Why is Douglas Costa struggling under Sarri?


Despite playing over 500 minutes this season, Juventus‘ winger Douglas Costa has been underperforming under Maurizio Sarri.

The Brazilian winger is yet to score a goal and only has 3 assists to his name so far. Strange number given that he was literally an assist machine in his first season, back in 2017/2018 under Maximilliano Allegri’s command.

Douglas Costa 17/18 vs 19/20 stats
Douglas Costa 17/18 vs 19/20 statistical comparison

How can you explain such a drop in form?

Clearly, Douglas Costa struggles to get used to Sarriball. On the other hand, he has proved quite efficient while playing in Allegri’s system. As we will see in the coming picture, Sarri and Allegri use him in completely different position.

Under Allegri

Douglas Costa's positions with Allegri
Douglas Costa’s positions under Allegri

The above board shows the positions Allegri wanted Douglas Costa to receive the ball. Deploying him on either flank, Allegri would ask Costa to cut from the right and cross from the corner line when on the left.

Maximilliano Allegri used Costa higher up the pitch to compensate for his lack of defensive contribution and use his dynamism to press opposing defenses.

Mostly used on the left wing by Allegri, Douglas Costa would create chances by using his pace and ability to deliver accurate crosses with his left foot.


Under Sarri

With Maurizio Sarri, Douglas Costa often finds himself in a starting position he is not familiar with (as we will explain later on). A lower and crowded position from which Douglas Costa is unable to make use of his main attribute: his pace.

Douglas Costa's position with Sarri
Costa’s lower starting position under Sarri.

With the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Douglas Costa saw himself strictly limited to the right wing position. A side that limits his dribbling ability and makes him too predictable for defenders who easily dispossess him by putting him on his weaker foot (right).

Sarri's initial formation (4-3-3)
Sarri’s 4-3-3 used to face Napoli for the Coppa Italia final.

Defensive Duties

While Sarri’s starting formation is his usual 4-3-3, the Italian coach’s defensive plan seems to be a switch to a 4-4-2, with Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo staying upfront to press higher up the pitch.

As a result, Bentancur drops next to Pjanic while Matuidi covers for the left flank drifting wide in front of Alex Sandro. As for Douglas Costa, Maurizio Sarri expects him to cover space lower down the pitch and do a similar movement to Matuidi’s.

Sarri's defensive structure (4-4-2)
Sarri’s defensive structure (4-4-2).

Maurizio Sarri’s defensive plans are based on a low and compact defensive block. A setting in which Douglas Costa has never played.

Always relieved from defensive duties by his previous coaches, the winger has always been more comfortable pressing high and receiving balls higher up the pitch in counters.

A low defensive work rate, along with very hazardous positioning make Douglas Costa a weak link in Maurizio Sarri’s defensive scheme.

Douglas Costa's poor positioning
Douglas Costa’s poor positioning

Douglas Costa’s poor positioning hinders Cristiano and Dybala from pressing high.
His presence higher up the field forces his teammates to stay back and wait for him to drop.

Meanwhile, Napoli can switch the play to the other side and are allowed time to build from the back.


In Transition

Because he struggles to find the right position defensively, Douglas Costa fails to reposition himself correctly when his team regains the ball.

Moreover, Cuadrado’s forward runs and Bentancur’s tendency to drift wide and carry the ball from midfield, make the usable space smaller for Douglas Costa.

Even when he does get the ball, he finds himself in the previously mentioned position and can’t affect the play as he would like.

Douglas Costa's small space allowed
Costa’s dilemma on and off the ball.

Since Dybala and Ronaldo tend to switch sides and drop back to create space for each other, that creates and extra crowding around Costa’s starting position. Which makes it even harder for him to make a difference.


In possession

Used to making runs and receiving through balls, Douglas Costa struggles to play at his best level under Sarri’s short passing oriented style. He will either lose the ball trying to dribble or pass back to midfield.

When Douglas Costa finally manages to get into areas he is comfortable playing at, he finds himself isolated from play. Hidden behind defensive blocks, while other teammates propose better solutions.


Time To leave?

After 3 years spent at Juventus, maybe the time has come for the Brazilian winger to start over somewhere else.

Injury prone and inconsistent performances make clubs reluctant to sign a player with tremendous qualities if used properly. His misunderstanding and inability to play in Maurizio Sarri’s tactics will ultimately lead him to Juve’s bench.

Where would you see Douglas Costa next?

Let us know in the comments !

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