Andrea Pirlo is rebuilding Juventus by merging Antonio Conte and Louis van Gaal’s philosophies together.
His first Juventus side, who beat Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria 3-0 in the opening weekend of the new Serie A season, were cynical, aggressive and, above all, very attentive in defence.
Pirlo’s Juventus side is so flexible that his team cannot be identified in a single tactical system. And, like Conte, he does not want to force rigid rules on his players. The 3-5-2 quickly becomes 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 depending on the movements of the full backs.
Pirlo chewed gum continuously for the 90 minutes of the Sampdoria win, and embraced all his players after the game – hinting at a great environment found with a team that wants to win its tenth consecutive Serie A title.
Juventus managed to close Sampdoria down in the visitors’ attacking third – Ranieri’s team couldn’t muster a single shot at Wojciech Szczesny in the opening 45 minutes of the game.
Furthermore, Pirlo got more answers from the team in 25 days than Maurizio Sarri did in 12 months, confirming a major communication problem between the previous coaching staff and Juve’s players.
ONE-ON-ONE DEFENDING AND A NEW ROLE FOR DANILO
After the match, Leonardo Bonucci praised Andrea Pirlo in the way he set up and managed the three-man defence.
‘With Sarri we moved much more as a group in defence, today we played more one-on-one,’ said the centre back. ‘The pressure allows us to be more aggressive and to recover many more balls.’
In the absence of injured centre-back duo Matthijs De Ligt and Merih Demiral, Juventus revolutionised their defence by putting former Manchester City full back Danilo in the heart of the back line.
The Brazilian was very skilled in managing the defence but still became a full back in the attacking transitions.
Pirlo chose him because he likes his ability to be a perfect supporting act alongside Bonucci – the true leader of a defence that seems more safe and alert under Pirlo.
Manchester City full back Danilo (left) started in a back three as Pirlo shuffled the pack
Dejan Kulusevski is the only player born after 2000 to have scored at least 11 goals in Serie A.
The Swedish midfielder, bought from Atalanta for £35million earlier this year, scored Juventus’ first goal in the 2020-2021 season with an intelligent left-footed curler.
Pirlo designed a hybrid role for the 20-year-old who, despite being Cristiano Ronaldo’s partner up front, often played alongside Ramsey in the midfield.
Pirlo praised the Swedish international in the post-match press conference, saying: ‘Kulusevski is a very intelligent player who finds the best space to play alone.’
Based on this intelligence and the great freedom granted to him by Pirlo, the Swedish midfielder will be deployed as an important player in many tactical schemes with different roles, notably 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1.
NEW BOY MCKENNIE PLAYS LIKE GATTUSO AND DAVIDS
American midfielder Weston McKennie was the main man of the Juventus midfield, showing great physical and tactical intensity.
McKennie chose the No 14 but he plays like a classic No 8 in the way he runs and fights without ever stopping.
In Pirlo’s football philosophy, a ‘mezzala’ midfielder – a hard-working player – must be physically strong and guarantee support for the team’s other midfielders, notably Adrien Rabiot.
The former Schalke man protected his French team-mate and helped Juventus recover many balls, making five tackles in the 90 minutes.
The American midfielder’s movement is very reminiscent of the competitive ferocity of Edgar Davids and Gennaro Gattuso.
His presence is considered essential by Pirlo who chose McKennie over the likes of Rodrigo Bentancur and former Barcelona star Arthur on the bench.
LAUNCHING ROOKIE FRABOTTA
Gianluca Frabotta, who made his debut under Sarri in the final match of the 2019-20 season against Roma, was deployed in the left-back role against Sampdoria, with Pirlo praising his display after the game.
‘Frabotta trained well and given Alex Sandro’s injury I chose him,’ said the new Juventus head coach. ‘He is a boy who trains very well and played a good match’.
Pirlo is not afraid to take risks and on his Serie A debut he decided to entrust a very delicate role to a boy who played amateur Italian football just five years ago, leaving Mattia De Sciglio on the bench until the middle of the second half.
Frabotta showed great maturity in difficult duels with Sampdoria players: he is unlikely to be dropped for the next Serie A match against Roma on the basis of this performance.
Aaron Ramsey seems to be rejuvenated under Andrea Pirlo and Juventus’ head of performance Paolo Bertelli.
Out of the 90 attempted passes he made against Sampdoria, 85 per cent of them were successful – the former Arsenal man played his best game since joining Juventus.
According to Opta, Ramsey made six clear-cut chances in the opening Serie A match of the season. Only twice had the Wales midfielder had achieved this record with Arsenal – against Leicester in 2014 and Wolves in 2011.
Ramsey is now a midfield playmaker and found himself on the wing with Cristiano Ronaldo making different types of runs than he did under Sarri.
Speaking about Ramsey’s display, Paolo Di Canio told Sky Sports: ‘Ramsey looked like the player he was at Arsenal. When he was fit he was great in one-on-one situations.
‘That Juventus team was more sterile, today I saw some ideas. We have to wait for more difficult challenges against different teams. Ramsey will be decisive for Pirlo’s tactics.’