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Bayern Munich 6-1 Porto

thiago jackson

Bayern Munich overturned a poor away leg result with a convincing performance at the Allianz Arena.

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Pep Guardiola made one change to the side that suffered a defeat at the Dragao, introducing Holger Badstuber alongside Jerome Boateng at centre back.

Julen Lopetegui was without his first choice full-backs, which saw Diego Reyes and Marcano slot into Porto’s makeshift back-line. The Portuguese club’s front six was unchanged.

This was the antithesis of Bayern’s performance at Dragao, as they comfortably monopolized possession, whilst focusing on width to create chances.

Porto’s shape

The most interesting feat prior to the second leg was whether Porto would replicate the effective pressing that thwarted the Bavarians at Dragao. In Portugal, Lopetegui’s side pressed in phases out of possession, but here, the away side displayed considerable caution by dropping deeper into their half when Bayern surged forward.

Jackson continued to position himself goal-side of Xabi Alonso to prevent service into the Spaniard, along with preventing him from dictating the tempo from deep. Ricardo Quaresma and Yacine Brahimi moved towards the Bayern fullbacks, with only Hector Herrera pushing forward to aid the front three.

For the most part, Lopetegui’s makeshift back four weren’t keen on surging into advanced areas, and Porto often sat deeper in a 4-5-1 with the wingers pegged back due to Bayern’s adventurous fullbacks. The Porto wingers couldn’t dribble away from pressure, and with two makeshift fullbacks – who are natural centre backs – the decision to play a highline would be too risky.

Guardiola adjusts

However, the main talking point surrounded Bayern’s set up. In the first leg, Bayern’s 4-3-1-2 deprived the German side of natural width, and they equally encountered difficulties getting service into their attacking players.

Gotze Lahm Porto

Guardiola reacted to Bayern’s insufficiencies at Dragao by moving to a natural 4-4-2 with Phillip Lahm and Mario Gotze as wingers, while Lewandowski and Muller formed a natural strike partnership. Lahm aimed to combine with Rafinha and Muller, whereas Gotze stuck wide and drifted infield to create space for Bernat to surge into.

Thiago Alcantara porto

Both elements of width were non-existent in the first leg, enabling Porto to congest central areas and easily regain possession. Here, their initial shape was stretched, which presented more gaps for the likes of Thiago and Alonso to play into. But with both men faced with the task of evading Porto’s pressing in midfield, Badstuber and Boateng continuously pinged passes into wide areas.

Ultimately Gotze and Lahm’s wide positioning benefitted Lewandowski and Muller, as they effectively thrived as a natural strike duo. Lewandowski, renowned for his ability to operate as a poacher and a player to drop deep, was at his supreme best here.

Apart from the goal, Bayern’s best moves were created from the front two’s movement – Lewandowski would drop deep, whereas Muller would charge into the space behind the Porto defence. Bayern’s first legitimate chance was a prime example. Lewandowski dropped to the centre circle to receive service, and subsequently flicked the ball into space for Muller, thus leading to Fabiano making a good save, and the Pole hitting the post.

Although a traditional 4-4-2 is quite simplistic in the modern era, Guardiola’s alteration solved the main attacking issues Bayern faced in the first leg. Lahm and Gotze’s width created space for Alonso and Thiago to control the game in midfield, whereas Muller and Lewandowski operated as a classic strike partnership and attacked crosses into the box.

Bayern’s goals

Bayern’s superiority was evident throughout the first half, and width was equally crucial in the buildup to their goals. Coincidentally, their lone away goal in the first leg stemmed from a Boateng cross, and in the first half, Guardiola’s men continuously launched balls into the box.

Initially it was Rafinha’s over hit cross that fell to Gotze, and his lay off to Bernat saw the Spaniard run past Quaresma to deliver a devastating ball towards the near post, which Thiago nodded past Fabiano. Badstuber and Boateng rose high to combine, as the latter nodded in Alonso’s cross from a short corner for Bayern’s second.

bayern goal porto

Still, it was the third goal that epitomized their approach. It was a truly superb goal that witnessed a 26 pass move conclude with a wonderful Thiago diagonal to the right flank and three magnificent first touches: Lahm instantly delivered the ball into the box, and Muller directed it into the path of Lewandowski who finished superbly.

As expected, the Bayern dominated possession, but Porto couldn’t cope with countless crosses into the box, which epitomized Guardiola’s successful tactical modification.

Second half

Both managers reacted to Bayern’s first half onslaught with caution: Ruben Neves replaced Quaresma as Porto transitioned into a 3-5-1-1 with Brahimi behind Jackson. Porto’s additional ball playing midfielder helped the away side enjoy longer spells of possession – Bayern’s pressing decreased – while the wingbacks pushed higher up the pitch to prevent Bayern’s fullbacks from storming forward.

Porto’s changes were made to gain control of the match through possession, and direct balls into Jackson led to a goal and great chance shortly afterwards. Jackson was still isolated upfront, and though Herrera assisted his side’s sole goal, the Mexican and Brahimi rarely combined with the Porto striker.

 Alonso Muller Brahimi

Bayern’s intent to close the match out through possession saw Guardiola move to a 4-3-3 with Lahm moving into midfield. Yet, Bayern’s best chances prior to Jackson’s consolation goal stemmed through deliveries from the right flank. The German outfit won the tie with a terrific first half performance, and the final 45 minutes were merely based around preventing further embarrassment.

Conclusion

Bayern were heavy favourites to mount a comeback in the second leg, and this was a truly remarkable display. Surely Porto displayed increased caution and pragmatism in comparison to their first leg triumph, but this was more about Guardiola altering the mistakes made in Portugal.

Put simply, Bayern focused on width and crossing to overturn the first leg result: it was a simple, yet effective approach. This was another example of Bayern’s augmented flexibility and evolution under Guardiola.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United

Hazard United

Chelsea moved within touching distance of their first Premier League triumph in five years, with a narrow one-goal victory over Manchester United.

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Jose Mourinho made two changes to the side that defeated QPR at Loftus Road introducing Kurt Zouma in midfield for Ramires, while Oscar returned to the XI to replace Willian.

With Phil Jones, Daley Blind, and Michael Carrick unavailable, Louis van Gaal made three changes to the side that comfortably defeated Manchester City. Paddy McNair and Luke Shaw slotted into the back-line, while Radamel Falcao started upfront, pushing Wayne Rooney into midfield.

This was a typical big game performance from a Jose Mourinho side – Chelsea were cautious, organized, and eager to pounce on the counter, before dropping deeper to preserve a result.

Chelsea approach

Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League placed Mourinho with a significant decision regarding the Blues shape and approach in the opening half. Mourinho’s tactics in big games are rarely groundbreaking, and the decision to play a cautious, reactive game was unsurprising.

