Tactical Analysis: Juventus 3-0 Napoli

Juventus controlled the game in the first half and rarely looked seriously threatened in the second after dropping deep to protect their one goal advantage. The score suggests the match was more one-sided than it actually was- Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba's second half goals were the result of individual brilliance and were not indicative of any Juve dominance at that point in the game- but Juve created the much more dangerous scoring opportunities and were deserving winners.

Rafa Benitez fielded his normal 4-2-3-1 and made three changes to his side that beat Marseille 3-2 in midweek Champions League action. Behrami replaced Dzemaili alongside Inler in the second holding midfield role while Hamsik returned to his center attacking midfield role in place of Pandev. Insigne played on the left ahead of Mertens.

Juventus returned to their usual Serie A 3-5-2 formation after Antonio Conte opted for a 4-3-3 in their 2-2 Champions League draw Tuesday against Real Madrid.

Tevez's movement
With Vidal and Pogba operating as shuttlers in front of Pirlo in Juventus's center midfield triangle, both Napoli holding midfielders had a direct opponent when defending. Inler was more or less matched up directly with Pogba, Behrami with Vidal. Juventus were also playing with two forwards, meaning both Napoli center backs also had an opponent to mark. In effect, Napoli didn't have a spare man defensively in the middle of the pitch to provide cover- it was 4 v. 4 in this area.

Under Conte Juventus have been tremendous at using clever movement to pull the opposition out of position defensively. That Napoli didn't have a spare player centrally in defense to offer support when their shape broke down was always likely to give them difficulties. To compensate for that lack of cover through the middle, Benitez had his two fullbacks tuck in to narrow positions close to the center backs to offer them support.

From the outset, Juve's wing backs were able to exploit this narrow positioning from Napoli's fullbacks. Isla and Asamoah found plenty of space in advanced areas down the channels. In the first 45 seconds, with Napoli left back Armero tucking inside, Isla received the ball in space on the right wing. He had the time to pick out a pass for Pogba at the top of the box to volley. Pepe Reina made a fine save to parry Pogba's volleyed effort out of play but Juventus scored from the resulting corner.

Juventus played 15 crosses from wide areas in the opening half. With the 6'2" Pogba darting into the box alongside 6'5" Llorente it was a useful strategy. The home side nearly doubled their advantage in the 8th minute when Pirlo weighted a cross on the left wing to Pogba at the back post. The French midfielder picked out Bonucci, who had come forward for a corner, with a header across the 6 yard box but Reina denied the center back's effort with a world class save.

The central 4 v. 4 battle between Llorente, Tevez, Pogba and Vidal for Juventus and Fernandez, Albiol, Inler and Behrami for Napoli also opened up space between Napoli's defensive and midfield lines for Tevez to drop into and exploit. With Inler and Behrami directly matched up with Pogba and Vidal respectively, Napoli's center backs couldn't pass Tevez off to one of the two holding midfielders when he dropped off because Inler and Behrami were both already occupied. As a result, the center backs had to make a choice. They could leave their defensive line and track Tevez's runs into midfield. The downside of this option is that it would leave a gap in the defense for either Vidal or Pogba to burst into (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Alternatively, they could retain their defensive shape and allow Tevez to drop off into space between the lines without being tracked. The downside of this option is that if Tevez receives the ball in space between the lines and is allowed to turn and run at the back four he's incredibly dangerous (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Juventus were able to create the scenarios depicted in both Figure 1 and Figure 2 in the first half. When Fernandez tracked Tevez's runs into midfield, Pogba would sprint past Inler into the space Tevez's run had created. When the center backs didn't track Tevez's runs he was allowed to collect the ball in space between the lines and cause problems with his powerful direct running.

Pirlo asserts control high up pitch
Napoli's first half struggles also were attributable to how deep they defended in the opening 45 minutes. Their defensive shape was 4-4-2 and their two highest players, Higuain and Hamsik, positioned themselves well within their own defensive half. As a result Juventus's three center backs were able to push all the way into the attacking half. With Inler and Behrami occupied with Pogba and Vidal, Pirlo was usually the free man in midfield. Pirlo's ability to control a game and pick out dangerous penetrating passes is no secret. With Napoli defending so deep, he was able to get on the ball in advanced areas. Despite being Juventus's deepest midfielder, he played more passes in the attacking third than any other player in the match. Allowing a player of his passing ability to control the game that high up the pitch is always likely to cause problems. The graphic below shows how high up the pitch Pirlo was receiving the ball in the first half and his attacking third passes for the 90 minutes.

Second Half
Napoli defended much higher up the pitch in the second half which combined with Juve dropping in to protect their goal advantage resulted in the visitors enjoying much more of the ball in the second half. However, despite outpossessing Juve significantly Napoli were unable to create many really strong scoring chances. Juventus took on a 5-3-2 defensive shape with the wing backs dropping back level with the three centerbacks. Napoli passed the ball sideways in the attacking half but couldn't get any penetrating balls into the final third. The individual brilliance of Pirlo and Pogba ensured Juventus walked away with the three points to jump ahead of Napoli in the Serie A table.