Champions League Semifinal First Leg – Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid – Tactical Analysis

Juventus conquered an important 2-1 home victory in the first leg of the 2015 Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. Ronaldo header replied to Morata easy short range goal, before Tevez penalty that settled the result.


Line-ups an Shapes

As expected, Allegri deployed his 4-3-1-2 diamond, with Pirlo as deep-lying playmaker. The unexpected move was the inclusion of Stefano Sturaro on the left, with Arturo Vidal as offensive midfielder. Compared to Saturday game against Sampdoria, that mathematically appointed Juve their 33th Scudetto, Chiellini and Evra re-entered the starting eleven in place of Barzagli and Padoin. The more mobile striker Morata was preferred to Llorente.

Real Madrid played with a 4-4-2 exactly how Ancelotti told the media during press-conference. Bale played up-front alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, at the expense of Chicharito Hernandez, the natural substitute of the injured Karim Benzema. However the Mexican replaced Isco during the second half. For the third consecutive time, Sergio Ramos played as central midfielder, with two natural midfielders like Illaramendi and Lucas Silva on the bench.

juve real post

Early Pressing and Morata Goal

The deployment of Sturaro had a clear purpose: press Real high, especially the two midfielders and full-backs, to cut the supplies for the four Galacticos up-front and to hinder Madrid during their build-up play. During the first ten minutes of play, Juventus applied a very intense pressing, lessened after Morata’s early goal in favour of a deeper defence and more compact shape. Then, the Bianconeri revamped press in stops and starts, especially in the initial phase of the second half.

There is an interesting background story behind Alvaro Morata’s goal. The online edition of Spanish newspaper Marca, published a photo, showing a piece of paper with Max Allegri’s “stolen” tactical notes. In that notes, the Bianconeri trainer highlighted the vulnerability of Real Madrid left-defensive side, especially when Marcelo plays.


Exactly as expected the scoring move arose from Juventus right-hand side: the overlapping
Lichsteiner bothered Marcelo, while Marchisio assisted Tevez unmarked due to Varane’s bad defensive positioning. Casillas saved the Apache shot, but the ball ended right on Morata’s feet, who easily scored.

Morata gol

Before Tevez strike, Juventus made 27 consecutive passes, a record in the current edition of the UEFA Champions League.

Riepilogo dei 27 passaggi che hanno portato al gol di Morata

Juventus commanding the centre and Real depending on width

The juxtaposition of the two formations, already hinted one of the tactical keys of the match: the midfield domination of Allegri’s 4-3-1-2 against the width to exploit by los Blancos. Juve narrow diamond consistently blocked Real central build-up: Vidal (he was really everywhere last night) pressed Kroos and Ramos on the ball, preventing ball circulation and forcing the opposing midfield to play direct on the wings.

This kind of play is convenient on paper for a classic old-style 4-4-2 with pure wingers, but not for a 4-4-2 in which the two wingers are players like Isco and James. Both the Spaniard and the Colombian likes to cut inside on and off the ball, but they don’t hug touchline and neither they cross often from  the goal-line. De facto Carvajal and Marcelo played as wingers (as they like to do), spraying crosses from the three-fourths of the pitch, a solution that Buffon and co. were very happy to concede, given the aerial ability of Bonucci, Chiellini and of the same Juventus goal-keeper, and the absence of a real no.9 in the centre of the box.

Things became even easier for Juventus, when on the 64th minute of play, Barzagli replaced Sturaro, with Juventus switching to a 3 man defence.


But when James played exactly like a winger does, and Real managed to move the ball quickly, los Blancos scored. Carvajal, one of the most active offensively, passed to James on the right and the subsequent cross of the top-goal scorer of the Worlds found the head of Ronaldo, who marked one of the easiest of his 76 CL goals (a Champions League record currently). With Chiellini way out of position and Bonucci covering for his defensive partner, Lichsteiner moved on the centre of the penalty box in a position to mark Bale, yet leaving the Portuguese alone, and able to score easily.

ronaldo gol

The only other occasion in when Real Madrid seriously threatened the Bianconer defence, happened a few minutes after the equaliser. A quick web of passes from side to side led to James header, with only the subtle deviation by Sturaro’s right foot preventing a goal.

During the rest of the game, the Merengues never showed a convincing ball movement, proving themselves way better on the counter, a  tactical solution that Juventus deep defence rarely permitted. After all the Italians made their numerical advantage in midfield always count and they exploited the high work-rate of Tevez and Morata in pressing Sergio Ramos and the opposition full-backs (the Spaniard commitment was superb until, when exhausted, Llorente replaced him). The ex Sevilla-star, was in serious difficulties more than once, both on covering for the overlapping Carvajal, and when he had to manage the ball during playmaking.

The failed switch ball to Marcelo, when under no pressure, was the emblem of his scrambles.

Juventus counters and build-up from the defence

With the four players up-front becoming six with Marcelo and Carvajal overlapping, Real Madrid was forced to give up counter opportunities: already two in the first 5 minutes, with Morata’s lob saved by Casillas, only a preview of the goal of the Real Madrid home-grown striker.

The play which originates the penalty, was exactly a counterattack led by Tevez. After a corner, Marcelo shot exactly from outside the box, with Juventus defence clearing and assisting Tevez, who ran with the ball in a way resembling his famous goal against Parma. Once in the penalty area, Carvajal fouled him, and the Apache immediately took the ball and scored the penalty with ease.

Juventus always tried to build-up his play starting with the defenders, both for preventing lose balls and to force Real Madrid to press high up on the pitch, hoping to find spaces behind the back of the opposing defence on the counter. Pirlo and especially Vidal were always ready to launch the sphere to Morata and Tevez.

Ancelotti learned the lesson from the two Juventus games against Borussia Dortmund and in fact his men rarely were caught in Allegri’s “trap”. However in the second leg, Real will be forced to press a lot more, and take more risks and this would be a very important factor in the game.

The Bernabeu’s match is very likely to follow an outline similar to this first leg game. Ancelotti will probably recover Karim Benzema, while Allegri hopes to have Paul Pogba available at least for the bench, with his physicality that could be very useful.

With Benzema in, Ancelotti will probably choose a 4-3-3. Juve could even start with the 3-5-2 from the first minute, but they can’t afford to play a second leg game like the one they played in Monaco.

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Una risposta a "Champions League Semifinal First Leg – Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid – Tactical Analysis"

  1. When playing with 4-4-2 and you’re aggressively attacking your opponent, with 4 players + 1 of your CM, there’s a big possibility you’ll expose the central area. The same bad effect may occur if you press extremely high. In my piece (in Indonesian language) on Madrid-Malaga I pointed this out and the left side of their defence as something to pay attention. 🙂 btw, thanks for letting me know

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