Rossoneri outplayed Bianconeri early until a change of tactics from Massimiliano Allegri earned his side a late win at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.
In the standout fixture in Serie A last weekend, reigning champions Juventus entertained AC Milan at the Allianz Stadium. There is a rich vein of history between the two Italian powerhouses, although Milan’s dip in form in recent years meant the matchup lost some allure. However, the appointment of Gennaro Gattuso saw the Rossoneri make significant improvements both in results and performance on the pitch. Since Gattuso took the reins, the Rossoneri has enjoyed a ten-match unbeaten streak in the league.
On the other hand, Juventus are in great form themselves. Coming into the match, the Bianconeri are unbeaten in twenty-four matches overall but recently were held to a draw against SPAL in the league. Despite Napoli dropping points in an earlier fixture, Juventus find themselves in the closest championship race they’ve been in years. Moreover, Juventus also have the small matter of entertaining Spanish giants Real Madrid in midweek for the first leg of their last eight tie in the Champions League.
In the next part, I will now discuss how Juventus utilised their star sense to see off a resurgent AC Milan.
Moment of magic from Dybala
Juventus took an early lead after a moment of true inspiration and quality from Paulo Dybala. The Bianconeri executed their counterpressing well in the opening stages. As a result, they won the ball back in advanced positions, leading to two early chances. Dybala converted the second when he generated enough space in the hole to fashion a strike beyond Gianluigi Donnarumma.
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Despite the early lead of Juventus, Milan played with purpose and confidence. They mostly contained the Juventus build-up through pressing when the ball reaches the flanks, particularly Andrea Barzagli or Giorgio Chiellini, the wide centrebacks of a Juve backthree.
But as soon as Juve switch play to other flanks, the press loses structure and its effectiveness wanes. In these situations, Milan did well to quickly get back into a 4-5-1 shape. The Rossoneri managed to stifle Juve’s progression into the final third through closing down players occupying the “hole” positions. In particular, Dybala actually lost the ball many times in this zone early in the first half.
AC Milan pound Juventus box with crosses
In attack, Milan exploited the natural weakness of Juve’s 3-5-2 shape. In the first phase of build-up, the Juventus shape left natural space for leftback Ricardo Rodriguez to make underlaps into the left halfspace. What aided this as well was the positioning of Hakan Calhanoglu who was glued to the touchline. Rightback Davide Calabria pushed high up the pitch, too, meaning Juve gave up a lot of space in the flanks. Milan then proceeded to bombard the Bianconeri box with crosses. This put the Juventus backthree under pressure early on, leading to a very good chance from Andre Silva.
Not long after, Massimiliano Allegri identified the situation and addressed it promptly. Naturally, Juventus implement a fluid backline. In offence, their backline resembles a backthree, but in defence, it changes into a backfour or a backfive (especially in the low block). The Juve boss is often bold enough to tweak his tactics in-game and in this match, he changed his defence into a backfour.
This addressed the growing threat of Milan from the flanks. The switch into a backfour added more width and defensive cover for the backline. Left wingback Kwadwo Asamoah dropped deeper to form the backfour, while right wingback Stephan Lichtsteiner moved further forward almost as a right winger. At one point, Barzagli, the new rightback, proceeded to man-mark Calhanoglu, one of the better crossers in the Milan squad.
Rossoneri restore parity through Bonucci
However, the change did not entirely address the threat posed by Milan. The Rossoneri still evaded the Juve press and progressed into the final third by spreading themselves out on the pitch. Frank Kessie imposed himself in the middle while Rodriguez played a massive role in maintaining Milan’s width in attack at the left. In the final third, it is in the right-hand side, though, that Milan concentrated their attack. One of which resulted in a corner that led to the equaliser.
Equalizer from Bonucci! #JuveMilan 1-1
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The second half saw Juventus reinforce their formation switch with a personnel change. Allegri introduced Douglas Costa for Lichtsteiner. The Brazilian winger provided more attacking gusto at the right and proceeded to run at opponents with sheer pace.
In spite of the personnel switch, Juventus started poorly, especially with their passing, after the restart. AC Milan continued their tough tackling and efficient counterpressing to win back possession. And when starting from the back, the Rossoneri did well to play through the Juventus press. Leonardo Bonucci possessed very good passing qualities for a centreback to start the build-up of the Rossoneri. In the second phase of the build-up, the midfield three of Lucas Biglia, Kessie and Giacomo Bonaventura positioned themselves in different vertical orientations to make themselves available as separate passing options.
Allegri maximise Juventus attack through width
Despite playing badly, Juventus possess the tactical nous to keep a game in the balance. The Bianconeri slowed the tempo down, taking the sting out of the match and halting the momentum of Milan. Gradually, Juve got themselves back into the match through patient build-up leading to goalscoring opportunities.
However, the culmination of Allegri’s tactical masterclass came earlier when he introduced the fit again Juan Cuadrado for Blaise Matuidi. As a result, Costa moved over to the left to accommodate Cuadrado on the right flank. Both wingers possessed numerous abilities with the ball at their feet but crucially, it changed the dynamic of the game.
Their introductions kept Milan fullbacks occupied on the defensive end instead of bombing forward. This resulted in less support for Milan’s attacks down the flanks in the final third. In turn, this led to fewer crosses in the Juventus area and less pressure on their defence. But of course, the most crucial role both wingers played in Juventus securing the win is on the offensive end.
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Costa and Cuadrado stretched play horizontally in the final third. The Bianconeri regained the lead when the latter darted into the box to meet a cross that originated from Costa stretching play down the left. Juventus then wrapped up maximum points through another great wing play from Costa. The Brazilian dragged Bonucci and Suso out wide before cutting the ball back into the middle. It effectively took the two players out of the game, and in essence, left space for Khedira to thump the ball into the back of the net.