Tag Archives: champions league

Tactical Preview: Real Madrid – Atletico Madrid


Cristiano Ronaldo Fernando Torres Copa del Rey – Round of 16 Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (Courtesy of Flickr/DSanchez17)

Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid were seconds away from European supremacy.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 10.31.02 AM

Projected Starting XI’s

Following a remarkable La Liga triumph over Spanish powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos last second header ignited an extra time onslaught, ultimately depriving Simeone’s men of an historic double. Carlo Ancelotti’s attack-minded substitutions – introducing Marcelo and Isco, which pushed Luka Modric into a deep-lying role – offered constant pressure against a fatigued Atletico side lacking a legitimate counter-attacking threat, and Simeone’s men couldn’t cope in the remaining 30 minutes of extra-time.

Though Atleti were so close to the unthinkable, it always felt like Real would notch an equalizer. What occurred subsequent to Ramos’ goal doesn’t reflect what occurred two years ago in Lisbon, yet this Saturday’s rematch at the San Siro offers a chance for both Madrid clubs to claim their first piece of silverware since that pulsating final.

“Revenge is a negative word, because it harks back to a defeat; on the other hand, opportunity is about optimism, confidence and what’s to come, and that’s what we want to show in the Champions League,” said Simeone.

“It was also perhaps a more mature squad, with the likes of [David] Villa, Raul García, Diego Ribas, [Jose] Sosa and Mario Suarez. This squad is different because it’s full of young players who are going through all this for the first time and will undoubtedly come out much more mature for the experience.”

Although the general pattern of the match will remain unchanged, the contrast in the paths both clubs have undergone is disparate. Where Real’s starting XI is fairly similar, only six Atleti players remain from the 18 named to the matchday squad two years ago. Certainly that highlights Simeone’s wonderful work at the Vicente Calderon, whilst eliminating tournament favourites Bayern Munich and Barcelona to receive another opportunity to claim the one trophy eluding the Argentine during his four years at the club.

Then, Atleti were without the clever Arda Turan, while Diego Costa’s hamstring resulted in the Spanish international’s premature departure within the opening five minutes. Atletico had developed the ideal formula to suffocate rivals Real through physicality and tackling – there 24.6 tackles per game is the highest in Europe –  but Simeone’s current side have evolved into a much better unit.

Still initially operating in a 4-4-2 with Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann dropping ahead of the opposing midfielders to clog spaces in midfield and cut off passing lanes, Atletico now assemble themselves higher up the pitch, and are capable of employing an aggressive press in the early stages of matches – this was illustrated in Saul’s opener against Bayern in the first leg of their semi-final clash. This could fluster the Real centre-backs and defensive midfielder Casemiro, as they’re culpable of committing errors when pressed, and forced to receive the ball in tight spaces. Yet, Simeone often makes mid-game adjustments which witnesses his side revert to a 4-5-1 by pushing Antoine Griezmann wide and Koke into midfield to help protect central areas, while the former joins the attack from deep or charges into the channels.

While the defence remains well-drilled – Simeone’s men conceded 18 league goals this season – the midfield offers improved technical ability, and the combination of Torres and Griezmann ensures they enter Saturday’s final with a legitimate goal-threat. Griezmann’s pace is vital when Atletico quickly turn defence into attack via transitions, and he provided 22 league goals as evidence.

Then there’s Torres. Once regarded as the world’s most revered striker, the Spaniard rediscovered his goal-scoring form following his return to his childhood club. Although Torres’ pace has been an afterthought in recent years, he currently serves as a battling centre-forward capable of linking play with the midfield, whilst developing a deadly partnership with Koke when the Spaniard operates in an advanced central role.


Courtesy of Flickr/Ver en vivo En Directo 

This is a younger, flexible Atletico side to the one that stumbled with literally seconds remaining of full-time, and Simeone deserves credit for the club maintaining an elite level despite several key departures. Perhaps Atleti head into the final as underdogs, but in terms of natural balance, organization, tactical discipline, and cohesion, Simeone’s men are far superior to their city rivals.

However, Real’s strengths, particularly the midfield zone, have also shifted along with their manager. Similar to the 2014 final, Zinedine Zidane’s men are likely to include a natural holding midfielder in Casemiro with hopes of negating Atleti’s threat on the counter-attack. But opposed to having a direct runner capable of linking midfield and attack in Angel di Maria, now Real covet two exceptional ball-playing midfielders ahead of the Brazilian.

Modric was pivotal to Real’s dominance in the final half hour of normal time two years ago, and his short penetrative forward passes will be decisive against an Atleti side that rarely concedes space between the lines. Kroos, on the other hand, must also have a good game due to Atleti’s compact shape as a possible option to overcome a congested midfield zone is to overload the flanks and quickly alter the route of attack with diagonal balls – Real’s key players operate in wide zones so this is a logical attacking ploy.

“It’s one of these matches in which anything can happen, it will be very complicated.” Zidane said Tuesday.

“We are not talking about a team that only defends well. It’s a very complete team. It knows how to play. It can create a lot of difficulty to the opponent when it has the ball.”

Ronaldo and Bale have struggled to influence derby matches in recent years due to Atletico’s excellent organization, and where Juanfran and Filipe Luis have been excellent this season, they equally receive additional cover from their wide players. This means Ronaldo and Bale will often be outnumbered in wide zones, and with the full-backs likely to be cautious with their positioning, the aforementioned wingers’ aerial prowess could be significant via crosses and set-pieces.

Set-pieces were decisive in Lisbon two-years ago, and Atleti still possess a legitimate threat with Diego Godin attacking balls in the box. Real haven’t necessarily replaced Iker Casillas with a commanding goalkeeper, and though Keylor Navas’ shot-stopping skills are amongst the best in the world, Simeone may aim to exploit this area.

Real once symbolized the superior club in Madrid, but constant turnover via managers and players has suddenly resulted in a slight decline. Simeone’s four-year spell at the club has been the difference, and through assembling the best defensive unit in Europe, he’s transitioned the 2014 finalists into arguably the best club in the world.

The ability to mount challenges on both fronts with a completely new squad signifies the culture Simeone has instilled at Atletico, and his side represents a template for what Real should aspire to become. But a moment of individual brilliance from Zidane’s star players can shift that belief, and where Simeone has built a sustainable elite side despite financial restraints, a Real win would be the fitting end to an era that is slowly appreciating the commencement of their neighbours’ dynasty.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Published Work


Tags: , , ,

Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea: Both sides display signs of underachievement at Old Trafford

hazard united

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 28: Eden Hazard of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on December 28, 2015 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Manchester United and Chelsea battled to a score-less draw at Old Trafford.

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 1.28.46 AM

Louis van Gaal recalled Wayne Rooney to lead the line, and changed his midfield duo with the inclusion of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Mateo Darmian also returned from injury to start at left-back, pushing Daley Blind to centre-back, whereas Ashley Young featured on the right.

Guus Hiddink was forced into changes as well due to the suspension of Diego Costa, while Gary Cahill, Cesc Fabregas, Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao were also unavailable for selection. Therefore, Eden Hazard started upfront, John Obi Mikel protected the defence alongside Nemanja Matic, while Kurt Zouma provided mobility in a centre-back partnership with John Terry.

Chelsea approach

There were no surprises in regards to the overall pattern of the match prior to kick off. United lead the league in possession stats this season, whereas Chelsea were always likely to play on the counter especially without Costa leading the line.

With that being said, it was interesting to see how Chelsea would approach the match out of possession. Willian and Pedro were forced deeper to prevent Young and Darmian from creating overloads, whereas Oscar aided Hazard in pressing. At times, Oscar moved upfront to lead the line to give Hazard a rest – on the other hand, the United midfield received more time on the ball – whereas Oscar and Willian occasionally swapped positions to maintain energy levels.

