Chelsea 2-2 Juventus: Juve take advantage of their areas of strength

September 19, 2012

The starting line-ups

Oscar’s strikes gave Chelsea two-goal lead, but Juventus found a way back into the game.

Roberto Di Matteo selected Oscar as the central playmaker in his 4-2-3-1, with Juan Mata on the bench. The rest of the side was as expected.

Antonio Conte (and assistant Massimo Carrera) named the expected side.

There were no major surprises in the way the sides lined up, either – it was 4-2-3-1 against 3-5-2, and both sides had areas of strength and weakness.

Midfield

The big tactical question for Chelsea was how they attempted to stop Andrea Pirlo dictating the play from deep. Di Matteo handed the responsibility to Brazilian youngster Oscar – a tough task considering his lack of experience – but he performed the job admirably, sticking tightly to Pirlo when Juventus had the ball, then breaking past quickly at transitions to provide another attacking option.

The midfield battle was relatively simple – Pirlo v Oscar, Arturo Vidal v Frank Lampard and Claudio Marchisio v Jon Obi Mikel.

Areas of strength

The major action was happening elsewhere. Both sides had ‘free’ players – Chelsea’s full-backs were completely unoccupied, especially in possession, but the home side didn’t take advantage of this enough, with Branislav Ivanovic particularly poor with the ball at his feet. Maybe they were concerned about giving Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco (who are both clever with their lateral movement) space on the break, but they clearly didn’t maximise their strength down the flanks.

Juventus’ spare players, on the other hand, were at the back. They regularly had a 3 v 1 against Fernando Torres, which meant the Spanish striker wasn’t a threat with his usual runs into the channels, and generally had to come towards play to receive long-ish passes. He only attempted one shot.

The 3 v1 also meant that the Juve centre-backs could bring the ball out of defence easily after playing it across the back – Torres couldn’t press three men by himself, and Oscar was sticking tightly to Pirlo. On at least two occasions in the first half, a Juventus defender stepped forward and launched passes over the top for attackers to run onto.

Juve attacks

Juventus attacked intelligently, and offered two major threats. The most obvious danger was the runs of Marchisio from a left-sided midfield position. He played  in advance of Vidal and looked to get beyond Mikel, taking advantage of Chelsea’s centre-backs sticking tight to the Juventus forwards. Marchisio was the third man running, and wasn’t picked up.

The relationship between Giovinco and Vucinic was also excellent. They combined efficiently with a clear pattern – Vucinic would come towards the ball, Giovinco would sprint in behind. They attempted to bring one Chelsea centre-back out from the back, then exploited the space he’d left behind him. For the first time this season, Di Matteo’s defence looked uncomfortable playing higher up the pitch than last season.

Amongst all this were the three first half goals. Were there tactical causes? Probably not – they were basically just fine strikes (with Oscar’s first benefiting from a lucky deflection too), although Pirlo probably allowed Oscar too much space between the lines, maybe believing he’d be dealt with by one of the spare Juventus defenders.

Second half

The overall pattern continued into the second half, and it was still an entertaining game. The disappointing thing, however, was that there was absolutely no progression in the tactical battle. Every substitution was a like-for-like replacement, with the slight exception of Ryan Bertrand replacing Ramires and going to the left, meaning Hazard swapped flanks.

The other changes (Mata for Oscar, Fabio Quagliarella for Giovinco, Mauricio Isla for Stephan Lichtsteiner and Alessandro Matri for Vucinic) all had little impact upon the shape of the game, although it’s fair to say that Juve’s first two changes, with the score at 2-1, involved introducing marginally more attack-minded players.

Chelsea deep

The major change involved Chelsea more defensive. They looked more like 4-4-1-1 than 4-2-3-1, and their defensive line was deeper. They attempted to become more patient and reliable in possession, holding onto the ball for longer rather than looking to break in behind Juventus, but the away side were more energetic in their pressing. Cole and Ivanovic were no longer always free – a combination of Juve’s advanced central midfielders (Vidal and Marchisio) and their wing-backs (Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah) played higher up the pitch and won the ball quickly.

This made it more difficult for Chelsea to cool the tempo and retain the ball, and it was surprising Di Matteo didn’t make a defensive-minded substitution to give them more numbers in the centre. Oriel Romeu sat on the bench when he could have been sitting in front of the defence – it was a surprise to see Hazard last 90 minutes.

Mikel endured a particularly poor second half. His pass selection was often wrong – there was a long ball to absolutely no-one with the score at 2-1 – and his short-range distribution was sloppy. A pass completion rate of 82% isn’t disastrous, but it should have been higher considering his primary task was to keep possession and slow the tempo. Giving the ball away for Quagliarella’s equaliser highlighted the issue, but it was a problem all game. When you consider that his direct opponent, Marchisio, was such a threat early on, it underlines how disappointing he was here.

Chelsea’s poor offside trap must also be blamed for the final goal, with John Terry stepping up too late (or, if you prefer, stepping up when he should have tracked Quagliarella). Equally, we should appreciate the goal for what it was. That tactic – one striker drawing a centre-back up the pitch and the other sprinting across and in behind – was what Juventus had been trying all night, and it finally ended with a goal.

Conclusion

Chelsea led for the majority of the game, but it was Juventus who made the most of the clash in systems. Chelsea’s free players were the full-backs, but neither had a significant impact upon the game. Juve, on the other hand, did two things well – (a) their numerical advantage at the back meant they kept Torres quiet and distributed the ball forward dangerously, and (b) they took advantage of Chelsea’s lack of a spare man, dragging the defenders around and attacking the space.

Neither manager attempted to change the shape of the game. Juventus’ faith in their system was justified, but Chelsea should have done more to secure the win, and will be disappointed to have thrown away a two-goal lead at home.

Chelsea 2-2 Juventus: Juve take advantage of their areas of strength

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