Tactical Battles That Will Shape Benfica's Clash with Juventus
Juventus travel to the Estadio da Luz on Thursday, the two-time Serie A title winners taking on newly crowned Portuguese champions Benfica in the Europa League semi-finals. The clash between these truly giant clubs is set to be an intriguing one, throwing up some eye-catching tactical battles which are likely to shape the tie.
It is a fixture more likely to be found in the Champions League than one for the continent’s secondary trophy, and both clubs will return to the elite competition next year. Over the following slides are some of the matchups to keep an eye on over the two-legged tie.
Jorge Jesus vs. Antonio Conte
The two coaches will present perhaps the biggest and most important head-to-head of this tie, their decision-making shaping the way the semi-final develops. Each has his principles, but how they decide to set out their team could ultimately decide how Thursday’s first leg ends.
Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 formation has swept all before it in Serie A, helping the side brush off all opponents over the past two years, but it is perhaps unsuited to European play. With few Italian teams using wingers, the Juve boss has rarely had to make changes, but Jorge Jesus may make him consider alternatives.
In earlier rounds, the Portuguese coach has switched between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 framework, both of which would exploit the gaps behind the Bianconeri wing-backs. Should Conte look to match the latter, he may enjoy more success.
Rodrigo vs. Giorgio Chiellini
Spanish forward Rodrigo has been a constant threat on the right-flank for Benfica, no matter which formation his side have deployed. Netting 15 goals in all competitions, the 23-year-old is certainly a man Juventus will need to control if they are to triumph.
The man likely to be charged with that task is Giorgio Chiellini, perhaps the finest Italian defender of his generation. The Pisa native has enjoyed much success against Spanish players in the past, and he will look to add Rodrigo’s name to the list of those he has nullified before.
Nicolas Gaitan vs. Arturo Vidal
This could perhaps be the clash of each side’s best player, with the two midfielders likely to come head-to-head on the same side of the field. Nicolas Gaitan possesses good acceleration, supreme dribbling skills and loves to drift inside before delivering a pinpoint cross or shot.
Those attributes are essential to Benfica’s highly-watchable up-tempo style of play, and Arturo Vidal will have to be at his best to control the 26-year-old. The problem for the Argentinian is that if his opponent plays to his full potential, he is among the finest midfielders in the world.
He has weighed in with 18 goals and five assists so far this term, but he also leads all players in Serie A in terms of tackles, making 129 throughout 2013-14, according to stats site WhoScored.com.
Luisao vs. Fernando Llorente
Carlos Tevez leads Juventus with 18 league goals this term, but he has famously failed to score in European competition since he was at Manchester United back in 2009. Fortunately for La Madama, she has two leading front men, and Fernando Llorente has added 16 goals and four assists since his move from Athletic.
He struggled through a dry spell in March, but he has fired once again in April, netting three goals in each of his last three starts, becoming the perfect foil for Tevez. His combination of height, power and touch make him a difficult opponent for any team and stopping him is an arduous task.
It is a job likely to fall to Luisao, the Brazilian perhaps the only Benfica player with the physical attributes to slow the Basque forward. Standing 1.92 m (6'3.5"), he is still shorter than the Juve man but wins 73 per cent of headed duels to Llorente’s 44 per cent, according to Squawka.com.