Tactical Insight III - Why The "Right" Midfielders are More Productive

Welcome to the bi-weekly tactical breakdown where we take a deep dive into recent in-game tactics used by Juventus. These will be based on individual players or the team in general. As always, we encourage the Bianconeri community to chime in and create discussion.


Introduction: Ever since his arrival, Andrea Pirlo has transformed Juventus from a boring, predictable, unenthusiastic side into something more entertaining and effective. What we have witnessed is a total revolution in the way we set up tactically in every third on the pitch. In the defensive phase setting up in a 4-4-2 quickly transforms into a 3-5-2 in the possession and into the attacking phase. However, one thing that stands out is that whoever sets up as the Right Midfielder, they have been exponentially more productive compared to the Left Midfielder. In this breakdown, we will go over all the possible reasons why this is the case.


I. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Influence

II. Quality of Player

III. Pirlo’s Demands

Breakdown:

I. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Influence

When Pirlo was announced as the next manager of Juventus, he had a clear vision for how his team would set up and where Cristiano Ronaldo would play. The Portuguese superstar has transformed into a more focal point in the attack as a striker. What does this have to do with left vs right productivity?


The easiest distinction is where he operates. He prefers to come and collect the ball in the middle and attacking third on the left-hand side. We see his heat map depicted below courtesy of sofascore.com.



Ronaldo has a couple of things in mind when picking up the ball in that area. He’s going to goal or he’s switching the ball out to the right, hoping to get the ball crossed into him. There is little to no room down the left flank for the likes of Alex Sandro, Gianluca Frabotta, Federico Bernardeschi or the odd time Federico Chiesa to attack and do damage.

Another thing that hinders the Left Midfielder is that they are more focused on the defensive phase of play. During matches, overlaps are rarely performed and the players are rarely in positions where they can be dangerous.


Personnel

Comparing productivity is usually easier when looking at who is playing in these positions. Pirlo has used many different players on both sides. Let’s take a look and separate them into opposite flanks by Starts.

In this table, the number beside each name indicates how many starts they acquired as the main left or right-sided player. As you can see Juan Cuadrado has dominated the starting position on the right-hand side whereas the left side has many question marks. This stems from injury of course but also because no one has really stood out on the left. Even when Chiesa has started on the left he is less productive. We will look into this further.

Federico Chiesa:

The differentiating stats for Federico Chiesa comparing his starting position is really telling. As a left midfielder, the newly acquired Italian has scored 2 goals and provided 2 assists compared to his 3 goals and 3 assists as a right midfielder (he has scored a substitute goal as a forward v SPAL). The real eyebrow raiser is that all of his expected goals and expected assists and per 90’s as a right midfielder are much greater than when he operates as a left midfielder. See the graph below. (https://understat.com/player/1433) The algorithm signifies his positions as DMR/MR, which would be Right Midfield and DML/ML and Left Midfield.

What is even more eyebrow-raising is that when comparing Chiesa as a right midfielder is much more productive and effective as Inter new boy Achraf Hakimi. As portrayed below, Chiesa is equal to or more effective in the buildup of play and chance creation per 90 minutes. (https://understat.com/player/1433)

Basic Statistical Breakdown:

From what we see, the same amount of goals have come from each side however, the right side has many more goal contributions.


Juan Cuadrado has been having an excellent and very productive season. This can be attributed to all the freedom he has down the right flank and two excellent targets to aim at in Ronaldo and Morata. Juve like to play isolation ball whenever Chiesa and Cuadrado are in 1 on 1 situation. You often see central midfielders load up on the left-hand side to support the left midfielder. As the right midfielder, there is more room to express yourself and play within the team.


Frabotta, Bernardeschi, and Alex Sandro don’t look like they can beat their man anymore and their crossing is woeful. Perhaps if Juventus employed more quality, Pirlo would give more of a green light for them to go and attack.

Conclusion:

We have seen the Right Midfielder stand out in many games for Juventus this season, whether it be Cuadrado or Chiesa. Chiesa’s glorious game against Milan was him starting as a Right Midfielder and I can’t count how many games where Cuadrado was the main source of the attack. Ronaldo’s presence on the left ultimately hinders the attacking productivity of the left midfielders. Also, let’s face it, Cuadrado is just currently better than Alex Sandro and Frabotta.


From what we have seen this season, Pirlo wants to isolate his best dribblers (on the right) whenever it is possible. It seems to be working and hopefully, he continues to unleash the right-sided beast.


What are your thoughts? Let us know!

@Giannotti151

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