The Juventus match that prompted a key tactical switch from Max Allegriby Chloe Beresford / 20 September 2017, 12:58Tweet
It was a bitterly cold evening in Florence, but it wasn’t the freezing temperatures that created the last-straw scenario for Juventus Coach Massimiliano Allegri.
That night saw the normally tactically-inept Viola boss Paulo Sousa mastermind a unexpected 2-1 victory over his side’s most hated rivals and - whilst the home fans celebrated long into the night - that result also brought about a change in fortune for the Bianconeri.
It was then the boss realised that the 3-5-2 formation, built upon the foundation of the famous “BBC” defence of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, had been found out. Genoa too had exploited the weaknesses in this formation earlier in the season, the 3-0 victory at Marassi the first time Juve had conceded three Serie A goals in one match under Allegri.
“We did well to be clinical, determined, aggressive and get the maximum points,” Genoa boss Ivan Juric told reporters after the match:
“When you’re facing a side like Juventus, it’s all about ‘deciding how you want to die’. If you sit back then sooner or later they will score, while if you are very aggressive and run at them, you’ve got a chance.”
If that was not enough to persuade the Coach to make a change, the encounter with Fiorentina certainly was. Breaking up the BBC in the very next match with Lazio, Allegri deployed a new all-attacking 4-2-3-1 lineup with Bonucci and Chiellini in the middle of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah at wing-back. Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic played in a three-man attack behind striker Gonzalo Higuain and the rest, as they say, is history.
"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," Allegri said to Sky Italia. "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!”
The hard graft of Mandzukic in attack became key to that formation as Juventus never looked back from that dark moment in Florence, winning a sixth-consecutive league title, a second Coppa Italia trophy in a row and reaching the final of the Champions League.
“It wasn’t a masterpiece,” a modest Allegri maintained after a 4-0 revenge thrashing of Genoa at Juventus Stadium in April. I just thought at a certain stage of the season it was right to bring in a breath of fresh air. We were dragging ourselves along, really, and had been for a while. Mandzukic is so athletically gifted, I don’t know how many kilometres he notched up tonight, but his tactical intelligence is under-estimated and he is really an added bonus in that wide role.”
If the Croatian forward had been sacrificing his own personal glory to work hard in a position that allowed team-mates to shine, he would receive his reward soon enough. A stunning overhead volley in the Champions League final against Real Madrid evened up the scores on 27 minutes. Overrun and outclassed in midfield from that point, his strike - voted UEFA goal of the season for 2016/17 - was annulled by a further three goals from Los Merengues, meaning Juve had lost two finals in three years.
That was not to put a dampener on the work done by Allegri to get his side there in the first place. That midfield area has now been reinforced with the signing of Blaise Matuidi from PSG, and the 4-2-3-1 remains with the arrival of Douglas Costa from Bayern and Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina making for an even more lethal attacking threat.
Improvement from the likes of Milan and Napoli in Serie A will mean a sterner domestic test for the Coach, while a 3-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League group stages shows there is more work still to be done. It would be unwise, however, to bet against Juventus competing for a treble yet again, as the intelligent and calm Massimiliano Allegri knows exactly what needs to be done to get there.