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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolfsburg adopt similar approach

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

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

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

Bayern struggle

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

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

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

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

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

Wolfsburg breaks down the right

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

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

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

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

Bayern alter system

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

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

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

Lewandowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Three Things: Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich

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Courtesy of Flickr/ Some rights reserved by peterpribylla

Sanogo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penalties, Penalties, Penalties

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kroos Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Bayer Leverkusen 0-5 Manchester United

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Manchester United arguably produced their best performance of the David Moyes era, as they thumped Bayern Leverkusen at the BayArena.

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Robin van Persie, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick were still unavailable, so David Moyes was forced to make a few changes to his 4-4-1-1. Wayne Rooney led the line ahead of Shinji Kagawa, Nani and Antonio Valencia, while Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones formed a midfield duo.

There were no surprises in Sami Hyypia‘s 4-3-3 as Stefan Kiessling, Gonzalo Castro and Heung-Min Son led the attack, while Lars Bender, Stefan Reinartz and Simon Rolfes formed a midfield trio.

United were terrific – they were organized, disciplined, and frightening on the counter attack, and Leverkusen was punished for their naïve approach.

Leverkusen impress early

Leverkusen started the match in a positive manner, and this was down to United’s shape. United maintained a high line in the early moments, and although it left them vulnerable to balls over the top, the gap between the midfield and backline was large.

This is where Son thrived – The South Korean attacker drifted centrally to pick up pockets of space in the final third, and he attacked Moyes’ men at every opportunity. Son received two opportunities to hand the home side the lead, but both of his attempts didn’t test David De Gea. Kiessling also had a glorious opportunity to hand Leverkusen the lead when he skipped past Rio Ferdinand, but Jonny Evans made a vital interception to keep the match scoreless.

1-0

United continued their impressive run of scoring in the opening 25 minutes of each Champions League match this season – they’ve done so in each group stage match this season – despite Leverkusen’s positive attacking contributions at the start of the match. Shockingly, prior to the goal Kagawa and Rooney were peripheral figures.

Nonetheless, United pounced on Reinartz’s mistake, which allowed Kagawa to break into midfield with pace, before playing a ball to the oncoming Giggs. The Welshman found Rooney on the left, and the Englishman delivered an exquisite ball at the far post for Valencia to tap in.

This was a devastating move that highlighted Moyes approach on the counter attack. United utilized their pace in wide areas, whereas Kagawa excelled in a no.10 role that relied on the Japanese playmaker’s wonderful ability to swiftly transition from defence to attack.

United’s shape

One of the main differences between the sides was the way they approached the match without the ball. United were terrific on both ends – their natural shape was compact, whereas their pressing was cohesive.

Rooney and Kagawa closed down Leverkusen’s centre backs and Giggs tracked Reinartz when he attempted to drop deeper and create 3v2 situations. Hyypia’s men attempted to play around United’s press by having Bender and Rolfes drop deeper, but Nani and Valencia took the authority to track the duo, and left Patrice Evra and Chris Smalling the responsibility of marking Leverkusen’s fullbacks – this left Moyes’ men 3v3 at the back, but the German outfit had difficulties breaking past United’s press.

However, United looked comfortable when Leverkusen pushed forward. The issue Leverkusen encountered was the shape of their attacking three – Castro and Son aren’t natural wide players – they rely on movement around the final third, and United’s narrow shape prevented the wide players from flourishing, as central areas were often congested.

Hyypia’s men were in desperate need of width – which is often provided from their full backs – and although Emre Can and Giulio Donati pushed into advanced positions, the quality in these wide areas were poor. Rolfes and Bender also attempted to push forward to help their full backs attain better positions, but Nani and Valencia admirably tracked their runs.

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It’s been awhile since we’ve seen an impressive defensive display from United, but they showcased their grit in Germany.

Leverkusen shape

While United displayed a sense of organization and discipline, there was a significant contrast in the German side’s approach. Leverkusen’s front three dropped off the United backline, and allowed Evans and Ferdinand to have the ball – yet whenever they did press the centre backs, Jones or Giggs would drop between them and receive the ball.

The German side also encountered issues between the lines – there was a heap of space between midfield/attack and midfield/defence. With no pressure being applied on central players, Giggs, Jones, and Kagawa found it relatively easy to receive the ball, and facilitate play. United didn’t necessarily trouble the German side with their possession, but the multiple gaps available in Leverkusen’s shape left Hyypia’s men vulnerable throughout the entire match.

