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Tuesday April 4 2017
Allegri's ultimate tactical test

Juventus seem determined to stick with their 4-2-3-1 system against Napoli and Barcelona. Greg Murray analyses the pros and cons.

It is an indicator of the high esteem in which Juventus hold themselves that suffering five defeats before February necessitated a drastic tactical overhaul. The resulting 4-2-3-1 formation has earned plaudits for combining a swashbuckling, attacking emphasis with the ability to grind out results. However, Sunday’s draw away to Napoli has raised doubts over how the formation will cope against the offensive might of Barcelona.  

The new formation allows Coach Max Allegri to field his three star strikers, whilst catering to Gonzalo Higuain’s preference for playing as a lone centre-forward. Although less glamorous, Mario Mandzukic’s defensive work rate on the left wing has been somewhat of a revelation.

The Croatian international has been played as a ‘hidden forward’ rather than an inverted winger, plying his trade as a target man out wide. The attacking prowess of his supporting fullback Alex Sandro means that there’s no shortage of traditional wing play down the left flank, leaving Mandzukic free to cause havoc moving into the box.

Unavoidably, overloading the attack has taken its toll on the defence. Not only has the team lost a centre-back, but the two central midfielders Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira are both offensively minded. Thus, the Old Lady’s defence has been playing deeper and allowing opponents to carry to the ball further into their half.

Additionally, the Bianconeri’s new set-up is significantly narrower when not in possession. The two centre-backs no longer enjoy the luxury of a covering player when defending the wide areas, which opens gaps in the final third for teams with talented wingers to exploit.

Napoli Coach Maurizio Sarri has long favoured a 4-3-3 formation, putting an emphasis on attacking from wide positions. Whereas in previous fixtures where Juventus’ 3-5-2 has effectively contained this threat, the Partenopei dominated the flanks on Sunday. If it weren’t for Lorenzo Insigne’s missing shooting boots on the night, Allegri’s side could well have paid the price for this.

Juventus’ comfortable lead in Serie A and 3-1 first leg advantage in the Coppa Italia allowed Allegri to rotate his squad for the trip to Naples. Not starting Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado is evidence not only to a prioritisation of the Champions League, but also to a shortage in offensive options.

To make matters worse, reserve winger Marco Pjaca’s ACL tear leaves teenager Moise Kean as the only offensive player that Allegri has in the event of an injury to any of his front four.

Even without further injuries, facing Barcelona is a daunting task. The Catalan giants are also known to play a 4-3-3, and the Nou Camp pitch is notoriously large, allowing Leo Messi and Co. space to exploit the wings. There is arguably no team worse than the Blaugrana against whom to field a narrow formation, especially one that concedes and extra six per cent passes in their defensive third.  

Furthermore, Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 would require both wingers to track back in order to counter the threat of Messi and Neymar. As if asking Mandzukic to tackle Messi wasn’t enough, over-burdening the wingers defensively has blunted their effectiveness in attack.

Nevertheless, it is not all doom and gloom for the Old Lady. Barcelona suffered a similarly inconsistent start to the season as Juventus, which likewise resulted in a formation change, switching to a 3-4-3 (set up as 3-1-2-1-3). With Dybala occupying Sergio Busquets, this would undoubtedly leave space for the remaining three forwards.  

Moreover, Juventus may benefit from the fact that Barcelona Coach Luis Enrique has abandoned Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka tactics. The former Roma boss has instead encouraged fast build-up play, often by-passing the midfield to give more space to his MSN trio. Whereas Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 may have been exposed against possession-based play, his deeper sitting defence would be ideal against a counter-attacking team.

The upcoming fixtures are far from mission impossible for Juventus, and Allegri is not without options. Sunday’s experiment of introducing Claudio Marchisio into defensive midfield and pushing Pjanic forward certainly helped to balance the scales defensively.  Otherwise reverting to the tried and tested 3-5-2 formation or attempting to match Barcelona’s 3-4-3 are both valid possibilities for the Tuscan Coach.

With the first leg against Barcelona at home, Allegri may well decide to field a more defensive XI in Turin. However, Barcelona’s recent struggles coping with high-pressing, attacking teams have been well documented, and Allegri has spent the last three months training his team to do exactly that.

As the saying goes ‘fortune favours the bold’, and if the Coach sticks to his guns then perhaps, just perhaps, it will do on the night. 

Have your say...
The best game for Juve under Allegri would be against Dortmund 0 - 3 Juve, thats such a beautiful denfending and counter attack, I wish Juve can play like that everyday
on the 5th April, 2017 at 1:08am
@Dennis I totally agree. That 4222 hybrid worked like a charm and I'm hoping he'll use it. Dybala-Higuain up front and down the attacking midfielder flank Alex Sandro on the left and Cuadrado on the right. Midfield composed of Pjanic and Marchisio/Khedira. Defence Bonucci-Benatia/Barzagli as CBs and at LB Chiellini with Dani Alves at RB.
If that doesn't fancy you guys Alex Sandro can play at LB and Mandzukic at the left attacking midfielder flank with Chiello CB. Up to Allegri. Forza Juve!!
on the 4th April, 2017 at 5:58pm
The best "tactics" are the ones he deployed against Bayern in Munich but for goodness sake do it for 90 minutes and not take off your most dangerous player because of cowardice. If you have them by the ropes go for the knock out punch and quit being worried about conceding a goal. If they go about their biz like they did against Porto they will be out. Chiellini vs Suarez should be fun.
on the 4th April, 2017 at 4:28pm
In champions league font, considering the strength of Juve squad 3421 can be a way forward. A balanced formation with 3 center back, 2 wing back, 2 central mid in Marchisio and sami and 2 attacking player in Dybala and pajanic and Huiguian at the top. Replace sami with Rincon and sturaro if you are defending. Have Cuadrado and mandzu sub at the front 3. The only issue will be the width of the play. But it can be resolved
I still wonder why Allegri has not tried this tactics.
on the 4th April, 2017 at 1:21pm
Juventus cannot win the champions league because they are a team that only cares about not humiliating themselves (too much). Despite having such a powerhouse upfront, they don't risk to attack. Once they score a goal against Barcelona they will defend and against this Barca, they will most likely smack Juve with a 7-1. Goodbye champions league, incoming "6th Scudetto IS MORE IMPORTANT" B.S. Higuain's 90m justified because without him, Juventus cannot win 6th 7th 8th 9th Scudetto.
on the 4th April, 2017 at 12:37pm
I think the best and more reliable formation would be 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-3
Marchisio in between defense and sami-pjanic, dybala-mandzu and higuain. cuadrado can be a sub either to mandzu or higuain so dybala takes over higuain position
Our 2 attack-minded midfielder won't stand barca attack. And I think dybala shouldn't track back so far back too often, such a waste of his talent to harass opponent's defenders
on the 4th April, 2017 at 11:39am
Playing more defensive at home vs this Barca team would cost us the game - it's as simple as that.
I do not want a repeat of the Bayern game last year where we handed them possession and paid for it dearly. The only way to play this Barca team is to press up them high up the pitch. PSG did and won 4 0.
Allegri would be insane to try and contain them especially as we could barely contain Napoli.
We need to go out all guns blazing because we need a 2 goal lead to take to the Nou Camp.
on the 4th April, 2017 at 9:50am
Sundays match is a little hard to go by. for starters we were missing cuadrado, dybala and sandro all extremely important parts, secondly asamaoh was nothing less than atrocious and thirdly Napoli are a very good attacking team. I think we'll already see a massive difference tomorrow if we play with the full team. And perhaps manage to gauge what might come against barca more precisely.
on the 4th April, 2017 at 9:05am

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