One need only look at the manner in which Juventus General Director Beppe Marotta, club President Andrea Agnelli and former Juve star Pavel Nedved celebrated Juve's first goal to understand how important a win at home to Livorno is for a side chasing their third consecutive league title. Seemingly tired and up against sides desperate to produce a miracle, the Bianconeri continue to push forward, managing a 2-0 victory to safeguard their position at the top of the table.
- Report: Juventus 2-0 Livorno
Tactically, Livorno were worryingly poor. It was clear that when facing opponents boasting such superior technical quality, their game plan would consist of defending then counter-attacking. However, the manner in which their strategy was executed caused concern and further demonstrated why the club find themselves fighting a relegation battle.
The first half was bizarre, to say the least. While the away side played a diligent game initially, the back line soon ceded space and began to fall apart tactically, gifting their opponents the opportunity to mount consistent attacks. If Livorno's game is based around defending before countering, then they must learn how to remain concentrated to close down space to play a compact game.
Not one of Domenico Di Carlo's men was capable of holding his position or shutting down the avenues to goal effectively to minimise the vertical runs forward their opponents consistently made. Easily dragged out of position, the Amaranto back-line would shift towards one Juve attacker and leave plenty of gaps and open space for his teammates to exploit.
This was especially obvious when Stephan Lichtsteiner cut inside and dragged six defenders towards him to create a cluster in the middle allowing the likes of Paul Pogba plenty of room to operate and strike behind Lichtsteiner. The first goal, was to a lesser extent, another example of this. Claudio Marchisio delivered a ball to Carlos Tevez on the left and the Argentine's cut inside dragged three defenders towards him, leaving Fernando Llorente with one player to contend with -- one player who was unable to effectively position himself to stop the Spaniard from turning to strike the ball. 1-0 and it should have been more at that point.
An entire flank was left void of supervision which meant only one accurate cross or two quick passes would allow Juventus to switch play and penetrate with ease. More infuriating for the Livorno coach however was his players' reluctance to mark the creative outlets within Juve manager Antonio Conte's side.
Andrea Pirlo was granted all the time and space in the world to operate and pick out perfect passes while Leonardo Bonucci behind him regularly pushed ahead, almost reaching the box before he was stopped and a tackle was even attempted. Incidentally, it was the defender's run across which dragged defenders away to allow Llorente a free header to score Juve's second from a corner. Not one Livorno player thought to concentrate on the tall man -- the player most likely to score in that situation.
The strategy of defending deep and then leaving the forward(s) up front works only when executed effectively with players of quality, i.e. Manchester United vs Bayern Munich. This particular tactic is meant to stretch the opposition and force the opposing midfielders to play a more cautious game. If they venture too far forward, they risk an imbalance and we saw that happen in the first few minutes of the game when the Old Lady hadn't yet settled into her stride. However, for a side like Livorno, the gaps were essentially too wide and left the Bianconeri with plenty of room to roam in-between while the likes of Marchisio revelled in the ability to intercept passes and initiate his own attacking passages of play.
While the relegation battlers' overall poor grasp of defensive tactics is the reason behind their loss, at least they boast the capability of nicking a goal. Alfred Duncan and Innocent Emeghara are easily their best players on the pitch -- men blessed with pace and physicality and the belief they can take on whomever lies ahead of them. Wonder shots and excellent movements called goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon into action and Conte was furious. He certainly did not want his men to suffer the same fate as Inter last week.
Dramatic and entertaining, the first half was filled with opportunities for goals. The second was somewhat more composed with both sides attempting to minimise the errors. Juventus were more balanced while Di Carlo's men covered the pitch in a more effective manner. However, both teams seemingly accepted the result making for a quieter and perhaps less thrilling end to the game. The focus shifts back to the Europa League and Juve will hope Lyon will provide them with another opportunity to celebrate at home this week.