Bayern Munich 5-1 Wolfsburg: Guardiola’s system alteration was the catalyst in Lewandowski’s dominant performance

Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich celebrates after scoring his second goal during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and VfL Wolfsburg at Allianz Arena on September 22, 2015 in Munich, Germany. CREDIT: BORIS STREUBEL

Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich celebrates after scoring his second goal during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and VfL Wolfsburg at Allianz Arena on September 22, 2015 in Munich, Germany.

Robert Lewandowski scored five goals in nine minutes to single-handedly defeat Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena.

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Dieter Hecking made three changes to the side that defeated Hertha Berlin over the weekend, as Ricardo Rodriguez, Bas Dost, and Luiz Gustavo played a role in the away side’s 4-4-2.

Pep Guardiola fielded his strongest XI in a 4-3-3 system. Thomas Muller, Douglas Costa, and Mario Gotze started upfront – keeping Lewandowski on the bench – while Thiago Alcantara, Xabi Alonso and Arturo Vidal formed a midfield trio.

This was a peculiar encounter between the top two Bundesliga sides of last season, which witnessed the runners-up start superbly, only to be outdone by what may be the best individual display of the season from Lewandowski.

Wolfsburg adopt similar approach

Many can classify this encounter as a match of two halves involving Hecking implementing the same defensive approach that handed the Bavarian’s their first domestic loss in last year’s title winning campaign. Put simply, Wolfsburg aimed to prevent Alonso from dictating the tempo from deep.

The away side dropped into two banks of four out of possession with Dost and Max Kruse alternating roles – when one forward stepped forward to press the ball carrier, the other remained goal-side to Alonso. Daniel Caligiuri and Julian Draxler quickly pressed the Bayern full-backs, whereas Joshua Guilavogui pressed Thiago, forcing the Spaniard to drop deeper to receive possession, thus limiting space to link play with Muller.

Alonso, in fairness, offered an improved threat via set-pieces, but it was evident Wolfsburg’s initiative was to thwart Bayern’s vertical play. The reigning champions penetrated central areas occasionally in the first half due to Luiz Gustavo’s poor positioning throughout, but out of possession, Hecking’s men were fairly comfortable.

Bayern struggle

In retrospect, Wolfsburg’s success without the ball insinuates Bayern encountered difficulties in the attacking phase. Bayern particularly struggled in central areas as neither Thiago nor Vidal were able to power the hosts forward.

Oddly, Vidal received ample space behind Gustavo to surge forward – he was always positioned behind the Brazilian – but was unable to receive the ball in these zones. There was a three-minute span that saw David Alaba step forward to find the Chilean in a pocket of space, whilst Gotze located Muller behind Dante, but neither player tested goalkeeper Benaglio.

Douglas Costa, arguably Bayern’s most impressive performer this season, looked dangerous when he cut in from the right, and though Gotze often bamboozled right back Christian Trasch, the German’s productivity from the left was scarce – the 23-year-old equally failed to balance wide areas to combine with Juan Bernat.

With that being said, Thomas Muller was deprived of service of front, with Wolfsburg’s centre-back duo of Naldo and Dante tacking the German’s movement. There was one moment in the 37th minute involving Muller dragging Naldo into midfield before charging behind the defender, which vividly expressed the simplicity in breaking down the Wolfsburg defence.

Although Bayern dominated possession in the opening half, failure to increase vertical passes from midfield proved crucial, as most areas were stifled by the away side.

Wolfsburg breaks down the right

Though Wolfsburg didn’t counter-attack with the great efficiency displayed last year, a distinctive pattern recurred when they occasionally broke forward. Frankly, the powerful running from Ivan Perisic, and Kevin De Bruyne’s ability to link midfield and attack was missed, yet the away side still posed a threat.

Bayern was wary of Wolfsburg’s threat in transition and dropped into a compact 4-5-1 when the away side enjoyed spells of possession, and it was unsurprising to see their best chances stemming from wide areas on the break. Yet, the lackadaisical approach from both Bayern full-backs was peculiar: Philip Lahm allowed Draxler infield to test Neuer, while Juan Bernat didn’t close down Caligiuri’s cross into the six-yard box, which narrowly evaded Draxler.

Wolfsburg’s opener equally stemmed from this route of attack – a tried and proven method to discombobulate Bayern’s defence by launching balls towards the flanks following slick passing. Trasch’s desperate clearance saw Dost and Draxler combine, with the latter instantly clipping the ball into space behind the advanced Bernat – Caligiuri drove into the box and fired an unstoppable shot past Neuer.

Likewise, the champions were fortunate not to be two goals down, as Neuer’s failed attempt to sweep up Benaglio’s long punt led to Caligiuri laying the ball off to Guilavogui, whose audacious shot from half bounced off the post. Perhaps a languid display from both full-backs enabled Wolfsburg’s joy in wide areas, but Hecking’s attempt to replicate last year’s successful approach against the champions was evident.

Bayern alter system

Ultimately, there were two significant factors to Bayern’s impressive turnaround – the first being Guardiola’s decision to shift the team’s shape to a 4-2-3-1. Bayern weren’t poor in the first half, but the change in shape offered penetration in central areas due to an additional striker, whilst Alonso finally received time and space to influence the tempo.

Alaba moved to left-back, Vidal dropped deeper alongside Alonso but was free to bomb forward, Javi Martinez is a fine passing outlet from the back, while Muller roamed between the lines behind Lewandowski. Now, Wolfsburg’s Brazilian centre-backs were both occupied, offering a legitimate threat to a back four that lacked protection from Gustavo.

Muller and Lewandowski operated effectively as the ideal strike partnership, and the movement from both men was the catalyst to the subsequent goal fest. In short, this was a simplistic attacking ploy that offered improved direct play and width.


Here, the game’s star player was Lewandowski, scoring the fastest hat-trick in Bundesliga history, whilst dominating a nine-minute spell that eviscerated last year’s runner-up’s. The Polish striker occasionally drifted wide, and into narrow pockets of space, but with Muller dropping between the lines – effectively dragging Dante out of position – Lewandowski freely ghosted into the box on countless occasions.

Gustavo’s poor shielding left the Wolfsburg centre-backs vulnerable against Lewandowski and Muller’s movement. Lewandowski’s opening goals, however, were quite fortuitous, with Dante’s desperate tackle guiding the ball into his path, while Costa’s header evaded Muller and Gustavo into the path of the Polish striker, who ran towards goal and fired a low shot past Benaglio.

The third goal vividly illustrated the improved the positional issues Wolfsburg’s centre-backs encountered in the second half combined with their disjointed high-pressing.

As Bayern bypassed the pressure with short passes, Lewandowski dragged Naldo to the left-flank at the halfway line, and Vidal slid a sumptuous pass between Dante and Gustavo for Muller, ultimately resulting in a 3v2 in the box leading to Gotze finding the Polish striker unmarked to complete his hat-trick.

Lewandowski’s final goals involved clever wing play from Alaba and Costa, as the latter stormed past several challenges with his pace and power, and a combination of Muller dragging Dante out of position and a well-weighed Gotze cross: both incidents saw Lewandowski ghost past Gustavo and Naldo in the buildup.

It was a remarkable individual display showcasing the Polish striker’s power, intelligent movement, and clinical finishing that makes him one of the most revered player’s in world football.


