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AC Milan 2-2 Roma

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Milan came from behind twice to earn a draw against Roma.

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Max Allegri made two changes to the side that drew Ajax in the Champions League, as Urby Emanuelson and Andrea Poli were included in the starting eleven.

Rudi Garcia also made two changes to the starting eleven that defeated Fiorentina last weekend. Michael Bradley replaced the suspended Miralem Pjanic, while Mattia Destro was selected over Alessandro Florenzi.

This was far from a tactical spectacle – Roma took the lead twice, but individual errors, and Allegri’s substitution’s earned Milan a valuable point.

Pressing

Both sides approached the match in different manners when the opposition secured possession, which contributed to Roma’s early dominance. Milan replicated the approach used against Ajax in midweek – Mario Balotelli and Kaka closed down the Roma defenders, while Sulley Muntari and Riccardo Montolivo pushed out wide to press the fullbacks.

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However, there was more emphasis on limiting Maicon’s freedom to push forward, as Muntari successfully nullified his attacking threat.

On the opposing end, Roma occasionally pressed high up the pitch in the early moments, but for the most part, they allowed Milan’s centre backs space to play out of the back.

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Roma opted to press the midfield, and limit their impact on the match, thus leading to Allegri’s men conceding possession in the opening minutes.

Yet, there was a common feat in regards to the way both sides pressed.

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Neither side focused on pressing the holding midfielder, thus handing Nigel De Jong and Daniele De Rossi the freedom to string passes together. This benefited Milan, as De Rossi struggled to grab a stranglehold of the match, whereas De Jong periodically dictated the tempo and triggered attacks. There was no surprise that both men were the most proficient passers in the match.

1-0

Based on Roma’s dominance in the opening period, there was no surprise that they took the lead. But, once again, we witness a goal created because half space was penetrated efficiently – similar to Walcott and Hazard’s goal this weekend.

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The space behind Zapata is the half space Ljajic plays the ball into.

Dodo intercepted Mattia De Sciglio’s pass and surged forward, evading De Jong’s pass before playing the ball out wide to Adem Ljajic. Ljajic drifted centrally and played the ball into half space for Strootman to latch onto.

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Strootman attacked the half space to receive the ball and delivered a cross into the six-yard box, and Destro tapped in Roma’s opener.

Emanuelson

Roma admirably pressed Milan’s midfield in the first half, which led to their slow start, but as the half wore on, Allegri’s men located an additional route of attack.

One of the issues Roma endured in the first half was protection for Maicon. Occasionally, Bradley would tuck in and prevent Milan from overloading the right flank, but for the most part, Ljajic and Gervinho failed to track back.

Majority of Milan’s attacks in the first half were off swift transitions led by Kaka.

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The Brazilian often drifted into key positions to receive the ball, and played quick passes to the left side of the pitch. This was down to Maicon’s narrow positioning, Roma’s lack of numbers at the back, and belief that Emanuelson could get the better of the Brazilian in 1v1 situations.

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Emanuelson’s ambitious runs into Roma’s third pegged Maicon back, and his delivery from wide areas were somewhat threatening. Specifically, his ability to drift past Bradley and Maicon, forced Morgan De Sanctis to make a key save, which led to the corner that Roma conceded from.

Emanuelson’s threat down the left was significant in the first half, as majority of Milan’s attacking threat came through him.

Roma break down the left

Garcia’s men started the second half in fine fashion – they enjoyed their best moments in the opening 15 minutes of the half, but were unable to put the match out of reach. The recurring theme in those opening minutes was exploiting the space behind De Sciglio.

The Milan fullback lacked positional discipline for large portions of the match, and he was a liability from a defensive standpoint.

  • 48th min: Poli’s poor back heel falls to Bradley, who pushes forward and plays a long ball into the left channel for Destro to run onto. Destro holds off Zapata, turns him, and plays the ball to Bradley, who finds Maicon, but Zapata cleared his cross.

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  • 49th min: Subsequently, Strootman picks up a loose ball and plays in Gervinho down the left flank, but Gabriel jumps off his line and commits a reckless challenge in the box, to earn Garcia’s men a penalty – which Strootman converted.

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  • 54th min: Dodo dispossessed De Sciglio and played Gervinho forward into open space on the left flank. Gervinho drove at the Milan defence but his ball to Ljajic was intercepted.
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Ljajic begins his run at half as Gervinho attacks the space behind De Sciglio.

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This is the end of Ljajic’s run as Gervinho plays him in.

  • 58th min: Dodo intercepts Balotelli’s final ball, and plays a pass to Gervinho in acres of space on the left. The Ivorian attacks Zapata, and Ljajic makes a run behind him and receives a disguising pass. Ljajic plays the ball across the box to Gervinho, but Emanuelson makes a lovely tackle to prevent a shot.

Milan pushed higher up the pitch in the second half, but this provided Roma with space to penetrate on the counter, however Garcia’s men were poor in the final third.

Roma change

Garcia made a pivotal player swap in the 63rd minute by sacrificing Destro for Francesco Totti – who appeared for the first time since October. This change played a significant factor in Roma’s dominance, and it allowed Milan some breathing space.

It’s undeniable that Totti is arguably Roma’s best attacker, but Destro’s contribution to the match provided Roma with the platform to threaten Milan in wide areas. Destro’s physical presence occupied the two centrebacks, while Totti often drifted into midfield.

During the final half hour, Allegri’s fullbacks were cautious with their forward movement, and Milan’s centrebacks sat deep – so Totti’s movement didn’t drag Milan’s backline out of position. Suddenly there was no space for Roma to penetrate out wide, and their centre backs were rarely tested.

4-3-1-2

Allegri reacted quickly to Garcia’s decision to introduce Totti. Alessandro Matri replaced Poli, and Milan became 4-3-1-2 with Kaka roaming behind the two strikers.

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Allegri goes 4-3-1-2 allowing Kaka freedom in the final third.

