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Atletico Madrid 2-2 Real Madrid

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Courtesy of Flickr/All rights reserved by Notyfarandula

Atletico missed a golden opportunity to overtake their city rivals, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s late equalizer earned Madrid a vital point at the Vicente Calderon.

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The one major change in Atletico’s XI was the inclusion of Raul Garcia behind Diego Costa. Koke and Arda Turan were fielded on the flanks, while Gabi and Mario Suarez sat in the double-pivot.

Carlo Ancelotti made no changes to the side that blitzed Schalke in midweek.

Atletico dominated majority of the match subsequent to Karim Benzema’s early opener, but woeful finishing, and Simeone’s reluctance to turn to his bench allowed Madrid to dominate the latter stages of the derby.

Real Madrid’s great start

One of the worries many Madrid fans endured at the start of the season was the lack of depth upfront. With Gonzalo Higuain sold to Napoli, Karim Benzema was the sole senior option upfront, and his lackadaisical demeanour, along with his tendency to squander legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, left many skeptical regarding Ancelotti neglecting to find a replacement for Higuain.

Benzema, however, has improved over the last few weeks, and was Madrid’s most proactive attacker. Likewise, the French striker confidently guided Angel Di Maria’s cross from the right flank past Thibaut Courtois from point-blank range. The early goal was exactly what Ancelotti wanted – yet surprisingly it led to Atletico’s dominance.

Atletico shape

The key to Atletico’s dominance was their approach without the ball. The first significant feat was the role of Raul Garcia. Garcia worked hard to press Xabi Alonso, forcing him to play sideways passes in his third, opposed to the long diagonal’s he prefers to make. Garcia’s inclusion was logical, and the midfielder successfully completed his required task.

Secondly, Atletico maintained a narrow shape in midfield when Madrid tried to play out of the back – they simply couldn’t play passes through midfield or to their two best players. On the contrary, this was down to the great work of Atletico’s wide players. Koke and Turan quickly closed down Luka Modric and Di Maria, when the fullbacks pushed towards Gareth Bale and Ronaldo. Yet, there were times when Koke and Turan dropped deeper and prevented the Madrid wide players from receiving the ball.

Ronaldo and Bale were peripheral figures for large portions of the match. Both players drifted infield, but Alvaro Arbeloa was likely to break forward, while Fabio Coentrao was wary of being exposed, despite his involvement in the buildup to Benzema’s opener.

Equally, the Atletico wide men were pivotal in Atletico’s attack, as they tucked in to ensure Simeone’s men dominated midfield. Modric was unable to impose his authority on the match, and the Argentine’s threat in midfield was negated, apart from Di Maria’s long diagonal ball to Benzema that forced a Courtois save.

Atletico’s overall approach without the ball was exceptional – Garcia limited Alonso’s impact, the wide players aided the fullbacks in nullifying Bale and Ronaldo, while as a whole they ensured there was no link between midfield and attack in a scrappy match, which on their standards was beneficial.

Costa

In general, the match suited Costa, as once again he was involved in all the controversy. Surprisingly, the Spanish international was Atletico’s key man, but he can also be held responsible for their inability to secure maximum points.

It took 10 minutes for Costa to make a statement, as he played a pass to Turan and made a run into the left channel, where Sergio Ramos committed a clumsy tackle on the Spanish international, which should’ve resulted in a foul. The Atletico striker’s runs into the channels, and willingness to find space in the final third tormented Madrid’s centre backs.

Nonetheless, he was effective when he dropped deeper and dragged Pepe and Alonso out of position, then charged into space – although, he was usually fouled when doing so. Costa was the games most dangerous player, but his wastefulness in front of goal kept Madrid in the match.

For the most part, world-class strikers always finish 1v1 situations with the goalkeeper, and here he struggled to complete that job. A shot from the right side of the box ricocheted off the side netting, and a failed chip attempt minutes before Gabi’s thunderous goal, summed up Costa’s first half.

However, his best opportunities were spurned in the second half. He cleverly hit a free kick at the edge of the box under the wall but it fell straight into Diego Lopez’s arms. Afterwards, Garcia played him in free on goal, but Pepe’s presence forced Costa to force his shot wide of the net. While that was his best opportunity to double Atletico’s lead, Costa’s header from a corner kick went inches wide.

It’s not often that your most proactive player equally leads to your downfall, but on this occasion, Costa played this role to a tee.

Ancelotti substitutions

With the match drifting away from Madrid, Ancelotti’s substitutions enabled his side to dominate the latter stages of the match. Here, the Italian was wise with the timing and personnel selection, while Simeone’s reluctance to turn to his bench saw his side’s energy levels dramatically decrease.

Although the decision to introduce Marcelo and Dani Carvajal was peculiar, it enabled his side to peg Atletico into their own half – although, fitness levels also played a factor. Unlike Coentrao and Arbeloa, the duo bombarded forward and created chances. Carvajal created two chances for Ronaldo – which ultimately led to his equalizer – and Marcelo’s ball to Modric saw the Croatian sky his shot inches over the bar.

Isco, on the other hand, provided the energy that Di Maria lacked in the second half. He provided a link between midfield and attack, and intelligently found pockets of space in the final third to circulate the ball. The two fullbacks provided more thrust in the final third, whereas Isco was the link that Madrid desperately lacked in the first-half.

Simeone made one substitution by introducing Christian Rodriguez for Turan, but at that point, Atletico were already teetering. Atletico required energy and pace in wide areas – as their pressing decreased – and Simeone’s lack of options, along with his reluctance to make a change gave Madrid the upper hand in the second half.

Conclusion

Atletico dominated majority of the match, but Costa’s wastefulness in front of goal, and Ancelotti’s substitutions merited a draw.