In terms of significance, this may not be equivalent to Lewandowski’s performance against Real Madrid two years ago, but the dominance can’t be understated. However, it was intriguing to see both sides effectively adopt simplistic methods of attack to achieve superiority.

Hecking’s decision to negate Bayern’s passing and aggressively press the full-backs limited productivity in the final third, whilst exploiting deficiencies in wide areas in transition. It proved successful once again, but losing key attacking players over the summer possibly prevented an improved score-line.

Guardiola, however, deserves plaudits for the decisive tactical move: Bayern encountered difficulties connecting midfield and attack in the first half – therefore, Muller was outnumbered and isolated around the box – but the alteration left the centre-backs isolated against two of the games intelligent attackers.  With a half hour remaining, Bayern comfortably earned three points due to improved direct play.

The willingness to defend in numbers showcased the fear of being blitzed in transition, combined with the half-time tactical alteration highlights Guardiola’s brilliance and Bayern’s overall flexibility. But there still appears to be an issue in wide areas via transitions, but if Guardiola’s men can replicate the former, this may finally be the all-round powerhouse that Bayern supporters envisioned upon his arrival.

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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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AS Roma 2-1 Juventus

Xinhua News Agency Aug. 31, 2015-- AS Roma's Pjanic (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Juventus on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. Rome won 2-1.

Xinhua News Agency
Aug. 31, 2015– AS Roma’s Pjanic (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Juventus on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. Rome won 2-1.

Roma relied on two goals from Bosnian duo Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko to defeat title rivals Juventus.

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Iago Falque joined Dzeko and Mohammed Salah upfront in Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3. Daniele De Rossi moved to centre-back alongside Kosta Manolas, whereas Seydou Keita formed a midfield trio with Radja Nainggolan and Pjanic.

Max Allegri reverted to a 3-5-2 with Mario Mandzukic and Pablo Dybala leading the line. With Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira unavailable for selection, Simone Padoin and Marco Sturaro joined Paul Pogba in midfield.

Roma dominated possession over extensive periods of the match, and with Juventus unable to pose a threat on the counter, Allegri’s men succumbed to two moments of brilliance.

Roma press

While Roma’s dominance may have been down to Juve’s caution, Allegri’s side have displayed their ability to decrease their route to goal by instantly lobbing balls into the strikers. Juve’s only way to maintain a decent spell of possession was to build from the back, but here, Garcia instructed his men to press from the front, with all three attackers handed a distinct role.

Falque and Salah pressed the exterior centre-backs, while Dzeko possessed a dual role. If Dzeko pushed towards Bonucci – a very good passer of the ball – he instructed a midfielder to close down Padoin, but for the most part, the Bosnian striker stuck goal-side to the Juventus midfielder to negate his influence from deep.

Roma didn’t always press in this manner, as they were keen on dropping into a 4-5-1 when necessary to clog spaces in midfield, yet both methods effectively contained Juve’s threat in open play. The wide players maintained their discipline, keeping the adventurous wingbacks quiet, and Dybala rarely received passes between the lines.

Juventus shape

Where Roma pressed higher up the pitch in various spells, Allegri instructed his side to drop deeper into their half and pressed aggressively in midfield. This allowed De Rossi time on the ball, and Nainggolan, in particular was free to retain possession, stringing passes from flank to flank.

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Essentially, Roma overloaded central areas with several passers, and it could explain several reckless tackles and eventual bookings in midfield. The transition to a 5-3-2 negated Dzeko’s aerial threat, as he was always outnumbered around the box, but in general their approach was too conservative, allowing the home-side too much space to dominate.

Roma’s balanced attack

Ultimately, there were two ways to describe Roma’s dominance over the current champions. First, Enrique placed Gervinho to the bench for Falque, who in fairness offered the hosts genuine width. With Falque stretching the pitch, Salah operated in narrow mixed positions, before charging into half space to create chances.

Gervinho and Salah are similar players – both thrive when there’s space to break into on the counter attack – but here, both the latter and Falque created chances in their respected positions. Salah’s first half pull-back resulted in Pjanic directing a shot off the post, whereas Falque delivered a devastating ball across the six-yard box that went amidst.

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The hosts’ attack would improve with a trequartista in the XI, but the cohesion between the front six was an improvement from last year. There was balance in wide areas, and each midfielder was able to fulfill their role due to Juve’s setup. Keita sat deep to protect the back four, Nainggolan retained possession a few yards ahead, and Pjanic scurried between the lines to receive possession and force Chiellini and Pogba into first half bookings.

Lack of familiarity upfront

Juve’s deep defensive line limited the possibility of creating chances from deep, but the away side still appeared perplexed during the rare occasions when they sustained possession in Roma’s third. One of the keys to Juve’s success last season involved Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata understanding their roles – the former dropped deep to receive the ball, while the latter sprinted behind the defence.

Tevez’s departure deprives Juve of a creative threat between the lines that can score goals and effectively link play with his teammates, which resulted in flat possession in the final third. Dybala’s lateral movement in these areas was positive, but a sole individual slalom sufficed from his presence upfront.

Likewise, Mario Mandzukic doesn’t offer a threat behind the last defender, and with Juve maintaining a low block, the Croatian was isolated for long spells. This, nevertheless, is also related to a lack of familiarity between the pair, along with one of the downfalls that comes with Mandzukic.

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The Croatian’s denies his team of natural pace upfront, but he was equally reluctant to drop deep to link play with his teammates. There was one moment towards the conclusion of the first half where Pogba was clearly frustrated with his attackers’ movement upfront, as neither attacker aimed to drop deep to receive the ball.

More so, Juve’s deep line, combined with a new strike partnership lacking Allegri’s basic attacking concepts is partially responsible for the away side’s blunt productivity in the final third.

Allegri adapts

Pjanic’s superb free-kick put Roma ahead at the hour mark, but Roma’s threat from wide areas decreased significantly. Majority of the hosts’ buildup play was narrow, and with Pogba offering improved protection for Evra, Garcia’s men relied on distant Nainggolan efforts on goal that forced Buffon to make a few saves.

Allegri instantly reacted to Pjanic’s opener, introducing Morata for the subdued Mandzukic, but the away side’s best chances stemmed from corner kicks. Then the Juve manager altered to a midfield diamond, sacrificing Lichtsteiner for Roberto Pereyra.

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Pereyra represented the ideal player suited for Allegri’s approach as his pace offers a genuine threat on the counter, and it was odd to see the Argentinian reduced to a bit-part role considering the circumstances. The Argentine forced Dzeko into a booking, while his pace and clever combination with Morata led to Dybala’s consolation goal – Morata dispossessed Keita in midfield to ignite the swift break.

Evra’s second dismissal proved costly in the final stages of the match, but a change of shape and additional space from Morata and Pereyra nearly inspired a comeback.


Roma, though, quickly pounced on the champions’ mistakes. Subsequent to Evra’s dismissal, Pjanic played a lovely diagonal behind Juan Cuadrado for Falque, and his cross into the box witnessed Dzeko tower over Chiellini to notch his first goal for the hosts.

The significance of the goal may be overlooked, but it distinctly highlights two areas that Garcia seeked to improve this summer. Put simply, it was another dangerous delivery from Falque in a wide area that was converted by a legitimate centre-forward.

There’s a chance that the signings may not elevate Roma into potential champions, but the goal provides evidence that Garcia has made it priority to offer variety to an attack that was mightily predictable last season.


