The changing shape of Juventus


In May 2011 Juventus hired a new coach, Antonio Conte, and within a year it had clinched the Serie A title. With only one game left to play in the competition, Juventus currently find themselves undefeated. This article looks at the variety of formations and shapes that Conte has played during his tenure at the club.

When Conte first arrived as the new manager in Turin, there was a lot of interest regarding the use of a possible 4-2-4 formation.  Since then, however, Conte has proven that he is not adverse to changing the shape of the team to exploit opposition weaknesses and to back up their own strengths and has fielded teams in no less than 5 different shapes throughout the season;  4-4-2, 4-3-3, 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-1-4-1.

In October, Juventus hosted Fiorentina, who lined up in a 4-5-1 formation that appeared more of a 4-3-3 when in possession. Conte on the other hand started with a 4-4-2 formation that was incredibly fluid and looked more of a 3-2-1-4 at times, with Lichtensteiner pushing high up the right flank when in possession. In the second half, Conte made the decision to switch to 4-3-3 which allowed Fiorentina more space and time on the ball and Fiorentina capitalised, equalising to 1-1. Juventus moved back into the shape it played during the first half and ended up securing a 2-1 victory.

A week later, Juventus travelled to the San Siro to face Inter Milan who were at the time in dire form.  Inter started with a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation with the full backs pushing forward, while Conte fielded a 4-2-3-1 shape which looked to break on the counter attack and defend as a 4-4-1-1 unit. Juventus’ discipline was rewarded and the extra man in midfield gave defensive cover and Juve won 2-1.

In the game at Napoli in November, Conte wanted to mirror the 3-4-3 formation that Napoli have had success with but ended up starting with a 3-5-2 formation, which proved unsuccessful; by the end of the first half, Juventus were 2-0 down. The same line up emerged at half time but with a different shape. There was more of a 4-4-2 formation with a lack of a right winger and Vidal seemed to be tucked inside to a more central position. The game finished 3-3.

Further on in the season, Juventus played Udinese away in December, and later at home in January. On both occasions, Conte fielded a team playing in a 3-5-2 shape.  During both games Udinese also played a 3-5-2 shape but with Abdi dropping deep onto Pirlo. The formations cancelled each other out and finished with a 0-0 draw in Udine, but Juventus’ ability to retain possession with Pirlo led to a 2-1 home win.

In late February, Juventus faced Milan at the San Siro. Milan sat 2 points behind Juventus and if Milan could secure a win they would replace Juventus at the top of the league. Milan started the game with a usual 4-3-1-2 formation and Juventus played the 3-5-2 shape that had performed well so far. The first half was dominated by Milan and Juventus were forced to change their formation to 5-3-2 because of Milan’s majority possession and the constant threat they posed. During this half, Milan should have scored from a header by Muntari but this was ruled out and gameplay continued.  Conte changed the formation to 4-3-3 but ended the half 1-0 down.  In the second half Juventus pushed for an equaliser and had a goal disallowed as it was offside. Allegri changed the Milan system to a 4-4-2 to deal with the arrival of Matri but it couldn’t stop the visitors from scoring in the last ten minutes.  Both teams continued to attack to find the winning goal but neither were successful and in a Milan counter attack Arturo Vidal received a red card for a tackle from behind. The game ended   1-1.

In Summary

Juventus have come a long way since hiring Antonio Conte. Although much was expected from his possible 4-2-4 formation his favoured and probably most used formation can be described as a 3-5-2, although the variety of formations used is interesting.

Some teams try to take advantage of switching between formations and achieve varying degrees of success;  Liverpool’s experimentation between 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 led to disorientation within the team and a misunderstanding of player roles, whereas Athletic Bilbao (and arguably Barcelona) have thrived on regularly changing shape to so that each player can be used to the best of their abilities.

Serie A is famous for tactical gaming strategies, and with the resurgence of the 3-5-2 in Italy, Conte has varied and developed Juventus to be able to negate opposition formations. The ultimate outcome of the game largely depends on the ability of the players, although manipulation of the formations can be advantageous but may not necessarily secure a win. Juventus have shown that being able to identify and exploit weaknesses in an opponent’s formation can gain them the upper hand over the outcome of the game and even the entire season.

Scott Carmichael

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