Fiorentina – Juventus: Montella’s Excellent Game Plan Not Rewarded With A Win (0-0)
An excellent performance from Fiorentina ended in an unlucky draw, as Juventus were uninfluential the entire match. A draw was more than Juve deserved here. As a result, Fiorentina’s streak of good displays is still not backed up by points, as their hunt for a first victory continues.
Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.
Juventus came into this game on the back of two victories that shared one big problematic issue: the second half performances. Against both Parma and Napoli, Sarri’s men had followed great first halves with disappointing displays after the break. Initially, many thought it might be due to the physical condition. However, in Sarri’s pre-match conference for Fiorentina versus Juventus, the manager unfolded statistics that showed how Juventus had not suffered a drop in intensity from one half to another. He went on to say that what had occurred was down to mental conditions and situations that have to be worked on, indicating that it might be simply a matter of time and coaching.
Vincenzo Montella, after years of underperformance, is attempting to make his career finally take the turn many spectators expected when the manager first came into the spotlight at Fiorentina. Now, four years later, Montella is back in Florence, hoping to leave the same mark as to when his side finished fourth in Serie A for three consecutive seasons between 2012 and 2015.
Fiorentina versus Juventus is a match that the Tuscan fans live quite emotionally. In an attempt to surprise Juventus, Montella went for a switch in formation, as his nominal shape with four defenders was traded in for a 3-4-1-2 shape, featuring Nikola Milenković, Germán Pezzella and Martín Cáceres. Franck Ribéry was given his first start in Serie A, operating in a free role from the striker position.
Sarri on the other hand went with the same starting eleven he fielded in his first two Serie A matches at Juve, following his statements on how one crop of players needs to play consistently at the start to acquire his style. This is no different than what he did at Chelsea, and to a lesser extent Napoli.
Montella discloses the paperwork
Fiorentina’s buildup took place in a 3-4-1-2 shape. Gaetano Castrovilli played as the attacking midfielder behind Federico Chiesa and Franck Ribéry; both strikers had license to drop deeper to receive the ball and orchestrate the play in the final third, The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. especially the latter, since Fiorentina mainly organized their offensive actions on the left side. The home side’s play mainly consisted of playing the ball wide to the wing-backs, for them to find the two attackers either behind the midfield line, on the flanks or in the striker position.
Without the ball, Fiorentina defended in a 5-3-2 formation, focused on covering the center and pushing the opposition’s circulation wide, where the wing-backs could step out aggressively on the receiver. Miralem Pjanić, Juve’s regista, was marked by Castrovilli. Although Fiorentina’s defensive attention was concentrated on covering the center, Juve were able to access Douglas Costa in the right halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. due to excessive freedom given to Pjanić and the center-backs when the first pressure was bypassed. Likewise, once Juventus retreated into their 4-4-2 shape, the pressure on the midfielders was inconsistent, giving Badelj time to switch the play to a free wing-back on the opposite flank.
Fiorentina’s game plan against Juve’s 4-4-2 defensive shape.
However after eight minutes, Costa was replaced by Bernardeschi due to an injury. The Italian was not able to replicate his teammate’s work between the lines, which left Juve with very few options throughout the game. In addition, as Fiorentina’s intensity increased, Pjanić was progressively given less time on the ball, up to the point that he became unavailable for passes.
Fiorentina’s wing-backs were very aggressive on Danilo and Alex Sandro, with one between strikers and the wing-backs stepping out on the winger, depending on how deep the opponent received. Ribéry and Chiesa’s backward pressing was a key aspect that differentiated the two teams’ pressing. One striker duo was very reactive to the opponent’s initiatives whereas the other – Ronaldo and Higuaín – barely contributed.
During Juve’s deep buildup, Fiorentina pressed higher and more aggressively on the center-backs, and in the space of two minutes – around the fifteenth mark – Fiorentina’s strikers had the chance to put their team in the lead twice after intercepting passes by Wojciech Szczęsny and Matthijs de Ligt. Even when forced deeper, Fioerntina would maintain good central compactness and reduce Juve’s offensive danger, already reduced by Douglas Costa’s forfeit due to injury.
