Juventus – AC Milan: Individual Errors Decisive as Juventus Scrape Past Milan (2-1)

Second half changes from Massimiliano Allegri helped Juventus come back from 1-0 down against AC Milan. The decisive moments leading to the goals in the game came from individual errors by defenders, including the winner, scored by Moise Kean.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

Juventus came into this game almost certainly having an eye on their midweek Champions League quarter-final clash against Ajax, given that the Serie A is effectively theirs. In the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Massimiliano Allegri elected to start with a forward pairing of Mario Mandžukić and Paulo Dybala in a 3-5-2 formation. This also saw Federico Bernardeschi start in a central midfield role, and Alex Sandro as the left center-back.

Three games without a win for AC Milan prior to this game left hem in danger of losing their top four place in Serie A. Milan set up in a 4-3-3 formation with prolific striker Krzysztof Piatek leading the line up front. Either side of him were Suso and Fabio Borini while the midfield was anchored by Tiemoué Bakayoko and completed by Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Franck Kessié.

Juve’s nominal positioning and movements in possession, pitted against AC Milan’s 4-1-4-1 block. 

Juventus end the first half with one (!) shot

Allegri’s team played an extremely unfruitful first half, as it took until stoppage time to register their first shot of the game altogether. Their possession game was not necessarily terrible in terms of its structure, but there seemed to be a lack of intensity and cutting edge to their play. A complete lack of verticality was at the base of this.

They set up in a 3-5-2 formation, and as is fairly standard for Juventus in recent times. In this formation, they emphasize slick wing combinations and switches of play to create favourable crossing situations, instead of playing through the center of the field. Ronaldo may not have been available to exploit these crosses today, but they still had the imposing Mandžukić, joined by midfield runners into the box, who tried to exploit these situations.

The forward running of the midfielders was also used in a different context, in order to progress the ball from the back. The use of underlapping Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. runs from the central midfielders to get beyond the wing-backs was also a noticeable part of Juve’s possession game.

This was not just a ploy for the central midfielders to attempt to receive the ball running in behind the defense, but could also serve to create pockets of space for strikers to drop in and receive between lines. This was more relevant on Juventus’ right side, where Dybala could drop into pockets of space in wide areas created by the forward runs of his central midfielders, to then cut in on his favoured left foot. In the entire first half, both Dybala and Juventus as a whole looked uninspired and, quite frankly, stale.

AC Milan show promise in possession

Juventus showed some mechanisms to create space for a key player in Dybala, as briefly explained. Milan also looked to bring their main creator Suso into the game in a similar way when they had the ball, and arguably used this more consistently than Juventus did with Dybala.

Essentially, they used positional rotations between Suso and the right central midfielder Frank Kessié to help open spaces for Suso to collect the ball and assume playmaking responsibilities from 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 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.

Aside from vacating the central midfield slot for Suso to drop into, the forward run made by Kessié when Suso dropped into his position would ideally pin back Juve’s left wing-back or center-back, as those players normally would have followed Suso into midfield, creating space for the Spaniard to turn and distribute play from there.

It wasn’t from their own possession that Milan were able to go ahead before halftime, though. Instead, their goal originated from a Leonardo Bonucci mistake. The center-back misplaced a pass on the edge of his own box, allowing Kessié to intercept and feed striker Piatek, who made no mistake and put the ball in the net, meaning Milan went up 1-0 after 39 minutes.

Allegri’s second half adjustments

One of the ways to spot top managers is evaluating their in-game management. Juventus came out of the dressing room with a higher intensity with and without the ball and additionally, they had switched from their starting 3-5-2 shape into a 4-4-2 formation. This meant Bernardeschi moved to right midfield, Leonardo Spinazzola to left midfield, and Alex Sandro to his more familiar left back position.

They did improve during their spell in 4-4-2, but still not everything was perfect. Milan were quite brave in their buildup, and tried to play through Juve’s press. As a result, Juventus sometimes appeared slightly outnumbered in central midfield when trying to press, meaning Milan could easily progress the ball in these situations.

Furthermore, the role of Alex Sandro when Juventus had the ball did not seem to fit him quite right. With Spinazzola – a fullback by nature himself – hugging the touchline ahead of him, it seemed to limit Sandro’s freedom to make forward runs. There were opportunities to overlap or underlap Spinazzola which also were not taken. Instead, Sandro played a slightly reserved role, which never seemed quite right, as he is not a fullback that can act as a playmaker on the inside.

Ruthless Juve

Nevertheless, Juventus managed to equalize at the hour mark through a Dybala penalty. There are not always tactical factors at play when conceding. In this instance, a defensive mistake by Mateo Musacchio was at the base of Juve’s equalizer, as he went diving into a very naïve tackle against Dybala. The resulting penalty made it 1-1 with thirty minutes left to play.

After this, there was another formation change for Juventus. Dybala, having just scored the penalty, was replaced by Moise Kean. Spinazzola was also replaced by Miralem Pjanić. This meant a switch to 4-3-3 shape for Juventus, as they went into their third formation of the night. Pjanić would play at the base of midfield, Kean went up front, with Mandžukić to his left and Bernardeschi to his right.

This change now meant that Sandro was integrated slightly better, moving into the space vacated by Mandžukić on the left wing, as he moved inside. Having Mandžukić and Bernardeschi drifting inside from the wings in general gave their attack slightly more variability, with more options between the lines centrally rather than always playing through the wings.

Again though, when the winning goal finally came for Juventus, it originated from an opposition mistake. This time it was Milan’s right back Davide Calabria attempting a careless pass into central midfield, which Pjanić swooped in to intercept. Pjanić drove forward a few yards with the ball before playing in Kean to the right of the penalty spot. The in-form Kean slotted home with power into the bottom corner for 2-1.

You may have heard a thing or two about Kean in the past week. We will not delve into sociopolitical factors here, but it is quite ironic that it had to be him to save Juventus here, especially after going down after a mistake by Bonucci…


Is it too easy to classify this match as a duel with wooden swords, a game in which Milan seemed to assert control until Juventus brought the big boys on? Probably, because of all of Juve’s substitutes, only Pjanić is a nominal starter. More importantly, Allegri’s second half changes massively helped them along the way to eventually snatch the win.

Milan showed some decent ideas, especially in possession. Their buildup was brave and the way they defended all the crosses whipped in by Juventus was commendable. They could be accused of going slightly too passive after taking the lead, however. Moreover, this result also puts their top four place in Serie A at further risk.

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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