Now, Milan competed in midfield, and Balotelli had more freedom to drop deeper and link play. Prior to Matri’s inclusion, Balotelli struggled against the two Roma centrebacks, but Allegri’s switch allowed the Italian striker freedom in attack.

Roma’s midfielders became sloppy in possession, and lost control of the match, as Montolivo and Muntari constantly closed them down and broke into tackles.

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Eventually, Milan gained control of the midfield, Balotelli became a more prominent figure, and Kaka roamed around the final third with a purpose.

Kaka

The Brazilian was the most influential Milan player on the pitch. In the first half he was restricted to the left flank, but he drifted centrally to receive the ball and initiate quick counter attacks.

However, when Allegri went 4-3-1-2 he was given more freedom to express himself. The one key component to his success against Roma was his positional awareness. Kaka dropped deeper into midfield to help build attacks, located pockets of space effortlessly, and drifted from flank to flank to link play with the fullbacks.

Kaka was the lynchpin behind Milan’s best chances in the final 15 minutes of the match. His nonchalant run into the final third, led to Balotelli laying the ball off to Muntari, who dropped his shoulder, bet Dodo, and levelled the match. While, his incisive penetrating ball into Montolivo, led to Balotelli’s spurned opportunity in injury time.

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This isn’t the Kaka the world grew to adore, but Allegri’s tactical change surely provided glimpses of his brilliance.

Conclusion

Roma have been brilliant over the course of the season, but their overachievement has led to a sense of complacency. By no means did they produce an outstanding performance, but they were the superior side for large portions of the match, and failed to take their chances – frankly, it’s been a recurring theme in their last five or six matches.

As for Milan, although they dropped points, this was still a positive result. They showcased their resilience, and Allegri’s changes ignited a late resurgence that should’ve led to three points. In hindsight, while Milan can use this as a confidence boost heading into the derby, Roma’s dropped points sees Juventus extend their lead at the top of the table to five points.

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Posted by on December 17, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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AC Milan 3-0 PSV

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AC Milan advanced to the Champions League group stage with a convincing victory against a young PSV side.

Massimiliano Allegri made one change to his lineup that featured in the first leg, introducing Mattia De Sciglio at left back for Urby Emanuelson. Besides that, Allegri stuck with his traditional 4-3-3 that saw Mario Balotelli lead the line, alongside Kevin-Prince Boateng and Stephan El Shaarawy – while Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel de Jong and Sulley Muntari formed a midfield three.

Phillip Cocu made no changes to the side that earned a draw in last week’s first leg showdown. Tim Matavz led the line, with Memphis Depay and Park Ji-Sung on the flanks, while Adam Maher, Stijn Schaars and Georginio Wijnaldum formed a midfield three.

PSV started the match well, but Milan’s experience proved to be vital against a young side that lacked penetration.

Pressing

Similar to the first leg, PSV’s energy and will to attack, allowed the Dutch side to start the match brightly. Cocu’s men had a fair amount of possession, but they looked dangerous when they didn’t have the ball. PSV pressed Milan higher up the pitch when the Italian side played the ball from the back, forcing them to concede possession or clear their lines. Considering Milan’s centre backs aren’t great on the ball, it was a logical plan – Cocu wanted his men to win the ball in Milan’s final third, but also keep the Italians away from their net. Milan were keen to get the ball wide, so Park and Depay closed down the Milan fullbacks, while Jetro Willems and Joshua Brenet got tight to the Milan wide men, further up the pitch.

Milan’s pressing was less rigorous, but it worked to fruition and led to Boateng’s opener, in the ninth minute. Opposed to pressing higher up the pitch, Milan worked hard to win the ball, when they conceded possession in their final third. They hounded PSV’s inexperienced side relentlessly, which made up for their lack of creativity, as they constantly won the ball in key areas.

Milan’s shape

Milan went through large portions of the match without the ball, but they were content without possession. They often dropped into a 4-5-1 with El Shaarawy and Boateng tucking infield – Milan covered spaces well as a unit, and nullified activity between the lines. Boateng and El Shaarawy worked hard tracking back to prevent potential overloads, while the midfield (de Jong and Montolivo) made a total of eight interceptions throughout the match.

For all the possession Cocu’s men had, they were often in deep positions. PSV’s wingers failed to find space between the lines when drifting centrally and they were unable to get in behind the Milan back line, due to the lack of penetration.

Milan’s shape defensively was superb – their midfield trio was compact and organized, which proved to be difficult for the young Dutch side to break down.

Midfield battle

One of the distinct elements in the match was the midfield battle, due to both sides playing identical systems. Milan thrived in this aspect due to their solid shape, leaving PSV’s midfield trio frustrated. Montolivo tracked Maher’s movement in advanced areas – more so to the left – Muntari was keen on lunging into tackles when Wijnaldum pushed forward, while De Jong stepped higher up the pitch to press Schaars. PSV’s midfield three offered no substantial threat in Milan’s final third, often taking shots from 25 yards out, due to their inability to play penetrating passes between the lines or get behind the Milan defence.

De Jong was one of the top players on the night – defensively he was superb, but his safe, reliable passing set the tempo for Milan’s attack. Despite the early pressure, Milan’s midfield was able to play passes freely into wide areas, and unlike the Dutch side, they played passes between the lines – Boateng received a pass between the lines from midfield, which led to his opener.

The match was relatively tight in the first half, but Milan’s dominance on both ends in midfield, merited their lead.

Overlaps

A constant theme in the first half was Milan’s aim to attack the right side. Depay wasn’t providing Willems protection, thus allowing Milan to create overlaps. Boateng drifted into central positions on numerous occasions, which allowed Abate to push forward and deliver crosses. Allegri’s intent to isolate Willems was evident, and Milan nearly took the lead when Montolivo attacked a large gap of space, due to Boateng’s movement, but the Italian midfielder fired is shot inches wide of the post.

