Juventus beat Lazio in key early season game: 3 takeaways

TURIN, ITALY - AUGUST 25: Miralem Pjanic of Juventus celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between Juventus and SS Lazio at Allianz Stadium on August 25, 2018 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
TURIN, ITALY - AUGUST 25: Miralem Pjanic of Juventus celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between Juventus and SS Lazio at Allianz Stadium on August 25, 2018 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images) /

Juventus hosted Lazio at the Allianz stadium on Saturday. Here are three things we learned.

The Italian champions successfully negotiated their first major test of the season as Lazio were brushed aside in a 2-0 victory. This was completely different from last season when Lazio were able to come away with a shock 3-2 victory, and serves as a warning to the rest of the league because they weren’t even at their best. Here are three takeaways from the match.

Pjanic asserts control

Fresh from signing a new contract with Juventus, Miralem Pjanic showed his worth to the team with an excellent all-round performance. He broke the deadlock in the 30th minute with a controlled finish from outside the box which arrowed into the corner. It was a timely remainder of his quality after a summer in which a number of teams have chased after his signature. This was supposed to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s big day, but the reliable Bosnian overshadowed him on his teammate’s home debut.

The goal was excellent, but the control he asserted over the game was a lot more important because it allowed Juventus to grow into the game and establish periods of sustained pressure. He kept play moving so that La Vecchia Signora could create promising situations on the wings through overloads.

Without Pjanic, Juventus would struggle to circulate possession as effectively and their play could easily become predictable against a stubborn defensive shape. Lazio’s 3-5-2 set-up meant that the midfield battle was key in order to deny territory to the opposition. By keeping I Biancocelesti deep in their own half, Massimiliano Allegri’s men were able to limit the influence of players such as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic because they were reliant on counter-attacks where the link-up play of the Serbian, Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile was pivotal.

The wing-backs were pushed back so they struggled to transition out of the defensive shape with the defence effectively being a back five. Pjanic was able to play around the midfield three and dissect the opposition through some sharp passing as well as raising the tempo when needed in order to create openings. The Bosnian played in his usual spot in the middle of a midfield three which allowed Sami Khedira to make late runs because him and Blaise Matuidi screened the defence.

He only played 68 minutes, but he left his team with a platform to work from due to how he helped subdue the opposition as well as scoring the crucial opening goal.

Juventus utilise an asymmetric attacking shape

According to the pre-match line-ups, Juventus were set up in a 4-3-3 shape with Ronaldo on the left, Federico Bernardeschi on the right and Mario Mandzukic in the centre. However, that wasn’t the case in their attacking shape because Ronaldo often moved into the penalty box alongside the Croatian striker, which led to Alex Sandro providing the width on that side. This partnership was on show for the second goal because Ronaldo wasn’t able to convert the cross from Joao Cancelo, but Mandzukic was at the back post to fire it home.

This shift of shape worked well because there were two major aerial threats to aim for and Khedira ensured there was a late runner to mop up second balls with an early shot from him hitting the post. They prioritised play going down the right flank in order to take advantage of the dual threat of Bernardeschi and Cancelo.

The Portuguese full-back showed during his time at Inter Milan last season that he can be a dangerous threat down the flanks, and he is arguably better going forwards than defending. Allegri is willing to unleash him in this attacking role because Sandro played deeper on the other side while Matuidi and Pjanic ensured that the defence is protected in central areas.

Bernardeschi was a constant thorn in Lazio’s side down the right flank because he kept cutting on to his left foot and sending crosses in. Senad Lulic was often isolated against him and Cancelo, so he struggled to contain the talented winger. Douglas Costa replaced him in the second half and carried on from where his teammate left off, which shows the depth of talent Allegri can rely on.

Both sides press high with mixed success

The two sides mirrored each other in some respects because they pressed high wherever possible to contain the opposition and force turnovers. By having a high defensive line they were able to keep a compact shape and regain possession because players often used long balls which the centre-backs were able to sweep up.

Juventus’ quality showed, though, because they were more effective at playing through the press as well as having more control over the game due to winning the possession and territory game. Leonardo’s Bonucci’s range of passing was a useful tool because he was able to pick out players and bypass the opposition midfield at times, which unlocked the opposition and forced them to transition back. In contrast, the Lazio defenders struggled with passes over a medium range.

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For Lazio, negotiating the press was reliant on Milinkovic-Savic in midfield because he was often the outlet for ground and aerial passes. His all-round skillset was on show because he can break the lines with his dribbling while also controlling the ball under pressure and laying it off to a teammate.

After Pjanic’s substitution, Juventus were a lot more comfortable in transitioning to their defensive shape and relying on the counter. This worked well because Mandzukic scored not long after and Lazio struggled to break them down. The defensive shape was strong because the spacings between the players was good and the lines were compact while the players were willing to concede fouls in dangerous situations. Allegri managed the game well and the quality of individuals in his team ensured they were able to pass this early season test successfully.