United countered Oscar’s pressing by having both Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger drop behind the halfway line to receive possession before attempting to play long diagonals towards the flanks. Likewise, Mikel and Matic sat in front of a narrow back four, which inevitably left space for Juan Mata and Herrera to drift into when Oscar and Hazard were pressing in United’s half.

Chelsea were fortunate not to concede in the opening 20 minutes, but their overall approach – despite its structural flaws – was rarely tested because of United’s limited penetration in the final third.

Clumsy possession out the back

Interestingly, Chelsea constantly found themselves in trouble when they attempted to play out the back. Perhaps this was Hiddink’s ploy to build attacks without Costa, but here, Chelsea were simply sloppy in possession.

Oscar was forced into a last-ditch tackle on Herrera after being dispossessed in his own half. Then, Mata intercepted Courtois’ attempt to find Cesar Azpilicueta, but the Spaniard’s cross to an unmarked Rooney was cleared by Zouma. Also in the second half, there was a sequence that witnessed Mikel fail to control a simple five-yard Zouma pass, thus resulting in a United corner kick.

United’s possession dominance led to a few nervy moments for the Blues, but they were equally placing United in key goal-scoring positions with their sloppy passing around the box.

United attack down the left

One of the main issues preventing United from enjoying a successful campaign thus far is their productivity in the final third. The lack of penetration through incisive passing and direct running resulted in a tedious attack that was aided by their determination to operate down the left.

United constantly aimed to take advantage of Branislav Ivanovic down the left, which was logical considering Martial operated in this zone. Though United’s initial chance stemmed from the right – Mata’s shot off the cross bar – Pedro and Azpilicueta adequately closed down Young’s crossing, whereas Mata drifted centrally throughout.

Attachment-1 (9)

On paper, Martial against Ivanovic favoured the Frenchman, but the United youngster struggled to impose himself against the Serbian. Chelsea appeared susceptible down this flank in the opening stages with Darmian surging forward, and Martial hitting the post, but the Serbian fared well in 1v1 battles with the Frenchman.

Nevertheless, intelligent movement and positive combinations still witnessed United create their best chances down the left in the second half. Darmian moving infield provided Martial enough space to storm past Pedro to present Herrera with a golden opportunity that Courtois miraculously saved. While, substitute, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s cross in the latter stages of the second half should’ve resulted in a Rooney winner.

Martial didn’t thrive in his individual battle with Ivanovic, but United still exploited Chelsea’s frailty down this flank, creating their best goal-scoring opportunities.


However, Hiddink’s major decision involved Hazard playing upfront. The unavailability of the natural centre-forwards meant the Dutchman had to tinker in this area, and with United fielding two attack-minded full-backs, combined with Hazard’s past defensive issues on the flanks, it was logical to start the Belgian upfront.

Frankly, both Oscar or Pedro have experience playing in this role – the former operated as natural no.9 at the Emirates last year, whereas the latter charged behind opposing defences during his time at Barcelona. Hazard performed superbly at White Hart Lane earlier in the year, receiving the ball in various areas, but the issue behind his role upfront was that Chelsea were deprived a penalty box presence. The same applied here, as the Belgian was outmuscled off the ball by Chris Smalling and Daley Blind when he received the ball with his back to goal.

Attachment-1 (8)

Still, the Belgian influenced an apathetic Chelsea midfield when he moved into deeper positions, however, suffering the most fouls throughout – the Belgian and Matic glided through challenges throughout to evade several challenges.

Attachment-1 (11).png

One move at the beginning of the second half epitomized his threat from deep – Hazard easily rolled Herrera and bypassed Schweinsteiger before playing in Pedro at the edge of the box, but De Gea made two outstanding saves to keep match goal-less. From open play, Chelsea’s attacking threat was scarce, but they were most dangerous when Hazard received the ball in the midfield zone.

Chelsea counters

Ultimately, Chelsea’s deep positioning and poor passing when they retained possession placed significant precedence on their counter-attacks. It was the evident attacking ploy for the Blues, but without any substantial build-up play, and sporadic set-pieces in dangerous areas, it appeared to be the away side’s sole goal source.

But where Chelsea usually countered with devastating efficiency under Mourinho, here, their counters appeared improvised. In the opening 20 minutes, both United centre-backs committed mistakes that enabled Hazard and Oscar to break towards the box, but both plays concluded with the former and Willian failing to provide Pedro with a final ball.

Essentially, the lack of a natural forward thwarted Chelsea’s counter-attacks. The likes of Pedro and Hazard are used to having forward offer diagonal runs for a final pass or to create space, but here, it led to poor decision-making from both men and the potential ball receiver. The duo was actually involved in a 2v2 break following the Belgian turning Schneiderlin near the half way line, but the entire play was halted as neither player made the correct run or pass.

As players tired, Chelsea’s threat on the counter decreased significantly, but they still squandered possibly the best chance of the game via this method of attack. Pedro was once again involved, as he swiftly stormed into United’s half – subsequent to a United corner – before playing in an unmarked Matic who motored into the box but fired his shot over the net.

Second half

The match followed a relatively similar pattern in the second half, however, Chelsea retreated deeper, their pressing decreased, and United received more time and space to turn possession dominance into goal scoring opportunities. Yet, apart from the two spurned aforementioned chances that stemmed from the left flank, United rarely tested the fatigued away side.

Perhaps a lack of rotation affected Chelsea here, as Ashley Young grew in prominence down the right with Pedro struggling to close the United full-back down, whereas Oscar and Hazard’s threat on the counter perished in the final 20 minutes. Herrera continued to charge into space space in the channels behind Mikel, and deserved a penalty on the opposite side of the box following a late last-ditch Azpilicueta tackle, while Blind received more time on the ball to play forward penetrative passes.

Attachment-1 (10)

Chelsea’s shape was shockingly disjointed with Matic protecting Terry, and Mikel unaware of Herrera’s movement behind him. But with Rooney coming forward to link play, and not enough players in the box to attack the full-backs’ crosses, United’s attack remained blunt.


Oddly, Hiddink refrained from using all his substitutions despite fielding more than half of his XI against Watford two days prior. Ramires replaced Willian on the right, but where Pedro, Oscar and Hazard were evidently exhausted in the final 20 minutes, Hiddink was reluctant to summon his youngsters.

Van Gaal quickly reacted to Ramires’ introduction by introducing Borthwick-Jackson, and replacing Blind for Phil Jones. This saw Smalling push forward in the final 10 minutes, but the change was likely due to Blind’s fitness levels rather than a tactical shift, considering Chelsea’s threat was non-existent during these stages.

The United manager’s attempt to rescue the match saw Memphis Depay replace Mata, pushing Martial to the right. Nonetheless, the change proved futile, as Memphis rarely touched the ball, whereas Martial offered no threat on the right. It was peculiar to see Fellaini remain on the bench with United delivering multiple crosses into the box, along the Dutchman preferring not to utilize Martial’s pace against a nervy Chelsea back-line.


As expected, one day’s rest provided a cautious battle between two underachieving Premier League sides, in which goal-keeping heroics and poor finishing proved decisive.

Martial Zoma

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 28: Anthony Martial of Manchester United battles for the ball with Kurt Zouma of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on December 28, 2015 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Chelsea were far from impressive, but with limited time on the training ground for Hiddink to employ his philosophy, combined with several first-team players unavailable, the interim Chelsea manager may be pleased with the result.