Milan’s successful overlaps wasn’t decisive in the result, but it was one of the various outlets Allegri’s men used when going forward, getting them into dangerous positions in the final third.

Balotelli

Balotelli had himself arguably his breakout match in Europe, despite this only being a qualifier. The Italian striker displayed why many around the world are so fond of the abilities he possesses. Balotelli scored the second goal of the night, putting the tie out of reach, and although the significance of the goal was high, the Milan striker was imperious in other aspects.

One of the key traits in Balotelli’s game is his ability to turn on either foot when holding up the ball. This adds an unpredictable element to Balotelli’s game, leaving defenders questioning how to defend him, without committing a foul. The Milan striker used his brute strength to hold up the ball and bring his midfield towards him, as they sat relatively sat deep throughout the match – but his vision to link play with galloping wingers and fullbacks was exceptional. Albeit being booked for committing a cynical foul, Balotelli led the press well, and during the second half, he dropped deeper to help Milan sustain their shape.

We don’t get to see Balotelli play at this level often, but it’s evident that he’s capable of doing so, and these European nights may be beneficial to the Italian striker, who intends on being one of the best players in the world.

Second half

PSV started the second half in fine fashion, and nearly equalized when Depay delivered a cross to Wijnaldum, but Abbiati saved the Dutch midfielder’s shot from five yards out. Cocu made a tactical change introducing Florian Jozefzoon for Park, who in fairness had a quiet outing. Jozefzoon’s direct threat was what Cocu felt his side needed, and the Dutch attacker constantly tried to get the better of De Scigilo, but the Italian full back handled the situation superbly.

Abbiati had little work to do, compared to the first half, where he had to make a few key stops from distance. The second half lacked any significant themes – Milan sat deeper and deeper as the match wore on, keeping their 4-5-1 shape intact and PSV’s midfield didn’t provide creativity, penetration or the final ball needed to create clear-cut opportunities.

Conclusion

Milan’s defensive approach nullified PSV’s attack, whereas on the attacking end, their superiority in midfield, along with being clinical in front of goal, proved to be vital.

PSV’s young side held their own against Allegri’s men, but their main strength in midfield was cancelled out. Conceding goals in the opening nine minutes of each half, despite good starts, also didn’t play into their hands. Whether they can replicate last year’s success this season is indecisive, but this is a great lesson for the several young players in Cocu’s side who aim to move abroad in the near future.

Allegri’s men were a class above their Dutch opponents on the night – Balotelli’s mature display, the midfield trio’s ability to nullify and expose PSV, along with the standout outings from Abbiati and De Sciglio, all led to an impressive Milan performance. While they do enter the Champions League group stage, failure to strengthen the midfield and defence, could harm them later on in the tournament. In hindsight, their key men rose to the occasion, and will need to do so throughout the season, if they intend on challenging for trophies.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Brazil prove to be the REAL winners at the Confederations Cup

Brazil claimed their fourth Confederations Cup title with a convincing victory of World champions Spain.

It was a result many would have never predicted and it left football fans around the world with hope that Spain can be knocked off their perch. More so, the much-maligned Confederations Cup that takes place every four years, one prior to the World Cup, went against the cliché of being a pointless tournament.

Over the past two weeks, we have witnessed high quality football matches – the three matches featuring football minnows Tahiti were blowouts, yet even the small nation with a population of approximately 267,000 people gave us something to cheer about. A tournament consisting of Brazil, Italy and Spain was never going to disappoint, and although it looked certain that these sides would finish in the top three, it was never guaranteed.

This tournament was always going to be a great chance for Brazil and Italy to establish themselves as contenders for next years World Cup, while Spain was looking to covet the one trophy that has eluded them during their phenomenal five-year run – but the key question that needs to be raised is did these teams achieve their goals? And who was the real winner over the past two weeks?

Italy

Cesare Prandelli has done a remarkable job in transforming the identity of the Azzuri since taking over the Italian side. Reaching the European final last year was a fantastic achievement, but the Italians have taken a few steps back over the past 12 months. Prandelli’s obsession with a possession-based system has been no secret, and the Italian has been keen on playing in a 4-3-2-1.

The importance of dominating the midfield has become essential, and a midfield containing Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi is more than capable of achieving success. Surprisingly, besides the opening game against Mexico, the midfield trio failed to impress – they struggled against Japan, missed the Brazil match and were better against Spain, due to their lack of pressure.

Despite his mediocre displays for Roma, Daniele De Rossi has once again rose to the occasion under Prandelli – his ability to break up play, drop deeper to provide another passing outlet, spray positive forward and diagonal passes and getting forward to provide the final ball and score goals, displays why he’s one of the top midfielder’s in world football.

Along with De Rossi’s star performances, Mario Balotelli also demonstrated that he has the qualities to be a top striker at the international level. The AC Milan striker’s presence was missed in Italy’s final two games, as he played an integral role in the Azzuri’s attack. Balotelli’s ability to hold up the ball and turn on either side, along with his brute strength to shrug off defenders was key – it’s also key to highlight the two goals scored in three games played, one being a winner against Mexico.

Prandelli will also be pleased with Emanuele Giaccherini and Antonio Candreva – both men showcased their tactical discipline and awareness throughout the tournament. Giaccherini linked play with the Italian striker, got into dangerous areas throughout the final third, and his versatility to play in a wingback role against Spain was pivotal.

Candreva was the odd man out prior to the tournament, but injuries and suspensions earned the Lazio winger a place in the starting lineup, and he failed to disappoint. His performance against Spain was memorable – he sat back to protect Maggio, and on the attack he would drift centrally to receive the ball, along with relentlessly attacking Jordi Alba. Prandelli’s dilemma in finding suitable floater’s to play in his 4-3-2-1 may be solved with the emergence of Giaccherini and Candreva.

Surprisingly, Italy’s weakness throughout the tournament was their defence – the days of scoring a goal and defending deep as a unit may have past us. In five games, the Italians conceded 10 goals, keeping only one clean sheet against Spain. The Juventus trio in Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli looked comfortable playing in a back three, opposed to a back four, where they left large gaps available and made several errors.