Mourinho instructed his men to drop into two banks of four with Zouma tracking Fellaini and Nemanja Matic pushing high on Wayne Rooney. Chelsea’s centre backs were rarely in severe danger due to Falcao’s determination to drop deep and link play – albeit not doing a great job connecting with his teammates.

Chelsea’s approach wasn’t entirely perfect, however, as Shaw found space down the left due to Oscar’s narrow position, whereas the two United centre backs were free to push into the home side’s half. While neither player would fear an opposing side based on their attacking qualities, Paddy McNair stepped forward on two occasions to earn a free-kick and force Thibaut Courtois into a key save, equally recording United’s first shot on target.

Azpilicueta United 2014 2015

Cesar Azpilicueta was arguably Chelsea’s best player throughout, keeping tight on Mata when he remained near the touchline, whilst winning his individual battles against Antonio Valencia. There was no need for Chelsea to be adventurous and attempt to dominate the match, and their ability to maintain their compact shape frustrated United. 

United down the left

However, despite Chelsea’s defensive solidity when United maintained possession, the away side located a flaw in Mourinho’s setup. With Oscar drifting infield from the flank, there was space available down the left for Shaw to storm into.

United’s best chance of the first half saw Shaw and Young overload Branislav Ivanovic, with the latter surging into half space and pulling back the ball for Rooney, who surprisingly curled his effort wide of the near post. Although Oscar remained wide for large portions of the match, Shaw’s threat was evident in the second.

Ramires was also introduced to cope with the England international’s threat from the left, but in terms of overall chances, Shaw served as United’s main threat. Shaw motored into advanced positions in the first half, and turned creator in the second, placing Angel di Maria and Falcao in great positions – the latter fired his effort off the post.

Here, both left backs were arguably the best performers – Azpilicueta played a pivotal role in stifling United’s threat down the left, whereas Shaw was a reliable attacking outlet.

United midfield

Still, United’s dominance at Stamford Bridge was expected. They held 70% possession over 90 minutes, completing nearly 500 more passes than the league leaders. But apart from Shaw’s contribution from the left, United rarely tested Chelsea’s back-line.

Chelsea United passing 2014 2015

With Blind and Carrick unavailable – particularly the latter – Van Gaal was deprived of penetration in deep areas. Where Carrick is keen on playing forward passes into pockets of space, both Herrera and Rooney facilitated horizontal/diagonal balls into wide areas.

 Rooney Herrera Chelsea 2014 2015

Apart from simple lofted balls towards the flanks, Rooney’s short, long and forward passing is mediocre, whereas Herrera’s deep-lying role limited his overall impact. Rooney, though, was involved in one move in first half stoppage time that saw Young nod his dinked ball into the box towards Falcao, but Courtois was quick off his line to clear danger.

Fellaini attempted to replicate the role he played in United’s convincing derby win. The Belgian moved towards the left flank to avoid Zouma’s presence, retain possession, and create a 3v2 overload in wide areas. Likewise, while he comfortably towered over Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta at Old Trafford, the decision to isolate Ivanovic was odd – especially with the diminutive Azpilicueta on the opposite flank.

Zouma pestered Fellaini, preventing the Belgian from freely winning aerial duels to link play with his teammates, or score goals. With that being said, apart from retaining possession, United’s midfield trio was fairly limited, as penetrative passes and long direct balls into Fellaini were non-existent.

Chelsea break

The pattern of the match was set from the opening whistle, and United’s territorial dominance meant Chelsea’s attacks were mainly in transition. Drogba’s inclusion in the XI deprived Chelsea of pace upfront, so the decision to maintain a solid shape, pounce on United mistakes and dart into space on the counter was logical.

First Mata’s poor cut back pass saw Oscar ignite a move that involved Hazard, Terry and Drogba, but the Brazilian’s final ball was intercepted. Then, Fabregas pounced on Falcao’s poor lay off pass, inspired another quick Chelsea break down the left, but David De Gea snatched Azpilicueta’s cross.

Chelsea’s reluctance to dominate possession led to laboured buildup and uninspiring passes, with majority of the Blues’ best moves involving Hazard. To no surprise, the Belgian scored the winner, following a similar template to Chelsea’s initial opportunities on the counter.

Terry dispossessed Falcao, who once again dropped deep in search of the ball, thus allowing Fabregas to find Oscar between the lines. The Brazilian’s improvised back heel connected with the onrushing Hazard, who stormed into the box to slide the ball past De Gea. It was a vintage Mourinho move executed to perfection, as the 38th minute goal served as the first shot on target of the match.

The goal itself decreased Chelsea’s intent to surge forward in the second half. Drogba should have doubled the Blues’ lead in the second half – a move that concluded with Hazard hitting the cross bar – yet, barring Hazard’s smooth slaloms into United’s half, Chelsea’s attacking threat was non-existent.

Substitutions

Van Gaal didn’t alter his side’s shape to chase a result, but he replaced Young and Mata for more direct options in Adnan Januzaj and Angel di Maria. Neither player troubled Chelsea with their pace, but Di Maria could have been used in a central role. Di Maria’s running in central positions would offer an additional source of penetration, opposed to the conservative passing that was displayed in central areas. His threat was highlighted shortly after Falcao hit the post, when he darted into left half-space to receive Shaw’s pass, but the Argentine was crowded out by Chelsea defenders.

Mourinho, on the other hand, made like-for-like personnel alterations, calling upon Ramires to replace Oscar, providing protection for Ivanovic but also a threat in transition. In the latter stages John Obi Mikel and Willian replaced Hazard and Fabregas, further highlighting Mourinho’s intent on preserving the lead.

Conclusion

The contrast in approaches was evident, and both managers were keen to highlight their reaction to their side’s display.

We prepared for it to be like this. It was the game we wanted and expected,” Mourinho said. “Wait for a mistake and score a goal. We were able to make their important players disappear. Nobody saw them. They were in our pockets.”

Van Gaal, equally expressed his disappointment in regards to United’s non-existent threat in the final third.

“We were not effective today, because we created a lot of chances in spite of the defensive organization of Chelsea – three in the first half to their zero. In the second half, we created eight chances and Chelsea three, so that’s unbelievably good,” Van Gaal said.

“We were the dominant team on the pitch but lost and, in football, the result is everything.”

In the end this was simple for Chelsea: they sat deep in two banks of four, limited Fellaini and United’s threat out wide, and quickly broke on the counter, eventually punishing one of many United mistakes in midfield. United are beginning to take shape, but once again, Mourinho’s defensive organization proved decisive.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

PSG 1-3 Barcelona

suarez neymar psg

Barcelona have undoubtedly placed one step into the Champions League semi-finals as they swept aside French champions PSG at the Parc des Princes

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Luis Enrique recalled Javier Mascherano alongside Gerard Pique at centre-back, while Martin Montoya slotted in at right back for the suspended Dani Alves.

Laurent Blanc was forced into several changes with Adrien Rabiot and Yohan Cabaye starting in midfield for Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s suspension meant Edinson Cavani started upfront, while Marquinhos formed a centre-back partnership with Thiago Silva.

