Juventus 2-1 Udinese: Juve mimic Udinese’s tactics but remain an all-round attacking threat
Alessandro Matri scored a classic centre-forward’s goal to strengthen Juve’s position at the top.
Antonio Conte switched to three at the back, as he did in the previous meeting between the sides. Simone Pepe and Claudio Marchisio were only fit enough for the bench.
Udinese lined up largely as expected – Francesco Guidolin was without various players because of the Africa Cup of Nations, plus Giampiero Pinzi through injury.
The sides played in a similar fashion but Juve were clearly the better side, able to offer a threat after long spells of possession, whereas Udinese were too reliant upon counter-attacking.
Nevertheless, this was a game dominated by playing on the break, as Marcelo Estigarribia, Matri and Di Natale all had one-on-one chances on the counter. Both sides played three at the back with five midfielders ahead, though there were differences in the way they played upfront. Udinese were 3-1-4-1-1, with Gelson Fernandes sitting deep as a spare man in front of the defence, and Almen Abdi playing as the attacking midfielder. Juve were roughly the same, with the first key difference being the use of Fabio Quagliarella, a second striker rather than an attacking midfielder.
The second key difference was more important. Andrea Pirlo played in roughly the same position as Fernandes, but is clearly a different type of player – he’s a deep-lying regista who controls the game and prompts attacking moves. As a result, the main impact of his presence was to force Abdi deeper to pick him up without the ball, leaving Antonio Di Natale against three defenders by himself. He spent the game, as usual, drawing wide to find space, but Juve’s outside centre-backs were happy to follow him out there.
The knock-on effect of the 3 v 1 situation, especially with Di Natale moving to the left, was that Giorgio Chiellini could move forward on the ball. He probably didn’t do this enough early on, but gradually started to force Udinese – particularly Mauricio Isla – forward to close him down, leaving space between the lines, especially when Fernandes then had to step forward to close down Emanuele Giaccherini. This gave Juve more fluidity when in possession.
The key tactical decision was a poor one from Guidolin. Abdi hadn’t been very effective going forward, so Guidolin decided to switch him and Pablo Armero after 25 minutes, presumably to give more drive on the break – Armero is a great runner with the ball. But the Colombian wasn’t as good as Abdi at tracking Pirlo – in fact, it looked like he either couldn’t be bothered or had been told not to. As a result, for the final 15 minutes of the first half Juve were dominant in terms of possession and clever on the ball too, with Pirlo instrumental in their spell of pressure. They went ahead on the stroke of half time.
Guidolin then changed things again, removing Abdi completely with Antonio Floro Flores on in his place. Armero moved back to his starting position. This was better – Floro Flores tracked Pirlo when out of possession, but also sprinted past him when Udinese won the ball. This worked out perfectly for the goal – Floro Flores first prevented a pass into Pirlo, and then when the alternative pass went astray and Isla intercepted, he got himself into a goalscoring position to equalise.
But that was the only way Udinese were going to score – their players, even Di Natale, all specialise on the break. Juve had Matri, who created a goal from nothing by getting the ball with his back to goal, rolling the defender then steering the ball into the far corner. Juve could be a threat, even with the opposition defence all in position.
The goal also owed much to a clever flick from Marchisio, who had just replaced Quagliarella. Marchisio is clearly a deeper player naturally, and so this worked very well for Juventus – as soon as they re-took the lead, they could use Marchisio as a number ten ahead of the midfield to retain possession. The sides had essentially switched formations – Udinese started with a forward and a number ten but went to two forwards, Juve had done the opposite.
Juve shut the match down
And with Marchisio playing deeper, Juve retained the ball excellently. Udinese aren’t accustomed to closing down and winning the ball high up, and seemed confused about how they were meant to do it. Pirlo was being left free more and more, which meant either Isla or Armero moved towards him. That left their man (Giaccherini or Arturo Vidal) free, which forced Fernandes higher up, which then left Marchisio free and the back three were reluctant to come out.
Eventually Guidolin sacrificed the back three, bringing on midfielder Cristian Battochio for Domizzi. They switched to more of a 4-4-2 – Giovanni Pasquale and Dusan Basta dropped in, with Armero and Isla wide in midfield, and Battochio joining Fernandes in the middle. It was numerically the right approach, but Pasquale and Basta moved too deep – really they needed to continue the pressure in midfield and leave 2 v 1 at the back – almost line up in a 2-6-2 formation.
Instead they stood off, let Juve play and never looked likely to come back. Yet again, it was an example of a counter-attacking side looking lost when they had to chase the game.
Two main factors here – first, the fact that Juve were more capable in possession, which basically comes down to having both a better playmaker (Pirlo) and more of an all-round striker (Matri).
Second, the battle concerning Pirlo – Abdi, Armero and Floro Flores all had a go, with varying levels of success.
Juventus were highly impressive yet again – Conte changed his shape, but Juventus looked comfortable. In a battle of similar systems, it was Juve, rather than Udinese, who looked as if they’d been playing this way all season.