Friday, January 23 rd, 2015
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Juve: is Allegri finally stepping out of Conte’s shadow with the 4-man defense?
After a settling-in period the new coach of the Bianconeri is introducing his favourite tactical model. And that's bringing fresh air in their game
by Shaan Sengupta
When Max Allegri took over as the Bianconeri coach this summer, I had suggested, along with most others, that he should and would switch Juventus’ formation from Antonio Conte’s darling 3-5-2 to his own 4-4-2 variant in a 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1 form. Despite a delayed onset of the back-four and the midfield diamond, it seems as if they have finally arrived in a more permanent form, with the 4-4-2 having been used for the full duration of the last two fixtures against Olympiacos and Parma. Both games resulted in wins courtesy of a flurry of goals being scored: 3-2 against Olympiacos and a 7-0 demolition of Parma.

This was a refreshing change after the team had hit a lean patch in October, with a 1-1 draw against lowly Sassuolo, a 1-0 loss to Olympiakos and the lowest point in the month which came in the form of a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Genoa. The 3-5-2 had already been “found out” in the continent where the Bianconeri have struggled to dominate even against weaker sides, despite often having greater possession. One of the major reasons for this was the irreverence shown by the European opponents towards Juve, which resulted in quick counter attacks and a more pressing game than Juve is used to in Italy, where opponents would lay back in a show of respect.

A wise decision. The higher level of quality in Europe is obviously an added factor. However, this season, the Italian opposition has been putting more pressure on Juve and in the absence of Conte’s constant shouting and micro-management from the sideline, it has resulted in some lackluster performances from la Vecchia Signora. Allegri’s reluctance to switch from the 3-5-2 outright was perhaps a wise decision, allowing the players who had the formation almost hard-wired into them some time to adjust to a newer formation. However, in continuing with a 3-5-2 sans the intensity which used to last for the full 90 minutes, Allegri had reduced the team to a more possession-minded team without a clear intent to attack and score goals. Since his natural approach is much more relaxed and based on possession, 3-5-2 was definitely not the ideal formation for him to be using.

Especially in the wake of Pirlo’s injuries and inconsistent performances and Vidal’s lack of form, it had become very difficult to establish any proper linkages between the midfield and the attack. While Marchisio has been an able replacement in the regista role, his competency in providing long, probing overhead balls deep into the opponent’s half is limited when compared to Pirlo’s. Pirlo’s exceptional long balls were able to bypass much of the opposition defense, thereby providing a reliable supply of fodder for the strikers, and also allowing the other midfielders to join in the attack once the opposition defense was out of position. Marchisio, on the other hand, has made a living out of playing relatively short ground passes for distributing the possession.

In a 3-5-2, this makes it extremely difficult to link up with the attack because of the lack of the threat of overhead balls. The alternative outlets then, are the wings. While Lichtsteiner and Asamoah are to be commended for their exceptional work rates, they are definitely lacking when it comes to creativity and good consistent crosses for the strikers, especially Llorente. Evra has proved to be at best, average in a left wingback role. Even with Pirlo in the side, the defensive frailties of the 3-5-2 have been abundantly demonstrated in Europe time and time again. One bad move in the midfield leads to swift counter attacks and goal scoring chances for the opponent.

Now consider the 4-4-2 diamond, i.e. the 4-3-1-2. This formation sacrifices one center back for an attacking player and pushes the wing backs back into defense as full backs. This has two primary benefits for Juve’s personnel and a manager like Allegri. Firstly, the 3 man midfield is largely maintained as with the 3-5-2 with an added attacker which allows for a smoother transition into attack, especially for Allegri’s possession style gameplay. Add to that the free roaming role that a Tevez, a Pereyra or a Coman has, and you have a frontline which is much more unpredictable and versatile, while pressurizing the opposition defense without having to throw the entire midfield at them.

This also leads to being less reliant on fullbacks who aren’t the most technically gifted when it comes to crossing. Lichtsteiner and Asamoah can still be used to add width when required but the emphasis on that is reduced and that has the second benefit of more players in defensive positions.

As an example, let’s look at Lichtsteiner’s positioning in the last 7 matches:


Possession in Attacking Half

Possession in Defensive Half

Chances Created

Juve 3 : 2 Roma




Juve 1 : 1 Sassuolo




Juve 0 : 1 Olympiakos




Juve 2 : 0 Palermo




Juve 0 : 1 Genoa




Juve 2 : 0 Empoli




Juve 3 : 2 Olympiakos




Juve 7 : 0 Parma




Stats : Squawka

In most of the close matches, there is clearly a greater amount of time spent in the attacking half. Now as a wingback, that was his duty but that hasn’t necessarily translated into productive possession. On the other hand, in the last two matches against Olympiacos and Parma (matches where the 4-3-1-2 was implemented), he created more chances and especially against Parma, spent less time in the attacking half but was way more effective.

Even though the sample size to evaluate the 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1 is only two matches, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that it helps the team attack better and is better for the fullbacks. Also, the recent induction of Morata, who is quite often labeled as being too selfish, into the starting lineups has actually provided some much needed bite and directness to the attack and he should continue to be used regularly. Rumors of Shaqiri as a possible January transfer target have been doing the rounds for quite some time.

The team should definitely looks to add fast, physical and technically gifted players like him to boost their chances in the Champions League. The next couple of matches will be crucial for getting the team more acclimatized to the new formations before the big match against Atletico Madrid on 9th December. That match will be the true litmus test to see if Allegri can finally come out of Conte’s lingering influence and put his own stamp on the Bianconeri.

Tuesday, November 18 th, 2014
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