One of the more entertaining aspects of the Champions League is the opportunity it provides to see different national tactical styles up against one another. The tactical battles are often more intriguing than ones we see in domestic competition because they often involve formations and approaches to the game that don't often come up against one another in domestic leagues.
While the increasingly globalized nature of the game has made distinct national styles less pronounced than they once were, sides from the same domestic European leagues do tend to share some unique aspects of how they approach the game. Tonight in Juventus's 2-1 win away to Manchester City, Massimo Allegri's side put in a vintage Italian performance- they were patient, well organized and disciplined. I was so impressed during Juventus's run to the Champions League final last season with how well they managed matches. Even when the opposition enjoyed the bulk of possession, Juve rarely seemed to cede control completely. It was a similar story tonight against City. Despite City dominating the first 45 minutes and opening up the the scoring, you never got the impression Juventus were out of the contest.
Last season, and in the prior three seasons under Allegri's predecessor Antonio Conte, Juventus showed a tactical flexibility that it's difficult imagine an English side being capable of replicating. They cruised to their fourth straight Scudetto operating in a 3-5-2 but would seamlessly switch to a diamond 4-4-2 for Champions League games. Players have very different roles in those two formations. That Juventus could switch between them so easily is testament to their tactical preparation, a stereotypical feature of Italian football.
They again used a diamond 4-4-2 tonight, albeit a slightly lopsided one. Hernanes was employed at the base of midfield while Stefano Sturaro played slightly higher up the pitch at the tip of the diamond. Paul Pogba took up a narrow position just to the left while Juan Cuadrado played wider on the right.
The defensive shape Juve took up was the most interesting feature of their set up. Sturaro dropped alongside Hernanes while Pogba maintained a narrow position on the left so that Juventus wouldn't be overloaded in the central midfield zone. Cuadrado defended wider on the right against Manchester City's very attacking left back Alexander Kolarov.
With Pogba defending the middle of midfield alongside Hernanes and Sturaro, the issue for Juventus was who would mark the left side of their midfield against City's right back Bacary Sagna. They handled the issue by dropping striker Alvaro Morata into the left side of the defensive midfield bank. It meant Juve were defending with a midfield bank of five in front of a defensive bank of four.
It was an intelligent move from Allegri that meant Cuadrado was matched up against the more attacking of City's fullbacks in Kolarov. Cuadrado has a tremendous engine and was used at wing back during his time at Fiorentina and was therefore up to the task of tracking Kolarov's runs into the attacking third and offering cover for his right back Stephan Lichtensteiner. Up against a deep, compact defense, space was tight for City and they struggled to play at the high tempo they've shown in the Premier League up to this point.
The most impressive aspect of Juventus's performance was their patience after going a goal behind. Manchester City's opener probably shouldn't have stood- Kompany climbed the back of Chiellini, preventing him from getting off the ground to head the corner away- but Juventus didn't allow the sense of injustice to overcome them and impact their approach. They remained positionally disciplined and waited for the right moments when the opportunity to attack arose.
In a Premier League match between two top sides, both sides will often enjoy spells where they're on the front foot and it feels as though a goal is coming- they are games defined by shifts in momentum. Juventus's Champions League performances are different. They control the tempo of the match, stop the opposition from playing the way they want to play, then ruthlessly capitalize on opportunistic moments rather than enjoying sustained spells of attacking pressure in which they are on the front foot. They exploit individual moments rather than dominant extended phases of the 90 minutes. They put in a similarly patient and poised performance as tonight's in the second leg of last year's semifinal at Real Madrid. After going a goal down at the Bernabau and trailing the tie on away goals, they kept their shape, avoided conceding a second and opportunistically took advantage of a set piece in the second half.
Despite a winless start to their domestic campaign brought about by the key departures of Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal, Juventus showed they have the tactical aptitude and intelligence to get out of a very difficult group D.