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Spain 1-5 Holland

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Courtesy of Wikicommons/Football.ua

Holland avenged their World Cup finals defeat by thrashing the reigning champions in the second half.

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Diego Costa was deemed fit to feature in Vicente del Bosque’s 4-2-3-1 ahead of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and David Silva. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets played in the double-pivot.

Louis van Gaal started Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie upfront in his 3-4-1-2 with Wesley Sneijder playing behind the duo. Jonathan de Guzman and Nigel de Jong formed a midfield two, while Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat operated as wingbacks. 

Despite starting the match well, Spain failed to cope with Holland’s direct approach that involved the midfield quickly facilitating the ball to their strikers behind the Spanish defence.

Holland with out the ball

The most intriguing talking point subsequent to kickoff was Holland’s approach without the ball. Usually teams would opt to defend in two deep banks of four and force the Spaniards to break them down, but here, van Gaal’s men held an extremely high-line and pressed in midfield.

Van Gaal aimed to pack central zones with hard-working players and limit as much space as possible for the Spaniards to work in. De Guzman and de Jong pressed Xavi and Xabi Alonso – who were both quiet – Sneijder worked hard to cut off Busquets’ passing lanes, and the surprising feat was the positioning of Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi.

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The two outside centre-backs man-marked Iniesta and Silva when they drifted infield to receive the ball; sometimes all the way into Spain’s half. Iniesta and Silva were often fouled and they struggled to turn due to the committed defending of de Vrij and Indi.

Likewise, neither Cesar Azpilicueta nor Jordi Alba got forward enough, as their was limited time in central areas to string passes out in these wide zones, while Janmaat and Blind closed the Spanish full-backs down.

Holland’s intent was to clog spaces in central zones to prevent the Spaniards from overloading the midfield and dictating the tempo of the match.

Spain’s shape

Spain, on the other hand, was more conservative out of possession, and didn’t rely on their high-pressing that has proved beneficial in recent years. Spain dropped into two banks of four with Xavi behind Costa attempting to close down the Dutch defenders.

The issue with Spain’s approach without the ball was that it lacked motivation and grit. At times, Holland easily shifted the ball from side to side, as the Spanish players failed to effectively close van Gaal’s men down. Silva and Iniesta also appeared disinterested in committing their defensive duties in wide areas, further allowing Holland’s wingbacks forward, while Robben and van Persie made runs into the channels.

Spain’s work ethic out of possession was the vast difference between Holland’s approach as del Bosque’s men were sluggish and lacklustre.

Spain attacks 

With both side’s opting to play with high-lines, the space to exploit was behind the defence. Spain, however, encountered two issues throughout the match.

First, Spain didn’t offer runners in midfield, and the only player aiming to get behind the defence was Diego Costa. Costa made several intelligent runs behind Holland’s back-line, and he appeared frustrated when passes weren’t played into his path. Jordi Alba was the other player that could have offered this threat but Janmaat kept the left-back quiet.

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Silva’s movement into central areas left gaps of space available on the right, but Azpilicueta was quite cautious with his positioning. Pedro Rodriguez would serve as a useful option on the right flank, as would Juanfran who displayed his adventurous running when he exploited Eden Hazard in the Champions League this season; but it appeared that Azpilicueta was preferred based on his defensive qualities.

Spain, however, did receive their opportunities when they occasionally bypassed Holland’s press, or the outside centre-backs were caught out of position. Xavi played two balls into Costa – one from deep and the other between the lines – but on both occasions the recovering Ron Vlaar broke up the play. Xavi’s third pass was the charm, and it occurred when the Dutch centre-backs didn’t come out to press Iniesta and Silva. The duo exchanged quick passes ahead of de Guzman and de Jong before sliding the ball into Xavi between the lines, and the Spaniard delivered an inch-perfect pass to Costa who was taken down and awarded a penalty.

An identical situation occurred in the latter stages of the half with Iniesta dropping deep into midfield – away from de Vrij – and Silva drifted to the left channel to make an unmarked forward run to collect the Barcelona midfielder’s sumptuous no-look pass, but he failed to beat goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with his delicate chip.

The Spanish attacking three exploited space between the lines frequently in the second half, but they weren’t on the same wave-length with Costa – who didn’t appear 100 per-cent fit – and their final ball was often underwhelming.

Spain struggled to play their preferred game due to Holland’s pressure, but with limited runners providing penetration, and the lack of conviction or a final ball in advanced areas, del Bosque’s men were bound to encounter issues.

Holland attacks

Van Gaal’s aligned his side to exploit the space behind Spain’s high-defensive line, and the warning signs were evident in the opening minutes. Alba’s poor chest pass in Spain’s half saw Robben slide the ball into Sneijder, but the Dutch midfielder fired his shot directly at Casillas.

Robben and van Persie were both caught offside on a few occasions prior to the latter’s opening goal, yet del Bosque was unfazed by their threat. The other worry was the combination plays on the flanks subsequent to Alonso’s goal that led to de Guzman and Blind delivering quality crosses into the box that surprisingly evaded everyone. The work ethic from Iniesta and Silva in these defensive errors were poor and Holland’s forwards were keen on drifting wide to create overloads.

