Juventus 3-0 Roma: Juventus sit extremely deep to prevent Roma counter-attacking

January 6, 2014

The starting line-ups

Juventus took a big step towards a third consecutive title with a convincing victory over their closest challengers.

Antonio Conte welcomed back Andrea Pirlo in the deep playmaking position, and was able to select his first-choice starting XI.

Rudi Garcia had Francesco Totti back after injury, and opted for Adem Ljajic rather than Mattia Destro in the forward trio.

Juventus created little in open play, but defended solidly and pounced at set-pieces – it was something of an ‘underdog’ victory, even though the home side started as favourites.

Now eight points clear of Roma, odds on Juve retaining the title are extremely short, with even the most generous bookies offering around 1/7 at the moment. The champions travel to 12th placed Cagliari at the weekend, and they’re about 1/2 to pick up another three points. For most punters those odds won’t be too tempting, but many sports betting sites also offer games these days, as well as information about real life casinos. People looking for some online poker, or a London or Manchester casino have plenty of options.

Juve don’t press

Juve have often pressed intensely high up the pitch this season, taking advantage of Carlos Tevez’s workrate to become more proactive without the ball. They are a possession-based side, having structured their team around Pirlo’s deep playmaking since Conte took charge in 2011, and although they don’t press as relentlessly as Barcelona or Dortmund, for example, they rarely let the opposition dictate the game – especially at home.

Interestingly, after the game, Conte singled out “players like Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente who come back and actively take part in the defensive moves,” adding that they were “not like old-fashioned strikers who would stand up there and wait for an assist to score.” Although they weren’t pressing, Conte was pleased they dropped deep and made sure Juventus were compact as they sat very deep.

Juve sit extremely deep

This was the key feature of the game. Roma have been absolutely superb on the break this season – the way Totti prompted quick breaks against Inter earlier in the campaign was counter-attacking at its finest, and while that was predominantly in situations where Roma had been defending set-pieces, he’s capable of the same in open play.

Roma’s captain returning to his ‘false nine’ role has been crucial in Roma’s attacking – he’s dragged opposition centre-backs up the pitch, and Gervinho (and Alessandro Florenzi and, recently, Destro) have attacked into that space superbly. Juventus had one main aim here – not to be dragged out of shape, to prevent conceding space in behind the defence.

They completed as many interceptions as in their previous home match, but in much deeper positions:

Defenders outline the approach

This was confirmed after the game by Leonardo Bonucci, who plays as the central of the three centre-backs, and is therefore usually the deepest Juventus player. “Normally we play high up the pitch and with plenty of aggression, but Conte did well to drop our line against a dangerous Roma,” he said after the game. “We’d dominated in previous years – this time we allowed them to play, but ran very few risks.”

His centre-back colleague Andrea Barzagli echoed his thoughts. “We knew they were dangerous on the counter and opted to sit deeper to avoid getting caught by their pacey frontmen on the break.”

Garcia admitted the approach had surprised him. “We played a very good first half and I had forgotten we were playing on the home turf of the Serie A leaders, who usually keep possession and push opponents back into their own half here.”

Roma unable to adjust

This was essentially the approach that exposed Roma’s false nine system the first time around, under Luciano Spalletti. That stopped working when top-level defences stayed very deep, allowing Totti to wander into the midfield, and preventing space opening up at the heart of the defence. Other teams this season have tried that approach, of course, but Roma have generally possessed enough quality to break them down.

After all, Roma do possesses two very fine playmakers within this side. Totti remains a classic number ten at heart, and can thread through-balls between defenders majestically. Miralem Pjanic, too, has been in good form. But fitness worries for both played into Juve’s hands – Totti didn’t look completely mobile and lacked the sharpness of the opening weeks of the campaign, while Pjanic collected an early injury and had his leg heavily strapped.

Kevin Strootman and Ljajic should have been sources of creativity, too, but here Juve’s defensive system deserves great credit – they remained extremely deep and compact, and never looked likely to be opened up.

Gervinho nullified

However, because Roma were so dangerous on the counter-attack, the key for Juve was stopping Gervinho. He’s the only player in this side that offers genuine penetration – and Garcia might regret not playing Florenzi, whose forward running has been very useful, or Destro, who naturally gets into goalscoring positions.

The Ivorian rarely received possession in dangerous zones, and Juve were good at doubling up on him. The way the Juve system works, with three ‘triangles’ towards the flanks (Chiellini-Asamoah-Pogba and Barzagli-Lichtsteiner-Vidal) meant it was easy for Juve to get two players out towards him. Even Vidal, the most advanced of the Juve midfielders, dropped back to get goalside.

Of course, it helped that Gervinho realised he wasn’t getting the ball in behind much, so dropped much deeper and therefore into the hands of more Juve players. He is capable of dribbling past multiple opponents, but Roma would have preferred him taking on the last defender. Juve rarely played an offside trap, but when they did it was well-executed, with Bonucci usually the man to step up.

Amazingly, Gervinho actually ended the game with a 100% pass completion rate. But the passes were all in deep positions, and Conte would have been happy with him playing in those zones. More pertinently, he only dribbled past an opponent once and had no shots, in stark contrast to his recent man-of-the-match performance against Fiorentina.

Brief Roma danger

There were only two situations that really caused Juventus problems. The first was dealing with Totti, because Pirlo – for all his creative qualities – isn’t a great player defensively, and even though Totti wasn’t at his best on the ball, his positioning is very clever. Juve wanted to stay deep, but they couldn’t allow Totti space between the lines.