Gianluigi Buffon patched up a few blemishes throughout the tournament with the three penalty saves he made in the third – place penalty shootout, but the errors made should never be overlooked. Like the Juventus centrebacks, Buffon looked a shadow of himself, and although it’s certain he’ll be in Brazil next year, questions must be posed on whether he should be Italy’s starting keeper for the future. With more games under his belt, Mattia De Sciglio has the potential to be a top-class left back in the near future, while Prandelli still faces issues on the right side. Ignazio Abate hasn’t been consistent enough, while Christian Maggio continues to thrive in a wingback role, but is a liability in a fullback position.

Some positives have come out of Italy’s Confederations Cup campaign, but Prandelli shouldn’t let their third place finish overshadow the issues that need to be addressed over the next 12 months. Prandelli has yet to find the perfect starting 11 for his 4-3-2-1 that he seems keen on playing in – but the Italians have displayed their tactical versatility to play in multiple systems, which is key at this level. If the Italians can address these issues heading into Brazil, there’s no reason why Italy shouldn’t be in contention to lift their fifth World Cup.

Spain

Out of the three contenders in this tournament, Spain looked to be the closest thing to complete. Del Bosque was disappointed to hear that Xabi Alonso would be unavailable for the entirety of the tournament – handing Javi Martinez, arguably the best player in that position this season, a chance to play in the double pivot with Sergio Busquets. Another surprise was the squad selection – many were expecting Del Bosque to select a younger squad, so the first-team could finally get a well-deserved rest, but to also implement a few fresh faces. Spain failed to lift the Confederations Cup, once again losing by a large margin – but unlike their 2-0 loss to the Americans in 2009, this time Del Bosque’s men were thoroughly out played.

Del Bosque stuck with a 4-3-3 throughout the tournament – Spain was now fluid in attack and creating more chances – but they were vulnerable to quick direct counter attacks. The reason why Del Bosque introduced the double-pivot upon his arrival was to prevent the likeliness of Spain being carved open on the counter – this made his decision to keep Javi Martinez on the bench peculiar. With Jordi Alba being one of Spain’s main attacking threats, this left del Bosque with three defenders and Sergio Busquets – Gerard Pique has declined over the past year, Alvaro Arbeloa a generally decent defender had a shocking tournament, leaving Sergio Ramos as their only competent defender.

This forced Spain to defend cautiously, along with the high temperatures and fatigue issues during the latter stages of the tournament. Nevertheless, Diego Forlan found space behind Busquets in the opener, Nigeria was allowed space in midfield to penetrate when Spain dropped into their shape, Italy nullified Jordi Alba’s threat by cleverly attacking the Spanish fullback and Brazil’s explosive direct counter attacks exposed del Bosque’s men. Del Bosque stuck with the 4-3-3, but it left Spain exposed, and the heat, along with the span between games hindered their chances of being successful in this tournament.

Another key factor was the injury of Cesc Fabregas – the Barcelona midfielder has finally secured a starting role, and was a key loss to la Roja. Fabregas provided Spain’s attack with an extra reliable passer/passing option, and his ability to find space between the lines was key. He was positioned narrow to allow Alba to surge forward, but he often linked play with Pedro Rodriguez, and got into advanced positions from midfield. His overall presence was integral to Spain’s fluidity going forward, which could have played a part in Spain failing to score in their final two games.

Spain has an abundance of world-class midfielders, but del Bosque has struggled to implement his top-class midfielders in Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata into the side. Both midfielders have struggled to adapt to Spain’s tiki-taka approach, often playing more direct balls, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s affected the balance and fluidity in the side – with the decline of David Villa and Fernando Torres, along with del Bosque not fancying Roberto Soldado, the balls provided from Cazorla and Mata haven’t been needed.

Is tiki-taka dead? Has Spain’s dominance come to an end? Both questions can’t be answered with full confidence, but it’s key to note that these same questions were posed after Spain’s defeat to the Americans four years ago – then they went on to win the World Cup and the Euro Cup two years later.

“I won’t make excuses – they were better than us and that is that. Sometimes it’s convenient to lose so you don’t think you’re unbeatable.” – Vicente del Bosque

Del Bosque’s decisions were stubborn, and he ignored the deficiencies that his side possessed – similar to Tito Vilanova’s situation against Bayern Munich this year, albeit Vilanova’s bench was much weaker. Based on the past, Spain should still enter Brazil in 2014 as favourites, but del Bosque will need to make some alterations to his system – preferably playing with a double pivot – if Spain intend on winning their second consecutive World Cup.

Brazil

Luiz Felipe Scolari had many critics to silence ahead of his second stint with the Brazilian national team. Scolari inherited a side that had failed to impress over the past 24 months, failing to make an impact in the Copa America, along with the loss to Mexico in the Olympics last year. In a nation where expectations are so high, Scolari had to not only convince his side that they were winners, but the fans as well.

One of Brazil’s main strength’s going into 2014 is their defence, which could explain why they only conceded three goals throughout the entire tournament. They relied on direct play from their fullbacks, David Luiz’ reliable passing out of the back and the leadership of Thiago Silva. Surprisingly, it was the offence that needed to be ironed out, as there were many questions about Brazil’s tactical discipline and awareness. Nevertheless, three of Brazil’s front four were superb – Oscar moved into pockets of space to receive and play incisive passes, Neymar showcased the talent he possesses scoring four remarkable goals and Fred’s ability to link play with the attacking three, along with leading the press was vital.

Scolari made one change to his starting lineup during the tournament, when Hernanes started ahead of an injured Paulinho. It was shocking to see Hulk start in all five matches based on his form and the fact that Lucas Moura was available – a player that offers more pace, danger in the final third, and has a higher tactical IQ than the Zenit St. Petersburg player. Brazil developed a perfect blend of defence and attack in their starting line up, and Scolari displayed his ability to make tactical alterations in matches – specifically against Uruguay.

