Juventus – Internazionale: Allegri’s men edge trademark narrow win after tactical adjustments from both managers (1-0)
Inter had the better of the chances, Juventus went home with all three points. Both sides initially had issues in their pressing, and both managers changed shape in response. Inter were made to regret their misses as Mario Mandzukic headed Juventus in front. Subsequently, Allegri shut up shop and Juventus secured their clean sheet.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Juventus came into the Derby d’Italia having only dropped two points in the league all season. Manager Massimiliano Allegri made just one change from the team that eased to a 3-0 victory away at Fiorentina last weekend. Miralem Pjanic returned to the side at the base of a midfield three in a 4-3-1-2 formation at the expense of Juan Cuadrado.
Inter had just one win in their last five games before this one. Luciano Spalletti made four changes from last week’s draw against Roma. In defense, Šime Vrsaljko came into the team in place of Danilo D’Ambrosio, and Miranda was preferred over Stefan De Vrij. Meanwhile, Roberto Gagliardini replaced Borja Valero in midfield, and Matteo Politano was preferred to Keita Baldé on the right wing in a 4-3-3 formation.
Juventus in a 4-3-1-2 shape in possession against Inter’s 4-1-4-1 defense.
Juventus’ pressing imperfections
For Juventus in their 4-3-1-2 formation, there was a small weakness when it came to pressuring the wide areas against Inter’s 4-3-3 shape. With the narrowness of Juventus’ midfield and attack in this shape, the players in both lines had to cover large distances in order to get to opponents in wide areas. Occasionally one of the forwards would drop into a wide midfield position, but generally Juventus were defending with a midfield line of three in the first half.
This relied somewhat on the athleticism of Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi to cover the aforementioned large distances to pressure the wide areas, partly because of Juventus’ fullbacks being pinned back by Inter’s wingers. This made it difficult for them to move forward to assist the pressing in higher zones.
It was only in deeper zones that Inter found themselves able to exploit this problem most then, and as a result Juventus were usually able to prevent any dangerous situations developing directly from it. Even when their press was beaten via wide areas, as it was a couple of times in the early stages, they could usually halt the progress before Inter created anything.
Bigger problem for Inter
Inter had their own, slightly more serious problems in midfield pressing in their 4-1-4-1 formation in the first half. This mostly revolved around the pressing behaviour of the two central midfielders, Gagliardini and João Mário.
The basic problem came when Gagliardini and Mario would push forward to press when Juventus circulated the ball in their own backline. This is fine when executed in a disciplined and balanced way, but there were scenes in the first half where both central midfielders had withdrawn from the midfield line at the same time. When there was insufficient pressure on the ball, this allowed Juventus to find some passes in the large spaces left either side of Marcelo Brozović..
Juventus’ structure in possession was quite flexible and they could occupy these zones behind Inter’s midfield interchangeably. Paulo Dybala as the attacking midfielder often tended slightly towards the right halfspace, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the half spaces 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. while Cristiano Ronaldo and Mandžukić drifted across the frontline freely.
The two fullbacks provided the attacking width, with Cancelo being especially threatening from the left. Interestingly, Di Sciglio had started the game as the left fullback, and Cancelo as the right fullback, before they swapped sides permanently around halfway through the first half. In the center, Leonardo Bonucci and Pjanic were the players who controlled proceedings when Juventus had the ball, utilising their passing range to good effect.
Despite the faults in Inter’s pressing, they were the ones who had the better chances in the first half. These came in quick succession, and both came from the tricky Politano on the right wing. For the first chance, Miranda hit a long, diagonal pass to Politano. The winger cut inside and passed into the feet of Mauro Icardi. With his back to goal, Icardi laid the ball off to the onrushing Gagliardini, who hit a left-footed shot against the post.
Less than a minute later, this time in a counterattack, the ball found its way to Politano on the right again. This time instead of cutting inside he went to the byline, and hit a low cross, from which Perisic fired wide.
Inter’s passmap shows a 4-3-3 structure. Striker Icardi usually has few touches on the ball.
Both managers change defensive shape
In the second half, both managers seemingly looked to rectify their respective pressing issues by changing defensive shape.
Inter were now defending in something closer to a 4-4-1-1 formation, compared to the 4-1-4-1 shape in the first half. Basically Mario, and later Valero when he came on, would mark Pjanic when Juventus had the ball. This meant that Gagliardini started deeper alongside Brozović to offer some extra defensive coverage, although he did sometimes still push up when his direct opponent Matuidi dropped into deeper positions.
It also meant that it was naturally a bit more difficult for Pjanic to bring his playmaking abilities into the game. Juventus are a team that do not necessarily need to build through Pjanic though, even if he is the designated playmaker in midfield. They are also proficient at playing direct, looking for second balls, getting directly behind the defense or playing long diagonals to switch wings and cross. This is especially true when they have an outstanding passer like Bonucci in defense.
As for Allegri, his side were now pressing in a flat 4-4-2 shape, with Mandžukić dropping in as the left midfielder. Their pressing in the second half was certainly improved. They now had easier access to Inter’s fullbacks, so Inter could not use the wide areas as outlets the same way they could in the first half. Juventus were now able to gain some momentum in the game with Inter being forced into mistakes in deep buildup and losing possession in their own half.
The first half switch of fullbacks Cancelo and De Sciglio disrupts Juventus’ passmap, with both projected more centrally than they actually played.
Juventus score, Allegri shuts up shop
Juventus managed to get the only goal of the game in the 66th minute. Matuidi hit a long ball over the head of Vrsaljko into the path of Cancelo. The Portuguese fullback delivered a cross to the back post where Mandžukić was waiting, looking to use his height advantage over Kwadwo Asamoah. He easily outmuscled the Ghanaian to head the ball in from point-blank range.
Being 1-0 up going into the last twenty minutes of a game is seemingly a situation that Juventus are built for, due to their very strong medium and low block defending. A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. 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. This was again on display in this game as Inter tried to chase the game.
Allegri also took off Dybala and brought on the pace and trickery of Douglas Costa. When defending, Costa would slot in as the right midfielder, in what was now a 4-5-1 defensive shape for Juventus. What Costa also offers due to his speed and dribbling ability is a great counterattacking threat in order to punish any potential over-commitment to attack by Inter.
Going into the final ten minutes, Allegri decided to increase the defensive strength of his midfield further by introducing Emre Can to the proceedings. The additions of Keita Baldé and Lautaro Martinez were not enough for Inter to overcome a stubborn Juventus defense in the end.
This win means Juventus stay unbeaten in the league. They should not be completely happy with their performance in the first half though. On another day, they could easily have gone in behind at half-time. As is usually the case with Juventus though, they did just enough to win. Once they got their goal, it they shut Inter out almost entirely, and managed the game with relative ease. Juventus now go away to BSC Young Boys in the Champions League. They have already qualified from the group, but a win will ensure that they stay top, ahead of Manchester United who play away to Valencia.
This defeat makes it three games without a win for Inter, but they will have to pick themselves up quickly, as they have a vital Champions League clash against PSV on Tuesday. If Tottenham lose in Barcelona, a draw would be enough to see Spalletti’s team qualify for the Champions League knockout rounds.
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