Juve’s apathetic display enabled Roma to dominate the match, as a moment of brilliance and a defensive lapse punished the champions in the second half.

This was an improved display for Garcia’s side, following a poor draw to Verona, with the most intriguing theme involving the balance within his attacking trio. In the past, the attacking options at Garcia’s disposal represent a team suited to play on the counter, and natural width combined with an aerial threat can improve Roma’s difficulty breaking down organized back-lines.

Miralem Pjanic (15) of AS Roma competes for the ball with Paul Pogba (10) of Juventus FC during the Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

Miralem Pjanic (15) of AS Roma competes for the ball with Paul Pogba (10) of Juventus FC during the Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy.

Allegri’s approach was logical considering the scheduling of the fixture and limited time to integrate his philosophy, but here, his personnel selection was incorrect. Perhaps match fitness prevented Morata from starting, but Pereyra’s pace in midfield proved crucial in transition, and was the missing piece to a disjointed attempt to break on the counter.

Still, it would be harsh to prematurely criticize Juventus as the club lost a leader in Andrea Pirlo, and the league’s best attacker and midfielder in Tevez and Arturo Vidal, last summer, leading to several new additions in Turin. Allegri will be assessed attentively in the upcoming weeks, as the Juventus manager rightly requires time to find the correct balance, and welcome back injured players on his quest to retain the Scudetto.

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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool: Rodgers alters formation to stifle Arsenal’s passing and break with speed

Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool takes a shot at goal under pressure from Hector Bellerin of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. CREDIT: JULIAN FINNEY

Liverpool and Arsenal played to entertaining draw at the Emirates Stadium.

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Arsene Wenger was forced into forming a make-shift centre-back partnership of Gabriel and Calum Chambers, as first choice defenders Per Mertesacker (illness) and Laurent Koscielny (back issue) unavailable. Wenger persisted with the same front six that started a week prior at Selhurst Park.

Brendan Rodgers tinkered with the system that earned Liverpool two wins to start the season, moving to a compact 4-3-3. Roberto Firmino made his official Premier League debut from the right, while Emre Can and Lucas Leiva joined James Milner in midfield.

The abundance of attacking players in the starting XI combined with shaky back-lines suggested that there would be goals at the Emirates, but this action-packed, open affair shockingly concluded with neither side converting their chances. The Reds were dominant in the opening half, but as they tired Arsenal gained territorial dominance but were vulnerable in transition – put simply, it was a game of two distinct halves.

Rodgers adjusts

The most interesting story line heading into the match surrounded Rodgers XI. Liverpool kick-started their campaign with two unconvincing displays – albeit claiming maximum points – and with Jordan Henderson unavailable due to a foot injury, the opportunity to include a defensive-minded midfielder was a logical move.

Here, Rodgers moved to a 4-3-3, moving Milner and Emre Can as shuttlers ahead of Lucas. This was significant due to the risk of being overrun in midfield with Henderson and Milner started ahead of the back four, as neither player is a legitimate ball winner.

The 4-3-3’s defensive base shape is a 4-5-1, and Liverpool’s midfield band remained narrow and compact, improving the overall structure of the side. Rodgers was expected to alter his side’s approach against Arsenal’s fluid attack, and the move to a 4-3-3 suited the side, improving their natural balance and defensive solidity.

Liverpool’s quick start

Considering the several new additions to Rodgers’ squad combined with the Reds’ poor displays thus far, their energetic start came as a surprise. Surely, Rodgers most impressive win against Arsenal followed this template, but here, the lack of familiarity within the squad suggested that the home side would dictate the opening period.


However, within the opening five minutes, Liverpool exploited Arsenal’s inexperienced make-shift back four and their fullback’s advanced positioning. Can was free to charge into left half-space before pulling back the ball for Benteke, but the Belgian slashed his shot wide. A similar move occurred a few minutes later, as Milner played in the Liverpool striker in right half-space, resulting in Coutinho firing the subsequent pullback off the cross-bar.

It’s key to note that Arsenal scored a lovely goal that was wrongly disallowed, yet shortly afterwards Lucas dispossessed Alexis, and clever work from the two Brazilian’s placed Benteke into right half-space, but Petr Cech made a key save. Oddly, Arsenal started poorly, with the Reds dominating half-spaces between both advanced full-backs, but once again, their profligacy in the final third proved costly.

Arsenal’s poor passing

Equally, the additional component to Arsenal’s difficulty in the opening half, and Liverpool’s dominance, involved the former’s poor passing in their half and the final third.

Much credit should be awarded to Lucas who negated Ozil’s threat between the lines and blocked off passes into Giroud. Wenger’s side found it difficult to break past Liverpool’s narrow 4-5-1 – Can and Milner closed down Arsenal’s midfield duo when they received possession, depriving the Gunners a genuine link between midfield and attack.

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Essentially, teams bypass midfield pressure through service from the back-line, but the inexperienced Arsenal centre-backs proved inadequate options. Chambers, in particular, enjoyed a dreadful half, conceding possession three times to Coutinho alone.

Liverpool’s midfield quintet was also influential via collective pressing, as they harried Arsenal’s duo when they attempted to play short passes through central areas. One incident in the opening half witnessed Lucas, Milner, Can, and Coutinho harry Coquelin and Cazorla, which forced the former to make a desperate last-ditch tackle to halt Benteke’s surge into the box.

At times, Arsenal produce their best football when they play quick combination passes amongst each other, but Wenger’s men failed to gain a rhythm due to Liverpool’s pressing, Lucas’ positioning, and incompetent passing out of their half.

Arsenal improve

As expected, Liverpool were unable to maintain their pressing over the course of 90 minutes, thus reverting back to a narrow 4-5-1 deep in their half. Therefore, the Gunners were free to monopolize possession in the box, and penetrate wide areas to create chances.

Now was the ideal time for Bellerin and Monreal to surge forward, and the full-backs delivered positive crosses into the box. Movement from wide areas led to Alexis hitting the post, and a Bellerin cross resulted in Giroud squandering a glorious opportunity to nick a winner in the six-yard box.

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Giroud benefitted from the shift in dominance, as he was subdued in the first half due to lack of service in the final third – Lucas’ influence also played a factor. The Frenchman wouldn’t be deemed a prolific finisher, but his superb link-up play virtually makes him an additional playmaker – hence, why he improved once his teammates received space to play passes into him and charge forward.

It’s unsurprising to see Giroud involved in Arsenal’s best moves during their 20-minute spell of dominance, and though he missed a key chance to put the Gunners ahead, it was odd to see the Frenchman replaced for Theo Walcott.

Liverpool swift attacks

With the Gunners pushing men forward, there was ample space for Rodgers’ men to exploit on the counter. Liverpool broke quickly in the first half, but most moves involved the Reds pressing higher up the pitch to win possession.

Contrastingly, Gomez, and substitute Alberto Moreno, won the ball in their own half before charging forward into Arsenal’s half on the counter. The former’s opportunity witnessed Milner fire a shot directly at Cech, while the latter’s poor decision-making saw him overrun the ball opposed to playing in the unmarked Can.

Nevertheless, the away side’s additional method of attack in the final quarter of the match was strictly direct. Lucas located Coutinho between the lines, and the Brazilian evaded a few challenges from deep to test Cech from distance – the Liverpool attacker also skipped past Bellerin to test the Arsenal keeper. Then a simple Mignolet punt resulted in Benteke winning an aerial duel and subsequently combining with Firmino to fire a wayward shot over the net.