While Atletico lost two points, they now possess the tiebreaker, if the duo were to possibly finish the season level on points. Simeone’s initial game plan was logical and successful, but his inability to identify that substitutions were required led to his downfall.

This may be one of Madrid’s worst performances since the turn of the year, and while their trip to Europe may have played a part, they were outmatched in midfield for large portions of the match. While their lead at the top is now trimmed to a sole point, Ancelotti’s ability to obtain a point when his side was thoroughly outplayed could prove beneficial in May.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Valencia 2-3 Real Madrid

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Jese’s second half goal keeps Real Madrid within five points of Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

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Carlo Ancelotti made three changes to the side that drew Osasuna last weekend. Angel Di Maria, Nacho, and Alvaro Arbeloa were in the starting lineup, as Gareth Bale and Pepe were unavailable.

Caretaker manager Nico Estevez made several changes to Valencia’s 4-2-3-1. Jonas led the line ahead of Fede, Pablo Piatti and Sofiane Feghouli, while Oriol Romeu and Daniel Parejo were in the double-pivot.

This was a disappointing match that surprisingly produced several goals – Madrid dominated possession, and although Valencia’s shape nullified their threat, attacking quality prevailed.

Valencia shape

One of the key components towards Valencia’s impressive display was their shape without the ball. Estevez’s side dropped into two compact banks of four and minimized space between the lines.

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Madrid struggled to find space in central areas around the final third, and this led to their front four constantly interchanging positions. As per usual, Ronaldo roamed around the final third looking for openings, but Isco and Benzema dropped deep into midfield to receive the ball. Isco desperately drifted from flank to flank aiming to create overloads and link play with the wide players, but the Spaniard’s impact was minimal.

Another key feat in Valencia’s shape was Feghouli’s role – the Algerian midfielder admirably tracked Marcelo’s runs and nullified his attacking threat down the left flank. Valencia’s narrow shape was impressive – it limited Madrid’s threat from open play and Ancelotti’s men struggled to created legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

1-0

Although Madrid dictated the tempo of the match, the away side rarely penetrated in the final third nor did they test Vicente Guaita. At this point it wasn’t a matter of how they would score, many were questioning whether they would find the back of the net.

It took a moment of brilliance from Angel Di Maria to give the away side the lead. Di Maria received Marcelo’s cross-field pass, and drifted between Piatti and Juan Bernat, before striking a venomous shot into the far corner.

Prior to the goal, Madrid lacked direction, invention and creativity in the final third, and unfortunately for the away side, their lead was short lived.

Alonso/Modric

While Cristiano Ronaldo found it difficult to express himself in the final third, Madrid’s midfield duo flourished. In fairness, Valencia’s shape contributed to their dominance as they half-heartedly attempted to close down the duo.

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Alonso often dropped deep between the two centre backs to receive the ball and launch Madrid’s attacks, but Valencia’s midfield rarely pressed the Spaniard in central areas. On the other hand, Modric was marked tightly, but the Croatian evaded defenders and played positive passes into advanced positions – there was no surprise that the Madrid duo were the most reliable passers on the field.

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Likewise, they replicated their brilliance without the ball – Alonso made key tackles in his third, while Modric intercepted the most passes. On both ends they were magnificent – they controlled the tempo of the match, and facilitated passes into key areas, as they were Madrid’s main attacking outlets.

Valencia down the left

Although Estevez’s side spent large portions of the match defending in their own zone, they still managed to pose a threat on the left flank. On numerous occasions, Valencia’s left sided players isolated Arbeloa, and both goals were created down this flank.

The first goal highlighted Piatti and Bernat’s tactical understanding – Piatti drifted infield between the two centre backs and Bernat pushed forward, got half a yard of space ahead of Di Maria, and delivered a well-weighed ball into the box that Piatti nodded past Diego Lopez. As the match continued, Di Maria’s diligence to track Bernat’s runs decreased, and the Valencia fullback casually pushed forward.

But, the main issue Madrid encountered was the lack of protection provided for Arbeloa, as Piatti constantly attacked the Spaniard. And it was Piatti’s powerful run down the left flank that earned Valencia a corner, which subsequently led to Mathieu’s equalizer.

Majority of Valencia’s attack prior to Sergio Canales’ arrival was down the left flank. Arbeloa was left vulnerable on several occasions and it was peculiar to see Ancelotti overlook this feat.

Canales

Estevez made the first alteration of the match with 30 minutes remaining, opting to introduce Canales for the uninspiring Fede. Coincidentally, Valencia equalized seconds after his introduction, which gave the home side the incentive to push for a winner.

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Unlike Fede, Canales became a threat in the final third. He drifted into space between the lines to receive the ball, and he successfully mounted Valencia’s attacks on the break. On separate occasions Canales was involved in the two legitimate goal-scoring opportunities that the home side created. Lopez comfortably saved his tame effort in the 73rd minute, and two minutes later his back heel to Piatti led to a cross towards Jonas, who fired his shot inches wide of the goal.

Canales’ introduction instilled an element of creativity the home side lacked in the first half, and they progressively created better chances.

Madrid 4-4-2

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Ancelotti switched to a 4-4-2.

The match was slipping away from Madrid, and Ancelotti gambled by introducing Jese and Daniel Carvajal – the double-change pushed Ronaldo upfront, and Di Maria to the left, as Madrid became a 4-4-2. The away side still lacked a competent link between midfield and attack, but these two men were involved in the build up to Jese’s winner.

Unlike Arbeloa – who didn’t venture forward – Carvajal’s first involvement in the match was an overlapping run down the right, which led to a dangerous cross in the six-yard box. However, Valencia failed to clear their lines and Modric recovered the ball, played a pass out wide to Jese and his weak shot at the near post beat Guaita, to hand the away side the lead.

