Shakhtar 0-1 Juventus: Juve’s bravery pays off

December 5, 2012

The starting line-ups

Juventus were the better side, and won to secure their place in the knockout stages, at the expense of Chelsea.

Mircea Lucescu was without two key players, Luiz Adriano and Tomas Hubschmann. He selected Eduardo upfront.

Antonio Conte was without the suspended Claudio Marchisio so played Paul Pogba in midfield, while Sebastian Giovinco was chosen alongside Mirko Vucinic upfront.

Of course, the interesting factor here was that a draw was a satisfactory result for both. Shakhtar had already confirmed their qualification for the knockout stages, but a draw would ensure them topping the group. Juventus were at risk of going out (with Chelsea winning, as expected, against Nordsjaelland) but a draw would confirm qualification.

Intentions

So was the game contested honestly? Yes, it was – and for a surprisingly long period. What usually happena in these matches (where a draw suits both parties) is an open first half followed by a cagey second period, presumably after instructions from the coaches at the break.

But if anything, this game was most open in the 15 minute period following half-time. Juventus – the side who had more to lose – were the team who really forced the issue in this spell, creating a couple of good chances but leaving themselves exposed to counter-attacks.

Compact

The match was slow to get going. In the first ten minutes, all the forwards had strict defensive responsibilities without the ball. Eduardo and Henrik Mhitarayan dropped off close to the midfield, making sure one was positioned to prevent a pass from the Juve defence into the feet of Andrea Pirlo.

Likewise, Vucinic and Giovinco didn’t press the Shakhtar centre-backs, but blocked a pass into Fernandinho and Taras Stepanenko. Shakhtar instead played through the full-backs, and Fernandinho moved forward into more attacking positions.

Shakhtar approach

The match started with a contrast of styles, based around the formations. Shakhtar dominated possession at the start of the match, pushing both Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat high up the pitch, taking advantage of their lack of direct opponents.

Stephane Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah defended deep, in line with their centre-backs and goalside of Shakhtar’s three attacking midfielders, so often it was Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba forced to shuttle out to close down the full-backs – certainly when the ball was high up the pitch, although when Juventus got men behind the ball in the penalty box, Srna and Rat were allowed space.

Juve’s back three of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli were excellent all night, and although there was some good movement from Shakhtar in the first half (particularly when Alex Teixeira or Willian moved central than darted back to the flank, tempting Juve’s outside centre-backs out of position), Lucescu’s side never had the necessary runners to exploit the space, partly because Juve had a surplus at the back and always covered gaps. Eduardo was very poor in the first half, and predictably removed at half-time.

Juventus approach

Juve’s gameplan was very different. Because Rat and Srna went forward at the same time, Giovinco and Vucinic were two-versus-two against the Shakhtar centre-backs, who were clearly concerned about their pace. Olexandr Kucher dived in unnecessarily into the back of Vucinic within the first five minutes, because he didn’t want Vucinic to have space to turn and run.

Juve tried to exploit this situation by hitting long balls to the forwards, who are both excellent at working the channels. One half-chance summed up Juve’s approach – Giovinco drifted right to receive a long ball, then floated it over to Vucinic in the opposite channel, who volleyed over. Juve were playing the numbers game well – conceding space on the flanks because they were confident at defending the box, then breaking quickly at the Shakhtar centre-backs.

The movement of Juve’s front two was very good – it’s nice to see a proper two-man strike partnership in action. By pulling the centre-backs around they created a fine chance for Arturo Vidal, who broke forward from midfield into space behind the defence unmarked, but didn’t realise he had time to bring the ball down.

Second half

At the start of the second half, Lucescu made two significant changes. First, Devic came on for Eduardo and his hold-up play (and work in the channels) was much better, helping Shakhtar to create decent chances – they hadn’t managed a single shot before half-time. But equally important was the full-backs sitting deeper, which meant they weren’t stretching Juventus as much going forward, but were less vulnerable to counter-attacks.

Juventus upped the pace, and amazingly, became more attacking despite (a) Shakhtar’s famous skill on the break, and (b) the consequences of a loss. Chiellini pushed forward to pass from higher up, Pirlo broke to the edge of the box and hit the post, and Lichtsteiner galloped forward more, with Rat sitting deeper and Willian not tracking properly.

Juve winner

The game’s only goal was remarkably scrappy – an own goal following a deflected Lichsteiner cross – but Juventus created more opportunities and showed more attacking intent, despite being in a more perilous situation. It could have gone the other way – Devic created a good chance for Mkhitaryan, who flashed a shot past the far post, underlining how risky Juve’s strategy was.

From then, Juve reverted to the first half approach – deep defending and long, straight balls. They created the best chance at 0-1, when Vucinic rounded Andriy Pyatov on the break but couldn’t find an angle to finish. Shakhtar were surprisingly tame in the 40 minutes they were behind – especially considering a second concession wouldn’t have changed their situation, and Juve were quite comfortable late on.

Conclusion

Two layers to the tactical battle here – the first was the intention of the sides. How much did each want to win? Surprisingly, Juventus were more ambitious despite having more to lose.

On the pitch, it was all about the Shakhtar full-backs’ positioning. Would their freedom cause overloads and create chances, or would their advanced positioning play into the hands of Juve’s mobile front two? In the end, neither side managed to score from these situations, but the fact that Lucescu told Rat and Srna to play more conservatively was a sign that Juve had the upper hand.


Shakhtar 0-1 Juventus: Juve’s bravery pays off

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