Juventus: The Tactical Options for the Bianconeri Next Season
Juventus is currently taking its victory lap around the Serie A after clinching their second consecutive scudetto. Wins in their last two games could give them a record points haul for a single season, but the focus now for many is on how the team will look next season.
Already confirmed as coming to the team is Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente, who fans hope will be the killer goalscorer that the club has lacked so far in the Conte era. Also possibly on the way is Sampdoria midfielder Andrea Poli—who will provide depth behind Juve's superb midfield—but his move could be hijacked by AC Milan according to Goal.com.
Incorporating these players—and any other new acquisitions—into the fabric of the team next year will likely mean a reevaluation of the tactics that has taken Juventus from a fallen giant in mid-table to the best team in Italy and a few tweaks away from being a European contender.
In this article, we'll take a look at what Juve has been doing this season and what they may do next year to incorporate their new arrivals and improve the overall side.
Old Reliable: The 3-5-2
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For the majority of the last two seasons, Juve has emerged from the locker room in a 3-5-2 formation. It's been a perfect fit for Juve—it emphasized their strengths and was able to neutralize a few key weaknesses.
As the 2011-12 season wore on, Antonio Conte was faced with a serious dilemma on his left flank. Swiss international Reto Ziegler—acquired before Conte was hired—did not seem to impress the coach and was sent on loan. That put the left-back position into the hands of youth product Paolo De Ceglie—who had been decidedly failing to impress.
After tinkering with moving Giorgio Chiellini back to the left, Conte took a page out of the book of his main rival and started using a three-man defensive line. The move had a double impact and was an ingenious stroke of tactical nous. Conte could now hide De Ceglie's deficient defense on the left and field all three of his excellent center-backs—Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci—at the same time rather than leave one of them on the bench.
Ahead of the defense, it allowed the MVP midfield—Marchisio, Vidal and Pirlo—to form themselves into an interior triangle that proved devastating. Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal were able to provide excellent cover for Andrea Pirlo in the traditional deep-lying regista and afford him the room he needed to completely dominate opponents. At the same time the two midfielders were able to both supplement the back three and roam forward to run the channels to join the attack and score goals.
And score they have. Vidal has scored 22 times and notched 14 assists in all competitions since joining Juve last year, while Marchisio has scored 17 times in the last two seasons along with 11 helpers. Their penchant for goals has relieved another weakness for Juve—the lack of an established finisher on the forward line.
Mirko Vucinic is probably the team's best forward, but he's what the Italians call a secunda punta—a man who plays in the hole between the striker and the midfielders and helps facilitate the last pass. The rest just don't have the quality to be a top option for a team that wants to be one of the best in Europe.
The formation is equally efficient at attacking through the middle or up the wings—manned by Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right and a menagerie on the left that has included De Ceglie, Simone Pepe, Kwadwo Asamoah and Federico Peluso over the last two years. Pirlo's distribution has been key, but the formation has enhanced the entire team.
As incredible as the team's performance has been using this formation, recent imports will make this formation less effective next year.
The Experiment: 3-5-1-1
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Late in the season Conte made a slight tweak to his old reliable. He removed the second forward and moved Marchisio up into the hole, turning him into a trequartista. The responsibilities of the midfielders, wings, and back three stay totally the same, while Marchisio must be able to play the width of the field in front of the midfielders to link with Vucinic rather than staying in the channels.
There are several potential reasons for the change. The most obvious is that Conte wanted to find a place in the regular lineup for Paul Pogba. The French youngster has been excellent this season as a deputy for the central midfield trio, but in this formation he can now slot into the spot vacated by the shifting Marchisio.
It's really a case of getting Conte's best players onto the field, and even though Marchisio is not a natural at the trequartista position he has learned well in the on-the-job training he's gotten in the four games in which this formation has been used.
Apart from putting Pogba on the field, this experiment serves another purpose as well. With Llorente inbound, the arrangement of the team's forwards will have to be tinkered with.
Llorente is a true target man who works best when he is alone in the center of the field, not paired with another striker at the top. With him in the side, Juve can man the role Marchisio currently plays with Vucinic—finally playing him as the true secunda punta that he is—or with another potential new arrival like rumored imports Luis Suarez (Daily Mail) or Stevan Jovetic (Express).
Even Sebastian Giovinco could find a measure of redemption—and revive his career—in this role, one that he is much better suited for than what he was asked to do this season. Llorente's stellar hold-up play can allow such a player—not to mention the likes of Marchisio and Vidal coming in through the channels from midfield—a bevy of good looks at goal.
Playing a secunda punta rather than Marchisio as a trequartista will likely require Pogba's return to the bench, but it's likely that after his emergence this season Conte will be quicker to rotate elements of his midfield trio with the Frenchman to keep them fresher.
Back to the Beginning: 4-3-3
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Another option for playing to Llorente's strengths would be to return to the formation that Conte used when he first sent Juventus onto the field as their manager: the 4-3-3.
When he arrived at Juve, the coach was a proponent of the radical 4-2-4 formation, but after the acquisition of Pirlo on a Bosman two summers ago (a move Conte opposed, believing him not to fit into his tactical philosophy) caused him to rethink things and build a new set of tactics around l'architteto's impressive passing skills in the middle of the field.
The 4-3-3 gave Pirlo a secure place in the midfield with Vidal and Marchisio on either side of him to cover him. It also truly got the best out of right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, who despite his ability to adapt to a wing-back role in a three-man defense is a more effective player when he plays as a traditional right-back and is able to overlap with the other players on the right.
There were some drawbacks to the formation, and as it is now, the chief one is personnel. Antonio Conte often started Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic up top together along with Simone Pepe on the right-hand side and Matri on the left. Occasionally with Marcelo Estigarribia on the left and Milos Krasic on the right, but the core lineup stayed the same.
Moving from a four-man defense to a three-man one meant that one of Conte's three stellar center-backs would have to sit on the bench—unless Chiellini was playing on the left. It also exposed a weak link in De Ceglie on the left side.
The drawbacks now are similar in general but different in specifics. Unless Chiellini plays on the left—and at this point in his career I think we can say that that's not where he belongs unless there's an emergency—the team doesn't have a player who is effective on the left side of defense. Forced to sit would be one of the defensive trio—leaving one of the game's 15 best center-backs on the bench.
Also not present on Juve's current roster are the quality wingers that this formation needs. Vucinic and Giovinco could play on the left, but no one is there on the right-hand side except a hopefully healed Simone Pepe. As much as I love Pepe, he's not a regular starter for a team as good as Juve wants to be.
It would take more than one big signing to get the players that would make the team effective in that position. While Juve is in better shape financially than most clubs because of its palatial stadium, but the financial situation is still critical. I doubt that they will be able to afford much more than one really big move like for Suarez and/or Jovetic, rather than being able to splurge for someone like Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben or Nani as well.
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Juve has some decisions to make this summer in terms of tactics. With Llorente coming in the 3-5-2 would not be as effective, and the 4-3-3 is a worthy formation that most of the team's veterans know how to play, but could be prohibitively expensive to implement.
This is why I think the 3-5-1-1 is the best bet for Juve going forward. The formation takes into account the best way to play Llorente, but doesn't deviate from things that the Juve regulars have done for most of the last two seasons.
With a hungry Napoli and a revitalized Milan coming after the scudetto next year, Juve is going to need a new set of tactics to make their team go through 2013-14. The 3-5-1-1 will bring the best out in his team just like the 3-5-2 has since he started using it in December of last year. Now it's a matter of waiting and seeing as the transfer market settles down before we see just how Conte plans to send his men onto the field in the late summer.
All statistics from WhoScored.com