Ancelotti summoned Asier Illarramendi in the latter stages of the match, as Madrid sat deeper and launched quick counter-attacks. Ancelotti’s change didn’t increase Madrid’s attacking impetus in the final third, but it did create one opportunity, which Jese pounced on.

Conclusion

Valencia contained Madrid for large portions of the match, but was unable to trouble the away side when they pushed into the final third. Their dominance down the left flank was logical – although Di Maria is usually a tactically disciplined player – however they took advantage of Madrid’s poor set piece defending, but only threatened from open play when Canales was introduced.

Madrid displayed an unappealing performance, but they found a way to secure maximum points.

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Ronaldo in an offside position seconds before Madrid’s second goal.

Their front four failed to penetrate in the final third, but an officiating error and poor goalkeeping handed Ancelotti’s men the lead twice. The away side keeps pace with the league leaders heading into 2014, but they’ll need to improve their all-around game if they intend on staying the course.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Tactical Analysis: Bosco Lions vs. 2-1-2

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The 2-1-2 has been the Bosco Lions’ preferred formation since their existence. Other formations were experimented with in the early days, but this system enhanced the performances of their attacking players. Defensively, the Toronto-based side has never been strong, yet they always had an abundance of attacking impetus – and the players who were playing consistently for the first time had the potential to increase this threat.

Flashback to three years ago; Sunday’s – usually utilized for leisure time or rest – brought together a group of friends that decided to form a soccer team. Initial success wasn’t expected, but the determination to win was evident. On a weekly basis these young men took the field in their bright lime green jerseys and put their bodies on the line for one another.

Their road to glory wasn’t a formality – penalty shootouts, nail-biting late winners and a surmountable attempt at revenge against rivals DMP is what led them to lifting a championship on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. They did the impossible. A team built to have fun and potentially grow into ‘winners’ did the unthinkable on their first try.

It’s easy to win a title, but defending the crown is a difficult task. The hunger was gone. Complacency snuck upon them, and although their confidence levels increased, they were unable to replicate such success.

What happened?

This team did encounter a few changes that conflicted with their natural balance, but as a whole they improved over the past three years. The core of the team is the same, and the players who were beginners at the time have improved vastly. These players know how to win, so what’s the issue?

They’ve won more games than they’ve lost during this period, but they fail to prosper when it matters. The dependency on individual brilliance hit an all-time high, and although this method of attack was positive, Bosco has been overrun in midfield on several occasions over the past few years.

Is there a talent issue?

No.

Bosco could field their five best players for longer periods of the match, and the chances of them claiming another title would still be slim. Their method of attack has become predictable, whereas they’ve yet to instill a proper defensive system.

However, despite all the flaws they hold, this Bosco side isn’t a lost cause. In short, they lack a bit of structure and tactical discipline. More so, this is a simple guide that can be beneficial towards these young men maximizing their individual talent. A key component that leads to success in indoor soccer is cohesion, and below I will explain what Bosco needs to do to achieve a cohesive system.

Intro   

The 2-1-2 is a common formation used in indoor soccer that relies on two hard working strikers and an energetic, yet tactically disciplined midfielder – pretty much a box-to-box midfielder. Here, the midfielder has two jobs – they need to be able to link play with the attackers, but also provide astute defensive cover for the two defenders. Playing one midfielder is the risk, because there’s a great chance that your side is overrun in midfield, which is why this player needs to be tactically disciplined.

Base shape   

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Bosco Lions 2-1-2

Bosco doesn’t possess two naturally gifted strikers so they often field two grinders upfront. Their main strength is in midfield, and while they do possess competent defenders, these men are attacking minded.

A key feat towards the success of this system is the positioning of the midfielder. In the past, he’s often positioned himself with his back to goal, or roamed higher up the pitch searching for space to receive the ball. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the sole purpose of this system is to sustain possession, and hand the midfielder full control of the match.

In retrospect, the system I’m about to present is similar to the way Pep Guardiola’s sides play. In the early days at Barcelona, Dani Alves would play as a right winger – which led to a great understanding with Lionel Messi and tons of goals from the right side – with Eric Abidal sitting back to provide balance. In Guardiola’s final year, Barcelona played a 3-4-3, which ultimately became a 3-3-4 as Alves bombed forward, and Sergio Busquets dropped in between the defenders.

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David Alaba and Phillip Lahm are in the widest/highest positions on the pitch as fullbacks.

Now, Guardiola implements a 4-1-4-1 at Bayern Munich – although his approach is risky, the field at the Vaughan Sportsplex is neither wide nor long. The Spaniard encourages his fullbacks to surge into advanced positions, while his midfield players drop deep to dictate the tempo of the match.

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Alaba and Lahm are higher up the pitch out wide, and Thiago dropped deep. In this screenshot he’s about to play a pass to Lahm, so he can drive forward.

However, while the generic shape is a 2-1-2, the aim of this system is to end up in a 1-2-2. Ball retention is pivotal, and even though this system could be somewhat conservative, if executed properly, it’ll lead to success.

Without the ball

The most important feat regarding success in 5v5 matches is your shape when your opponent has possession. Your side can field a lineup with a strong attack, but if they’re disjointed as a unit without the ball, there’s a good chance that you won’t succeed over the long-term.

More so, shape is a factor that most teams tend to overlook – but little do they know that your defensive shape wins you the big games, especially against superior opposition. Defending at the Sportsplex should be fairly simple – based on the size of the field, assigning each player a man would be the easy route to take.