United, on the other hand, displayed improved dynamism and commitment in attacking areas, but the hosts’ susceptibility to counter-attacks, along with their limited penetration showcased one of the few issues under Van Gaal. A place in the top four remains attainable, but United must improve in both phases if they intend on achieving their target.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 30, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work, Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wolfsburg 3-2 Manchester United: United have no answers for Wolfsburg swift counter-attacks

Naldo United

WOLFSBURG, GERMANY – DECEMBER 08: Naldo of Wolfsburg celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League match between VfL Wolfsburg and Manchester United FC at the Volkswagen arena on December 8, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Wolfsburg recorded a historic victory over Manchester United to knock the English side out of the Champions League.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 3.50.33 PM

Dieter Hecking preferred a mobile attacking quartet, and therefore started Max Kruse ahead of Andre Schurrle, Julian Draxler and Vieirinha. Max Arnold and Julian Guilavogui formed a midfield duo, while Ricardo Rodriguez was fit to start the match at left-back.

Louis van Gaal faced several injury issues prior to kick-off, which eventually saw Guillermo Varela start at right-back, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marouane Fellaini sat in midfield. Juan Mata was the creative conductor behind the pacy attacking trio of Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.

Wolfsburg counter-attacked superbly in what proved to be a fairly open match that once again exploited Manchester United’s shortcomings on both ends.

United press

The most striking feat regarding the overall result was that United started the match fairly well. Wolfsburg prefer to pass their way from the back into the opposition’s third, so it was logical for Van Gaal to instruct his men to press from the front.

Essentially, United attempted a combination of high-pressing and man-marking with the centre-backs tightly marking Draxler and Kruse, while the full-backs prevent the wingers from getting a second or third touch in their attempts to turn towards goal.

Martial and Lingard pressed the centre-backs, and when Guilavogui dropped deep, Mata pushed forward to ensure it was 3v3 at the back. At times, the personnel varied with Mata and Martial pushing forward, while Fellaini closed down the Wolfsburg holding midfielder.

Though United’s pressing wasn’t entirely efficient, it led to some nervy moments for goalkeeper Julian Benaglio, whereas Memphis prevented Christian Trasch from surging forward. Memphis dispossessed Trasch and slid a pass into half-space for Martial, which ultimately troubled Benaglio. Later on, it was substitute Cameron Borthwick-Jackson that robbed Vieirinha in the buildup to Lingard’s contentious offside goal.

United created chances on the break due to their pressing, and successfully prevented Wolfsburg from enjoying long spells of possession in their half.

Wolfsburg without the ball

The hosts adopted a more simplistic approach out of possession, preferring to drop into a 4-5-1 rather than fully committing to pressing from the front. The midfield three were aligned and compact to ensure passes didn’t meet United players between the lines, but it was evident Wolfsburg aimed to prevent Schweinsteiger from dictating the tempo of the match from deeper positions.

Arnold stepped forward to fluster Schweinsteiger who’s been exposed in recent years when encounter dynamic pressing. However, when Wolfsburg sat off, Draxler was instructed to negate his compatriot’s passing lanes, where as Guilavogui matched Fellaini’s physicality in midfield.

United’s issue in open play has been apparent, so Hecking’s aim to press Schweinsteiger out of the game highlighted his intent to nullify the away side’s activity in the final third.


With that being said, Van Gaal’s men still scored from open play, and occasionally surged into key areas in the final third, but often lacked the final pass.

United’s attack was filled with pace, and Van Gaal intended on encouraging his ball-players to slide passes behind the defence for the onrushing runners. Daley Blind stepped forward to find Mata between the lines, and he instantly turned and located Martial’s diagonal run behind the defence for the opener.

It took United three passes to get to the Wolfsburg box, but it fully indicated their attacking intent going forward.

Minutes later, Memphis dispossessed Trasch and slid a through-ball into half space for Martial, but his cross on goal was hesitantly recovered by Benaglio. In the 27th minute, Guilavogui stepped forward to press Blind leaving space vacant between the lines, and though the Dutchman located Memphis between the lines, the United winger’s pass to Martial in the box was over hit – summing up United’s productivity around the penalty area.

Unfortunately for United, they were penalized for six offside calls throughout the match, with majority of the scenarios stemming around the box, as their attacking quartet failed to replicate the brilliance of the opening goal.

Wolfsburg counter-attack

The key attacking trend on the night was Wolfsburg’s counter-attack. This was partially down to United’s inability to collectively press as a unit for the entire first half, and Hecking’s men simply bypassed the opposition with nifty short passes.

Wolfsburg, however, stuck to their patented counter-attacking module by playing quick short passes around pressure and subsequently switching play to the opposite flank –  this element of attack was also implemented in last year’s riot of Bayern Munich. The hosts intended on isolating full-backs Varela and Matteo Darmian – the former is inexperienced and the latter’s form is poor – but Schurrle, in particular, failed to get the better of the youngster.

Hecking’s men attacked with five players as Arnold often ventured forward, and Vieirinha’s go-ahead goal represented the ideal Wolfsburg attack under this set-up. Following Wolfsburg successfully bypassing pressure in their half, two long diagonals were played to Schurrle and Draxler on both flanks, before the latter stormed past Schweinsteiger to combine with Kruse, thus resulting in a Vieirinha tap-in.

Schweinsteiger and Fellaini were both culpable for Wolfsburg’s ability to easily storm through midfield on the break. Schweinsteiger’s vertical passing in midfield zones was underwhelming, and he suffered under midfield pressure with Fellaini caught in advanced forward. One move saw Schweinsteiger give the ball away to Schurrle, who quickly located Draxler free on goal but David De Gea made a key save.

Fellaini and Schweinsteiger isn’t the ideal midfield duo against Europe’s better sides, and their inability to dictate the tempo of the match, combined with constantly being overrun by tricky dynamic players led to their first half issues.


On the defensive end, Fellaini was a liability, playing slightly ahead of Schweinsteiger. Van Gaal has retreated to playing through Fellaini late in games when chasing a goal, but the Belgian international represented an additional attacking threat that consistently worked opposed to a last-ditch approach.

The Belgian’s aerial prowess created several dangerous United moments, as he initially towered over Dante to force a terrific Benaglio save from an in-swinging Blind corner. In the second half, Benaglio made another sensational save to stop Memphis’ acrobatic shot, as Fellaini’s nod-down from a Martial cross placed United in a legitimate goal-scoring position

United’s equalizer was basically a carbon copy of Fellaini’s initial first half chance, as another Blind corner saw the Belgian shrug off Dante to nod the ball in the ground, but Guilavogui directed the ball into his own net. Fellaini’s offensive contribution vividly showcased why the Belgian is efficient in advanced areas, but here, in terms of overall balance, he was positioned in the wrong position.

United improves

United enjoyed lengthy spells of possession in the oppositions half during the final 45 minutes, with Hecking’s men dropping into two banks of four opposed to the initial 4-5-1. Hecking was wary of Blind’s vertical passes into pockets of space and encouraged Draxler to apply pressure on the Dutchman, while Kruse tracked Smalling.

This enabled Schweinsteiger to split the defenders to make it 3v2 in deep positions, with Arnold and Vieirinha occasionally pushing out of position to close the German down. However, majority of Schweinsteiger’s passes went to the flanks, and United persisted with astray balls over the Wolfsburg defence.

With United pushing so many men forward, Wolfsburg’s threat on the counter-attack increased. The trio of Schurrle, Draxler and Kruse consistently surged forward, with the former Chelsea man getting behind the United defence to force De Gea into key saves. Van Gaal turned to Michael Carrick and Nick Powell upfront, but neither player substantially influenced the match.


Oddly, while United were fairly dominant attacking set-pieces, they were severely poor from a defensive aspect, conceding two goals in the process. In fairness, defensive solidity is a combination of familiarity and effective partnerships, so United’s injury woes at the back initially placed Van Gaal’s men at a disadvantage.