Although, Brazil won all five matches, there are still some questions to pose. Brazil’s ability to take over games once their opponents settle has yet to be seen, and there was a heavy reliance on players such as Neymar and Oscar – Scolari can get away with a small bench here, but he’ll need to rotate throughout the World Cup and be able to cope if one of the aforementioned players is sidelined.

On the other hand, they scored 14 goals in five games, conceding four, and finished the tournament unbeaten. Scolari was able to find cohesion between midfield and attack, building a potential starting 11, which showcased his sides tactical flexibility. Brazil have been here before, but have failed to replicate their success the following year, and Scolari will need to do so if he wants to mark his reign as a successful one.

Conclusion

We now sit 12 months away from arguably the biggest tournament on the planet, and three potential contenders have showcased their progress thus far. Italy’s tactical versatility, Spain’s fluid attack and Brazil’s energetic starts were positive – but defensive errors, naivety in tactical changes, and failure to take over matches will be one of many flaws to fine-tune.

“Now I am able to dream that we have an idea, that we have a path ahead of us, and that we have a good team to play in the World Cup next year as equals with other strong contenders.” – Luiz Felipe Scolari

“But as far as the team is concerned, one thing that is important is that in the last 30 days we have beaten four former or current world champions: France, Uruguay, Italy and Spain,” Scolari said.

“We are a team still being formed, facing a lot of difficulties and I think this win upgrades the team, giving us more confidence. It’s something that will make us play in a different way,” he said.

Nevertheless, although no team has ever won the World Cup after a Confederations Cup triumph, Scolari’s men were the real winners over the past two weeks.

They found a distinct balance in skill, power and tactical awareness – luckily for the other 31 teams, a lot can change in 12 months.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2013 in FIFA

 

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AC Milan 1-1 Napoli

Two first half goals in the span of four minutes, saw Napoli share a point with 10-man Milan, as they remain four points clear of the Rossonieri for second place.

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Walter Mazzarri made one change to his side that defeated Genoa last weekend. Juan Zuniga replaced Pablo Armero as a wingback in Mazzarri’s 3-5-2. Edinson Cavani and Goran Pandev played as strikers while Marek Hamsik, Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili and Christian Maggio made up the midfield five.

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Massimiliano Allegri made three changes to the side that gave up a two-goal lead against Fiorentina last week. Milan played in their traditional 4-3-3, which saw Giampaolo Pazzini replace the suspended Mario Balotelli, Robinho started over Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin Constant was chosen over Mattia De Sciglio. The main headline going into this match was whether El Shaarawy was fit or if Allegri didn’t want to risk him getting booked, in which he’d be suspended for next week’s clash against Juventus.

Shape

Milan had the ball for majority of the first half, and this forced Napoli to drop into a 5-3-2. Mazzarri’s men stood off and allowed Milan to dictate the match, and sacrificed the wings, so that Milan wouldn’t find space in between the lines. Ignazio Abate was a key outlet throughout the game, as he often got forward, and delivered a few crosses into the box. Boateng drifting centrally, also played a factor, and the Ghanaian midfielder had a few chances to put the Rossonieri ahead in the opening minutes, but was denied by Morgan De Sanctis.

When Milan didn’t have the ball, they’d press the Napoli midfield, and drop into a 4-5-1. The wingers occasionally tracked back to help their defenders, but Boateng did a poor job with his defensive duties, which led to Napoli’s equalizer.

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Hamsik and Zuniga combine as Boateng fails to trackback

Boateng came off injured in the 37th minute, and M’Baye Niang’s introduction balanced their 4-5-1 as he tracked phenomenally. Niang’s introduction halted the impact Zuniga and Hamsik were having on the left flank.

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Hamsik and Zuniga fail to combine once Niang replaces Boateng

Flamini vs Hamsik

This was the main battle in the first half, which like the score line, ended in a draw. Both men had great opening halves, and they were both involved in the only goals of the match. Flamini made forward runs occasionally, which eventually led to his goal, when he ran past Hamsik and fired a loose ball past De Sanctis. With Flamini moving forward, Hamsik had to be disciplined, and he was pegged back, which affected Napoli’s counter attack if it didn’t initially go through the Slovakian midfielder.

Due to Boateng staying higher up the pitch, Hamsik was able to connect with Zuniga and push forward up the field. There was no surprise that Hamsik was involved with the goal, Zuniga and Hamsik combined yet again as Hamsik ran past Flamini and the Slovakian midfielder played in Pandev who equalized from six yards out. Hamsik and Flamini played decisive roles in the goals, but faded away in the second half.

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Flamini/Hamsik’s passes

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Hamsik and Flamini ineffective once Napoli equalized

Montolivo

The Italian has been the focal point of Milan’s midfield since arriving at the club, playing as a regista. Montolivo has made an impact in this hardworking Milan midfield, and usually when Montolivo has a good game, the Rossonieri win. Montolivo enjoyed the opening 30 minutes of the match, as Napoli insisted on allowing the midfielder time on the ball.

Montolivo connected with Abate, as the Italian fullback was his main outlet, and this resulted in several crosses played in.

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Once Napoli fell behind, Mazzarri encouraged Pandev and a few of his teammates, to get closer to Montolivo. The closer they got to the Italian midfielder the less of an impact he had, and to no surprise, Montolivo completed more passes in his opening 30 minutes, compared to the entire match.

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Montolivo’s impact on the match prior/after Milan’s goal

Second half

There was no tactical adjustments at half-time and the game proceeded in the same pattern. Both sides sat off and allowed the centre backs to spread passes across the pitch, as midfielders were being pressed. Milan had most of the possession, but was unable to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

Milan was unable to provide penetrating passes or spark any creativity in the final third, and Napoli was happy to soak up pressure, and break on the counter. Both sides struggled in front of goal and it was down to the lack of service to the strikers.

