Massimiliano Allegri’s New Juventus


Juventus are a unique club. They certainly are a top club. And they certainly are the top club that sells its star players – at their peak – the most. From Roberto Baggio, to Zinedine Zidane, to Arturo Vidal, to Leonardo Bonucci. The list goes on. They always manage to adapt though. To create a new identity. Another band of winners. As Giampiero Bonpierti put it ‘Winning is not important, it is the only thing that counts’. That is Juventus’ DNA – winning. Love them or hate them, they are almost always the favorites to win the scudetto, and for a reason. In Europe however, it is a different story. Perhaps selling their key players at their peak could be a reason.

Mr. Massimiliano Allegri is a flexible coach – he doesn’t have a rigid team shape that he absolutely has to play with. He is also a tactical coach, as in he adjusts his tactics and sometimes his team’s shape against potentially stronger opponents. He does, however, have some basic principles. He likes his team to have balance. His team is never too attacking or too defensive (except maybe against the super Barcelona in his Milan days). He prefers to keep possession and a balanced tempo and give his individual attackers – he usually likes to have four players in the final third, no matter the formation – freedom to express themselves. But not too much, because he needs them to defend too. He plays deep when he needs to. And knows how to win ugly. In a nutshell, and in his own words, he sees his job to do ‘as least damage as possible’.

Based on the above, we can expect Mr. Massimiliano Allegri to use a variety of players and formations this season, according to the players available, the moment in the season, and the opponent. We can also expect him to settle on his favored team around November – December, as he usually does. That’s when his teams usually find their balance.

Mr. Massimiliano Allegri started the season true to form – right where he finished it off. He is not one too hasty to make changes. He usually gives new signings time to acclimatize before giving them a starting birth. He is taking it slow with introducing star signings Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi to the team, partly to protect them and partly not to disrupt the team’s already established balance. He did the same with Dybala previously and didn’t bother one single bit about the criticism aimed at him from all quarters around Italy.

Juve 1

Two things are clear from Juventus’ mercato though. One is that the three man defense might be a thing of the past now, given that they don’t have a center back with Bonucci’s characteristics anymore i.e. a defender that could play the ball and start moves from the back – a playmaker defender. And the other is that the winger formation is there to stay, given that they signed Douglas Costa and Bernardeschi. The 4-2-3-1 from last season may have seemed a bit improvised, given that Mandzukic is not a natural winger, and that Cuadrado wasn’t playing much before the formation switch. This season though, there seems to be a concious planning strategy to keep that formation going, but add stronger options.

Juve 2

From the outside, it seems that Juventus might only be lacking a midfield playmaker along with Pjanic, to carry the playmaking mantle in the build-up left behind by firstly Pirlo and then Bonucci. Marchisio seemed ready to slot in that spot, but injury meant he wasn’t a starter for the entirety of last season and the finish to the one before. He is also set to miss a month initially this season. Rodrigo Bentancur is another name that potentially could play that role, but he is only 20 and has just arrived from Boca Juniors. His lack of experience in general and non-existent experience of European football hints that he might be one for the long term, but not necessairly the short one. The signing of Matiudi seems strange to me, as initially he appears too similar tactically to Khedira, at least in my opinion. This leaves Khedira, Matiudi, and Marchisio all competing for one spot in midfield beside Pjanic. At least initially. If Marchisio regains fitness and form, he could form a midfield three with Pjanic and Khedira/Matuidi, or even Bernardeschi himself could feature in that midfield three – he certainly has the versatility and the tactical intelligence to pull it off if needed.

Juve 3

Of course that is all just speculation – the mercato isn’t even over yet. And a lot of factors are at play here – player form, Mr. Massimiliano Allegri’s thoughts, injuries. But what is certain is that Juventus have a very intriguing and flexible core to work with, and that plays perfectly into Mr. Massimiliano Allegri’s hands as he’s a very flexible, balanced, and tactically intelligent coach. Juventus definetly start the season as favorites for the scudetto and as one of the favorites for the Champions League. How Mr. Massimiliano Allegri fits his pieces together will be interesting to watch as the season unfolds, and it will certainly be key to whether Juventus manage to finish the season with silverware or not.

One thing is for sure though, they do have the potential to reach the finish line on all fronts this season. And for a team that manages to change its core almost every season, this may be the version with the most talented attacking players (and by extension, the difference makers on the highest level) in the Andrea Agnelli era. And hence, dare I say it, the one – on paper at least – most suited to fight for the Champions League.