Still, the simplicity in Naldo’s movement for both goals frustrated Van Gaal because they came minutes after United had scored, stemmed from simple runs away from the marker. The Brazilian international ran across several defenders to side-volley Gustavo Rodriguez’s free-kick past De Gea.

The winner saw Naldo simply run past Carrick to powerfully nod the ball off the ground and past the United goalkeeper. Basic man-marking proved costly, as Wolfsburg exposed United’s make-shift back four, whom failed to carry out simple defensive responsibilities.


It was possibly the most adventurous brand of football United have played this season, yet consequently they were overrun in midfield and still failed to translate possession dominance into creating ample quality chances. For the second time in the group-stage round, United took the lead away from home, and failed to sustain the lead due to poor set-piece marking and quick counter-attacks.

Nevertheless, this is what Wolfsburg are about, and what makes Hecking’s achievement so remarkable is the fact that the German side topped the group following the sales of Bundesliga player of the year Kevin De Bruyne, and Ivan Perisic – two key players to last year’s success. They simply worked hard to shut down United’s creative ball-players, and aimed to play their way out of trouble before charging past an immobile pairing of Schweinsteiger and Fellaini.

schwein smalling united

WOLFSBURG, GERMANY – DECEMBER 08: Bastian Schweinstieger of Manchester looks dejected during the UEFA Champions League match between VfL Wolfsburg and Manchester United FC at the Volkswagen arena on December 8, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

United had no answers to Wolfsburg’s counters with Morgan Schneiderlin unavailable, and the heavy reliance on Schweinsteiger to be the focal point of United’s midfield at this stage in his career is peculiar. It’s difficult to question Van Gaal’s approach going forward, but apart from the opening 10 minutes, United’s work out of possession was shocking.

This puts Van Gaal’s work at United into question. In a group that many tipped United to win, the Red Devils rarely imposed sustained dominance in any match, whilst the recurring issues on both sides of the pitch played to their downfall. Van Gaal’s a stubborn man, but this should serve as a lesson to the United manager who risks stagnation if the required tweaks to his philosophy are overlooked.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work, Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid

TURIN, ITALY - MAY 05: Alvaro Morata of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images) Credit: Marco Luzzani / stringer

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 05: Alvaro Morata of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Credit: Marco Luzzani / stringer

Juventus recorded an impressive home victory against reigning European champions Real Madrid, courtesy of goals from Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 8.57.10 PM

Massimiliano Allegri was still without Paul Pogba in his preferred 4-3-1-2, and handed Stefano Sturaro a place in midfield alongside, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo in midfield.

Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo formed a pacy strike partnership upfront in Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-4-2. Sergio Ramos maintained his makeshift role in midfield with Toni Kroos, whereas James Rodriguez and Isco drifted infield from the flanks.

This was something of a traditional European Juventus performance under Allegri: the Bianconeri attacked directly with balls into the strikers, and once they regained the lead in the second half, showcased the ideal manner in closing out a match through organized defending.

Juve welcomes pressure

The most interesting tactical approach throughout full-time was Juve’s approach in the first half. Most Serie A teams are often ridiculed for their inability to cope with intense pressing and dynamic opposition, but under Allegri, Juve have managed to overcome the stereotype.

Similar to their victory over Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16, Juve intended luring Real forward with patient passes in their half, and then bypassing the press with simple lofted balls into their strikers. Real, however, weren’t keen on blitzing the hosts with pressure in the opening minutes, and were at times reluctant to move higher up the pitch as a unit. A simple Leonardo Bonucci punt saw Morata’s presence fluster Pepe, but the Spaniard’s audacious chip nearly fooled Iker Casillas.

Nonetheless, with Vidal dropping deeper into midfield to create overloads, Juve were free to play vertical passes into advanced positions, and Tevez shifted into space behind Ramos and Kroos. It was Pirlo’s ball into Tevez between the lines that led to Sturaro recording Juve’s first shot on target. Following a terrific Juventus passing move, it was Tevez again that drifted into an ocean of space between Marcelo and Raphael Varane to receive a pass from Marchisio, and fire a low shot at Casillas, which ultimately resulted in Morata’s tap in.

Juventus goal real madrid

This was a brave decision from Allegri, but Morata’s positioning on the last defender stretched Real’s shape, and the Spanish side’s reluctance to press, combined with Juve’s overload in central areas, enabled Tevez to find space between the lines.

Real sloppy in possession

Juve was equally proactive without the ball in the early stages. The shuttlers pushed forward on the wingers, and while Kroos was free to retain the ball, Juve’s centre backs weren’t scared to step forward ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

There was a moment when Chiellini stepped forward to dispossess Bale, which resulted in Tevez receiving the ball in space and firing an audacious effort wide of the net. Sturaro also nicked the ball off Ramos in the opening half and broke down the left channel before cutting the ball back to the Argentine striker, but his effort was poor once again.

More importantly it was Morata who led by example: the Spaniard forced Casillas into a poor pass to Marchisio that led to a Vidal penalty shout, and dispossessed Varane in Real’s box, but was harshly penalized for a foul. While lackadaisical play from several Real players resulted in several Juve transitional moves, the hosts’ discipline to quickly close down their markers proved beneficial.

Real attacks

Real eventually settled into the match once Juve dropped deeper into two narrow banks of four. This was the identical shape Real adopted when Juve monopolized possession, but where the Italian champions appeared perplexed when required to break down the opposition, the away side overcame their issues through width from the full-backs.

With James and Isco moving infield, central areas were congested, which could also explain the former’s delivery into the box for Varane serving as Juve’s first scare. Prior to Ronaldo’s goal, it was the Portuguese forward’s diagonal run between the centre-backs to meet Isco’s delicate through ball that stretched the Juventus back-line.

However, Juventus’ deep positioning prevented Ronaldo and Bale space to run into, and their narrow shape limited Real’s creative players from sliding incisive balls behind the back four. Where Juve bypassed Real’s midfield band with balls into the forwards, the away side countered their issue by pushing the fullbacks forward. Coincidentally, the duo completed the most passes in the attacking third at Juventus Stadium.

Marcelo Carvajal juventus

It was Dani Carvajal’s clever ball into half-space for James that bamboozled Juve’s defence and allowed the Colombian to deliver the cross for Ronaldo’s equalizer. It was one of many long passing moves – and also similar to Juve’s patient buildup for Morata’s opener – that eventually prevailed due to width. Real nearly took the lead minutes from half-time from a similar move that saw Marcelo and Isco overload the left flanks, but James’ nodded the latter’s cross off the bar.

Second half

Juve started the second half with the energy that was displayed in the early stages of the first. Allegri’s men pressed higher up the pitch once again to prevent Real from playing out the back, and created the first legitimate chance of the half when Tevez turned Pepe and fired a shot directly at Casillas.

Although the home side’s ambition to win possession higher up the pitch was successful in the first, the initial ten minutes of the second was stop-start due to Real constantly breaking lines. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sturaro and Bonucci all committed cynical fouls to half Real breaks, and it appeared the match was shifting in Real’s favour with every passing minute.


Then came the equalizer. While it may have been another direct move involving the two Juventus strikers, it was rather fortuitous then planned. Still, Real were caught on the break, a situation Ancelotti should have been wary about heading into this tie – particularly following Juve’s triumph over Dortmund earlier this year.

Marcelo’s shot ricocheted off Kroos, igniting a 2v2 break between Juve’s strikers and Real full-backs, which resulted in both men being fouled – Carvajal clipping Tevez in the box. Tevez notched his 29th goal of the season from the spot, but also shifted the match back into Allegri’s hand despite a nervy start to the second half.

Both managers react

The goal forced both managers into significant system alterations. Ancelotti turned to his only fit striker, Javier Hernandez, to replace Isco, as Madrid effectively became a 4-3-3. Allegri instantly reacted by inserting Andrea Barzagli into defence for Sturaro to make Juventus a 3-5-2 that eventually transitioned into a 5-3-2 out of possession.

