The return of Serie A is finally upon us. On Monday, Bologna will be hosting Juventus at the Renato Dall’Ara Stadium as part of one of the three games that will be kicking off Serie A on Matchday 27. When the two sides met earlier this season in October, Juventus were able to secure a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from both Cristiano Ronaldo and Miralem Pjanić.
In this tactical analysis, we’ll look at the expected line-ups, Juventus’ attacking approach, Bologna’s defensive limitations and pressing tactics, as well as how Maurizio Sarri’s men will look to break down Bologna’s defensive block.
Juventus – We can expect Juventus to line-up in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with Ronaldo playing as the striker partnered with both Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala on the wings. In midfield, Pjanić will be playing a major part when trying to break down Bologna’s defence, while we can also expect the more attacking Juan Cuadrado to be playing at full-back.
Line-up- Wojciech Szczesny, Juan Cuadrado, Matthijs de Ligt, Leonardo Bonucci, Alex Sandro, Miralem Pjanić, Blaise Matuidi, Rodrigo Bentancur, Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo, Douglas Costa.
Bologna – We will likely see Bologna in their 3-4-2-1 formation, where they will be able to soak up pressure and nullify passes in the centre of the pitch while also being able to counter Juventus effectively out-wide. This formation will provide Bologna with more success than the alternative 4-2-3-1 formation which they have also used on a number of occasions this season.
Line-up- Lukasz Skorupski, Mattia Bani, Danilo, Stefano Denswil, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Andrea Poli, Jerdy Schouten, Musa Barrow, Riccardo Orsolini, Roberto Soriano, Rodrigo Palacio.
Bologna will look to block passing angles.
When playing against better opposition this season, Bologna have preferred to remain compact in the middle of the pitch so that the opponents are forced to play out wide. By doing this, the opposition will become restricted when trying to play in between the lines, as well as being isolated once the ball goes to a player out wide, as this is when Bologna like to trigger their pressing.
We can see an example of Bologna’s compact tactics in the fixture against Roma earlier this season. As is shown below, Bologna’s midfielders have all man-marked a corresponding player in the centre of the pitch, so that any potential passing options to these now marked players or any other players who are playing between the lines of Bologna’s midfield and defence will now be made redundant in this play. This then forces Roma to become quite predictable, as the only viable passing option is now out-wide to Davide Santon.
As soon as the pass is made to the full-back, Bologna can now press and take advantage of the vulnerable positioning of the Roma player. The two nearest players will initiate the press on the full-back, to block any immediate passing options, while simultaneously the remaining Bologna midfielders will apply pressure to the central Roma players. This will then force Santon to delay his next move, which frees up time for the Bologna forward Palacio to create a block within the passing lane towards the goalkeeper.
We can see this pressing action again, albeit further up the pitch. Even so, the principles remain the same as two players initiate the press, while the surrounding teammates look to squeeze the Roma players in.
The contrary to this is that when the opponents are able to beat the press, the players from Bologna are very unlikely to recover in time to re-establish the middle block, which enables the opponents to get into the final third. For example, in the fixture against Roma, ex-Manchester City player Aleksandar Kolarov was able to beat the press and offload the ball to Edin Džeko, who now has plenty of passing options as the block is no longer fully in place. As a result, Džeko can slide to ball towards Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is now able to progress play for his side.
This is something Juventus can look to take advantage of, especially with their world-class full-backs in Alex Sandro and Cuadrado, who will be much more comfortable with the ball at their feet when under pressure.
Juventus will be comfortable playing wide
To counter Bologna’s defensive approach, Juventus are likely to use the wide areas to their advantage, by targeting the space between Bologna’s midfield and wing-backs quickly after turning over possession. Additionally, given the narrowness of Bologna’s defensive block, creativity from both Sandro and Cuadrado down the left and right flanks will be pivotal towards their attacking approach. With the full-backs in lots of space in high and wide positions, Juventus will be able to create overloads on the touchline if combinations with the wingers are executed regularly.
With clear combinations on both flanks, Danilo and Cuadrado on the right-hand side and Sandro and Ronaldo on the left-hand side, Juventus will be able to manipulate play easily. For instance, at the far end of the pitch, Ronaldo has tucked in narrow to pull the full-back into a more central position. This grants Sandro with more space on the wing where he can stretch play and cause trouble on the overlap. Thus, when Sandro receives the ball he can either exploit the space on the overlap, or he could slightly delay his movement so that Ronaldo has time to check in between the lines where an additional passing option can be created.