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How Bosco should be set up on goal kicks and when the goalie has the ball

The first area that needs to be addressed is defending your opponent’s goal kick or when they opt to play passes to their goalie. This is the only time Bosco should press high. The forwards should close their defenders – midfielder on midfielder and the defenders should keep tight on their attackers. The main goal is to force the opponents goalkeeper to concede possession, and if this press is executed properly then there’s a 99% chance he will.

Apart from those scenarios, Bosco should NEVER press high or press the goalkeeper, unless you’re confident you’ll steal the ball or force him to concede possession. Defensive solidity, organization and cohesion are pivotal in a 5v5 match, and majority of the time it makes a difference.

To avoid being overrun in midfield, or dragged out of position, it’s important that the strikers drop a few yards away from the opposition’s defenders. The aim is to stay compact, and force your opponent to work hard to break your backline down. Regardless of the situation, the attackers should always be behind the ball, which requires improved work-rate on both ends. Below I break down two scenarios that are likely to occur.

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Our shape if the defender beats Randy

Here, the right defender evades Randy’s press. The wide men is the least threatening player so Jose should drop back to cover him, while Randy picks up the left defender. Steve/Nooch should press the opposition’s midfielder, while Bosco’s midfielder should close down the opposition’s right defender.

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If Claudio/Jose gets beat by a defender

Another situation would be Jose/Claudio getting beat by the left defender. Here we still want Jose/Claudio to hustle back and cover the player out wide and Steve/Nooch to close down the midfielder. Bosco tends to concede fouls when their forwards relentlessly track back in attempts to win the ball from the defender that beat them – this gives them the responsibility to keep wide player on their flank, and ensures that the three defenders protect central areas.

In Bosco’s most recent fixture, this defensive model was displayed in the second half after going down 4-1. Subsequently, the opposition failed to threaten Bosco’s goal for the rest of the match. Coincidence?

Midfielder

The 2-1-2 Bosco intend on playing leaves the midfielder with a huge task on both ends – as stated earlier, this player is practically a box-to-box midfielder. Although that isn’t necessarily a bad option when playing inferior opposition, the idea of playing a box-to-box midfielder in a single pivot can be suicidal.

This formation abandons that philosophy – the midfielder in this approach needs to be tactically disciplined, as he’ll be somewhat of a deep-lyer. The main responsibility this player withholds is dictating the tempo of the match. This player is effective when the ball is at his feet. He drops deep to receive the ball and build play, but he’s also required to constantly string passes together, in search of openings.

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Here you see Thiago dropping deep. This allows Alaba and Lahm to push forward, but the centre back the freedom to play long diagonal balls. Also if Lahm or Alaba lost the ball in their zone, Thiago provides defensive cover when either centre back is forced to sweep up.

On the defensive end, he drops deep to become the third defender. Many can see this as an impractical approach, but this is important because it ensures that Bosco always has a numerical advantage at the back.

In the past Bosco has relied on their midfielder to be their attacking thrust, and in certain situations he should be, but this role allows him to be beneficial to Bosco’s overall play. By no means is the midfielder shackled to tactical instructions – indoor soccer provides a lot of openings and chances to break on net, and the midfielder should only push forward when the opportunity is certain.

Finally, teams will be keen to press the midfielder out of the equation, but as the match progresses and players tire, he’ll slowly be handed the space to influence the match. The key is patience – most games are 50 minutes, and in reality the midfielder might take 10-15 minutes before he begins to dictate the tempo. He’ll receive the ball higher up the pitch, but his significance increases once he picks up the balls in pockets of space or at the edge of his own box.

In short, the midfielder’s role in this system is more defined – if he fulfills his duties, the chances of his side’s success increases. He needs to be disciplined, calm, a leader, and defensively astute – yet his ability to play incisive passes and eye for goal must be proficient.

Attacking philosophy

This system instills a sense of defensive solidity, so some may fear that Bosco’s approach going forward will be conservative. In fairness, this may be the case, but if you’re not attacking on the break, the intent should be to move up the field as a cohesive unit.

Virtually, Bosco should be a 1-2-2 when they’re possession. In order to do this, they must focus on ball retention. An issue Bosco encounters on the attack apart from a lack of movement would be their persistence to force passes. They continuously force long balls over the top, or attempt to squeeze penetrating passes into tight areas.

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Here, we see the Bosco midfielder as the last man – his job is to circulate the ball around the field, but also move laterally to provide a passing outlet for wide players that have no forward option. Bosco defenders seem to be hesitant with playing the ball backwards, but they should ALWAYS drop the pass back to the midfielder or the goalie if a passing lane isn’t available – the same goes for corner kicks, as the chances of completing a successful cross into the box is slim.

The longer Bosco holds possession, the less defending they have to do, which conserves energy levels. Likewise, not every pass needs to go forward. There’s nothing wrong with restarting the play and going back to your goalie or back to the player who initially played the pass. You can’t concede a goal if you have the ball, which is why possession is vital. Passing lanes will eventually open, legs will tire, and chances will be created, but Bosco needs to monopolize possession in a professional manner.

When the midfielder drops deep to receive the ball in any situation, the two defenders should be pushed into advanced positions. Majority of the time, this will create 3v2 situations and their will always be an outlet for the midfielder to play into. But the advanced positioning of the defenders is key, because it pegs the opposition into there half, as they now become an offensive threat.

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How Bosco should be shaped when they enter the oppositions half.

Essentially, the Bosco defenders are auxiliary inverted wingers on the attack. They have two options when pushing forward – they can either cut in and shoot, or drive forward and stretch the field. Each Bosco defender has the tendency to cut in and shoot, and while this is encouraged, the opposite winger’s job is to stay wide and stretch the field. Also, the defenders have to be disciplined with their movement, as they’ll be required to transition from attack to defence quickly to support the midfielder, if they’re caught on the break. However, if Bosco can sustain possession in a 1-2-2, their defenders will maintain high energy levels, and sprinting back into position won’t be difficult.