Bale Ronaldo Juventus

Bale was finally involved in the match, receiving space downn the right flank, but Real’s attempt to blitz the penalty area with hopeless crosses proved unsuccessful, as Juve’s experienced back trio and Gianluigi Buffon coped well. In theory, the move was supposed to provide a focal point upfront, but also offer more service into Ronaldo, but the Portuguese star’s threat in the final third was scarce.

Juve, however, comfortably managed the final quarter of the game. They were organized defensively, whereas Morata held up the ball well to bring his teammates forward. Allegri’s substitutions were equally impressive, replacing Morata for compatriot Fernando Llorente, and Tevez for the energetic Pereyra.

Llorente was involved in the two best chances of the match subsequent to Tevez’s winner. Once again a simple Marchisio ball over the top troubled Varane – who had a poor outing – enabling Llorente to round Casillas, but Carvajal intercepted his pull back to the onrushing Pereyra. Then, from a stoppage time Pirlo free kick, the Spaniard nodded a tame effort at Casillas.

Tevez’s winner forced the Italian managers to alter their approach, but in terms of preparation and overall efficiency, Allegri outwitted Ancelotti.

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Carlos Tevez of Juventus celebrates as he scores their second goal from a penalty during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) Credit: Michael Regan / staff


The overall pattern of the match went as expected when you assess Juve and Real’s road to the semi-finals. Ancelotti has often relied on width from the full-backs to overcome narrow defensive lines, whereas direct balls into Morata and Tevez has been Allegri’s method of bisecting the opposition’s pressing.

But Juve’s method of baiting Real into pushing higher up the pitch was interesting. Yet it’s difficult to understand Ancelotti’s approach in this tie. Surely several players performed poorly – Bale, Varane, Ramos, and to an extent Marcelo – but Real appeared flabbergasted by Tevez’s movement in the opening stages, and constantly looked vulnerable when balls were played into the strikers.

It’s unlikely that Real will perform this poorly at the Bernabeu, but they haven’t been entirely impressive at home this season.

Allegri’s second half changes preserved a positive home triumph over the reigning champions, and it’s likely he may stick with a three-man defensive system with the wingbacks maintaining cautious positions, and rely on quick counters led by their dynamic front two in the return leg at the Bernabeu.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chelsea 2-2 PSG (AET): Blanc outwits Mourinho as PSG are rewarded for their bravery following Ibrahimovic’s dismissal

Fabregas veratti

Ten men PSG relied on goals from their Brazilian centre backs to come from behind on two separate occasions, effectively knocking Chelsea out of the Champions League at Stamford Bridge

 Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 7.09.40 PM

Jose Mourinho made one change to the side that featured in France, with Oscar joining Eden Hazard and Ramires behind Diego Costa. This was the expected Chelsea XI with the back four unchanged, while Cesc Fabregas dropped deeper to form a midfield duo with the returning Nemanja Matic, and Ramires operated on the right to help contain Blaise Matuidi.

Laurent Blanc welcomed back Thiago Motta into the XI alongside Marco Verratti and Matuidi to form a midfield trio. Javier Pastore was selected over compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right of a three-pronged attack, with David Luiz moving to centre back and Marquinhos pushing Gregory Van der Wiel to the bench.

Although PSG never took the lead, the French champions displayed the confidence to not only maintain their initial approach, but also outplay and outmuscle a limp Chelsea side that held a man advantage for over 90 minutes.

Cagey opening period

This was a contrast of last year’s return leg at Stamford Bridge. On that night, Chelsea required two goals to secure progression, and PSG happily sat deep in their half, with the intent of playing on the counter. But this time around, a scoreless draw would see the French champions crash out of the tournament, which led many to believe an entertaining European clash was on the horizon.

Marquinhos van der wiel chelsea psg 2014 2015

The interesting feat in the opening half hour, however, was the manner in which both sides approached the match without the ball. Blanc’s men maintained a medium block and their pressing, led by Verratti, was initiated when Chelsea’s attacking players entered the French side’s half. Chelsea aimed to peg PSG into their half from the opening kickoff, with Oscar joining Diego Costa in leading the press. PSG enjoyed lengthy spells of possession in the first leg with Verratti and Luiz retaining possession near the semi-circle, but Mourinho instructed his men to cut off those passes. Costa and Oscar sat between the two players, while Matic sporadically pushed forward to aid the aforementioned attackers.

Still, PSG was better equipped for Chelsea’s threat in open play and it started with the inclusion of Marquinhos, who was handed the task of negating Hazard’s threat down the left – mainly because van der Wiel struggled in the first leg. Hazard was fairly quiet down the left in this regard, only enjoying a powerful run when he skipped past Pastore in the third minute.

On the other hand, Cesar Azpilicueta was a tad more adventurous. The Spanish left back moved into advanced positions due to Pastore’s reluctance to track his runs, along with his narrow positioning, but his attacking impact was scarce. Nonetheless, an interesting feat of the second leg was the risk Blanc took on the left. With Cavani often in a central position, Branislav Ivanovic, the best right back in the Premier League, and Ramires, a powerful runner received space to overload Maxwell. Oddly, Chelsea’s activity often transpired on the opposite flank, whilst Matuidi’s discipline was evident, as his tireless work ethic saw the French midfielder track Ramires and Ivanovic when they attempted to surge forward.

Chelsea attacks

While Chelsea’s attacking six combined well with nifty intricate passing, the Blues lacked a final ball on numerous occasions. And despite the likes of Oscar, Costa and Fabregas finding space between the lines to receive the ball, Chelsea’s creative players were underwhelming.

Chelsea PSG shots prior iBRA SEND OFF

A tame Oscar effort was the sole attempt on target from both sides combined, but more importantly, Mourinho’s side were breaking into key areas. On two occasions in the first half, Thibaut Courtois coolly collected corners and instantly ignited breaks with his quick throws. First, Fabregas found Oscar between the lines but his heavy touch halted the play. Then, Courtois’ rolled ball to Hazard earned Matuidi a booking for tugging the Belgian to the ground. Chelsea’s quick breaks from Courtois throws were promising, but ultimately, the quality in the final third was disappointing.

As stated prior, it was peculiar to see Chelsea reluctant to overload Maxwell or increase Matuidi’s workload. Costa, who was heavily isolated in Paris, drifted to the left to avoid 1v2 situations with Luiz and Silva, and attempt to combine with Hazard. Silva eventually shifted over to the left to provide Marquinhos cover as the match progressed, and despite a splendid individual slalom that led to a penalty shout, Costa rarely outfoxed the Brazilian centre backs.

10 v 11

The turning point in this frenetic second leg took place when Ibrahimovic was harshly dismissed for a tackle on Oscar. Despite occasionally dropping deep to help PSG push forward and launch counter attacks, the Swede hardly influenced the match – in reality, the sending off was beneficial to the French side.

Oddly, the tempo of Chelsea’s passing and movement decreased, which ensured PSG’s solid shape was rarely threatened. Likewise, Blanc’s formation remained the same: Cavani moved upfront, with Matuidi playing a dual role on the left, and Pastore drifting laterally into pockets of space on the right.

PSG dominate

More so, PSG’s assertion of dominance was spectacular considering the French side was down a man against the Premier League leaders. In particular, Motta and Verratti were the key men: they completed the most passes (Motta 95 and Verratti 80) and achieved over a 90 per-cent passing rate.

Motta verratti passing tackles chelsea 2014 2015

The duo grew in prominence in the second half, as Chelsea’s work ethic and approach out of possession was shocking, while their energy levels significantly decreased. Mourinho’s side sat in two banks of four, but the midfield band wasn’t compact, and there was plenty of space to drift into to receive the ball. PSG’s ball playing midfielders weren’t pressed, and when so, it was often disjointed, which could explain why the top passing combinations in the match involved Motta and Verratti.

