A win against Lazio makes Juve wonder 'what if?'

Posted by Mina Rzouki

When it comes to Italy, it seems no one can get past the Old Lady. Tough, determined, organised and beaming with quality, Juventus simply control matches, dictate tempo and rarely look shaken. In the words of Milan's Riccardo Montolivo, the grand Old Lady "deserves to win the title". Pitted against another casualty of a European competition, Juventus exhibited superior quality to dominate midfield and thus the game to win 2-0 away to Lazio.

This was billed to be a difficult match. Vladimir Petkovic's men defeated Juventus and prevented them from reaching the Coppa Italia final. Blessed with technical players and a coach renowned for his ability to both organise and motivate, Lazio can both defend staunchly and attack passionately. Their aim is to play amongst the elite in the Champions League next season and the objective was to defeat the Old Lady to challenge Milan for third place.

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- Highlights: Lazio 0-2 Juventus

Unfortunately, they faced a Juventus side that was well prepared. Deployed in a 3-5-1-1 formation with only Mirko Vucinic up top, Antonio Conte wanted to neutralise the talent in Lazio's midfield and afford his own players more time on the ball to control the game. His idea proved to be a success.

Without a proper reference point to mark, the Biancocelesti defenders were left overwhelmed and confused. Consistently dragged out of position, the collective movement of Juve's players saw them struggle to contain the pressure and allowed the away side plenty of opportunities to attack space and create goal-scoring opportunities.

Boasting a blessed midfield, Juventus' superior physicality and ability to handle the ball allowed them space and time to dictate the game. Claudio Marchisio, who was asked to play higher up the pitch proved dazzling on the night as he linked up play, exposed spaces and made timely runs to latch on to excellent passes from those players behind him. Meanwhile, Mirko Vucinic played an excellent game in which he dropped deep to partake in the action as well as delivering the necessary passes and movements to aid his team-mates and raise the level of play in the final third.

Concerned with Marchisio and Arturo Vidal's runs, Lazio were unable to stop Andrea Pirlo delivering the accurate passes upfront. With a variety of options available to him in the final third, Pirlo's game was made easier. Revelling in his role as the mastermind, he consistently delivered timely passes for the attack to exploit.

In the second half, Lazio attempted to correct their errors and bolstered their midfield to limit the away side's control. Changing to a three-man backline, Petkovic's men were both more determined and quicker in their reactions in the second half as they attempted to pull off a comeback.

With greater control of the game, accuracy let the home side down as they continuously watched their shots miss the target. As each minute passed them by, Lazio lost a little more hope until they eventually allowed the Old Lady control over the game again. Juventus, as one would expect, cared only for controlling possession, rendering the last quarter of the match a dull affair.

Whilst the win ought to be celebrated, it brings with it regret. The 3-5-1-1 with Vucinic up top proved to be a successful solution that provided the side with several attacking alternatives and the ability to dominate a key area. That exact formation with those exact players (with one exception - Giorgio Chiellini in place of Federico Peluso) was thought to be how Conte would choose to play against Bayern Munich in the first leg.

Not giving the opponents a reference point to mark and allowing mobility the opportunity to overwhelm, Juventus may have just done that bit better in their first match at the Allianz Arena. At the very least, they would not have surrendered possession so easily and would have had a little more space with which to exploit and create chances.

Instead, Vucinic's flu coupled with the decision to play two forwards resulted in a weak performance. Juventus were completely bullied and dominated in an area they usually control with ease. Forced to deal with asphyxiating pressure and with few options going forward, the Italians were simply unable to play their usual game, facilitating Bavarian dominance.

Tonight's performance leaves them ruing missed opportunities whilst Arturo Vidal's masterful display had the fans wondering if he could have rescued the tie in the second leg. His collection of yellow cards meant he was never allowed to try and whilst Juve are one step closer to a second consecutive league title, the only question they really wish they could answer is 'what if?'.

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