Juventus – Sampdoria: Video Assistant Referee saves Juventus against Sampdoria (2-1)
After scoring an early goal, Juventus looked as if they were easily cruising towards three more points to add to their already impressive league tally. The Video Assistant Referee decided against that scenario, as both teams got some help at different stages in the match. Most notably, Sampdoria’s equalizer in stoppage time got ruled out, which meant Juventus took the win in the end.
Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.
When a team is dominating the league like Juventus in this season’s Serie A or PSG in Ligue 1, you sometimes wonder where the fun is in watching and covering matches like these. It’s a logical thought, but a wrong one.
We can still see how talented players from opposing teams fare up against Europe’s elite level, and from time to time, a little surprise occurs. Little spoiler: this game against Sampdoria did not prove to be easy cruising for Juventus.
Sampdoria are no minnows anyway, sitting sixth in Serie A. To beat them, Allegri pulled off another one of his 4-3-3 formations that yields a lot of positional freedom for his three forwards – in this case Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandžukić and Paulo Dybala. João Cancelo is injured, while Leonardo Bonucci and Wojciech Szczęsny were rested, which made Juve’s defense the most heavily rotated line.
Under Marco Giampaolo, Sampdoria always play a 4-3-1-2 formation in which the opponent can be pressed over the full width of the pitch. Veteran Fabio Quagliarella is still poaching his way to goals up top, while the midfield consists of four hard-running dynamo’s that can play some football as well.
All twenty-two outfield players depicted in a situation where Juventus was building up.
Pressing gone wrong for Sampdoria
The process in which one team tries to build up with short passes from the back while the other team tries to prevent this through pressing is a fascinating one. Lovers of said situations in football had a fantastic first half hour of the match.
Sampdoria were not afraid to take the game to Juventus with pressing, and under Allegri, Juventus are a team that can play out from the back with no little skill, regista Miralem Pjanić often being the focal point.
Sampdoria’s 4-3-1-2 shape naturally leaves the middle of the field very packed, as their three most offensive players congest the center. As a result, their opponents will have to play the ball to the side of the field. When that happens, all of Sampdoria’s players tilt to that side and the player on the ball – most likely a fullback – is pressed, as are all the opposing players around him.
The danger for Sampdoria’s tactics lies in the fact they almost play man-for-man in these situations. This has two negative implications. Firstly, as the wide midfielder is often the player pressing the fullback, attackers like Ronaldo and Dybala are being defended by only one defender, with a lot of space in behind to run into. Secondly, because eight of Sampdoria’s ten outfield players are on one side of the field, the other side is completely open to play in.
These two things combined led to Juve’s first goal. De Sciglio was pressed, but he played a quick, vertical and low pass to Dybala. The Argentinian dribbled inside and played a wonderful cross-field pass to Ronaldo, to put him one-versus-one with Sampdoria’s full back Jacopo Sala.
Ronaldo dribbling from the left with the defender in front. We all know the end result, right? A shot on goal, and this time, it even went in, touching the inside of the post. Juventus were leading after just two minutes of play.
Situation just before Ronaldo’s goal. Sampdoria’s pressing was too late, which gave Dybala time and space on the ball to play a cross-field pass to Ronaldo and put him in a one-versus-one situation.
Juventus’ total control vanishes like snow for the sun
After the opening goal, this looked to become one of those easy matches for the reigning champions. Time after time, the space next to Sampdoria’s midfield line of three was found. Pjanić in particular kept spraying passes into these zones into the attacking midfielders or dropping forwards.
Furthermore, it became a theme for Juventus to start attacks from the right, try to play out from under Sampdoria’s pressure and continue their attacks from the left. Juve’s main attacking trio have a quite good understanding of who needs to fill in what roles on offense, as Dybala can pop up in the left 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. while Ronaldo and Mandžukić fill in the other positions.
