Juventus – Napoli: Juventus’ Block Causes Napoli To Stumble Further (1-0)
Juventus extended their impressive unbeaten run to ten games with a typical one-goal win over Napoli. As ever, their defensive work stood out as their ultra compact block saw out the win after they took the lead, but what preceded that was quite interesting from a tactical standpoint.
Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.
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“You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like.” That probably is Massimiliano Allegri’s motto at Juventus. Given the club’s off-field issues, they have to work with a fair few constraints, so even though the Italian manager’s style of play is far from the most attractive, the fact that it is yielding results is all they can ask for. He himself has been trying to play down Juventus’ title chances, but them starting the match just two points behind the leaders is not helpful in that respect.
Napoli, on the other hand, might have wanted to be in a serious title race (being the defending champions and everything), but they absolutely were not. They went into the match a whopping eleven points behind Inter just fourteen rounds into the season, having already changed managers. Walter Mazzarri had been given a tough run of fixtures to start with including matches against Atalanta, Real Madrid and Inter, so the pressure to get results would soon come to him too.
As ever, Juventus lined up in their 3-5-2 formation. Wojciech Szczęsny started in goal behind center-backs Federico Gatti, Gleison Bremer and Danilo, whilst Andrea Cambiaso and Filip Kostić manned the flanks. Manuel Locatelli had Weston McKennie and Adrien Rabiot on either side of him in midfield, whilst Federico Chiesa supported Dušan Vlahović up front.
Napoli stuck to their favored 4-3-3 formation. Alex Meret’s goal was protected by a back four of Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Amir Rrahmani, Juan Jesus and Natan. André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Stanislav Lobotka and Piotr Zieliński made up the midfield as usual, whilst the front three was comprised of Matteo Politano, Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Juventus press to impress
Juventus’ standout attribute at the moment is their staunch defensive block. The compactness of their 5-3-2 shape and its excellent success in cordoning off the middle of the pitch for opponents (especially through the great work of the front five) has frustrated many an opponent, earning them one of the best defensive records not just in the division but across Europe’s top leagues based on underlying numbers.
In order to ensure the success of this approach, Allegri usually asks his team to start in a medium block at most and always stay compact by not pushing up to press too much. Unsurprisingly, then, they have been the least intense and successful pressers in Serie A this season based on Soccerment’s Buildup Disruption Percentage (BDP) metric. However, they decided to do things a little differently against Napoli.
Perhaps recognizing their visitors’ volatility and unstable situation, they set up in a quite high block by their standards. Against goal kicks, they even went for a fully player-oriented approach in what became a 3-2-3-2 structure with the wing backs stepping up very high to get in range of Napoli’s fullbacks, leaving a three-versus-three at the back as close player-marking was employed in midfield.
11th minute: Juventus’ fully player-oriented high block setup against goal kicks.
In fairness, Juventus do tend to use such an approach from goal kicks against many opponents, and as was the case here, it is less of a press to win the ball back and more of a ploy to keep their opponents pinned back in their own half, making it difficult for them to progress through the thirds. The difference here, though, was that they could often be seen in such a 3-5-2 shape even during settled open play, whereas they would generally collapse into a 5-3-2 block in such situations against almost any other opponents.
Thanks to this ever so slightly more aggressive defensive approach, Juventus enjoyed a great first half where they restricted Napoli to just two shots from open play (both from outside the box) despite letting them keep over two-thirds of possession.
Cambiaso’s dynamism offers a spark
It would be fair to say that Juventus were the more threatening team in the first half. This does not mean that they looked scintillating going forward, but rather that they offered at least some attacking threat whilst their opponents were completely blank.
Eye-catching attacking play is the last thing one should expect of Allegri, but one interesting thing he does is use opposite-footed wing backs, who often tend to be converted wingers. Such cameos from Samuel Iling-Junior and Matías Soulé last season provided the most attacking excitement for Juventus fans last season, but they hardly got to start games.
Finally, though, that seems to have changed. Amidst a bit of an injury crisis at right wing back, Allegri initially turned to McKennie but eventually decided to give Cambiaso a chance. Although he has spent almost all of his senior career on the left – mostly as a left-back – he did possess some traits that suggested he might work on the opposite flank.
That has proven to be the case so far. The young Italian has shown some very good dribbling quality which enables him to square up opposition defenders and chop onto his favored left foot with good regularity, after which his cross deliveries rarely disappoint. His work rate and off-ball positioning also prove useful, as is proven by the fact that he was the one who received the most progressive passing for his team in this game as opposed to a central attacker or midfielder.
Indeed, it was Cambiaso who created the decisive chance with a typically threatening inswinging cross after cutting onto his left, which was delivered to an incredibly dangerous area where Gatti was on hand to head home.
Juventus’ compact block sees out the win
Everyone knew what was coming after Juventus took the lead in the 51st minute: the most compact and tough-to-break-down low block of all time. It is safe to say that they did not disappoint.
After scoring, the hosts managed a grand total of one more shot from inside the penalty area, but that was hardly their concern. As always, they went ultra-defensive in a positive game state with a singular focus on restricting their opponents’ chances. The merit of this approach is debatable as all hard work can be undone by just one unlucky break, but it has served Juventus well so far. They are the best team in the league in terms of holding on to a lead, having won eleven matches from twelve such positions, with the only outlier being a draw against title rivals Inter.
This game epitomized the pros and cons of this approach. It was all smooth sailing for the most part as none of Napoli’s eight subsequent shots were really threatening, but they did almost blow it away when the visitors pounced on a loose giveaway at the back and Osimhen put the ball in the net. Thankfully for Allegri’s men, though, he was offside. Save for that scare, Juventus cruised home and pocketed all three points.
The Old Lady trudges on. Juventus are far from the most entertaining and exciting team in the world, but it is hard to fault them whilst they keep getting results. With eight wins and two draws in their last ten matches, they are in a fine vein of form which is keeping them close to Inter at the top of Serie A. In fact, they have temporarily ascended to the summit of the standings – at least until Inter play their match this weekend.
Napoli, on the other hand, continue to fall away from the top having spent almost all of last season well clear of the rest. They are now at risk of even dropping out of the top six if a couple of other results prove unfavorable, so their title defense can surely already be deemed over. Salvaging a respectable finish in the Champions League places must be the realistic target for the season now, but they have some work to do if they are to achieve it as their spark and mojo seem to be totally lost.
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