Motta verratti pass combo chelsea

Similar to Verratti, Matic pushed forward to press the Italian – the duo led the match with five fouls committed – and disrupt the away side’s passing rhythm, but apart from the Serbian’s effort, Chelsea was overloaded in midfield. The midfield trio casually waltzed into pockets of space to serve as passing options, and Pastore also dropped deeper to offer an outlet.

Matic Verratti fouls chelsea psg 2014 2015

PSG’s best move of the match, and arguably the tie, illustrated the freedom they received in midfield. Prior to picking up the ball near his box and quickly combining with Marquinhos and Motta, the Italian evaded challenges from Hazard and Willian, slid a pass between the lines for Pastore, who finally connected a through-ball to Cavani – who ran behind Fabregas and off the shoulder of Ramires – to round Courtois, but he fired his shot off the post.

Cavani was culpable for missing two key chances in the same tie last season, and although he was nearly responsible for their exit once again, the move vividly epitomized a mobile, yet fluid side in the second half. Cavani played off the shoulder of the centre backs, Matuidi continued to shuttle forward from the left to try to connect with crosses from wide areas, Motta sat deeper and retained the ball, Verratti offered tenacity and intelligent passing with his dynamism, and Pastore’s aim to drift into pockets of space and play through balls should have resulted in a goal.

Perhaps Chelsea can be criticized for their dire play, but PSG were clearly the better side in the second half, with their ball playing midfielders overloading central areas to steamroll Chelsea’s midfield.


Apart from Willian’s second half arrival, it was interesting to see both managers attempt to alter the match subsequent to Cahill’s opener – there was less than 10 minutes remaining in the match.

Blanc called upon Adrien Rabiot and Ezequiel Lavezzi to replace Matuidi and Verratti with PSG moving to a 4-2-2-1. Rabiot and Motta sat in midfield, with Lavezzi and Pastore behind Cavani – the former stormed forward from the right to play closer to the Uruguayan striker, and the latter persisted with drifting between the lines.

Within seconds, Pastore’s move to the left proved beneficial as it offered Maxwell space to surge past Willian to deliver a cross to Lavezzi in the box, but the Argentine’s header flew right at Courtois. Then, Maxwell’s adventurous off the ball run enabled Pastore to isolate Willian to earn that corner that resulted in Luiz’s equalizer.

Mourinho, on the other hand, remained cautious and introduced Kurt Zouma for the knackered Matic, and similar to big matches against both Manchester clubs this season, the Blues conceded a late goal after dropping deep to soak up pressure. Mourinho turned to Didier Drogba in extra-time opposed to Juan Cuadrado or Loic Remy, and was likely aiming to add an additional aerial presence in the box.

Drogba moved upfront, and Costa was now positioned on the left, which in truth, didn’t harm Chelsea because Marquinhos rarely ventured forward and the Spanish international was often positioned in that area throughout the match. The Ivorian served as an expedient outlet for Hazard to play off of in extra-time, but Marquinhos and Salvatore Sirigu’s last ditch efforts prevented the Blues from notching a third goal.

Set pieces

Nevertheless, set pieces, or to be specific, aerial duels, proved decisive over 210 minutes of football. The first leg saw three Chelsea defenders combine for an unorthodox away goal, PSG aim to isolate Cesar Azpilicueta via crosses, and Cavani rising high to snatch a second half equalizer.

Both sides possess dominant aerial players, and the lack of guile and creativity – despite PSG showcasing both as they pushed for a goal and created a few half chances in the second half – increased the significance of set pieces. Where Sirigu desperately flapped at corners throughout, PSG’s inability to clear their lines resulted in both Chelsea goals.

However, PSG’s two goals were quite extraordinary considering their corners and crosses into the box in the opening half – that Courtois easily snagged – were poor. But moments of sheer brilliance from the world’s most expensive centre backs, combined with shocking marking from Chelsea’s defenders, saw Luiz’s thunderous header force extra-time, and Silva win the tie on away goals – he beat Terry on two occasions within minutes, as Courtois made a stellar save prior to the equalizer.


PSG’s performance at Stamford Bridge was superb, and amazingly it appears Ibrahimovic’s dismissal was a blessing in disguise. The French side was unconvincing prior to the sending off, as Chelsea’s numerical advantage altered the Blues’ approach both mentally and tactically.

Blanc, however, deserves credit for his game management. The French manager stuck with his initial approach in a major European tie at Stamford Bridge: his side was defensively organized out of possession, while the ball playing midfielders were vastly superior in central areas.

Mourinho was astonishingly unprepared for this situation, and his sluggish midfielders, particularly Matic (who trained once prior to kick-off) failed to dictate the tempo of the match and were severely underwhelming in the final third. The Blues were lethargic in possession, and they were shockingly open without the ball in the second half, lacking the structure and solidity required to compete with PSG’s powerful, yet technical ball playing midfielders.

In recent years, Mourinho has been left humbled in world football’s most prestigious tournament, but here, he was outcoached and outwitted by Blanc’s bravery. While Chelsea and Mourinho continue the club’s “evolution” – a mission to return the former to Europe’s elite – Blanc will hope PSG’s historic triumph could be the catalyst in the club’s journey into that exclusive group.

Leave a comment

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Premier League Preview: Arsenal

Courtesy of Flickr/Ronnie Macdonald

Courtesy of Flickr/Ronnie Macdonald

What a difference a year makes.

Arsenal supporters were sweating profusely with the Premier League season swiftly approaching, as Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini were the only players brought into the club on free transfers.

In search of a trophy and a world-class player, Gunners supporters were forced to watch their league rivals bolster their squad, while they quickly refreshed their twitter page, with hopes of a transfer announcement on the official Arsenal feed.

However, the boos that echoed throughout the Emirates Stadium following Arsenal’s opening day loss to Aston Villa last season were quickly forgotten.

There’s a new vibe around the Emirates this time around, as they secured Champions League football for another season and ended their lengthy trophy drought by claiming the FA Cup in May.

The animosity’s transitioned into glee, and the fact that Wenger completed four signings before August signals a change in direction.

The swagger in his step along with the smile that warmed many hearts during his first decade in England has returned.

The positivity floating around the Emirates derives from winning trophies, but now Arsenal faces another stern task.

How will they build on last season’s success?

It’s been awhile since the incessant banter surrounding a trophy drought, the urgency to acquire a world-class player, or the chances of remaining in the top four haven’t dominated Arsenal’s preseason discussion, which serves as a victory in itself.

Arsenal has kept the core of their squad at the Emirates, and Wenger expertly utilized his time in Brazil to poach some of the World Cup’s key performers.

David Ospina and Mathieu Debuchy are straight replacements for the departed Lukasz Fabianski and Bacary Sagna, Joel Campbell’s successful World Cup has rewarded him with a return to the Emirates — opposed to another loan move — while Callum Chambers is a versatile defender for the future.

Wenger, however, won over the fans with the addition of another world-class signing in Alexis Sanchez. There was doubt surfacing around North London regarding Wenger’s ability to attract world-class talent, but following the signings of Ozil and Sanchez, the Frenchman has put those claims to rest. Equally, he’s learned from his mistake with Ozil’s transfer last year, and appears to have a concrete plan on how to utilize the vibrant Chilean attacker.

Sanchez is an exceptional talent that has undergone several positional changes over recent years, and his versatility provides Wenger with variety in attack. Last season, Arsenal solely relied on Olivier Giroud, as Yaya Sanogo wasn’t — and still isn’t — ready to lead the line on a consistent basis, and Sanchez’s arrival provides Wenger with substantial flexibility upfront.

