- Buffon / 15. Barzagli, 4. Benatia, 3. Chiellini / 26. Lichtsteiner, 6. Khedira, 5. Pjanic, 14. Matuidi, 22. Asamoah / 10. Dybala, 9. Higuain
- Donnarumma / 2. Calabria, 19. Bonucci, 13. Romagnoli, 68. Rodriguez / 5. Bonaventura, 21. Biglia, 79. Kessie / 10. Calhanoglu, 9. Andre Silva, 8. Suso
Both teams needed a win; Juventus wanted to break away from Napoli. Milan tried to close in the fourth place. Once again, Juventus used their incredible depth and tactical flexibility to take home three points.
The reason for Juventus to use three center backs
Massimiliano Allegri’s fielded a 3-5-2. He might want to rest Mario Mandzukic and Douglas Costa for the Champions League, and Juan Cuadrado has re-joined the team after his long layoff. But Allegri also had a tactical reason to use three central defenders; when Milan attacked the flank, Franck Kessie would position in the half space between the lines close to the center backs. That position can confuse a back-four defense. If the midfielder drops to mark him, the second line of defense will collapse. If the center back moves out, he will leave a gap behind. If he sits back, Kessie will have the freedom to turn and attack the last line of defense.
With three center backs, Giorgio Chiellini could come out to engage Kessie with Medhi Benatia and Andrea Barzagli covering him. The midfielders could maintain a tight line. Milan couldn’t exploit that half space between the lines. Once the ball reached the flank, the attack stopped. They had to recycle the ball and reinitiated the offense.
Juventus’ goal demonstrates how dangerous they are. You can’t make any mistake against them; Milan didn’t want to take a risk and press high in the opening period. They settled in their default 4-5-1 defensive formation. One of Kessie or Giacomo Bonaventura came out to minimize the ball handler’s passing angle. In the first goal, Kessie came out to engage Miralem Pjanic, both Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi moved into the space left behind by the Ivorian. The move was subtle, but Khedira’s movement was enough to distract Lucas Biglia, and Pjanic could find a small passing lane toward Paulo Dybala.
Juventus’ quality comprises not only the technical skill but also the tactical intelligence. Milan did almost everything right defending in that play. Pjanic’s pass to Dybala’s shot lasted about two seconds. Sometimes you have to be perfect to have a chance against the Old Lady. If they find a tiny crack, they will punish you.
Gattuso changed tactics
Milan’s played more aggressively immediate after the goal. They pressed high to pressure Juventus’ build-up. Juventus struggled to pass the ball out from the defense initially. To relieve the pressure from the defenders, Khedira moved back to provide another passing target, and Dybala dropped to the midfield and exchanged positioned with Stephan Lichtsteiner. Dybala could dribble and protect the ball, so he helped them resisting Milan’s pressure.
Milan’s high press didn’t produce a lot of chances, but Gennaro Gattuso found a way to attack the host; Juventus’ first and second lines didn’t stay close enough. That area between the lines became larger when Juventus pressed Milan. The visitor exploited that gap with Leonardo Bonucci’s impressive passing range:
When a Milan player received the ball in the center, Juventus’ midfielders scrambled to engage him. Milan would spread the ball to the flank. Allegri’s men couldn’t cover the whole width; their wingers or fullbacks occupied Juventus’ wingbacks, and the midfield struggled to defend both flanks. They were stretched, and Milan now found space in the center or on the ball-far side.
Milan now applied a lot of pressure in the offense phase, and they found the equalizer from a corner.
Juventus’ technical error led to Milan’s chance
Juventus’ technical mistake created the counter-attack opportunity for Milan. The old lady had a problem dealing with the loss of possession in the attacking phase; they were too slow to attack the loose ball immediately after they lost it:
After Allegri introduced Costa and Cuadrado, Juventus could dominate the possession. They had their best dribblers on the pitch. When they controlled the ball, their teammates could move into the positions to attack. Milan had to sit deep to defend the host.
Juventus had more chances because they could spread Milan by isolating Costa and Cuadrado on the flanks. But Milan also had more opportunities; with better control of the possession, Juventus’ players pushed higher into the final third. They left more space at the back, and Milan’s almost scored in several counter-attacks.
Milan didn’t score when they had the chance, and Juventus came back to bite them. Before Rodrigo Bentancur came on, Juventus couldn’t halt Milan’s counter-attack. The Uruguayan fixed that problem. He was quick and strong, and he stopped Milan’s counter-attacks multiple times. These tackles exposed Milan because they caught them in the transitions and their players couldn’t move to the proper defensive positions. One of those retrievals led to the go-ahead goal.
You can’t criticize Gattuso’s management of this game. He didn’t have a lot of players with different characteristics. Nikola Kalinic also created an excellent chance for Suso. Gattuso did the best with what he had. Milan matched up Juventus for 80 minutes. They should be proud.
Allegri’s substitution and tactical adjustment often look brilliant because he has a lot of players to use. This strength distinguishes them from everyone else in the Serie A.