Midfield battle

One of the most surprising feats in this match was the midfield battle. Heading into the fixture, the biggest concern was whether United would be able to cope without Carrick or Marouane Fellaini against a midfield trio.

Leverkusen’s numerical advantage in midfield favoured the German side to dictate central areas, yet Giggs and Jones produced their best performances of the season. The United duo were intelligent with their movement, and often slotted into deeper positions, knowing that Leverkusen’s midfield wouldn’t press them.

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This played into Giggs’ hands as he was allowed to showcase his impressive range of passing, whilst the duo also contributed on the defensive end, when needed.

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It was shocking to see neither an attacker nor midfielder press Giggs, as he was dominating the midfield, and in the 88th minute his glorious over the top ball to Nani, highlighted this fact. Giggs was allowed time and space to cleverly pick out the Portuguese attacker, who subsequently produced a cheeky finish past a helpless Bernd Leno.

Despite United’s lack of numbers in midfield, Leverkusen’s naïve approach towards containing the duo led to Giggs and Jones’ dominance in midfield.

Leverkusen press

There was a difference in Leverkusen’s approach in the second half – opposed to the opening 45 minutes, Hyypia instructed his men to press higher up the pitch. There were brief glimpses of their press towards the end of the first half, when Bender and Rolfes closed down Giggs and Jones.

However, the issue Leverkusen faced was their press was disjointed. There was no structure in midfield, and United smoothly drove into advanced positions. Equally, it left more space for United’s attackers to drop into, thus leading to Rooney and Kagawa having a larger influence in the second half.

United down the right

Also, with Leverkusen attempting to win possession in advanced positions, space in wide areas were outlets for United to exploit. With Son and Castro rarely tracking back, the onus was on Rolfes and Bender to protect their full backs.

Their was a vast improvement in Valencia’s performance throughout the second half, as Can – who was absolutely dreadful in and out of possession – was caught higher up the pitch on several occasions. Valencia attacked space behind the makeshift left back, and the Ecuadorian’s pace and strength tormented Can. Valencia was involved in four different situations that could’ve led to a goal – likewise, his dangerous cross in the 64th minute led to the corner kick that provided United with their third goal.

Kagawa

Of the many star United performers against Leverkusen, it was Kagawa that impressed – with that being said, Rooney and Giggs’ imperious displays shouldn’t be overlooked.

Kagawa thrived in the no.10 role, which he rarely gets to feature in due to Rooney’s inclusion in the squad. However, Moyes’ reactive approach also played a factor in his success. The Japanese playmaker succeeded at Dortmund playing behind the striker in a transition-based game, which focused on quick attacks on the break – coincidentally this was Moyes’ approach towards the match.

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But the United playmaker dropped deeper to retain possession, and Leverkusen was unable to contain his swift movement. Kagawa’s involvement in Chris Smalling’s fourth goal showcased his highly-rated creative niche. The Japanese international dinked a clever ball over the Leverkusen back line to Rooney, and the Englishman lobbed a pass to Smalling, who guided the ball into the open net.

Kagawa’s performance was impressive – United’s approach played to his strengths, and now it’s evident that United has another element of creativity at their disposal, especially against superior sides in Europe.

Conclusion

This was a convincing United performance – arguably the best display of Moyes’ tenure thus far. Nonetheless, Leverkusen was lethargic – their narrow attack favoured the away side, whereas their defensive approach allowed Kagawa, Giggs and Jones freedom to control the match.

United were by far the superior side, and individual performances from the midfield and Rooney merited three points, and a berth in the round of 16. Moyes can breathe for a few days, but upcoming fixtures against Spurs and Everton should provide a sterner test, and display whether genuine progress has been made.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Borussia Dortmund 0-3 Bayern Munich

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Courtesy of Soccer.ru

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

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

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

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

Dortmund shape

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

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

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

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

Bayern approach/Martinez false 10?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dortmund break

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

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

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

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

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

Guardiola makes changes

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

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

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

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

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

Klopp reacts?

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

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

2-0/3-0

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Arsenal 1-2 Borussia Dortmund

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Courtesy of Eastfrisian

Robert Lewandowski’s late second half winner earned Borussia Dortmund an important victory at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that thrashed Norwich City over the weekend. Aaron Ramsey partnered Mikel Arteta in the double-pivot for the injured Mathieu Flamini, while Olivier Giroud led the line ahead of Mesut Ozil, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere.

