Juventus visited Lazio in their second Serie A of the season. A very hard fought battle for Juventus, who came away with all three points. I heard that many Juve fans thought that Juventus should have performed better in playing against opponent like Lazio. I actually disagree and I don’t think that the performance was sub-par, because Simone Inzaghi actually implemented some really great tactics and controlled the game in the first half. Allegri responded with some equally great counter-tactics and took back control. Eventually, the quality of this Juventus team out-done Lazio.
I am gonna be brief on the formation because I have a lot to say in the tactical battle of this match. Juventus the usual 3-5-2, with Benatia replacing Bonucci. Lazio the 3-4-2-1 (does everyone plays with this 2-1 in attacks these days now???)
Lazio dominates Juventus with defense inspirations from Diego Simeone
Maybe because they dropped 3 goals in the Atlanta game, Simone Inzaghi implemented some very well-designed defensive tactics on Juventus. And lots of these ideas have the same philosophy that Diego Simone uses in Athletic Madrid. If you are a fan of him or familiar with his tactics, you would probably know that Athletic Madrid often uses several elements in defense: 1, using press to direct opponent’s ball movement; 2, a narrow defense (both vertically and horizontally); 3, whole-team shift to the ball; 4, creating defensive trap/over-loads. These are exactly what Lazio did in the first half.
Soft press to guide Juventus’s ball movement
The most prominent tactic that Lazio did is to use a soft press on Juventus’s left and right center backs (Chiellini and Benatia) to set up a trap near the by-line. You can see this from below:
When Chiellini was receiving the ball from Benatia, Felipe Anderson began to run towards Chiellini. He ran it at an angle that actually prevented Chiellini from passing to Lemina (Lemina should have positioned himself better, we will talk about it later). But this press is only a soft press. Felipe Anderson stopped pressing all the way to Chiellini, which actually allowed him a passing lane to Alex Sandro. Chiellini could either pass it to Alex Sandro or all the way back to Barzagli or Buffon, and he chose to pass it to Alex Sandro. Once Alex Sandro had the ball, the trap is complete. The position of Felipe Anderson prevented Chiellini to surge forward. Basta now moved to pressure Sandro and Parolo and Bastos guarding the remaining escape routes. Eventually Bastos took the ball away from Sandro.
It also happened in the right hand side.
You can see how Lulic positioned himself to prevent Benatia from passing to Lemina while letting a passing lane to Dani Alves in the half-space. Once Benatia passed to Dani Alves, you could see Radu rushing to attack the ball with Lulic, Lukaku and Biglia guarding all other directions.
Here is one more example:
You can see how Felipe Anderson ran a soft press on Chiellini while letting a passing lane open to Alex Sandro. This is an almost carbon copy of the first example.
Lazio vertical compactness in defense
Juventus’s center backs have good passing ability, although in this match it wasn’t as threatening because of the absence of Bonucci, but either Barzagli and Chiellini (and Benatia not too bad as well) are still very good passers who could penetrate to final third or finding teammates in between-lines space with vertical passes. To prevent Juventus attack through the middle, Lazio often stayed narrow between midfield and defense. But it’s not just their positioning, but also their movements. Depending on the position of the ball-handlers, Lazio’s center backs or inverted wingers would come out / chase back to help trapping and tackling the ball handlers.
You can see from above how De vrij came all the way to almost half-line to tackle Dybala.
You can see from above how Felipe Anderson tracked all the way back to tackle Dybala.
These kinds of synchronized movements from defenders to midfielders to inverted wingers stopped most of Juventus’s penetration via the middle.
Lazio horizontal compactness in defense
When Juventus actually avoided the trap and tried to attack through half-spaces, Lazio right and left center backs (Bastos and Radu) often tried to pressure either Asamoah /Khedira (sometimes Dani Alves or Dybala would be in those space, but the idea is the same). However this could lead to a gap in defense where Juventus could take advantage of. What Lazio did in this situation was that De vrij and Bastos would shift left accordingly in order to cover any missing gap. You can see this from the below captures:
These kinds of defensive movements maintain Lazio’s horizontal compactness.
The most important element for Lazio’s defense was the soft-press on Juventus’ right/left center backs. It really blocks assess through the center of the pitch, prevents Chiellini/Benatia from supporting the wings and also traps Sandro/Dani Alves at the same time. In the case if the ball did go through the middle, Lazio’s narrow and compact defense neutralizes most of the threats. It was really a great tactical performance from Lazio.
Lazio’s offense strategy
With its focus on defense, Lazio had three ways to attack Juventus. 1. In build-up play, the ball usually goes through Biglia (less so through Parolo) to find Felipe Anderson, the most creative Lazio player to try to find opening. The solid Juventus defense neutralizes any opening from this. 2. Long balls, trying to use Immobile’s speed to get past Juventus’s defense. This went horribly bad for Lazio:
You can see from above capture that how isolated Immobile is. He was trying to fight off two defenders. This never really work. 3. Counter-attack to the wings through Felipe Anderson /Lulic when the wing players of Juventus ran out of positions:
You can see from the above captures where Alex Sandro was at a really advanced position. One Lazio intercepted Lemina’s ball, Felipe Anderson raced to the Juventus’s left corner. He then delivered a really dangerous cross. Both Barzagli and Benatia did really well to prevent Parolo or Immobile from connecting with the cross. The most dangerous Lazio’s play came from these types of counter-attacks, either from left or right. Failure to capture these chances costs Lazio the game.