Wenger’s late direct attempt

While Rodgers appeared content with the result in the final half hour, Wenger made attacking alterations to introduce pace in the final third. Walcott replaced Giroud upfront, whereas Coquelin was sacrificed for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, pushing Ramsey alongside Cazorla upfront.

The risky change deprived Arsenal of a natural ball-winner, yet the introduction of Chamberlain would have benefited Giroud upfront. Liverpool’s deep defensive line prevented the Walcott from running behind the opposition’s back-line, but Oxlade-Chamberlain merited why he’s due for a starting role, particularly in home games.

Courtesy of: Getty Images/David Price Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Courtesy of: Getty Images/David Price
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Ramsey’s driving runs from midfield did present a chance that nearly fooled Mignolet, but it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who forced the Belgian into several saves, foiling a weak area in Joe Gomez. Perhaps a pairing of Ramsey and Cazorla left Arsenal susceptible to quick counters, but the Gunners lacked powerful deep runners throughout the match, and Chamberlain’s inclusion improved the balance in the final third and the likelihood of a winner.


Most goal-less draws are quickly classified as dull encounters, but this fixture was fairly open and entertaining despite the poor finishing throughout. Liverpool will feel unlucky not to put the match out of sight in the first, yet Arsenal moved into better positions in the second, and should have executed.

“Performance-wise I was very happy with how we worked. First half in particular we created chances and should have been in front. In the second half you always expect pressure,” said Rodgers.

“Our performance level has grown over time, our defensive organization is good against big teams.”

Rodgers displayed his tactical awareness and flexibility with the inclusion of Can and Lucas in midfield, thus leading to Liverpool’s best performance of the season. They pressed and harried superbly in central zones, maintained a narrow shape when required to do so, and constantly exploited Arsenal’s make-shift back four when they swiftly broke on the counter – inevitably all that was missing was the all-important goal to classify this as a remarkable away display.

The same can’t be said for Wenger, as Arsenal’s entire set-up was peculiar. From the full-backs maintaining advanced positions, to not providing another holding midfield to help Coquelin protect the back four, the home side’s display was appalling. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s direct running from the right was beneficial, but this served as further evidence that Wenger must identify his preferred attacking quartet sooner rather than later.

It appears Rodgers finally has a team that fits his stylistic preference – in regards to funds available – and his decision to move to a 4-3-3 highlights that while he can make mistakes, his side still remains tactically flexible. More so, this could be the Liverpool manager’s approach in big games until Daniel Sturridge returns to the XI.

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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Manchester United 1-0 Spurs

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on August 8, 2015 in Manchester, England.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on August 8, 2015 in Manchester, England.

Manchester United recorded a narrow win over Spurs at Old Trafford in the first game of the 2015/2016 Premier League season.

Starting XI's

Starting XI’s

Louis van Gaal introduced four United debutants to the starting XI, as Morgan Schneiderlin formed a midfield partnership with Michael Carrick, Matteo Darmian started at right back, Sergio Romero was given the nod over David De Gea in goal, and Memphis Depay operated behind Wayne Rooney.

The sole surprise in Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 saw Eric Dier feature alongside Nabil Bentaleb in midfield, whereas Toby Alderweireld made his Spurs debut alongside compatriot Jan Vertonghen at centre back. Harry Kane led the line ahead of Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, and Moussa Dembele.

Spurs were the better side during the initial stages of the first half, but were unable to maintain those levels following the match winner. United enjoyed spells of positive football, but here, pressing served as a significant factor towards the final result.

United without the ball

Last season, Manchester United spent a few months attempting to find a cohesive attacking method, but it was evident that defending as a unit was first priority without top class personnel. United displayed their growth under Van Gaal against Spurs dropping into two banks of four, yet maintaining a high-line and pressing in midfield.

Essentially, proper man-marking in midfield prevented Spurs creative players from dictating the tempo of the match, and the full-backs were solid, and the wingers were equally disciplined with their defensive duties. Schneiderlin followed Dembele when the Belgian moved into central areas, there was a moment when Carrick harried Bentaleb all the way to Spurs six-yard box, and Depay initially closed down Dier.


Van Gaal’s intent to prevent Spurs from playing out the back was logical, and a combination of United’s pressing and a compact shape thwarted Dier and Bentaleb’s passing. The duo comfortably played conservative sideways passes to their teammates, but Schneiderlin and Carrick retained possession in advanced areas before igniting attacks.

The poor passing and slow buildup from the Spurs back-six enabled United to create their best chances, and the game-winner on the break. Mata intercepted Bentaleb’s pass, and a swift United break involving Memphis, Ashley Young, and Rooney, saw the recovering Walker direct the ball into his own net.

United’s work ethic and organization out of possession limited Spurs threat, but equally served as their main method of attack in the first half.

Spurs press

Spurs, on the other hand, also relied on quick transitions to create chances, but as witnessed under Pochettino in recent seasons, the away side pressed intelligently. Similar to United, Spurs reverted into two banks of four out of possession, but unlike teams in the past, here, they maintained a lower block.

The low block ensured United couldn’t locate runners behind Spurs’ defence, but it also forced Van Gaal’s men to break down an organized unit – one of their few flaws from last season. Likewise, the away side’s pressing forced United’s midfielders and defenders into several mistakes that led to goal-scoring opportunities.

There were two incidents in the opening 15 minutes that saw Mata and Schneiderlin dispossessed in their half, but Pochettino’s men failed to test Romero. Pochettino seemed keen on negating Carrick’s threat in midfield, and when Eriksen failed to close down the Englishman, Dier and Bentaleb took turns stepping forward.

Still, the move that epitomized Spurs’ pressing came minutes into the second half, when Dembele dispossessed Daley Blind at the edge of the box, but the Dutchman’s last ditch tackle blocked Kane’s attempt to play Chadli free on goal – substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger was also guilty of conceding possession in his half, but Smalling brushed aside Kane to halt a legitimate goal scoring opportunity.

Pochettino’s approach equally successful, but the quality in the final third led to Spurs’ shortcomings.

Kane/Eriksen combine

The one positive aspect involving Spurs’ attack was the combination between Eriksen and Kane. Frankly, Spurs should have been ahead in the opening 5 minutes when Kane clipped a delicate ball over the United defence to Eriksen, but the Dane’s lobbed effort flew over the net.

With Spurs midfield unable to influence the game from deep, it was Eriksen’s positioning between the lines, and neat short passes with Kane that served as an additional route to goal. First, Eriksen pounced on Schneiderlin’s mistake – after Dembele dispossessed him near United’s box – before sliding a pass into Kane, but the striker could only win a corner.’


Afterwards, a few nifty passes between the two attackers saw Eriksen launch a pass behind Young for the advancing Kyle Walker, but an onrushing Romero confidently cleared his lines. Surely Spurs’ pressing placed the away side in key areas, but Kane, and specifically Eriksen, were involved in the few goal-scoring chances, prior to United’s winner.

Open play issue

The main concern in this game was the lack of quality displayed in open play. United improved following the winner, as Carrick began to find space to play positive passes into the final third. United often aimed to create overloads and quickly switch play to the opposite flank, but there was hardly an attempt to play a pass behind Spurs’ back-line, nor were there runners breaking past the centre-backs.