Giroud lacks mobility and pace, but he prefers to play with his back to goal and link play with on rushing runners. Sanchez, on the other hand, offers a contrasting element of attack as he’s a diminutive pacy attacker that charges towards goal.

The Chilean’s physique is misleading, though, as he’s capable of shrugging off defenders to link play and his admirable work-rate sees him successfully challenge and win aerial duels. The one odd feat about Sanchez is that he tends to miss the easy chances, but is capable of providing moments of sheer brilliance.

Sanchez and Giroud would form the perfect strike partnership with their contrasting styles, but it’s likely that Giroud will start the season as the main striker, with Sanchez playing on the right until Theo Walcott returns from injury.

Arsenal’s attack improves with the signing of Sanchez, but Aaron Ramsey’s fitness is also a key factor this season.

Ramsey was indubitably the best midfielder in the country prior to his injury last winter, and his form towards the end of last season — that included a cracking volley against Norwich and the game-winning goal in the FA Cup final — has been carried into preseason. Although Arsenal’s preseason results varied — two one-goal defeats and a convincing win over Benfica — Ramsey offered the creativity, tackling and running that has seen him transition into an exceptional all-rounder.

Wenger, however, must get the best out of Ramsey’s teammates, who have stagnated since their arrival at the club. Jack Wilshere has been considerably mediocre over the past few seasons, Santi Cazorla has failed to replicate his form from his first season at the Emirates, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott need to remain fit.

This could explain the arrival of fitness expert Shad Forsythe, as Wenger hopes to decrease the injuries that occur throughout his squad, but the English trio must also incorporate a level of consistency to their game.

Likewise, Ozil’s second season in England should see him reach the levels that many expected to see with runners in Sanchez, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain available.

The main concern, though, lies within their options at the defensive midfield position with Flamini and Mikel Arteta protecting the back-line. The former displayed his inability to provide adequate cover over the course of the season, while Arteta — who in fairness isn’t a natural holding midfielder — is exposed on a weekly basis on the counter-attack and against top-class play-makers.

The defence is equally questionable as they capitulated in the second half of last season. Although there’s adequate cover in the fullback positions, Kieran Gibbs has yet to improve, while the verdict will be out on whether Debuchy can eclipse the quality that Sagna offered on both ends of the field.

Similarly, Thomas Vermaelen’s move to Barcelona ensures that the arrival of an experienced centre-back is now a priority. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker formed one of the sturdiest centre-back partnerships last season, but it would be inane to solely rely on the duo and Chambers.

Stylistically, Arsenal is likely to add a hint of directness with their possession-based system, despite their counter-attacking approach in preseason. Arsenal possess the quality to steamroll past inferior opposition in the Premier League, but their record away from home against the top-sides must improve. Away from the Emirates, Wenger’s side was battered against the teams that finished in the top five, along with falling short against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Of the teams that finished in the top-eight, Arsenal only enjoyed victories over Spurs, and Liverpool at the Emirates, which illustrates required improvement against the top-sides in the Premier League.

Nevertheless, Arsenal is a better side this year, and while European supremacy is still beyond them, they’re inching closer towards legitimately challenging for the title. Domestic cup competitions appear to be the likely source of more silverware this season, but they possess a squad capable of pushing Chelsea and Manchester City to the finish line.

More so, if Wenger intends on lifting his first Premier League title in over a decade, he will need improved performances throughout his squad and the arrival of a top-class defensive midfielder and centre-back.

Arsenal is arguably two moves away from an unforgettable season, but even if they fail to bolster those areas, anything less than a third place finish should be classified as a disappointment.

It’s time for the Gunners to push forward.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 10, 2014 in EPL, Premier League


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid


Courtesy of Flickr/Ver en vivo En Directo

Despite an ineffective first half display, Real Madrid came from behind to claim their 10th European title.



With this being the fifth meeting between the two sides this season, there was a good chance that the pattern of the match would be the same. Both sides prefer to play on the counter, but the manner in which they attack on the break is slightly different.

As displayed against Bayern Munich and Barcelona this season, Real prefer to sit deeper and utilize the pace of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to punish opponents. Atletico, on the other hand, press the opposition in midfield and look to facilitate the ball to their forwards, as they’re positioned to receive the ball while running due to their deep positioning.

Simeone’s side, though, won La Liga averaging less than 50% of possession, and similar to previous encounters, Real dominated possession and was forced to unlock an organized Atletico defence.

Madrid’s issue

The main issue Madrid encountered during three of the four meaningful matches with their cross-town rivals this season was the ability to create goal-scoring opportunities. Even their 3-0 victory in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal was flattering, as two of the three goals took heavy deflections.

Ancelotti opted to play Khedira –– who featured in 117 minutes of action since his return from a six-month layoff –– ahead of Illarramendi who’s been exploited in high-profile matches on a few occasions this season. Experience was a factor in Ancelotti’s decision, along with the German’s mobility, tenacity, and strength. Khedira, however, was fielded as the single-pivot in midfield.


Similar to the first Madrid derby at the Bernabeu, Khedira’s presence was futile as he constantly decreased Real’s passing tempo, and his distribution was conservative. Atletico dropped into their traditional two banks of four to limit productivity in their third and central areas.


Likewise, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria were forced to receive the ball near the halfway line to avoid Atletico’s press, thus impeding their impact on the match. Simeone’s side also pressed Madrid higher up the pitch –– more often in the earlier stages and when Costa was on the pitch –– as they aimed to quickly break into Real’s box. Villa and substitute Adrian Lopez harried Khedira when he received the ball, and the former also applied pressure on Modric in these areas.


In the first half, Real failed to test goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Real’s best chance was created through Tiago’s misplaced pass at the half-hour mark. The pass fell to Bale, but as the Welshman ran into the box, desperate lunges from Tiago and Miranda forced the 24-year-old to steer his shot wide of the net.

Equally, Atletico’s shape without the ball must be lauded. Simeone’s men have impressively contained Bale and Ronaldo’s threat this season, and that continued in Lisbon. Both wide players prefer to drift into central areas to score goals, and while the Atletico wide players closed down passing lanes, Gabi and Tiago protected their back four admirably.


Bale occasionally dropped deeper to retain the ball, but in the opening half neither Karim Benzema nor Ronaldo touched the ball in Atletico’s box.



Adrian replaced Costa in the ninth minute, and suddenly Simeone was left with the XI many expected the Argentine to initially field. Ultimately this left Atletico’s attack limited in open play. It’s likely that Simeone would play Garcia behind Costa –– for his defensive pressure and offensive aerial threat –– with Turan on the flank, but with his best offensive options unavailable, set pieces appeared to be their best hope.

Prior to the goal, Atletico continuously aimed to overload the left flank, and deliver crosses to Garcia at the far post, as he attempted to isolate Fabio Coentrao. David Villa no longer offers the goal-threat he once did a few years ago, whereas apart from Adrian’s pace –– which forced Varane into conceding the corner that led to Diego Godin’s opener –– the 26-year-old’s threat upfront was scarce.

Subsequently, Varane half-heartedly cleared Gabi’s corner, and Juanfran instantly nodded the ball back into the box, but with Iker Casillas yards off his line, Godin out jumped Khedira and nodded the ball into the net. It was Godin’s eighth goal of the season –– all headers –– and without Costa it was the likely source for an Atletico goal.

Di Maria

Nevertheless, Real’s success always lied in the hands of Di Maria and Modric. Heading into the match they were two players that were required to perform if Real intended on claiming La Decima. The duo was outstanding in Real’s first leg Copa del Rey triumph, and in their draw at the Calderon, Turan and Koke nullified their strengths.

