Champions League Tactical Analysis: Celtic vs Juventus

The Champions League is back & we're into the knockout stages which invariably produces intriguing tactical battles. We analyze each game and begin with Celtic vs Juventus..

By Brendon Netto

The first leg between Celtic and Juventus marks the return of the Champions League this season. The Scottish Premier League holders take on the Serie A champions at Celtic Park with the latter presumably deemed favourites. However, Celtic have shown that they aren't easy to beat and their performances in the group stages stands testament to that. Emotions will always run high in a game of this magnitude but given the contrasting styles of the two teams, it promises to be an enthralling tactical battle as well...


How Celtic Attack
How Juventus Defend
Celtic are accomplished in attack having scored 77 goals so far this season and Juventus would do well to refrain from underestimating them. They will employ two central midfielders in Victor Wanyama and captain Scott Brown to sit deep and provide the platform from where they can initiate attacks. They operate with traditional wingers who will provide width in attack and look to send crosses in for leading scorer Gary Hooper who is accomplished in the air. Hooper is known for his clinical finishing but is also renowned for his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play.

Normally he thrives when partenered up front with Anthony Stokes but Neil Lennon has often deployed Georgios Samaras to support Hooper from a deeper attacking-midfield role for the bigger games and will probably do so again on Tuesday night. Finally, between the two central midfielders, Wanyama possesses an attacking threat as well. He has the pace and power to drive through the center of the opponent's midfield and cause problems in the final third. His competent shooting from range is also a significant threat.
Whether attacking or defending, Juventus' strength lies in their midfield and so it's no surprise that they choose to pack it with no less than five players. The wing-backs play a crucial role and thanks to the athleticism of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah, they are able to get back to defend in line with their center-backs and should have no problem tracking the runs of the Celtic wingers since they will most likely be making them from deep positions.

Celtic's full-backs don't bomb forward on a regular basis but when they do, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio will be on hand to shuttle out and monitor their advancement down the flanks. Celtic's main outlet will be their target man Gary Hooper who should be efficiently dealt with between the three center-backs. Samaras will try to offer him support but that's where Juventus' advantage of having a third center-back on site comes into play as he can step up to close down the Greece international.



How Celtic Defend
How Juventus Attack
As far as defending their lines goes, it may be all hands on deck for Celtic. Needles to say, Hooper may be isolated up front. Their two central midfielders will play deep and put themselves about, something that they should be comfortable with. Celtic had only 16% of possession in their 2-1 win over Barcelona in the group stages so while their possession should improve against the Italians, it won't by much.

They defended very narrow against the Catalans but that ploy may not work so well against Juventus with their wing-backs offering plenty of width in attack. Most importantly, one player should be deployed with the specific purpose of stifling Pirlo and the man who may be entrusted with that responsibility is Samaras. The idea would be to stick close to the veteran playmaker when defending and sprint past him when operating on the counter-attack with the 33 year old unlikely to track back with similar enthusiasm.
The focal point of Juventus' attack is a two-pronged strike-force. Giovinco will most likely play as a second striker with Vucinic being the most advanced player. Neither of the two are natural target men and normally, they would both be considered second strikers. However, what the duo lack in the big and small combination, they make up for with the intricate play and fluid interchange between them.

The two strikers' movement should cause the Celtic center-backs plenty of problems and their full-backs may have to tuck-in to help out. However, that would create space for the threatening Juventus wing-backs to take advantage of the space down the flanks. Pirlo will play as the 'Regista' in the team and if he isn't dealt with, he could orchestrate the play and master-mind Celtic's downfall. Meanwhile, Marchisio and Vidal have delivered goals from midfield consistently for the Bianconeri and they will pose a significant threat as well.




Strengths –

Celtic: If Celtic are going to pull of an upset here, they're going to have to stick to their strengths which are their tremendous work-rate and excellent organization. They showed against Barcelona that they can compress the play when defending and make themselves very difficult to break down while being competent in the counter-attack. As far as assets are concerned, the one thing they have that Juventus don't is a genuine 20 goals a season striker in Gary Hooper who will have to be at his clinical best. They have a match-winning shot-stopper in Frazer Forster and they can be dangerous from set-pieces.

Juventus: Central midfield is so often where the game is won in modern day football and in that regard, Juventus shouldn't have anything to worry about. With a trio of Marchisio, Vidal and Pirlo, they can boast one of the best central midfield's in club football. Their defence is also more than adequately patrolled especially with the experienced Gianluigi Buffon on hand to marshall them from between the posts. The visitors will be eager to get Pirlo on the ball as much as possible in order to unlock the Celtic defense. Juventus have a massive advantage in terms of quality and theoretically, that should see them through. 

Weaknesses –

Celtic: The Scottish giants are seriously lacking in quality in the face of their Italian counterparts. The hosts don't really have a creative player in their midfield. Neither of their two central midfielders are playmakers so they do tend to lack real direction in their build-up play although they may be restricted to playing on the break anyway. Their central defense is not the most mobile and they could be stretched with the movement of Juventus' two strikers. 

Juventus: Antonio Conte's side lacks a prolific striker in attack, something that remains the missing piece in the puzzle. Neither of Giovinco nor Vucinic have a strong physical presence and could be muscled out of the game. It also means that Juventus will second-favourites for crosses coming into the Celtic penalty area.

Celtic Key Player: Victor Wanyama
Juventus Key Player: Andrea Pirlo
Frazer Forster may be a busy man in goal and will need to be on top of his game but it's in midfield where the hosts will face the biggest challenge. If Celtic are to topple their considerably more illustrious opponents then you can bet that Victor Wanyama will have to play a big part and be at his combative best. The Kenyan was instrumental in the group matches against Barcelona and even scored the winning goal when they beat them 1-0.

His strength, energy, tough-tackling and drive from midfield will be critical to his side keeping the Serie A champions at bay and possibly hitting them on the break. He is more than capable of hitting the target from range and can be a threat from set-pieces.
It's a close call between Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo for the Juventus player who could have the biggest impact on the game but the Scudetto holders will most likely need a delicate touch to unlock what promises to be a stubborn Celtic defense and that's where Pirlo comes in.

Few players achieve 'legendary' status while still plying their trade but Pirlo is certainly one of them and he's doing so at the highest level. Arguably the best deep-lying playmaker in the world, his side will need his vision and passing range to move the Celtic defense around.


Who do you think will win this tie? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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