Juventus – Atlético Madrid: Allegri’s masterful game plan and a Ronaldo hat trick lead Juventus into the quarter finals (3-0)
Juventus completed a spectacular comeback against Atlético. In the first sixty minutes of the game, Juventus players executed Allegri’s masterplan to perfection, overwhelming Atlético with crosses and winning second balls. Simeone evened out the tables in a cagey final half hour in which both teams mostly nullified each other, but a late penalty allowed Ronaldo to score his third goal of the night, and Juventus their way into the quarter finals.
Tactical analysis and match report by Jose Pérez.
After Atlético defeated Juventus in the first leg with a spectacular performance, things have been going well for both teams in their respective leagues over the last three weeks. Juventus continued to dominate their league with an iron fist, winning all three of their matches, including one against closest persecutor Napoli. Atlético hit one of their better runs of form in the season themselves, winning three games in a row with the goal scoring punch of newcomer Álvaro Morata.
For this big night, Juventus lined up in a nominal 4-3-3 formation, which took up a 3-4-3 shape in the offense (more on that later). The goal of Wojciech Szczęsny was defended by a back four of Leonardo Spinazzola, Leo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and João Cancelo. Spinazzola played as left back with Alex Sandro suspended and Mattia De Sciglio injured. In midfield started the trio of Miralem Pjanić, Emre Can and Blaise Matuidi. Up front, a forward trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Federico Bernardeschi and Mario Mandžukić, with Paulo Dybala left on the bench this time.
Atlético lined up in their usual 4-4-2 shape, both in defense and offense. The goal of Jan Oblak was defended by Juanfran, Diego Godín, Jose María Giménez and Santiago Arias. Juanfran played as left back due to the injuries of Lucas Hernández and Filipe Luis. The midfield featured a double pivot with Saúl and Rodri Hernández, with Thomas Lemar and Koke as wide midfielders. Up front, a duo of Álvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann.
Allegri’s plan for complete dominance
Allegri needed big changes to turn the game around in this second leg, and he made them in the form of Cancelo, Can and Bernardeschi. Allegri wanted his team had to produce a huge number of crosses into the box to take advantage of Ronaldo’s elite movement in the box and win the second balls after any unsuccessful crosses to prevent Atlético from counterattacking. Cancelo provided better ball progression and crossing down the right side, while Bernardeschi provided more speed and workrate (both defensive and offensive) than Dybala.
However, perhaps the most important change was the fascinating role of Emre Can. When Juventus had the ball, Can would stay back with Bonucci and Chiellini as a third central defender, on the right side. This gave Juventus’ back line numerical superiority against Atlético’s striker duo, which was useful for playing out from the back. Furthermore, Can would follow Morata like a shadow when Atlético sent long balls to him. This was Allegri learning the lesson from the first leg and preventing Atlético from dominating in long balls and second balls.
Can’s role turned Juventus’s shape into a 3-4-3 when having the ball, with Spinazzola and Cancelo playing as wing backs and Pjanić taking a more advanced midfield role alongside Matuidi. Pjanić and Matuidi were very aggressive going forward, often operating in the half spaces and forming passing triangles with their respective fullbacks and wingers. Through these triangles (Spinazzola-Matuidi-Ronaldo on the left, Cancelo-Pjanić-Bernardeschi on the right) Juventus dominated on the wings. They could get into good crossing positions and prevent Atlético from launching counterattacks on the wings.
Note the interesting role for Emre Can, which turned Juventus’ formation into mostly a 3-4-3.
For the first sixty minutes of the game, Allegri’s master plan remained unchanged and yielded great results: 33 crosses, 13 shots, two goals, both from Ronaldo headers.
Atlético trapped by Juventus
Just as Juventus improved hugely with their lineup changes, Atlético declined with theirs. The absences of Diego Costa and Thomas Partey due to injury hit hard. Without Costa, Atlético lost significant power for winning long balls and holding up the ball against Juventus defenders. For all his current issues in getting into goal scoring positions, Costa is much better than Morata at playing with his back to goal.
Meanwhile, Atlético’s midfield struggled with Saúl in the double pivot. He provides good defensive workrate and aerial power, but usually participates very little in his team’s buildup phase. Perhaps to compensate for Saúl’s playmaking deficits, Simeone opted to start with Thomas Lemar, but the move backfired. Lemar’s defensive positioning and intensity were often subpar, and that conceded valuable time and space to Cancelo. With Saúl absent from his team’s buildup and Koke and Lemar too busy defending the wings, Atlético had no way to connect with their strikers other than long balls, which Juventus were winning anyways.
Juventus had shut down Atlético’s pathways to attack and that showed in the results of the first sixty minutes: Atlético only shot four times, three of them from outside the box.
Direct play was basically the only recipe left for Atlético, and they were not very successful with that.
Simeone reacts with Correa, Allegri answers with Dybala
The final half hour of the game was far cagier, with both teams producing only four shots in total, including the penalty scored by Ronaldo. Simeone managed to even out the tables with the substitution of a hyperactive Ángel Correa for the underperforming Lemar in the 57th minute. With Correa on the right wing, Koke moved to the left, and he was better than Lemar at keeping track of Cancelo’s runs. Meanwhile, Correa was given more freedom to move to central areas and provide his midfielders with a way to linkup with Atlético’s other strikers.
Allegri wanted to take advantage of Correa’s freedom on the right side, so he replaced Spinazzola for Dybala in the 67th minute and reshuffled his team into a 4-4-2 formation. Cancelo moved to left back (to go behind Correa’s back), Can moved to right back. On the wings played Dybala on the right and Bernardeschi on the left, with Ronaldo and Mandžukić as strikers. Allegri’s change was bold and helped push back an increasingly aggressively Atlético, but it was not so productive in the offense. Juventus produced only five crosses and two open play shots in the final half hour. To improve on this, Allegri substituted a hard-working Mandžukić for the young Moise Kean in the eightieth minute, which gave Juventus more speed on the counter against an increasingly desperate Atlético.
This game had all the signs of going into extra time, but an excellent Bernardeschi run on the counter led to the penalty that Ronaldo scored to complete his hat trick and send Juventus into the quarter finals. Atlético tried to react in the final minutes but Juventus’s defensive block—led by a spectacular Chiellini—was rock solid and shut down the shop. A poor Atlético offense had only managed to produce a single shot throughout the entire second half.
Juventus and Allegri had to make up for everything that went wrong in the first leg, and they did. Allegri’s adjustments allowed Juventus to dominate on the wings as well as counterpress and win second balls effectively. The players held up their own part of the deal by winning most of the individual duels against Atlético players. With the Atlético threat nullified and the volume crossing strategy, the stage was set for Ronaldo to do what he does best: dominate the opponent’s box and decide Champions League knockout games.
As brilliant as Juventus’s performance was, it also showed the current limitations of the traditional Atlético and Simeone game plan. Despite all their creative talent (Rodri, Koke, Thomas, Griezmann, Lemar), Atlético still have an enormous dependence on wing play and their strikers winning long balls. When Juventus shut down both offensive mechanisms, Atlético were trapped in their own half. To make things worse, Atlético’s defense of the box is good, but not as airtight as in 2014-2016. The first leg fooled us for a moment, but it seems the traditional Atléti game plan is just not as effective and consistent as before.
The Simeone process turned Atlético into a European giant, but if Atlético wants to continue succeeding in Spain and Europe, they must evolve. Simeone needs to make better use of the available creative talent and create new offensive mechanisms.
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