Both sides relied on direct dribbling to make up for their non-existing creativity in midfield, but this was a matter of Barcelona’s ruthless front three executing the few chances created over 90 minutes.

PSG shape

When the Champions League quarterfinal draw concluded a few weeks ago, it was evident that PSG – Barcelona would be one of the marquee match ups at this stage. However, this was the fifth showdown in three years between the two clubs, which left many anticipating a cagey encounter.

PSG initially approached the match with caution. The home side dropped into two banks of four with Blaise Matuidi and Ezequiel Lavezzi sitting narrow, while Cavani, and occasionally Cabaye, stepped forward to press Sergio Busquets. Blanc’s intent to stifle Barcelona’s build up from the back involved negating service to the Spaniard, but his side equally benefited from Messi’s positioning across the pitch.

Messi started on the right as expected, but his persistence to drift into central areas was peculiar considering PSG’s narrow positioning. With Alves unavailable, Barca was deprived of width down the right, and the threat of makeshift right back Montoya was scarce. Perhaps Messi wanted to increase his impact on the match and serve as a link (he was involved in the opener) but PSG’s shape limited his threat from open play.

Initially, Gregory Van der Wiel and Maxwell stuck tight to Neymar and Messi, but when the latter dropped deeper into central positions to receive the ball, Matuidi surged forward to apply pressure. In reality, Blanc’s approach was effective, as Barcelona encountered difficulties creating legitimate chances in the final third. The centre backs, and full backs stuck close to Barca’s front three, Cavani and Cabaye pressed Busquets and Matuidi tracked Messi when he moved into central areas.

PSG down the left.

Where Barca struggled to create chances from open play, Blanc’s side focused on the away side’s weakest point in the opening half. With Messi reluctant, or perhaps not instructed to protect Montoya, Maxwell received ample space to charge into when PSG held possession. Here, Maxwell recorded the highest passing combination with Matuidi and Pastore, who were also positioned on the left.

Maxwell Barca

Ivan Rakitic appeared to be the man responsible for drifting over to the left to prevent overloads, yet Matuidi and Maxwell still played key roles in creating the French side’s best opportunities. It took seven minutes for the duo to charge down the left channel, but Javier Pastore mishit the Frenchman’s pull back.

Arguably PSG’s best chance of the first half also stemmed down this flank with Matuidi storming forward on the break before playing a pass to the rampaging Lavezzi, who pulled back and squared the ball to Cavani free on goal, but his hesitation enabled Javier Mascherano to make a vital last ditch interception.

Maxwell’s freedom and Montoya’s selection were key factors in PSG trying to exploit possible fragility down the left, but a combination of poor decision making and the quality of the deliveries prevented the French side from harming Barca.

1-0

Based on Messi’s high standard, the Argentine enjoyed a quiet night in open play. The aforementioned congestion in central areas, along with Messi’s intent on drifting into these zones played a factor, but his mazy direct runs to goal served as Barca’s sole threat in the opening half.

Ultimately Messi was the catalyst behind Neymar’s opener, but Barca’s sharpness and intelligence to quickly break on the counter highlights one of many changes under Enrique.

Busquets dispossessed Rabiot and quickly played the ball to Iniesta, who found Messi in a pocket of space in midfield. PSG, as a unit, were caught out of position, as Messi drove at Thiago Silva and played the ball wide to an unmarked Neymar, who calmly notched a vital away goal.

Overall, Barca’s build up and attacking play was poor, but considering the tight marking Messi received out wide, his decision to move infield was largely based on influencing the match and dragging defenders out of position to create space for his teammates. The opener highlighted Barca’s swift transitions – which have improved weekly – but it equally offered the Catalan side penetration in central areas.

Xavi/PSG goes 4-2-3-1

The pattern remained the same in the second half until Xavi slotted into midfield for the injured Iniesta, whereas Lucas Moura replaced Rabiot, pushing Matuidi into the double-pivot and Pastore behind Cavani. The French side was persistent to push men forward in attack, but as a whole they lost structure and balance.

psg xavi

Xavi has often been used this season – a perfect example would be the recent Clasico – to kill off games in the latter stages of matches. Here, the Spaniard was integral to Barca’s second half dominance alongside Busquets. PSG’s formation alteration equally negated their initial approach out of possession, which offered freedom to Barca’s ball playing midfielders in central areas.

Busquets psg 2nd half

In a sense Blanc’s decision to gamble at the half hour mark proved beneficial to Barca – PSG’s threat down the left was thwarted, and the away side received space to exploit in the middle and final third.

Final 25 minutes

The second goal ultimately destroyed the tie. Suarez was kept quiet due to proactive pressing from Marquinhos and David Luiz for large portions of the match, but Luiz’s arrival provided a sense of recklessness. The media heavily scrutinizes Luiz’s subpar defending, and although the Brazilian wasn’t fully fit, Suarez’s movement was integral to both second half Barca goals.

First, Suarez cleverly nutmegged the Brazilian when he drifted into the right channel to receive Montoya’s pass, before skipping past Marquinhos and Maxwell to fire a tame effort past Salvatore Sirigu. Then a simple one-two between Suarez and Mascherano dragged Marquinhos out of position, setting the latter free to run past Luiz and expertly notch Barca’s third goal.

Perhaps both Barca goals represent Luiz’s poor judgment and rash defending, but PSG’s move to a 4-2-3-1 thwarted their cohesive pressing, thus leaving ample space vacant for the away side to kill the game. Blanc’s men scored a fortuitous consolation goal in the final 10 minutes to provide hope for a second leg fight back, but the options on the bench limited the French manager’s flexibility. Of the few breaks PSG received down the channels, most were thwarted by the imperious Mascherano.

 Mascherano psg

Enrique relied on Jeremy Mathieu and Adriano for improved defensive solidity, and Pastore’s role in a deeper position in the final minutes created Barca’s sole second half scare, but both substitutes made key last ditch interventions to deny PSG a second goal. Suarez’s movement and dribbling bamboozled PSG’s back-line on two separate occasions, and once PSG strayed away from their initial defensive approach; his ruthless finishing made the difference.

Conclusion

Barcelona’s display epitomized the side’s identity under Enrique. The away side didn’t dominate the match in terms of possession – until PSG altered their shape – and relied on direct individual breaks and clinical finishing from their front three to sweep aside the French champions.

PSG’s initial defensive approach effectively limited Barca’s threat in attacking zones, but apart from quick breaks, predominantly down the left, the French side weren’t overly convincing in the final third. In terms of defensive structure and overall pressing, Blanc’s gamble backfired as the players looked unsure of their defensive duties, and their use of possession lacked direction.

Returning players should bolster PSG’s XI and improve the French side’s overall performance, but Blanc’s men face an uphill task at the Camp Nou.

