In this week’s tactical analysis we return to the Serie A. It seems like we’re repeating ourselves each week when we say that this is genuinely one of the closest title races we have seen in years. Juventus won this match from a goal scored by Cristiano Ronaldo and an own goal scored by Roger Ibanez. However, this is a game both sides will want to forget.
The score and xG of this match was Juventus 2 (0.2) - 0 (1.0) Roma (fbref.com). Juventus failed to create quality goal scoring opportunities, often bypassing their midfield and playing long ball football instead. The lack of quality in midfield and match intelligence was on full display as Juventus chose to play boring football despite having talented and exciting players in all areas of the pitch. In this analysis, we will examine exactly why Juventus will not win the Serie A title if this style of play continues.
Roma created several high quality chances in this game by exploiting the weakness that Juventus have shown us all season, while also demonstrating their creativity and versatility in attack. However, poor finishing and positioning ultimately cost them the match. By conceding from low quality goal scoring opportunities, Roma have shown us that they still have much to work on if they are to earn a Champions League spot.
Juventus deployed their tried and tested 4-4-2. In defense it remained narrow and compact, allowing Roma to play in the wide spaces. The only notable absence is forward Paulo Dybala, one of the most creative players on this Juventus team at the moment. Going forward Juventus rarely showed any particular shape, often choosing to bypass the midfield entirely with long, over the top passes.
Roma deployed a more fluid system. In attack it resembled a 3-4-2-1, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan Byran Cristante making late runs into the Juventus final third. However, in defense it switched to a more solid 5-3-2, with emphasis on keeping Juventus away from playing in the midfield spaces.
The use of xG in the modern game is the topic of many debates between football fans around the world. Whether we like it or not, data has been used to great affect to determine the quality of most actions in football. The xG of this match, as stated above, was embarrassingly low for a team that scored twice. What we can learn from this is: Juventus failed to create high quality goal scoring chances, and Roma failed to defend against low quality goal scoring chances. Juventus can only rely on Ronaldo’s world-class ability to create goals from nothing for so long. Below we see Ronaldo being swarmed by the Roma players. Goalkeeper Pau López is out of position. Ideally, he should be where the “x” is placed. Ronaldo sees this, takes a shot that goes through the defender’s legs and into the back of the net. 1-0 Juventus.
Most of the chances Juventus created came from long passes from their defenders that bypassed the midfield entirely. On the ball below is Leonardo Bonucci who looks to pass to Weston McKennie running into the space behind the Roma defense. This is not a quality way of creating a goal scoring chance because the pass needs to go through the Roma midfield and defense. Bonucci would attempt several of these passes, often leaving Adrien Rabiot and Arthur with little to do. Of the 12 attempted long passes by Bonucci, only 5 found a Juventus player.
Going forward, Roma exploited the wide areas of the field. Juventus have shown us this season that they prefer to defend narrow and compact, willingly giving up the wide areas. Roma would build an attack out from defense through Gianluca Mancini. Of the 66 passes he completed, 38 of them went into the Juventus half. Mancini and Roma have options as we see below. Gonzalo Villar and Jordan Veretout stay in the space between the Juventus forward and midfield lines, while right wing-back Rick Karsdorp hugs the touchline. Karsdorp stretches the Juventus defensive line so that Bryan Cristante can run into the space between left full-back Alex Sandro and veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini.
As stated above, Juventus prefer to defend in a narrow and compact shape. When the Roma attack enters the Juventus final third below, we can see 5 Roma attackers between the Juventus midfield and defensive lines. The widest players, Karsdorp and Spinazzola, are tasked with stretching the Juventus defense wide. This is done so that Henrikh Mkhitaryan can run into the space between the Juventus right full-back and right center-back, Borja Mayoral can run into the space between the two center-backs, and Cristante can run into the space between the left center-back and left full-back. When Roma attacked, they had plenty of options and exploited the spaces left by Juventus. Unfortunately, they failed to convert their chances into goals.
Juventus often struggled to determine when to press and when to fall back into their defending shape. When this happened, Roma would have players from the forward line drop into midfield, and have midfield players make runs into the Juventus final third. This creates even more confusion for Juventus and caused them to lose the players they were marking. Below we see a perfect example of how naive Juventus can be in defense. Both Bonucci and Rabiot point to Veretout running into the space behind them, yet, neither is aware that Mayoral is joining Veretout in attack, leaving 36-year-old Chiellini to defend against 2 attackers. Bonucci stepped out of the defensive line to follow Mkhitaryan until Rabiot took over, creating space in behind. However, this problem would never have existed if Chiesa didn’t begin the Juventus press incorrectly.
Below we see Juventus transitioning into defense. Several times, their defensive positioning was caught off guard, and to their fortune, not exploited. On the ball is Cristante. He picks up the ball on the right side of the pitch and is able to carry it centrally because left full-back Sandro is returning to his position, while Arthur fills in for him. Cristante knows that Juventus are not in their defensive positions and takes advantage of this by moving into the middle of the pitch to find quality forward passing options. Mayoral, Mkhitaryan and Veretout are quick to take up space in the middle as Rabiot seems to be the only Juventus midfielder in midfield.
Mentioned earlier was how often Juventus would prefer to bypass the midfield, rather than use the midfield players as passing options. Below, we will take a look at why they were forced to do that. On the ball is Arthur. He took up the deep-lying playmaker role, while Rabiot was given freedom to roam. The problem is that Rabiot is not in the space he needs to be in order for Arthur to have a forward passing option. Rabiot should be in the red space between the Roma forward and midfield lines. Even if the Roma forward lines can screen Rabiot from receiving a pass from Arthur, Rabiot can act as a passing option from Sandro, should Arthur choose to go to the left full-back instead of backwards to Chiellini.
On the ball below is Rabiot, passing backwards into his own half. Juventus have committed 4 players forward, waiting to attack the Roma defense. However, the Juventus forwards will never be able to attack because there is no player to link the ball from the defenders to the attackers. Typically, we would see Paulo Dybala take up the number 10 role and be the link Juventus need, but he is injured. In his place is Alvaro Morata who does not offer the same quality of creativity.
Rarely did Juventus form an attacking structure. When they did, it looked like the example below. McKennie was best when he dropped from the forward line into central midfield. This caused problems for the Roma defense and midfielders, as they had to consistently change who man-marked him, while leaving space in behind from tracking Mckennie. Chiellini can be seen about to receive the ball, being pressed by Roma. This was one of the few opportunities that Juventus were able to exploit the space left by Roma. However, as the game went on, we rarely saw this type of play continue. Juventus regularly gave up the midfield space.
Roma failed to convert their chances and gave up two unfortunate goals, while Juventus failed to create quality goal scoring opportunities. Neither team really deserved to win this game. Champions know how to win in an “ugly” style, but with the Serie A as close as it is, Juventus must develop a style of play that brings the best out of all their players if they’re going to compete with the Milan clubs. Cristiano Ronaldo can only create goals out of nothing for so long as Andrea Pirlo continues to show his coaching naivety against the stronger teams in the league. If this continues, Juventus will not be Serie A champions this season.
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___