How Can Andrea Pirlo, Juventus Permeate Bayern's Defense in the Second Leg?
Juventus' return to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal stage didn't go to plan.
After 25 seconds, Andrea Pirlo's sloppy pass allowed Bastian Schweinsteiger to feed David Alaba, and from 30 yards out, the Austrian's wild shot deflected off the toe of Arturo Vidal to beat a scrambling Gianluigi Buffon.
One-nil down in under one minute. Antonio Conte could barely believe what he was seeing.
Juventus grew into the game and seized control for 10 minutes, but after Arjen Robben was introduced on the right-hand side, Juventus barely made it out of their own half.
What do the Old Lady need to do to turn around a daunting two-goal deficit after failing to score an away goal?
The answer, in short, is an awful lot.
Bayern received a timely lesson in the Round of 16 matchup, and after Arsenal nearly knocked them out in surprise fashion, no chances will be taken in Turin.
There were several key factors that shaped the performances of both sides in the first leg: Juve missing Mirko Vucinic was huge, while Toni Kroos' injury paved the way for a rampant Robben to torture Federico Peluso.
The Bianconeri were comfortable when Robben wasn't dictating the pace of the game, but when the Dutchman came on and attacked Peluso—hemming him in—Juve were stuck in their own half.
It was the age-old issue of relying on wing-backs: lose the wide battle and you're stuck inside your own half.
With Juve pinned in, what they really needed was a turnover, a pass to Pirlo and a subsequent long pass into the forward line. Usually Mirko Vucinic is there to receive the ball, but with him unwell and unable to start, neither Alessandro Matri nor Fabio Quagliarella were able to rein it in.
Without the out-ball that Vucinic offers, Pirlo had nowhere to pass. Without the ability to escape pressure, Peluso had nowhere to go.
For the Bianconeri to be successful at Juventus Stadium, either Vucinic or a Vucinic-esque player must be fit to start.
He will slip into the No. 10 position and aid Pirlo in moving his side up the field. He'll also occupy both the opposing defensive midfielders, making them look over their shoulder more often and stopping them from applying such immediate pressure to the likes of Claudio Marchisio.
Pirlo can hurt Bayern—he can hurt any side in the world—but he has to be given the avenues to do so.
Thomas Mueller man-marked him to put him off and Mario Mandzukic applied himself to a similar task, but Pirlo is an unflustered character. During Euro 2012, he skipped his marker with delightful agility then fired an arrowed ball into the channel for Antonio Di Natale to finish. Against Spain.
He can do it, he just needs options.
But it's not all about Pirlo, and while Conte will have felt it was impossible to drop Peluso considering his good form since signing in January, Kwadwo Asamoah is needed here.
With Stephan Lichtsteiner suspended, we could be looking at a wing-back duo of Asamoah and Mauricio Isla—two former Udinese boys with tonnes of explosive pace.
Asamoah is fearless, and Robben will not be able to trap him in his own half no matter how hard he tries. Peluso is a solid option at left-wing-back, but his 6'4" frame doesn't respond well when you ask it for a high-energy performance of a byline-to-byline nature.
Like it or not, Juve have to go for it, and that means releasing Isla and Asamoah on the wings. This will, in turn, give Pirlo more space to operate, and pull Robben and Ribery back far enough for Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli to step out of defence.
Ultimately, Conte has to find a way to stop Bayern dictating the tempo of the game and stop them from pressing so high into the final third.
Explosiveness on both sides and the link between the regista and deep-lying forward restored should accomplish enough for him to work with.
These changes gives Conte some selection dilemmas to consider, and Paul Pogba could be set for the game of his life in the absence of Vidal. Who is the perfect poacher to complement Isla's abilities on the right? It would be a surprise not to see Matri.
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