A hard-fought 3-1 away win at Cagliari on Saturday night eased the pressure off Juventus Coach Luigi Del Neri and his stuttering side as they moved to within 11 points of leaders Milan. Beset by injuries and suspensions amongst his rearguard, the Aquileia native was forced into a reshuffling of his pack by going against the grain and adopting a 4-3-3 formation to counter the threat of the Sardinians in front of an expectant Stadio Sant’Elia crowd on Bianconeri striker Alessandro Matri’s return since his January move to Turin.
Having conceded 12 goals in their last six games, Del Neri decided that enough was enough, and to have any chance of turning around their poor run of form, he opted to field all four of his available centre-backs in each of the four defensive positions in a move not too dissimilar to Argentina Coach Diego Maradona during the 2010 World Cup finals. With Leonardo Bonucci returning after serving a one-match ban, in stepped new recruit Andrea Barzagli to partner him, with Giorgio Chiellini moving out from central defence and into to a left-back role he once occupied for both club and country. While this move may have curtailed any forays upfield from either full-back, it gave them added strength in numbers as regular right-back Marco Motta’s attack-minded-but-defensively-shy instincts left the right-hand side of defence seriously exposed in previous games.
Further upfield, Uruguayan Jorge Martínez was given another starting role as both he and Miloš Krasić started out on either side of Matri in a three-pronged attack, while in midfield, it was left to regular starters Felipe Melo, Alberto Aquilani and Claudio Marchisio to provide both the creative thrust and defensive screen to placate the Rossoblu – with the Brazilian in the role he had performed with aplomb for the Seleção in recent years.
With Cagliari fielding an almost-identical formation, their own attacking triumvirate of Robert Acquafresca, Andrea Cossu and Andrea Lazzari were already placing a considerable amount of pressure on the Juve rearguard, and with the battle in midfield intensifying as the match progressed, the Juve tactician gambled. On came Mohamed Sissoko for the ineffectual Krasić, while captain Alessandro Del Piero and Luca Toni entered the fray for Martínez and Marchisio respectively without upsetting the 4-3-3 formation he started the match with.
Sissoko – now in the ‘Makélelé’ role – provided the necessary steel in midfield which allowed la Vecchia Signora’s creative attackers to do their damage. The new attacking trio combined well to break down the opposition defence which was finally breached as Matri struck his second before Toni powered in a superb headed-goal late in the game to seal an excellent away win.
Del Neri will need to focus on how he can adapt and shape his squad, especially in light of Krasić’s poor form, which has come at a bad time for all concerned at the club. The Serb’s form and fitness has ebbed away as the season has progressed, and he will surely need to be rested at some stage before he is fully refreshed for a vital run-in.
So what will the Juve Coach do to paper over this particular crack? Sissoko’s introduction and a switch to an ageing strikeforce solved the problem against Cagliari – as their undoubted quality showed in the end – however, they cannot be relied to produce the goods in every game until the season’s end if they are to secure one of the prized Champions League spots, as they will come up against much tougher opponents.
Del Neri made the most of the squad he had at his disposal, and in a bold tactical move got it right on Saturday night. Was this a one-off result, or is this a real sea change in the Bianconeri tactician’s way of thinking with a move from his uninspiring 4-4-2 formation? He will come up against sterner opposition than Cagliari – with Inter up next on Sunday night – so the question remains as to whether he can use his new-found tactical nous again to get the best out of his stuttering side for the remainder of the season, or will old habits die hard?