Here, however, Di Maria was the best player on the pitch. Often referred to as underrated, and rarely considered a big game player, the Argentine has developed into one of Madrid’s most important players since Ancelotti implemented the 4-3-3 system at the turn of the year.

Initially, Di Maria was instructed to play crosses from deep positions into the box. Although Atletico’s back four is dominant in aerial duels, the Argentine’s deliveries from deep have tormented Simeone’s men in every encounter this season. In the first half, though, a mixture of poor crossing, and lack of movement in the box meant Di Maria’s deliveries were ineffective.

Real required the Argentine’s dynamism in midfield, and his sharp runs from deeper positions tormented Atletico’s back four. In the early stages, referee Björn Kuipers, wrongly awarded advantage following Di Maria’s sensational run –– where Gabi fouled him –– which led to Coentrao breaking free into the box from the left channel.

That was a warning to Simeone’s men, as Di Maria forced Garcia and Miranda into bookings with his powerful runs from midfield. Meanwhile, in the second half, Juanfran feared that the Argentine would once again cause havoc in the final third, thus resulting in a cynical challenge subsequent to Di Maria’s first touch.


Di Maria’s dynamism in midfield made him Real’s most proactive player on the field, as he produced another breathtaking performance.

Atletico go 4-2-3-1 

Simeone wasn’t getting the best out of Adrian as the highest attacker in Atletico’s 4-4-2, so the Argentine adopted a 4-2-3-1 in the second half. The alteration was beneficial to Atletico as they began to exploit key areas in Real’s third, whereas Adrian and Koke enjoyed a fine 10 minute spell on the left flank.


Now Koke and Adrian were on the flanks –– with Koke drifting into central areas to become a third passer in midfield  –– and Garcia sat behind Villa as the main target man. Garcia played this role to perfection in the 2-2 draw at the Calderon this season, but the two wide players thrived in the early stages of the second half.

In the 49th minute, Filipe Luis dispossessed Dani Carvajal in Real’s third, and then played a pass to Koke who drifted over to the left flank to create the overload. Koke then delivered a cross towards the far post for Garcia, but the Spaniard side-volleyed his effort over the bar. Afterwards, the 22-year-old delivered another promising cross into Real’s box, and Coentrao’s header cleared the ball into Adrian’s feet, but his shot deflected off Khedira for a corner.

Equally, Adrian’s pace and ability to evade challenges in tight spaces enabled him to get the better of Carvajal –– along with Isco and Modric –– on a few occasions, but the 26-year-old lacked an incisive final ball. In terms of attacks created from open play, this was Atletico’s best spell, but their habit of not finishing their chances in big games led to their downfall.

Swapped formations

Ancelotti quickly reacted to Simeone’s changes by introducing Marcelo and Isco for Coentrao and the underwhelming Khedira. Madrid effectively transitioned into a 4-4-2 with Isco and Modric sitting in midfield, while Di Maria was positioned on the left flank.


Seven minutes later, Simeone replaced the fatigued Garcia for Jose Sosa, thus leaving Villa upfront on his own. Atletico were now shaped in a 4-3-3, but due to Real’s superiority in possession, Simeone’s men were pegged into their half and they were more of a 4-5-1. 

Atletico’s limited options on the bench may have forced Simeone to preserve his lead, and unlike previous meetings he reacted to Real’s offensive changes.

Real dominate

However, Ancelotti’s changes were identical to the ones made in the league showdown at the Calderon. There he started the match with two defensive-minded fullbacks before introducing Marcelo and Carvajal. Marcelo’s passing, dribbling and goal presence is superior to Coentrao’s, which explains the logic in the substitution.

Real also lacked a link between midfield and attack without Alonso, so Isco was introduced to exploit pockets of space as Atletico’s press decreased. Atletico’s players tired –– which is understandable due to their dynamic style of play and it being the final game of the season –– and with Simeone lacking match-changing options on the bench, or a threat on the counter, his men were forced to hang on.


Modric was now the deepest midfielder and the Croatian dictated the tempo of the match. Isco also served as a reliable passer, as well as comfortably retaining possession in the final third. Modric’s run towards the box led to Ronaldo and Benzema exchanging passes, before Isco fired a shot wide of the net. Isco also received a glorious chance to win the match courtesy of Carvajal’s chipped pass and his wonderful first touch, and turn, but Godin made a remarkable last-ditch tackle to maintain their slender lead.

Real camped in Atletico’s half for the remaining 25 minutes, and their were two variations to their attack. The first being quick combination plays around the box. Modric’s pass into Ronaldo saw the Portuguese forward play in Bale, but the 24-year-old fired his shot wide of the net. Subsequently, Bale and Ronaldo combined and the 24-year-old winger received a pass from the current Ballon d’Or winner behind the Atletico defence, but Godin’s pressure forced the Welshman to guide his shot into the side netting.

Secondly, Di Maria continued to play crosses into the box from the left flank, but last-ditch clearances from every member of Simeone’s defence preserved Atletico’s lead. Considering Atletico’s successful set-piece defending, it was surprising to see Simeone’s men concede a goal in this manner. However, Real’s inability to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities against Atletico, and Ramos’ imperious form decreases the shock value; it was one of the few ways for Ancelotti’s men to equalize.

Ramos’ well-timed run towards the centre of the box allowed the Spaniard to get ahead of Tiago and nod Modric’s corner past Courtois with seconds to spare. Ancelotti’s offensive changes altered the tempo and pattern of the match, and Real were rewarded with a stoppage-time equalizer.


Simeone’s final change occurred minutes prior to Ramos’ equalizer as Toby Alderweireld replaced an injured Filipe Luis. Likewise, an injured Juanfran was forced to continue the match hobbling, as Atletico utilized their three available subs.

Nevertheless, the pattern of the match didn’t change. Villa did well to hold up the ball at times, but he doesn’t offer the physical presence Costa possesses, and he couldn’t outpace Varane and Ramos. When Atletico lost the ball it was immediately cleared back to Real, and with Simeone’s men wary of being exposed on the counter, they opted to soak up the pressure and play for penalties.

But in the second half of extra-time Real were rewarded for their persistent attacking. Di Maria evaded Juanfran and Miranda’s challenges following his run from the left flank, and while Courtois saved his initial effort, Bale nodded the rebound into the open net. Marcelo and Ronaldo added two more goals as the final 10 minutes was drab.


This match was similar to their league encounter at the Calderon. Atletico controlled the opening hour, but Ancelotti utilized his bench effectively in the second half to exploit Simeone’s side.

Costa’s ability to work the channels, break on the counter, and disturb Real’s centre backs were missed, and Atletico didn’t possess an attacking threat in open play.

“It was my responsibility to have [Diego Costa] play and obviously I made a mistake because I had to switch him as early as I did; obviously he wasn’t as good as he had been the day before. That was my decision to make. We looked at each other, we caught each other’s eye, and we didn’t want to waste part of the game with one less player,” Simeone said.

“What was most difficult was to get the equalizer. We didn’t have any space, Atlético defended very well, but we tried every way possible, right to the end – we managed to do it and then the game changed completely. The goal we scored gave us a lot of strength and after that perhaps we wanted the victory more,” Ancelotti said.

Frankly, the score-line doesn’t do Atletico justice; this was a remarkable season –– winning La Liga and reaching the Champions League final ––  in which the likes of Porto, Milan, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real failed to beat them in normal time.

Still, this was a straightforward tactical showdown. In ways Simeone is similar to Mourinho –– from the petulance to the methodical approach –– but here, defensive organization and tactical discipline couldn’t overshadow a meager bench and minimal transitional attacks.

That enabled Ancelotti’s side to dominate the latter stages of the match, and with the help of Di Maria’s dynamism and key changes, Real emerged victorious.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 25, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,