The Barca front three were far from convincing with Neymar struggling to get the better of Van der Wiel, Messi’s movement into a congested central area limiting his influence, and Suarez getting the better of Luiz when PSG chased the game. Still, intent on maximizing the talent of three world class attackers – individually, Barca’s most impressive front line – and improved defensive structure has transitioned the Catalan side into heavy favourites to win the tie, tournament, and achieve a historic treble.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Chicago Fire 3-2 Toronto FC: TFC makes the same mistakes in Chicago which calls for change

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - APRIL 04: Warren Creavalle #3 of Toronto FC and Joevin Jones #3 of the Chicago Fire battle for the ball during an MLS match at Toyota Park on April 4, 2015 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated Toronto FC 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Credit: Jonathan Daniel / staff

BRIDGEVIEW, IL – APRIL 04: Warren Creavalle #3 of Toronto FC and Joevin Jones #3 of the Chicago Fire battle for the ball during an MLS match at Toyota Park on April 4, 2015 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated Toronto FC 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Credit: Jonathan Daniel / staff

Toronto FC conceded a second half lead against the Chicago Fire to suffer their third consecutive loss of the season at Toyota Park.

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Greg Vanney was able to recall Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to his starting XI, while Justin Morrow formed a makeshift centre-back partnership with Nick Hagglund.

Former TFC striker Quincy Amarikwa led the line ahead of Shaun Maloney in Frank Yallop’s 4-4-1-1. Harry Shipp and David Accam operated on the flanks with Matt Polster and Michael Stephens sitting in midfield.

TFC controlled possession for large portions of the match, but they rarely offered a threat in the final third, and Chicago continuously exploited space in wide areas.

Chicago down the left

The main storyline over 90 minutes, and TFC’s season thus far, has been the Reds’ vulnerability in wide areas. With Mark Bloom unavailable, and Vanney short of centre-back options, the TFC manager was forced to persist with Ashtone Morgan and Warren Creavalle in fullback roles.

But Chicago’s intent to press high, and isolate Creavalle, in particular, was evident from the second minute. Joevin Jones dispossessed Creavalle in TFC’s half and stormed into the box to squeeze a shot on goal, but Joe Bendik pushed the left-back’s effort aside. The away side received an early warning within minutes, which is why it was odd to see both full-backs push forward.

The Fire enjoyed the better chances throughout the match, opting to surge forward through quick transitions opposed to well-worked passing moves. On three separate occasions, simple long outlet balls in transition were played into the left channel, but neither Accam nor Amarikwa could solve Bendik.

Ultimately, the two goals Chicago scored were created down the left, with Jones dispossessing Robbie Findley before combining with Maloney for the first, and the former Wigan Athletic midfielder gaining a yard on Hagglund to snag the second. Creavalle, not a natural fullback, constantly bombed forward ahead of the speedy Accam, and the home-side’s main source of attack were ignited in the vacant space.

Defensive shape

Another interesting feat regarding TFC’s struggles this season has been their reinvigorated 4-3-1-2. The system, however, deprives the Reds of natural width – they also possess one natural winger – which explains why the fullbacks are instructed to maraud forward into advanced positions.

However, the fullbacks lack adequate protection when the Reds drop into their natural shape and sit in front of the ball. TFC tend to defend with seven men behind the ball, with exterior central midfielders, Benoit Cheyrou and Jonathan Osorio responsible for pushing into wide positions without the ball.

But when the duo is unable to move into wide positions, neither Giovinco, Altidore, nor Findley appears interested in fulfilling their defensive duties, enabling the opposition’s fullback’s freedom to surge into advanced positions. The home side, on the other hand, dropped into two narrow banks of four with the midfield band remaining compact with the back four to limit space between the lines. Chicago’s back four proactively pressed TFC’s attacking trio when they received the ball with their back to goal, preventing the forwards from turning towards goal, as Altidore’s influence was scarce, and Findley’s link up play was severely underwhelming.

TFC issue in the final third

One of the evident changes under Vanney, helped by off-season acquisitions, involves the Reds playing proactive football. Under Ryan Nelsen, TFC often defended in deep banks of four with hopes of punishing teams on the counter, and struggled to break teams down in the latter stages of the season.

Where Vanney has assembled an XI capable of retaining the ball for long spells, TFC still encounter the issues that thwarted last season’s playoff run. Giovinco’s space in the final third will decrease with every passing week, but without natural width in the XI, the onus on Bradley, Cheyrou, and Osorio to create chances, and offer adequate service for the front three is significant.

Bradley and Cheyrou were involved in a lovely move for Giovinco’s equalizer, and the latter lobbed a ball into the channel for the Italian to score the second. Still, this is a TFC midfield trio filled with passers, but lacks energy and strength to serve as an additional outlet to unlock organized back-lines.

Although the lack of pressure on Bradley enabled the American to connect short passes to set TFC forward, the buildup often halted in the middle third. Considering Bradley has struggled this season, mainly against teams that press him aggressively, Vanney’s reluctance to start Collen Warner in his natural role is peculiar.

With Bradley higher up the pitch, TFC then receive the energy and running Osorio doesn’t – and may never – offer at this stage of his career. Considering another lacklustre attacking display, the trio of Warner, Bradley, Cheyrou must cross Vanney’s mind, as powerful runs from deep and penetrative balls in the final third have been non-existent.

11v10

Nevertheless, Creavalle’s second half sending off was the defining moment, as TFC was forced to finish another match with 10 men. While it’s uncertain that the Reds would claim a point had Creavalle remained on the pitch, Jeff Larentowicz’s well-taken free kick following the TFC defender’s dismissal, enabled the Fire to sit deeper and play on the counter.

Vanney replaced the ineffective Findley with Jackson, moving the Brazilian to right back, as TFC operated in a 4-3-1-1. The TFC manager also summoned Bright Dike for Osorio, but Yallop, swapping Amarikwa for Kennedy Igboanaike, was the key change.

The away side pushed men forward in search of a winner, thus leaving space for the speedy Igboanaike and Accam to exploit on the counter. This played into the Fire’s hand, as they were equally poor in open play, and simple balls into Igboanaike in the channels constantly stretched TFC’s back-line.

A move in the 83rd minute summarized Chicago’s threat subsequent to Creavalle’s dismissal. Igboanaike was released into the left channel before laying the ball off to an onrushing Accam, but the Ghanaian fired his shot over the net. TFC were unable to trouble Chicago’s back four, and frankly wasteful finishing prevented a Fire onslaught.

Conclusion

TFC squandered a glorious opportunity to obtain valuable road points against a mediocre MLS side, but the loss equally highlighted the current issues at the club. Still, both side’s relished quick transitions, and were unconvincing when faced with the task of breaking down the opposition’s defence.

Chicago’s attacks were calculated, as they constantly relied on their pacy attackers to surge into space behind the TFC fullbacks. More so, TFC’s midfield balance isn’t correct and the current system hasn’t reaped rewards on both ends – they’re vulnerable out of possession, and lack conviction in attacking areas.

