Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus: Real take the victory, but fail to impress

October 24, 2013

The starting line-ups

Despite losing the contest, Antonio Conte can arguably draw more positives from this match after his side performed impressively with ten men.

Carlo Ancelotti selected a 4-3-3 system for the second time this season, with Gareth Bale and Isco both on the bench. Iker Casillas returned in goal.

Conte went for a 4-5-1 system with Claudio Marchisio and Carlos Tevez either side of the midfield, and Fernando Llorente upfront alone. Leonardo Bonucci was left out, and Angelo Ogbonna played at left-back.

The game was fairly evenly balanced in the first half, with Giorgio Chiellini’s unnecessary penalty concession handing Real the advantage. After Chiellini’s dismissal, Real dominated possession but failed to put the game beyond Juve.

Real shape

Maybe the most interesting feature of this game was the individual formation choice of the two coaches. Although Real had played a nominal 4-3-3 previously under Ancelotti, that was with Isco as one of the three central midfielders, so this was the first time they’d played a true ‘trivote’ with three central midfielders – one playing a strict holding role, and the other two given more license to shuttle forward into attack.

Despite the victory, it would be difficult to say the midfield trio really clicked. Luka Modric was excellent to the left of the triangle, spreading play wide regularly to encourage Real’s wing play, and also capable of skipping past a midfield challenge, crucial against the energetic, powerful Arturo Vidal. Sami Khedira battled with Paul Pogba reasonably well, but the real problem was the role of Asier Illaramendi in the deeper position.

A talented but rather raw midfield signed from Real Sociedad for around £34m, Illarramendi didn’t contribute enough defensively or in terms of passing. Without the ball, he had no direct opponent and therefore seemed a little uncertain of his positional duties. With the ball, he was sometimes pressured by Llorente dropping deep, but could have done more to play positive forward passes into attack considering he could often get freedom by moving ten yards away from Llorente. Perhaps the problem was that he and Modric’s roles overlapped too much.

Juventus shape

After the amazing collapse at Fiorentina at the weekend, it was widely expected that Conte would change his system. With this group of players, it could have been 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-1-2 – but in reality it was more like a very flat 4-5-1 without the ball.

Pirlo was the man at the base of the midfield, but without any direct opponent to mark he often found himself alongside Vidal and Pogba. Marchisio did a decent job tracking Marcelo up and down the line, but Tevez stayed in a more advanced position, cutting inside to support Llorente, becoming a number ten in possession.

In all, Juventus were generally well organised without the ball, but didn’t quite have the counter-attacking potential, particularly on the flank, to play this system perfectly. Part of the reason for Conte’s formation change was to accommodate Pogba, Vidal, Pirlo and Marchisio in the same side, something that theoretically works with a more narrow shape – but Marchisio isn’t suited to a wide role, and Juventus could have done with a proper winger on the right to add more directness, and to stretch the play when attacking.

Pirlo v Illaramendi

It’s relatively rare to see a battle between two formations like this – essentially a 4-3-3 against a 4-3-3 (albeit a defensive-minded version), and therefore the free players were the two deep-lying midfielders, Illarramendi and Pirlo.

Serie A sees these battles quite a lot – Pirlo against David Pizarro at the weekend, for example – but La Liga remains a league dominated by 4-2-3-1, and Real seemed a little unsure how to stop Pirlo. Karim Benzema prevented passes into him from the centre-backs, but in open play he was free to receive the ball.

The solution was for Illaramendi to close him down when Juventus had the ball in their own half, and Pirlo often did the same to Illaramendi in the reverse situation. But the problem with defending in this manner is that the deep-lying midfielder goes unmarked after longer build-up play in the opposition half, and that man had time on the ball to play a clever pass.

Illaramendi isn’t the type of midfielder to play penetrative through-balls, but Pirlo was left free and played an excellent lofted pass over the defence for Pogba’s forward run in the first minute of the second half. Casillas ran out and intercepted, but Real were almost undone because of a schoolboy error – not pressing Pirlo.

Di Maria

Real’s system often seemed a little functional, with Modric the most creative midfielder but generally distributing the ball sideways. Real’s most important player in this system was probably Angel Di Maria, who did the most to connect the midfield and attack, which would otherwise have been two completely independent units.

The Argentine darted inside from his right-sided position and slipped a wonderful through-ball for Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener, then later combined well with Arbeloa for an astonishing Benzema miss. The balance he has provided over the last three years has been invaluable for Real, playing a deeper role than Ronaldo to ensure Real aren’t a broken side, and to help out defensively too. Ahead of the Clasico this weekend, he deserves to retain his place ahead of Gareth Bale.

