Viewers of Juventus over the last week could have been forgiven for thinking they had been taken back in time as they witnessed a familiar sight.
Images of Giorgio Chiellini, Leo Bonucci and Gigi Buffon celebrating with high fives as they successfully thwart another opposition attack.
For Juventini, it will have brought back a comforting feeling from days gone past. Those important occasions where an impenetrable Bianconeri defensive wall would help guide The Old Lady to a crucial result.
It was anticipated that we had seen the back of these types of displays when Max Allegri left the Italian champions in 2019. However, in what will as come as a surprise to many, new school tactician Andrea Pirlo has turned to old school tricks in recent outings.
Pragmatic displays against Roma and Inter in the Coppa Italia have secured Pirlo vital points in Serie A and safe passage through to a cup final.
Since losing to the Nerazzurri in January, Juventus have strung together an impressive run of results. Seven games, six wins and one draw whilst scoring 14, conceding one solitary goal and lifting a trophy in the process. In 2021 so far Juve have managed 10 wins from 12 matches in all competitions.
Despite these recent triumphs, it has led to people in some quarters questioning Pirlo’s methods. Is he resorting to type for success?
What happened to transforming Juve into a modern football machine? The truth lies somewhere in-between and in Pirlo’s growth as a coach.
In the early part of the season we saw Pirlo attempting to deploy methods from his coaching thesis and whilst admirable, it came unstuck at times.
Since then and with limited training time, the Mister has had a chance to re-evaluate his player’s capabilities. Damaging defeats against Barcelona, Fiorentina and most recently Inter, will have provided Pirlo with valuable learning opportunities and perhaps aided him in shaping his team going forward.
Pirlo’s squad does not possess the necessary arsenal for him to implement a dominant counter pressing, high intensity, vertical passing style in every game, especially against stronger opponents.
However, he has enough players with aspects of the attributes required to play it in moments or for longer spells against so called provincial sides.
Expect to see the Juve boss persist with his preferred way of playing. It is logical for him to do so as he seeks to accomplish what he has been tasked to do, establish a new playing philosophy.
However, whilst it is widely recognised and perhaps accepted that making big changes will effect success, at Juve you cannot have a year off to enable that to happen.
Taking that into consideration and the unprecedented fixture schedule facing all football clubs, variety in the tactics you utilize is arguably now more important than ever.
It is almost physically impossible to maintain an energetic approach when you are completing 90 minutes every three days for multiple months of the season.
Adapting to use a low block is smart from Pirlo. Juventus are comfortable in doing so, it is almost ingrained in the stripes on the shirt and importantly it brings them results, keeping Juve competitive in all competitions whilst being able to work on new ideas in the background.
Pirlo deserves credit for the flexibility he has shown so far.
This is not to say that La Vecchia Signora are camping on the edge of their own box with no attacking intent.
They still try to control possession and with it, manage the speed of play and opponent for long periods with their use of the ball. Having said that, goals win games and there remains a commitment to pour players forward on the counter.
Juve have been bright when breaking away and in doing so are creating quality over quantity in relation to chance creation. Which works well if Cristiano Ronaldo is the player spearheading your attack.
Balance is fundamental, Pirlo and his staff are currently find it in the right amount both in terms of player rotation and tactical approach. In the short term, Pirlo’s pragmatism is doing the job but it is a strategy that should not become common occurrence, particularly In Europe.
A Juve that is capable of switching from a side that can press, maintain possession but play sharply through the thirds whilst being able to collapse into a defensive system and carry a counter threat sounds like a dangerous prospect. That could be exactly what Pirlo is working toward.