Juventus and Fiorentina take their point in ugly goalless draw
When Fiorentina hosts Juventus, fireworks, pizzazz and a touch of elegance on the pitch are always expected. Instead, viewers for the latest edition were subjected to a stop-start game full of venomous fouls but little entertaining play culminating in 0-0 result. With both sides seemingly happy with the point, the game proved disappointing to those who sought thrills.
Injuries and suspensions forced Massimiliano Allegri to revert to a 3-5-2 formation and with it, all of Juve's previous weaknesses were once again exposed. For a side that has played such fluid attacking football for all of November in their new shape, this match was a return to a more muted performance going forward with little thrust. It all seemed rather pedestrian and awfully predictable.
To be fair to Allegri, he was forced to play without his favoured wing-backs while he opted to rest the likes of Carlos Tevez and Claudio Marchisio. Kingsley Coman was given a rare start alongside Fernando Llorente.
Fiorentina started the season poorly and by early November, after the defeat against Napoli, several were questioning whether Vincenzo Montella's cycle was over. Their usually beautiful style of play had made way to a more aggressive set-up that shunned possession in favor of more on direct and vertical play. Montella was seeking solutions to remedy his problems by attempting different strategies but the reality was that negative results and overly harsh criticisms had negatively impacted the team. The pressure to perform became too great.
Andrea della Valle and management stood by Montella and helped him to lighten the mood in the club, allowing the players to get back to enjoying the game. Since then, Fiorentina has achieved two away wins and seems to have restored much of their confidence, but the true test came against Juventus.
Set up in a 3-5-2 formation, Montella wanted his men to focus on their defensive discipline. A humble tactician who pointed out that his opponents were simply unbeatable, he proceeded to deploy a squad that remained compact, that closed down the space and only looked to create opportunities when possible. Defensively they were impeccable on the night as Juventus toiled to break down their walls and grab an inch of space to produce an inspired passage of play.
With what seemed to be a flat-footed Llorente leading the line, rarely affecting the game as required, only Coman's acceleration offered a little hope. However, the Bianconeri as a whole proved disappointing. They were back to forcing the issue, delivering imprecise passes and were seemingly out of ideas as to how score that elusive goal.
Ultimately, the first half was dedicated to watching the performance of the referee Nicola Rizzoli, who spent most of his time justifiably showing the players yellow cards for the various fouls committed. Football was not being played but the rivalry was being keenly felt.
In the second half, the Old Lady returned with renewed vigour and upped the tempo in hopes of piercing a tough back-line. Yet in the final third, they lacked the final ball while they were guilty of making more errors than usual. Andrea Pirlo consistently lost the ball, Arturo Vidal is no longer a man with perfect timing while even Paul Pogba was guilty of making wrong decisions.
Interestingly, this game perfectly demonstrated how much Juventus need their regular wing-backs, especially Stephan Lichtsteiner. Roberto Pereyra is a versatile player who can interpret various roles rather well, but he certainly cannot offer what the Swiss player can: stamina to run up and down and ensure he is always perfectly placed when Pirlo is on the ball and looking to spread play. The 3-5-2 formation simply fails if the wing-backs are not tactically capable of understanding their roles as this formation relies heavily on what they can offer in both phases of the game.
Many can be trained to act as a full-back in a four man back-line, but few are capable of breathing life into the role of a wing-back as well as Lichtsteiner does.
Allegri attempted to affect the game by introducing Tevez and Marchisio, but the tactical nature of the game, not to mention the spectacular defending, meant neither side could produce anything noteworthy. Gonzalo Rodriguez stole the show for the Viola while Leonardo Bonucci had a night to remember. Consistently on hand to make the vital blocks and tackles, he read the game beautifully and has truly developed into a defensive hero.
In essence, one point served both sides well. Juventus didn't expend the energy necessary to win to ensure they have enough in the tank for their last match against Atletico Madrid midweek. As for Fiorentina, one point will only help to raise their self-esteem further and give them the confidence required to push on and get back to playing the brand of football that has made them one of the better sides in Serie A.