Fiorentina remain the only Italian side to have beaten Juventus this season, but when it came to their two-legged European encounter, the Bianconeri’s superior depth and quality would prove too much. Vincenzo Montella’s side have proven to be perhaps the most difficult domestic opponent for the Turin giants, the make-up of the team causing countless problems for the league champions.
It all starts in midfield, with the ability of players such as Borja Valero, Alberto Aquilani and David Pizarro to retain possession and make their Juve counterparts work harder than usual to recover the ball. That trio are one of the best Antonio Conte’s side have faced during the coach’s three-year reign and have tested every ounce of his tactical ability.
As was suggested previously, the battle between the two men on the bench was likely to be a key factor in deciding which team would progress, and that is arguably the way it played out. Preparing for a one-off match allows coaches to surprise an opponent, but the fact there would be three meetings in 11 days made for a very different scenario.
The victor—particularly in their Europa League meeting—was always going to be the coach who best adjusted over the course of the 270 minutes of action, and Conte certainly proved triumphant. Back in October, Fiorentina demolished Juventus, coming back from two goals down to win 4-2, but it seems La Madama learnt valuable lessons that day.
Whilst a hat-trick from Giuseppe Rossi grabbed the headlines, it was Juan Cuadrado who ultimately made the difference. His speed and directness on the counter-attack saw him demolish a usually superb Bianconeri defence, slicing through them regularly as he orchestrated a sensational victory.
In the return league fixture two weeks ago, Conte made his first adjustment, containing Fiorentina in the second half after Kwadwo Asamoah’s stunning strike had given them the lead. Having taken the game to the Viola, Juve dropped back into their own half, still pressing as Fiorentina advanced, but condensing the pitch and denying them space to exploit.
While that worked then, it failed last Thursday, with Mario Gomez grabbing a perfectly timed away goal and handing Fiorentina the initiative. Knowing he had to change tack, Conte proved his coaching credentials once again, coming up with a perfect solution to the riddle provided by the Viola.
Montella placed Cuadrado in a position designed to get him in possession regularly, enjoying 71 touches of the ball, according to stats site WhoScored.com. Despite starting the match as almost an orthodox full-back, the above image shows the kind of attacking positions the Colombian took up, causing early problems for the visitors.
Conte quickly countered Montella’s surprising 4-3-1-2 shape, ordering his midfield and defence to ensure Asamoah was never left isolated against the pace of Cuadrado. It started with Pogba sliding across from midfield to double up on the 25-year-old as can be seen in the shot below.
It was a task the young Frenchman stuck to well, his five tackles more than those of any player except Arturo Vidal (9), according to WhoScored. It made for a difficult night for Cuadrado, the same site showing he completed just 67 per cent of his 42 pass attempts, way below his season average of 84.4 per cent.
It also saw him hurried in possession, turning the ball over three times and being dispossessed on the same number of occasions. Yet it wasn’t only Pogba denying him time on the ball, Giorgio Chiellini often stepping out of the back three to shut off forward runs from Cuadrado as the below image highlights.
With one of their key men shackled and struggling to create opportunities to score, Juventus were beginning to ease themselves into the driving seat. The red card for Gonzalo Rodríguez only increased that dominance, and once Andrea Pirlo slammed home a superb free-kick, the Bianconeri knew they had done enough to win.
While the midfield genius rightly earns the plaudits for his second match-winning performance of the week, it was in Conte’s tactical adjustments that this game was truly won.