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A Tactical History Of Juventus In The European Cup Final

Ahead of Juventus’s enticing Champions League final clash with Barcelona this Saturday, Tactical Calcio takes a look back at the Bianconeri’s past final experiences from a tactical perspective. Here, in the first of a two-part series, we begin in simpler times long before the competition’s re-branding, when Europe’s elite club competition was known as the European Cup.

1973: Juventus 0-1 Ajax

Stefan Kovacs had built upon the groundwork laid by his predecessor Rinus Michels, overseeing the development of Total Football to the point of aesthetic completion. The exact level of value he added in this process is up for debate, with some suggestion that Ajax was by this stage essentially democratically run by the players with captain Johann Cruyff as their ringleader.

Whatever Kovacs did or did not do, the results were stunning. Ajax laid waste to Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the 1973 European Cup, winning 4-0 in Amsterdam, before brushing aside Real Madrid with swagger in the last four en route to the final, where they faced Juventus.

Stefan Kovacs oversaw

Whatever his level of involvement, Stefan Kovacs oversaw a legendary Ajax team.

Juventus had invested heavily in assembling their squad, bringing in striker Pietro Anastasi for a then-world record fee of 650 million lire. Under modest Czechoslovak coach Cestmir Vycpalek, who had taken over following the sudden death of Armando Picchi, Anastasi would line up in a front three alongside Roberto Bettega and the 35-year-old Jose Altafini, who a decade previously had scored the goals that steered AC Milan to European Cup victory over Benfica.

That front three was the tip of a 1-3-3-3 formation. Behind them, captain Sandro Salvadore swept up beneath a three-pronged defensive blanket of Gianpietro Marchetti, Francesco Morini and Silvio Longobucco, while in midfield Franco Causio, Giuseppe Furino and Fabio Capello would attempt to link defence and attack. Against this Ajax it would prove to be a hard task.

Ajax were philosophically and stylistically entirely different to their Italian counterparts. Their renowned 4-3-3 was a constantly interchanging, interconnected web of fluid movement and accurate passing. Vycpalek’s Juve went man-for-man across defence and midfield, but there was only so far they could follow their men before completely losing their own shape. Cruyff’s wanderlust was a particular nuisance for Morini, with the elegant Dutchman dropping well into his own half to receive the ball, rendering his marker harmless.

Ajax Juventus 1973

Juve’s man-marking was unable to cope with the movement, flair and creativity of Total Football.

In a manner some would call typical of calcio at the time, Juventus sat deep and waited for a mistake to be made or for an attack to peter out, though on five minutes their plan was up in smoke. Horst Blankenburg, on one of his many strides forward from defence, floated in a wonderful cross from the left which was met by Johnny Rep, who leapt above Marchetti to loop his header over Dino Zoff.

There were few signs of life for the Italians in the first half. The 1973 vintage Altafini was portlier and slower than the younger model, and less able to get on the end of his team’s counter-attacks; those rarest of occasions when Juventus dared to threaten the authority of their Dutch masters.

The second half was a mild improvement, at least in the sense that Ajax had fewer genuine chances. Juventus pushed further up the pitch as the match wore on in a vain attempt to force an opportunity for themselves but it was not to be as Ajax held on to their lead.

For a fourth consecutive year the title remained in the Netherlands, for a third consecutive year it remained with Ajax, who for a second consecutive year won by defeating Italian opposition, having beaten Inter Milan in 1972. Total Football had trumped Catenaccio, as well as all others that stood in its path. The dominance was deserved.

1983: Juventus 0-1 Hamburg

Juventus were 10 years removed from their bitterly disappointing first European Cup final experience in 1983 and, having knocked out the holders Aston Villa, they earned a second shot at continental glory, this time against Hamburg.

A lot had changed for La Vecchia Signora in the intermittent period. World class talent such as Zbigniew Boniek and Michel Platini had been brought in to supplement a team predominantly made up of 1982 World Cup winners; Zoff, Gaetano Scirea; Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini; Marco Tardelli and Paolo Rossi. Meanwhile Giovanni Trapattoni was approaching the climax of his seventh season at the helm and had implemented the Zona Mista system, otherwise known as il gioco all’Italiana (the Italian game).

boniek platini

The arrival of schemers Boniek (L) and Platini (R) added class to an already strong Juventus side.

There was enough quality, both on the pitch and the bench, to ensure Juventus were cast as favourites here. Hamburg had dismissed Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s Dynamo Kiev, but they were generally regarded as a hard-working yet surmountable side.

Although many years had passed and Bettega’s hair had greyed, there was one continuing theme from the Juventus of ‘73, that being man-marking. Hulking centre-back Sergio Brio was assigned to Hamburg’s captain and main goal threat, Horst Hrubesch, while nominal right-back Gentile was assigned to Lars Bastrup. Although not quite as ineffective as it was 10 years previously when up against Total Football; when men became shadows, it did have negative ramifications.

In an attempt to breach Juventus’s defensive bulwark, Hamburg coach Ernst Happel decided to play Bastrup on the right of his attack, forcing Gentile to follow him and opening up space down the right side of Juve’s defence. Trapattoni’s asymmetric system meant that Tardelli, his right-sided tornante (returner), should have provided the necessary cover for Gentile’s displacement, though that didn’t stop Felix Magath from unfurling a beautiful strike from this area to put Hamburg 1-0 up.