Perhaps the Reds miss their sidelined first team defenders, but this performance serves as an indicator that Vanney must show tactical flexibility going forward.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool

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Arsenal placed Liverpool’s top four aspirations in severe danger with a convincing three-goal triumph at the Emirates.

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Arsene Wenger made three changes to the XI that narrowly defeated Newcastle at St. James Park, recalling Mesut Ozil to the attacking trio alongside Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey. Per Mertesacker and Hector Bellerin also returned to bolster the Gunners’ back-line.

Daniel Sturridge wasn’t fit to start at the Emirates, thus forcing Brendan Rodgers to select Lazar Markovic to join Philippe Coutinho behind Raheem Sterling. Kolo Toure replaced the suspended Martin Skrtel, while Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen protected a makeshift back three.

Arsenal scored three goals in the final 10 minutes of the opening half to secure maximum points, but this was solely about their improved workrate out of possession, and the maturity displayed to contain Liverpool’s threat in the second.

Pattern

Surely this match was settled within the opening 45 minutes, but their was a distinct contrast in regards to the pattern displayed in last year’s fixtures, and the clash at Anfield earlier this season.

Last year, Liverpool’s energetic organized pressing, and lightning breaks humbled Arsene Wenger’s side. Meanwhile, the clash at Anfield this season saw the Reds easily bypass Arsenal’s disjointed pressing to dominate majority of the match.

Matches subsequent to the international break often result in fatigued sides failing to eclipse standard energy levels, but here, Arsenal rectified the pressing issues displayed at Anfield.

Likewise the main difference in the return fixture witnessed Arsenal dominating the match in terms of possession, pegging Rodgers’ men into their half – which technically benefitted the away side considering the space available for Markovic and Sterling to exploit in transition.

Pressing

The main battle featured in midfield with the contrast in pressing playing a decisive theme in the opening half. As stated above, Arsenal’s pressing improved at the Emirates – at Anfield, the front three were instructed to press Liverpool’s defensive trio, while the midfield and defence sat off.

This time Arsenal remained compact and squeezed Liverpool into their half when they attempted to bypass the home side’s pressing. The home side’s press flustered Rodgers’ men, as they regularly conceding possession cheaply in central areas, thus resulting in immediate Arsenal attacks.

The main focus here is on Arsenal's ball recoveries.

The main focus here is on Arsenal’s ball recoveries.

The tempo was sent in the opening 30 seconds when Allen conceded possession in his half, which ultimately led to Alexis firing an effort wide of the net. This was a recurring theme throughout the first half, as Liverpool failed to build plays from the back.

Liverpool was fortunate to be level following a sequence of errors in the opening 10 minutes.

3rd min: Francis Coquelin intercepted Lucas’ pass and instantly found Sanchez who played a ball into the box that Cazorla picked up, before lashing a low driven shot at Mignolet.

4th min: Giroud’s pressure on Toure forced the Ivorian to concede the ball to Ramsey, who motored into the box but fired a tame effort at Mignolet, before the Liverpool defender cleared his lines to prevent Cazorla from scoring an easy tap in. 

10th min: Coquelin intercepted Sakho’s poor pass, thus leading to Ozil and Alexis combining, with the former’s cross finding Ramsey in the box, but he nodded the ball behind Cazorla at the edge of the box to thwart the play.

11th min: Slight pressure from Ozil led to Lucas giving the ball to Cazorla, but Ozil’s attempt to combine with Giroud saw the striker fail to successfully combine with the German’s wall pass.

Arsenal’s pressing was logical considering Liverpool’s inability to pass their way out of trouble, but it was equally their only method of attack due to Liverpool’s approach out of possession.

Liverpool dropped into their standard 5-4-1, with majority of their focus on stifling Coquelin and Cazorla.

Sterling tracked Coquelin’s movement when Arsenal tried to play from the back, and when the English international was out of position, Allen stepped forward to apply pressure. Cazorla dropped deeper to help his side move forward, but Lucas quickly closed down the Spaniard.

Arsenal may have found joy through quick transitions, but with Can or Jordan Henderson tightly marking Alexis, Ramsey out of position, and Giroud also outnumbered, their threat in possession was often stifled.

Liverpool moves

Equally, Liverpool also encountered difficulties in the final third. When the Reds occasionally bypassed Arsenal’s first stage of pressing, Sterling was often outnumbered, an unable to punish the home side with his pace.

Frankly, it was odd to see Rodgers’ side reluctant to loft balls into the channels considering the issues they encountered in the early stages of the match.

But as the first half wore on, space opened up in central areas for Coutinho to exploit.

Liverpool’s best chance saw the Brazilian receive a pass from Allen between the lines and he slid a pass to an unmarked Markovic who was free on goal, but his heavy pass across goal evaded Sterling. Sterling received a glorious opportunity shortly afterwards – following Markovic intercepting a loose Cazorla pass in Arsenal’s zone – but the England international frantically dragged his shot wide of the net.

Liverpool retained possession well for lengthy spells during the latter stages of the first half but Arsenal dropped off into two banks of four, and the Reds didn’t offer penetration in their passes, nor did they field runners capable of breaking lines in tight spaces.

Ozil

Nevertheless, the key man in the first half was Ozil. Where both sides encountered issues creating chances in the opening half, the German’s movement and tactical awareness played an integral role in Arsenal’s goals.

While the movement from Arsenal’s attacking players was often static throughout, Ozil glided laterally across the pitch to receive the ball in pockets of space before moving his side forward with quick combination passes.

Ozil vs Liverpool

With Cazorla and Coquelin marked out of the match when they dropped into deep positions, Ozil also attempted to move into this zone to influence the match. Lucas quickly stepped to the German, but his lovely diagonal to Ramsey in the 36th minute, ignited the move for Bellerin’s opener.

Subsequently, Coquelin recovered a tame Sakho clearance and the Arsenal midfielder found Ozil between the lines, thus forcing the French defender to commit a foul on the German at the edge of the box. Ozil converted an exceptional free-kick past Mignolet, but more importantly the two goals within a three minute span highlighted the German’s intelligence to vary his movement to help Arsenal maximize their territorial dominance.

Rodgers react, but Arsenal shuts game down

Rodgers made one alteration at half time, introducing Daniel Sturridge for Markovic, as Liverpool moved to a 4-1-4-1. Coutinho moved to a deeper position alongside Allen, while Sterling moved to the left flank, and Henderson was on the right ahead of Can.

In recent memory, Arsenal have handled these situations poorly, often searching for more goals and leaving space for the opposition to exploit on the counter, or conceding late and being forced to desperately preserve their lead in the latter stages. Wenger’s side, though, dropped off in the second half and played on the counter attack, opposed to maintaining their high pressure with attempts of winning the ball in advanced zones. But Besides a Giroud header from point blank range – which stemmed from a delicate Ozil cross into the box – or Danny Welbeck’s powerful surge down the left, Arsenal didn’t test Mignolet until stoppage time.

