Everyone knows the danger of the championship game that comes just after an international break. But Juventus still managed to control and win an insidious match against Cagliari. The Bianconeri dominated the first half, showing intensity and self-confidence for the first time in months.
Juventus started the game with a classic 4-4-2 formation. Gianluigi Buffon was the goalkeeper; Juan Cuadrado played as a right-back while Danilo was on the other side. Matthijs De Ligt and Merih Derimal played in the centre of defence; Arthur and Adrien Rabiot as a double pivot; Dejan Kulusevski was the right-winger whereas Federico Bernardeschi played on the left, and the attacking duo up front was composed of Cristiano Ronaldo and Álvaro Morata.
Cagliari lined up with an unusual 3-4-2-1 formation: Alessio Cragno started in goal; a three-man defence was made up of Fabio Pisacane, Ragnar Klavan, and Sebastian Walukiewicz. In front of them, Marko Rog and Răzvan Marin both played as the double pivots. Gabriele Zappa played on the right side while Alessandro Tripaldelli on the other. João Pedro and Adam Ounas were the offensive midfielders and Giovanni Simeone led the attack.
Juventus’s fluid system
In the first part of the season, Pirlo has always lined up his Juventus in a 3-5-2 formation on paper but it was bound to change during the defensive and the offensive phases of the game. As he explained in his thesis, the most important factors of his football idea are these three points: he wants his full-backs/wing-backs, depending on the formation, to push forward and join the attackers; he wants two midfielders with complementary features, and lastly three defenders capable of keeping the line high in order to reconquer the ball as quick as possible.
The absence of De Ligt was impactful in those terms because the Dutchman knows how to keep the defensive line high, and also because he has determinant characteristics which allow him to cover a lot of space in a short amount of time. And it is not a coincidence that the defensive line on Saturday was composed of four players who have a good technical base and physical freshness.
Juventus have got aggressive players capable of assaulting efficaciously far away from the penalty area. Matthijs De Ligt, Danilo, Merih Demiral, and Alex Sandro exalt themselves in these cases.
And the transfer of Danilo this year was the needle for Pirlo’s fluid system. Like João Cancelo in Guardiola’s Manchester City, the Brazilian often raises and centralises his centre of gravity in order to create numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch, allowing a comfortable exit ball and making more passing lines available. In the image below we can see this situation play out. Rabiot found Ronaldo between the lines and Danilo occupied the space behind Rog and Marin.
But the former Porto player is also a good resource in the final third as he often helped the operations moving as a free man. In the image below we can see how Danilo created a triangle with Arthur and Rabiot. Bernardeschi stayed on the left flank while Cuadrado attacked the space on the other side. In this way, Cagliari’s narrow system was messed up.
Juventus’s improvement was clear. An important factor was the centrality of Arthur. The former Barcelona midfielder finished his game with incredible stats: 96/100 passes (96% of accuracy), one key pass, 7/8 long balls, 5/11 duels won, three interceptions, and two tackles.
Next to him, Rabiot stood out for his physical features. With the presence of Danilo, he had the green light to occupy the space between the lines. Juve scored an offside goal but the objective was understandable. The goal was to overload a side and then move to the other quickly.
In the image above we can see this situation. Rabiot overcame Cagliari’s midfield line and combined with Ronaldo. Morata was in a 1 vs 1 duel and Bernardeschi became the free man on the left. As a matter of fact, Zappa was going to move closer to the Spanish international. In this way, Morata had the possibility to unload to the Frenchman or to pass to the Italian.
Juventus’s two goals
Juventus showed an interesting technical superiority. The four offensive players had asymmetric tasks and the liberty to modify their positions on the pitch provided that provide width and sit in in the half-spaces. In the first goal, those easy principles were adopted. Bernardeschi came in the middle and, after receiving the ball from Danilo, passed quickly on the left side to exploit the 2 vs 2 situation. Morata attracted Zappa after which, Ronaldo did the rest.
In the second goal, Cagliari made a big mistake. It is unacceptable to let Ronaldo free in the penalty area. Cuadrado made a great cross, Demiral tried the flank play and Cristiano scored. Technical note: it seems easy to kick the ball from that position but in this situation, Ronaldo proved his astonishing body coordination.
Juventus’s defensive approach
The return of De Ligt was fundamental. The Dutch international soldered the spaces between the defensive and the midfield line. In this way, Cagliari could not utilise both João Pedro and Ounas, their offensive midfielders. The former Ajax defender finished the game with 70/76 passes (92% of accuracy), two clearances, one blocked shot, two tackles, and 4/4 duels won.
In this throw-in for Cagliari, Juventus collapsed towards the ball. De Ligt moved closer to Demiral, limiting the space for a possible counterattack. He recovered the ball and the Bianconeri were able to start the transition.
Also, the presence of Demiral was vital: he achieved 85/85 passes, three clearances, one interception, two tackles, 7/8 duels won, one assist, and one woodwork hit. The Turkish player seemed more relaxed in this defensive approach as this method surely exalts his physical and instinctive features. And even though it was their first game together, they also showed a good understanding.
In the image below we can see the opposite situation. Demiral and de Ligt covered each other on Simeone. The forward asked a deep ball but the duo closed him down without problems.
The unique risky opportunity was in the image below. Walukiewicz avoided the pressing with a laser pass to Simeone. De Ligt made a mistake by allowing him to unload the ball to Ounas, the third man. The former Napoli player was free to attack the space beyond the Juventus’s midfield line.
In this case, the solutions were twofold, with the first one concerning Arthur and Rabiot. Their distance must have been shorter in order to avoid letting a similar pass go past them. The second one was the positions of Danilo and Bernardeschi. The Brazilian was on the midfield line while the Italian covered Zappa. Danilo had to move closer to De Ligt while Bernardeschi had to cover the Brazilian.
Juventus gave a solid impression for the first time this season in Serie A. The improvement was clear but now it will be necessary to continue in this way. The return of De Ligt and Alex Sandro was certainly good news for Pirlo. Also, Dybala must find an excellent physical condition in order to have options in attack.
Cagliari paid the heavy price for the absences of Nahitan Nandez and Diego Godin, both of whom are out due to Covid 19. The side were never dangerous in this game.