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Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid

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

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

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

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

 Barcelona struggle 

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

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

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

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

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

Real fly down the left 

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

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

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

Benzema 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 2-1 

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

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

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

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

 Final 35 minutes 

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

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

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

 Messi improves real

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

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

 Conclusion 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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Tottenham 0-5 Liverpool

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Courtesy of: Football.ua

Liverpool produced a scintillating performance at White Hart Lane, which sees them climb to second in the table.

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Andre Villas-Boas made two changes to his side, introducing Roberto Soldado and Sandro to the starting line up.

Brendan Rodgers was forced to make one change to the side that defeated West Ham last week, as Lucas was placed in midfield for the injured Steven Gerrard.

Rodgers’ men were exceptional – they attacked and defended well as a unit, but most importantly they exposed Spurs’ highline.

Pressing

A key component heading into this fixture was how both sides would approach the match without the ball. In possession, they both rely on ball retention, yet defensively they intend on applying pressure, and closing down their opponents in their third.

Spurs attempted to press Liverpool from the back with Soldado and Paulinho closing down the two centre backs, but Lucas Leiva dropped between Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho as the spare man. At times, Aaron Lennon and Moussa Dembele pushed forward to press Lucas, and a Liverpool fullback, but Nacer Chadli’s deep positioning provided Rodgers’ men with a passing outlet.

The odd feat in AVB’s approach was their reluctance to press in midfield. Spurs maintained an extremely high-line, but they allowed Liverpool’s midfield space and time to play passes across the pitch. The only defence Villas-Boas could make is Liverpool’s aim to overload central areas – Rodgers’ men already had a numerical advantage in central areas, but with Phillippe Coutinho drifting infield, Spurs were outnumbered 4v2.

Liverpool down the right

A common feat in the first half was Liverpool’s aim to isolate Kyle Naughton. Prior to Liverpool’s opener, Rodgers’ men constantly looked to overload and play balls behind the Spurs left back.

  • 10th min: Henderson played a lovely diagonal ball to Raheem Sterling, and the Liverpool winger cut to his right, beating Naughton, and forcing him to foul Sterling at the edge of the 18-yard box.
  • 11th min: Sterling intercepts Dembele’s pass and plays a one-two with Coutinho, before slipping a ball to Allen – behind Naughton – who delivers a cross into the box, thus leading to Sterling firing his shot over the net.
  • 15th min: Etienne Capoue fails to clear Lucas’ corner, and the ball falls to Sterling, who cuts to his right, beats the Frenchman for space and drives a venomous cross into the box.
  • 17th min: Coutinho drifted infield, dragging Chadli and Lennon out of position, before slipping a ball into Sterling. Chadli recovered his run, but was also beaten for pace by Sterling, but the Liverpool winger’s cross went right into Hugo Lloris’ hands.
  • 47th min: Sterling got the better of Lewis Holtby by cutting towards the byline, and his lofted cross was met by Sakho, who nodded the ball off the post.

Sterling was Liverpool’s main threat leading up to Suarez’s opening goal – Rodgers utilized his pace, and instructed his men to play him into 1v1 situations. Naughton struggled throughout the entire half, and Ezekiel Fryers replaced him at half time.

1-0

Subsequently, Liverpool took the lead a minute after Sterling’s final threat in the opening 20 minutes. There’s no denying the quality of the finish, or Henderson’s influence on the situation, but the manner in which Spurs conceded was appalling.

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Above we see Spurs’ shape after Dawson’s timely sliding interception to prevent Henderson from breaking free on goal. We also see Suarez behind Dembele, Sandro and Capoue.

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Henderson’s persistence allowed him to nick the ball away from Dawson to play in Suarez, and the Uruguayan – who was initially behind the three Spurs players – ran onto the ball, anticipated Walker’s slide, swayed to the left and coolly slotted his shot past Lloris.

While Henderson’s run and determination plays a pivotal role towards the build-up of the goal, the work ethic and positional awareness of the Spurs trio was diabolical.

Spurs’ highline

The most evident feat throughout the match was Spurs’ vulnerability maintaining an organized high-line, and Liverpool’s aim to get runners behind it. It also didn’t help that Villas-Boas was without Jan Vertonghen and Vlad Chiriches, thus forcing him to pair Capoue and Dawson against Suarez.

However, it was peculiar to see AVB stick with this approach, considering his results against both Manchester clubs this season. At the Ethiad, City blitzed Spurs’ backline, defeating them by six goals. Yet, against United, Spurs sat a few yards deeper and focused on minimizing passing lanes, and space between the lines.

Here, they reverted to the approach at the Ethiad, which ultimately made Rodger’s approach straightforward.