Despite an absence of clear-cut scoring chances, the match was in total control for Juventus. This suddenly changed when a corner kick by Sampdoria fell on the hand of Emre Can. After interference of the Video Assistant Referee, the ball was put on the spot for a penalty kick, which Quagliarella converted. Ten minutes before half-time, out of the blue, the game was level again.
What ensued would be Sampdoria’s best spell of the match. What had been missing earlier from their pressing, was creating turnovers close to Juve’s goal to capitalize on. Exactly that aspect showed in the ten to fifteen minutes before half-time, especially on Juve’s left flank off Alex Sandro. Ultimately, Sampdoria did not score, even though they had some dangerous set-pieces.
Juventus storms out of the gate in the second half
What separates the top sides from the just-plain-good ones, is accountability to deliver. Right from the start of the second half, Juventus turned up the tempo and chased the second goal. Without true creative midfielders on the pitch, their attacking approach mainly focused on the flanks. Crossing is not a bad strategy when you have Ronaldo and Mandžukić in the box, mind you.
If you are Sampdoria and play against a European super power like Juventus, every defensive approach is bound to have some sort of liability. Most teams opt to play in a 5-4-1, 4-5-1, 4-1-4-1 or another variety. Sampdoria went a bit more attacking here, defending in a 4-3-3 deep on their own half. This meant the cover on the sides was not always there, and a lot of two-versus-two situations occurred, which were exploited by Juventus.
Most of Juventus’ attacks came through the left, with Alex Sandro putting in a shift as a de facto extra winger, while Dybala roamed all over the attacking part of the pitch. This resulted in multiple chances for Ronaldo, Dybala and Matuidi, without putting the ball in the net. A spectacular attempt from more than twenty yards out struck the bar.
Sampdoria’s low block 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. consisted of a low 4-3-3 formation.
(Video Assistant) Referee affects match heavily
Just past the hour mark, the referee decided to give another penalty, this time for a supposed handball by Sampdoria’s defender Gian Marco Ferrari. Even though the referee was pulled to the screen by the VAR to have another look, the decision stood, and Juventus got a – rather cheap – penalty, which Ronaldo converted.
From then on, the play remained as it had been in the first half after Juventus scored. Controlling with the ball, making sure the team always had enough players behind the ball in possession and very careful, thoughtful attacking. Federico Bernardeschi was brought on for Mandžukić – who put up a true shift in the defensive side, making up for Dybala and Ronaldo – and the clocked ticked on, as it looked like this would be another trademark Juventus victory with only one goal separating the sides.
A minute into stoppage time, however, a clumsy kick by Juventus goalkeeper Perin landed at the feet of Sampdoria substitute Riccardo Saponara, via Grégoire Defrel. A quick one-two meant Saponara had time and space to take a shot on the edge of the area… which ended in the top corner.
Madness ensued, screaming Sampdoria tifosi, a heap of players, Saponara taking off his shirt and gladly accepting the yellow card.
In stepped the VAR, again. Defrel’s pass to Saponara had been offside, even though it looked like it might have been a ricochet off Alex Sandro as well.
Offside. No goal. Free kick Juventus. In the five remaining minutes, Sampdoria could not muster another genuine chance to score, which meant Juventus kept the points at home.
Does the Video Assistant Referee make the game more honest this way? In the case of handballs, the law of the game is very unclear as it is. Is the game of football helped by a referee going over to a screen, looking at the footage again and again, having to determine whether a players’ movement towards the ball was ‘natural’?
Both Can and Ferrari made unintentional handballs in an attempt to head the ball away. It remains a bug that needs fixing, as cheaply awarded penalties are not what makes football a more fair and honest sport, or even more entertaining.
Back to football. Sampdoria put up a true fight, which lasted until the last minute, but Juventus never was really out of control in this game. If Saponara’s goal would have stood, a draw would have been a freak incident rather than a deserved result, based on the overall run of play.
Samp are a nice team to watch though, and in their quite unique formation and playing style, they are a true addition to Serie A, and they will be as long as Giampaolo is their manager.
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