Bosco currently have three strikers at their disposal, and you can argue that they haven’t been utilized properly. Claudio is a pacy, dynamic attacker, Jose is a hardworking space invader, whilst Randy is a genuine poacher.

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Identical diagram to the one above, but now we’re highlighting the attackers.

Here, Jose and Randy are the two strikers up top, and Claudio would preferably slot into Jose’s spot, because they somewhat pose a similar threat. The diagram above encourages Jose to drop deep into space, and then subsequently move out to the flanks and push forward. Jose’s movement is key because it drags a defender out of position and allows either a defender or the midfielder to attack the space.

Jose/Claudio’s movement should be varied – dropping deep into the midfield and drifting over to the wing is encouraged, but most of their energy should be dedicated to their defensive duties. You should NEVER tire yourself out when Bosco has possession of the ball.

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The midfielder won the ball and sprints forward to put himself in a 2v2 situation. Jose is encouraged to make a diagonal run to drag the defender with him – this allows the midfielder to isolate the defender in a 1v1 scenario.

Also, Jose/Claudio play a pivotal role on the break if a midfielder or defender surge forward. There job is to make an opposite run from the ball carrier to drag a defender out of position, and give the carrier half a yard to make a pass or shoot.

Randy’s position is unique – no player on the team possesses the ability to get into goal scoring positions like him. This system will free up space for the midfielder to locate Randy and the defenders to take shots, which can potentially lead to rebounds for him to pick up. Randy needs to get to/near the box frequently, but he also needs to be aware of the space that Jose is creating for him to run into. If Tim/Araujo cut in, Randy will make a straight run into the box, but if the right defender provides width then Randy should make a diagonal run towards the box.

Conclusion

“Whether detailed or vague, good or bad, effective or ineffective, all football teams try to play a certain way to win.”

Richard Whittall, soccer features writer at theScore.com, stated that in his weekly ‘The Skeptical Tactician’ column, and frankly, it’s true. Bosco currently play a high-octane game that allows them to score, but there’s also heavy reliance on individual brilliance.

This system presented allows the forwards to be scrappy, the midfielder freedom to dictate the match, and gives the defenders a chance to express themselves in an attacking sense. Now, it will take time for Bosco to adapt to this system, but it’s a system that should lead to success over the long-term.

Furthermore, the system ensures defensive solidity and organization at the back, yet it requires patience, cohesion and possession to reap rewards.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in College Soccer

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – World Cup Draw Vodcast December 8th

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Courtesy of: Christophe Badoux

On the debut of the 2 Guys and a Mike vodcast, Tyrrell Meertins and Mike the Mod breakdown the World Cup Draw that took place Friday afternoon.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – Weekly Roundup Podcast November 20th

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Courtesy of Fanny Schertzer

This week on 2 Guys and a Mike, Tyrrell Meertins and Hugo V breakdown World Cup qualifying playoffs, Ballon d’Or and they touch on Southampton and David Moyes.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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Portugal 1-0 Sweden

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Courtesy of Football.ua

Cristiano Ronaldo’s late winner earned Portugal a narrow victory over Sweden at the Estadio da Luz.

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Paulo Bento stuck with his traditional 4-3-3 with Ronaldo, Nani and Helder Postiga leading the line. Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles formed a midfield trio.

Erik Hamren didn’t provide many surprises either, as he preferred a 4-4-1-1 with Zlatan Ibrahimovic ahead of Johan Elmander. Alexander Kacaniklic and Sebastian Larsson operated on the flanks, while Kim Kallstrom and Rasmus Elm played in midfield.

Sweden defended admirably for large portions of the match, but Portugal’s guile, and perseverance guided them to an important victory.

Sweden shape

Hamren’s aim was evident in the opening minutes of the match, as his side swiftly dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball. The Swedish wingers tucked in centrally to help maintain a narrow shape and Elmander admirably tracked Veloso. Elmander’s positioning on Veloso was significant – in the past Veloso’s opted to drop between the centrebacks and play long diagonal balls to build play from the back. But here, Elmander prevented the Portuguese midfielder from dictating the tempo of the match.

With Elmander keeping Veloso quiet, Elm and Kallstrom had the duty of tracking Moutinho and Meireles. Hamren’s approach prevented Portugal from constant penetration in the final third, yet it also provided an attacking spark for Sweden. Sweden’s narrow shape allowed Portugal’s fullbacks forward, but it left gaps for Swedish fullbacks – mainly Mikael Lustig – to expose.

A main issue Portugal’s encountered over the past few years has been preventing 2v1 situations on the left flank, as Ronaldo sits higher up the pitch to lodge quick counters. In the 6th minute, Lustig got into an advanced position and delivered a great cross towards Elmander, but the Swedish striker directed the ball inches wide.

Seconds later, Hamren’s men got forward again, and earned a corner kick, as the Portuguese defenders couldn’t cope with Lustig’s venomous ball into the box. Sweden’s best chance of the half also stemmed through great wing play from Hamren’s men. Elmander did well to deliver a cross into the box, and Ibrahimovic cleverly dummied the oncoming ball, and it fell to Larsson who watched Rui Patricio parry away his shot.

Sweden’s shape nullified Veloso, halted Portugal’s activity in the final third and gave them attacking options from wide areas, but they were unable to make the most of their created chances.

Portugal approach

Sweden’s reactive approach towards the match handed Portugal the onus to go forward and search for a goal. One of the main issues this Portuguese team has encountered over the years is breaking down sides that sit deep, focus on organization, and maintain a compact shape when out of possession.