We can see another example here, with Ronaldo playing more as an inside forward, where he can create the space for Sandro on the flanks by drawing the defenders in. In both images, the full-backs have played a major part in the creation of the overloads, so Bologna may have to consider giving their wing-backs the task of covering these runs if they want to prevent these overloads from being created.
It is also important to note that because of the quality of this Juventus side, they will be able to create space between the lines and break apart Bologna’s defensive block thanks to individual performances. For instance, with the case below Dybala is able to weave in and out of a few challenges before then creating his own space to execute a pass towards the run of Aaron Ramsey. After which, he is in an excellent scoring position.
Bologna’s attacking shape
When Bologna has the ball, we can expect to see a diamond shape created from the three centre-backs and deep-lying midfielder. Poli will be at the peak of this diamond and will look to dictate play and pick-out the spaces in between Juventus’ pressing structure.
Alternatively, Bologna also like to play the ball long towards one of the wingers, in the hope of a knockdown going to one of their forwards or midfielders further up the pitch. To do this, as the long ball is played the midfielders will look to attack the space ahead of them so that they are in a good position to receive the ball. In the example below, the ball is played to Nicola Sansone who was able to successfully control it with his feet. After which he then played the ball into Roberto Soriano who was able to progress the phase of play from a central position.
Alternatively, Bologna will also look to get the ball straight into the forwards from a long ball. Before the ball is played, the forward will be in the half-space between the full-back and centre-back. By doing this, the striker will be able to create confusion with his initial movement as the full-back and centre-back will be unaware of who should be covering the run, this will gift the forward with enough time to find space and an angle to receive the ball from.
For example, as the ball is played the striker will make his first and most important movement as he buys himself some space between himself and the defenders. Following on from this, he will then make his second movement from the blue circle as highlighted below, in which he swivels around the full-back and receives the ball near the touch-line.
After successful execution of a long-ball, Bologna will immediately look to overload the central areas via late runs and supporting players. This opens up the opportunities for cut-backs and alternative shooting options, which helps to massively increase their chances of scoring. And with this example vs Lecce, Bologna were able to do exactly that and score from this phase of play, helping to further exemplify the value of these central overloads.
How Juventus will be able to overcome their opponents
As highlighted earlier in this analysis, Juventus will utilise the whole width of the pitch to find gaps between the lines and disorganise Bologna’s defensive shape. When under pressure from Bologna’s pressing tactics however we can expect Juventus to comfortably work their way out of it, thanks to clever midfield positioning within the half-spaces and central channels.
In the image above, the midfield trio of Bentancur, Adrien Rabiot, and Pjanić are in positions that will allow for quick combinations, where they can effortlessly bypass the press while still maintaining a balanced structure. As was the case during the fixture vs Hellas Verona, the passing combinations were able to be extended past the midfield trio, into the path of Cuadrado who provided an excellent option for progressing the play in this scenario.
Similarly, when Juventus faces a compact low block, the midfielders will play in a more advanced position, while still hovering in and out of the left and right half channels. As we can see below, Rabiot and Bentancur are in the half-spaces while Pjanić is in a more passive position, helping to dictate play. What is important to note is that the positionings of the midfielders will allow for opportunities to split the defence to emerge as overloads can be created and maintained and the available spaces can be exploited effectively through late runs from deep.
We can see an example of a passing combination below, with Gonzalo Higuaín passing to Bentancur who is in the half-space before then receiving the ball beyond the defender and having a shooting opportunity.
If we can take away anything from this analysis, it is that Bologna’s defensive approach will be able to keep Juventus at bay for some time. However, as soon as these combinations are put in place, Bologna will find themselves struggling to react to the fluidity of Juventus’ attacks. And as the game goes on, these attacks from Juventus will only cause more problems to this Bologna side.
Though Bologna will be able to do well for large parts of the game when sitting back in defence and absorbing the pressure, I do see Juventus being able to create gaps and opportunities for themselves regularly. And when taking into account the individual quality that Juventus have at their disposal with players such as Dybala and Ronaldo, I do see Juventus winning this game quite comfortably at 3-0.