Ali Farouk


How Manchester United Are Becoming A José Mourinho Team

Manchester United

Mr. Jose Mourinho lined-up the same exact team for the first two consecutive games of the Premier League, and won both 4-0. The team was completely different in shape and personnel (5 different changes) than the team that started the UEFA Super Cup Final. Whether this will be Plan A for the rest of the season – and if so, where does that leave Ander Herrera – or whether this is just one system out of plenty Mr. Jose Mourinho plans to use this season remains to be seen. What is clear is that the system was effective the previous two games, even if the opponents weren’t of high calibre.

The system is classic Mr. Jose Mourinho – compact in defense and lethal in transitions. Here are the key patterns from Manchester United’s first two Premier League games:

  • Solid, compact, organized, deep defense is the basis on which everything else is built upon.
  • Only one full-back is allowed overlap at a time (mostly Valencia), while Matic drops deep at all times to guard the defense and relies on intelligent reading of the game to make vital interceptions and launch counter-attacks.
  • Fast transitions. Rashford (Martial) are pacey, skillful dribblers. Mkhitaryan is a playmaker with great vision, Pogba is the complete all-round midfielder blessed with the technique, physique, workrate, and intelligence, and Lukaku is the dominating physical center forward with reliable finishing that Mr. Jose Mourinho loves to have.
  • Set-pieces. A team as physically tall and strong as this Manchester United team isn’t built by coincidence. And when you have Mkhytarian, Mata, and Blind on dead balls it makes it that much easier. Two out of Manchester United’s eight goals so far came from dead ball situations, while Phil Jones hit the post from another.
  • One key play is to find Mata with a ball behind the defense as he cuts inside and makes a run towards the near post, with Lukaku running towards the far one.
  • Another is to for Valencia to cross from deep, while Lukaku waits on the far post and Mkhitaryan makes a run to the near one.
  • Pogba goes forward at all times, and is allowed a variety of options whether to shoot or go for a deep pass finding one of the plenty (at least two) players making a run behind the defense in space.
  • Rashford and Martial are allowed the freedom to dribble at defenders in one on one situations and are encouraged to cut inside and shoot. Martial has been especially effective at this as his finishing is better than Rashford, in addition to the fact that he enters when Manchester United have the lead and are pressing for more, while the opposition have more tired legs and are phsychologically struggling than at the start of the game.
  • Mkhytarian is key at the fast transitions as he is quick and has great vision to spot and make a perfectly weighted pass to the runners behind the defense.

Ali Farouk

Supercoppa Italiana 2017: Juventus 2-3 Lazio [Quick Analysis]

Juve 2-3 Lazio

  • Juve played more or less with the same idea of the Uefa Champions League final – a hybrid between a four and a five man defense. Barzagli as a right full back, Alex Sandro as a bombarding left wing back, and Cuadrado as a right midfielder who could become a winger or a wing back, depending on the situation. Mandzukic more of an inside forward, Dybala in a freer role than ever.
  • Juve tried to play a patient possession game, but they don’t have a Bonucci and they don’t have a Pirlo. Pjanic is clearly not quite there yet. They had trouble transitioning the ball from the first phase of build-up to the next.
  • Lazio, apart from the opening ten minutes, had their grip on the game. Their shape created a tight web around Juve’s midfield and attacking players. They didn’t play very deep, waited for Juve’s mistakes in the first phase, and launched their direct, short passing attacks.
  • Juve’s key was Alex Sandro overlapping behind Basta. When they found him there they were dangerous. A chance that Cuadrado missed early on from Alex Sandro’s free cross demonstrated that. Their equalizing penalty came through Alex Sandro as well.
  • Lazio’s nest of Lulic, Milinkovic-Savic, Lucas Leiva, Parolo, and Basta was cruicial. They outnumbered Juve’s midfield of two, easily pressed them into early interceptions and then launched their attacks with Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto, and Immobile with the flanks bombarding forward. Lucas Leiva especially was very good with his interceptions and his accurate passing in the first phase of build-up when Lazio were in possession or when they made a midfield interception and were launching a quick counter attack.
  • Douglas Costa’s entrance as an inside right created a couple of dangerous crosses, but he really is at his best as a left winger dribbling players at will.
  • Lazio won almost all of the individual battles, which was key to winning the game. This was clearest in the case of Lukaku and De Sciglio who were both substitutes. Lukaku dribbled past De Sciglio to cross the winning goal.

Ali Farouk

Supercopa de España 2017 First Leg: Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid

Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid


Barcelona’s Shape

Almost a 4-4-2 of some sorts. Almost. Deulofeu on the left more withdrawn backwards, and Rakitic playing more to the right than the center, while Messi starts on his usual inside left and ends up in the pocket behind the ‘D’. Hence, Barcelona’s shape was essentiatly a hybrid between their classic 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 with Vidal and Alba bombing forward to create overloads on the flanks.

