Serie A reverted back to the nineties last night, with champions Juventus and Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina lining up in 3-5-2s to play out a pretty dull game despite the quality of some of the players on show.
That the game was fairly uneventful wasn’t much of a surprise: the 3-5-2 doesn’t really lend itself to open football when both teams use it. The defence has an extra man’s cover against the two strikers and the midfield matches each other on top of being crowded – the only place where there is any space is out wide and none of the wing-backs really have much advantage over each other.
What was a surprise however is that it was Fiorentina that dominated rather than Juve. Playing broadly the same systems, you would expect Antonio Conte’s men to be better at it given they are the better side, yet some key features of their play allowed La Viola to gain the upper hand.
The most obvious difference was in how they defended. While Juve sat back and let Fiorentina play in front of them, the Florentine side pressed their opponents, making it difficult for them to get it out of defence, but fell back if Juve did manage to play it out, crowding out their few attackers. Juventus were struggling enough to get the ball forward but, their technical players outnumbered, they couldn’t do anything even if they did get into Fiorentina’s half.
The key to making this approach a success was removing the easy option for Juve’s defence. Adem Ljajic tracked Andrea Pirlo, mostly trying to stand in front of him to cut out the angle the defence needed to play it into his feet. Doing this, the Serbian stopped Pirlo having any influence on the game, forcing Massimo Carrera to remove him with 20 minutes to go for the more robust Paul Pogba, who could track Ljajic’s runs more effectively.
Juve tried to crowd out David Pizarro too, and succeeded but not to the extent Fiorentina managed with Pirlo – Facundo Roncaglia’s willingness to step out of defence forced Juve players into coming across to confront him, opening up space for Pizarro and made even more difficult by Kwadwo Asamoah needing help from Emanuele Giaccherini to deal with Juan Cuadrado.
The Colombian was one of Fiorentina’s best players – his tricksy dribbling making him comfortable enough to run at Juve, forcing them to close him down so he doesn’t just stride past them, which opened up space for his teammates.
The odd moment where Sebastian Giovinco managed to find space aside, La Vecchia Signora didn’t even look like threatening. Truthfully, they didn’t have much to deal with defensively either though. Fiorentina’s quick, neat interplay in the final third created a lot more chances than Juventus managed, but none of them were clear cut so a draw isn’t that unfair.
Ultimately, neither team will be particularly bothered by the result. Juventus will be pleased with a point from a poor performance, especially since they aren’t really in need of them, still sitting atop Serie A, and Fiorentina, despite being the better team, would probably have taken a draw against the champions before the game.