Despite Darmian’s excellent display, his forward ventures didn’t pose a threat, whereas Depay’s decision making in the final third was underwhelming. United constantly aimed to place Young in 1v1 situations with Walker, but the Spurs right back superbly dominated the tricky winger.


Meanwhile, service into Rooney was limited, and though he often dropped deeper to get involved, finding the striker in the box was a rare occurrence. It took United 64 minutes to record their first shot on target, which epitomizes the home side’s inactivity in attacking zones, yet Spurs were equally disappointing.

Pochettino’s XI, however, provided few attacking weapons across the pitch. United’s pressing prevented Spurs from building out the back, and the poor passing from the midfield prevented the away side from linking play with the attacking quartet. Neither side dominated for long spells, and Spurs’ laboured ball circulation and poor passing proved costly.


Chadli remains a powerful runner that can do a job, whereas Dembele conservative passes and ability to dribble past opponents doesn’t equate to goals. Similar to Rooney, Kane faced pressure when he received the ball, and despite cleverly evading challenges throughout, and though the striker’s final ball and finishing were poor, Smalling’s commanding presence equally negated his threat.


Spurs rarely threatened United’s third following the goal, and Van Gaal’s changes illustrated the Dutchman’s intent to gain control of a match capable of tilting in the away side’s favour. Schweinsteiger made his United debut in a straight swap for Carrick, whereas Herrera moved behind Rooney, leaving the Red Devils with four ball-playing midfielders in central areas.

United passed the ball with improved purpose, moving into better positions through Herrera’s movement and combination play, but Van Gaal’s men couldn’t find a route behind Spurs’ defence.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on August 8, 2015 in Manchester, England.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on August 8, 2015 in Manchester, England.

However, Pochettino’s contrasting personnel changes gave Spurs a direct threat – Ryan Mason’s dynamism was shackled due to his caution to push forward, and Erik Lamela moved to the right for Dembele. The changes saw Pochettino push Chadli behind Kane, whereas Eriksen moved to the left, thus decreasing his influence on the match and combination with Kane.

Yet, Romero denied Eriksen on two occasions in the final 10 minutes: Toby Alderweireld’s long diagonal behind Young fell to Eriksen, and a lobbed Mason ball into the box saw the United goalkeeper make a key save to deny the Dane. Eriksen was unable to influence the match from the left, but his profligate finishing nearly earned Spurs a valuable point.

Stylistically, neither managers’ substitutions were completely successful, but Pochettino’s direct set up created two legitimate chances despite their blunt build-play.


This may have been a match featuring a handful of chances, but the variation in pressing, combined with the defensive shape of both sides was interesting. Perhaps an open game would serve as an ideal curtain raiser, but uninspiring attacks impacted brief spells of dominance from both sides.

The opening weeks of any domestic league usually offer freak results, and cautious encounters amongst the top-sides, as players approach full fitness and adjust to their new clubs. While Spurs appear to have improved defensively as a unit, Kane and Eriksen will be integral to their success if others don’t improve under Pochettino.

United will certainly need time for their new signings to settle, as apart from Carrick’s passing from deep, their attack desperately requires penetration, pace, creativity and guile to break down deep blocks. Pressing served as the main catalyst, with both sides flourishing when they won the ball near the opposition’s goal, but further signings are required if either outfit intends on achieving their projected targets.

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


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Brazil 0-1 Colombia: Colombia stifle Brazil’s direct game with Carlos Sanchez getting the better of Neymar

Miguel Tovar/STF Neymar of Brazil fights for the ball with Carlos Sanchez of Colombia during the 2015 Copa America Chile Group C match between Brazil and Colombia at Monumental David Arellano Stadium on June 17, 2015 in Santiago, Chile.

Miguel Tovar/STF
Neymar of Brazil fights for the ball with Carlos Sanchez of Colombia during the 2015 Copa America Chile Group C match between Brazil and Colombia at Monumental David Arellano Stadium on June 17, 2015 in Santiago, Chile.

Colombia avenged their World Cup disappointment with a deserved 1-0 victory over Brazil.

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Dunga made two changes to the side that defeated Peru in Brazil’s opening game of the tournament. Thiago Silva started at centre-back alongside Joao Miranda, whereas Roberto Firmino’s inclusion pushed Diego Tardelli to the bench.

Jose Pekerman persisted with his default 4-4-2 formation, introducing Teo Gutierrez alongside Radamel Falcao upfront. James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado drifted infield from the flanks, while Carlos Sanchez and Edwin Valencia sat in midfield.

This was a cagey encounter that saw Colombia defend superbly in open play, stifling Neymar’s threat in transition, and clogging space in central areas, before breaking forward with numbers. Better finishing would solidify Colombia’s overall performance, as here, they were clearly the superior side.


Considering the previous fixture between these two sides at the World Cup, the likelihood of a cagey, frenetic match was expected. The common theme throughout, though, was slightly contrasting: a slow-burning encounter filled with fouls and several transitional attacks.

The disparity in creativity in central areas was evident, but the manner in which both teams pressed served as the significant factor towards the outcome of the match. With both sides operating in a 4-4-2, the standard base shape out of possession was identical – a simple shift into two banks of four.

Where Brazil sat off and allowed Sanchez to play horizontal passes to the flanks, Filipe Luis stuck tight to his Chelsea teammate, Juan Cuadrado, preventing the Colombian winger from dribbling forward. Identical formations equally ensured that the individual battles were even, yet Sanchez’s freedom, along with Cuadrado and James moving centrally from the touch-line – enabling the full-backs to adopt advanced positions – led to Colombia enjoying the better half of possession.

Brazil’s issue

This was another unbalanced Brazil performance. There was a better sense of defensive solidity and organization out of possession, with Silva offering stability, and an improved performance in midfield from Elias and Fernandinho, but the issue the Brazilian’s encountered involved their route to goal.

Dunga’s men struggled to create chances in open play, and occasionally found it difficult to bypass Colombia’s pressing. Unlike the Brazilian’s, Pekerman instructed Valencia to press Elias, whereas Teo sat goal-side of Fernandinho, thwarting the midfielder’s influence from deeper positions .

Another issue involved overall creativity. Fred endured an abysmal opening half, and while Willian started the match well, his transition into a diligent, functional winger solely offered brief moments of balance, and minimal guile on the pitch. This match was a prime example as to why Brazil misses Oscar: a technically disciplined midfielder that would likely stifle Sanchez from deep, whilst moving into wide positions to balance the attack and create space in central areas.

Colombia's defender Jeison Murillo (C) celebrates next to teammate Teofilo Gutierrez, after scoring against Brazil during their Copa America football match, at the Estadio Monumental David Arellano in Santiago, Chile, on June 17, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA

Colombia’s defender Jeison Murillo (C) celebrates next to teammate Teofilo Gutierrez, after scoring against Brazil during their Copa America football match, at the Estadio Monumental David Arellano in Santiago, Chile, on June 17, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA

Here, Dunga’s men were too narrow, which was odd considering their consistent source of attack against Peru developed through Dani Alves’ crossing. Brazil’s best chance stemmed through Alves: the right back received a pass from Fernandinho between the lines, before turning Murillo, driving to the box and delivering a cross to an unmarked Neymar, but David Ospina’s heroics preserved Colombia’s lead.

Apart from Neymar’s dribbling, which in fairness was fairly mediocre – in terms of evading challenges to beat defenders – Brazil lacked natural combinations, guile and creativity in the final third.