Coincidentally, the buildup in Holland’s opening goals were identical, as Blind’s terrific long diagonals from the half-way line saw van Persie lose Ramos, and Robben sneak behind Pique to provide quality finishes. The quality of the finishing and deliveries were world-class, but the defending from the Spanish centre-backs was putrid.

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The two following goals were merely defensive errors – both by Casillas, while Azpilicueta deserves some blame for the third goal – but the final goal epitomized Holland’s attacking approach. Indi won the ball off Pedro and Sneijder quickly sprayed the loose ball into the path of Robben who outpaced Ramos before cutting back inside to grab his second goal of the night.

While Spain didn’t field enough options to exploit the space behind the defence, van Gaal possessed two forwards capable of punishing any side in the world under these circumstances.

Conclusion

There were evident flaws in Holland’s brave approach, but van Gaal’s decision to alter his preferred system reaped rewards.

“If I played with three attackers, my wingers would have chased down the Spain backs too much, that would be a waste,” van Gaal said.

“I played this system because I believe that we are not good enough to beat Spain with our normal 4-3-3 formation.”

Van Gaal’s approach maximized the pace of Robben, and prevented Spain from dictating the tempo of the match in a congested area. Certainly if del Bosque introduced runners, or Silva converted his chance prior to van Persie’s equalizer the match could’ve been different.

This serves as another crushing blow on Brazilian soil, yet the fact that it was preventable – del Bosque didn’t need to risk going 4-3-3, which created more gaps in midfield for Holland to penetrate on the counter – and could harm Spain’s chances of progressing out of the group.

Van Gaal pragmatically built his approach towards nullifying and exploiting Spain’s strengths, whereas del Bosque’s belief in his players and reluctance to stray away from their philosophy led to their downfall in a match that could’ve gone either way.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2014 in Published Work, World Cup 2014

 

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Three Things: Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich

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Courtesy of Flickr/ Some rights reserved by peterpribylla

Sanogo?

Arsene Wenger’s decision to hand 21-year-old Yaya Sanogo a place in the starting lineup was the main talking point when the team-sheets came out. Prior to kick-off, Sanogo had only played 127 minutes for the Gunners, with this being his second start for the club. Wenger’s reluctance to sign a striker in January left many Arsenal fans frustrated, and with Olivier Giroud requiring rest, Sanogo was the best option available.

The French striker led the line against Liverpool over the weekend, and played a key role in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener when he wonderfully controlled Mesut Ozil’s cross, in which his blocked shot fell into the path of the Arsenal winger. Sanogo constantly made runs into the channels, while flustering Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel with his physical presence and dynamism.

Bayern Munich, however, is not Liverpool, they’re the best team in Europe and this presented a new challenge for the Arsenal striker. But Wenger’s inclusion of Sanogo was logical: here, he wanted to utilize his pace and great movement off the ball to attack the space behind Bayern Munich’s high-line.

Santi Cazorla’s long ball over the top of the Bayern back-line signified the approach, as the Frenchman broke free, but the ball rolled out of play. Afterwards, his strength in the area led to a scramble, which resulted in Manuel Neuer making a wonderful save to keep the score levelled and prevent Sanogo from scoring his first-goal as a Gunner.

Sanogo offers the mobility and pace that Giroud lacks, and with Bayern playing a high-line, and Theo Walcott unavailable, Giroud’s threat would be minimal. The 21-year-old displayed his work-rate in the first-half when he dropped deep to dispossess Javi Martinez, and then played a great ball into the right channel for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who nearly forced David Alaba into a horrendous error.

Sanogo’s impact on the match decreased once Wojciech Szczesny was sent off, but Wenger’s decision to include the Frenchman in the starting XI was logical.

Penalties, Penalties, Penalties

The main talking point surrounding the first half was the controversy in the penalty box. Arsenal pressed and harried the European champions in the opening 15 minutes, and Wenger’s men created the better chances.

The Gunners were rewarded for their positive start when Jerome Boateng made a clumsy tackle on Mesut Ozil, thus resulting in a penalty. Similar to his spot-kick against Marseille earlier this season, the German’s languid run-up led to Neuer comfortably batting away Ozil’s poor penalty.

Subsequently, the momentum shifted and Bayern began to connect their passes and dictate the tempo of the match. Despite lacking penetration, and struggling to shift the Arsenal back-line out of position, Wenger’s men dropped deeper towards their box.

It took a scintillating ball from Toni Kroos to Arjen Robben to carve open Arsenal’s defence, and it forced Szczesny to commit a reckless challenge on the Dutch winger. The Polish goalkeeper received a red card, which forced Lukasz Fabianski to enter the fray, while Santi Cazorla was sacrificed.

