Juventus 1-0 Milan: Milan press Pirlo at goal-kicks, but not in midfield

April 22, 2013

The starting line-ups

A reverse of the previous meeting between the sides – the only goal came from the penalty spot in another disappointing contest.

Antonio Conte continued with the 3-5-1-1 that worked excellently away at Lazio, with Giorgio Chiellini returningin place of Federico Peluso.

Max Allegri was still without Mario Balotelli, and Mathieu Flamini was also banned. Massimo Ambrosini played the deep midfield role, with Riccardo Montolivo to the right and Kevin-Prince Boateng to the left.

This was a slow-paced, attritional contest with little technical quality – most shots were from long-range.

Midfield battle

Juve’s new 3-5-1-1 system isn’t an entirely different shape from their 3-5-2, of course. It’s a nice solution because Paul Pogba’s excellent performances have forced Conte to field him regularly from the start, while Claudio Marchisio’s game isn’t significantly altered by starting higher up the pitch. The main feature of Juve’s attacking play – clever movement and combinations between the front two – is still possible.

However, the surprising thing about the midfield battle was that, throughout the first half, Milan dominated the centre ground despite theoretically having a 3 v 4 disadvantage in that zone. It was odd that Juventus were so overrun in the middle of the park – the presence of an extra midfielder should have resulted in them dominating possession.

An interesting part of Milan’s possession play was that, with Mirko Vucinic remaining close to Cristian Zapata, Philippe Mexes was free to move forward on the ball and hit good passes into midfield, whereas Zapata only played square balls.

Pirlo

Milan had an interesting approach when it came to Andrea Pirlo, who remains Juve’s most important player. When Gianluigi Buffon had the ball, Milan moved forward and pressed the Juve defence 3 v 3 – and one of the midfielders, usually Montolivo, would push up and get tight to Pirlo. At least twice, Buffon passed the ball forward to Pirlo under pressure, and he played a blind pass straight to an opponent.

That pressing was a feature of Bayern’s gameplan against Juve, although Milan also pressed very effectively in the reverse meeting between the sides. However, once Juve had got the ball forward and played it into the midfield zone, Pirlo was left completely free. Ambrosini was close to Marchisio, Montolivo on Pogba and Boateng against Vidal. Although Giampaolo Pazzini gradually moved towards his own goal to pressure Pirlo, he hardly ever got goalside – and therefore while Pirlo was struggling in his own third of the pitch, he had the run of the centre ground.

It was surprising Allegri didn’t replicate the system he used in Milan’s 1-0 win over Juve earlier in the season, with Boateng as a false nine pressuring Pirlo – Sulley Muntari, who was forced to replace Ambrosini through injury at half-time anyway, could have played Boateng’s central midfield role.

However, a couple of times Juventus had a problem at defensive transitions. With Vucinic alone upfront – even if Marchisio was in close support – it felt like more Juventus midfielders had a responsibility to support him. At one point, Marchisio, Vidal and Pogba all made forward runs in advance of the Montenegrin, but when he lost the ball, Juve found themselves with three of their four midfielders out of the game, and Pirlo alone in front of the defence trying to stop a Milan break.

Flanks

With the midfield zone neutralised aside from Pirlo – who looked to pass to the flank anyways – and both Vucinic and Pazzini quiet, the wings seemed to be an important area of the pitch. This was where Milan, in their 4-3-3 system, really should have thrived – but both Robinho and Stephan El Shaarawy were quiet, unable to collect the ball on the run to motor past Juve’s outside centre-backs, which is what they’d done excellently in the reverse game.

However, with Juve’s centre-backs often occupied, there was space for Milan’s full-backs to get forward. Ignazio Abate was significantly more attacking than Kevin Constant, and good balls from Montolivo found him racing down the flank a couple of times – although he could never quite find the right cross.

Goal

There was a strong feeling that the first goal would decide the game – eventually it came from the penalty spot.

However, the move leading to the goal was interesting – Pirlo knocked a hopeful ball in behind Abate, who defended it poorly, and Kwadwo Asamoah raced in behind where he was brought down by substitute goalkeeper Marco Amelia. It was something of a freak incident – Pirlo’s ball, in truth, had been misplaced – but it did show where Milan were vulnerable. First because they allowed Pirlo time on the ball, second because Abate isn’t a very good full-back in a defensive sense.

Changes

There was only one substitution of any consequence – on 70 minutes Bojan Krkic replaced Robinho, and Milan went to a 4-2-3-1 system, with Boateng moving to the right flank, and Bojan as the number ten. Allegri has often fielded Bojan in that role this season, but you can’t help feeling he’s uncomfortable there, and more suited to the front trio. The switch changed little as Juve sat deep.

Conte brought on Simone Padoin for Stephane Lichtsteiner for fresh legs on the right, then made two time-wasting substitutions in injury time. Juventus weren’t significantly troubled.

Conclusion

Serie A meetings between these two have been particularly dull in recent years, and this was another underwhelming clash with little creativity or attacking spark from either side. The centre-forwards weren’t involved, the midfield was too cramped, and there was a lot of onus upon the full-backs/wing-backs for attacking drive.

The key feature of the game was Pirlo – Milan pressed him at goal-kicks, but left him free in midfield. It seemed a goal would arrive either from him conceding possession on the edge of his own box, or knocking a clever pass into the opposition box. In the end, in a roundabout way, it was the latter.

Juventus are now four points from the title with five games remaining. They have may been convincingly defeated in the Champions League by Bayern, but considering that was Conte’s first European campaign, and they’ve successfully defended their title, this still qualifies as an excellent season.


Juventus 1-0 Milan: Milan press Pirlo at goal-kicks, but not in midfield

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