Tevez Thrives in Between the Lines against Real Madrid

Carlos Tevez

Just as they had a few weeks previous, following their beloved Bianconeri’s 1-0 Champions League quarter-final win over Monaco, the fans at Juventus Stadium roared with approval and, above all, went home happy. They had just watched their heroes claim victory over the reigning European champions, Real Madrid, by a scoreline of two goals to one.

More than that, it was a step up from both the performance and the outcome against Monaco. Juventus held onto the ball brilliantly, especially in the first half, as they used their numerical superiority through the centre of the pitch to good effect. They often played around Madrid’s somewhat dishevelled 4-4-2 formation, with Carlos Tevez, flitting in and out of dangerous positions in between the lines, acting as the chief destroyer.

For the fans, of course, this was nothing new. Tevez has scored 29 goals in all competitions this season, so for them, this was merely an exclamation mark upon all of the good work that had come before. His intelligence and tenacity, not to mention his overall quality, was reminiscent of the Tevez to which they have become accustomed, but for Los Blancos, the team charged with stopping the little Argentine, his performance brought back memories of a very different kind.

Indeed, it was the 31-year-old’s impact between the lines that caused so much trouble for Madrid. It took only three minutes for this problem to present itself, as Tevez initially ducked into a pocket of space behind Toni Kroos, Madrid’s left-sided central midfielder, to receive a vertical pass from deep. This allowed him to turn and face goal, sum up his options and, finally, set up a shooting opportunity for Stefano Sturaro.

The surprise inclusion may not have made the most of it, in contrast to his overall performance, but this moment was nonetheless indicative of Tevez’s ability to incite trouble for the Spanish giants. It should have come as a warning for Madrid, as, after all, their 4-4-2 has endured similar difficulties at various points throughout the season.

Just a few weeks ago, for instance, Los Blancos travelled to the Balaidos to face a dynamic Celta Vigo, and it was there that the team’s holding duo, comprised of Kroos and Asier Illarramendi, opted to press high up the pitch. It was there, also, that Fabian Orellana, a crafty Chilean operating as Celta’s No10, found oceans of space in behind those two players. Sergio Ramos tried to step up from defence in order to close him down, but ultimately struggled to do so on a consistent basis.

Orellana ended the game with four key passes, two of which directly facilitated goals, three successful dribbles and two shots on goal. He was a constant thorn in the side of his more illustrious opposition, and though Madrid eventually went on to claim a 4-2 win, Orellana was brilliant from between the lines.

Yet even with this knowledge in mind, Carlo Ancelotti still came to Turin not with a plan to minimise the space between defence and midfield, but with one to stop Andrea Pirlo instead. Playing as a deep lying midfielder, Pirlo, who described Ancelotti as a father-figure prior to the match, was often set upon by Gareth Bale. And, in a chain reaction to eliminate Pirlo’s out-balls further up the pitch, Kroos and Sergio Ramos, this time playing as a holder, looked to aggressively close down Juve’s other central midfielders.

A decent plan, certainly, but one that almost seemed doomed from the outset. Tevez persistently made use of the space in behind Kroos, twice in the first five minutes in fact, and soon after, in the build-up to Juve’s eighth-minute opener, the 31-year-old made Madrid pay.

What was most interesting about this move, however, was the fact that it so effortlessly encapsulated the overriding rhythm of the match. It started with a Ramos turnover, something that happened far too often for Madrid’s liking. Next up, Juventus took to circulating possession in a precise and pinpoint manner, something to which they showed great commitment in the first half. And then, naturally enough, Tevez got involved.

Here, and as Juventus moved the ball down the right-hand side through Stefan Lichtsteiner, the Argentine again moved into the space directly behind Kroos. Lichtsteiner, having drawn the attentions of both Marcelo and Isco, then played a pass back infield to Claudio Marchisio. Kroos soon moved up to close down the Italian international, and at that point in time, Tevez saw his opportunity.

With Marcelo drawn out towards the flank, there was now a massive gap between the Brazilian and his fellow Madrid defender, centre-back Raphael Varane. Tevez motored into it and received the simplest of side-foot passes, before going on to shoot on goal. And while his powerful attempt was parried away by Iker Casillas, the rebound was pounced upon by the eager Alvaro Morata, so keen to impress against his former club.

He did just that, but in truth, this game belonged to his diminutive strike partner. Tevez, a blur of speed, agility and intelligence, was the star attraction. Even Ancelotti had to acknowledge this. “We started very badly, left room between the lines,” he said, before later adding that, “it (the space in midfield) allowed them to find a through ball for Tevez, something that happened a lot in the first half.”

He put this down to the plan to curb the influence of Pirlo, and admitted that this approach was a mistake. The genial and adaptable manager did make an in-game alteration, designed to “give him (Pirlo) more room to prevent that (Tevez finding space)” from happening. It helped, certainly, as Tevez now had to come much deeper to receive possession. But by that point in time, the Apache had already supplied a 15-minute whirlwind. The damage was already done.

Tevez then punctuated his impressive showing with a second-half penalty, scored after he initially tore down the pitch in transition, before being taken out by Dani Carvajal inside the area. It was his 7th strike in the Champions League this term, an astonishing feat considering that, up until this campaign, he hadn’t scored in the competition for over five years.

And, for Juve’s sake, he’ll be hoping it isn’t his last, either. They now go on to the Santiago Bernabeu for the second leg, where Max Allegri’s men will most likely adopt a less proactive style of play. They may even revert to the 3-5-2, which they used so effectively to close out the game against Madrid, from the outset.

If it turns out that way, it’s also likely that they will rely heavily on the counter-attacking exertions of their forwards, and the way that Tevez drove towards goal and won the penalty illustrates that, in addition to being able to find space in between the lines, he can be equally dangerous on the break as well. Add in the mobile Morata, who will no doubt be up and about upon returning to the Bernabeu, and Madrid won’t have it easy on home soil.

They’ll have to struggle to overturn the deficit, but so too will Juventus if they want to retain the lead. In the post-match, Allegri noted that while his players have “laid the foundations,” they’ll have to “deliver a masterpiece in Madrid” in order to secure progression to the final. It may be a challenge, and they may have to defend grimly in stages, but with Tevez in the team, anything is possible.