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Jurgen Klopp made four changes to his starting eleven, introducing Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer into the backline. Robert Lewandowski led the line ahead of Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski, and Henrik Mkhitaryan, while Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender played in the double-pivot.

This was a fairly even match between two sides playing identical systems – Kevin Grosskreutz’s impact on the right flank was decisive, while Dortmund’s ability to contain central areas nullified Arsenal’s strength in midfield.

Midfield battle

A key component in Arsenal’s success over the past few weeks has been their ability to overload the midfield. They field three proficient ball passers behind Giroud aiming to outnumber their opponents in central areas, and create openings with their intelligent movement. Klopp was wary of this heading into this fixture and his sides shape without the ball displayed that.

Both sides kept a high-defensive line when dropping into two narrow banks of four, as the two holding midfielders sat closer to their backline, and the wide players tucked in to limit spaces in midfield. This forced the attacking midfielders to drop into deeper positions to get on the ball and build attacks. Frankly, neither side was willing to concede space in central areas, thus leading to a congested midfield.

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Nevertheless, this was an intriguing situation, as Arsenal’s narrowness led to their downfall a few weeks ago against West Brom, and it would be interesting to see whether Wenger had another attacking option.

Dortmund press

Dominance in midfield was always going to be pivotal, but Dortmund’s work ethic off the ball was significant. Lewandowski pressed the Arsenal centre backs, while Mkhitaryan stayed close to Arteta. The Armenian midfielder did help Lewandowski press when needed, which created a 3v2 situation at the back, in the favour of Arsenal, as Ramsey positioned himself a few yards forward.

However, despite Arsenal’s numerical advantage in their third of the pitch, Wenger’s men failed to play out of the back freely. Wenger noticed his sides inability to push forward fluently through midfield, so he instructed his attacking three to drop deeper, but Dortmund comfortably coped with this issue.

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Bender and Sahin applied pressure on the spare midfielder in the double-pivot, while Blaszczykowski and Reus pressed the attacking midfielders who attempted to tuck into space around the flanks. Arsenal occasionally broke through Dortmund’s press, but Dortmund’s approach without the ball was superb, which ultimately nullified Arsenal’s attempt to dominate the midfield.

Space for fullbacks

With both sides maintaining a relatively narrow shape – along with wide men keen on drifting centrally – the onus was on the fullbacks to provide width. But in the opening 15 minutes of the match, the delivery from all four fullbacks was dire. Coincidentally, the quality from wide areas improved slightly as the match progressed and all three goals stemmed from fullbacks attacking the large amount of space available.

  • Schmelzer drove forward from his half to play the ball to Reus who picked up a central position. Ramsey intercepted Reus’ pass to Lewandowski, but the German attacker worked hard to win the ball back. Reus then played a pass to Lewandowski, who laid the ball off to Mkhitaryan, to fire past Wojciech Szczesny.
  • Albeit his poor delivery in the opening minutes, Sagna drove forward and produced a scintillating cross into the box, which led to a miscommunication between Neven Subotic and Roman Weidenfeller. Giroud was on the prowl and quickly pounced on the defensive error, tapping the ball into the net from four-yards out.

More so, in the second half Dortmund were aware of the danger posed from wide areas, thus resulting in Blaszczykowski and Reus being cautious about getting forward. It was more evident when Ozil took up a wider role, continuously attempting to overload Schmelzer, but Klopp’s men coolly dealt with the situation.

However, unlike Dortmund’s left side, Wenger failed to react to Grosskreutz’s threat from right back. Grosskreutz’s was Dortmund’s main attacking threat throughout the match – with Gibbs maintaining a narrow position and Rosicky failing to track his runs – and there was no surprise to see his involvement in Lewandowski’s winner.

  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang played a pass towards Grosskreutz, who stormed down the right flank and played a lovely ball to an unmarked Lewandowski at the far post. Lewandowski waited for the ball to come down, and volleyed it into the near post.

Due to the narrow shape of both sides, attacking space in wide areas was logical. But Wenger’s inability to address Grosskreutz’s threat down the right flank proved to be the difference on the night.

