Fiorentina 4-2 Juventus: Juve lead 2-0, but Montella changes formation to prompt comeback

October 22, 2013

The starting line-ups

Champions Juventus suffered their first defeat of the season, despite taking a 2-0 lead by half-time.

Vincenzo Montella is still without Mario Gomez, so fielded Giuseppe Rossi upfront alone, and brought Massimo Ambrosini into the midfield.

Antonio Conte left out Arturo Vidal after he was late back from international duty, but fielded Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente upfront together.

This was one of those crazy, inexplicable football matches where the goals had little relation to the tactical battle unfolding – but it was still a fascinating contest.

Midfield battle

Initially, the two teams were playing similar formations – roughly 3-5-1-1. There were some obvious differences throughout the pitch, however – Juve’s front two featured a target man being supported by a support striker, whereas Fiorentina were using a mobile, technical player supported by a pure midfielder.

In midfield, too, there was a difference in the qualities of the players on the outside points of the diamond – Ambrosini is a defensive-minded battler and Borja Valero primarily a passer, whereas Juve had more powerful players in Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, trying to storm forward quickly.

Fiorentina dominate possession

In the opening stages, Fiorentina dominated possession by packing bodies into the centre of the pitch – they were essentially playing four central midfielders, while Rossi dropped deep to contribute to build-up play too, often leaving Juve’s back three wondering who to mark. This was in contrast to the situation at the other end, where Fiorentina generally had 3 v 2 against Juve’s forwards.

The pattern of the first half followed what you’d expect considering the line-ups – Fiorentina had more men in central positions and therefore controlled the midfield ground, but they lacked forward runners and were unable to penetrate the Juventus defence. Rossi’s movements towards the ball weren’t met with reverse runs – Aquilani isn’t the greatest goalscoring midfielder around – and therefore while Fiorentina showed great technical quality in central positions, they played in front of Juventus and failed to create goalscoring opportunities.

Juve build moves

What was particularly surprising, however, was that Fiorentina often looked rather disorganised without the ball, and allowed Juventus too much time in possession. For example, whereas Aquilani surely should have been instructed to sit on Pirlo and prevent him playing forward passes, sometimes he decided to help Rossi press Juve’s back three. They generally played around the pressure and were able to pass the ball to Andrea Pirlo, and then Fiorentina reformatted their midfield in a manner that is becoming surprisingly prevalent across Serie A (see Pizarro’s battles against Riccardo Montolivo and Christian Ledesma) – with the holding midfielder moving in advance of his two midfield colleagues to close down Pirlo, leaving a large gap between the midfield and the defence.

The departure of Ambrosini didn’t help shut down this ‘gap’ – he was replaced by Mati Fernandez, who played as the number ten, with Aquilani moving deeper. Pizarro, while a little confused about his role out of possession, was excellent at winning the ball and distributing it wide, however.

Still, both Pirlo and Leonardo Bonucci, now well-known as Juve’s vice-Pirlo in terms of hitting long diagonals from defence, were given freedom to play clever forward passes. With Tevez and Llorente working the channels nicely, and often pulling Fiorentina’s three centre-backs out of position, gaps opened up for Pogba and Marchisio to exploit with good forward runs, and while Juve had relatively little of the ball in Fiorentina’s half, they were much more threatening in the final third.

Neither goal owed much to great Juve play – Gonzalo Rodriguez conceded a silly penalty, then Juan Cuadrado sliced a clearance hopefully into the air to allow Pogba to volley into an empty net, but Juve had attacked brightly.

The second half continued in a similar fashion, and Juve were creating some decent goalscoring chances.

Montella change

Fiorentina's change on 55 minutes, going 4-3-3 with two advanced wingers

Then, Montella decided to completely change his formation. He introduced Joaquin, an old-fashioned right-winger, in place of Aquilani. Fiorentina took a while to adjust to this change in shape, but eventually it became clear that Cuadrado was playing on the left, with Joaquin right. Initially, Manuel Pasqual continued playing as a left-wing-back and Facundo Roncaglia as a right-sided centre-back, although eventually they seemed to shuffle over into more of a 4-man defence, and Fiorentina were playing a 4-3-3.

It would be unfair to suggest that the switch immediately transformed the game, and the primary reason for Fiorentina’s comeback was their insistence upon ball retention, continually switching play from flank to flank and tiring the Juve defence. In fact, Fiorentina’s passing throughout the game was perfectly balanced -33% down the left, 34% through the middle, 33% down the right.

It was somewhat reminiscent of their comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Milan with only ten men last season, when they played without a striker and attacked exclusively through their two wingers.

Juve pushed back

Using a winger on either side meant Juve’s two wing-backs were pushed back into something of a back five, which opened up space for Fiorentina to dominate the midfield ground. Initially Pasqual and Cuadrado were playing some neat combinations on the left, with Roncaglia still in a bizarrely narrow position on the right, but eventually the Argentine realised there was space ahead of him to attack into. The first time he properly ventured forward in the second half, he passed to Fernandez, who won a penalty.

The second goal, too, was something of a hopeful long-distance effort from Rossi, fumbled in by Gigi Buffon. Fiorentina hadn’t created many openings, but they’d forced mistakes. They’d pressed Juve’s defence well at the start of the second period, and Rossi’s second goal came after he’d charged down Bonucci’s clearance.

Another Juve problem was their consistent fouling, with their defensive players almost deliberately bringing down opponents if they threatened to be beaten. Juve conceded 25 fouls in all, compared to Fiorentina’s 11, and these constant free-kicks helped increase the pressure.


Now the game had changed, and Juventus pushed forward in an attempt to re-take the lead. At this point, the confusion about how they were defending against Fiorentina’s three-man attack became clear, particularly for the third goal, scored on the counter-attack. Giorgio Chiellini was dragged inside into a narrow position to leave Joaquin with the entire right side of the pitch to himself – Kwadwo Asamoah was about 30 yards in advance of him, making little attempt to get back having been attacking down that flank.

Conte attempted to change things, with Vidal replacing Marchisio in a straight swap, then Sebastian Giovinco on for Asamoah, with Pogba going left and Juventus looking like a 3-4-1-2. But there was little cohesion and Juve seemed startled by the situation they suddenly found themselves in. Fiorentina countered excellently for their fourth goal, which completed Rossi’s hattrick, demonstrating their ability to play both patient possession football, and to hit the opposition quickly.


Juventus should have put this game to bed. They dominated the opening by defending deep and preventing Fiorentina from penetrating their defence, and although Conte was happy to concede the midfield ground, he made sure his players attacked directly and exploited the lack of positional certainty increasingly obvious in Fiorentina’s three-man defence. Juve had three very fine chances with the score at 0-2, and Conte will feel that in a purely tactical sense, his side did little wrong to concede the first two goals – which came from a slightly fortunate penalty, and a long-range drive.

It was at 2-2 that Juve’s system was exposed – they appeared unaccustomed to dealing with two advanced wingers, and vulnerable to counter-attacks too. The scoreline was something of a freak in a game that could quite easily have finished 1-1, but this could prove a pivotal game for both sides this season.


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