Colombia chances

As stated prior, both sides encountered difficulties in open play, which led to several players resorting to ambitious shots from distance. Colombia, however, enjoyed the better chances in transition and through their intense pressing.

Alves was dispossessed twice in the opening half – by James and Valencia – with both plays resulting in crosses from the left flank into the box, but neither midfielder was able to connect with the strikers. The strikers were paired against two physical Brazilian centre-backs and were unable to dominate around the box, yet when chances were presented it was the finishing and confidence, mainly from Falcao, that kept Brazil alive.

Then there were the quick transitions that were often sparked by deep balls from James to the flanks or over the Brazilian defence. There was a quick pass from James that hit off Teo into the path of Falcao, but the striker fired his effort wide. Yet, subsequently both Cuadrado and Falcao both stormed forward from half on individual runs, but neither player could hit the net.

Colombia’s pressing was vastly superior to Brazil’s throughout, and the combination of dynamism and creativity from Cuadrado and James posed several problems when they recovered possession.


More so, when you compare both sides, the major difference lied in the manner that both guarded central areas. The key man throughout was Sanchez, who formed an efficient pairing with Valencia.

Initially, Cristian Zapata and Jeison Murillo tracked Neymar’s runs in central areas, and proactively stepped forward to steer the tricky Brazilian away from goal – Murillo recorded a match-high seven interceptions. Yet, when Neymar moved into the midfield zone, Sanchez, who impressively completed five tackles and interceptions, often overpowered the Brazilian talisman.

With Neymar frustrated with the physicality throughout, Brazil was deprived of the penetrative runs that served as one of the few plausible sources for a goal. Ultimately, Brazil lacked a player in Sanchez’s mold – the provided adequate protection ahead of the back four, negating the opposition’s threat in the final third with powerful tackles, combined with vital last ditch blocks and interceptions.

Substitutions/Second Half

Following a disappointing opening half, Dunga turned to Philippe Coutinho to replace the underwhelming Fred. Whereas Brazil’s shape remained, it was evident Dunga was seeking another passer in midfield. The issue was that Coutinho’s incisive passing in tight spaces is mediocre, and he didn’t offer Brazil the required assistance. Coutinho excels in a deeper role in midfield, playing penetrative passes behind the defence, but here, he helped Brazil retain possession at a slow tempo, whereas his distribution was fairly sloppy.

Ultimately this made things worse for Brazil: They still remained narrow, and with Alves equally in a central position, Colombia simply sat two banks of four into a congested midfield. Brazil moved to a 4-3-3 with the introduction of Douglas Costa, and then Tardelli, but it equally didn’t alter the pattern of the match, as all three strikers maintained narrow positions.

Essentially, Brazil’s best chances came via transition through Neymar, and from a Murillo error that Firmino oddly squandered. Pekerman eventually moved to a 4-2-3-1 with the arrival of Victor Ibarbo, but their task remained the same. Maintain a compact shape, and break with numbers in transition to kill the game.

Cuadrado and James both came close following impressive individual moves, yet despite the two system alterations, stylistically, the second half was drab. Brazil couldn’t break down a determined Colombian outfit, yet while Pekerman’s men attacked well in numbers, their finishing was disappointing.


Two games into this year’s Copa America, and the vast dissimilarity between both Brazil performances highlights the lack of balance throughout the squad. While Colombia defended well for lengthy spells of the match, the lack of cohesion and heavy reliance on Neymar’s dribbling for creativity was vivid.

This wasn’t a vintage Colombian performance, but here, Pekerman’s tactics were spot on. Four years ago, Sanchez negated Lionel Messi’s threat against Argentina, and his performance was equally impressive on Neymar. The Colombian midfielder continuously thwarted Neymar’s mazy dribbles, preventing Brazil from attacking their zones with pace.

When two teams nearly at the same skill level play identical systems, the outcome of the match is often determined by definitive margins. Colombia were rarely tested due to Sanchez’s impressive job on Neymar, and in a match with very few created chances, Pekerman’s men displayed an effective approach to defeat Brazil.

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Posted by on June 20, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Chile 2-0 Ecuador: Chile makes Ecuador pay for individual mistakes, despite a late direct resurgence

Chile's forward Alexis Sanchez (L) vies with Ecuador's forward Enner Valencia during the Copa America inauguration football match at the Nacional stadium in Santiago, on June 11, 2015. Chile won 2-0. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BERNETTI

Chile’s forward Alexis Sanchez (L) vies with Ecuador’s forward Enner Valencia during the Copa America inauguration football match at the Nacional stadium in Santiago, on June 11, 2015. Chile won 2-0. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BERNETTI

Chile squeaked past Ecuador to claim the first Copa America 2015 triumph, courtesy of goals from Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas.

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Mena doesn’t play both positions simultaneously, therefore Claudio Bravo was in net.

Jorge Sampaoli’s side operated in their expected 3-4-2-1 with Alexis Sanchez spearheading the attack ahead of Jorge Valdivia and Vidal. Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla started the match as advanced wingbacks, while Marcelo Diaz and Charles Aranguiz sat in midfield.

Gustavo Quinteros, the new man on the block for Ecuador, is without star player Antonio Valencia for the entire tournament, but persisted with the nation’s reliable 4-4-2. Enner Valencia and Miller Bolanos formed a strike partnership upfront, with Jefferson Montero and Fidel Martinez on the flanks. Christian Noboa was also handed a new partner in midfield, as Osbaldo Lastra made up the other half of the midfield duo.

This match distinctly typified both sides – Chile’s energy pegged Ecuador into their third for extensive periods in the first half, with Quinteros’ men defending near their box. Oddly, both sides opened up in the second half, creating their best chances in transition – the Ecuadorian’s squandered legitimate opportunities late on and were punished for two mental lapses.

Chile’s quick start

Stylistically, Chile may be the most exciting football side over the past five years, and their energetic start was slightly anticipated. Sampaoli’s men press higher up the pitch to break into tackles and possess dynamic attackers capable of making penetrative runs and evading challenges towards goal.

Ecuador, however started the match flat, and within the opening three minutes could have trailed by two goals. The moves, though, were quite contrasting: Aranguiz found Valdivia between the lines, thus leading to Sanchez darting past a few challenges to slide the ball wide of the net. Shortly afterwards, a simple Valdivia lob to Sanchez saw the Chilean audaciously attempt to chip goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.


The one recurring theme in Chile’s buildup throughout the first half involved Valdivia’s movement in Ecuador’s third. Without a legitimate centre forward upfront, Chile relied on Sanchez’s diagonal runs behind the defence, and Vidal charging into space from midfield.

Valdivia also charged into this space once to control a ball from Gonzalo Jara once in the first half, but for the most part his movement involved the attacking midfielder drifting laterally behind the Ecuadorian midfield duo, or dropping deeper into midfield to obtain the ball in midfield. Ultimately, Lastra and Noboa were overloaded 4v2 in midfield, and failed to prevent Valdivia from receiving passes between the lines.

However, the downfall to the Chilean’s movement was his final ball. Despite starting the game superbly in the final third, majority of Valdivia’s passes were unsuccessful – he completed 73% of his passes throughout, and although many were penetrative, the Chilean’s decision-making was poor.

This in result thwarted Chile’s approach. Frickson Erazo or Gabriel Achilier followed Sanchez when he was in search of the ball, but with Sampaoli’s men particularly reliant on runs behind the defence, Valdivia’s poor passing limited their territorial dominance.

