Film Focus: Deep-Lying Juventus Shut Out Roma, Make Huge Title Statement

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Film Focus: Deep-Lying Juventus Shut Out Roma, Make Huge Title Statement
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

For a fixture between the two best teams in Italy this season (and arguably the two best defensive units as well), the final scoreline of 3-0 was simply staggering—although not in the way that just glancing at the score might suggest. The 3-0 win from Juventus was dominant, sure, but not in the free-flowing attacking sense that we might have expected from the defending Italian champions here.

For the most part, Juventus didn't even dominate the match at all.

But what Antonio Conte's men were able to do through their deep-lying system and formation was shut out AS Roma and the attacking channels that they sought.

When they did push forward with the ball, they were quick, deadly and decisive. 

They were everything that they eliminated in their opponents, and Conte must receive great credit for daring to change a system that he's struggled to perfect this year.

Let's break down the film and see exactly how Juventus kept Roma at bay.

 

Juventus Unfamiliar, but Efficient, Playing Deep

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

All season, Roma have shown brilliance on the counterattack, moving the ball quickly up field and getting plenty of support runners through their opponents' lines.

It was perhaps the biggest hallmark of their remarkable start to the year.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

The seemingly obvious way of defending such success is to starve Roma of attacking chances and push them deep into their own half, but teams have had mixed results against that this year. Roma's strength on the counterattack through Francesco Totti has made them such a potent force from long range this year, but his ability to draw opposing centre-backs out of position has been the much more dangerous threat to watch—and that's what Conte looked to eliminate here.

Strangely, Juventus (who love to dominate their opponents with sweeping runs and long passes out of their own half through Andrea Pirlo) allowed Roma to dominate possession and spend much of the match inside Juventus' half.

It was as if Juve were playing right into Roma's hands.

But what Conte did was shift his midfield line extremely deep and tuck his wingers in tight, a tactic quickly becoming more and more potent in world football.

That meant that while Roma might have had possession and even been in the attacking third, there simply wasn't the space in the middle of the field for their midfielders to penetrate, nor was there the possibility of players getting in between the lines and moving defenders out of position.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

After Vidal's goal (somewhat against the run of play) in the 16th minute, Roma embarked on a long period of sustained possession and territorial advantage.

But they couldn't make it count for anything, as we can see below.

Photo via BT Sport

A ball is played wide to Adem Ljajic on the left, and fullback Dodo provides the overlapping run outside him, we can see clearly the setup that Juventus have.

Their back five are spread tight across the field, and their midfield three are very narrow. Both Vidal and Pogba allowed their opposing numbers plenty of space on the wings throughout the night (which again, might seem counter-intuitive) but it worked by starving Roma of that crucial entry pass.

That was clear here, as the ball was shifted wide to Dodo just moments later.

Photo via BT Sport

Now we can see here four key matchups, and they're highlighted in blue.

Normally, all of these runners would be viable options for Roma to pass to, but they're all eliminated here by two key defensive principles of Juventus.

The first is that their midfield trio has dropped so deep. What this has done is eliminate the space between the lines for a pass to go to. Both Ljajic and Gervinho are looking to slip in behind the midfield line, but all that does in run them straight into Juventus' brilliant defensive trio. In this instance, Barzagli eliminates the run of Ljajic, and Chiellini does the same with Gervinho.

Both Asamoah and Lichtsteiner have tucked in to help with this as well.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

This "starving of space" forces Roma to consider another option, with the most likely being playing to their midfielders. After all, with Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal dropping so deep, there should—theoretically—be space ahead of them for the likes of Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman to exploit, right?

In theory, yes, but Conte had a plan for that here, and it's one that we've seen time and time again from managers this season—using his forwards as psuedo defenders.

Mario Mandzukic is one of the best at thisdropping back into a No. 10 role and picking up a deep-lying playmaker like Strootman or, in his case, Ilkay Gundogan.

Here, it was both Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente who dropped back, and we can see from the image above that they both have picked up their men.