It was fairly logical to play on the counter, but Arsenal lacked players with pace to punish the Reds, therefore Sakho and Can’s athleticism often bailed Liverpool out of trouble.

The Reds, however, enjoyed majority of possession in the second half, and improved with Sturridge upfront. Sturridge used his strength to hold up the ball and bring his teammates into play, but his trickery also saw the English international push Liverpool forward from deeper positions.

Coutinho slightly improved as well in a deep central position, while Sterling kept Bellerin quiet – although the right back had no incentive to push forward in the second half, he was quite lively in the first half running beyond Coutinho several times – and got the better of the Arsenal defender on several occasions before winning a penalty with 15 minutes remaining.

However, while Liverpool improved slightly in the second half, they were unable to get into legitimate goal scoring positions due to Arsenal’s organized shape, cohesive defending and their reluctance to push men forward in a naive manner.

Conclusion

This was an impressive Arsenal performance at the Emirates which saw the Gunners fluster Liverpool with aggressive high pressing before big money signings Alexis and Ozil played significant roles in three first half goals. Yet, the most important feat was the maturity and discipline displayed in the second half to limit spaces and defend deep.

Considering Liverpool’s success in the initial fixture at Anfield, Rodgers’ team selection was fair, but the Reds’ sloppy passing in the opening minutes set the tone for the match. Liverpool’s reluctance to dump balls into space for Sterling, opposed to playing short passes to bypass Arsenal’s pressing still remains peculiar, yet poor decision-making from Sterling and Markovic were also decisive.

Although an attack spearheaded by Sterling can terrorize inferior Premier League opposition, this was another example of Liverpool lacking killer instinct in the final third against top-sides, and a reliable replacement for Sturridge.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid

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Barcelona moved four points clear of rivals Real Madrid with a narrow victory at the Camp Nou.

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Luis Enrique named his expected XI with Javier Mascherano stepping into midfield for Sergio Busquets, who was unable to start the match, to join Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta. 

Similar to Enrique’s team selection, Ancelotti’s XI offered no element of surprise. The Italian recalled Toni Kroos into midfield alongside Luka Modric, Isco and Gareth Bale, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema started upfront. 

 This match followed a similar pattern to previous clasico’s with Real enjoying the better first half, and Barca improving throughout, but more importantly it showcased the stylistic alterations that have taken place at both clubs. 

 Barcelona struggle 

 Barcelona were far from their best in the opening half, but their inability to impose authority on the match was unsurprising. The home side’s transformation into a devastating counter-attacking outfit has been showcased on several occasions this season, but with limited space to exploit in Madrid’s third, Enrique’s men failed to consistently pose a threat in attacking zones. 

Madrid’s two banks of four maintained a high-line when Barca attempted to play out the back, and their pressing forced the home side to occasionally concede possession cheaply. On the other hand, Madrid limited space between the lines when they dropped deeper into their half, further thwarting a star studded attack. 

More so, Modric moved to the right to ensure Madrid held a numerical advantage against Neymar and Jordi Alba. The Croatian equally monitored Iniesta’s movement, whereas Kroos was handed the task of pushing forward to pester Javier Mascherano.

Although Suarez endured a quiet opening half, the Uruguayan was the most effective Barca player by dropping deep in attempt to link play – this movement forced Pepe to commit the foul that led to Jeremy Mathieu’s opener. 

The home side should have doubled their lead shortly afterwards when Suarez’s mishit shot fell to an unmarked Neymar in the box, but the Brazilian fired a tame effort directly at Iker Casillas. 

Real fly down the left 

Real produced arguably their best display in recent weeks in the latter stages of the first half. Kroos and Modric were tidy in central areas, igniting sleek attacks from deep areas, but majority of Real’s moves stemmed down the left flank.

With Barca dropping into a 4-5-1, and considerably keen on retreating into their base shape, Ancelotti’s men exploited space behind the advanced Messi. Marcelo freely surged down the left to steer Real into key areas, and he equally completed the most attacking third passes for the away side.

Marcelo barca

Ronaldo drifted to the left towards the end of the half with hopes of offering a greater impact, but Rakitic quickly shuttled over to his right flank to aid Dani Alves. Real’s minimal penetration in the final third has thwarted their threat in recent weeks, and while the right side was fairly anonymous throughout, Marcelo’s adventurous positioning was significant. 

Benzema 

However, the game’s most threatening attacking player was undoubtedly Benzema, as the Frenchman was often on the end of Marcelo’s surging runs. While Benzema has often been the scapegoat at the Bernabeu, mainly for some questionable finishing, and the pressure of playing alongside two of the most expensive players on the planet, the Frenchman was Madrid’s key man at the Camp Nou. 

Here, Benzema’s off-the-ball movement was simple, yet efficient: he often made diagonal runs across centre-backs Gerard Pique and Mathieu, or cleverly drifted into half-space to receive forward passes. Real’s first legitimate chance saw Benzema move into half-space to receive a pass from the rampaging Marcelo, before receiving space from Alves to clip a ball into the far post but Ronaldo directed his shot off the crossbar.

 benzema madrid

Prior to the aforementioned chance, Benzema made a simple diagonal run into right half-space, but he lashed his shot inches wide of the far post. Coincidentally, the Frenchman made an identical run in the buildup to Ronaldo’s equalizer, this time opting to back heel the ball into the path of the Portuguese striker who failed to test Claudio Bravo.

Likewise, Benzema’s general linkup up play was equally impressive. He dropped deep to receive the ball, and clip a pass into the right channel for Bale, and his ability to hold off Mathieu and spin Mascherano was pivotal in the buildup to Ronaldo’s long distance effort towards the end of the half . 

Overall Benzema’s movement was excellent, he combined well with teammates – creating Ronaldo’s equalizer – and was unlucky not to convert Real’s sole legitimate chance in the second half, following an excellent passing move on the break that was initiated by the Frenchman. 

Frankly, a few vital last-ditch tackles from MOTM candidate, Gerard Pique prevented Benzema from punishing the hosts in the first half.

pique barca

In a monumental (potential) title decider against the club’s biggest rivals, it was Benzema that posed several issues for Barca’s back-line opposed to Ronaldo or Bale. 

 2-1 

Suarez left the clasico a hero Sunday night, with his second half goal further displaying modifications made under Enrique. The goal itself wasn’t memorable, but it solidifies a shift in the club’s philosophy. In the past, Barca may have continued to try and break Real down with intricate passes in the final third, but here, and as they have on several occasions this season, they adopted a direct approach to bypass the away side’s pressing. 

Following several passes between the Barca defenders, it was Alves’ long ball into right half-space that saw Suarez run across Pepe to expertly control the pass on his chest and slide his shot past the keeper. Suarez had varied his movement throughout – running off the defenders shoulder or dropping deep to link with an advancing teammate – and fittingly both methods resulted in goals. 

