Paulo Dybala and Stefano Sturaro scored as Juventus, thanks to their second-half heroics, still have hopes of progressing to the quarterfinals of this season’s European Champions League. Buried deep down by Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben goals, the bianconeri changed things up in the later stages of the match to earn a draw in the home leg of the Round of 16 fixture.

Massimiliano Allegri fielded his team with the focus on being solid defensively. His 4-4-2 consisted Gianluigi Buffon; Patrice Evra, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Stefan Lichtsteiner; Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Juan Cuadrado; Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala.

Pep Guardiola, having lost Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, and Javi Martinez to injury started with David Alaba and young Joshua Kimmich in front of sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer. Juan Bernat and Philip Lahm flanked the central defenders. The midfield three were Arturo Vidal at the bottom and Thiago Alcantara and Thomas Muller on the attacking front. Douglas Costa on the left wing, Arjen Robben on the right wing and Robert Lewandowski in the center completed the 4-3-3 setup of the Catalan coach.

With Bayern enjoying a big chunk of the ball possession, this was how both the teams looked for the most part of the game.

Bayern Munich’s positional play:

Although he started with a 4-3-3 formation against Juventus, Bayern soon changed to 2-3-2-3 with a prominent positional structure. If somebody thinks that Guardiola sticks to one particular system during a match, then he or she will be in for a few surprises as his team slowly changes from one system to another. Alaba and Kimmich were the centre-backs and Vidal played just ahead of them. Bernat and Lahm tucked inside into the half-space and played alongside the Chile international. Up ahead of them were Thiago and Muller in the advanced half-space region. While Thiago mainly remained around the midfield and attacking midfield region and tried to open up spaces for his teammates, Muller attacked the space around him and ran at the gap in the Juventus’ defense. Costa covered the entire left wing while attacking and Robben did the same on the right wing. With a  2-3-2-3, Guardiola had two at the back, a pivot, two players flanking him in the half-space with the freedom to move out wide as the wingers moved inside, two players in the attacking midfield and striker.

While developing attacking sequences from the back, Guardiola deployed a back three of Alaba-Vidal-Kimmich with Vidal being the deepest player and the main outlet of passes into the midfield during build-ups. Neuer, sweeping behind the defensive line, was helping the team get back higher up the pitch as quickly as possible. With Vidal dropping between the centre-backs, it was up to the Bernat and Alonso to narrow down their positioning. In such situations, the players on the wing were also falling back a couple of steps in order to collect the passes from the back. Bayern’s shape looked like 3-2-2-3 or the traditional WM.

Looking at the whole picture – Bayern had three at the back, four players in the half-space region with the freedom to move centrally, a center-forward, and two wide players.

The W-M formation.

In the center, Bayern had a 4v4 against a deep lying setup of Juventus. As Vidal and Lewandowski joined the four Bayern players, a 6v4 situation being created in the center.

6v4 in the central region.


In the WM shape, Vidal was at the tip of the structure. He swept the loose balls behind Bayern’s defense and acted like a sweeper. Moving into the midfield when the team’s shape change to 2-3-2-3 he was acting like a modern sweeper – sweeping the ball in the midfield and covering the space behind Lahm and Bernat. Watch the video attached below to find Vidal, the Modern Sweeper in action.

Bayern Munich’s gegenpressing:

With every pass, Bayern pushed higher up the field towards the opposition goal. Bayern, at the same time, started stretching out Juventus so as to create space. Since they were leaving behind plenty of space between their defenders and the goalkeeper, Bayern had to stop Juventus from counter attacking. During the attacks, the space between Bayern players was purposefully increased. These spaces had to be reduced while defending. In other words, Bayern needed to regain compactness. Bayern needed to do this as soon as the ball was lost. Bayern resorted to their usual technique of counter pressing or gegenpressing the opponents. Counter-pressing is the pressing done in order to win the ball back quickly after it is lost.

Guardiola adopted passing lane oriented counter-pressing in which his players tried to block the passing lanes of the opponents, making the them give the ball away cheaply and quickly. (Read Rene Maric‘s excellent article on Counter-pressing and its variations.)

In the pictures and the video attached below, you can find how Bayern players are closing down the passing options of the player who wins the ball. Since the player will have to first – win the ball back from Bayern, second – look out for a passing outlet, and third – pass the ball, he will be the most vulnerable player to counter-press.

The intensity with which Bayern counter-press must be appreciated. Counter-press and if you lose the ball right then, counter-press again. The highly-intense but short training drills help Bayern in getting accustomed to situations like these in actual games. Here’s a video of Bayern Munich’s intense training drill:

Juventus deep block in the first half:

Juventus’ manager Allegri, who had stated that a goalless draw at home was a good result, played with a deep defensive block so as to stop the attacking threats posed by Bayern Munich. Two layers of four players who were shifting zonally kept Bayern at bay for the most part of the first half.