Ecuador’s shape

Surely, Valdivia’s productivity proved beneficial to Ecuador in the first half, but this was further warning that their defensive shape was often substandard. They dropped into two banks of four when Chile monopolized possession in the final third, yet occasionally dropped into a 4-5-1 with Bolanos aiding Noboa and Lastra in protecting central areas.

Sampaoli’s decision to operate in a back three ensured that the hosts could play out of the back with a spare man, but they found joy in wide areas due to Vidal’s movement and the advanced wing-backs. With that being said, while Ecuador’s shape wasn’t necessarily impressive, the centre-backs admirably coped with crosses from wide areas, and limited Sanchez’s space to test Dominguez.

Chile down the right

Still, apart from the early spell of pressure, the hosts found it difficult to create goal-scoring chances. The intricate combination passes into tight areas was remarkable, but rarely did Sampaoli’s men successfully complete the final ball.

However, in the latter stages of the first half, Chile’s persistence on stretching the pitch proved successful. It was evident from the first whistle that Beausejour and Isla were instructed to stick near the touchline in an advanced position. Likewise, when Vidal wasn’t charging into the box, the midfielder stormed into these positions to combine with the wingbacks.

Vidal’s movement into these areas maintained balance, but also ensured Ecuador couldn’t remain compact in central areas for lengthy spells. Yet within a two-minute spell Vidal was involved in overloads with Isla and Sanchez. The first opportunity was a lovely passing move that saw Vidal back heel the ball into half space for Isla, but his cross was cleared. Then, Vidal’s initial forward pass enabled Sanchez and Isla to combine, but the right wing back curled his shot wide of the net.

Isla offered Chile an outlet down the right with his advanced movement, whereas Vidal drifted into these areas to maintain balance and create overloads – it appeared a plausible route to goal following an underwhelming first half.

Ecuador more direct

The second half was completely contrasting to the first in terms of the tempo and structure of both sides. For the most part, the match was fairly open with both sides taking turns breaking into space on the counter to launch attacks.

Perhaps this benefited Ecuador, who in fairness improved substantially in the second half. The lone chance to attack on the counter was wasted, and the attempts to bypass Chile’s midfield and defence with simple conservative passes proved unsuccessful.

Quinteros possesses the personnel to play a direct brand of football, which partially explains why Montero was positive in brief spells throughout, serving as Ecuador’s sole attacking threat in the first half. Apart from a lackadaisical mistake from Diaz, which led to a Martinez shot on goal, it was Montero’s dribbling that steered Ecuador towards goal – unfortunately, the winger’s crosses were underwhelming.

Alexis Sanchez of Chile discusses with Gabriel Achilier of Ecuador during the 2015 Copa America Chile Group A match between Chile and Ecuador at Nacional Stadium on June 11, 2015 in Santiago, Chile.

Alexis Sanchez of Chile discusses with Gabriel Achilier of Ecuador during the 2015 Copa America Chile Group A match between Chile and Ecuador at Nacional Stadium on June 11, 2015 in Santiago, Chile.

Montero simply drifted into space behind the advanced Isla – who operated as a wingback in the first half, and a natural right back in the second – before charging into dangerous areas. Valencia, though, was arguably Ecuador’s best player in the second half.

Frankly, this should have been Quinteros’ initial approach. Valencia exploited his physical and aerial superiority against a diminutive Chilean defence – nodding a free header off the crossbar in the latter stages of the second half – but his overall influence improved, as balls were constantly played into the striker to lay off to his teammates, allowing them to push forward and peg the hosts back.

Likewise, the Ecuadorian striker was involved in his side’s best moves. Great combination play and use of half space between Ayovi and Valencia saw the latter fire a shot inches wide of the net, whereas Lastra’s ball recovery in midfield led to the midfielder clipping a pass over the defence for the Ecuadorian striker, who nearly rounded Bravo to equalizer.

The decision to quickly launch balls into Valencia and Montero troubled Chile on a few occasions, and it equally provided Ecuador with an outlet to maximize the talents of their top players.

Chile moves to a 4-3-3

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The other noticeable tactical move saw Chile move from a 3-4-1-2 to a 4-3-3, which has been a common alteration under Sampaoli. Eduardo Vargas replaced Beausejour to join the attack, further pushing Vidal into midfield.

Although there was no significant change to Chile’s threat in open play – with Isla in an advanced position, there was arguably more space for Ecuador to break into – the fast paced second half saw Sanchez grow into game as he dropped deeper off Vargas to receive the ball. Sanchez ignited two breaks that resulted in a Vidal shot flying over the net, and the Chilean attacker sliding a pass into Vargas, but his effort was parried away by Dominguez.

The open game and move to a 4-3-3 offered Sanchez the space to run at defenders, opposed to his role in the first half where he was constantly fouled when he successfully evaded challenges on the half-turn. A poor pass from substitute Renato Ibarra led to Sanchez running at the defence to create Vargas’ winner: surely, the goal was created from a mistake – both Chilean goals were preventable – but had this been the first half, Sanchez would be looking to receive a pass, and it’s uncertain as to whether he would, further showcasing one of the few benefits to the move.


Chile reverted to a back trio once they took the lead, transitioning into a five-man defence when Ecuador maintained possession. Matias Fernandez – who received two bookings within a 20 minute span – replaced Valdivia was an expected change as the latter’s fitness prohibits him from completing many games, whereas David Pizarro made a brief appearance in the final 10 minutes.

Quinteros appeared content with Ecuador’s progress in the second half, as his two changes followed Vidal’s winner from the spot. Pedro Quinonez and Ibarra offered the required dynamism in midfield – however, apart from a late squandered Valencia opportunity, neither player could ignite a comeback.


This game went as expected – a tough fight for an exciting Chilean outfit that struggle to score goals, due to a shaky defence and the lack of a reliable striker. Chile was dominant in brief spells, throughout, but they didn’t create enough chances in the final third, instead capitalizing on simple Ecuadorian mistakes.

Ecuador’s approach, on the other hand, was quite peculiar. Perhaps the initial goal was to play reactive and cope with the expected pressure from the hosts, but they inevitably improved when they employed a direct game.

Stylistically, the second half epitomized the way the Ecuadorians should approach this tournament. They aren’t blessed with creative playmakers in central areas, but can rely on tricky wide players and an imposing centre forward – crosses into the box should remain their main route to goal.

Nevertheless, we didn’t learn anything new about these two sides. On the day Chile executed when chances were presented to them, as superior talent prevailed. Ecuador remains the team that can sustain pressure and pose a threat when they attack directly, whereas Chile has yet to identify a combination between exciting football and results.

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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus

Alvaro Morata of Juventus celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Real Madrid CF and Juventus at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.

Juventus progressed to their first European final in 12 years, earning a significant 1-1 draw against holders Real Madrid.

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Massimiliano Allegri made one change to his XI that defeated the Real Madrid last week in Turin, slotting Paul Pogba into midfield alongside Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo.

Carlo Ancelotti persisted with a 4-4-2, welcoming back Karim Benzema to his attack, and pushing Sergio Ramos to centre-back alongside Raphael Varane.

In ways, this was very similar to the first leg: despite Real negating service into Juve’s strikers, the away side nicked an early second half goal, and remained organized and compact in deeper positions to close out the match.

