Juventus – Barcelona : How to grid the Catalan half ?
That was one of the keys of the semi-final between Barcelona and Bayern, Juventus’ behaviour will have its importance saturday night. So, what are the options for Allegri and what are the hazards for his team ?
Barça’s first pass :
It’s the same since years : central defenders spread to create space in the axis for Busquets, which offers a third short pass solution. Wing-backs go higher on the field to occupy the byline as both central midfielders offer transition solutions in the axis. Everything is made to move the ball forward with short passes sticked to the ground.
Ahead, Neymar and Suarez stick to their position most of the time. Only Messi decides sometimes to go in the axis to occupy the role of a playmaker, especially when and he takes advantage of the space between the defence and the midfield.
The diamond, experienced by others, in use at Juve :
This is the most « logical » option to set up, especially since Chiellini is out for this game. 4-4-2 diamond formation permits to block all 3 short pass solutions ter Stegen has (Piqué, Busquets, Mascherano) and both relays in the axis (Iniesta, Rakitic).
After 15 mins of complete individual marking, Bayern changed its plan to the diamond to bother Barcelona first pass. During the previous round, PSG also had a team able to do the same, but the players did not accomplish the efforts to be a real threat for the spanish team.
Allegri’s Juventus uses this system in the opposite half to block goalkeeper’s short pass solutions. Against Real, Tevez and Morata were supported by Vidal to block short pass solutions for Casillas (Varane, Pepe and Kroos). That was a success as the madrilene goalkeeper had to go for long passes most of the time.
But, and this is one of Barcelona’s specificity for years now, goalkeeper isn’t a classic one… it’s rather another outfield player like the others. As Valdès before him, ter Stegen kicking ability is one of his strengths.
He showed it during the semi-final against Bayern Munich : he is able to get the ball where he wants to in his own half if the opponent leaves him enough time to do so. In this case, against Bayern’s diamond, logic led him to look for the sides where Alba and Alves had no direct opponent and Neymar or Messi near them to help.
German goalkeeper kicking quality and the two-against-one allowed the Catalans to control the ball. This done, their passing skills were enough to keep the ball in their own half… until they reach a forward to launch the attack.
It’s simple : In order to deprive Barcelona of the ball, you have to prevent it from putting it on the ground. Therefore, leaving the bylines open with such a good kicker like ter Stegen isn’t a 100% sure solution. In his initial game plan, Pep Guardiola had taken it into account.
When he decided to start with a defensive system without « +1 » – 3 central defenders to face Messi, Suarez and Neymar – his choice was to rely on Xabi Alonso or Lahm to keep the balance by performing the compensations… but he quickly had to change his plans as the defense alignment was faulty and was struggling on every long ball.
3-5-2, an other way to close the bylines :
Since several seasons, Juventus masters an other tactical option : 3-5-2. This system allows to block short pass solutions in the axis while having the possibility to send players put the pressure on the full-back if ter Stegen decides to send them the ball.
Obviously, this system would require a flawless game from Evra and Lichtsteiner. Their vision would be crucial to anticipate ter Stegen’s passes and to prevent Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba « first touch ».
The danger : being aspirated too far from the half-way line.
Every plan has it flaws, especially when you play a team like Barcelona, even 3-5-2 is no exception. If it allows a good grid of the pitch’s width, danger can be created by the players in charge of transition (Alba, Alves, Rakitic, Iniesta)
If their direct opponent gets aspirated, there would be spaces for Messi, Suarez or Neymar, making it even more difficult for the defenders, who already have to be perfect in marking and heading.
The lack of a player who covers the midfield might also be a problem if ter Stegen uses long balls to the forwards (this case occurred during the semi-final with Suarez) : the battle – crucial – for second balls may be reduced in duels between Catalans looking for the opposite box and Turinese going to their own box.
Unlike Bayern during the previous round, Juventus won’t « need » to play as high on the pitch to serve its cause. It has proven it against Real Madrid and even since the beginning of the competition : Allegri’s team is used to take several shapes during a single game.
Diamond to « test » Barcelona’s first pass or 3-5-2 to preserve the score, this tactical variety is one of the strongest point that led Juventus to the final. And saturday night they’ll have to use these strength to find the solutions against Barcelona’s war machine… while remaining really careful on transition phases.