Juventus vs Real Madrid: Champions League Final- Tactical Analysis

Juventus vs Real Madrid: Champions League Final- Tactical Anaylsis. Photo: Getty Images
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The 2016-17 Champions League final will be contested by Real Madrid and Juventus, both champions of their nations domestic leagues and arguably possessing the finest attack and finest defence respectively in Europe this season.

Real Madrid have scored 32 goals in this season’s Champions League; the most. Juventus have conceded only three all of which have been from set pieces. Only group G’s FC Copenhagen have conceded fewer in the Champions League i.e 2 – and they only played six matches to Juventus’s 12.

Juventus Tactical Analysis

Juventus have Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín up front and the converted deep-lying playmaker Miralem Pjanić pulling the strings. To bill this match as an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object is to overlook the all-round ability and balance of both sides.

Max Aleggri Juventus side lineup either as a 4-2-3-1 or as a 3-5-2 but as Allegri himself had stated, morphing from one to the other situationally in game, is a crucial part of how the Italian champions play. Defensively Juve tend to use a form of man orientated press while the front two players press the central defenders the rest of the Juve side sit off picking their opposite numbers who are then pressed when in possession but not too aggressively.

Shape is more important than regaining possession by pressing. The double pivot sit deeper lining up against the opposition central midfield in a form of man marking. The wider players then drop in to make a 4-4-2 narrower in the midfield and wider across the back four. The wider players nearest the ball push out to press the opposition full back while the other wide player tucks in to make a three man central midfield organised and anchored by the tactically astute Sami Khedira.

Once the ball has transitioned into the Juve half, they again make a 4-4-2 but generally narrower and drifting from side to side to keep the shape and width if the opponent’s switch play.

However Juventus are happy to vary the pressing depending on the opponent. If the opposition play out from the back as Barcelona tried Juve will press more. If they play directly as Monaco did they will sit off more and channel the buildup centrally where the pitch is more congested.

Much of Juve’s attacking play in either formation is about creating space for the full or wing backs to push on. In the 4-2-3-1 Dybala’s dropping into space pulls opposition midfielders, around and allows Pjanic in midfield or Bonucci from centre back time to play to wide left and right. Higuain will also drop off while in the 4-2-3-1. The lateral movement of the two wider attacking midfielders augmented by the full-backs means that Juventus play very wide going forwards.

This affords the chance to switch the play either directly or through the midfield pivot and Juve’s width means they can create space on the opposition flank for a player to cross to two hard-working predatory forwards; Higuain and Mandzukic, with Dybala often arriving late for a layoff or to pounce on loose balls.

In the 3-5-2 or the 3-4-2-1 the theory is the same; create width use the forwards to pull the defense out of shape switch the ball and bring Alves and Sandro into the game for crossing opportunities.

Real Madrid Tactical Analysis

There is a conception that Zinedine Zidane’s primary job as Real Madrid’s manager is to control a dressing room full of world-class players and he must avoid clash of egos and that the tactics are essentially nothing more complex than giving the ball to players like Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo and to sit back and enjoy.

However, the players are at the highest level, but they must be organised and disciplined, which is still a crucial role for the manager, and Zidane has done a commendable job. The Frenchman has also added proper structure to Real’s defensive stance.

Defensively Real tend press high on the opposition centre-backs and playing with three up front they can also shift the press across to the full-backs. However, Real tend to mark passing lanes rather than men, which do leave them vulnerable if the cover isn’t arranged well enough or if the press is not aggressive. Casemiro is the key player moving in front of the back four to shut down passing lanes pressing and winning the ball back and dropping deeper if the full-backs need to push up.

Real also fall into a 4-4-2 or even a 4-1 4-1 formation in their own half with right-sided forward, Bale if fit can feature, or else Isco or Modric can fill the right-sided berth in the 4-3-1-2 formation. Real want their opponents to try and play over them by compacting the vertical space and congesting the middle of the pitch, and they encourage this by playing quite a high line.

In attack Real try to stretch the play as much as possible. Toni Kroos is usually the deepest lying midfielder in possession linking the back four and the front players even though Casemiro is a screening midfielder defensively.

Real Madrid tend to use Kroos as the build-up playmaker, while Luka Modric or Isco will play as midfielders who drifts wide or pushes into the box and Casemiro will be used as a shuttling support player. Carvajal and Marcelo push very high and very wide while the forward line of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo can interchange by dropping in or going wide to create overloads.

When playing a 4-3-1-2 with Isco in the hole this movement is more vertical than horizontal but the effect remains the same. Real Madrid have three immensely world class attackers who can play anywhere across the front line while the full-backs create the initial chances.

The intention is to have two players on the side where Madrid are in possession, two players in the box for the cross and a spare player on the far side of the switch to regain possession if the ball is over hit.

The more attack-minded midfielder fills in to ensure the wide players have a passing option to recycle or switch play if required. Real will also use Modric’s ability to carry the ball forward by using a quick one-two or by one of the forwards to link with the midfield three to the forwards. This can also be done by Isco in the 4-3-1-2.


So, the players who are likely to line up for the final are? Real will be in their customary 4-3-3 or 4-1-2-1-2 formation and Isco’s chances of playing will depend on Bale’s fitness.

Juventus have several choices, they can play a 4-2-3-1 sending the deeper midfield to put pressure on the Real Madrid defence-midfield link, or they can place three at the back, to match Real’s front line using the wing backs to push up onto Real’s full-backs and using Dybala or Mandzukic to drop in to help out against Real’s midfield trio.

Both teams tend to play wide and so the temptation for both sets of full backs to sit deeper and play more cautiously in the at least in the opening stages of the match.

If Bale is not fit and Isco plays in the hole, Juventus will l be bolder as Real will play slightly narrower. If the players in wide areas seem to stifle one another then Modric and Pjanic will become the key men for their respective sides. Modric will look to carry the ball forward into areas where Real should have a numerical advantage, While Pjanic will try to link with Dybala who will drop into space and evade Casemiro and his accurate passing through the lines will be crucial if Juventus are to find a way through Real’s defensive shape.

While one might expect Juventus to sit deep, and absorb pressure and hit Real on a counter or exploit their defensive weakness from set-pieces, Allegri might adopt a more aggressive 4-3-4 or a 3-4-2-1, to pin Real Madrid back by asking Mandzukic and Dybala to drop in and Pjanic and Khedira to push up,and they will look to overpower Real Madrid’s midfield leaving a 3vs3 at the back, and trusting in the energy of Alves and Sandro to cover back if required.

Only time can tell what will happen, as this is a final between two very deserving sides and it should afford a feast of intelligent and tactical football.