Alaba stepped to the spot, but was forced to patiently wait for Arsenal to make their changes, and during that time he witnessed a wall of Gunners supporters heckle and jeer him. It took approximately two minutes for Fabianski to enter the goal, and Alaba’s mind was clustered. The Austrian left-back sent the Polish goalkeeper the wrong way, but his shot hit the post.

Both sides received the opportunity to take the lead through well-deserved spot-kicks, but neither shooter coped with the pressure – however, Bayern’s man advantage gave Guardiola’s side the onus to push for an away goal.

Kroos Control

For all the depth Bayern Munich possesses throughout their squad, the one player that doesn’t receive the credit he deserves is Toni Kroos. Kroos has been the heartbeat of Bayern’s creative play, and the 24-year-old midfielder saved his best performances for the European stage.

Last season at the Emirates, Kroos’ remarkable goal ignited a Bayern onslaught, but this time Szczesny saved his fantastic strike in the second minute. Yet, while Bayern struggled to cope with Arsenal’s energetic start, Kroos calmly settled Bayern into the match. He wandered around midfield looking for spaces to pick up the ball, and his precise passing helped his teammates come to grips with the frenetic pace.

Kroos’ passing was magnificent, and his ability to retain possession was also pivotal towards Bayern’s dominance. The German dynamo was at his best in the second half as Bayern picked up their tempo. Phillip Lahm cleverly created an angle for Kroos to fire an unstoppable shot into the top corner, to secure an important away goal.

The German was imperious in midfield and his long diagonal ball to Arjen Robben, followed by a well-weighed pass into Rafinha highlighted his creativity, but both wide players failed to provide an accurate final ball to increase Bayern’s lead. Kroos received an opportunity to kill the tie with seconds to spare, but his well-placed, low-driven shot ricocheted off the post.

It’s been nearly two years since Kroos’ master-class against Madrid , and his long-term injury forced him to miss last year’s road to Wembley. The German, however, is eager to display to the world that he’s Bayern’s key man, and arguably the best no.10 in the world, by guiding the Bavarians to their second consecutive Champions League triumph.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Borussia Dortmund 0-3 Bayern Munich

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Courtesy of Soccer.ru

Mario Gotze’s second half goal led to an impressive Bayern Munich victory, which sees the champions move seven points clear of Borussia Dortmund.

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Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger were unavailable, so Mario Mandzukic led the line with Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben on the flanks. Javi Martinez and Toni Kroos played ahead of Phillip Lahm, and Rafinha filled in at right back in Pep Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1.

Jurgen Klopp was forced to play a makeshift defence, as all four members of his preferred backline were unavailable. Kevin Grosskreutz and Erik Durm played as fullbacks, while Sokratis and Manuel Friedrich formed a centre back partnership.

Although Klopp was forced to make several changes at the back, Dortmund were very much in the match, but the Champions League finalist’s were unable to cope with Guardiola’s second half substitutions.

Dortmund shape

Dortmund came into the match four points behind league leaders Bayern Munich, so dropping points at home wasn’t on their agenda – a loss wouldn’t only benefit Bayern, as it would ensure Bayer Leverkusen second place at the end of the weekend.

Considering Bayern were expected to focus on ball retention, the onus was on Dortmund to nullify their opponents. As expected, Klopp’s men maintained a high line, dropping into two banks of four, to minimize space between the lines. Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski sat deeper than usual to prevent David Alaba and Rafinha from pushing forward.

This left Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Robert Lewandowski up top to press the Bayern centre backs. Ultimately, it was 3v2 at the back, as Lahm dropped into a pocket of space when Dante and Jerome Boateng split, so Bayern always had a passing option available. Drum could afford to track Muller’s movement from the wing – with Reus protecting him – and Robben had glimpses of chances on the left flank, but was often seen buzzing around in Dortmund’s third, searching for gaps of space.

Dortmund’s shape was superb – they disrupted Bayern’s passing, limited their threat in the final third, and clearly created the better chances in the first half.

Bayern approach/Martinez false 10?

The main surprise in the opening minutes of the match was the positioning of Javi Martinez. The Spaniard, renowned for his brute strength and ability to break up play, was fielded as an attacking midfielder – therefore he was a ‘false 10’. When Dortmund attempted to play out of the back, Martinez closed down Sven Bender or Nuri Sahin, and with Muller and Mandzukic pressing the centre backs, Roman Weidenfeller was forced to lob the ball away.

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Martinez pegged Bender and Sahin into deeper positions, thus limiting their impact on the match from an attacking perspective. While Bayern’s superiority in possession was evident, Martinez’s role as an attacking midfielder contributed to their low passing numbers.

However, the Spaniard’s role affected Bayern’s ability to play through midfield. With Lahm dropping deeper to provide an outlet for his centrebacks, Kroos was the only outlet available in midfield. Kroos drifted around midfield – mostly the left side of the pitch – looking for spaces to receive the ball, but Dortmund’s pressure forced the German to play conservative passes.

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Guardiola’s men struggled to play forward balls, due to Dortmund’s shape, and whenever they did get forward, Martinez’s inability to play passes in tight areas were displayed.