Juventus counters Lazio’s defensive strategy
In the second half, Juventus made several tactical adjustments to counter Lazio’s defensive strategy. Their goal is to avoid being trapped.
Juventus build-up through the midfielders in the center
Juventus made two adjustments here. Instead of passing to the wing players in the by-line, the center backs passed to the midfielders in the center.
You can see from above how Chiellini chose to pass to Lemina in the middle instead of surging forward or passing to Alex Sandro.
Here is another example:
Both Benatia and Chiellini often tried to release the pass very quickly upon receiving the ball to avoid Lazio’s players to set up the soft press and allows for more passing angles to the middle. Lemina also positions himself better to receive the pass.
Juventus’s central three midfielders stay back to help build-up
In the second half all three Juventus midfielders, especially Khedira, often stayed close to almost half-line in the build-up phase. This helps to create over-loads for Juventus to allow for more passing lanes for the center backs and counter Lazio’s trap.
Juventus’s aggressive press to prevent Lazio’s build-up
Juventus often plays a very aggressive press to Lazio’s defenders when they had the ball. This is to prevent Lazio’s smooth defense-to-offense transition. Because of such aggressive press, Lazio often had to cleared the ball as quickly as possible. This increases the distance between the defenders/midfielder and the front three attackers.
You can see from the above captures how much distance between Biglia and the front three attackers. In turn, Chiellini placed a simple pass to Alex Sandro where he could deliver a very dangerous cross because he had so much space.
A key player for Lazio’s build-up is Biglia. Lazio’s defenders often seek to pass to him in their build-up play. He has excellent passing range. When playing through him, Lazio can really control the tempo of the game and maintain the team shape. This also means that even when they lose the ball, their offense-to-defense transition is a lot quicker, allowing them to set up their defense properly. By preventing him from dictating Lazio’s build-up, Lazio lost control of the tempo, and therefore the team shape and took longer for their offense-to-defense transition.
You can see from above how close Khedira is to Biglia in these cases.
By these adjustments, Juventus finally took back control of the game. There were always more Juventus players than Lazio players during Juventus’s build-up from the back. Lazio could no longer set up their traps that worked so successfully in the first half. It also freed up Dybala, who had a lot of space to operate. You actually can see this through their only goal:
You should see the same passing sequence Chielllni->Lemina->Dybala then back to Chielllni->Lemina->Dybala. You also also notice how initially where Asamoah and Khedira positioned around the half-line to create over-load. And see how much space and time Dybala had before he assisted the goal.
After the goal, Lazio tried to chase for the equalizer. They just did not have the creativity to generate an opening through build-up. Their only creative player Felipe Anderson seems to run out of gas. Long balls of course would not work. And with Juventus not having to take risk, their wing positions are also secure. They comfortably held on the lead and won three points.
It was a really great tactical battle from the two coaches. Simone Inzaghi implemented some top-class defensive tactics on Juventus. The counter strategies from Allegri were equally good. It is puzzling how Lazio lost 3 goals in the last game. It might mean that Simone Inzaghi still has not figured out the proper balance for his team. But he will definitely figures it out soon if what we saw in this match is any indication of how good he can be. Sometimes Allegri had to be backed down against the wall to show his tactical brilliance. Lazio lost the game eventually because they don’t have enough quality to finish the few chances they managed to get. Basta and Lukaku were especially disappointing in offense. As a wing player, Basta had not once surge forward to support Lazio’s attack. Lukaku did manage to do that, except his crossing was pretty horrible. Again, Juventus’s superior quality in Serie A shows again, where they can finish off well-performing opponent with slightest mistake.
Benatia just showed us how good a defender he is. He is the best performing center back. But I have to choose Khedira as my man-of-the-match. He was everywhere, he played intelligently and that finish was really world-class.
- De Vrij is such a great defender. When healthy he has to be one of the top in the world. He over-powers Mandzukic in this game. Strong, alert, technical and fast. I always wanted Juventus to buy him.
- Felipe Anderson plays a really mature game. He always helps the defense. And in offense, he never dribble too much, always trying to create something through passes. He had a lost year last year and I thought he was just one of those players who had a breakout year because no one paid much attention and that he is fast and dribbles well. I think his performance shows that he is much more than that.
- for Juventus, its the same problems. Build-up in the middle. Basically the same problem since Pirlo left. Marchisio did well in that role but when he isnt available, then we have issues. Hernanes too slow and fragile. Lemina did show improvements game-by-game. I think this wouldn’t be a problem with his improvements and the return of Marchisio and Pjanic.
- There is no Serie A game this week. I think I will do one analysis on Inter-Palermo or Milan-Napoli. I like to do the Inter game because when I watched it I thought Inter had some very interesting tactics with the use of Benega. If any of the people reading this blog had preference you can let me know too!