First-place Juventus hosted second-placed Roma in Juventus Stadium. Juventus played a 4-3-1-2 formation during the offensive phase, with Pjanic playing the role of the trequartista. In the defensive phase, they transitioned into a flat 4-4-2.
Roma fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman playing the double pivot roles. To support Edin Dzeko, Radja Nainggolan has morphed into one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe. To counter Juventus’s two standard strikers, Antonio Rudiger often shifted centrally to form a three-men central defense with Federico Fazio and Kostas Manolas.
Below I analyze some of the tactical aspects of this game:
1. Roma failed to defend Juventus’s central vertical passes
A major factor that decides the outcome of this game is that Roma could not get into the game in the opening 20 minutes of the game. In these opening minutes, Juventus was able to deliver the ball to their attacking midfielders or strikers with ease using very simple vertical passes from Daniele Rugani and Giorgio Chiellini:
In the above clip, you should see that Rugani received limited pressure from Diego Perotti nor Dzeko. Therefore, he had the time to survey the passing lanes and was able to carry the ball forwards easily. Eventually, he was able to place a vertical pass to Gonzalo Higuain. Here is another clip:
Chiellini was able to push the ball forward without any pressure, and he was able to send a ball first to reach Miralem Pjanic and then to Stefano Sturaro.
Juventus’s offense has been particularly fluid in the opening minutes of the game. Many of these offenses came from these vertical passes from Rugani and Chiellini. Possibly instructed by Luciano Spalletti, Roma did not allow Juventus to advance the ball from their full-backs, especially Alex Sandro. Both Gerson and Emerson Palmieri stayed very close to Alex Sandro and Stephan Lichtsteiner. Therefore, Juventus was forced to play through the central part of the field. This result would have been an advantage for Roma, who has three adamant and mobile central midfielders and could have put Juventus under intense pressure. However, both Perotti and Dzeko were often too slow to press Juventus’s center backs. Therefore, both Chiellini and Rugani were able to find their teammates very easily. This situation was especially advantageous for Rugani, who is an underrated passer. At the same time, Juventus had a numerical advantage against Roma in the central midfield (4 vs. 3). With Gerson and Emerson Palmieri fixated on Juventus’s full-backs, De Rossi, Strootman and Nainggolan just could not prevent four Juventus midfielders (Sturaro, Khedira, Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio) from getting the ball, let alone Higuain or Mario Manzukic when they tracked back.
Roma failed to prevent Juventus from delivering the ball to the final third with these above mentioned simple vertical passes in the opening minutes. It put its defense and De Rossi (who was often the midfielder who sat in front of the defense) under a lot of pressure because these passes put the Juventus’s players very close to the goal. Because of these intense pressure, Higuain and Mandzukic were often able to beat Roma’s defenders in many 50-50 duels. For example, both Higuain and Mandzukic had beaten Fazio and Manolas in such contests and created scoring opportunities. There was also the opening goal, where Higuain beat De Rossi before unleashing a shot.
2. Juventus’s almost impeccable team’s defense
In opposite to Roma, Juventus displayed well-executed team defense in this game. Allegri’s team has played strong position-based zonal defense all season. Juventus often held a high press against the opposing team. If the opponent were abe to break the press, Juventus would shift to a very passive zonal defense. Defenders would focus on defending their zones. The key was to maintain the team shape at all time and waited for the opponents to commit a mistake. However, there was a major change after the defeat against Genoa. The position based zonal defense is still the defensive operating system. But instead of playing passively, Juventus players, especially the midfielders, were very aggressively in tackling opponent:
This type of aggressive defense against the ball handlers was facilitated by several factors. The first was the return of Marchisio and Sturaro to the starting line-up. Sturaro is very physical and aggressive in tackling. Marchisio is very intelligent in reading opponents. He does not attempt as many tackles as others, but his positioning always delays or prevents opponents to advance the ball:
Secondly, Juventus was able to maintain very compact and narrow defense throughout this game. Because Juventus’s defense always shifts according to the position of the ball, it minimizes the distance between the defenders and Roma’s ball handlers. Therefore, it increases the pressure on Roma’s players, facilitates tackling and retrieval of the ball in 50-50 contests because there were always more Juventus players than Roma players:
To achieve such pressure, both Mandzukic and Higuain took up a lot of responsibility during the defensive phase. It is well known that Mandzukic is a highly hard-working player and many have complimented his recent performances. However, Higuain’s effort should not be overlooked. He might not be attempted as many tackles as Mandzukic. But his always kept up his position about his teammates, allowing the whole team to maintain their defensive shape and the pressures on Roma’s players:
The above capture started off from a Roma’s counter-attack. In the end, all ten Juventus outfield players were able to return to their half. Juventus was able to maintain such defensive shape for the majority of the game, frustrating Roma’s players.
Roma did not show the credential of a champion because they were too late to get into the game. Juventus was able to dominate the midfield. The above-mentioned points were critical to the outcome of this game. Roma’s offense this season largely depends on several factors: 1, the speed and skill of Perotti, Nainggolan and Mohamed Salah. 2, the physical advantage of Dzeko. Roma often utilizes these attributes to carry out speedy counter-attacks. However, it also requires them to be able to intercept the ball in more advanced areas. They could not achieve that in this game because they could not stop those vertical passes from Juventus’s defenders. Not only did it increase the pressure on their defense, but it also means that their offenses were a lot slower than it would need to be dangerous. Once behind, Roma’s offense struggled against an opponent who was happy to absorb the pressure and catch them on the break. Without Francesco Totti, Roma does not have a player who can provide creativity to open up an elite defense. In this game, such flaw was exposed. Roma could only threaten Juventus with set-pieces.
On the bright side, Roma did not show signs of collapse that often happens when they are stressed. They may have yet to be a champion, but they have improved a great deal under Spalletti.
For Juventus, they have played a very good game. The only flaw is that they should have killed this game a lot earlier with all those counter-attacking chances. One important positive for them is the performance of Rugani and Sturaro. Most people talk about how good a defender Rugani can become in the future, so I am not going to elaborate on that. Sturaro has shown his potential in the last few games. He is so physical and aggressive is very similar to Arturo Vidal. His offensive game is obviously not as good as Vidal. But he isn’t bad neither. With experience and confidence, he can become as good as Dino Baggio or Antonio Conte offensively. Both players were not flashy offensive players but processed extremely efficient finishing skills in front of the goal. They would be the model that Sturaro should focus to become.