Parma – Juventus: Promising Early Days From Sarri’s Juve (0-1)

Following in the footsteps of LaLiga and the Bundesliga, Serie A’s new season was inaugurated by the reigning champions, Juventus. A good first half from Juve was followed by a second half during which the visitors were unable to retain control. It was only for Parma’s flawed offensive dynamics that Maurizio Sarri’s men managed to escape with all three points.

Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.

A somewhat unsuccessful season under Massimiliano Allegri was partly masked by a dominant Serie A campaign. At one point Juventus stood twenty points ahead of second-placed Napoli, denoting the individual supremacy over every other contender yet again; amidst collective problems.

Juve’s board was faced with a decision to make: either continuing a cycle that looked very much at its last straw, or making a change that months later, vice president Pavel Nedved addressed as “ a big change, which does not imply a transition”. Nedved hereby suggested that Juve are still expected to compete in every competition and win all domestic trophies. Thus, Allegri departed, and one of his previous competitors, Maurizio Sarri, took his place.

The managerial switch symbolized a radical shift in a footballing direction in many ways antithetic to Allegri’s. Whereas Juventus’ football in previous years had epitomized the influence of the individuals, and the single events in a sport dominated by chaos, Sarri’s philosophy screams the opposite. The obsessive control over every variable as opposed to waiting to seize the moment, up to more stylistic differences as in the defensive approaches. One focused on the opponents, whilst the other exclusively on the ball. Sarri’s methodology was therefore deemed fitting to finally make the most of the attacking talent at Juve’s disposal.

On the bench, in Parma, however, was no Sarri, as pneumonia ruled him out of Juventus’ outings before the international break. So instead, his assistant Giovanni Martusciello took his place, and interestingly enough the starting eleven resembled one of Allegri’s, without any new signings featuring from the start and with the standard midfield being composed of Blaise Matuidi, Miralem Pjanić, and Sami Khedira.

Roberto D’Aversa, on the other hand, fielded new signings in Hernani, Vincent Laurini and Gastón Brugman.

Juve dominate from the start

Juventus started in a 4-3-3 formation on the ball against Parma’s compact 4-4-2 shape. Parma’s football is known for being based on deep defending and counterattacking and as such their possession phase is not particularly elaborate; Juventus could thus easily obstruct their buildup. 

The visitors pressed Parma’s 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 formation in a 4-3-3 shape with the wingers stepping onto the center-backs and the striker marking one of the pivots. Parma, therefore, often went long and Juve recovered possession quite quickly.

In possession, Matuidi positioned himself just slightly above defensive midfielder Pjanić, while the other central midfielder, Khedira, would occupy the space between the lines or rotate wide with Douglas Costa, depending on the Brazilian’s position. Juve tried creating close positioning between midfielders and attackers to combine in tight spaces, which meant that the fullbacks would stay deep for cover until the ball went wide and support on the wing was needed.

Juventus would try to keep at least one man in each 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 the 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. usually Cristiano Ronaldo on the left and Khedira or Costa on the right. Mattia De Sciglio stayed deeper and tight in possession phases, almost aside Pjanic, overlapping only when Costa would drop to receive the ball.

Juve’s 4-3-3 shape in possession.

The close positioning between midfield and attack ensured that quick combinations could be played, but also that spaces wide could be opened.  The latter scenario was a result of the extremely tight shape centrally and was usually achieved with Higuain moving towards the ball and switching the play out wide. Otherwise, Ronaldo could temporarily drop in front of the midfield line to receive and combine with Higuaín ahead of him. The Portuguese was particularly active in his movements across the frontline, which allowed him to overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the ball side and subsequently attack the box.

As the first half progressed, though, Parma found it easier to bypass Juve’s pressing once the shape became more of a 4-4-2. Juventus often directed the circulation to Parma’s left side, however, as Douglas Costa stayed deeper on the fullback, he left one central defender free. As a result, Khedira often left his line to press, leaving one of the pivots available to receive behind him. In these cases, the backline was slow to close the space between the lines. At times, Pjanić also often preferred staying behind to cover the space between the lines instead of stepping onto the unmarked midfielder, increasing the defensive distances.

Juve’s 4-4-2 press against Parma’s extremely direct 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 shape.

A stale second half

The second half started with Juve struggling to buildup from the back due to a series of reasons.

D’Aversa decided to take off Dejan Kulusevski, for probably hoping for an impact in attack which had been lacking despite a good spell from Parma.

Having been quiet through the first quarter of the second half, Martusciello took Khedira off for Rabiot, who had shown good ball-carrying qualities to progress the ball in the preseason, and good timing when making runs into the box. 

The first scenario did not arise though, as Parma rarely left space for the ball to be carried unless Juventus could counter. Also, the progressive decrease in passing lanes between the lines, mainly due to the attack being too static and wide to carry out and tiredness which was evident in the numerous mistakes Juve made throughout the half. Martusciello confirmed it in the post-match interview as well, saying that “a team that plays individually makes technical mistakes”, clearly referring to the second-half performance.

Despite a very poor second half from Juventus, Parma were unable to create dangerous shooting opportunities despite recovering the ball often in favorable areas and finding players between the lines on multiple occasions. In this sense, their inefficient offensive dynamics were decisive.

Expected goals plot Parma Calcio 1913 Juventus 0-1 Serie AJuventus defended the lead in the second half.


The decision to field Matuidi surprised many at first, but after preseason difficulties at controlling counters, Sarri deemed the Frenchman necessary in a moment of work in progress. The strategy in possession also seemed to confirm the idea that Matuidi is not particularly well-suited in possession, as his little involvement – 20 passes and 41 touches – shows.

The match was a game of two halves, which on the one hand can be considered positive as many improvements can already be noticed in Juve’s possession game and positioning, as well as in the pressing, even though to a lesser extent. On the other hand, the team play clearly needs to be worked on, like Martusciello said, to overcome difficulties as a collective and avoid inevitable technical mistakes that arise when playing individually in struggling moments.

Parma, instead, have not changed in the slightest compared to last season, and remain the same sturdy defensive side that fails to impress when given the initiative. This is something that has become quite common in Serie A’s bottom half of the table over the past few years and hopefully will come to an end with progressive managers like Andreazzoli and De Zerbi taking charge of bottom half sides.

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