Barcelona’s Attacking Strategy

Fast short passing triangles with the intention of creating space on the flanks. Either to find Rakitic and Vidal on the right in space, or Alba and Deulofeu on the left. Occasionaly they would try to unleash Suarez in space with a ball behind the defense following his run. When the tempo got lower, they would play their natural horizontal possession game; from the left to the right, back to the left, and vice-versa, trying to create an overload on one side and unleashing a blind pass to the other.

Barcelona’s Defensive Strategy

Defend more compact horizontally and with less width to break off Real Madrid’s possession dominance in the center of the pitch. Keep a high line and choose the moments to press collectively to force Real Madrid into offsides. Both worked.

Real’s Shape

Again a very fluid shape, as was the case in the Uefa Super Cup vs Manchester United. Marcelo bombing forward on every occasion. The midfield especially fluid, with Isco again free to roam in search of space and the ball, Kovacic and Kroos interchanging horizontally and Casemiro sometimes found as the player on the tip of a diamond midfield and sometimes as the last man. Mr. Zinedine Zidane gives his midfield ultimate fluidity as long as the dynamism of the shape isn’t sacrificed. Same story up front with Benzema and Bale interchanging.

Real’s Attacking Strategy

Look for two men: find Isco in between the lines, or find Marcelo with a diagonal long ball when pressed. Naturally, that meant more focus on the left side when attacking. When Real Madrid did reach the final third, more often than not they would attempt a cross for Bale. In fact, that’s exactly how they scored their first goal. Isco, on the left, made a pass to Marcelo, who attempted a cross to Bale that Pique converted into the net.

Real’s Defensive Strategy

Intense high pressure in the final third to force Barcelona into mistakes – and they made plenty. Kovacic with a man marking job on Messi whenever he drifted centrally – which he did a lot. The midfield diamond limited the passing channels in the center as Real Madrid had many bodies in there.

Modifications by the Coaches

Ronaldo for Benzema was a bizarre choice, considering Benzema was just getting into the game by playing a key role in Real Madrid’s two successive counter attacks after taking the lead. From the outside, it seemed more sensible to take Bale off.

When Kovacic pulled up a muscle in the 68th minute, Mr. Zinedine Zidane chose to put Asensio on in his place, and switched his midfield from a dynamic diamond to two center midfielders in Kroos and Casemiro playing behind two attacking midfielders in Isco and Asensio. Isco’s role was less free now as he occupied the left while Asensio was essentially another playmaker but on the right flank. This allowed Real Madrid to pressure easier in the final third as they had an extra body there now, and immediatly they pressed Barcelona into two dangerous mistakes.

However, Kovacic had done a near perfect job man marking Messi. The fact that he was out and no one was given instructions to assume that role meant that Messi was now much more dangerous. He created three quick dangerous chances in succession, one of them resulted in the equalizing penalty. And by then, Real Madrid were getting so pushed back that it seemed their only strategy was to counter attack and attempt a cross by one of the two forwards to the other.

Immediatly after Cristiano’s brilliant second, Mr. Zinedine Zidane put Lucas Vazquez on for Bale. He came on pointing with five fingers, which signalled Real Madrid switching to a midfield of five. Lucas Vazquez played on the right, and Asensio played excellently on the left. In fact, in spite of Cristano’s red card, Real Madrid created a series of dangerous chances – all through Asensio’s individual quality – and they scored the third while playing a purely counterattacking 4-5-0.

Mr. Ernesto Valverde’s introduction of Denis Suarez in place of Deulofeu hinted at the lack of attacking alternatives at his disposal. Sergi Roberto for Iniesta may have hinted at the same. Paco came on in the late stages for Rakitic, with Denis Suarez moving back. The strategy was always the same, even if the personnel were different. They just pushed much harder and more aggressivly since they went down a goal.

Moments in the Game

In the first minute, Real Madrid press Barcelona intensly in their final third, Ter Stegen is forced into a very early mistake – Isco intercepts his pass with a tackle and Kovacic tries a chip. Immediatly the tempo of the game is set.

There was a period of around 3-4 minutes of absolute chaos starting from around the 15 minute mark. That was due to both teams choosing to implement intense pressure at that given moment with the hope of dumbfounding the other team on a fast transition.