Bento’s men experienced the same recurring issues in the first half. The front three struggled to get involved in the match, thus leading to Ronaldo and Nani constantly swapping positions. The Portuguese wide men often took up more central positions to receive the ball, as their fullbacks and midfielders were encouraged to attack space in wide areas and attempt to create overloads.

In particular, Joao Pereira enjoyed heaps of space on the right flank with Kacaniklic tucked in centrally, but the Portuguese right back’s crosses didn’t connect with any attacking players. Martin Olsson and Kacaniklic struggled from defensive aspect throughout the match, and despite Bento’s men enjoying success down that flank, the productivity from the right was poor.

Meireles and Moutinho’s activity in the final third was limited when they attempted to build play from the back. The Portuguese duo were forced to drop deeper in midfield to string passes together and their combination should’ve led to an opener in the 4th minute. Meireles slipped a pass between the Swedish defence, and an advancing Moutinho received the ball, rounded Andreas Isaksson, but his shot hit the side netting.

Meireles and Moutinho both finished the match with an 85% pass accuracy rate, while Moutinho completed a game-high four tackles and accurate crosses.  Meireles was dangerous in deeper positions, as he lobbed passes over the Swedish defence, attempting to get Portuguese attackers in goal-scoring positions. The Portuguese pair were influential throughout the match, and although they were restricted to certain areas across the pitch, they were able to dictate the tempo of the match.

Portugal got into great positions in the final third out wide, but they were stifled in central areas. Hamren’s men maintained a compact shape in two banks of four –  this forced Portugal’s midfield into deeper positions and their attacking three were ineffective. For all of Portugal’s possession in the first half, it was shocking to know that Sweden had created the better chances, despite Ibrahimovic’s minimal influence.

Ibrahimovic

Portugal’s main concern heading into this two-legged affair was clear. Bento’s men were on a mission to neutralize Ibrahimovic, and over the course of 90 minutes, they succeeded.

First off, Sweden’s shape without the ball was an issue. Their midfield bank of five were pegged too deep into their half, and their transitions into attack were slow. Ibrahimovic was an isolated figure – in the first half, the Swedish striker had 17 touches on the ball. When the prolific striker successfully held the ball up, he lacked options and support to help push Sweden forward, but more importantly he didn’t receive adequate service.

Secondly, Pepe and Bruno Alves held a 2v1 advantage over the Swede, and their physical presence kept the prolific striker quiet. Ibrahimovic didn’t have any clear goal-scoring opportunities, nor was he allowed space to penetrate – the Portuguese centre backs performed a magnificent job on the Swede, as he was merely a peripheral figure.

Portugal down the left

As the second half wore on, Portugal’s overall performance improved, due to Hamren’s men dropping deeper into their third. Ultimately, this left a large gap between Ibrahimovic and the Swedish midfield, and it placed a daunting task on the Swedish wingers, who were forced to track runs from Portugal’s adventurous fullbacks.

Nonetheless, Bento’s troops were still struggling to test Isaksson. Majority of Portugal’s play came down the left flank, where Coentrao began to take advantage of Larsson, as the Swedish winger’s energy levels dipped quickly.

  • 70th minute: Coentrao and Almeida completed a one-two and the Portuguese full back got behind Larsson and drove towards the box, where he was tugged down by the Swede, thus leading to a Larsson booking.
  • 80th minute: Nani’s movement pushed Lustig out of position, and Coentrao played a pass behind the Swedish fullback towards the Portuguese winger. Nani delivered a decent ball into the box, which was half-heartedly cleared by Anders Svensson, presenting an ideal shooting angle for the Portuguese winger, but Svensson made a timely block to earn Portugal a corner kick.
  • 88th minute: Ronaldo received the ball on the left side of the pitch, and wonderfully turned Lustig to break free. The Portuguese captain played in an advancing Coentrao – who once again got past Larsson – and his dangerous cross in the box fell to Moutinho, who laid the ball off for Ronaldo, but he fired his shot over the net.

Towards the end of the match it was evident that Bento’s men targeted Larsson. Portugal got into great positions through these three situations, as Ronaldo’s winner and his header off the crossbar were created down this flank.

Hugo Almeida

Over the past few years, Postiga and Hugo Almeida have been maligned figures for the national team. Their inability to capitalize in front of goal has led to their ridicule, but it would be difficult to criticize the Portuguese strikers here.

However, despite Postiga’s positive attacking contribution, Bento decided to take another route of attack, and introduced Almeida. The move created turmoil worldwide over social media, but Almeida’s impact on the match provided Portugal with that extra bit of attacking impetus they lacked throughout the half.

  • 65th minute: Almeida receives the ball between the lines and is allowed to turn and play an overweighed pass to Coentrao, who flew past Larsson into a goal scoring position. Although the ball went out for a goal kick, Almeida displayed his intent to penetrate in the final third, opposed to feeding the ball back to the midfield like Postiga.
  • 70th minute: As stated earlier, his one-two with Coentrao got the Portuguese fullback into a dangerous position, which resulted in a Larsson booking.
  • 82nd minute: Veloso quickly threw the ball into Almeida’s feet, and their quick one-two allowed Veloso to evade Larsson and deliver a cross into the box. Ronaldo got in front of Olsson and his diving header flew past Isaksson. This was significant because it was one of the few times Veloso wasn’t shackled by Elmander, and Ronaldo finally decided to target Sweden’s weak link in Olsson – Lustig had a pretty decent outing coping with Nani and Ronaldo in 1v1 situations.
  • 85th minute: Almeida drifted to the left flank and received a lovely diagonal ball from Joao Pereira. The Portuguese striker lofted a ball into the box, and once again Ronaldo beat Olsson, but his header rang off the post.

