Udinese 0-0 Juventus: Conte mirrors Guidolin’s tactics and creates a stalemate

December 21, 2011

The starting line-ups

A draw between 3rd and 2nd means Milan will end 2011 top of Serie A.

Francesco Guidolin was without the suspended Mehdi Benatia at the back, so played Damiano Ferronetti, while Almen Abdi played behind Antonio Di Natale.

Antonio Conte played his expected line-up. There were rumours before the game that he would switch to 3-5-2, although the line-up suggested that it would be more of a 4-5-1.

But it did turn out to be a rough 3-5-2, and therefore the sides were playing very similar systems.

In truth, not a great deal happened in this game, so let’s work through the pitch from top to bottom, as shown on the diagram.

Udinese attack v Juve defence

A back three is generally considered to be a better option against two upfront, rather than one. The thing about Udinese’s system, though, is that it’s a 3-5-1-1; in a way there’s one upfront, in another the opposition can treat it as a two. Therefore, it’s possible to (a) play a three, have your holding midfielder working higher up and have 3 v 2 at the back, or (b) play a back four, with two defenders up against Di Natale, and tell your holding midfielder to pick up Abdi (with the full-backs looking higher up the pitch to the Udinese wing-backs).

Conte’s approach is probably preferable, both in theoretical terms and when you look at the players he has available. Since Udinese play wing-backs rather than wingers, a back four means you can can often be left with 4 v 1, which is solid enough defensively but means you’ll be overrun in midfield. Furthermore, Conte doesn’t want to give a big defensive responsibility to Andrea Pirlo, because he’s a creative deep-lying midfielder, rather than a combative one. Therefore, he told Pirlo to focus on the midfield, and had 3 v 2 at the back.

Abdi played the role that Udinese’s attacking midfielder always plays – a midfielder dropping on Pirlo in the defensive phase, a second striker in the attacking phase. Last year, with Alexis Sanchez in that role, it often worked brilliantly – see the Inter game for an example, for how Sanchez became the extra man in midfield and robbed Inter of their spare man – but Juve, as mentioned, had a spare defender even when he moved forward so he wasn’t a great threat.

Giorgio Chiellini was usually the man to start attacks for Juve, often moving forward into midfield. There was a simple reason why he completed the most passes of Juve’s back three – Andrea Barzagli was up against Di Natale, Leo Bonucci was spare, and with Abdi dropping on Pirlo, Chiellini had space to move into.

Wing-backs v wing-backs

Not a huge amount going on here. Both left-sided wing-backs played higher up than their counterparts on the right, with Lichsteiner sometimes dropping in to become more of a right-back. As always with wing-backs v wing-backs, they pretty much just ran up and down the line with each other.

Midfield v Midfield

Arturo Vidal and Kwadwo Asamoah were doing battle and cancelled each other out. Pirlo was denied too much time on the ball by either Abdi, or one of the Udinese midfielders, who pressured high up.

The interesting thing here was the movement of Claudio Marchisio, who in theory was being watched by both Mauricio Isla and Giampaolo Pinzi, but with neither programmed to track him permanently, he often got space when Isla was watching players higher up, and Pinzi got dragged to either side and left a space in the ‘red zone’ ahead of the centre-backs. Marchisio had the best chances of the game, by arriving unchecked on the edge of the box with the centre-backs moving deep and Pinzi letting him go.

Udinese defence v Juventus attack

The strange thing here was Pepe’s positioning. Although he played deeper than Alessandro Matri, he wasn’t really dropping off into the midfield, he was staying high up as a support striker. This didn’t really make sense – Juve had proper forward on the bench if they wanted to play a front two, but a front two was playing into the hands of the Udinese back three anyway.

What Pepe should have been doing, since Juve were copying the Udinese system, was playing as Sanchez did last year – as a central winger, drifting from flank to flank and stretching the back three out of place. His positioning in the first half was terrible, almost as if he didn’t understand the instructions he had been given. Conte clearly had a word at half time and he moved wider, particularly to the left, and created a couple of decent moments.

Substitutions

Neither of these managers like to tinker much within games, and neither looked to change anything from the bench. Conte replaced his front two with Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Del Piero in the 71st and 80th minutes, but it had little tactical impact – though Quagliarella was more lively than Matri.

Conclusion

A interesting first quarter whilst it became clear that Juve had gone three at the back, but then something of a stalemate – and long periods of the second half were actually quite dull.

Conte’s plan to play a spare man worked well at the back, but Juve didn’t have enough going forward to unlock Udinese. Pepe and Abdi weren’t good enough – better movement from either of them probably would have resulted in their respective sides creating more chances, but Marchisio was the man who should have won it.


Udinese 0-0 Juventus: Conte mirrors Guidolin’s tactics and creates a stalemate

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