Udinese sat deep and looked to counter-attack. Juventus had problems attacking them in previous match-ups; Udinese could minimize the space between the lines. When they sat deep, Juventus needed to pass through three lines of the defense.
Juventus have struggled to pass through the compact mid-blocks in recent weeks with the 3-5-2. They switched back to the 4-2-3-1 in this game. This formation had an advantage against Udinese’ 5-3-2 on the flanks: their wingers, especially Costa occupied Udinese’ wingbacks in the deep area, so Mattia De Sciglio had the freedom to control the ball on the flank when they pushed to the midfield and created a 2 vs.1 tactical advantage. If De Sciglio surged deep into Udinese’s final third, Ali Adnan struggled to cope with him and Costa. Udinese’s midfield was also overwhelmed; if the midfield trio shifted to the side and helped, Juventus created space when Costa crossed to the ball-far side. If they stretched to cover the flank, the central channels would open for Juventus to exploit.
Juventus had attacked well on the right side. Costa was excellent. Udinese couldn’t match his speed an skill. He could use both feet equally well so he could take advantage of both the inside and the outside channels. Same for De Sciglio when his teammates created space for him:
Udinese sat too deep and didn’t apply enough pressure when Juventus built up from the back. Juventus’ double pivot prevented Maxi Lopez and Jakub Jankto from pressing Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele Rugani. But Adnan positioned too far back because of Costa. Udinese’s central midfielders struggled to decide whether they should cut off Paulo Dybala or cover the flanks.
Set-pieces are like penalties
Juventus have been lethal with the set-pieces, and score 0.6 goals per games, one of the highest in the big four European leagues (Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League, and Serie A). Every free-kick from 25-30 yards feels like a penalty to the opponent:
Juventus’ imbalance in the offensive phase
Even with a saved penalty, Juventus would have finished the game earlier had they attacked better on the left. Stefano Sturaro was a non-threat with the ball. Kwadwo Asamoah was so heavily left-footed that if he didn’t immediately cross when he had the chance, he could not cut inside and had to pass back. Juventus’ attack almost always halted when they advanced the ball to the final third of the left. If they didn’t lose the possession, they had to recycle the ball and restarted the offense again without Dybala. And when they found him on the rare occasion, they almost finished off Udinese:
Dybala’s mature display
Paulo Dybala has seen ups and downs this season; he had carried Juventus in the first ten games before Massimiliano Allegri decided to bench him around mid-December. They had rounded into form without him before he got injured. Since his comeback, he has reinstalled himself as Juventus’ star player.
Allegri dropped Dybala in December because he did not move enough. Too often he stayed in the space between the lines and waited for the opportunity to run at the defenders or to shoot. Juventus’ pass pattern became predictable because they could simply minimize the distance between the defense and the midfield.
Against Udinese, he kept things simple. There was no forced dribble or shot. Dybala was constantly moving. He didn’t merely look to control the ball when Juventus attacked but used his movement or passing to create space for his teammates:
When he doesn’t always look to dribble or shoot, Dybala becomes so dangerous. The ball moves faster, and the defense can’t close in on him. More teammates can participate in the attack, and create more space for him to attack:
If what we saw in Dybala’s last three outings reflects his new understanding of the game, then he is getting closer to become a world-class player.
A training session for Juventus
Udinese offered minimal resistance. They are a physical side with less technical finesse. You could see that shortcoming when Udinese were forced to take the initiative in the second half. They should have started pressing at the start of the match. Juventus’ biggest weakness is the transition of the ball between the defense and the midfield. Without pressuring them during that phase and with the tactical disadvantage of the formation, Udinese didn’t have a chance to avoid a defeat.
Juventus is entering the prime form in the most critical part of the season. Dybala is beginning to play like a superstar. Costa has finally gelled with the team. Juventus’ offense is becoming more powerful and unpredictable.