Arsenal improve

As the second half wore on, there was a general improvement in Arsenal’s game, which saw them dictate the match for a short period. Wilshere – who suffered a few knocks to his ankle – was replaced with Santi Cazorla, leading to a few alterations in Arsenal’s shape.

As stated earlier, Ozil picked up a position out wide, Rosicky played centrally and Cazorla  played in a deeper role – essentially roaming across the pitch. In fairness, Dortmund’s decision to introduce Aubameyang and Jonas Hofmann could’ve contributed to Arsenal’s success as they took time to settle into the match.

And while Dortmund’s press looked flustered, Arteta began to dictate the tempo of the match, as Cazorla’s movement and Rosicky dropping deep to provide an extra passing option, opened up space for the Spaniard. Cazorla helped Arsenal sustain possession and push forward with positive passes out to the flanks.

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There was a lift in Arsenal’s tempo, but their inability to get behind the Dortmund backline, saw them create minimal chances, as they failed to test Weidenfeller.

Lewandowski

Lewandowski stole the headlines with his match winner, despite having one of the quieter performances of his career.

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Unlike Giroud, who battered his way through the flanks to get his side into dangerous positions, Lewandowski struggled – frankly some believe he was lucky to stay on the pitch, after unintentionally elbowing Laurent Koscielny.

Nonetheless, the Polish striker displayed why he’s renowned for his all-around link up play and it proved to be pivotal. Lewandowski has a knack of dropping deep into midfield to get his teammates involved with the play, along with guiding them higher up the pitch. This feat led to his winning goal – the Polish striker did well to hold up the ball, subsequently laying it off to Sahin, and made a run towards the far post to connect with Grosskreutz’s cross.

Although Kosicelny and Per Mertesacker contained Lewandowski for large portions of the match, his willingness to press the Arsenal defenders when they had the ball and his occasional link up play, helped his side earn three valuable points.

Conclusion

This was a vintage away performance from Klopp’s men – they combined energetic pressing with quick transitions and their two goals showcased their magnificent work.

It would be difficult to criticize Arsenal, as they didn’t play bad, but Wenger’s naivety towards Grosskreutz’s threat, along with their inability to penetrate in the final third led to their downfall.

“My team gave their all. We started very well, had fantastic work-rate when not in possession and created some superb counterattacking situations for ourselves. Then we took a 1-0 lead, but Arsenal are too strong to contain for the whole time. However, they didn’t end up having that many chances,” Klopp said.

 Both teams then battled hard against each other, but we were always alert and ready to decide the game with one attack. After that happened, we did a great job, especially in the last eight minutes. It was a great performance, we were very mature,” he added.

The importance of winning your home matches in a difficult group is often overlooked, but Klopp will know that this victory puts his side in a great position to advance to the knockout round, as they’ll fancy their chances against Arsenal and Napoli at home.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Can Joachim Low, False-nines and Mesut Ozil lead Germany to international glory?

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  Courtesy of Steindy

It was a night that was all too familiar to German supporters. Germany stumbled when it mattered most – once again it was Joachim Low that guided a dejected group of talented footballers down the tunnel and into the dressing room, to explain why they wouldn’t be participating in the finals.

Surprisingly, Low’s head didn’t drop when Stephane Lannoy blew the final whistle at the National Stadium. The German manager stood on the touchline emotionless, in his crumpled white dress shirt, blankly staring at the pitch, potentially questioning where he went wrong. His men were second best on the night. An experienced Italian side outdid Low’s men, thus continuing their inability to defeat the Azzuri in a competitive match.

While one nation rejoiced, the other had to watch 23 of their finest players solemnly stand – or sit – in disbelief, as they knew another golden opportunity passed them by.

Frankly, many tipped the Germans to come out of their shell and avenge their recent two tournament defeats to Spain, along with their semi-final exit on home soil against Italy in 2006. But it didn’t happen. Yet, despite their catastrophic exit in Warsaw, Low assured that his side – the youngest team in the tournament – was flustered, but would grow from this experience.

“I’m not going to question everything we’ve done. The team has great quality. It will continue to develop and learn,” Low stated. “Even though there’s disappointment today, we played a wonderful tournament and I am sure we will be able to cope with this defeat,” he added.

However, Low was correct. His men produced top-class performances in their last two tournaments, prior to the semi-finals, giving many false hopes that they’d gasp in glory. The German manager, hailed for evolving this splendid group of young talent, witnessed his men cruise through tournaments, yet buckle when they encountered elite opposition. What’s more shocking is the manner in which they’ve conceded matches.