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Pazzini failed to get a shot on target, while Abbiati grabbed Cavani’s one chance. Cavani and Pazzini were isolated, as both sides struggled to create a link between the midfield and strikers.

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Substitutions

Mazzarri made straight swaps by introducing Lorenzo Insigne for Pandev and Armero for Hamsik. Armero nearly earned Napoli three points, but his injury time shot was saved by Abbiati, while Insigne did a better job linking with the midfield and Cavani.

The match turned on its head in the 72nd minute, when Flamini was sent off for a dangerous challenge on Zuniga. El Shaarawy replaced Robinho, while Emanuele Calaio replaced Maggio. Mazzarri introduced another striker, while Allegri brought on El Shaarawy, who’s capable of tracking back and defending, as well as breaking on the counter.

Milan’s final change was another player swap, as De Sciglio came on for Constant. The changes didn’t have any significance to the match, nor were their any changes of shape. Napoli pressed efficiently when Milan were down to 10 men, forcing them to concede possession easily, but Mazzarri’s men failed to take the lead. Calaio also came close to winning the game in injury time, but his header flew wide of the net.

Conclusion

Two moments of brilliance keep Napoli four points ahead of Milan for the final automatic Champions League spot. It was a dull encounter, which saw both sides create few chances, but leaves Mazzarri the happier of managers.

With Juventus away next week, Milan will be looking to stay on pace with Napoli, as Fiorentina is lurking over their shoulder.

Three Stars

  1. Ignazio Abate
  2. Juan Zuniga
  3. Paolo Cannavaro

Tyrrell Meertins

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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Inter Milan 1-1 AC Milan

Match in a sentence

AC Milan fail to increase the gap between themselves and city rivals Inter Milan, as Andrea Stramaccioni’s half time changes earned his side a valuable point in the Derby della Madonnina.

Analysis

  • Stramaccioni fielded his side in a 4-4-2 with Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio leading the line. Fredy Guarin and Ricky Alvarez played on the flanks, while Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Gargano marshaled the midfield.
  • Fresh off their historic 2-0 win against Barcelona, Massimiliano Allegri opted to go with a 4-3-3. Mario Balotelli led the line with Stephane El Shaarawy and Kevin-Prince Boateng on the flanks. Allegri’s midfield three consisted of Riccardo Montolivo, Sulley Muntari and Antonio Nocerino.
  • Inter was looking to bounce back from a 4-1 drubbing by Fiorentina last week, but unfortunately for Stramaccioni’s men, the onslaught on Inter continued. Milan mirrored Fiorentina’s approach in attacking Inter by targeting Inter’s right hand side. El Shaarawy’s movement and diagonal runs dragged Yuto Nagatomo central, literally making him a third centreback. This was key because it allowed Montolivo and Muntari to play balls to the advancing Mattia De Sciglio. De Sciglio provided width to Milan’s play and created several chances, because Guarin was unable to track his runs.
  • Another narrative in the half was the space in between the lines. Inter’s midfield two in Cambiasso and Gargano were forced to pressure Milan’s midfield three, and with Inter’s backline failing to get forward, that left space for players like Balotelli to drop into. Inter was vulnerable to overloads not only on the left hand side, but also in the midfield. Boateng would occasionally drift into the midfield and in between the lines, which allowed Milan to take control of the game.
  • The space available in between the lines was key to Milan’s opening goal. Cristian Zapata dispossessed Cassano, and Boateng was able to pick up the ball in between the lines. Boateng then played in El Shaarawy, who precisely slotted his shot past a superb Handanovic.
  • Milan frankly should’ve been a few goals up, because they were by far the superior side. Unfortunately, the Rossonieri ran into a hot goalkeeper by the name of Samir Handanovic. Handanovic made three fantastic saves on Balotelli, to deny Milan the opportunity to increase their lead.
  • It was a disappointing half from Inter, and Stramaccioni’s only change was to go back to his initial setup, which meant Javier Zanetti and Nagatomo swapped flanks. The change nullified Milan’s main threat in the first half, which was De Sciglio’s width. It also allowed Nagatomo to get forward, and provide width.
  • In the 68th minute, Stramaccioni brought on Ezequiel Schelotto to play out wide and he pushed Guarin into the midfield. Three minutes later Stamaccioni was rewarded as Schelotto met Nagatomo’s cross, and Christian Abbiati could only watch it soar into the net. Prior to the goal Inter looked threatening as Guarin was drifting centrally, linking up with Cassano. Milan despite controlling possession was flat in the second half, as fatigue began to kick in.
  • Inter dropped into a 4-1-4-1 pushing Palacio out wide and introducing Zdravko Kuzmanovic to sit deep. Stramaccioni’s side attacked with caution as Milan continued to dictate the game in terms of possession. Both sides had chances to claim a winner late on, but were unsuccessful.
  • It was a game of two halves that saw Milan dominate a first half, where they frankly should’ve been up by a few goals. Stramaccioni’s side came out aggressive and motivated in the second half, and the Italian gaffer’s changes paid off to earn his side a valuable point. Handanovic’s saves proved to be vital, but Milan wasn’t clinical in front of goal and that gave Inter a lifeline.
  • Both sides seemed fatigued after midweek fixtures in Europe, but out of the two sides, Inter should be worried. The race for a Champions League spot might go down to the wire this season as the gap between 3rd-8th place is five points. Failure to stay consistent during this final stretch of the season will be crucial if these sides intend on playing in Europe’s elite competition next year.

Three Stars

1.    Samir Handanovic

2.    Stephane El Shaarawy

3.    Riccardo Montolivo

Honourable mention to Mattia De Sciglio

Tyrrell Meertins

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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Tyrrell’s EPL Weekend Recap – Contenders make a statement

Weekend in 100 words or less

Many sports fans were THANKFUL for the large supply of quality matches available this weekend. We had El Clasico, Brady vs. Manning, the Milan derby, Le Classique, Porto vs. Sporting and the MLB playoffs to keep us busy, as we digested our turkey dinners here in Canada. On top of these monumental sporting events, both Manchester clubs gave us a taste of why many have them as clear favourites to win the Premier League title. Fergie’s tactical alignment brought the best out of Wayne Rooney, Mikel Arteta passed Arsenal to another win and Chelsea’s front three were great again.