If Juve had a proper holding midfielder in that position they might have been able to minimise the space better and prevent balls into Totti, but he was instead left to either Bonucci or Giorgio Chiellini, who both came up the pitch and committed fouls on him. This may have been something of a deliberate strategy, because they would have been desperate for Totti not to turn – a foul on him was better than allowing him to turn, although Chiellini was booked early on, which meant he could no longer be so aggressive.

The second situation was an isolated incident, when Bonucci moved forward on the ball and was tackled, exposing Juve to a four-on-three break. Roma eventually played in Ljajic on the right, who took too long on the ball and had a low shot saved by Buffon. Realistically, that was Roma’s best chance of the night, and their only chance at 0-0.

Juve attacks

In a situation like this, with the reactive side winning 3-0, you expect them to be devastating on the break. In reality, Juventus weren’t – there was one situation midway through the first half when Vidal won the ball and led a break, although with Pirlo his closest support and the veteran’s lack of pace obvious, the Chilean didn’t have great options and the move didn’t create a clear chance.

Apart from that, Juve didn’t create much in open play. They tried their usual tactic of hitting direct balls into the front two, who would attempt to combine together, or play in a midfielder – Pogba or Vidal – making runs in behind. Roma largely defended well against this approach, though – De Rossi has often seemed more like a third centre-back this season, and that was useful against a genuine two-man strikeforce. Leandro Castan stuck tightly to Carlos Tevez, with De Rossi dropping in to cover.


Instead, Juventus pounced from set-pieces. The first goal came from a right-sided throw-in, with Tevez skilfully evading Castan to set up Vidal for a close-range finish. The second goal was very simple, Bonucci poking in a Pirlo free-kick at the far post, and the third goal came from the penalty spot, after Castan had handballed on the line following a scamble from a free-kick. No Juventus player created more than one chance from open play – there were rarely moments of great guile.

However, great credit should go to Juventus for maximising their set-play opportunities. Indeed, a first half free-kick – (that didn’t result in a goal) with Pirlo playing an accurate low cut-back to Pogba to strike from the edge of the box, demonstrated that Juve had been working on dead ball situations on the training ground, perhaps using their winter break effectively. It shows intelligence and a form of modesty from Conte, that he insists Juventus get the small details and the scrappy things right, despite possessing such talented attacking options.

Roma become sloppy

The other key factor was how Roma became less organised as the first half continued. At the start Roma seemed keen to occupy Pirlo, sometimes with Pjanic moving forward onto him, and sometimes Totti dropping back. He had little influence on the first 15 minutes.

Then, gradually, Pirlo found space more. He was able to collect passes from the defenders under little pressure, and spread the play to the wing-backs. Juve found it easy to play out from the back, 6 v 3 or 6 v 4, and Pirlo was, typically, always the central cog as they played out of defence.

Perhaps Pjanic and Totti’s fitness problems caused this problem, but it was obvious how disjointed Roma became as the game continued – especially in comparison to Juve, who remained so compact.

There was also an interesting contract in the distribution of Pirlo and De Rossi:

Roma changes

Garcia attempted to change things at 2-0 down, bringing on Destro for Pjanic. Destro went upfront, Totti dropped back and now Roma were more like 4-2-3-1. Vasilis Torosidis replaced Dodo at left-back, too, but the switches changed little. Juventus were still sitting very deep, and if anything Roma looked less threatening because no-one was playing an incisive first pass into the attacking third – at least Pjanic had been trying.

Florenzi replaced Totti later, but the impact of this change wasn’t obvious because De Rossi was soon dismissed for a terrible tackle on Chiellini. Castan followed down the tunnel from the subsequent set-piece, which also resulted in Juventus making it 3-0 from the penalty spot through Mirko Vucinic, who had replaced the injured Tevez. At 3-0, and 11-9 in terms of players, the game was over.


Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis summed up the match neatly. “In the first half Roma played very well, but it’s a shame we conceded on the first dangerous situation,” he said. “In the second half we were a bit chaotic and not sharp enough on set plays.”

Garcia agreed. “Unfortunately, they scored at the first chance and we didn’t take ours, he said. “It hurt to concede straight after the restart. Juve did well on set plays and we have to work on some issues. In my view it is a problem of efficiency: neither side had that many chances, so you’ve got to take them when they arrive. We know this is football and Juve have a ruthless team, so we must learn to be ruthless too.

This wasn’t about a particular individual battle or a formation decision by either coach – it was about Juve’s overall approach. They denied space in behind and therefore Roma couldn’t play their usual gameplan, and they seemed to find it difficult to adjust and attempt to break down a deep defence.

The scoreline makes it appear like Juventus’ gameplan was carried out perfectly – and to a certain extent, that’s fair. But Conte would have expected more in open play from his players, and had Roma not defended the set-pieces quite so sloppily, this would have been much closer.

There’s no doubt that Juve were logically less ambitious in open play having gone ahead (early, after 17 minutes) and therefore we didn’t see their entire creative potential, but this was a fine defensive performance rather than a fine all-round performance from the champions – they have played much better this season.

Roma dominated the game, although they dominated the game because they were allowed to. The midfielders seemed too content at having possession, and should have been circulating the ball quicker to keep Juve’s defensive block guessing. Roma offered little creativity against a packed defence, but their real downfall was their poor defending of set-pieces, and the disciplinary problems that eventually left them outnumbered.

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