That forces Roma to look for a third option, and the only available outlet is to go all the way back to their defenders and start again—a mini victory for Juventus.

Photo via BT Sport

The Old Lady were able to do this time and time again, and we can see from the image below just how deep they dropped on the night, with Tevez the most advanced Juventus player on the field at the time. He and Llorente played a huge role applying pressure on Roma's deep-lying midfielders and their centre-backs and allowed the midfield trio led by Pirlo to play as deep as they did.

Without them, the plan would have been nowhere near as successful, and despite the fact that the statistics suggest a Roma victory, the scoreline showed otherwise.

Juventus 3-0 AS Roma
Possession
Juventus AS Roma
Avg. possession this season 54 percent 55 percent
Avg. possession at home/away 55.2 percent (home) 53.2 percent (away)
Total possession (this match) 41 percent (season low) 59 percent
Top Passers
Attempts
De Rossi, DCM (Roma) 72 from 74
Strootman, CM (Roma) 65 from 73
Ljajic, LW (Roma) 60 from 64
Pirlo, DCM (Juventus) 56 from 63
Maicon, RB (Roma) 55 from 65

Statistics provided via Squawka, WhoScored, FourFourTwo

Michael Cox shared a great visual (per Zonal Marking) on just how deep Juventus were in this match compared to their previous home fixture, with the same number of interceptions occurring as before, but this time, in much deeper positions.

Image via Zonal Marking, Created with the FourFourTwo Stats Zone App

 

Mastery of Carlos Tevez Breaks Roma's Resistance

Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

It's also worth giving some huge props to Tevez (along with Llorente) for their constant activity in attack, with Tevez's brilliance being what broke this game open.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Roma were dominating through the opening 15 minutes when Juventus finally managed to get men forward of halfway for the first time all match. Their back line was holding the ball when Tevez made one of his iconic runs back to the ball and a 30-yard pass was rocketed to him immediately.

What he did with the ball showed why he is such a potent force in Italy this season (and indeed when he was in England as well)—holding off his defender with great strength for a small player and then shifting the ball wide to a winger, who could now isolate his fullback given that the defender in behind him was out of position (having followed Tevez when he made his run).

Photo via BT Sport

In this case, Lichtsteiner is able to isolate Dodo and win a throw-in.

Photo via BT Sport

From the throw-in, Tevez again faces up with his back to goal and wins possession. Roma are obviously wary of the threat that he poses, so they play off him just a fraction and allow him to turn wonderfully inside the box and get himself facing the goal, which is when panic starts to set in for the visitors.

Photo via BT Sport

Tevez has a slew of potential passes to pick (and has the option of shooting himself), but he recognises that the defense is playing off him slightly and, by holding it up just a fraction, allows Vidal to get back on-side and thread a lovely ball through the line for him to score.

Photo via BT Sport

(Albeit only because Llorente "pushed" his man to allow the run!)

In this instance, the pass went through and Vidal was able to finish so Tevez gets plenty of praise, but there's a number of times in every match that Tevez provides an option and creates a half-opening that doesn't quite come to fruition and he doesn't get praised—leaving him perhaps a little hard-done by.

Tevez has become one of the most focal parts of an incredibly rich attacking team and is no doubt going to be incredibly important in their title defense this year.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

No Juventus player has created more chances than him so far this season; no Juventus player has scored more goals than him so far this season either.

It's shaping as a career year for the 29-year-old striker, and after single-handedly destroying Napoli earlier in the year, he again provided the difference here.

Without Vidal's goal, Juventus wouldn't have been able to sit as deep as they did throughout the entire match; they would have had to chase the win at some point, and that invariably would have allowed Roma better chances to find the back of the net.

Instead, he provided some magic in attack and then worked tirelessly in defense to ensure that Juventus won their ninth clean sheet in their past 10 matches.

Conte would have no doubt been delighted with his performance.

 

Read more in the "Film Focus" series here. 

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