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  • 21st min: Sterling and Joe Allen dispossessed Chadli at the halfway line, and Sterling drove forward and played Suarez through, but the Uruguayan failed to slip his shot past Lloris.

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  • 23rd min: A simple Lucas long ball stretched Spurs’ backline and set Coutinho free on the left flank.

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  • 27th min: Lucas played a quick pass to Coutinho off a free kick, and the Brazilian spotted Suarez’s simple run into half-space. Suarez did well to hold the ball up, and cut it back to Coutinho, and his shot rattled the cross bar.

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  • 33rd min: A simple hoofed clearance from Martin Skrtel, sees Suarez run past the Spurs high-line and nearly double Liverpool’s lead. Lloris mistimed his header, and it fell to Suarez, but the French keeper did well to recover and deny the Uruguayan.

Villas-Boas’ approach was eccentric – he instructed his men to play a high-line, but no pressure was applied on the midfield, and Liverpool were allowed to easily bypass the Spurs midfield. Meanwhile, it was beneficial to Suarez, who is renowned for making runs into the channels and behind the backline.

This was a poor tactical approach from AVB, yet this isn’t the first time his preferred high-line has failed him in a big match.

Henderson

Although Suarez may steal all the headlines based on his great form, and outstanding goal return, it’s key to note that Henderson was magnificent at White Hart Lane. At times, Henderson found himself in deeper positions playing long diagonals and retaining possession, but Spurs were unable to cope with his dynamism from midfield.

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Henderson’s energetic runs from deep positions were integral to the buildup for three Liverpool goals. Rodgers was aware of Villas-Boas tactical naivety, and he encouraged the Liverpool midfielder to push forward and attack open space.

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  • 17th min: Henderson attacked space between Walker and Dawson, which gave Suarez a positive passing option. Dawson may have intercepted the pass, but Henderson’s run and persistence handed him the opportunity to lay the ball off for Suarez, thus leading to his opener.

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  • 39th min: Henderson starts his run at half between Lennon and Paulinho, and the Liverpool midfielder surges forward unmarked, and runs into space to receives Coutinho’s lay off. Lloris stopped Henderson and Suarez’s efforts, but the Englishman did well to convert the third attempt.

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  • 74th min: Henderson makes a run behind Chadli and into the space between Capoue and Walker. Walker does well to force Henderson wide, but he provides a nifty back heel to Suarez, who picks out Jon Flanagan at the back post, and he fires his shot off the cross bar to give Liverpool a 3-0 lead.
Henderson better view 3-0 run

A better angle of Henderson beginning to make a run behind Chadli, into open space

Better view 3-0 Henderson

Henderson continues his run and attacks the space

Henderson’s role was pivotal to Liverpool’s success at White Hart Lane. He was a proficient distributor from deep positions –  alongside Allen he pressed Dembele, Sandro and Paulinho out of the match, and his energetic runs from midfield tormented the Spurs backline.

Second half

Spurs responded well in the second half as Liverpool oddly dropped deeper into their third, but Soldado missed two opportunities to cut down the two-goal deficit. While Spurs pushed forward, Liverpool had clear opportunities to expose Villas-Boas’ men on the counter – led by Henderson – but they often lacked the final ball.

Ultimately, Paulinho’s red card midway through the second half ended any chance of Spurs mounting a comeback. With Sandro’s injury in the first half, Dembele’s departure for Andros Townsend and Paulinho’s sending off, AVB was forced to field Lewis Holtby and Chadli in a 4-4-1.

Liverpool received more space in midfield to retain possession, and Rodgers’ men surprisingly only scored three goals, despite creating numerous opportunities.

Conclusion

This was a fantastic Liverpool performance, but it’s difficult to ignore Villas-Boas’ tactical naivety. The Portuguese manager looked to have learned from his mistakes based on his approach against United, but is eagerness to revert to back to his preferred philosophy has been suicidal. It let AVB down in big games throughout his career in England, and this time it cost him his job at White Hart Lane.

Rodgers’ men were diligent out of possession, and isolated Spurs’ deficiencies at every opportunity. Liverpool targeted Naughton, nullified their holding midfielders, and used an energetic midfielder to penetrate open space. The result will build confidence in the Liverpool dressing room, but it’s unlikely that they’ll enjoy such freedom on their trips to City and Chelsea – until then, it’s difficult to categorize Liverpool’s role in the title race.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

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Robin van Persie continued to haunt his former employers, as his first half header pushes Manchester United within five points of league leaders Arsenal.

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Van Persie returned to the starting eleven to lead the line ahead of Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa. Michael Carrick and Phil Jones formed a midfield duo, while Jonny Evans partnered Nemanja Vidic at centre back.

Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that defeated Borussia Dortmund in midweek. Mathieu Flamini returned to the lineup to join Mikel Arteta in the double pivot, whereas Thomas Vermaelen formed a centre back partnership with Laurent Koscielny.

This was a vintage Moyes display – United’s reactive approach saw the Red Devils concede space on the flanks, as they sat in a narrow shape to nullify Arsenal’s threat in central areas.

United without the ball

One of the main feats in Arsenal’s success over the past few weeks has been their fluidity and quick interchanges in midfield, so the battle in central areas was always going to be pivotal. David Moyes’ men were impressive without the ball – when they lost possession, they quickly closed down the Arsenal defenders to retain possession, and when Arsenal were building play they maintained an extremely high-line.

Space was at a premium in midfield, and Arsenal’s attacking three were unable to receive the ball between the lines, as United sat extremely narrow to close down their passing lanes. Arteta and Flamini dropped deeper between the centre backs to provide an outlet for their defenders and build play – which was odd considering Rooney’s impressive defensive display against Arteta last season – but majority of their passes were sideways. Ozil and Ramsey also attempted to receive the ball in deeper positions, but Valencia and Kagawa pressed them once they received the ball.

United’s wide men played an integral role in their success for large portions of the match. Kagawa and Valencia sat deeper than usual to help Jones and Carrick in midfield. Space was available out wide – which was risky based on Arsenal’s recent success in wide areas – but United’s wide men quickly closed down Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs whenever they received the ball, and the Arsenal duo didn’t offer any threats going forward.

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United’s initial approach without the ball was excellent – they minimized space between the lines, pressed Arsenal’s fullbacks, and kept their creative players quiet.

2V1

During Arsenal’s impressive start to the season, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil’s form has overshadowed the underlying importance of Olivier Giroud in Wenger’s set-up. The French striker has improved vastly over the past few months, and has been a significant cog in Arsenal’s attack, which is why Moyes was keen on limiting his impact on the match.

Giroud’s developed a better understanding of playing as a lone striker using his brute strength and impressive work rate to thrive as Arsenal’s main man. The French striker struggled in the first half due to great defensive work from Evans and Vidic. The United centre back duo stuck tight to Giroud whenever he received the ball, and the Arsenal striker was unable to sustain possession.

One of the main feats in Giroud’s game this season has been his ability to link play with Arsenal’s midfielders, and allow runners to attack space behind him. But Giroud was outmuscled off the ball – often conceding possession or losing out in duels against the United centre backs. There was no space in midfield for Giroud to tuck into – United’s midfield pushed higher up the pitch swiftly to catch the Frenchman offside on numerous occasions, and his frustration was evident.

Vidic departure/Arsenal improve

Vidic was forced to leave the match at the interval, due to his late collision with David De Gea in the final moments of the first half. This forced Phil Jones to drop into centre back as Tom Cleverley joined Carrick in midfield. Although Cleverley didn’t produce a poor display, United’s lack of a double screen meant Arsenal would receive more opportunities to stamp their authority on the match.

Giroud’s influence on the match grew in the second half, and this was odd because Evans still featured in the match. As gaps began to build between the lines, Giroud was presented with more space to receive the ball and spread play, as Evans and Jones sat off the French striker. There was also a distinct dip in Kagawa’s performance – this could’ve been fatigue based, as he was involved in Wednesday’s midweek draw against Real Sociedad.

Ramsey started the second half on the right touchline stretching the play, and he played a key pass to Giroud in the 47th minute in ample space, and Cleverley was forced to foul him as he ran past the United defence. Three minutes later Ramsey won a loose ball at the halfway line, and played the ball into Ozil who combined with Giroud, but was unable to produce the final ball.

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Ozil had brief glimpses of positivity in his play as he drifted laterally into pockets of space on the right flank behind the United defence to receive the ball, and Santi Cazorla also dropped into those pockets of space to push Arsenal forward.

In the latter stages of the match, Arsenal continued to penetrate pockets of space in wide areas. Ramsey picked out substitute Serge Gnabry, who made a run behind Evra and Ryan Giggs. The Arsenal youngster played a ball across the edge of the box to Giroud, who skipped past Jones, but Smalling made a timely tackle to clear United’s lines.

A minute later, Sagna played a pass to Jack Wilshere, who moved forward and found Ramsey in a pocket of space behind Evra. Ramsey surged into the United box but was crowded out by Cleverley, Evans and Evra, and the ball fell to Giroud who flashed his deflected shot wide of the net.