The minute after the 1-0. Barca push forward aggressively, Varane makes an interception, Bale launches the counter attack, Isco and Benzema unleash the transition and it ends in a corner kick, but it’s immediatly a new game. The game was pretty equal up until a minute before, it was an even contest with both teams’ strategies succeeding in blocking each other from playing. Real Madrid scoring first meant that Barcelona would press forward more aggressively, which played into Real Madrid’s hands as they were lethal on the counter.

73rd minute – Kovacic was now out. Messi was free of special marking. Ramos made a poor clearance, Busquets was there to intercept it, Messi took a shot that was blocked and the ball fell into Busquets amidst chaos in Real Madrid’s penalty area and he shot it too high. At that point, a Barcelona goal seemed to be cooking.

Two minutes later, Barcelona were still pressing high. Messi received a pass with enough space to take a shot, Navas rebounded it, Barcelona got the ball again, Messi took another shot that hit Casemiro and fell into Suarez. Penalty. 1-1. Messi.

After that, Barcelona continued to press intensly but without much ideas or quality in the final third. As established earlier, that played perfectly into Real Madrid’s hands, as they were lethal on the counter attacks. The second and third goals were almost an exact replica. Barcelona lose the ball in Real Madrid’s final third, Real Madrid make an extremely fast transition, and then score from two pieces of brilliant individual quality. Isco and Vazquez did well to set up the goals, and needless to say, Cristiano and Asensio were pure class.

Key Performances

If Barcelona didn’t score except from a penatly kick, it is mainly thanks to three players. Varane, Ramos, and Kovacic. Kovacic was excellent throughout, effectively man-marking Messi out of the game with intelligence and key interceptions throughout. Varane and Ramos were equally brilliant, making sure no Barcelona player made it to the final third with the ball. Needless to say, Isco and Marcelo were the keys in attack. Each one with a deserved assist. Asensio didn’t play many minutes, but he was magnificent in the part that he played. Scored a stunner and was always dangerous on the ball.

Sergio Busquets had a good performance. He was the key link in Barcelona’s transition from defense to attack, and in the defensive phase he broke up many hopeful attacks and was a main reason why Real Madrid didn’t threat between the lines. Meanwhile, Samuel Umtiti outmuscled both Bale and Benzema the entire game. He was certainly the best performer in the defense of four, and had a much better game than his center back partner.

Ali Farouk

Uefa Super Cup Final 2017: Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester United

Real’s Shape

Fluid shape. The entire defense – with the exception of Varane – had an attacking intent. Casemiro would repeatedly pop up further up the pitch, while Isco had a free role excellently moving to find space with relation to the team’s possession of the ball. Gareth Bale also had license to roam horizontally, moving to his preferred right flank or playing just off Benzema’s left as he saw fit.

Real’s Attacking Strategy

Keep possession with offensive intent. Short quick two-touch passing. A lot of link up play between the lines. One of the three midfielders would drop back to start the attack (usually Kroos), with another one immediatly freeing himself as a passing option (usually Modric), while the third (usually Casemiro) would make a shadow run behind the defense. Get the fullbacks high up to stretch the pitch. And then look to play the killer ball behind Manchester United’s defense.

Bale and Benzema were always options, receiving possession with their back to goal and looking for a quick link up to release the player making a shadow run in behind. Isco’s free role allowed him to dictate the possession and tempo of the game as the free playmaker in the final third.

Real’s Defensive Strategy

Real Madrid were usually controlling possession and pushing high up the pitch, and therefore that was not only their attacking strategy but it was also their first defensive tool. When they lost the ball, they’d press the player in control of possession with the nearest two players, while the rest would accelerate back towards their defensive positions.

When Manchester United tried to find Lukaku with a long ball, whoever was closer between Ramos and Varane would pick him up. As he was always Manchester United’s only reference point up front, he was relatively easy to pick up especially with a spare man always available and with Ramos and Varane’s prowess in the air.

United’s Shape

Manchester United played with a dynamic shape that was a hybrid between 3 and a 4 man defense. Depending on the interpretation of moments in the game, Valencia would move further backwards and Darmian would move to further to the left. Matic was the shield in midfield, moving defensively with intelligence depending on the position of the ball. Lingard would start off in a defensive position and then burst forwards when the team was in possession of the ball, with Mkhitaryan drifting right to allow Lingard to make more central runs.

United’s Attacking Strategy

Fast transitions to make use of the space Real Madrid left behind when they pushed forward (especially on set pieces). Pogba and Herrera would launch the counter attack and then look to find Mkhitaryan, while Lingard and Lukaku would be running in space.