But Guardiola wasn’t alarmed with his side’s difficulty breaking through midfield. Another element in Guardiola’s decision to play Martinez in an advanced role was their direct approach. The aim was for Muller and Martinez to attack balls that were knocked down by Mandzukic, but Dortmund comfortably dealt with Bayern’s long balls.

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Muller and Mandzukic were peripheral figures in the first half, as they failed to trouble, or stretch Dortmund’s backline. Yet, they were both involved in Bayern’s best chances of the half –  Mandzukic’s acrobatic overhead kick from Muller’s cross, and Robben latching onto a Dante long ball, which he squared to Mandzukic, only for the Croatian to mishit his shot.

Martinez’s inclusion in an advanced role limited Bender and Sahin’s impact on the match – however, it had the same effect on Bayern’s possession-based and direct approach.

Dortmund break

A recurring theme in the last few meetings between these sides has been Dortmund’s inability to convert their chances. Once again, Klopp’s men created several chances on the break, but they lacked that extra bit of quality to beat an impressive Manuel Neuer.

But there were a few key feats in Dortmund’s breaks that shouldn’t be ignored. Alaba’s positioning, along with no defensive protection from Robben, left the right flank free for Blaszczykowski and Grosskreutz to penetrate. Majority of the chances Dortmund created resulted in the final ball being played behind Alaba.

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Also, Lewandowski displayed both sides of his all-around attacking game – the Polish striker can play as a conventional no.9 and a no.10. Lewandowski’s movement got him into great positions to play his teammates clear, and although he squandered a great chance at the start of the match, his physical presence and aerial ability gave the Bayern defenders a few problems.

  • 2nd min: Bender played a pass to Lewandowski, who dropped deep and laid the ball off for Blaszczykowski. The Polish wide man cut in and played a great ball to Lewandowski at the edge of the six-yard box, but he turned and fired his shot over the net.
  • 23rd min: Reus intercepts Boateng’s forward pass and Mkhitaryan picks up the ball and drives forward. The Armenian midfielder played a pass to Lewandowski and he slides the ball to Blaszczykowski, who cut in but his shot was blocked.
  • 25th min: Durm’s pressure forces Muller to concede possession, as he can’t control Boateng’s pass, and the Dortmund defender back heels the ball to Mkhitaryan. Mkhitaryan drives forward and picks out Blaszczykowski, who plays a forward pass to an overlapping Grosskreutz, but he takes a first touch and Alaba’s recovery run allowed him nick the ball out for a corner.
  • 28th min: Lewandowski flicked on Weidenfeller’s goal kick and Boateng slipped, allowing Reus clear on goal, but he fired his shot directly at Neuer.
  • 50th min: Bender leads the attack and plays a pass to Blaszczykowski on the right flank. The Polish midfielder cut the ball back to Bender and he chipped the ball into the box, and Lewandowski – who ran ahead of Rafinha – nodded the ball wide of the net.
  • 69th min: Rafinha wildly conceded possession to Grosskreutz, who drove forward and played a pass to Blaszczykowski, who then found Lewandowski between the lines and the Polish striker played an exceptional through ball to Grosskreutz. The Dortmund right back dinked a ball to an unmarked Mkhitaryan, and he controlled the ball on his chest, then took another touch with his feet – giving Neuer time to settle – and fired a shot at the near post, but Neuer made a great save.
  • 72nd min: Grosskreutz’s ball over the top finds Lewandowski, who nudged Martinez aside, and back heeled the ball to Reus, and the German attacker’s shot – that deflected off of Dante – forced Neuer to make a key save.

Dortmund created six clear-cut opportunities on the break to take the lead, but they were unable to beat Neuer. They broke up Bayern’s play, attacked space in wide areas, and pounced on individual errors, but their lack of quality in front of goal made the difference.

Guardiola makes changes

The turning point in the match occurred when Guardiola turned to his bench and introduced Mario Gotze for Mandzukic, and Thiago Alcantara for Boateng – which pushed Martinez to centreback.

The change gave Bayern an additional ball-playing midfielder, along with fluidity and mobility in their attack.

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Gotze was dropping deeper to help Bayern retain possession, and pull defenders out of position, and he also made runs behind the Dortmund backline. Bayern began to dictate the midfield, and slowly triangles were beginning to form.

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Coincidentally, it was Gotze who gave Bayern the lead 10 minutes after his arrival. The goal displayed the difference in how Guardiola’s men utilized possession – there were nifty intricate passes from the right to the centre of the pitch, after Thiago dispossessed Sahin, and it led to Lahm playing a killer pass to an unmarked Muller on the right, and his cross found Gotze unmarked in the box, and he directed the ball past Weidenfeller.

Guardiola introduced Daniel van Buyten for Rafinha, which pushed Lahm to right back and Martinez in the single pivot, but the Spaniard’s decision to introduce Gotze and Thiago was a key factor in Bayern’s second half improvement.

Klopp reacts?

