access the space behind Juventus’ back line.

Barcelona counterproductive positioning

Inconsistencies in defensive transition

The home side displayed inconsistency in their ability to control the situations after losing the ball in attack, and this stemmed directly from variations in their positioning with the ball.

When Barcelona lost the ball in the final 3rd, they would counter press intensely, with multiple players pressing the ball carrier whilst aiming to close exit routes through the centre, thus gradually forcing them towards the wings.

However, there were a number of instances where Barcelona lost the ball around the edge of Juventus’ box and lacked stability, and cover of deep spaces on the left flank. This was particularly dangerous considering that Cuadrado (right wing) was the Italian side’s main outlet in these situations. This happened a number of times early on in the game where Alba would start in wide positions and make runs in behind. When Barcelona turned over possession in these instances, Iniesta was often left with too much space to cover on the left side. Pjanic could thus play the Colombian winger in to counter towards Barcelona’s goal.

Later on in the first half, as Barcelona pushed Juve into a back 6 they were more stable in defensive transitions. Whilst the advanced positioning of Alba and Rakitic/Roberto was counterproductive in reducing their ability to run in behind. It forced Juventus’ wingers into deeper positions to defend, thus reducing their threat on the counter attack

Weaknesses in Juventus press

Juventus’ pressing lacked the level of aggression of the first leg on an individual level, aggression here referring to the level of intent to win the ball. This manifests in aspects such as the speed of leaving position to press and the willingness to move in front of an opponent to tackle or intercept. This meant that whilst the away side pressed just as high as in the first leg, they were far easier to play through in these situations. Since Juventus players were slow to react to their opponents’ movement, the likes of Rakitic could create enough separation from their marker to receive the ball with simple dropping movements.

Furthermore within the 4-3-3, Barcelona’s build-up shape was very different to the first leg, crucially with far more width on the 2nd line through the full-backs. Since Juventus’ pressing approach was highly man-oriented, their pressing shape naturally altered in line with Barcelona’s. With the home side positioned in a 2-3-2-3 in build-up situations, Allegri’s side pressed with a 4-1-3-2.

The reduced level of aggression in Juventus’ pressing was highlighted with Chiellini far less inclined to follow Rakitic deep into Barcelona’s half. As such, the Spanish side could create a free man by dropping the Croatian deep. This forced Mandzukic to defend narrower, to maintain access to both Roberto and Rakitic. Since Barcelona players were constantly “ball-side” of their opponents they were able to play first time passes, allowing them to find Roberto in space once Rakitic had drawn his countryman further infield to press.

Barcelona play through press

On other occasions Barcelona were able to bypass the press by playing long to Suarez. Since Bonucci was cautious to remain goal side, he was quite passive, aiming to prevent the Uruguayan from turning, as opposed to intending to win the ball. Suarez could thus hold the ball and wait for the likes of Iniesta to get into position for a lay off.

Tie Conclusion

The second half was rather uneventful, with the tie appearing increasingly beyond Barcelona’s reach. It was not for the lack of trying however, as the Catalans made frequent attempts to load the box with Pique as an emergency centre forward, along with Suarez, Alcacer, Roberto and Messi at times. The consistent use of Messi in central spaces gave Barcelona a way to dribble through the compact centre, provoking pressure from Mandzukic and creating extra space out wide for early crosses.

A 3-0 aggregate win arguably flatters the Italian side slightly, with Barcelona creating enough chances over the two legs to have registered on the score sheet. Juventus’ performance over the two legs however demonstrated how complete they are in a tactical sense, with their high pressing, deeper defending, counter attacking and even build-up play impressing at various stages. The versatility in their defending will be difficult for all the remaining sides to beat whilst defending properly against their threat on the counter attack. Now through to the semi-finals, Allegri’s side will rightly be considered amongst the main threats to win the trophy.

Barcelona could be considered unlucky to come away from both legs without a single goal. They will reflect regretfully on the opening 20 minutes in Turin where they failed to handle Juventus’ pressing and found themselves 2 goals down, with a mountain to climb. The lack of depth for most of the first leg harmed their ability to enter the box, and whilst Enrique made good adjustments for the 2nd leg, flaws in the execution meant they ended up being counterproductive for their aims.

DF May 6, 2017 um 8:45 pm

Great analysis JD; Keep up the good work. Here are some observations that I have come up with after watching the both legs.
1. The absence of Busquets; one of the most underrated player of his generation ( not in the Coaching Circle though!); had an hugely negative effect on Barca’s Build up game and transitional defence. His world class individual pressing resistance, ability to provoke press to create spaces within the opposition block,the game intelligence to pick out the right passes is vital in their possession game. But his work without possession is as vital.He uses his exceptional anticipatory skills to make important tackles and interceptions to kill the opposition counter attacks before they can fully develop.Mascherano, who played as the CDM in the 1st leg unfortunately doesn’t have the same qualities and struggled big time.
2.The inclusion of Jeremy Mathieu was really baffling considering his contribution (LOL!) in the recent loss to Malaga. The Frenchman was really petrified of loosing possession under intense juventus pressing and showed no composer whatsoever on the ball. Luis Enrique Martinez had to take him off at the half-time interval.
3.The MSN trio has come under a lot of criticism over their performance in this tie but out of the trio Messi didn’t play bad at all in my opinion. But the other two especially Suarez had poor games as he failed to take his chances specially the clear one he had in the 1st leg which was served on a plate by Messi.
4.In the end I would say that yes football is a team game but the importance of individual brilliance or lack of it can’t be ignored. Bonucci and Cheillini showed in a number of situations their ability in individual defending against some of the top players in world football at present. On the other hand Barca’s lack of physical prowess and age old weakness in defending set pieces was exposed again (3rd goal) yet again.
Best of luck… Bye Bye!!!!!

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Konsta_K April 26, 2017 um 7:33 am

I’m not quite sure what it is, but something about this Juve side seems a tad fragile. A strange thing to say for sure when you go 180mins against Barcelona without conceding, but especially in the 1st leg there where quite a few inadequacies in Juve’s defensive scheme that a better prepared team could’ve exploited more purposefully than Barca did. I don’t know, maybe it’s simply an aesthetic thing. You know, having been used to seeing that almost poetic motion of the Juve back five and how it seems to block all the obvious routes to goal coupled with a hard working midfield three and the most consistent GK of modern era. There’s a sense of invincibility in that which I don’t get with Allegri’s current system.

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