Defending when the ball was in half-space:

Here’s a scenario from the match, which shows how Juventus players have positioned in a low block when Bayern are having the ball in the left half-space. Mandzukic has moved out of the block to put pressure on the player having the ball – in this case, the young Kimmich in the left-halfspace. From hi position in the half-space, Kimmich can pass the ball to the left wing, straight forward to Lahm or Muller, to the right half-space (Thiago and Bernat) and to the far sided winger Costa. Mandzukic is not only putting pressure on Kimmich but he is also trying to block the passing lane leading to Lahm. Players in the midfield are shadowing their opponents close to the half-spaces. The fullbacks are cautious about the movements of Robben and Costa.

Juventus deep block against ball in the half-space
Juventus’ deep defensive block. This was their defensive shape with the ball in the half-space.

Defending when the ball was in the center:

When Vidal or Alaba had the ball in the central region, Juventus were changing to back five depending on the direction in which the ball holder was looking. For example, in the picture shown below, Vidal, after receiving the ball, is looking to his left towards Bernat, Thiago, and Costa. So Cuadrado has moved to the right wing-back position and Juventus have taken a crescent shaped, five-man defensive line. Madnzukic, Pogba and Evra are the only bianconeri players looking to cut-off the possible passes from Vidal to the right and they too are moving towards the center in tandem with the rest of their teammates.

Dybala is trying to shadow Thiago. Khedira has stepped up to press the space in front of him. While Bayern were having the ball in the wing and close to the 18-yeard box, one of the Juventus players was stepping forward to press the space. It was either Cuadrado or Pogba. But in this case, Khedira opens up space for Lewandowski to drop back, Thiago to move centrally, force Dybala to narrow down his positioning and let Bernat free in the middle. Without Khedira alongside him, Marchisio has to deal with two Bayern players.

Juventus deep block against ball in the center
Juventus defending with the ball in the center.

Juventus attacked on the breaks in the first half. During one such counter-attacks, Khedira lost the ball close to the center circle. With only Marchisio to shield the back four, Bayern attacked the wide spaces and forced Juventus’ defenders into a single line. Bayern’s W shape up front allowed Costa – Lewandowski – Robben to play crosses and stretch Juventus while Muller plunged the second ball and Bayern scored the opener by out-numbering Juventus on the cut-back region.

cut back zone.PNG
Bayern out-numbering Juventus in the cut-back region.

Second half: Rejuvenated Juventus:

Anderson Hernanes replaced Marchisio at the start of the second half and made a positive impact on Juventus’ playing style. Hernanes provided defensive stability while in the attacking phase by staying back in front of Barzagli and Bonucci and allowed Evra and Lichtsteiner to move ahead which in turn provided Pogba and Cuadrado in attacking the interior corridors. Here’s a situation wherein Hernanes is dictating the play from the deep.

juventus second half.PNG
Juventus’ 4-3-3 during attacks with advanced wingbacks.

Juventus, with the intention of thwarting Bayern’s attacking build-ups, pressed higher up and Hernanes proved helpful in holding his ground and pressing the right spaces to push Bayern away from danger zones. During high-pressing, Cuadrado and Pogba occupied the half-spaces and the wings while the two strikers of Juventus piled the pressure centrally with some help from Khedira who was pushing up. Juventus second goal was the result of high-press by Alvaro Morata – Mandzukic – Cuadrado and midfield pressing by Pogba – Hernanes.

high press.png
High-press + Midfield pressing helped in putting pressure on Bayern’s defenders and finding the equalizer.

Juventus were also changing to situational 4-3-3 during attacks – Cuadrado was moving higher up and Pogba was playing alongside Khedira. This was allowing the home side to have three men in the midfield to prevent being outnumbered. It also meant that Hernanes could stay back as explained earlier. Juventus were reverting back to 4-4-2 while defending.


Allegri’s aim of holding Bayern off for a goalless draw at Turin failed. But they way Juventus staged a comeback from two goals down to finishing the game as equals is really appreciable.

Allegri thought of dealing with Guardiola’s tactical masterplan with a simple but effective low block 4-4-2 and counter-attacks. But after going a goal down, the Juventus manager took some risky decisions, continuously tweaked his system to adjust to Bayern’s plans and put his team back in the race.


One thought on “Juventus 2 – Bayern Munich 2: Bianconeri restore parity after second half heroics.

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