27.10.2015 09:00 - in: Serie A S

      Four key duels in Reggio Emilia

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      With the Bianconeri’s testing tie with high-flying Sassuolo on the horizon, Juventus.com takes a look at Wednesday night’s key duels both on and off the pitch

      With seven points and two clean sheets from their last three Serie A outings, Juventus head to Reggio Emilia and the Mapei Stadium tomorrow night (kick-off 20.45 CET) with an eye on sustaining a promising return to form in recent weeks.

      Standing in the Bianconeri’s way though is a Sassuolo side in fine fettle, collecting four wins and three draws from their opening nine fixtures, a run that has seen Eusebio Di Francesco’s Neroverdi rise to sixth in the standings, three points ahead of Massimiliano Allegri’s men.

      With just the fourth league meeting between the Neroverdi and the Bianconeri on the horizon, Juventus.com takes an in-depth look at four key duels, three on the pitch and one off it, and where Wednesday’s game will be won and lost. 

      Key duel 1: Allegri vs. Di Francesco

      Though the main battles in Reggio Emilia will be pitched out on the field, the men in the dugout, Allegri and Di Francesco, will be hoping that their pre-match preparations will already have had a large say in the direction of tomorrow evening’s encounter.  

      Despite both being disciples of attacking football there is a marked difference in the way both coaches encourage their sides to get into dangerous positions in opposition territory.

      Where Allegri’s mantra is undoubtedly one of patience and composure, Sassuolo boss Di Francesco on the other hand enjoyed great success last term in taking his unfancied men to a respectable 12th place by moving the ball quickly and more directly to their three dynamic frontmen, Domenico Berardi, Simone Zaza (now of Juventus) and Nicola Sansone. 

      The evidence of these distinguishable styles can be seen in the average ball retention figures of the Bianconeri and Neroverdi so far this campaign.

      While Juve’s average stake of possession this season is just shy of 60 per cent, Sassuolo have seen less of their ball than their opponents in three quarters of their league games this season, notably grabbing a 2-2 draw at the Stadio Olimpico against Roma in September having shared just 33 per cent of the play. 

      While Di Francesco has stuck to a 4-4-3, injuries and absences have caused Allegri to vary his formation in recent weeks

      What tomorrow night’s tacticians do have in common is a preference for a four-man backline with a defensive midfielder offering protection in front.

      Since returning from injury, Claudio Marchisio has slotted in alongside Sami Khedira and Paul Pogba to offer stability and a calm mind in Juve’s middle third, an almost identical role played by Sassuolo man Francesco Magnanelli, an ever-present for the Neroverdi this season.

      If recent team selections are anything to go by, expect to see both sides look to attack with three forwards, whether cutting in from wide areas as Di Francesco’s men have done effectively so far through Berardi and Sansone, or through central positions as Paulo Dybala did so devastatingly during Sunday’s 2-0 win over Atalanta. 

      Key duel 2: Bonucci vs. Berardi

      On the back of three consecutive clean sheets in all competitions, the Bianconeri will need to be at their very best to extend that run to four against one of the most exciting forward lines in the league.

      Pulling the strings for Di Francesco’s men on Wednesday is likely to be Italy U21 international Berardi who has shown signs of rekindling his impressive form of last season in which he netted 15 times and crafted ten assists for the Neroverdi.

      Currently trailing fellow frontman Antonio Floro Flores (5) in the scoring stakes, the youngster will have his eyes on finding the net for a third game in a row following strikes against Lazio and Milan earlier in the month.

      The man likely to be tasked with limiting Berardi’s inward darts from the touchline is Leonardo Bonucci, while doing his usual duty of ensuring the Bianconeri keep the ball having won it back.

      Going by his start to the new campaign, Leo is well equipped for the job. Featuring in eight of the Old Lady’s nine Serie A outings, Bonucci has made 26 clearances and won 80% of his tackles to complement his usual qualities on the ball: no one in black and white has completed more passes with more accuracy than Juve's number 19 (562 at 89.9 per cent). 

      Key duel 3: Marchisio vs. Magnanelli

      The most intriguing battle of all though may take place in the middle of the park as the contrasting styles of Claudio Marchisio and Francesco Magnanelli come to the fore.

      Despite having only 225 Serie A minutes to his name since August, Marchisio has made a marked impact on proceedings in recent weeks, particularly in Sunday’s victory over Atalanta at Juventus Stadium, taking more touches than any other player while completing a staggering 146 passes, 85 of which found team-mates in the opposition half.

      Marchisio (left) was Juve's playmaker against Atalanta while Magnanelli (right) saw less of the ball in his team's last win (against Lazio) but was equally as influential.

      Comparing il Principino’s figures with those of Magnanelli reveals the difference in the two men’s roles despite occupying similar positions on the pitch.

      Although both operating as the pivot in a three-man midfield, Magnanelli counter balances Marchisio’s precision in the pass with tenacity in the tackle, winning 57 per cent of his duels and 84 per cent of his tackles so far this season.

      While the graphic above shows that on average Marchisio sees more of the ball than the Neroverdi skipper, the majority of Sassuolo’s play is dictated by Magnanelli; none of Di Francesco’s midfielders can match his figure of 507 completed passes or 663 touches thus far. 

      Key duel 4: Dybala vs. Acerbi

      The key moments in and around the hosts’ penalty area are likely be decided by the most in-form players of tomorrow’s teams, Francesco Acerbi and Paulo Dybala.

      La Joya has hit the ground running since arriving from Palermo in the summer, playing a part in 55 per cent (six from 11) of the Bianconeri’s goals as well as hitting the target with the most regularity (ten from 28 attempts.)

      The Argentine’s finest showing arguably came at the weekend as the forward created five scoring opportunities for his colleagues to add to his well-struck opening goal and pinpoint assist for Mario Mandzukic. 

      Dybala's average position against Atalanta. La Joya was a constant menace from central areas.

      Few defenders however can boast a better record than Sassuolo’s Acerbi this term. The fact that the ex-Milan man has emerged victorious in 70 per cent of his duels and 80 per cent of his tackles, all while conceding just five free-kicks, illustrates the breadth of the defender’s game since the season began.

      Add this to Acerbi’s team-high 49 defensive clearances and it is clear to see how the Neroverdi have begun the new campaign in such fine form.

      A fascinating encounter awaits. 

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