mercoledì 9 maggio 2012

The victory of verticality

Thanks to their 2-0 victory against Cagliari and Milan's defeat, Juventus have won the Serie A championship. This was Antonio Conte's capolavoro. When former Juventus' captain took the job this summer, he was linked with the 4-2-4 formation he successfully employed with Bari and Siena during his previous stints. Interviewed about it, he candidly admitted:
“There’s been too much talk on this particular way of playing. In actuality it’s a 4-4-2. I know of course novelty makes sometimes a great topic of discussion. If instead of saying ‘4-2-4′ I had said ‘4-4-2′ from the very beginning, we wouldn’t be discussing this ‘innovation’. Maybe all it is is just a normal idea of play. It is a normal 4-4-2. I think in England most teams that are winning are applying this type of module, which enables you to cover the playing field in the best possible way I think.”
But as the season went on, Conte changed his way, switching to a 4-3-3 before stuck to a classic 3-5-2, a defensively pattern utilized above all by teams with relegation fears. Switching between formations can be wrong if the players aren't suited to do it. Juventus had the team ability to switch between 3-5-2 and 4-3-3. Conte showed that all the people thinking you can't win with a 3-5-2 formation was wrong. But Conte didn't turn to a rough 3-5-2 and his approach was active and not reactive. He employed a three-men midfield to protect the deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo and to leave him free of hard defensive duties. Covering Pirlo was one of the main issues for the opponents. You have seen it against Lecce, that utilized a forward like Haris Seferovic marking him. Using a second striker dropping on Pirlo in the defensive phase resulted on to have the striker tired soon; using a midfielder often has seen this player to be late on the coverage. In both cases Pirlo became free as the game went on. And he also goes forward to help the team in the final third of the pitch.

 If teams try to cover Pirlo with an attacking midfielder, as Udinese did, Giorgio Chiellini or Leonardo Bonucci was the men able of playing out of the back and joining the midfield to start attacks for Juventus. The diamond built around the three-men back line and Pirlo is from where Juventus started his ball circulation. The only team that created problems to Conte's side was AC Milan, which forced him to switch from the initial 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 during the the match played on 26 Feb. 2012. Though Juventus' forwards wasn’t a great threat this season (Conte often changed his strikers, switching Mirko Vucinic, Marco Borriello, Fabio Quagliarella, Alex Del Piero and Alessandro Matri) the team took advantage from the extra-midfielder, so both Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal got spaces forward: Marchisio went for 9 goals, Vidal for 7. This tactics allowed Conte to employ a winger like Emanuele Giaccherini in the middle. Also, switching to three at the back line allowed Conte to line up in Paolo De Ceglie ( or Marcelo Estigarribia), on the flank opposite to Stephan Lichsteiner, an offensive full-back pushing forward to provide width on the offense. At the end, they had two wing-backs on the flanks able to cross inside the box and two insider midfielders able to support the forwards centrally. Team played an 84% of short passes and scored 71% of its goals on open play, adding a good 22% of goal scored on set pieces situations. Juventus' attack were balanced between middle and flanks. When they faced a team that defended deep, Juventus keept the ball, remained patient but whit speed, using the wingers to open the box or going in the middle with 1-2 punches with forwards coming toward the ball.

 The movements of a forward coming toward the midfield is usual in the Juventus' system. It's utilized both to open the spaces for insider midfielders and to allow to wing-backs and midfielders to gain spaces and a time of play in the counterattacks, moving the opposite's defense too.

Juventus found troubles when faced samll teams defending deep, as Bologna, Chievo or Cesena. On the other side, the team didn't allow scoring chances to the opponents.

Another key factor was the team's shape. Following Napoli's example, Juventus ran a high pressure football, less based on ball control. You have seen Juventus focused on keeping the ball sometimes, but often after they scored first. By the way the first idea was to go for the goal vertically. They had an average possession of 61% per game, significantly low for a such big team. Juventus was in shape during all the season. Credit to Conte, a fitness trainer himself, and to his staff, leaded by Roberto Sassi and with former Luciano Spalletti's fitness trainer Paolo Bertelli.

This season, players' injuries are gone down of a 60% from last season. Playing just once at week helped the team to stay injury-free. And they also tried to build a roster free of injury-prone players. But also the methodology was different. Alongside Bertelli there is Julio Tous, former fitness trainer at Barcelona under Frank Rijkaard. The strength training was based on to improve the specific movements of the players, not to maximize the muscle hypertrophy. Conte's method is based on high intensity, both in drills with or without the ball.

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