Juventus 2-1 Dortmund: Juve bypass the midfield press for both goals
Juventus saw little of possession, but attacked clinically to take a one-goal lead into the second leg.
Max Allegri named his expected side in a 4-4-2 diamond system.
Andrea Pirlo limped off midway through the first half, however, with Roberto Perreyra replacing him, and Claudio Marchisio dropping back into the deep midfield position.
Jurgen Klopp decided to pick Henrikh Mkhitaryan rather than Shinji Kagawa, which made sense when it became apparent he was tucking into a 4-3-3 system, rather than playing as the number ten in a 4-2-3-1, Dortmund’s more customary shape.
Right-back Lukasz Piszczek was another injury casualty, with Matthias Ginter replacing him and Soktatis Papastathopoulous moving right.
Dortmund had plenty of possession but rarely created clear-cut chances, while Juve sat deep and counter-attacked quickly through their front two.
Dortmund press but don’t mark Pirlo
The match started at a very quick tempo, with Dortmund pressing intensely in midfield, and Juventus struggling to pass through this pressure in the opening stages. It took a while before the game settled down and the formation battle became obvious: 4-4-2 diamond against 4-3-3.
The most interesting thing was that Dortmund didn’t have anyone specifically tracking Pirlo. Instead, Ciro Immobile positioned himself to deny passes from the centre-backs into Pirlo’s feet, and then either Mkhitaryan or Ilkay Gundogan would rush forward to close him down when he did receive the ball. But it was still surprising he was allowed relative freedom, especially because he can become flustered when marked closely by a mobile player. Park Ji-Sung’s job on him for Manchester United against Milan in 2009/10 is particularly memorable.
Nevertheless, the pressing did have a decent impact and harmed Juventus when they tried to play through midfield. Often, it was balls into Marchisio and Pogba which caused problems, although the latter was good at receiving the ball on the half-turn and evading the pressure.
Pirlo rarely conceded possession himself, although sometimes his passes into teammates were the trigger for Dortmund to press, and then they won the ball with only Pirlo guarding the centre-backs, and Marco Reus scampering quickly into his zone. It’s arguable Pirlo’s loss didn’t harm Juve too much, because they were more inclined to hit the ball long – more on that later.
Another significant part of the formation battle was out. Clearly, the diamond means Juventus were very narrow for long periods, and Klopp tried to exploit this weakness by pushing his full-backs high up the pitch. In turn, Nuri Sahin would drop deep into the backline and help turn the 4-3-3 into a 3-4-3, which theoretically provided an extra man at the back against Juve’s two strikers, although he usually played just ahead of them, presumably in an attempt to prevent the strikers receiving the ball into feet.
The battle in the wide areas proved crucial for the opening goal, however, because Piszczek had pushed forward into an extremely advanced right-wing position for a Dortmund attack. However, at the turnover this meant the right-back zone was exposed, and Alvaro Morata pulled out to the inside-left channel, which he loves working, with his cross-shot eventually being spilled by Roman Weidenfeller for a Carlos Tevez tap-in. The goal came directly because Dortmund were leaving the full-back zones empty in an attempt to exploit Juve’s lack of width.
Juve defence to attack pases
The other interesting thing about the goal – in fact, both Juventus goals – was that the key pass bypassed the midfield zone entirely. This is arguably the most simple way to cope with Dortmund’s intense press, the major challenge facing Juventus here – it’s why, for example, Pep Guardiola once fielded Javi Martinez as a second striker when he faced Dortmund for the first time, because he wanted someone to act as a target for long balls.
Not only does a simple long pass from defence to attack negate Dortmund’s midfield pressure, it generally means the defence is exposed and unprotected, too, unless they’re playing a very high line and keeping extremely compact. Dortmund didn’t do that here, and were caught out twice by these quick attacks.
The first goal originated from a clearance by Leonardo Bonucci – although it was a well-directed clearance (if intentional) because it went straight to Morata. As Atletico Madrid have demonstrated excellently over the past couple of years, there should be no such thing as a simple clearance: it should instead be the first part of a counter-attack.
Morata and Tevez were close together and played a one-two to release Morata down the left, before Tevez bundled the ball in. But the interesting thing was their initial positioning, extremely tight together in a position to play the one-two. This was something Juve continually did under Conte – even in his first season, when the lack of quality strikers was a clear weakness, they always combined well by receiving quick passes in this manner. It might even go further back than that: David Trezeguet and Vincenzo Iaquinta once scored a magnificent one-two in this competition against Chelsea, and it feels a vital part of Juve’s DNA to have a cohesive strike partnership in this manner.
The second goal was a more deliberate ball from Bonucci which again bypassed – or rather, bisected – the Dortmund midfield. This time Tevez received the ball, fed Pogba on the left, and his cross found Morata to tap in. The goals were very similar.
Dortmund’s goal was fortunate – a Giorgio Chiellini slip not only took himself out of the game but also confused Bonucci, and Reus ran through on goal to finish coolly. But such clear chances were extremely rare, and this was one of those games where it felt like Dortmund’s press was sometimes counter-productive: they won the ball close to the opposition goal, but they never had space to break into, which is where they are most dangerous. That slip was essentially the only time they managed to get in behind the centre-backs.
From longer spells of possession, Dortmund attacked down the flanks but rarely delivered a good ball into the box. It was curious that Klopp decided to replace Piszczek with Matthias Ginter, moving Sokratis to right-back. Considering Dortmund’s system, it meant the Greek defender was essentially playing as a right-sided midfielder. It would have been more logical, if brave, to introduce Jakub Blaszczykowski. Sokratis went off at half-time anyway and Oliver Kirch came on at right-back, but his delivery was also poor.
When playing down the flanks there’s also a problem with Immobile, who isn’t a natural target for crosses and prefers running along the offside line to get balls in behind. Then again, Immobile isn’t very good at dropping deep to provide creativity in the manner of Robert Lewandowski, either, and matches like this highlight quite how much Dortmund miss the Pole.
There wasn’t much outright creativity in this Dortmund XI, and the match faded badly after the break with both sides seemingly settling for 2-1.
The opening goal summarises this game, as it featured the two major factors.
First, Dortmund’s full-backs were pushing forward and leaving gaps for Juventus to counter-attack into down the flanks.
Second, Juventus were better when they bypassed the midfield zone, therefore negating Dortmund’s midfield press, and hitting the strikers quickly.
This sets up the second leg nicely, and that game will probably be an exaggerated version of this: the game will be played at an even higher tempo, Dortmund will press more, and dominate possession more.