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What is behind Juventus goalscoring problems?

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By Mina Rzouki

Sunday 11 March 2012

For the past few years, Juventus dwell in a perpetual state of déjà vu. Forever criticised for their performances against the smaller teams, the familiar sense of disappointment has made a dramatic reappearance as we witness Antonio Conte’s little engine that could running out of gas.

Juventus’ biggest problem is their inability to score. Having managed 14 goals less than Milan this season, most have blamed the management and their inability to capture a world class forward in the market. With Mirko Vucinic unable to score and Marco Borriello barely managing to produce a good performance let alone a few strikes, it appears no one can make the difference for the Old Lady up top.

When comparing Juve to the other top teams in Serie A, it’s important to clarify that when it comes to scoring from open play, the Bianconeri are the best, having managed 29 goals – three more than Milan and an enormous 10 more than Udinese in fourth (Napoli have since scored six against Cagliari to alter the statistics). However, Juventus’ weakness lies in their inability to convert from set pieces in the way Milan and the Partenopei have in their games. With only one penalty afforded and seven goals from set pieces, they pale in comparison to the likes of Rossoneri who have enjoyed 13 goals from set pieces and converted six penalties.

Moreover, for a team renowned for their pace and energy, it’s interesting to note that the Bianconeri have only managed two goals from a fast break situation meaning that 12 teams have better exploited their pace in attack. However, whilst Juventus have been hailed for their team ethic and cohesion, critics have pointed to the lack of individual talent present in attack as a reason behind their recent struggles.

Vucinic has been criticised the most, as not only has he struggled to find consistency, he appears less and less interested in performing as the season progresses. It perhaps comes as no surprise that the Montenegrin tops the Serie A chart when it comes to turnovers. That means Vucinic, more than any other player in the league, loses possession due to poor control or a mistake. He is also the second easiest player in the league to dispossess.

When analysing his performances it becomes glaringly obvious that the ex-Roma player has performed better when deployed in a more central role just behind Matri. His best performances of the season have come against Genoa, Inter, Siena and Fiorentina in the first half of the season in which he’s been deployed closer to goal, drifting in and just off Matri in the centre.

It is perhaps unfair to say that Vucinic cannot perform when playing on the left as his performance against Cagliari, in which he adopted a wider position, paid dividends with the striker proving to be a handful for those tasked with marking him. However, in matches against both Palermo and Lazio, the forward struggled to provide a decent performance due to playing out wide on the left.

Against Inter in particular, the ex-Roma player who was meant to play on the left of a 4-1-4-1 formation ended up playing practically in midfield behind Matri and closer to the right side of the pitch. In that match, Juventus’ highest goal-scorer played as a pure centre-forward with Vucinic behind on the right and Marchisio behind on the left to create a triangle shape. The trio were sensational.

Vucinic was involved in all aspects of that game. He drew defenders away, delivered as many through balls as Andrea Pirlo and provided both long balls and crosses as he played a deeper role. Provided with service, Matri demonstrated his striker’s instinct and made the most of the passes offered to deliver a man of the match performance and a goal too.

Against Inter, Arturo Vidal stayed back and allowed Marchisio to push forward. The midfielder’s through balls proved even more effective as he exploited his physical strength to push defenders out of the way and his excellent positioning resulted in a goal, once again.

It was against Palermo that we saw one of Marchisio’s best performances. The midfielder who was meant to play as one of the two players in a 4-2-3-1 formation, adopted a high position for much of the match and managed yet another goal for the Bianconeri.

One could argue that the greatest loss to this 2012 Juve team is the midfielder’s poor form. Whilst he adopted a more central and advanced role in the games he has scored in, both exhaustion and a change of tactics have resulted in a more withdrawn performance from the Bianconeri symbol. The Juve youth product with a penchant for scoring has not managed to finish once since December, coincidentally, the same time that Juventus started to tinker with their formation, opting to start with a 3-5-2 shape in certain matches.

The 3-5-2 formation means the player has to sacrifice his freedom, forcing him to adopt a more defined position thus limiting his opportunity to play through the middle and make darting runs into the box. Moreover, for a player defined by his enthusiastic and physical approach to games, his dwindling levels of energy have become a cause for concern as he appears less inclined to burst forward, assuming a deeper role of late. Against Bologna in midweek, Marchisio was so far behind Borriello and Vucinic that even full-back Stefan Lichtsteiner played higher up the pitch than him whilst against Chievo the week before, six players played a more advanced role than Marchisio, including Pirlo.

The Juventus midfielder is not the only player to benefit from a 4-3-3 formation. The Bianconeri have statistically performed better when starting with that shape in Serie A - having managed to win 60% of those matches. In the league, Juventus have only won 33% of the games in which they started with a 3-5-2 shape.

Formations, dwindling levels of energy and tactics have all contributed to Juve’s impotence in front of goal. With Vidal preferring to shoot inaccurately from distance, Emanuele Giaccherini only managing to finish when he’s allowed to volley and Marco Borriello unable to control the ball – it’s difficult to see how Juve can improve going forward.

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