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January 31, 2017
For a club closing in on its 120-year anniversary and a record sixth-consecutive Serie A title, it is three other numbers that have come to represent Juventus over the past few seasons: 3-5-2.
Shortly after Antonio Conte took charge in the summer of 2011, he turned to that formation as a way of getting as many of the squad’s better players into the side and also to mask their weakness at full-back.
Over time, it became vital to their success. The “BBC” back line of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini was the rock upon which the team was built, while the “M-V-P” midfield of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo swept all before them.
BBC back in Vinovo. 💪⚪️⚫️😀 https://t.co/2EIp8OsEhH
9/7/2016, 5:19:07 PM
Subsequently, however, the arrivals of Patrice Evra, Alvaro Morata and Carlos Tevez pushed Conte’s successor Massimiliano Allegri to revert to a four-man defence, while the continued emergence of Alex Sandro has ensured that remained a much more viable alternative this term.
The Brazilian has been a devastating force on the left flank in 2016/17, his rise to prominence coinciding with the 3-5-2 formation becoming more of a hindrance than a help. It is perhaps no coincidence that the framework was used in each loss suffered by the Bianconeri this term.
Inter Milan, Genoa, AC Milan and Fiorentina have each exploited weaknesses within it, attacking with pace in wide areas and punishing Juve’s lacklustre mindset in order to take all three points.
3 – #Juventus have conceded 3 goals in the same Serie A match for the first time under Massimiliano Allegri. Nightmare. #GenoaJuventus
11/27/2016, 4:44:35 PM
“If you are very aggressive and run at them, you’ve got a chance,” Genoa’s Ivan Juric told Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia) after his side registered a stunning 3-1 triumph in November, but it would be the January defeat to Fiorentina that eventually forced a drastic shift in Turin.
The Viola dominated the reigning Serie A champions, and Allegri had seen enough. For their next outing—against a previously impressive and high-flying Lazio—the coach ditched the 3-5-2 and went all-out attack with a new 4-2-3-1 formation.
After a comfortable 2-0 win, Allegri said to Sky Italia (h/t FourFourTwo):
I am not much of a theorist, but every now and then I come up with a mad idea and try it on the pitch.
During the week I had not even thought about it, but after a training session the next morning I thought, “I have to change something”.
I had said in the press conference on Saturday that it was an option, but nobody expected me to actually do it!
Juve’s new 4-2-3-1 formation.Adam Digby (via lineup11.com).
It worked well enough in that match, Juve conceding few chances to the Rome-based side, which in turn prompted Allegri to deploy it again in fixtures against AC Milan and Sassuolo, recording 2-1 and 2-0 wins respectively.
All three matches have seen the Bianconeri make bright starts, hitting each opponent hard and early with their six goals all coming before the 25th minute of each encounter. The second half has seen the Old Lady fade somewhat, yet she has still registered two clean sheets and opened up a four-point gap atop the Serie A standings.
The formation has some obvious advantages, with the presence of so many quality attacking players chief among them. Fielding Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic behind Gonzalo Higuain has seen the Argentina international net in both league games, and he is clearly enjoying the improved service.
“It’s a system that allows us to perform well. Allegri showed courage to use it and we proved that it was possible,” the striker told the media after the Sassuolo clash. “Obviously, it requires more effort from us to help the team, but you have to say that we’ve not been troubled much in our recent matches.”
Mandzukic Vital to System
Higuain went on to add that Juve’s players “have to make sure our attitude is right,” and nobody in the new-look starting XI embodies that as much as Mandzukic. He is the one man not in his most natural role—the Croatia striker is pushed out wide on the left and asked to provide cover on the flank whenever Juventus lose possession.
he man with the best goal to shot ratio does it again.
#Higuain makes it 1-0
1/29/2017, 2:17:14 PM
With no goals and just one assist over the three games, it has been his work rate and sacrifice that have shone in the new system. His impact was notable in the win over Sassuolo, making vital contributions at both ends of the pitch and doing all he could to help secure three important points.
As the video above shows, it was his ability to hold up the ball and then set Sandro away down the left that led directly to Higuain’s opening goal, while the clip below highlights a wonderful defensive intervention.
Bianconeri Brasil @bianconeribra
Mandzukic, herdeiro do Buffon (via @delinquentweet) https://t.co/9G02JUobYF
1/29/2017, 2:45:29 PM
He was seemingly everywhere, often filling in behind Sandro as an auxiliary left-back when the Brazilian pressed forward but it is unclear how long he can sustain such an effort, leading to questions about the long-term viability of the 4-2-3-1 setup.
Juve Squad Gives Lots of Options
However, if and when Mandzukic needs a rest, Allegri will not be short of options. Marko Pjaca is slowly coming back to full fitness after his injury problems, his short cameos thus far showing he could fill in on the left or right wing whenever needed (see video below).
That gives the prospect of him and Cuadrado on opposite flanks, a terrifying thought for Serie A’s lesser sides who rarely face such a tandem while also allowing Pjaca to replace either Mandzukic or the Colombia speedster in the current XI.
Higuain could also be replaced by Mandzukic, but it is arguably the central role in the attacking trident that will cause more questions. As Juventus return to Champions League action against FC Porto in the last 16, a two-man midfield might well be overrun by a team with greater numbers in central areas.
Allegri Deserves Much More Credit
In turn, Allegri may opt to field Miralem Pjanic in behind Higuain, perhaps pushing Dybala out to the flank and restoring Claudio Marchisio to the midfield. That would allow the former AS Roma man to drop deep whenever the opposition has the ball, allowing Juve to compete numerically in a key area that could well decide a knockout tie.
Yet it could also unbalance this new formation, one that has been born out of necessity but has yet to be tested. Within the confines of Serie A—where the Bianconeri enjoy such a huge talent advantage—its deficiencies are covered by the ability of both the players featuring for Juventus and playing against them.
That will not always be the case, and Allegri will need to think long and hard about utilising it on the European stage. Unlike Carlo Ancelotti or Pep Guardiola, he is rarely held up as a tactical mastermind, but in opting for his new system, the Juve boss has dispensed with not only six years of Juve’s devotion to 3-5-2, but also his own career-long preference for a three-man midfield.
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
*Juventus name super-attacking XI*
5’ Juve 1-0 Lazio
17’ Juve 2-0 Lazio https://t.co/iHysbJE47u
1/22/2017, 11:53:55 AM
Allegri moved to 4-2-3-1 because his team needed a spark, a fresh impetus and a more attacking mindset. It worked on all three fronts. Whatever the long-term sustainability of this system proves to be, the 49-year-old found a solution that few expected, and his team improved markedly as a direct result.
Before the game against Sassuolo, Juve director general Beppe Marotta singled him out for some long-overdue praise, telling Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia) that “one of the best qualities of our coach is the ability to get the best out of his players, even by changing system.”
“I am convinced this tactic can lead us to great things.” the club official continued, and while it remains to be seen if he is correct, one man deserves the accolades if it does. Take a bow, Max Allegri, you’ve earned it.