Analysis

  • United dismantle Newcastle, Rooney superb– Manchester United lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond without any natural wingers and produced their best performance of the season. A year ago the midfield of Carrick/Giggs were run ragged by Tiote and Cabaye which led Ferguson to call back Paul Scholes. It’s evident Fergie learned from his mistakes as United’s emphasis was on taking control of the middle and keeping possession. The choice to play a midfield diamond paid off, as Carrick, Cleverley and Rooney were outstanding. They dominated the likes of Jonas, Tiote and Cabaye with the extra man in midfield as they always had an open Rooney to pass the ball to. Rooney played behind Van Persie and Welbeck, Cleverley advanced to the left, Kagawa to the right and Carrick was the holder. The width came from Evra & Rafael and this adjustment led Manchester United to an impressive performance at St. James Park. United started this game hungry, and they were ruthless in front of goal. United won the game in the first twenty minutes in which they had 78% possession and two goals courtesy of some abysmal defending from the Newcastle back line. Evans lost Williamson and nodded home the first goal and seven minutes later Evra added to the lead, as Demba Ba was unable to mark the United skipper. Albeit some goal line controversy, United were the better side for large portions of this match. The back four looked solid for the first time this season as they sat deeper and Wayne Rooney was immense. Rooney was all over the pitch, dropping deep to defend when Alan Pardew switched to a 4-5-1, getting into great areas to provide a passing outlet, picking balls across the field, starting attacks and he was rewarded with two assists. The win puts United in second place, and if they continue to produce performances like this or better, then it’ll only be a matter of time before they sit on top of the Premier League.

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  • City cruise past woeful Sunderland – City bounced back from a lethargic performance midweek, and made seven changes to their lineup that gave Martin O’Neil’s side their first loss of the season. This Sunderland side was the opposite of the one that nearly beat City at the Ethiad last season. They couldn’t keep possession and if it weren’t for goalkeeper Simon Mignolet’s great performance the score line could’ve been worse. A superb free kick from Kolarov seven minutes in put City ahead, but they failed to really dictate the game until the second half. It was when Mario Balotelli (who I thought was decent) was substituted in the 55th minute for Sergio Aguero. Balotelli wasn’t happy with the change and stormed straight to the tunnel, but Mancini’s change was the right one as Aguero scored five minutes after his arrival. Aguero’s presence changed the game as he linked up with those around him better and his movement off the ball caused more problems for the Sunderland defence. Milner added a late free kick to cement three points and City’s first clean sheet of the season. It was the result/performance we’ve been waiting to see from City, as Mancini finally let the shackles off his men.
  • Goals galore see Chelsea stay top of the table – Chelsea, like Manchester City stayed unbeaten this weekend, as they blitzed Norwich City 4-1. Chelsea started off shaky in the opening 20 minutes as Grant Holt was having his way with the Chelsea back line. Chris Hughton’s side deployed two narrow banks of four when defending and looked to hoof the ball up to Holt so he can hold it up when they won possession. Holt did a great job, but as his teammates tired, Hughton’s plan slowly became ineffective. Unfortunately for Norwich, their abysmal defence had no answers for Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar. Chelsea comfortably settled after Torres equalized scoring his 6th goal in all competitions. Goals from Lampard, Ivanovic and a sensational counterattack from Mata that played in Hazard settled the game. Chelsea sit four points ahead of both Manchester clubs going into the second international break of the season. They do have a few problems at the back that they need to sort out fast, but we will really get to see what this Chelsea side is made of after the international break. They travel to Spurs, Shakhtar, and then face Manchester United twice in the span of four days at Stamford Bridge.
  • Life without Van Persie isn’t too shabby  – Arsenal went back to winning ways this weekend as they comfortably defeated West Ham 3-1. There were many positives to take from this game as the Gunners bounced back from last weekends defeat to Chelsea. Olivier Giroud started and scored, Cazorla and Arteta were brilliant yet again, Podolski was superb down the left hand side where most of Arsenal’s play was crafted from, and Theo Walcott came off the bench and netted the winner. Although many will give the plaudits to Cazorla or Giroud, (for his goal and assist for the winner) it was Mikel Arteta who was solid once again. The Spaniard has really relished in his deep lying role and like Juan Mata, if he weren’t Spanish he would walk into many XI’s. Arteta completed 106/111 passes, successfully won all of his 5 tackles and rarely lost possession. Overall it was a great Arsenal performance all around, and it sees them pick up eight points on the road out of a possible twelve. Although Van Persie was a massive loss to the club, Arsenal is slowly silencing the doubters who dismissed them from cementing a top four spot.

