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Frank Lopapa On September - 24 - 2011

Juventus and Manchester United: A Tactical Comparison

Although Juventus and Manchester United come from completely different footballing cultures, there is a remarkable similarity between the two clubs, and not in terms of domestic triumphs, European successes, and being recognized as two of the most popular clubs in their respective countries. Rather, I’m talking about this season in particular. Sure, at first glance, there are some stark differences; Manchester United is coming off a season where they overtook Liverpool in English titles won and a spot in the Champions League final, while Juventus is in another rebuilding mode after consecutive seventh place finishes in addition to missing out on European football for the first time in nearly
two decades. However, if one were to look a bit closer, there are some interesting similarities, namely in style of play and tactics.

There are a couple events in which I noticed this. Before the start of the season, many pundits (so-called and otherwise) were questioning Conte’s preference for an attacking 4-4-2 formation in a league where most team deploy three central midfielders. Naturally, this would seemingly lead to Juventus’ centrocampisti being overrun by the opposition time and time again. I remember reading excerpts from a press conference given on the eve of the new season and Conte made a reference to how the 4-4-2 is his base formation and that most teams in England deploy such a system. Odd that he would mention England specifically during said presser…

Which reminded of United’s demolition job over Arsenal at the end of August. Manchester played a highly aggressive 4-4-2 despite the fact that Arsenal were playing with three in the central midfield area. One would think, logically, that Arsenal’s three would easily outnumber Manchester’s two of Anderson and Tom Cleverley (similar to Conte’s use of Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo in the center); however, this was not the case. To make up for the lack of numbers in the center, both sides employ aggressive pressing of the opposition; in the event the ball is lost, the mission is to get it back as quickly as possible.

Let’s also look at both manager’s use of wide midfielders. During Conte’s time at Siena (and what we’ve seen so far at Juventus), he tended to use two aggressive wingers that would play so high up that many called his formation a 4-2-4. This season in Turin, we’ve seen a similar style of play as Conte has utilized Simone Pepe, Emanuele Giaccherini, and Milos Krasic to the same effect. Looking at Juventus’ summer mercato, there was an insistence on buying wingers, particularly for the left as to balance out the right-sided Krasic. As a result, the bianconeri bought Giaccherini, Paraguayan Marcelo Estigarribia, and the mercurial Eljero Elia. As we can see, pacey wingers form an extremely important part of Conte’s tactics.

One can see the importance of wingers in Manchester United’s 4-4-2 as well. To compliment Nani on the right, United bought England international Ashley Young to play on the left; this has resulted in what could be described as one of the best wing tandems not just in England, but in Europe as well (incidentally, one of Conte’s desired targets over the summer was in fact Nani, but instead opted for Elia). Juventini all over are hoping that Krasic and Elia can produce similar results as the season goes on.

Even the two managers are similar beyond tactics, as both have an intense desire to win and instill collectiveness and a relentless attack into their teams. The paths of Antonio Conte and Alex Ferguson to and through the management world may be quite stark, but both love winning above all else. Juventus supporters everywhere can only hope the similarities continue into the trophy cabinet.

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