Champions League Semi-Finals (1st Leg): Juventus vs. Real Madrid
Result: Juventus 2 - Real Madrid 1
(see formations below)
Champions League semi-finals are here! This first leg in Turin was always going to be an exciting one because both teams were in such good form. Juventus had only lost once in their last 54 home games! They also hadn’t let up a goal in their last 3 champions league games. On the other side, Real Madrid thrashed Granada 9-1 in La Liga on Sunday and they are still neck and neck with Barcelona for the League title.
Tactically going into this one, I was pretty interested in several aspects. My main interest was seeing how much would Real Madrid go for it. Would they press or would they sit in and just counter through Bale and Ronaldo? My other question was how would Real defend Pirlo? He has clearly been the orchestrator for Juventus all season and if Real sat-in then Pirlo might cause them all sorts of trouble.
In the first half, there was a fantastic intensity and energy from Juventus and their pressing from start was a great approach. What Juventus tried to do for much of the first half was try to squeeze Real Madrid in Real’s own half but if they couldn’t win it there they would then fall back into a defensive shell. Morata scored a tap-in goal in the 8th minute off a horrible Real Madrid defensive tactical error. On several occasions, there would be a massive gap between Marcelo and Varane. This disconnection meant that balls could be played into this space and a player who could turn in here would cause all sorts of trouble. That’s exactly what happened on the first goal and the ball was easily played into Tevez in that space. Part of this problem stems from Marcelo’s adventurous nature and his occasional lack of accountability to do his primary defensive tasks.
The second major defensive flaw for Real in this game was their ability to control the space behind them. To start game, Real looked uncertain at the back with balls being played in behind them. However, even in ‘86th minute there was an example of how Verane doesn’t deal with the ball down the channel and Llorente probably should’ve scored. This is a big point I would address if I were Ancelotti. Credit to Madrid though for fighting back well and after Ronaldo’s goal in the 26th, Real started winning more individual battles across the field.
If I was Massimiliano Allegri, I would’ve been urging my team at the half to keep getting Tevez on ball in that space in front of center backs. It is fine to keep asking questions at the right times with balls in behind Real, but Tevez is extremely dangerous when picking the ball up and running at the backs. A tie wouldn’t be good enough for Juventus going into second leg, so keep pushing the game. If I was Ancelotti, I’d be pleased with how my team grew as the game went on and improved over time. However, I too would want to continue to try and control the game from a possession standpoint and look for that crucial second goal.
Tactically what was so interesting in the second half was how both teams really followed these approaches. Juventus tried to get Tevez on the ball as much as possible and his 55th minute amazing run where he carried the ball on a counter was pure class. That was honestly a perfect example of how to take space with the ball. In the 63rd minute, Real tactical responded by bringing on Hernandez and going to a more used 4-3-3. Again, the thought was certainly that 2-2 tie would be fantastic for them. Then, in order to counter this tactic Juventus brought on Andrea Barzagli. He replaced Stefano Sturaro and they went to a 3-5-2 with Lichsteiner and Evra as wing-backs. To me, this change was a bit more offensive and showed they were looking to push lead even more… however come the 75th minute it was completely 5 man back-line. From that point on they were content with shutting up shop, which is smart I think because a 2-1 win gives them hope in the second leg, but a 2-2 tie would be far more disastrous for their hope.
I just thought that throughout the second half Real Madrid fouled way, way too much. This slowed the game completely down for Juventus and suited them well especially for the last 15 minutes. This is another area I might address if I was Ancelotti. In the end, Real didn’t really do enough to deserve to win it. They lacked someone like Modric in the final third to unlock others and show creativity. With Kroos and Ramos at center-midfield, you are very much set up to play a countering game. Ramos struggles at times to play penetrating passes.