Juventus vs Manchester City, FT 1-0
[Champions League, 25/11/2015]
Perhaps the greatest tribute band there’s ever been, Juventus let a Manchester City who’d 4 days earlier been made to look like Notts County side into their home, and dominated for more or less the entire match. In the city of FIAT and the Italian Job, the home side were systematically, hydromatically, and (by virtue of being better systematically) automatically better than Pellegrini’s men, particularly in the stereotypically Italian area of defending.
Juventus played with a 3 centre-back system as they’ve been doing in the league, Barzagli, Bonucci, and Chiellini playing; with Demichelis and Otamendi featuring for City. All CBs played the full game.
The #narrative of the game for Man City would be could they recover from the humiliation against Liverpool, where suggestions had been voiced that Pellegrini had fielded a weakened line-up in preparation for the game in Turin. Otamendi, coming in for Mangala (who may well have been hiding in a hole, which would be the fair thing to let him do after the Liverpool game), was more the wet sand than the rock that City could build their house on, not making his previously roundly mocked 34 year-old partner look too out of place.
In fairness to him, this was largely because City’s defensive midfield structure (again) seemed to have deserted the back line, deserting all responsibilities to go travelling for a year and ‘find itself’, only to return once David Silva recovers from injury. Maybe. City fans, at any rate, will hope so.
It’s also interesting that Pellegrini seems to have four centre-backs which all look to charge out of the back line on the front foot. Whether this is through (bad?) luck rather than judgement isn’t known to this particular blogger, but it does fit the style of play of having no defensive midfield and wanting to play an at times painfully rigid offside system. Opposites attract for a reason though, and it may be wise, with Demichelis’s age, to try and reign the charging in a bit from the both of them.
There were times when Otamendi’s awareness was lacking, though this was generally not exploited, and there were also times when his awareness was pretty good, though the balance between the two was below what you would want from him. There were also times when it was evident he and Demichelis rarely play together, a seeming lack of communication in the first few minutes and then both going for the same tackle in the 21st.
The Juventus goal, in the 18th minute, was in part unfortunate for Otamendi, who was aware and well positioned as the move initially progressed. One way or the other, he took a tumble as the cross came in to Mandzukic, who put the ball past Joe Hart. It’s been debated a lot, but my view is that the City CB was partly pulled by the Juve striker, partly got his footwork a bit messed up, and took a dive which didn’t pay off (NB: my definition of ‘took a dive’ encompasses things from straight-up Lisa Simpson flopping to limp-legs-itis. He tried to buy a free-kick half to get him out of a situation he’d gotten himself into and half because he thought he probably deserved it).
Demichelis, for his part, put in another (amateur body language analysis alert) ‘here for the money’ performance. This is a little harsh, but he was worse than his partner and there was a larger amount of his lack of awareness of what was around him that seemed to be down to laziness rather than otherwise poor play (ie, he’s better than that, and knows it). In his defence, his legs won’t be what they were and he often had very little defensive structure in front of him, which exacerbates the first part of this sentence.
There were several good chances in the match, notably a Juventus backpass that went straight to Aguero, but which Buffon dealt with, and a Sterling chance which saw him go from hero to zero (in skill terms) faster than angry Liverpool fans can respond to his tweets calling him a snake. With a pass to Kevin de Bruyne, outpacing Chiellini, in the City right-hand channel of the Juve box, Sterling produced a magical jinx behind Barzagli, sending him the wrong way as the Italian glanced over his shoulder, as if he was going for a cut-back instead of a conventional square ball. Sterling got on the end of the pass, but Buffon’s scramble across goal was unnecessary, the shot squirming horribly back across the face of goal.
Less can be said about the Juventus centre-backs than City’s, though on an individual level they probably performed from worst to best as you read their names from left to right on the teamsheet (ie, the way I’ve written them at the top of the report), but the difference was largely marginal. The real strength for the team was their system and the efficacy with which their players executed it.
47% of City’s attempted passes were backwards or square compared to 44% of Juventus’, and the latter side led for the vast majority of the match and so could afford to be more patient and less direct in their play. Juve cut off passing opportunities and forced City backwards without really ‘pressing’ them per se, and their centre-backs benefitted from this.
They also benefitted from the formation, with 3 CBs, and the fact that the team could deal with this without being hampered in attack. Without the ball, they would sometimes fold into a back four, with one of the wing backs occupying a more conventional full back position with the CB on the opposite flank pushing a little wider. If ever one of the three made an error in positioning or the team gave the ball away and suffered a break, there were always enough men to cover.
In this fight between the current holders of one league and the current favourites for another, it was the Italians who got the job done.
ETNAR centre-back of the match award: Giorgio Chiellini