Unlike Guardiola, Klopp doesn’t possess an abundance of resources on the bench, but he decided to replace Blaszczykowski and Mkhitaryan with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jonas Hofmann.

Apart from fatigue, the decision to introduce Aubameyang was down to the impact he had in the Super Cup a few months backs, when he dominated Bayern’s backline with his pace. However, Guardiola’s substitutions and Dortmund’s intent on going forward, left Klopp’s men vulnerable – Bayern were now keen to sustain possession, and there was space available for Robben and Muller to attack.

2-0/3-0

Bayern put the match out of sight in the final five minutes, but the matter in which the goals were constructed, highlighted the significance of Guardiola’s changes.

  • 85th min: Dante dispossessed Reus near the corner of his 18-yard box and played a pass to Kroos, and he quickly directed the ball to Gotze. Gotze then found Thiago, and the Spaniard played a magnificent cross field pass to Robben, which led to a 3v1 break, and Robben confidently chipped Weidenfeller.

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  • 87th min: Alaba, Kroos and Thiago form another passing triangle, and Thiago plays a ball to Martinez who attacked space in midfield and found Robben to his right. Robben runs at Drum before playing in an advancing Lahm at right back, and he delivered a ball across the box for Muller to tap in.

Like the opening goal, Thiago and Gotze were key figures in the build up, and Guardiola’s in-game tinkering – moving Lahm to right back and Martinez as a holder – contributed to the final goal. Once again Bayern showcased their tactical flexibility.

Conclusion

This match showcased a few elements that we’ve seen in previous encounters – Dortmund’s reactive approach nullified Bayern, but they were unable to convert their chances on the break, whereas Bayern were clinical in front of goal.

“Everything is decided in midfield. If you want to win the game, you need to control the midfield,” Guardiola said.

Nonetheless, Guardiola’s second half changes gave his side the advantage, thus leading to their dominance for the remainder of the match. 

“I’ve seen Bayern a lot. Tonight, they played as many high balls as in the last three years combined,” Klopp said.

“First, they got at us with long balls, then they bring on the 1.70m boys, not a bad idea,” he added. 

Guardiola’s pragmatic approach displayed his side’s flexibility and why many classify the Spaniard as unpredictable, – but it also showcased that his side isn’t ready to express themselves under his philosophy. While Bayern continue to grow under Guardiola, Klopp’s tactics are beginning to take their toll on his slender squad, which could diminish their domestic and European challenge.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arjen Robben: He’s Not World Class, He’s A Winner

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The stage was set.

Bayern Munich was awarded a penalty in the opening minutes of extra time, after Didier Drogba committed a clumsy challenge on Franck Ribery. It wasn’t the first time Drogba had conceded a penalty while tracking back to complete his defensive duties.

Robben stepped up to the spot – he was presented another opportunity to end his Champions League curse, this time against his former employers. In the second leg of Bayern’s semi-final against Real Madrid, the Dutch winger snuck his penalty past Iker Casillas. That was the vital away goal at the Santiago Bernabeu, which pushed the game to extra-time, allowing Bayern Munich to win in a penalty shootout. The Bayern winger was this time denied by Petr Cech, as the Chelsea goalkeeper stopped Robben’s poor penalty. Ironically, Drogba caused the penalty, but then converted his own in the shoot-out, to hand Chelsea their first Champions League crown.

Bayern Munich had lost in the finals of all three major competitions last season, and Robben missed two penalties at critical moments in those matches – he actually went to the same side for both penalties against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, as they were both stopped comfortably. More heartbreak had been added to the Dutch winger’s career as two years prior, not only did he lose another European final against Inter Milan, but he squandered two glorious chances against Spain, which could have won Holland the World Cup.

Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes disappointedly provided an excellent analysis on his team’s performance against Chelsea.

“We wasted far too many chances. Over long stretches of the match we played really well and had a lot more possession. We just weren’t able to exploit the chances we created,” Heynckes said. 

“You have to make use of them otherwise you’ll be punished. However, after we took the lead we had to bring the result home.”


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In Bayern’s only loss of the knockout round against Arsenal, we witnessed a similar performance – albeit the tie was virtually won in the first leg.

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Bayern dominated possession and outshot the Gunners, yet they failed to convert their chances – while their London opponents did.

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Many were skeptical on whether they would see the Robben of old, or Robben in general, if Bayern went deep in the competition – the Dutch striker is known for his obstinate shooting, one-dimensional play, and his patent left foot. These features elevated Robben into a world-class player in the past, but it never proved to be a pivotal feat in cup finals.

The emergence of Toni Kroos towards the end of last year’s campaign pushed Robben to the bench this season. Kroos, Thomas Muller and Ribery played behind the striker, as they provided a balanced front three. Kroos is the playmaker that plays incisive passes, creates overloads on the flanks and can drop deep to become a midfielder. Ribery is the direct winger that thrives in 1v1 situations – while Muller is a tactically disciplined attacking player that attacks/finds space, but can also produce goals. It was simple – Robben had no place in the starting lineup, but he provided great depth, and played great football when he featured in the side. Most notably, he scored a fantastic goal against Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals to knock them out of the competition.

