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Wednesday, December 21

Udinese 0 - 0 Juventus: Scissors ties Scissors

A look at the nil-nil but entertaining-enough tango between Seria A sides Udinese and Juventus.

The Starting XIs
Udinese started with a 3-5-1-1 shape that had Antonio Di Natale playing atop with Almen Abdi as more of a roaming midfielder than true support for the striker.  In turn, Juventus started with a listed 3-5-2 shape that had Alessandro Matri and Simone Pepe as their forwards, however Pepe was often both far too recessed and wide to deserve that position classification with anything less than an asterisk.  Due to how Abdi and Pepe were put to use, each side essentially had two spare men at the back, leaving both Seria A contenders at their most dangerous on the counter.

While both sides were afforded the opportunity to press high up the pitch with their advantages at the back, it was, unsurprisingly, host Udinese who looked to close down Juventus across the pitch until they tired, with Juventus only applying true pressure when losing the ball in their final third when positionally advantageous to do so.

Claudio Marchisio was the chief threat for Juventus on the counter.  When he and Andrea Pirlo weren't busy supplying outlet balls to surging wingbacks Stephan Lichtsteiner and Marcelo Estigarribia, Marchisio sought forward positions while also trailing when countering, looking to receive cutback passes in space.  Marchisio didn't score but, to his credit, missed curling a shot home by not more than a foot and also once beat the superb Udinese keeper Samir Handanovič only for his shot to slide just wide of the post.

The lead-up to Marchisio's beating Handanovič perhaps best illustrates Juventus' first half.  After an Udinese mistake in possession -- one of many -- Marchisio found himself of ball just left-of-centre beyond midfield, leading the break.  With marked support to his right but numbers to his side's favour, Marchisio played the ball to Estigarribia.  Estigarribia pushed on and Marchisio slowed, leaving himself in a prime trailing position just outside the penalty box, unmarked, free to receive a give-back pass that might as well have been served on a platter from his constantly getting forward wingback.

Also illustrative was Matri and Pepe's lack on involvement in the play.  Largely bystanders in the first half, Pepe played far too withdrawn to need a consistent looking at by one of Udinese's centre-backs, and Matri was outright ineffective, not holding up play without immediate support.  And while Matri was well-outnumbered, he did little to search for space or drag defenders out of position.

As to be expected with a 3-to-1 advantage at back, Udinese defended surely when Juventus wasn't on the counter.  While Estigarribia was giving Dušan Basta problems down his flank, Udinese's extra spare man at the back and Maurcio Isla's support was enough to negate the danger Estigarribia was providing out wide.

Isla was something of a mystery this game.  With Basta dealing with -- and often pinned back by -- Estigarribia, Isla was the one to take advanced positions down the right when Udinese was in possession.  While that's something he can do, Udinese was frequently without his services in midfield, and Isla's crosses were mostly misfires.  The talent is significant for the young Chilean, but little was shown in way of skills for the evening.

Isla needing to get advanced and wide freed Giampiero Pinzi to slide to the space Isla left, but even still, Udinese was without cohesive enough of midfield play to ensure both long spells of possession and the consistent linking up of the midfield with Di Natale.  As such, Udinese managed only two first-half shots to Juventus' eleven.

The second half, however, saw more danger initially from Udinese, ultimately out-shooting the away side seven-to-six in the last forty-five.  While they weren't often on target, they did have force Gianluigi Buffon into saves and, however backhanded of a compliment it may be, their set-pieces did produce scares.

Juventus switched Pepe from the right to the left, and his playing more of a forward rendered an improvement for Juventus in possession.  Giorgio Chiellini, locked in battle down his right flank with Pablo Armero all game long, had Juventus' earliest chance of the second half, getting over his mark on a corner kick but heading directly at the sure-handed Handanovič.  It wasn't the best of chances, but it was surely better than anything Matri produced, who was subbed for in the seventy-first minute by Fabio Quagliarella.

Quagliarella's addition was meaningful, and his impact was near-immediate: not two minutes after coming on, Quagliarella invented himself enough space to blast a rocket which just sailed wide from outside the box, giving Juventus a threat from a striker that was sorely missed to that point.  He also produced Juventus' best chance of the second half, striking another screamer on the half-turn on goal, a shot that Handanovič had to do well to save even though it was right at him.

In the end, the similar tactics of both teams meant the game was something of a scissors ties scissors round of Rock-Paper-Scissors, even though Marchisio and Estigarribia provided a sharper blade than their counterparts in Isla and Basta did.  The goalless draw means AC Milan takes the table lead over Juventus due to goal differential, and Udinese remains two points back to close 2011.

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