Portugal dominated the second half, but Almeida’s introduction made the difference. The Portuguese striker’s movement, mobility and intent to penetrate, gave his side an element of attack they lacked, prior to his arrival.

Conclusion

Although the performance from Bento’s men was below par, Ronaldo’s goal puts Portugal in a great position to progress to the World Cup. However, failure to increase their lead in the second half could come back to haunt the Portuguese as they squandered several chances to win the tie.

“I’m always disappointed when we lose. On the whole, we played a good match defensively. What hurts a bit is that we had three good chances to take the lead in the first half. We would have liked to have come away from here having scored a goal,” Hamren said. 

Sweden had the better chances in the first half, and defended admirably for large portions of the match, but one defensive miscue proved costly. In fairness, their negative approach in the second half allowed Portugal to mount pressure in their third, and limit their chances of nicking an important away goal. Sweden looked better when they attempted to play through midfield, opposed to the direct approach they adopted in the second half, as Ibrahimovic was often disconnected from the midfield.

“We dominated the whole match, even more so in the second 45 minutes, as we created several chances to get a more comfortable result. Now the goal is to prepare the team to win again in Sweden, knowing that we are going there with a slender lead but with no goals conceded. We certainly won’t go to Sweden to defend this result,” Bento said.

Nevertheless, this was an ideal result for Portugal. Ronaldo struggled throughout the match, but the team fought hard, and provided him the platform to once again display his superiority on the field. The importance of the first goal will be crucial in Stockholm, but the occasion plays into Portugal’s hands. Sweden will be forced to attack from the start, and Portugal’s reactive approach and threat on the counter could expose a feeble Swedish backline. Bento’s men are nearly there, but they’ll need to defend better, attack with more precision and be efficient in front of goal if they intend on securing qualification.

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

 

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Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus

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Real Madrid remains undefeated in the Champions League, as they fortuitously snuck past Juventus at the Santiago Bernabeu.

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Antonio Conte introduced Martin Caceres, Angelo Ogbonna and Arturo Vidal to his starting eleven, following Sunday’s defeat to Fiorentina.

Carlo Ancelotti made four changes to his starting eleven that defeat Malaga this weekend, introducing Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric.

Conte got his tactics right, but an error from referee Manuel Grafe, allowed Real Madrid to sustain control of the match, despite a late scare.

Juventus’ Shape

It was always going to be interesting to see how Conte approached this match without the ball considering they haven’t played with four defenders in over year. Yet, Juventus’ shape proved to be pivotal, as they prevented Ancelotti’s men from creating multiple clear-cut opportunities in the first half.

Juventus dropped into a 4-5-1 with Llorente isolated up top alongside Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Tevez kept his eye on Arbeloa, while Marchisio played closer to Caceres to prevent overloads. Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal had little to do from a marking perspective – as Madrid’s midfield trio sat near the halfway-line – so they focused on maintaining a compact shape to limit Madrid’s activity in the final third.

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Many questioned Conte’s tactics heading into the match, but Juventus’ shape without the ball was excellent. Their midfield trio stifled space in midfield – in particular, Vidal made several tackles in his own third, preventing Madrid from penetrating.

Juventus’ work-rate and organization without the ball was superb – frankly, they went into half time down a goal, due to two mental lapses and Ronaldo’s composure in front of goal.

Madrid press

While Madrid often dropped into a defensive shape when Juventus had possession of the ball, Ancelotti encouraged his men to press the Bianconeri on goal-kicks, hoping it would prevent them from playing out of the back freely.

This was a logical approach from Madrid, but the quality of the press was poor, and Juventus broke past it with ease. Madrid’s front three pressed Juventus’ back four, so there was always a spare man available, and long-balls were often distributed to Llorente, who admirably controlled the ball and laid it off to his teammates. Bluntly, Madrid dropping into their shape was more effective than their high-press, as it often got Juventus into dangerous areas on the pitch.

Another feat in Madrid’s press was Benzema’s tracking of Pirlo. In the early moments of the match, Benzema dropped deeper into midfield to press Pirlo – which led to a few fouls – but it was shocking to see the French striker abandon this feat. Madrid’s aim to press Conte’s men higher up the pitch failed, but it was shocking to see them allow Pirlo to play freely, considering they had two men free men upfront when Juventus had possession.

4v3

Despite Madrid’s great start to the match – based on Ronaldo’s goal – Juventus were the better side for larger portions of the first half. Conte fielded four ball-passing midfielders in his side, while Tevez impressively roamed around the final third and worked the channels.

This ultimately left a 4v3 battle in midfield – with Benzema’s press on Pirlo a forgone conclusion, the 34-year-old was allowed to spray passes out wide and over the top of the Madrid defence. More importantly, Juventus always had a passing option available, which allowed Conte’s men to play quick incisive passes through midfield, guiding them into advanced positions.

However, it was Pogba who thrived in midfield, as Madrid failed to track his runs down the left side.