Robben’s fortune changed in the opening 20 minutes of Bayern’s Champions League quarter-final match against Juventus. Kroos had suffered an injury and limped off the field – this forced Heynckes to introduce Robben, and shift Muller behind Mandzukic. Kroos’ absence surprisingly didn’t harm Bayern like many predicted – they possessed two direct wingers on the flank against teams who were vulnerable in that area.

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Robben relished his role, as he was often left unmarked in advanced positions, which allowed him to engage in 1v1 battles with Juventus defenders.

He also helped Mandzukic and Muller press the Juventus wingers and his understanding with Phillip Lahm saw them create several overloads.

Robben once again played a key role in dispatching Spanish champions Barcelona. Barcelona has faced a serious issue this season defensively – injuries have played a factor, but their fullbacks create a defensive imbalance.

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Both Dani Alves and Jordi Alba surge forward into advanced positions, which leaves Barcelona vulnerable against quick counter-attacks.

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Robben did a great job tracking Alba’s runs throughout the tie, and he was a main threat going forward, thriving in 1v1 battles against Jordi Alba – he also produced a vintage Robben goal that decided the tie at the Camp Nou.

The Dutch winger’s experience and good form were key factors in his anomalous performance at Wembley. He was ridiculed for wasting several chances in the first half, yet he was Bayern’s most influential player going forward. Robben drifted centrally, making diagonal runs behind Dortmund’s narrow high line.

Heynckes made a tactical alteration at half time playing Robben behind Mandzukic as a second striker. Robben was familiar with the role, as he played as a second striker in the World Cup final against Spain in 2010. With Dortmund legs tiring, along with their tactical naivety to abandon a high line, Bayern took control of the match allowing Robben to prosper.  Although Robben squandered his chances in the first half, there were warning signs that Dortmund overlooked. Robben was involved in both goals, and they were reminiscent of his missed opportunities in the first half – Robben making a run behind Subotic to provide an assist and a long ball that the Dortmund defence couldn’t cope with, allowing Robben to skip past Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic to net the winner.

It’s been a wacky 12 months for Robben – he went from being a zero, to an impact sub, and  he’s ended the season as a hero. 

In the last few weeks, I have been very aware of Arjen, very conscious of how I train with him, taking care of his fitness to make sure he didn’t get injured,” Heynckes said. 

“I’m particularly pleased for him; last year we were all tragic figures, not just Arjen, but today he was crucial.”

The Dutch winger played a key role on Bayern’s road to lifting their first Champions League title since 2001 – it took three finals in four years to achieve this feat, but they are now winners. After claiming domestic trophies in four different countries, Robben can now add European silverware to his collection.

“That’s three finals, and of course you don’t want the stamp of a loser. You don’t want that tag,” Robben said. 

“For a footballer this is the peak, the greatest you can achieve. The whistle from the referee, knowing you have won the Champions League, it was the only thing missing in my life.”

Unfortunately, Robben’s future with Bayern Munich is still in doubt, as he doesn’t fit the mold of a Pep Guardiola player.

Since the Guardiola news broke earlier this year, the Dutch winger has raised the level of his performances, and has shown his tactical awareness, along with his ability to be a top winger offensively and defensively.

Robben’s road at Bayern may come to an end at the tender age of 29, if so, it’ll be as a European champion.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in FIFA

 

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Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

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Bayern Munich claimed their fifth Champions League title courtesy of an Arjen Robben winner in the 88th minute.

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There were no real surprises in either starting line up as both sides stuck with their traditional 4-2-3-1. Mario Mandzukic led the line, while Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben played behind the Croatian striker. Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger played in midfield, while Jerome Boateng was selected over Daniel van Buyten to start at centre back.

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Jurgen Klopp selected his best side possible – Marco Reus, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Kevin Großkreutz played behind Robert Lewandowski. Ilkay Gündoğan and Sven Bender formed a midfield two, and Mario Gotze was forced to watch the game in the stands as he failed to recover from an injury.

Ultimately, it was a game of two halves – Dortmund’s pressing nullified Bayern in the first, but as they tired Bayern imposed their authority on the match.

Pressing

As Juventus did for a short period of time when they met Bayern in the quarter-final stage, Dortmund pressed Bayern high up the pitch. Lewandowski and Reus prevented Boateng and Dante from pushing forward, while Großkreutz and Błaszczykowski had the same effect on Bayern’s fullbacks. Bayern struggled to play from the back, so Schweinsteiger dropped in between the two Bayern centre backs to provide them with a passing option. This created 3v2 situations, but Schweinsteiger had no passing options available – Dortmund’s fullbacks stayed tight to Bayern’s wingers, Martinez was picked up and Muller didn’t drop into midfield.

Toni Kroos has dominated this fixture this season, as the German playmaker had the tactical awareness to drop into the midfield to give Schweinsteiger and the Bayern centre backs an extra passing option. Muller on the other hand was looking to receive the ball in between the lines – Bayern struggled to get on the ball into Dortmund’s half, as they failed to play forward passes.

