Juventus press keeps them in and costs then final

2015 UEFA Champions League Final - Credit: Loren Villalobos - Alsman (Flickr Creative Commons)
2015 UEFA Champions League Final - Credit: Loren Villalobos - Alsman (Flickr Creative Commons) /

The overarching theme of the 2015 Champions League Final was going to be the tactical plan that Max Allegri, Juventus’ manager, would deploy to stifle a Barcelona attack whose lethality has come to define the 2014-15 European Club season.

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From the opening minute, which would come to foreshadow the second half, Juventus’ strategy was built around using their numerical advantage and physical superiority in central midfield to control the match and deny Barcelona’s front three service of the ball in threatening positions.

When Barcelona gained and retained possession of the ball in their deep third, they were aggressively pressed with Juventus’ forwards, Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata attacking Barcelona’s centerbacks, Pique and Javier Mascherano, and goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen.

In central midfield Juventus attacking midfielder, Arturo Vidal, pressed Barcelona’s holding midfielder, Sergio Busquests. Juventus wide central midfielders Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio shuttling between Barcelona central midfielders Ivan Rakitic and Andreas Iniesta and fullbacks Dani Alves and Jordi Alba when they gained possession of the ball.

Holding midfielder Andrea Pirlo provided cover for their aggressive press and Vidal dropped deep to provide support if Busquets dropped deep enough to make marking him redundant.

In the first minute Juventus was able to intercept a pass during Barcelona’s buildup that was wasted with a misplaced shot from the top of the penalty box and forced Mascherano into a defensive error that gifted them a free corner kick.

When Barcelona were able to advance the ball past Juventus’ initial press the Bioncheneri dropped into an extremely compact and narrow 4-4-2 press with Vidal dropping deep to form a double pivot with Pirlo, Marchisio and Pogba pushing wider to play as narrow wide midfielders and both Tevez and Morata dropping deep to mark Busquets out of the match.

This tactic was utilized to force Barcelona to play the ball down both flanks. While that goal was accomplished, Barcelona was able to use this width to open the scoring and create many other scoring opportunities.

Juventus was able to force Messi into a deep wide right position in an attempt to limit his ability to create and convert scoring opportunities, however, when he did gain possession of the ball he was casually closed down, usually by Evra who came from a deep position, and had the freedom to continuously switch the ball to the other flank where Barcelona could expose an open Juventus defense.

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For the opening goal, in the fourth minute, Messi was able to play a cross pitch pass to an unmarked run from leftback Jordi Alba on an unmarked attacking run. He was closed down by Lichtsteiner and then passed the ball to Neymar, who was positioned in Juventus’ penalty box in an inside left position. Neymar was closed down by Barlagli and was forced to retreat into a wide position to link play with Alba.

In conjunction Suarez, made a run towards the opposite post pulling Bonnuci wide and creating a void in Juventus’ defense. With Pogba and Marchisio now wide, there was no defensive cover for Vidal and Pirlo against Iniesta and Rakitic. Iniesta was able to get in behind Vidal, receive a pass and when closed down by Bonucci found an unmarked Rakitic who gave Barcelona a 1-0 lead.

As the match progressed, with Barcelona controlling possession in Juventus’ half of the pitch, the game slowed down and Messi was able to again utilize cross pitch passes targeting Neymar who was able to lose the marking of Lichtsteiner but never able, as well as the rest of his team, to solidify their lead with a second goal and Barcelona entered halftime with a 1-0 lead.

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  • In the second half, Juventus were able to take control of the match through the press, physicality, and athleticism of their front central midfield three. After struggling to build and maintain possession from the back and failing to turn an extremely rare counterattacking opportunity into a scoring chances, with only one shot on goal in the first half, their strategy returned to pressing Barcelona high up the field and transitioning quickly to scoring opportunities. Automatically, the size, energy, and athleticism of Vidal, Pogba, and Marchisio helped Juventus enforce a press that led to the match leveling goal. After an interception by Lichtsteiner, an exchange of play with Marchisio, and a cross to Tevez who had his shot blocked by ter Stegen into the path of Morata who leveled the match at one a piece.

    As the match progressed Juventus continued to dominate with their press and looked much more likely to secure a shocking victory over Barcelona until the Blanuagra were able to exploit the flaws of this aggressive press. As long as Juventus were able to keep and pressure the ball in front of them they controlled the match. However, with Pogba and Marchisio in advanced positions, it left only the low energy 36-year old Pirlo to provide cover to what could become a very exposed defense.

    This is exactly what happened for Barcelona’s match winning goal in the 69’ minute with Rakitic able to act as an outlet to break the aggressive press of Juventus and then play in Messi behind Pirlo and Marchisio with the space to attack Juventus’ quickly retreating backline. He was able to dribble from midfield to the top of the 16-yard box and unleashed a shot that Giangiuigi Buffon, Juventus’ goalkeeper, could block but not control and Luis Suarez drove the rebound into the goal giving Barcelona a 2-1 lead and the Champions League victory.

    An inspiring performance from Juventus, where they were able to use their athleticism and physicality to initiate a press that caused Barcelona serious problems, but were unable to deter the combined efforts of Neymar, Suarez, and Messi to deliver Barcelona their fifth Champions League victory and second European Treble.

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