Maurizio Sarri’s career at Chelsea never quite got off to the way the Italian manager might have planned. But that didn’t stop the former Napoli man from landing a job at the top club in Serie A – Juventus. Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus have been at the top of the table throughout 2019-20 just as you’d expect them to be, and as far as their status as one of Europe’s elite clubs, they have continued on exactly where Massimo Allegri left off. However, The Old Lady have been a completely different side under Maurizio Sarri this season, deploying tactics that make Juve a unique outfit anywhere in the footballing world today. This is a Tactical Analysis of Maurizio Sarri’s newly revamped Juventus.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-3-1-2
One of the most intriguing factors to Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus is the adaptation of a 4-4-2 Diamond system of play, that operates predominantly as a 4-3-1-2. The system of play is far from commonplace in today’s game, but it has suited The Old Lady massively in 2019-20, allowing them to get the absolute best out of several key players.
The back-four have remained relatively consistent and spend a reasonable amount of time on the ball, shifting the ball from left to right and looking for the right moments to play forward via the help of Boznian midfileder Miralem Pjanic. Pjanic operates as a screen in front of the back four and out of possession often looks to guard the opposition #’10’ and stop through-balls into the opposition striker. Blaise Matuidi holds down a place on the left of central midfield as he did for PSG and France before his arrival at Juve, while a mix of players swap for a spot on the right of central midfield.
The most common attacking midfielder has been Aaron Ramsey, who has flourished in the role in his first season away from Arsenal since he was a child. His contribution as a link between the midfield three and the front-two is of particular importance in transitional moments, as he looks to combine with Ronaldo and Dybala in attack and repeatedly engages in positional rotation with the two strikers as they pick up the ball anywhere they feel the need to.
The 4-3-1-2 system has been used in the past by Maurizio Sarri at Empoli and on the rare occasion at Napoli. But his predominantly favourite formation has always seemed to be the 4-3-3, with electric and creative wingers acting as the key method for attacking flare from his teams. Sarri could easily deploy a 4-3-3 at Juve and utilize Ronaldo and Dybala as the wingers with Higuaín up top. But Sarri has trusted Ronaldo to get further forward and be the main man for The Old Lady, as Dybala acts as his wing-man in attack. This formation also, as some might argue, has been out of neccessity due to an injury to Douglas Costa and the otherwise lack of flamboyant wingers who aren’t already providing use as fullbacks, like Juan Cuadrado. But regardless of how it came into existence, the 4-3-1-2 has suited Juventus and their players extremely well this season.Embed from Getty Images
One such reason why the 4-3-1-2 has been so successful for Sarri, is that he is able to also something out of his side that he loves just as much as cigarettes…midfield possession. In Miralem Pjanic he has one of the most elegant passers in Europe. In Blaise Matudii he has one of the most industrious; and in Aaron Ramsey he has one of the most mobile and creative. Put them together and throw in another one of the many midfielders Juve have at their disposal and it’s a highly effective unit that can keep all of the possession.
SARRI-BALLEmbed from Getty Images
We have now seen many different versions of Sarriball, from his time at Empoli to Napoli to Chelsea. Now at Juventus, Sarriball has evolved once again. The quick, vertical build-up with short one-touch-play has very much remained. Pjanic’s role as the number 6 to spread the ball left to right, particularly to the two fullbacks, has also been a feature commonly associated with Sarriball and its previous iterations with Jorginho. One of the key differences to Sarriball today is just how vertical Juventus have become. With no wingers, the widest players are usually Dybala on the right and Matuidi on the left. In possession, the players are looking to play in and around their midfield diamond, with Aaron Ramsey being a key cog in their vertical possession. Ramsey’s positioning in between the lines has been a particular problem for whatever opposition Juve have come up against this season. As he attracts the ball, the opposition defenders are attracted to him as a result. This creates space for the likes of Ronaldo and Dybala, Juve’s two most dangerous players, to find space and create chances in front of goal.
COMPACTNESS IN DEFENSEEmbed from Getty Images
The verticality of Sarri’s play does not only benefit his team in attack, but also in defense. His team is able to remain incredibly compact when defending, forcing their opposition to the outside and rarely allowing any room for the opposition to play in the middle of the pitch. The midfield quartet are particularly adept at shifting and sliding with the play in defensive moments, but Ronaldo and Dybala are also seen frequently taking up positions in the centre of the field to shut down space and win the ball back. Juventus are actually perfectly happy to allow their opposition time on the ball. Unfortunately for their opposition, it becomes very difficult to break them down, particularly as they constantly force their opposition to attack down the left, where Blaise Matuidi has an uncanny ability to cover and always get in the way. Sarri’s players are all hungry to win the ball back when they spend time without out, but their pressing style isn’t as poignant as other teams in the league. Their midfield diamond shape seamlessly allows for quick, rather non-committal pressing, whereby the pressure is more out of a desire to get the player on the ball to pass to a teammate (as opposed to dribbling) and out of a desire to get them to pass to a teammate in a wide area, forcing them to the wide left most often. Therefore their “high-press” is much more out of attempting to force the opposition into a mistake, rather than out of a quest to win the ball back.
DYBALA & RONALDO PARTNERSHIPEmbed from Getty Images
Before Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at the club, Paulo Dybala was the main man for Juventus and following Ronaldo’s arrival, his goals and assist numbers dropped drastically. But anytime Juventus play, Dybala’s influence is there for all to see. His footwork and ability on the ball is pure insanity and something he must have picked up in Argentina from the Diego Maradona school. He’s been the perfect foil for Ronaldo, who wants to get on the ball at every opportunity. Dybala lets him do that and has no ego in needing to be the main man at the club. He also frequently drops deep to pick up the ball (unsurprising given how much Ronaldo asks for it) and plays short one-two’s as Blaise Matuidi or Aaron Ramsey push forward. Without Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala would probably be considered one of the twenty best footballers in the world at the moment. But because he plays alongside Ronaldo and the Portuguese forward virtually takes more shots than any other player in the world, he has needed to play the role of the wing-man, even despite his star-studded performances in the past.
One thing that amazes me even to this day about watching Ronaldo play is that he is always on the move. His durability and fitness is absolutely incredible and for a player who in a month will be 35-years old, it’s remarkable just how powerful of a runner and overall athlete he still is today. Ronaldo frequently takes up positions in between defenders and his off-the-ball movement is very much an underrated aspect of his game. As Dybala comes deep to pick up the ball and try to create, Ronaldo pushes high and gets in between the two centre-backs. As Ronaldo comes in deep to pick up the ball on the left-side, Dybala pushes high instead. Their understanding with each other has been phenomenal since Ronaldo’s arrival at the club and it is a key reason why Juve are so fruitful in attack and why the soon-to-be 35-year old is still able to score as many goals as he does.
Juventus and Sarriball look very different from what we have come to know from Sarri at his former clubs, but The Old Lady remain top of the table and have looked just about unstoppable this season in all competitions. Ronaldo and Dybala’s partnership up front has been a key element to their attack, as has the verticality in their possession thanks to the midfield quartet they have at their disposal. In defense they operate with a similar verticality, remaining compact and forcing their opponents to the outside. Like all teams, Sarri’s Juventus certainly have their weaknesses. But with their compact, possession-based 4-3-1-2, those weaknesses certainly have been mitigated in 2019-20 as Juventus sit top of the table with 15 wins from 19 matches. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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