Bayern dropped into two banks of four when Dortmund aimed to play from the back. Muller and Mandzukic closed down Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels preventing them from coming forward to play key passes. Gündoğan had little to no impact on the match – Heynckes’ men did an excellent job in shutting down the Dortmund maestro, as he failed to play positive forward passes. Martinez and Schweinsteiger took turns closing him down in midfield, while Mandzukic pressed the German midfield when he dropped deeper.

Dortmund counter

Dortmund’s pressing was beneficial from both an offensive and defensive standpoint – they prevented Bayern from gaining a rhythm, and it allowed them to win the ball higher up the pitch in order to work quick transitions. Reus was the focal point of their attack, and he caused Bayern’s back line a few problems when he had the ball.

Considering Gündoğan was marked out of the match, Reus provided the link between midfield and attack. The German attacker dropped deep into the midfield to pick up the ball, and he ran at the Bayern defence. Reus combined well with Lewandowski, but rarely did you see him connect with the Dortmund wingers.

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Gotze and Reus have developed a strong partnership this season, that sees them play quick intricate passes amongst one another – we didn’t see much of that against Bayern.

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Although Dortmund was thriving with their quick transitions, they failed to take any of the chances they created. Dortmund had six shots in the opening 25 minutes before Bayern recorded their first shot, but Klopp’s men failed to beat Manuel Neuer when they had control of the match.

Robben’s chances

One can argue that it was meant to be for Arjen Robben. The Dutch winger made appearances off the bench for majority of the season, but was thrown into the starting lineup when Toni Kroos limped off the field against Juventus in the quarter-finals. Since then Robben has produced some fantastic displays, reminding many that on his day he’s one of the best wingers in football.

In the past Robben hasn’t taken advantage of opportunities handed to him in monumental matches, and it looked like this familiar theme would continue based on his first half outing. All three chances occurred in the final 15 minutes of the half, when Bayern gained control of the match.

Roman Weidenfeller made a good save to deny Robben on his initial chance, as the Bayern winger ran behind Marcel Schmelzer, who was tucked in due to Dortmund’s narrow shape. Muller’s pass found Robben, but he was unable to beat the Dortmund goalkeeper.

Robben and Muller combined well on the right for his second chance – Robben passed the ball to Muller, he then drifted centrally and ran behind Subotic. Muller played a delightful ball to the Bayern winger, but he was unable to create a chance or beat Weidenfeller.

Dante’s hopeful long ball created Robben’s final chance as Hummels failed to deal with the ball in the air. Robben pounced on Hummels’ error, but the Dutch winger’s shot bounced off Weidenfeller’s face.

Robben was Bayern’s danger man going forward, looking to exploit the space behind Dortmund’s back line, but the Dutch winger’s finishing let him down severely.

Bayern/Schweinsteiger grow into the match

There were two key changes in the second half – Robben and Muller swapped positions, while Dortmund’s energetic pressing eventually faded.

Dortmund was unable to sustain there pressing for the entirety of the match, while Bayern worked harder as a unit to close down Dortmund. Klopp’s men tired, and this allowed Schweinsteiger to take over the match. He began to play positive passes around the pitch, and Bayern began to demonstrate their superiority in midfield.

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Schweinsteiger controlling the tempo of the match was a problem Dortmund faced, but surprisingly it was far from their major concern. Klopp’s men slowly stopped pressing, but they still kept a high-line. So now, not only was there more space for Schweinsteiger to dictate, but there was also heaps of space for Muller and Robben to attack.

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Bayern created more chances in the second half, which ultimately led to goals.

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Robben moves centrally

I must highlight that Robben also completed his defensive duties exceptionally well, as did Ribery – throughout the tournament both men have prevented overloads and kept opposing fullbacks from having an impact on matches.

The half-time change allowed Robben to have a larger influence on the match going forward. The Dutch winger who was already drifting centrally throughout the first half, began to make diagonal runs behind the Dortmund defence or into the channels.

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Bayern’s goal started with Mandzukic chesting the ball to Robben. The Dutch striker played a pass to Ribery, made a run behind Subotic and Bender, and received a pass from the French winger, which allowed him to square the ball to Mandzukic. Robben’s second chance in the first half was similar – the only difference was Robben combined with Muller and he completed the pass to Mandzukic.

Robben nearly gave Bayern the lead, as Muller’s powerful run allowed him to latch onto a loose ball and round Weidenfeller, but Subotic cleared his pass that was squared for Robben.

The Dutch winger became provider, as he played a lovely through ball for Muller in a deeper position, but the German attacker was unable to get his shot off. Robben was Bayern’s key man going forward, and it was fitting that he got the winner with minutes to go.

Ribery held up David Alaba’s simple longball from a free kick, and back heeled it to Robben, who made a surging run from midfield – Robben skipped past challenges from Subotic and Hummels and slid the ball past Weidenfeller. Dortmund didn’t comfortably deal with Dante’s long ball in the first half, and Weidenfeller made a fortunate save to deny Robben – this time Robben kept his composure and haunted Dortmund for making the same mistake.