In 2010, Low’s side focused on defensive solidity, quick transitions and pace on the counter-attack. They often dropped into two banks of four, and exploded into attack when they won the ball, which undeniably handed the likes of Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil world recognition. Germany was devastating on the counter, handing England and Argentina a footballing lesson en route to the semi-finals.

But, their energetic threat on the counter was simply nullified when they came across a Spanish side that possessed a midfield at their peak of their careers. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Khedira were unable to cope with Spain’s midfield, as Spanish manager Vicente Del Bosque instructed his men to overload central areas, ultimately making it 4v2 in midfield – with Andres Iniesta drifting infield. With Thomas Muller suspended, and Sergio Busquets admirably tracking Ozil’s movement, the Germans were simply outclassed.

Subsequently, Low’s men headed into Poland and Ukraine a different machine – one that consisted of more depth, which should’ve provided Low the tactical flexibility he didn’t possess in South Africa.

The German’s transformed into a side that focused on ball retention, and were keen on dictating possession. Likewise, they found ways to carve open the likes of Portugal and Greece, who preferred to sit deeper than most. However, once again, they came across an elite side that focused on superiority in midfield, and Low’s men were on the losing end of another major semi-final.

Cesare Prandelli fielded a midfield diamond to dictate the match and nullify Schweinsteiger and Khedira, thus leading to a dominant first half performance from the Italians. Meanwhile, Low’s men – mainly Ozil and Toni Kroos – didn’t seem to comprehend their tactical duties. Ozil often drifted into Kroos’ space, whereas Kroos wasn’t sure when he should press Andrea Pirlo.

While many can criticize Low’s team selection, along with his initial game plan, defeat at the same stage, in the same manner – with a better squad – is unacceptable.

While Low was busy evolving Germany, did he evolve as a manager?

Low was quick to brush off the scrutiny he received after Germany’s loss in a press conference ahead of a friendly against Argentina.

“We wanted to go to the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa and begin forming a team that could then win Euro 2012, so the loss in the semifinal against Italy was particularly painful,” Low said.

“We now have the task of working on the errors we made at Euro 2012, and find solutions to those errors over the next two years. We went on this path a few years ago, and we have a long-term plan to which we will stick,” he added.

The apparent solution has been to implement a false-nine system – one that has reaped success for Barcelona, and most notably, their competitive rivals Spain. With Miroslav Klose aging, and Mario Gomez branded as a one-dimensional striker that disjoints their fluidity, testing out a system that would be beneficial to Germany’s attack was logical. And it’s evident that Low is short on strikers, as he’s recently called up Max Kruse as a potential option upfront – while Stefan Kiessling has ruled out a national team return.

Although, Spain has enjoyed success playing without a striker, they’ve often struggled to grind out results. Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas possesses a direct threat from midfield, which explains why Spain can succeed in this system. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say Low’s false nine can succeed if he displays authority in his team selection opposed to picking favourites.

As of late, Ozil has operated as the false-nine, but Germany hasn’t looked any better going forward. Their passing tempo is too slow, forcing them to spread the ball out wide – and they possess minimal aerial threats. Meanwhile, runners aren’t getting forward, legitimate goal-scoring opportunities are decreasing and they lack bodies in the box.

Temporarily, it’s difficult to assess Mario Gotze’s ability to play in this role, albeit shining against inferior opposition such as the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan. More so, it’s strange to witness Low continuously search for an answer upfront, when he possesses one in his squad.

Thomas Muller produced a magnificent performance at the Ethiad Stadium earlier this month, in a convincing Bayern Munich away victory – where most assumed he was a false nine, yet he was far from it. Muller worked hard to close down City defenders, and his ability to win aerial duels gave Bayern Munich a different outlet going forward. The self-proclaimed space investigator ran the channels superbly, linking play with his teammates, as he nonchalantly roamed around the final third.

Indeed, Muller and Gotze can provide an alternative – or possibly a permanent – role upfront for Die Mannschaft, but this leaves Ozil out of a spot. Now, it would be easy to hand him a spot as Germany’s central playmaker – as Low has done throughout his tenure – but Germany can do without their sleek, bug-eyed creator in the ‘big’ games?