Rakitic also played a key role in the build up as his vertical run in the right channel pulled Ramos out of position, and created a laneway for Suarez to run into.

This move would be classified as an atypical method of attack in the past, but Enrique’s shift deems Suarez’s winner as the ideal goal. 

 Final 35 minutes 

With that being said, Suarez’s goal altered the pattern of the match, and specifically flustered what was turning into a classic Madrid performance. Mascherano attempted a simple long ball over the defence for Neymar 10 minutes after Suarez’s goal, but Carvajal did well to nudge the Brazilian aside. 

But Real were desperate for a winner, and in return sacrificed their solid shape to push more men forward. Neymar’s influence increased with his individual slaloms from the left, while Messi found more space between the lines to drive at Real’s defence to place his teammates in goal scoring positions. 

Now there was plenty of space for Barca’s prolific front three to exploit on the counter, but their finishing and final ball was consistently underwhelming.

 Messi improves real

Madrid’s attempt to rescue a point failed, with Benzema’s deflected effort serving as the sole chance that tested Bravo. Where Enrique turned to three ball playing midfielders in Xavi, Busquets and Rafinha ensure his side retained possession in the final minutes, only Jese Rodriguez’s introduction looked capable of impacting the match. 

Still, Madrid transitioned into a lopsided 4-2-4 that equally played into Barca’s hands when they won possession. Ancelotti lacked options on the bench to alter the match, and an attempt to rescue a late point left Madrid vulnerable on the counter.

 Conclusion 

In the past, Barca was renowned for dominating possession, whereas Real relied on quick transitions to bypass their energetic pressing and score goals. But where Ancelotti’s side has shifted into a possession-based outfit, Enrique has maximized the strengths of his attacking three with an enhanced direct approach. 

Both sides stuck faithful to their systems throughout, with both centre forwards playing key roles in the end result. Benzema’s terrific movement and linkup play resulted in several slick passing moves that terrorized Barca’s back-line. But Suarez served as a diligent reference point upfront that offered the home side an additional element of attack that they have missed in recent years.

 “He (Suarez) is not just an old-style striker; he can also combine with his team-mates, he reads the game well, he knows what the team needs at key moments,” Enrique said. 

 “You have to have [different] resources; that’s very important. Our aim is to have the ball, to create chances and to defend a long way from our goal but your opponent plays too and we have to interpret what we need in the game. We scored from a set play as well [as a long pass], and that’s gratifying for all of us.” 

Real’s initial approach was logical considering the threat Barca have posed in transition this year, but wasteful finishing in the first half proved crucial. Barca, in fairness, weren’t dominant until Suarez’s winner, which could represent Madrid’s tired legs in midfield, and their determination to find an equalizer. 

The tactical elements were scarce throughout, but both goals epitomized the current ethos at both club – Madrid didn’t possess an alternative attacking method in the latter stages, but worryingly (with a two legged clash against Atletico on the horizon) Madrid still encounters issues breaking down organized back-lines.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Chelsea 2-2 PSG (AET): Blanc outwits Mourinho as PSG are rewarded for their bravery following Ibrahimovic’s dismissal

Fabregas veratti

Ten men PSG relied on goals from their Brazilian centre backs to come from behind on two separate occasions, effectively knocking Chelsea out of the Champions League at Stamford Bridge

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Jose Mourinho made one change to the side that featured in France, with Oscar joining Eden Hazard and Ramires behind Diego Costa. This was the expected Chelsea XI with the back four unchanged, while Cesc Fabregas dropped deeper to form a midfield duo with the returning Nemanja Matic, and Ramires operated on the right to help contain Blaise Matuidi.

Laurent Blanc welcomed back Thiago Motta into the XI alongside Marco Verratti and Matuidi to form a midfield trio. Javier Pastore was selected over compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right of a three-pronged attack, with David Luiz moving to centre back and Marquinhos pushing Gregory Van der Wiel to the bench.

Although PSG never took the lead, the French champions displayed the confidence to not only maintain their initial approach, but also outplay and outmuscle a limp Chelsea side that held a man advantage for over 90 minutes.

Cagey opening period

This was a contrast of last year’s return leg at Stamford Bridge. On that night, Chelsea required two goals to secure progression, and PSG happily sat deep in their half, with the intent of playing on the counter. But this time around, a scoreless draw would see the French champions crash out of the tournament, which led many to believe an entertaining European clash was on the horizon.

Marquinhos van der wiel chelsea psg 2014 2015

The interesting feat in the opening half hour, however, was the manner in which both sides approached the match without the ball. Blanc’s men maintained a medium block and their pressing, led by Verratti, was initiated when Chelsea’s attacking players entered the French side’s half. Chelsea aimed to peg PSG into their half from the opening kickoff, with Oscar joining Diego Costa in leading the press. PSG enjoyed lengthy spells of possession in the first leg with Verratti and Luiz retaining possession near the semi-circle, but Mourinho instructed his men to cut off those passes. Costa and Oscar sat between the two players, while Matic sporadically pushed forward to aid the aforementioned attackers.

Still, PSG was better equipped for Chelsea’s threat in open play and it started with the inclusion of Marquinhos, who was handed the task of negating Hazard’s threat down the left – mainly because van der Wiel struggled in the first leg. Hazard was fairly quiet down the left in this regard, only enjoying a powerful run when he skipped past Pastore in the third minute.

On the other hand, Cesar Azpilicueta was a tad more adventurous. The Spanish left back moved into advanced positions due to Pastore’s reluctance to track his runs, along with his narrow positioning, but his attacking impact was scarce. Nonetheless, an interesting feat of the second leg was the risk Blanc took on the left. With Cavani often in a central position, Branislav Ivanovic, the best right back in the Premier League, and Ramires, a powerful runner received space to overload Maxwell. Oddly, Chelsea’s activity often transpired on the opposite flank, whilst Matuidi’s discipline was evident, as his tireless work ethic saw the French midfielder track Ramires and Ivanovic when they attempted to surge forward.

Chelsea attacks

While Chelsea’s attacking six combined well with nifty intricate passing, the Blues lacked a final ball on numerous occasions. And despite the likes of Oscar, Costa and Fabregas finding space between the lines to receive the ball, Chelsea’s creative players were underwhelming.

Chelsea PSG shots prior iBRA SEND OFF

A tame Oscar effort was the sole attempt on target from both sides combined, but more importantly, Mourinho’s side were breaking into key areas. On two occasions in the first half, Thibaut Courtois coolly collected corners and instantly ignited breaks with his quick throws. First, Fabregas found Oscar between the lines but his heavy touch halted the play. Then, Courtois’ rolled ball to Hazard earned Matuidi a booking for tugging the Belgian to the ground. Chelsea’s quick breaks from Courtois throws were promising, but ultimately, the quality in the final third was disappointing.