Bad starts in European Cup finals had become a tradition for Juventus. Once again, they found themselves a goal down inside the first ten minutes. Once again, they would have to chase the game. English commentator Barry Davies summed up the scenes minutes later as Boniek denied Manfred Kaltz with a goal line clearance, calmly assessing, “the Italians are all over the place”.

Hamburg Juventus 1983

Gentile’s man-marking of Bastrup opened up space down the right side of Juve’s defence.

It wasn’t all bad. Gentile’s newfound positioning at least gave left-back Cabrini greater license to surge forward and join in attacks, while for the second half Trapattoni brought Tardelli infield, pushing defensive midfield worker Massimo Bonini to the right in order to stymie the double threat of Jurgen Milewski and forward-minded left-back Bernd Wehmeyer.

Scirea played the libero role with great fluency, emerging on either flank with creative intent and dictating the rhythm, while Boniek and Platini did their utmost to spark Juve into life, though the latter did so with surprisingly little success.

That year’s Ballon D’Or winner, Platini drifted in and out of the game, largely unable to escape the clutches of attention from his opposition. With less than 20 minutes remaining, he found himself in the penalty area, where he chipped the ball over Uli Stein only to be nudged over. Controversially no penalty was given and Juventus’s European dreams came crashing down once again. Hamburg maintained their narrow advantage until the final whistle to be crowned champions against the odds.

1985: Juventus 1-0 Liverpool

Juventus and Liverpool were the dominant forces in Italian and English football respectively in the 1970s and ‘80s, so when they met in the 1985 European Cup final, the expectation was that they would put on a show to linger in the memory. This was not to be. Prior to the match, Liverpool fans charged at a group of Juventus supporters, who tried to flee by climbing a wall. The wall collapsed, killing 39 people.

The football itself took a backseat; indeed the entire game was played in a slight haze, understandably so given what had already happened by the time the players took to the field that evening, although there is disagreement as to the amount of knowledge the players had of the tragic incident.

Juventus had not changed much from two years before, with man-to-man still their preferred style of marking in defensive areas. Furthermore, their asymmetric system was made up almost entirely of the same faces that had populated the line-up in defeat to Hamburg, with just three notable differences. Stefano Tacconi had taken over from Zoff between the sticks. In front of him, in came Luciano Favero to replace Gentile, who had been sold to Fiorentina. In attack, Massimo Briaschi took the place of Bettega, who had by now retired from football altogether.

Briaschi played as a deep-lying forward, offering further linkage between Rossi up front and the midfield. It’s worth noting that Rossi had cut an isolated figure against Hamburg two years previously. That individual performance, alongside the fact that Briaschi and Rossi had been attacking partners in the Lanerossi Vicenza side of the late 1970s that won Serie B and finished runners-up in Serie A in back-to-back seasons, suggests that Briaschi’s arrival in 1984 was in no way coincidental.

Despite the systematic similarities to the 1983 model, this Juve were more cautious. Scirea – who was by now wearing the captain’s armband – and Cabrini were less adventurous; perhaps an acknowledgement of the quality of a Liverpool side coached by Joe Fagan, who was himself following on from the outstanding groundwork laid by both Bob Pailey and Bill Shankly.

Juventus Liverpool 1985

Briaschi and Platini gave good support to Rossi in the 1985 final.

A regular occurrence in this match was the sight of Scirea standing directly adjacent to Tacconi, who would drop the ball only for his captain to pass it back to him. Liverpool centre-forward Ian Rush was determined to press the pair, so the frequent use of the tactic could be seen as a way of Juventus luring in Rush to create extra space for the rest of their defenders when playing the ball out from the back.

Platini was in fine fettle, leading from the middle in an attempt to open up the Liverpool defence. His teammates were not always up to speed with him, however, such as in the 38th minute, when the French number 10 broke away on the counter only to look around and find little support.

Platini would score the defining goal of the game, sending Grobelaar the wrong way from the penalty spot on 58 minutes after Boniek had been brought down just outside the box. Referee Andre Daina’s decision to award that spot-kick was controversial, as was his decision not to give Liverpool one on 76 minutes, when Bonini went straight through Ronnie Whelan, missing the ball entirely.

These refereeing decisions were two of multiple curiosities surrounding a game that many felt should not have gone ahead and, despite Liverpool’s efforts, they were enough to ensure Juventus finally got their hands on the European Cup in their third final.

The Bianconeri held on with football that was stout but not particularly endearing in a purely visual sense, barely mustering up another half-chance after going ahead, although it was enough to secure an historic win.

As well as being effective in praxis, Trapattoni’s Juve were significant in a theoretical sense in that their asymmetric Zona Mista system was the forefather of a formation that would become a hallmark of the modern Juventus.

Trapattoni's (R) Zona Mista system was a precursor to the 3-5-2 Juve use to this day.

Trapattoni’s (R) Zona Mista system was a precursor to the 3-5-2 Juve use to this day.

Pulling back the right-sided tornante, pushing the left-back further on and withdrawing the right-back into a more central position would effectively turn the Zona Mista into the 3-5-2, a system utilised by Antonio Conte and, to a lesser degree, Massimiliano Allegri as Juve romped to four consecutive scudetti from 2012 to 2015. Indeed, this system may very well be Allegri’s choice for this Saturday’s meeting with Barcelona.


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