In both semi-finals exits, Ozil had minimal influence on the final result. It was somewhat reminiscent of Champions League ties against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, during Real Madrid’s downfall.

Coincidentally, both Kroos and Gotze were the opposing playmakers in Madrid’s Champions League exits, and the duo showcased their ability to provide a balance of defence – by dropping deep to create a midfield three – and attack in their play.

The Arsenal playmaker conducts his business in the final third, but the modern game now relies on playmakers to produce on both ends – Spain and Italy’s creators were tactically disciplined enough to fulfill these duties, thus resulting in a numerical advantage in central areas.

Over the past 12 months, Kroos has developed into a legitimate world-class player, and he merits a start in a central playmaker role in matches against elite sides – even at the expense of Ozil. Kroos’ tactical awareness to find space in midfield to receive the ball, and drop deeper to prevent overloads is vital in the modern game. The 23-year-old midfielder has completed 95% of his averaged 90.5 passes in his last four competitive appearances for Germany.  Also, Kroos completes 3 key passes per game, as he plays incisive balls in the final third to complement his ability to sustain possession.

Promptly, this isn’t to say Ozil isn’t a key cog in Germany’s attack, but Low needs to have the pluck to tactically align his side according to his opponent’s strengths. The managers that have defeated him in these fixtures – Prandelli and Del Bosque – utilize their squads to the fullest, and it’s a craft that Low has yet to master.

Likewise, the fabricated belief that a false-nine system is required for the Germans to succeed is farfetched. While it does display a sign of evolution, Low has catered more to the bigger names, opposed to starting the astute personnel.

As the Germans continue to struggle defensively, the issue that has been the focal talking point of the German national team can be altered easily. Muller is a logical option upfront, whereas Kroos’ brilliance can no longer be ignored – but will Low rise to the occasion, or once again watch his side underachieve on the world’s biggest stage?

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in FIFA, Published Work

 

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Bundesliga Matchday 1 Recap: Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Successful But a Work in Progress

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It was refreshing to see Pep Guardiola smiling in his Bundesliga debut, after a 15-month hiatus from the touchline. The Spaniard was filled with hand gestures, confidence and a load of emotion, as he earned his first competitive win as Bayern manager.

Guardiola’s starting line up contained 10 players that started in last season’s Champions League final, with Toni Kroos being the only exception as he was unavailable due to injury. It’s normal to see Guardiola sticking with the same crop of players that were successful last season, as a major upheaval would only cause further set back for the Spaniard. The Bavarians kicked of the season in fine fashion, taking a two-goal lead in the opening 16 minutes.

But all the Guardiola critics proclaiming that the Spaniard’s side is no different to Heynckes’ treble winners would be slightly incorrect. Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1 has been interesting to assess, but it’s slowly coming to fruition.  Robben and Ribery have continued to dazzle on the flanks, and are eager to take players on – but they’ve also been encouraged to overload flanks to isolate their opposing fullbacks.

Kroos continues to play a pivotal role in the side, often drifting from flank to flank to link play with the wide men.  What’s special about Kroos, besides his reliable passing in the final third, is his ability to find space to receive the ball, providing another passing option when teams press Bastian Schweinsteiger. Muller also displayed improvement as the right shuttler, often getting into key areas in the final third to link play. Like Mario Mandzukic, Muller has struggled to get involved in matches, and has often looked confused with his positioning, but there was a significant improvement against Monchengladbach.

However, this was far from a blowout, and Lucien Favre’s men caused the Bavarian’s problems throughout the match.  Max Kruse made constant runs into the channels to receive long balls and retain possession – and in the 30th minute, Kruse also forced Manuel Neuer into making a wonderful save.

As influential as Kruse was, Patrick Herrmann was Favre’s key man, as Gladbach was determined to find the German winger on the right flank. Of the few issues that Bayern suffered, one has been the positioning of their fullbacks. With the Bavarians aiming to press higher up the pitch, Phillip Lahm and David Alaba left a significant amount of space free behind them, which Favre’s men were keen on exposing. Juan Arango and Herrmann constantly got behind the Bayern fullbacks, creating chances for Kruse.

One of the major changes Guardiola has made was the removal of the double pivot, thus playing with one holder in Schweinsteiger. The Bavarians encountered the same issue in the German Super Cup, and once again they were caught on the break numerous times. Favre’s men were unable to take their chances, saving Bayern from conceding more goals and possibly dropping points.