Conclusion

The third time was a charm for Bayern, as Heynckes’ men avenge their heartbreaking loss against Chelsea last season. Ironically they win the title in London, after losing 12 months ago to a London side at home.

Throughout this tournament, they’ve adapted to their opponents style of play, displaying their tactical flexibility and ability to cope without Kroos. Like he did at Madrid, Heynckes leaves Bayern a European champion – he’s created a side that was undoubtedly the best in Europe this season, and they’ll only get stronger under Guardiola’s wing.

Bayern improved in the second half as Dortmund tired – but Klopp’s men failing to take their chances, stem away from their high line, as well as coping with Robben was the difference maker on the night. For the second time this season in a cup competition, the Dutch winger haunts Dortmund with a moment of brilliance keeping the Bavarians on course for an historic double.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Bayern Munich 1-0 Borussia Dortmund

Match in a sentence

A moment of sheer class from Arjen Robben was the difference maker, as Bayern Munich knocked out rivals Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal quarterfinals.

Analysis

  • Jupp Heynckes opted to set his team up in their traditional 4-2-3-1 with Mario Mandzukic leading the line. Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben played out wide and Toni Kroos played behind Mandzukic. Heynckes’ midfield consisted of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez.
  • Jurgen Klopp lined his side up in a 4-3-3 with Robert Lewandowski leading the line. Mario Gotze and Marco Reus played out wide, with a midfield trio consisting of Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin Grosskreutz and Sven Bender. With Mats Hummels and Jakub Blaszczykowski missing, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Klopp add an extra man in the midfield.
  • The start of the game was equivalent to a chess match in terms of pressing. Bayern pressed the Dortmund defenders, forcing either Neven Subotic or Felipe Santana to distribute play from the back. Hummels is far superior to both men in terms of passing and that was where he was missed. Bayern’s pressing led by Mandzukic forced Dortmund to concede possession in their final third several times.
  • Dortmund on the other hand pressed Bayern’s midfield, which forced Schweinsteiger and Martinez to drop deeper than usual to start plays. Brazilian centre back Dante played a significant role when Dortmund pressed, seeing as they allowed him to string passes and get forward. This was significant because although Bayern’s midfield was unable to dictate play initially, Dante played diagonal balls out wide to Muller and Robben.
  • Klopp’s decision to play Gorsskreutz in the midfield was an attempt to stop Bayern from controlling the midfield, especially with Kroos dropping deeper to create 3v2 situations. Although, Kroos didn’t have one of his best games (credit to Bender), as the half wore on Martinez and Schweinsteiger began to grow into the game. With Reus and Gotze higher up the pitch, David Alaba and Phillip Lahm were cautious about going forward, but this left more space for Bayern’s midfield to dominate.
  • As we approached half time Bayern took the lead, courtesy of a glorious Robben finish. Marcel Schmelzer coneceded possession in his own third, and the ball fell to an unmarked Robben. The Dutch international looked up and calmly curled his shot past Roman Weidenfeller.
Robben goal. Click GIF!

Robben goal. Click GIF!

  • With Dortmund looking to get an equalizer, Bayern opted for a more cautious approach in the second half. Without the ball, they became a 4-4-2, allowing Santana to play balls from the back. It was wise seeing as he isn’t the greatest passer, but Bayern’s cautious approach allowed Gundogan to have a better second half. Gundogan dropped deeper to receive the ball and despite the pressure applied, he was able to pick passes with ease.
  • Dortmund’s midfield along with the introduction of Julian Schieber and Blaszczykowski brought more energy and promise to their attack, but they were unable to make the most of the opportunities presented.
  • It’s also key to note that Weidenfeller was superb on the night, as Bayern had several chances to increase their lead, but the German goalkeeper kept his side in the match. Brazilian defender Dante was instrumental in Bayern’s back line and he nullified Lewandowski for 90 minutes. Not only was he superb defensively, but he came close to scoring as well. It’s hard to remember a game this season where Gotze, Reus and Lewandowski were all ineffective.
  • Despite a better second half, Klopp’s tactical approach to this game was ineffective. It could be down to having a small squad or fatigue, but today’s performance reminded us why Bayern are 17 points clear of their rivals. Along with an inconsistent season, Dortmund has struggled to challenge on three fronts, and this cup exit will surely leave Klopp and his men focused on European glory.
  • The Bavarians have finally conquered Dortmund, defeating them for the first time in their last six attempts. It was a great performance from the league leaders, and it goes to show that their summer acquisitions have paid off. In terms of depth and quality Bayern is the superior side, and their dominant performance today displayed that. This win ensures that Bayern has a legitimate chance of not only winning a league double, but also a potential treble in May.

Three Stars

1.    Dante

2.    Bastian Schweinsteiger

3.    Roman Weidenfeller

Tyrrell Meertins

Follow @TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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