Although it may have been Moyes’ idea to hit Arsenal on the break, Vidic’s departure and Kagawa’s inability to protect Patrice Evra  gave Wenger’s men a lifeline in the second half. Giroud and Ozil improved slightly, and as a unit Arsenal were getting into better positions.

Sagna

As stated earlier, Arsenal experienced joy down the right flank during the second half, and their star performer was Sagna. The Arsenal right back has been a key contributor in Arsenal’s attack over the past few weeks, as he played a pivotal role in goals in home fixtures against Napoli and Borussia Dortmund.

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Sagna was Arsenal’s bright spark in the second half as he constantly found space behind Kagawa, leaving him free to get forward and play crosses into the box. Majority of Arsenal’s best moves came down the right flank, and Sagna’s crosses gave Moyes’ men a few scares.

  1. 57th minute: Ozil’s corner kick was half-heartedly cleared, and Vermaelen played the ball backwards to Sagna. Sagna sprayed a ball across the box to an unmarked Ozil, but the German maestro fired his shot into the side netting.
  1. 72nd minute: Kagawa was caught out in a central position and Arteta picked out an unmarked Sagna on the right flank. Sagna played a precise ball across the six-yard box, but Evan’s nicked it past Gibbs, Smalling and Giroud for a corner.
  1. 91st minute: Sagna throws the ball into Giroud, and the Frenchman laid it off to Gnabry. Gnabry plays a pass to Sagna – who’s behind Giggs – and he delivers a venomous ball into the box that evades Evans, Jones and Nicklas Bendtner.

Sagna created three clear-cut opportunities for Arsenal to equalize, but his teammates were unable to connect with his fantastic deliveries into the box.

Substitutions

Wenger was forced to turn to his bench early in the second half, and he decided to introduce Wilshere for Flamini. Prior to the substitution, Arsenal lacked penetration in the final third, and struggled to get behind United’s defence. The move was made to add guile, energy, and penetration into Arsenal’s attack and from an attacking perspective the Gunner’s were brighter.

Bendtner and Gnabry also made appearances in the latter stages of the match, as Arsenal became a 4-4-2. Gnabry had a positive impact on the match with his direct approach and his ability to combine with Sagna, and Arsenal’s attacking players. Bendtner’s introduction was peculiar, as he took up a position on the left flank. The Danish striker isn’t renowned for his ability to beat players, but Wenger was hoping that he could get on the end of Sagna’s crosses.

Moyes’ substitutions reflected United’s approach in the final minutes of the match. Giggs replaced Kagawa in hopes that he could provide better protection for Evra. While Marouane Fellaini replaced van Persie, as United became a 4-5-1 without the ball to preserve their lead.

Conclusion

Arsenal improved in the second half as United sat deeper, but Moyes’ reactive approach was successful, as van Persie’s first half winner claimed maximum points.

The gap between United an Arsenal is now five points, but it’s difficult to assess the progress of Moyes’ side. Nonetheless, It was a vintage big match display masterminded by Moyes  – United were organized as a unit, and once they went ahead they cautiously attacked on the break.

Similar to their away draw against West Brom and loss against Chelsea, its been proven that an organized narrow shape can frustrate the Gunners – thus emphasizing the importance of their injured direct attackers. Arsenal weren’t at their best today, but dropping points at Old Trafford doesn’t necessarily inhibit their title aspirations. How the Gunners respond to this defeat heading into the Christmas period will be vital.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City

Manchester City produced an impressive performance, which sees them win back-to-back league games at Old Trafford for the first time since December 1970/April 1972.

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Sir Alex Ferguson made a few changes to his side that lost to Chelsea in last weeks FA Cup replay. Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young and Rafael were called up into the starting line up, as United played in a 4-4-1-1.

Roberto Mancini made two changes to his side that defeated Newcastle last week. James Milner started out wide with Edin Dzeko dropping to the bench, while Matija Nastasic was cleared fit to partner in defence with captain Vincent Kompany. Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero wasn’t fit enough to start, but he was on the bench.

City dominated the match in terms of possession, as United sat back and looked to break on the counter. In a game that provided very few clear-cut chances, United’s approach, with their inability to make significant tactical system changes and substitutions led to City’s victory, along with Mancini outcoaching Ferguson, led to City’s victory.

Pattern

The match started at an incredibly high tempo, with the ball going from end to end, in what was an open 10 minutes.