Real’s poor pressing + space between lines

The home side attempted to close down Juventus at goal kicks, knowing they’re keen to build play slowly from the defence. However, their pressing was often extremely disjointed, with the front three closing down, but Juve usually had six players: the defence and Pirlo, plus Gigi Buffon, to play around them. It’s difficult to remember a time when Real’s press resulted in them gaining possession.

They didn’t press as a compact unit, either, with the midfield standing off, some way behind. It meant that when Juve broke past the initial three, the full-backs could advance and Juve could storm forward quickly into attack, particularly down the flanks. Juve’s goal was a good example of this, stemming from a Martin Caceres cross – and it was also a demonstration that Real will continue to be defensively weak down the left when Ronaldo plays on that flank – although shortly afterwards he did make a good tackle in that zone.

There were also too much space between Real’s defence and midfield, too, a consistent feature of their season so far. Juve constantly threatened in the opening 25 minutes with shots from the edge of the box.


Juventus were put in an extremely difficult situation by two Giorgio Chiellini fouls either side of the break. The first was a completely unnecessary shirt-pull while defending a free-kick that conceded a penalty for Real’s winner, the second a block on Ronaldo that earned him a red card.

In that sense – with one foul resulting in the winning goal and the other putting his side down to ten men, Chiellini had something of a Paolo Cannavaro game.

Conte re-shapes

Conte reformatted his side extremely well after the red card. He immediately removed Llorente and reinforced his defence with Leonardo Bonucci. Juve went to a 4-4-1 formation – Tevez went upfront.

The line-ups which ended the game - subs are highlighted

Real dominated possession, certainly, but not to the extent you’d expect considering home advantage, and playing eleven versus ten. Juve’s shape was solid, and for the first 20 minutes after the red card they remained disciplined and stayed in the game. Kwadwo Asamoah replaced Pirlo, played on the left, with Pogba moved inside.

Then, with 20 minutes to go, Conte made an attacking shift – Sebastian Giovinco on down the left, with Ogbonna removed and Asamoah dropping to left-back.

Now, Giovinco could dart inside from the left and link with Tevez – and Juventus unquestionably caused problems. Giovico got in behind the defence but couldn’t quite find space for a shot, then had a couple of attempts from range. Juve were attacking primarily with those two, but Pogba, Vidal and Marchisio all offered sporadic support with runs from deep.

Real changes

Ancelotti first replaced Benzema with Bale. He played on the right, Di Maria went left and Ronaldo played upfront. Bale was very quiet, and the other two were less prominent after this switch.

But it was Ancelotti’s substitutions later in the game that were particularly surprising. On 71 minutes, he took off Illaramendi and introduced Isco – an attacking playmaker for a holding midfielder, when 2-1 up and playing against ten men. Real essentially moved from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1, with Khedira and Modric now a deeper duo, rather than an advanced duo. This didn’t help Real’s defensive shape, and made them more vulnerable to counter-attacks.

On 79 minutes, Ancelotti went further – Di Maria off and versatile forward Alvaro Morata on. He played in the same role, but it now meant Real had a very attack-minded side when they needed to close down the game. With the likes of Daniel Carvajal, Raphael Varane and Fabio Coentrao on the bench, Ancelotti certainly had defensive options.

In some ways it’s refreshing to see a manager try to attack for the third goal, but Real conceded far too many chances to be comfortable in the final ten minutes, and had Giovinco shown a little more composure and converted one of his half-chances, or had Marchisio controlled the ball when breaking past Isco, who found himself at left-back, Ancelotti would have looked foolish rather than brave.


Conte can be reasonably pleased with his side’s performance, but in a tactical sense and as a response to the Fiorentina defeat. Although Juve had problems with Di Maria’s darts inside from the right, they were rarely opened up with eleven men on the pitch, and they nullified Real’s full-backs well.

With ten men, Conte’s strategy was commendable – he secured the defence to remain in the game, then ventured forward in the final 20 minutes. The contest seemed over after Chiellini’s dismissal, but Juve made a game of it.

Still, they’re in a very difficult position in the group, and need a result in the return match.

Real didn’t impress on the night – Illarramendi’s role wasn’t clear, Benzema still isn’t contributing much, there was too much space between the lines, especially when pressing, and they didn’t dominate possession to the extent you’d expect for an Ancelotti side playing at home against a side reduced to ten men for half the game.

With Isco and Bale on the bench, it’s tough to draw many positive conclusions about Real’s team shape in the long-term, either. The only positive for Ancelotti was the result.


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