Eight points on Lazio 0-1 Juventus
Another important, impressive victory for Juventus over a fellow title challenger. Here are eight observations on the game.
1. In the first half, much of the action came down Juventus’ right, the area of the pitch with more energetic, forward-thinking players. Like against Inter, Stephane Lichsteiner was a huge attacking threat, and his surges forward often led to Senad Lulic coming out to meet him – in turn leaving Arturo Vidal free. Lichsteiner, Vidal and Simone Pepe often overloaded Lulic and Stephan Radu down that flank, and there were four very good Juventus chances before Pepe’s goal that came from working the ball down that side. On the other flank, Giorgio Chiellini was more cautious and Juve’s left was more static.
2. Lulic is one of the most interesting players in Europe at the moment. He is able to play either as a left-back or a left-winger and his main attribute is his energy, constantly motoring up and down the touchline, both for club and country. Here, he was fielded as more of a shuttler, tucked in slightly and roughly in a midfield three without the ball, but asked to provide width on the left when attacking – it was a little like Ramires’ role in Dunga’s Brazil side, and Lazio’s overall shape is not dissimilar to that of Brazil from two years ago.
3. Juve are thrillingly vertical under Antonio Conte. The 4-1-4-1 system can be brilliant when the coach has the guts to field four energetic runners behind the lone frontman, and Juve have the perfect players to play this system, as well as a fabulous striker comfortable with his back to goal, Alessandro Matri. The tenacity and energy of Claudio Marchisio and Vidal provide the legs in midfield that allows Andrea Pirlo to sit deep and be patient. In that respect, it’s an appropriate time for the use of the term ‘quarterback’ in football – Marchsio and Vidal are the blockers creating a pocket of space for Pirlo to work in.
4. Lazio were better after the break when Alvaro Gonzalez replaced Christian Brocchi. He is a more creative player, a more attacking player, but most importantly took up wider positions on the right. He exploited the large amount of space between Mirko Vucinic (who stayed high up) and Chiellini, who was deep and slightly central – this helped pin Juve back in the second half.
5. Hernanes was a force in the game in the second half having been quiet early on. His positioning was more intelligent and more varied – rather than being in an obvious number ten position, he moved deeper to collect the ball in midfield (in part because Brocchi’s absence required a fetcher from higher up) and then moved higher up behind the forwards, in behind Pirlo and into a position for two good efforts: one blocked by Lichsteiner, the other off the post.
6. Juve passed the ball out from the back and played their way out of trouble. The bravery on the ball of the defenders when under pressure from Lazio’s front three was commendable, and with Pirlo in their side, building moves from deep is vital.
7. Edy Reja’s final two substitutes blunted Lazio’s attack. He brought Djibril Cisse on for Tomasso Rocchi and Giuseppe Sculli on for Lulic, but this smacked of ‘throwing as many forwards on as possible” rather than having a more considered approach to getting back into the game. Having been on top for much of the second half, Lazio’s performance late on was very poor, with little structure to the side.
8. Conte’s changes were about providing more energy to a tired front three – they hung on, but were slightly fortunate to claim the three points. Michele Pazienza could have been used to provide extra protection for the defence – maybe on for Vucinic, with Marchisio going left and tucking in more, but after a similar substitution resulted in Juve letting a lead slip at home to Genoa, Conte seems reluctant to make this change. Gianluigi Buffon was too involved to speak of a solid defensive display, and Juve are yet to show they can shut down games when narrowly ahead.