The construction site is still in its early stages
Juventus defended in a 4-4-2 shape that shifted aggressively to the ball-side and pressed on backpasses, in order to attempt to force Fiorentina long in their early stages of buildup. When in a medium block, A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. the front three pressed the three center-backs, while the midfield shifted to the ball-side in a very narrow line. Similarly to the Napoli game, Matuidi’s presence was key at closing down spaces, when the play was switched to the left side.
On the opposite side, though, Juve’s shifting movements were not as effective, since Bernardeschi’s pressing on Martín Cáceres did not allow him to track back in time to support Danilo. Thus, Fiorentina could constantly find space on the left side with Ribéry and Dalbert, from whom crosses and cut-backs into the box were played.
Juve’s idea in possession was more direct – and as ineffective as the rest of the game plan – than what Sarri’s men showcased in the first two games of the season. While the football had mainly been built around quick combinations and passes in and around the opposition to disorganize their structure in the opening games, in Florence, Sarri’s men often looked for the front players directly. Fiorentina’s intensity certainly played a part, and it was evident how Juventus still lacks patience and calmness under pressure in certain situations. De Ligt’s below par horizontal pass in the six-yard box to Wojciech Szczęsny was an example of this.
Fiorentina’s press against Juventus’s 4-3-3 shape.
In a post-match interview, Sarri underlined how the two strikers’ positioning when defending deeper should have been closer to the rest of the team. That is because that way, they would have been able to connect with the team better, instead of having to receive passes under heavy pressure from the back by Fiorentina’s center-backs’. It does not come as a surprise that Milenković and Cáceres won most of their respective duels against Higuaín and Ronaldo, without breaking much of a sweat.
Stick or stuck to the plan?
Because of the success Vincenzo Montella’s game plan had during the first half, the manager did not alter his tactics. Surprisingly Maurizio Sarri also stuck to his team’s inefficiencies, with his hands tied by the injuries of Costa and Pjanić, as the Bosnian playmaker was taken out of the game shortly before half-time.
This meant that Juve kept reaching and developing the play in the final third in suboptimal manners. Either through direct passes the strikers struggled to receive, or with poor connections between flanks and center. Therefore, a stale horizontal circulation emerged, which, unlike against Napoli, did not find central spaces when the ball reached the fullbacks, meaning that the wide defender and central midfielder would combine with ineffective and isolated vertical passes on the wing.
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Fiorentina had a rather evident upper hand throughout the entire game, but were unable to create chances worth of notice after the break. Although Montella’s men’s offensive pressure and control of the various game states are undeniable, Juve’s transition to a low defensive block A defensive block is the compact group of defenders that defends a particular zone, either their own half in a medium defensive block, or the zone around their own box in a deep defensive block. as the game proceeded improved their defending of wide areas. This was even improved when an injured Danilo – who had struggled against Ribéry and Dalbert for the entire 65 minutes he featured in – was replaced by Cuadrado.
Even so, this more defensive stance did not completely stop the strikers from finding space for crosses when they drifted wide, and only poor deliveries combined with wasteful shooting made this match end in a draw.
The first leaks from Sarri’s construction site were exposed by Montella’s paperworks. By playing a 3-4-1-2 shape, Fiorentina had direct access to every man in Juve’s formation and could thus apply aggressive marking in defense and deeper areas in the opposition’s half. Furthermore, some of the difficulties the visitors had struggled with in the first matches, such as the buildup under aggressive pressure and certain pressing phases, were specifically targeted by Montella. This gave his side an advantage that was maximized by Fiorentina’s phenomenal intensity from start to finish, but was not capitalized on because of an off day in front of goal.
On the other hand, Sarri failed to react to his team’s struggles, albeit falling victim to three injuries, thus being unable to decide any of his substitutions. The script during the first half, before Pjanić’s injury, seemed to suggest that no particular changes were going to be applied, although whenever Juventus have encountered difficulties in the first half of a match, improvements always followed in the second half. This is what happened during the preseason. Now, ahead of Juve’s encounter against Atletico, Sarri will have many thoughts on his mind, in a make or break season that might determine the Italian manager’s level once and for all.
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