City took control once the tempo slowed down, as United approached the match in the same manner as they did against Chelsea. United sat back in two banks of four with Young and Welbeck playing narrow. United stood off, and only seemed to press City when they got near the edge of the box, while Rooney stayed close to Toure. It was strange that we didn’t see Cleverley play out wide tucked into the midfield, with Welbeck staying close to Toure, considering Welbeck’s great performance against Xabi Alonso in the Champions League. Carrick was dealt with in a fine manner, and he was forced to play several balls sideways or back to his defence. It’s been shown that with a bit of pressure Carrick fails to have an influence on matches, and Mancini’s plan to nullify the English midfielder in this match worked to great effect.

Fullbacks on both sides were significantly quiet offensively, because both managers played direct wingers (apart from Nasri), which restricted the fullbacks’ movement getting forward. City had Silva pressing Carrick, with Nasri and Barry supporting at times, while Nasri and Tevez helped press the centre back on the ball and the available fullback. With United inviting City’s pressure, and United unable to play out of the back, they struggled to muster up any real possession. Fergie’s men also failed to break on the counter when they won the ball, with Welbeck’s surging run their only legitimate opportunity, in which he failed to play a ball to the advancing Rooney.

City dominated the game in terms of possession, while United attempted to break on the counter as they’ve done against most top-sides this season. It was an ongoing pattern throughout the match, and both sides struggled, because they were unable to create legitimate goal scoring opportunities.

City attack down left/between the lines

Two main features of City’s dominance in the first half besides their pressing, was their play down the left hand side and the space they received in between the lines.

Silva was often drifting over to the left hand side, while Tevez found himself turning on Ferdinand in that area, opposed to Phil Jones, who in fairness had him self a decent game. Gareth Barry played higher up the pitch compared to Toure and he often sprayed balls to Nasri or Clichy on that left hand side.

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Most of Barry’s completed passes are on the left side

With Welbeck tucked in, Clichy was able to pick up the ball unmarked, and we saw him drive forward once, only to see his shot go wide. City’s opening goal came from the left hand side, as Barry won the ball from Giggs and drove forward into the penalty area, and the play eventually ended with Milner’s deflected shot flying past David De Gea.

United fell to Chelsea a week ago by a slender scoreline of 1-0, in which they nullified the threat Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata possess in between the lines. Surprisingly, they were unable to do this today, and Silva, Nasri and Tevez worked well in the space provided. Tevez dropped into the space to receive the ball several times, and he linked play with Silva and the two wide men. Nasri often drifted into that space with the ball, while Silva also picked up the ball in that space and got into great areas in between Ferdinand and Rafael.

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Ultimately, Yaya Toure found Sergio Aguero in that pocket of space in the second half, and the Argentine skipped past a few United defenders and scored the winner.

The two main areas in which Mancini’s men exploited led to their goals and United was unable to cope.

Second half

There weren’t many tactical alterations in the second half, but we did witness three goals. United pressed better, and improved in the second half, but failed to stop City from playing in between the lines and on the left side of the pitch.

Mancini introduced Aguero in place of Nasri and dropped Tevez behind him. It seemed like the perfect substitution at the time, because Aguero provides energy, great movement off the ball and he constantly makes runs in behind defenders. It’s always a luxury to have a world-class player of his stature on the bench, but the change gave City a new spark, and the Premier League’s best striker was the game changer.

Ferguson brought on Antonio Valencia for Welbeck and Javier Hernandez for Rooney, who had a poor outing, but the change to 4-4-2 had no affect on the match. Shinji Kagawa came on in injury time, but the match was already won. City’s final changes were made to secure the lead as they introduced Javi Garcia and Joleon Lescott.

Conclusion

United lose to City at Old Trafford for the second season in a row, in a convincing matter. Mancini’s men dominated possession and exploited areas on the pitch and United was unable to cope, as they failed to change their system. Mancini’s decision to bring on Aguero in the second half was the difference maker, and ultimately, he outcoached Fergie on the night.

Manchester United lose their second game in the span of seven days, and Fergie and his top players will have questions to ask themselves going forward. The Giggs-Carrick midfield pairing was woeful, while Rooney and Young both had disappointing nights. The personnel brought on, along with the timing of the substitutions were also poor. The title is all but won, but its games of this magnitude in where top players strive, and many United players failed to show up.

“This season we had some problems with players injured. We are not a team that can lose three or four players. We can’t lose Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany together. We are not so strong that we can lose three or four players like this.” –Roberto Mancini post-match

 City may finish the season several points behind their cross-town rivals, but Mancini raises a valid point here. They’ve gone through the season missing these two key figures along with Aguero for lengthy periods, and it has had a massive affect on their league position. Nevertheless, Mancini has defeated Fergie once again, and has provided us a reason as to why he deserves to manage this team in the future.

Three Stars

1.    Carlos Tevez

2.    David Silva

3.    James Milner

Tyrrell Meertins

@TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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