  • In the 12th minute, Pogba ran down the left side of the field unmarked – behind Khedira – and received a long ball from Marchisio. Pogba waited for Ogbonna to make a decoy run to drag Khedira out of position, and he played a lovely ball towards Llorente, but Casillas punched it away.
  • In the 16th minute, Pogba made another direct run from midfield, while Tevez and Llorente linked play to break free from Madrid’s defenders. Once again, Pogba’s run wasn’t tracked due to Juventus’ numerical advantage in midfield and he played a lovely ball into Llorente, who nodded down the ball for Tevez, but it trickled into Casillas’ hands.
  • Five minutes later, Pirlo played a pass to the advancing Caceres on the right flank, and the Uruguayan defender distributed a lovely ball into the advancing Pogba, who nodded the ball on goal. Casillas did well to make the initial save, but Llorente quickly got his foot to the rebound, to deservedly level the score line. Once again Pogba made a run down the left side unmarked, but it’s key to note that Ronaldo failed to track Caceres’ run – a flaw in Ronaldo’s game – and the initial ball came from Pirlo, who would’ve been pressed in that zone by Benzema 10 minutes prior.
  • A minute into the second half, an unmarked Pirlo played a clever ball – from a deeper position – over the top of the Madrid defenders to an unmarked Pogba, but Casillas was quick off his line to punch the ball away.

Juventus’ numerical advantage in midfield allowed them to settle into the match, and Pogba was often the spare man who guided the Bianconeri forward. Unfortunately the match didn’t end 11v11, but Pogba was the key cog in Juventus’ midfield prior to Giorgio Chiellini’s sending off.

Madrid struggle

Besides Ronaldo’s brace, Madrid was extremely disappointing for majority of the first half.  The main issue was the distance between midfield and attack, as Madrid’s midfield trio often sat alongside each other in deep positions. In fairness, Juve’s shape without the ball was compact, and they maintained an organized shape while shifting from side-to-side.

Benzema had limited involvement from an attacking sense, while Ronaldo looked bright when he received the ball on the flank and drifted centrally – avoiding several Juventus challenges.

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Di Maria was Madrid’s most lively player in the first half, who relished taking on the inexperienced Ogbonna, as majority of Madrid’s attacks came from that side. Ronaldo and Di Maria rarely dropped deep into midfield to receive the ball, so Madrid’s midfield trio had issues moving forward as a unit, along with facilitating their front three.

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As you can see, forward passes from Madrid’s midfield was a rarity, and Ancelotti’s men to lacked penetration in attack, as they didn’t possess a genuine link between the lines. Juventus made the most of their possession, where as Madrid were unable to move forward in unison.

Madrid’s midfield was poor in the first half – their deep positions often left Madrid’s attack disjointed, and their three attackers were deprived of quality service.

11v10

Chiellini’s second half dismissal hindered Juventus’ chances of mounting a comeback, as Conte was forced to replace Llorente with Leonardo Bonucci. Llorente started the match slow, but he slowly began to link with Tevez, and his ability to hold up the ball to allow midfielder runners forward was beneficial. However, Conte was confident that his side could still find openings in Madrid’s defence, so he opted to maintain a back four.

Madrid began to push forward as a unit, and Modric began to shine. Juventus became a 4-4-1 without the ball, but as time wore on, energy levels dipped, and Modric was able to slyly tiptoe past challenges and drive forward.

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Madrid was patient in possession and their best opening came in the 60th minute when Arbeloa’s overlapping run led to a cross in the box, which Benzema scuffed from six-yards out. Khedira also missed a golden chance to the put the match to bed, but his audacious attempt at a chip, fell into Buffon’s hands.

Kwadwo Asamoah replaced Pirlo and played on the left flank, while Pogba joined Vidal in midfield. Tevez stayed upfront, and although he was outnumbered 2v1, his runs into the channels were pivotal as they allowed Conte’s midfield to get higher up the pitch. Juventus competed despite Chiellini’s dismissal, but there was a vast improvement in Madrid’s attacking impetus – yet, they struggled to get behind Juventus’ backline and created minimal chances.

Final 25 minutes

Ancelotti made three attacking chances in the final 25 minutes, introducing Isco, Gareth Bale and Alvaro Morata. It was evident that Madrid was looking for a third goal, but Ancelotti’s chances affected the balance in Madrid’s shape.

The introduction of Sebastian Giovinco also benefitted Conte’s men. His mobility and pace troubled Madrid’s backline – Pepe and Modric were forced to foul the Italian, while his penetrating run from half forced Casillas to make a fingertip save. With Isco and Modric pushed forward, Madrid lacked a competent shield in front of their backline. Tevez and Giovinco’s movement off the ball began to drag a few defenders out of position, and Madrid looked vulnerable on the break.

Frankly, better decision-making and confidence from Giovinco could’ve resulted in a Juventus equalizer, but Ancelotti’s men hung on once again. Madrid made three attacking changes in the final 25 minutes aiming to score another goal, yet Ancelotti’s alterations disrupted their overall balance, and Juventus looked the more threatening side in the final third.

Conclusion

This was a match of two halves – Juventus dominated the midfield, while containing Madrid’s main threats, but Chiellini’s dismissal resulted in an improved Madrid second half performance.

Madrid was far from impressive on the night, but Ronaldo’s goals bailed them out once again. They’re still a work in progress, and will head into this weekend’s Clasico full of confidence. The lack of a natural link between midfield and attack, along with their inability to penetrate is worrying, as a referee’s error and two mental lapses guided them to three points.

“Tonight we only lost due to a couple of small details, a couple of things that did not go our way,” Conte said.

“We played at the same level as Madrid and we could even have won. Now everything is certainly more difficult but we proved we can be competitive against any opponent. Last year we were outclassed by Bayern while this season we played a great game against a team who are more or less at the same level as the European champions. So I don’t think we are in crisis as many said on the eve of the game – quite the opposite actually,” Conte added.

Unlike last season’s Champions League exit, Juventus were not outclassed – coincidentally, they were the better side prior to Chiellini’s dismissal.  The Bianconeri have earned two points in three matches, meaning they’ll need close to maximum points if they intend on progressing to the knockout round. However, Conte’s tactical alterations looked promising, and he may have found a solution to his formation dilemma in Europe.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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