As stated prior, it was peculiar to see Chelsea reluctant to overload Maxwell or increase Matuidi’s workload. Costa, who was heavily isolated in Paris, drifted to the left to avoid 1v2 situations with Luiz and Silva, and attempt to combine with Hazard. Silva eventually shifted over to the left to provide Marquinhos cover as the match progressed, and despite a splendid individual slalom that led to a penalty shout, Costa rarely outfoxed the Brazilian centre backs.

10 v 11

The turning point in this frenetic second leg took place when Ibrahimovic was harshly dismissed for a tackle on Oscar. Despite occasionally dropping deep to help PSG push forward and launch counter attacks, the Swede hardly influenced the match – in reality, the sending off was beneficial to the French side.

Oddly, the tempo of Chelsea’s passing and movement decreased, which ensured PSG’s solid shape was rarely threatened. Likewise, Blanc’s formation remained the same: Cavani moved upfront, with Matuidi playing a dual role on the left, and Pastore drifting laterally into pockets of space on the right.

PSG dominate

More so, PSG’s assertion of dominance was spectacular considering the French side was down a man against the Premier League leaders. In particular, Motta and Verratti were the key men: they completed the most passes (Motta 95 and Verratti 80) and achieved over a 90 per-cent passing rate.

Motta verratti passing tackles chelsea 2014 2015

The duo grew in prominence in the second half, as Chelsea’s work ethic and approach out of possession was shocking, while their energy levels significantly decreased. Mourinho’s side sat in two banks of four, but the midfield band wasn’t compact, and there was plenty of space to drift into to receive the ball. PSG’s ball playing midfielders weren’t pressed, and when so, it was often disjointed, which could explain why the top passing combinations in the match involved Motta and Verratti.

Motta verratti pass combo chelsea

Similar to Verratti, Matic pushed forward to press the Italian – the duo led the match with five fouls committed – and disrupt the away side’s passing rhythm, but apart from the Serbian’s effort, Chelsea was overloaded in midfield. The midfield trio casually waltzed into pockets of space to serve as passing options, and Pastore also dropped deeper to offer an outlet.

Matic Verratti fouls chelsea psg 2014 2015

PSG’s best move of the match, and arguably the tie, illustrated the freedom they received in midfield. Prior to picking up the ball near his box and quickly combining with Marquinhos and Motta, the Italian evaded challenges from Hazard and Willian, slid a pass between the lines for Pastore, who finally connected a through-ball to Cavani – who ran behind Fabregas and off the shoulder of Ramires – to round Courtois, but he fired his shot off the post.

Cavani was culpable for missing two key chances in the same tie last season, and although he was nearly responsible for their exit once again, the move vividly epitomized a mobile, yet fluid side in the second half. Cavani played off the shoulder of the centre backs, Matuidi continued to shuttle forward from the left to try to connect with crosses from wide areas, Motta sat deeper and retained the ball, Verratti offered tenacity and intelligent passing with his dynamism, and Pastore’s aim to drift into pockets of space and play through balls should have resulted in a goal.

Perhaps Chelsea can be criticized for their dire play, but PSG were clearly the better side in the second half, with their ball playing midfielders overloading central areas to steamroll Chelsea’s midfield.

Substitutions

Apart from Willian’s second half arrival, it was interesting to see both managers attempt to alter the match subsequent to Cahill’s opener – there was less than 10 minutes remaining in the match.

Blanc called upon Adrien Rabiot and Ezequiel Lavezzi to replace Matuidi and Verratti with PSG moving to a 4-2-2-1. Rabiot and Motta sat in midfield, with Lavezzi and Pastore behind Cavani – the former stormed forward from the right to play closer to the Uruguayan striker, and the latter persisted with drifting between the lines.

Within seconds, Pastore’s move to the left proved beneficial as it offered Maxwell space to surge past Willian to deliver a cross to Lavezzi in the box, but the Argentine’s header flew right at Courtois. Then, Maxwell’s adventurous off the ball run enabled Pastore to isolate Willian to earn that corner that resulted in Luiz’s equalizer.

Mourinho, on the other hand, remained cautious and introduced Kurt Zouma for the knackered Matic, and similar to big matches against both Manchester clubs this season, the Blues conceded a late goal after dropping deep to soak up pressure. Mourinho turned to Didier Drogba in extra-time opposed to Juan Cuadrado or Loic Remy, and was likely aiming to add an additional aerial presence in the box.

Drogba moved upfront, and Costa was now positioned on the left, which in truth, didn’t harm Chelsea because Marquinhos rarely ventured forward and the Spanish international was often positioned in that area throughout the match. The Ivorian served as an expedient outlet for Hazard to play off of in extra-time, but Marquinhos and Salvatore Sirigu’s last ditch efforts prevented the Blues from notching a third goal.

Set pieces

Nevertheless, set pieces, or to be specific, aerial duels, proved decisive over 210 minutes of football. The first leg saw three Chelsea defenders combine for an unorthodox away goal, PSG aim to isolate Cesar Azpilicueta via crosses, and Cavani rising high to snatch a second half equalizer.

Both sides possess dominant aerial players, and the lack of guile and creativity – despite PSG showcasing both as they pushed for a goal and created a few half chances in the second half – increased the significance of set pieces. Where Sirigu desperately flapped at corners throughout, PSG’s inability to clear their lines resulted in both Chelsea goals.

However, PSG’s two goals were quite extraordinary considering their corners and crosses into the box in the opening half – that Courtois easily snagged – were poor. But moments of sheer brilliance from the world’s most expensive centre backs, combined with shocking marking from Chelsea’s defenders, saw Luiz’s thunderous header force extra-time, and Silva win the tie on away goals – he beat Terry on two occasions within minutes, as Courtois made a stellar save prior to the equalizer.

Conclusion

PSG’s performance at Stamford Bridge was superb, and amazingly it appears Ibrahimovic’s dismissal was a blessing in disguise. The French side was unconvincing prior to the sending off, as Chelsea’s numerical advantage altered the Blues’ approach both mentally and tactically.

Blanc, however, deserves credit for his game management. The French manager stuck with his initial approach in a major European tie at Stamford Bridge: his side was defensively organized out of possession, while the ball playing midfielders were vastly superior in central areas.

Mourinho was astonishingly unprepared for this situation, and his sluggish midfielders, particularly Matic (who trained once prior to kick-off) failed to dictate the tempo of the match and were severely underwhelming in the final third. The Blues were lethargic in possession, and they were shockingly open without the ball in the second half, lacking the structure and solidity required to compete with PSG’s powerful, yet technical ball playing midfielders.

In recent years, Mourinho has been left humbled in world football’s most prestigious tournament, but here, he was outcoached and outwitted by Blanc’s bravery. While Chelsea and Mourinho continue the club’s “evolution” – a mission to return the former to Europe’s elite – Blanc will hope PSG’s historic triumph could be the catalyst in the club’s journey into that exclusive group.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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