When they found Real Madrid players in their defensive positions, the strategy would be to start a direct attack from Matic, to Pogba or Herrera, to Mkhitaryan, and then look to find Lukaku with a killer pass or a Valencia cross.

United’s Defensive Strategy

Zonal defense with a deep positioning, respecting Real Madrid’s dominance in possession. Not pressing enough to lose shape, but not standing off enough to lose sight of Real Madrid’s players. Disciplined positioning with zonal pressure in the final third on the possession holder. Darmian would press whoever popped up on their left flank, while Lindelof would do the same on the right, and Smalling in the centre. Real Madrid’s attackers (Bale and Benzema) would drop off repeatedly to link up with their back to goal, and they always had a tight marker on them depending on the position. Lindelof would run towards the midfield to stay tight to his attacker until he was picked up by someone else, allowing him to return to his position.

Modifications by the Coaches

In the second half Mr. Jose Mourinho altered his pressing strategy into a more aggressive one to try and remove Madrid off their possession dominance. The players did not sacrifice their positions and it was individual aggressive possession on the ball holder.

Lingard’s replacement with Rashford didn’t cause an alteration in terms of strategy, but rather in terms of the individual capabilities of both players. On the contrary, Fellaini’s introduction for Herrera was an attacking move from Mr. Jose Mourinho as Fellaini played further up, interchanging with Mkhitaryan the center and right positions as Manchester United looked to be positioned higher, press higher, and force the play more in Real Madrid’s half. Fellaini’s entrance also saw more emphasis on high balls in the penalty box from Manchester United as he added extra aerial strength along with Lukaku.

Mr. Zinedine Zidane did not change his strategy much, certainly not with his substitutions which came late and were position for position. Vazquez played as a pure winger, as opposed to Bale’s role, while Asensio carried on Isco’s free role. And in fact, Real Madrid almost scored a third from a Vazquez cross to Asensio.

It is fair to say that Real Madrid were by far the dominant side up until Lukaku’s goal, and could have been winning by a bigger margin. But Mr. Jose Mourinho’s changes gave superiority to Manchester United in the latter stages of the game, while Mr. Zinedine Zidane did not adapt perhaps partially due to confidence in his original strategy.

Moments in the Game

Real Madrid’s corners were always very dangerous, whether when Casemiro hit the post from one, or when Manchester United launched a counter attack from another only for Pogba to make the wrong decision of shooting instead of passing to Mkhitaryan.

Real Madrid’s first goal may have been a few centimetres offside, but it came deservedly after a period of total dominance.

Just after Real Madrid’s second goal, Herrera found Pogba with a free header which Navas gifted to Lukaku who missed an open goal. That was a potential game changer as it would have given the momentum to Manchester United – even temporarily – early on in the second half to push for an equalizer.

There was a piece of link up play in the second half between Bale, Modric, Casemiro and Benzema which released Bale to hit the post and it was football from another planet.

Immediatly after Fellaini received medical treatment, Manchester United won the ball back and launched a fast counter attack. Darmian found Fellaini with a long ball, who chested it beautifully to Mkhitaryan, who found Rashford in space with an exquisite pass that Ramos played onside, but Rashford missed the equalizer.

Key Performances

Football is a team game that is won by individuals. I thought Isco played a perfect game, enjoying his free role in playmaking and setting the tempo. Casemiro was a lynchpin in defense, demonstrating great positioning and tactical awareness, and a threat in attack as demonstrated by his goal and his header that hit the post. Carvajal and Marcelo also had great performances, with immense contributions in both the attacking and defending phase. Carvajal set up the first and was very solid defensively, even if Rashford gave him a headache later on, and he knew when to commit a tactical foul. Marcelo could have scored himself on a couple of occassions and was a constant threat down the left with his crosses, dribbling, and excellence in position. He was also very solid defensively and Valencia and Mkhitaryan – whenever he was on the right – didn’t get a sniff. Benzema and Bale receive honorable mentions.

For Manchester United I thought Matic had a very good game, especially in the first half. His positioning was flawless and he made plenty of vital interceptions. He was also partially responsible for Lukaku’s goal as it was his shot that Navas fluffed. Smalling was another one with a solid showing as he made plenty of – admittedly last ditch – tackles and interceptions. His positioning may have not been the best, but he made up for it with grit and spirit of sacrifice. Darmian started off shaky with a couple of weak clearences, but he grew in his challenges as the game went on, and near the end of it he was bullying Real Madrid’s players of the ball. He also gave a contribution in attack when Manchester United were pushing on with crosses and long balls. Mkhitaryan and Rashford receive honorable mentions.

Ali Farouk