Guardiola’s men put the game out of reach in the 69th minute, when Alvaro Dominguez conceded two penalties in the span of two minutes, allowing Alaba to convert his shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Bayern start their title defence with three points, but Guardiola’s system will take a few more weeks to flourish – until then, it’ll be fascinating to see how the Bavarians evolve under their new manager.

Aubameyang! Aubameyang! Aubameyang! (Augsburg 0-4 Borussia Dortmund)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s life in Germany kicked off in fine fashion, as he became the sixth player in Bundesliga history to score a hat trick on his debut. Borussia Dortmund is out to make a statement this season and challenge for domestic honours, and Augsburg was their first victim, as they cruised to a 4-0 victory. Robert Lewandowski added the fourth goal with a thunderous penalty kick.

“I pointed out to my team that our intensity would have to be the same as all other matches before, the Supercup included,” Klopp said.

“Our opponents were extremely strong but in the second half we won the ball more and found more space. We scored great goals and finished the game with confidence,” he added.

One area that Klopp will look to address is getting the best out of Ilkay Gundogan, who has played in the no.10 role and has failed to impress. But Aubameyang was the main man on the night displaying his aerial prowess, quality finishing, and ability to get behind the defence with his pace.

Although Jurgen Klopp sold Mario Gotze to the Bavarians, the German manager looks to have assembled a side that’s potentially better then last season, with the inclusion of Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Sam’s pace guides Leverkusen past Freiburg (Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 SC Freiburg)

Heung Min Son marked his Leverkusen debut with the match winner as Sami Hyypiä’s men easily dispatched of Freiburg at the BayArena. Last season’s Golden boot winner Stefan Kießling opened the scoring, but Mike Hanke leveled the match in the 40th minute, courtesy of a Jonathan Schmid assist.

However, Leverkusen’s wide men had the biggest impact on the match, after both sides found the back of the net in a dull first half. Sidney Sam used his pace to make identical runs behind the Freiburg backline to assist Son’s winner and score Leverkusen’s third goal.

Christian Streich’s men pushed for an equalizer but they struggled to create any opportunities in the final third. Frankly, most of their work came through Hanke, who was constantly moving across the final third linking play, but the creativity and final ball was lacking.

6-goal thriller at the Veltins-Arena (Schalke 3-3 Hamburg)

Adam Szalai’s 72nd minute equalizer saved Jens Keller’s men from a disappointing opening day loss at the Veltins Arena. Klass-Jan Huntelaar once again caused the Hamburg backline trouble, scoring two goals, making it five in two games.

But Schalke had other problems to deal with, starting with the 22nd minute departure of Julian Draxler, who limped off the pitch. Prior to his injury, Draxler was Schalke’s main attacking threat in the final third – spreading incisive passes in key areas, and assisting Huntelaar’s first goal.

Yet, once he departed, Thorsten Fink’s men began to assert their dominance, exposing Schalke’s weakness in wide areas and aerial duels. Maximillian Beister got behind the Schalke defence on numerous occasions with his direct runs, and his 24th minute header gave Hamburg the lead. Meanwhile, Lars Sobiech out jumped Joel Matip in the second half to retake the lead, after Huntelaar leveled the game before half time. Matip and Benedikt Höwedes struggled in the air, and were unable to cope with Jacques Zoua’s intelligent movement, as they were constantly dragged out of position.

Fink decided to switch to a 4-3-3 midway through the second half to preserve their lead, but it allowed youngsters Christian Clemens, Leon Goretzka and substitute Adam Szalai to stamp their authority on the match. They began to find gaps in the Hamburg midfield and looked threatening in the final third. More so, it was Clemens’ shot that Adler spilled and Szalai tapped in the rebound.

We start by conceding three goals at home. That’s way too many. We weren’t in the game at all in the first half, but we did a lot right in the second half,” Keller said.

Schalke fell behind twice, but found the courage to fight back, despite struggling for large portions of the match. Fink’s men were tactically superb, but the Hamburg manager’s decision to preserve their lead, led to their downfall, as the Royal Blues improved in the second half.

Other Results: Hannover 2-0 Wolfsburg, Braunschweig 0-1 Bremen, Hertha 6-1 Frankfurt, Hoffenheim 2-2 Nürnberg, Mainz 3-3 Stuttgart

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Published Work

 

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