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  • Fonte saves Southampton from disaster against Fulham  – It was a poor match overall, but the late drama made up for it. Portuguese defender Jose Fonte put the Saints in front early courtesy of a header in which he was left unmarked. Fulham was unable to cope with Southampton’s high pressure and were constantly giving the ball away. Fortunately for the Cottagers, Southampton was poor in front of goal and talismanic striker Rickie Lambert who pressed well, didn’t have his shooting boots on. The second half saw Fulham with more of the ball as the Saints players tired, but Fulham never really looked like scoring. Ultimately the game changer was Saints defender Jos Hooiveld as he scored his second own goal of the year as he directed John Arne Risse’s shot that was going wide into his goal. In the 88th minute substitute Kieran Richardson put Fulham into the lead as his shot deflected off of Hooiveld and into the net. Unfortunately for the Cottagers their lead lasted less than two minutes as Fonte added to his goal tally with a header in injury time and rescued a point for the Saints. A tie reflects the dull encounter that Southampton should’ve wrapped up in the first half. Fulham pick up a road point they ultimately should be proud of whereas the problems at St. Mary’s continues and pressure continues to rise over Nigel Adkins head.
  • Second season syndrome might exist! – Many might not believe in second season syndrome, but as of October 8th two teams who were promoted last season are winless, sitting in the relegation zone. Many believe it’s only a matter of time before QPR eventually turn it around, but Norwich is in deep trouble. They currently sit second in the league for goals conceded and they’ve scored the least this season. Last season they weren’t any better at the back but they’re ability to score goals along with Paul Lambert’s tactical set up saw them finish 12th in the league. This season they continue to leak goals, but they struggle to create/score goals. I had Norwich going down this season and so far they’ve displayed every reason why they will. Will players like Grant Holt, Anthony Morison and Steve Pilkington be able to replicate their goal scoring form of last season? Can Simeon Jackson and Wesley Hoolahan fill the void if these men fail to get the goals? Can Chris Hughton tighten up the back line? These are key components to whether Norwich will survive this season and right now survival doesn’t look attainable.

Observations

  • Tottenham picked up their fourth successive victory this weekend dispatching of Aston Villa 2-0. 20-year-old Steven Caulker scored his first top-flight goal and Aaron Lennon secured three points that sees Spurs climb to fifth in the table. Moussa Dembele was great yet again with a 91% passing rate, misplacing only one pass in the final third. Hugo Lloris also made his Premier League debut earning his first clean sheet. It was a Spurs result that many expected, but it didn’t come easy. Andre Villas-Boas will now have his side set for their marquee match against Chelsea at White Hart Lane in two weeks. May I remind you that Chelsea fired AVB and went on to win the FA cup and Champions league. Chelsea’s Champions League victory also dumped Spurs into the Europa League this season.
  • Liverpool are still searching for their first home win this season as they drew Stoke City 0-0. Anfield used to be a fortress but Liverpool has only won twice at Anfield since the turn of the calendar year. It was a bit of deja vu for anyone who’s watched Liverpool over the last year. They dictated possession, hit the woodwork several times, and a Luis Suarez dive was another hot topic in another Liverpool fixture. Stoke sat deep and stayed compact as many teams do at Anfield, and Liverpool couldn’t break through despite a few moments of individual brilliance. Luis Suarez stormed off the pitch when the whistle blew for full time and the Uruguayan seems to be a very frustrated man. Other than Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, Liverpool lacks a proven goal scorer and that is currently one of their biggest issues.
  • West Bromwich Albion enjoys their best start to a season since 1919 with a 3-2 win over QPR this weekend. Former Chelsea/Liverpool assistant manager Steve Clarke is enjoying a great start to his managerial career and the win pushes the Baggies to sixth place in the league level behind Everton and Tottenham on goal differential. They’re 100% at home, and under Clarke have been a tough team to break down. Now this form might come to an end soon, but this team is capable of finishing in the top half of the table.
  • Despite spending approximately 17m pounds this summer on transfers, QPR sit bottom of the table and winless this season. Mark Hughes’ side suffered another loss this weekend which adds more pressure on Hughes to pick up points. Many predicted this team would take the next step and finish mid table this season based on their summer signings, but they’ve looked far from that. Hughes doesn’t have much time so he needs to get a result FAST! Let the Harry Redknapp rumours begin!
  • Everton leave it for late and pick up a vital point at the DW stadium courtesy of a Leighton Baines spot kick. The Toffee’s started the game flat and went into the half down a goal as they were overrun in the midfield. Moyes rallied his troops and they came out with a better performance in the second half. Baines and Pienaar continue to cause havoc down that left hand side and are easily the most dangerous flank in the league thus far. “Leighton Baines was at the heart of everything, I thought he was extraordinary,” said Moyes after the match. Moyes’ men came from behind twice away from home and showed their fighting spirit. They’ve lost once this season and if they can stay healthy, they have a squad capable of finishing in the top six.

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  • Remember when Swansea was scoring goals for fun? Yeah, me neither. Swansea failed to score in their last three games and nearly lost at home to Reading this weekend despite finishing the match with 71% possession. Laudrup’s men completed triple the amount of shots and passes on the weekend but had to settle for a point courtesy of late goals from Michu and Wayne Routledge. Swansea will always concede goals because of their style of play and quality of players, but if the continue to struggle creating goals they may be headed down the same route as Norwich.

Weekend Stats

  • Chelsea are the only team not to concede a second half goal in the 2012/2013 Premier League season
  • Frank Lampard scored his 189th goal for Chelsea and 129th Premier league goal at the age of 34
  • It was the first time Arsenal came from behind to beat West Ham at Upton Park
  • Arsene Wenger picked up his 350th Premier League win. Only Sir Alex Ferguson has more with 505
  • Fulham have not won a league match at Southampton in 77 years
  • Mark Schwarzer becomes the 12th player over the age of 40 to play in the Premier League
  • Southampton has now dropped 11 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season
  • The last time Brad Friedel did not start a Premier League match was in May 2004. A streak that saw him play 310 consecutive matches in a row ended this weekend
  • Southampton’s Adam Lallana leads the league in assists with four. He’s currently tied with Chelsea’s Juan Mata & Eden Hazard

Top 5 Players of the weekend

1.   Wayne Rooney

2.   Mikel Arteta

3.   Juan Mata

4.   Santi Cazorla

5.   James Milner

Goal of the week

I just wanted to clarify that this was not intentional, due to the fact that many United fans are claiming it was. Cleverley was attempting to cross the ball to the unmarked Van Persie. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic goal that just beat out Diame and Cazorla’s goal.

 

That was this weekends EPL recap. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much I enjoyed writing it. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Stay posted to the blog for multiple stories throughout the weeks and my tactical analysis of Humber x Fanshawe tomorrow.

Cheers!

Follow me @TEEWHYox

Tyrrell Meertins.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in EPL Notebook

 

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