Real stop overload/Shape

Sometimes it’s interesting to see how a personnel change can shift the pattern of an overall tie. Juve maintained an overload in central areas in the opening stages of the first leg due to Gareth Bale’s reluctance to press Pirlo – along with Vidal dropping deeper – thus providing Allegri’s side with an outlet into the strikers.

Benzema’s inclusion, however, ensured it was 4v4 in midfield. Juventus, though, encountered a few issues with their system. Even though Marchisio and Pogba pressed the Real full-backs when they received the ball, the Juventus midfielders couldn’t cope with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal’s adventurous running.

kroos juventus

Also, while Benzema stuck close to Pirlo, neither Carlos Tevez nor Alvaro Morata were interested in picking up Toni Kroos. Kroos was free to dictate the tempo of the match from deep positions, often playing a few exquisite diagonal balls behind Pogba for Carvajal.


It’s not often that defensive players serve as the most significant factors in key European ties, but both full-backs were pivotal to Real’s goal threat. In the first leg it was Dani Carvajal’s clever ball into half space that allowed James to create Ronaldo’s goal, and here, Marcelo was equally important.

Against sides that play in two narrow banks of four, with midfielders playing in wide roles – specifically Atletico – Ancelotti has relied on the width from his full-backs to stretch the game – it’s quite simple, but the quality in these areas coincide with Real’s efficiency.

However, Marcelo’s threat was displayed in several ways throughout the match. In the first minute he stormed past Marchisio and clipped the ball to the far post, but Bale’s tame header flew over the net. Later on in the half, the Brazilian showcased his passing range – Marchisio also failed to close him down quickly – by clipping a ball into half space for Benzema, but Patrice Evra cleared his compatriot’s pull back to Ronaldo.

For the most part, majority of Madrid’s attacks stemmed down the left flank, with Ronaldo occasionally drifting over to the touch-line to create space for himself to receive the ball, It was Marcelo’s pass into Ronaldo that led to the Portuguese forward charging towards the box, before James won the penalty that put Madrid ahead.

Where Ancelotti may have introduced attacking full-backs later in the second half to torment a leggy back-line, both started at the Bernabeu as Madrid were required to score. Still, Marcelo didn’t tire and overloaded the left flank on two occasions – with James and Isco initially, then Ronaldo – but Bale skewed both chances inches wide of the net.

Marcelo juventus

Marcelo was undoubtedly Madrid’s best player — he was the catalyst behind Madrid’s best moves, and recorded the most take-ons and passes in the final third.

Juve approach

It appeared that Allegri might have reverted to a 5-3-2 to preserve a slender first leg lead, but the Juventus manager persisted with four ball-playing midfielders, and simply instructing his defensive line to sit a few yards deeper.

Following a shaky 10-minute spell, it was evident that the plan was to instantly get the ball into Morata and Tevez’s feet. Initially, Tevez aimed to scamper between the lines, while Morata played off the last shoulder, but the away side got into dangerous positions through the former breaking into Madrid’s half.

Tevez dispossessed Kroos twice in the first half to break forward, storming into Madrid’s half to win a corner, while Vidal forced Iker Casillas to make a key save. Though Juve was calm in possession, and retained the ball confidently in short spells, apart from quick breaks through Tevez, the away side failed to create legitimate goal scoring opportunities from open play.

Madrid counter

Another interesting feat at the Bernabeu was the pattern change following Ronaldo’s opener. Both sides operated in a variation of a 4-4-2, and where Juve initially dropped into two banks of four, Real followed suit knowing Ronaldo’s penalty would secure progression.

The issue with Allegri’s selection, however, was the lack of natural width. This meant Evra and Stephane Lichtsteiner surged forward to help stretch the pitch, thus leaving space in the channels for Madrid to break into. Similar to Juve, Ancelotti’s side easily ignited swift counters to move into dangerous positions, but this was purely based on the system tweak opposed to individual errors.

First, James’ clearance into the left channel freed up Benzema to play a reverse ball into Ronaldo, but the recovering Lichtsteiner’s presence – despite being dropped to the floor – forced the Portuguese forward to deliver a cross, rather than shoot. Real exposed space behind Lichtsteiner minutes later through a simple Bale outlet pass, but this time the Swiss defender’s recovery run forced Ronaldo to rush his shot into the side netting.

Pogba moved in-field to create space for Evra in the early stages, but the Juve were susceptible to counters when they pushed the full-backs forward. Both Lichtsteiner and Evra were cautious with their positioning in the second half.

Ramos – Varane

Sergio Ramos’ poor outing in Turin led to Ancelotti placing the Spaniard in his preferred position at the Bernabeu, which helped Real shut down Juve’s main threat. Real’s centre-backs proactively stepped forward to intercept passes and prevent the away side’s front pairing from turning towards goal.

Ramos juventus

Although this effectively limited passes into the strikers, there were moments, when Morata in particular, held up the ball superbly and linked play with his teammates. Likewise, this forced Ramos and Varane into silly challenges away from Juve’s half, enabling the Italian club to push forward to alleviate constant waves of pressure.

Morata and Tevez fouled

Coincidentally, it was Ramos’ clumsy challenge on Vidal that resulted in Morata scoring from the subsequent set-piece. Perhaps Ramos and Varane’s proactive defending stifled Juve’s main strength in the first leg, but it equally backfired on the European champions.

Final half hour

Morata’s equalizer prompted both managers to make identical moves from the first leg to alter the match. This time Javier Hernandez replaced Benzema, whereas Allegri reverted to a 5-3-2 with Andrea Barzagli moving into defence at Pirlo’s expense.

The match followed a similar pattern at the Bernabeu with Madrid chasing a goal, and Juve sitting deep in their half to defend their lines. Ancelotti’s side reverted to hopeless crosses that were comfortably dealt with, and shots from distance that failed to test Gianluigi Buffon.

Juve, on the other hand, equally had their chances, with Vidal breaking lines on two occasions, yet Morata and Tevez were reluctant to set the Chilean free on goal. Another example of Morata’s hold up play was also on display when he rolled Varane to play a pass into Vidal, who instantly slid the ball to Marchisio in the box, but Casillas made a key save.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF duels for the ball with Arturo Vidal of Juventus during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Real Madrid CF and Juventus at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF duels for the ball with Arturo Vidal of Juventus during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Real Madrid CF and Juventus at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.

Fernando Llorente and Roberto Pereyra were summoned in the latter stages, with the former also holding off Varane to create a chance for Pogba – further showcasing Allegri making better use of his bench than Ancelotti. Madrid lacked imagination for large portions of the second half, and despite the home side’s territorial dominance – and a few squandered Bale efforts – they never looked like scoring.


Stylistically, there were minimal changes to the tactical battle at the Bernabeu. Madrid continued to attack through their full backs, and attempted to thwart Juve’s threat through proactive defending from their centre-backs.

Yet the pattern in both legs perfectly illustrated Real’s issue this season. They squandered several chances in the opening period, stagnated and conceded a goal midway through the match, and failed to provide Ronaldo with service (reverting to hopeless crosses into the box) in the latter stages.

More importantly, Juve didn’t concede in open play, and deserve credit for defending superbly in two banks of four, while executing from a set-piece. Allegri comfortably out-coached Ancelotti over two legs, and will likely be forced to adopt similar tactics against Barcelona’s fluid South American attacking trio in Berlin.

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Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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