First game of Serie A offered a great match up in Turin where eternal favourite for the title Juventus hosted historical rival Fiorentina. Despite selling Pogba to Man United, Juventus managed to assemble the squad deemed capable of mounting serious challenge for Champions League so conquering Italy yet again shouldn’t really be in question. All the stars in the team and expectations put a pressure on Massimo Allegri to show off this force from the first match.
On the other hand, anything but a heavy loss would be acceptable for Fiorentina. They went on the pitch in a formation rarely seen outside of Italy, a strange 3-4-3 which was really a 3-4-2-1 with Milan Badelj as deep lying playmaker and young prospect Federico Chiesa in attacking midfielder role paired with Josip Iličić. They were, however, missing midfielder Borja Valero with an ankle injury.
Juventus indeed started off in extraordinary fashion. Since big signing Gonzalo Higuain isn’t ready yet for full match, Dybala was paired with Mario Mandžukić which suited perfectly Allegri as Croatian striker is more adept at high pressing game than Higuain. Juvenuts’ coach had a clear idea how to stop visitors from Firenze and during the first half Fiorentina found itself under constant pressure unable to string three passes in a row.
Above you can see how well Juventus closed down their opponents. Four Juventus players were able to cancel out six of their opponents and only way out for Fiorentina is to pass the ball back to goalkeeper and clear it up field. This was an approach taken throughout the first half that forced Fiorentina to give the ball away every time they got it. Once cleared three Fiorentina forwards had trouble getting to the ball since they were outnumbered two to one by Juventus players. Allegri’s plan was clearly to prevent Fiorentina to get onto ball with his high defensive line and well executed team pressing. It worked to as a charm since Fiorentina had the ball only 39 per cent of time in first half.
Once visitors were forced to aimlessly clear the ball Juventus was ready to take over and go with lower tempo build up shifting the ball and opposition defence from side to side in order to find a hole between the defenders.
Above you see Juventus’ average positions coupled with passing lanes and you can clearly see the “U” shape pattern as hosts probe around the defence to get into scoring position although they didn’t refrain from direct long balls. It was Asamoah and Chiellini who were searching mostly Dani Alves and Dybala on right side once Fiorentina was concentrated on left.
Constant pressure and inability to keep the ball made Fiorentina insecure and quite disorganized. Above you see how their defensive block compressed in five yards. Paolo Sousa must have been tearing his hair watching his team give so much space in central areas. In fact, less than 10 minutes later Juventus scores precisely because of this defensive disorganization.
Again you see Fiorentina defensive block compressed in five yards of space leaving Juventus with all the time and space on the ball. Chiellini, who often surged forward, notices run from deep by Khedira and pings a perfect cross on to his head for one nil lead. Important part of this goal were previous 37 minutes of hard pressing that took away all the confidence Fiorentina might have brought to Turin. The other part was Allegri’s confidence and bravery to push forward in numbers. If you count, you will see nine Juventus players 30 yards from Fiorentina goal and that includes two central defenders one of which made an assist.
While Juventus attacked from both sides quite evenly, attacks from left were far more direct while on the right side they were much more eager to use skills of Dybala who tried to pass around the defence. This was all more visible in the second half once Juventus refrained from such high pressing and looked to shift attacks to left.
Second half brought a change in Fiorentina game as they switched to defending in 4-4-2 which allowed them to control better the spaces and also keep the distance between the defensive lines.
You can see above Fiorentina in their new shape. It is difficult to say if it was this change from Paolo Sousa that tamed Juventus a bit, or a fact that Juventus stopped their high pressing that was so effective in first half. You can also notice Dybala playing somewhat different role from the second period. He isn’t anymore high up the pitch but in Messi’s position and role. He is searching to get the ball deeper on the right side and move the team forward with his vision and dribbling abilities. With Dani Alves (player with most assists to Messi in Barcelona squad), that doesn’t seem like an outrageous idea.
With numerous changes in second half (offensive shape change to 4-3-3) Fiorentina managed to control the match better and regained possession. They even managed to score off the corner but Juventus was never in danger to lose the track of the match. They went to 5-4-1 and saw off the game although they gave much more space to their visitors.
In conclusion, Juventus did what they had to do. They have won confidently and showed few new things. Incredibly well organized team pressing, no fear in pushing numbers forward and Dybala in new Messi like role on the right side of the pitch. Allegri’s plan to completely stifle Fiorentina worked to perfection as Viola was completely lost in first half that made confusion in the defensive lines which, ultimately, was key in scoring first goal. Slight shadow of doubt was cast on the second half as Juve stopped playing so aggressively but they controlled the game nevertheless. Fiorentina showed they can adapt well and threaten even the biggest club in the country so nobody will be really disappointed with result.