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Arsenal clash could rejuvenate Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United

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Jose Mourinho’s latest misfortunes as Manchester United manager could place a dent to his managerial legacy. Once referred to as a mastermind tactician, Mourinho’s majestic mantra that’s attributed to his silverware dominance in several countries simply doesn’t have the same effect.

The witty pre-match quotes and everlasting swagger has been replaced with negative comments towards his players and officials. Whereas the siege-mentality that transformed his players to sacrifice their bodies for results is non-existent.

More so, although the Portuguese manager’s sides are more expansive than in recent years, the attacking flare displayed going forward consequently affected the solid base he once sought out. Since his move to Real Madrid, Mourinho’s worked with an abundance of slender technically gifted players, but has failed to combine his personnel with the ruthless defensive mentality that displayed in previous sides.

With social media and the modern soccer player now being protected throughout their youth career, Mourinho’s attempt to motivate his players through harsh criticism has back-fired, thus leading to several behind the scenes locker room squabbles. The ability to control the press, his players and the opposition with his words was one of the United manager’s best traits, but now he does more harm when he speaks.

The aforesaid criticism towards his own players and smug body language on the touchline is reminiscent of Mourinho’s mood towards the conclusion of his Chelsea tenure. However, Mourinho has failed to overcome the slight stylistic shift in modern football, which emphasizes on dynamic pressing across the pitch.

Where possession football was heavily praised and emulated over the last decade, Mourinho’s aim to disrupt and destroy was innovative, despite the negativity received for creating dull encounters. Now, Mourinho’s reactive approach is simply outfoxed by dynamic units that press cohesively and quickly break forward in numbers.

But like his predecessors, life at Manchester United has been difficult. Sir Alex Ferguson, a fond admirer of Mourinho, equally endured difficult moments at United, but his ability to construct new ideas and maximize the talent at his disposal over a lengthy period is what made him great. Mourinho, on the other hand, is stumped and doesn’t seem capable of identifying an alternative winning formula.

United currently sit eight points behind league leaders Liverpool, and though Mourinho has rarely tinkered with his starting XI, it’s evident Mourinho is unsure of his best XI or his optimum formation. Despite improving under Louis van Gaal, United were abject for extensive periods prior to the arrival of the Portuguese manager, and a few big name signings have yet to rid the robotic-esque football showcased in the red side of Manchester.

More worryingly, the fact that the cheapest and lesser-known Eric Bailly can be deemed the standout summer signing at Old Trafford summarizes the current state of the club.

It’s equally alarming that the remaining three signings haven’t really improved the starting XI. Zlatan Ibrahimovic started the season well, but his passing has been mediocre when he drops deep, and still contributes to United’s issue of predominantly playing ahead of the opposition. Pogba, on the other hand, struggles to influence games without being a defensive liability in a midfield two, which is a completely different role to the one he adopted at Juventus.

“He [Pogba] can play in so many positions,” Mourinho said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports’ Andy Burton

“The problem is not the position. The problem is not the tactical system. The problem is, in my opinion, somebody that comes from a different style of football and needs this time to be at his best level in football that is really difficult to play, especially for midfield players.”

Then there’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan who has yet to feature for United since his 45-minute cameo in the Manchester derby. Therefore, apart from the decision to drop Wayne Rooney, very little has changed from the youthful side that finished fifth last season.

Elsewhere, Pep Guardiola has expanded Manchester City’s possession-based football and provided positional flexibility to the club. Meanwhile, Liverpool and Chelsea have been the standout performers due to their non-involvement in European competitions, thus offering the managers additional training ground preparation.

Mourinho, however, has persisted with a 4-2-3-1, but is further going against the template that brought him success in the past. Perhaps this is a case of the manager attempting to prove the cynics wrong. It can also signify the awareness that his technically gifted outfit are better suited to a sleeker style, opposed to the Chelsea and Inter Milan sides built around physically imposing centre-backs and powerful midfielders.

The permanent switch to this system took place at Real Madrid, but in midfield he possessed the balance of a passing holding midfielder, and an energetic runner in Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira. Since then, catering to Cesc Fabregas’ creativity backfired, whereas now, Pogba isn’t consistently performing at an elite level in a midfield two.

Similar to his most successful sides post-2004, the use of a natural ball-winner and two shuttlers was pivotal, yet it’s odd to see Mourinho – who has publicly claimed his preference to use the system as an alternative – reluctant to push Herrera and Pogba further up the field. The system alteration was logical at Madrid, as it enabled Mesut Ozil freedom to create – yet even in the bigger games, Ozil operated from a wide position, making sharp runs towards the flanks to create space for his teammates.

Though Juan Mata’s been one of United’s standout players this season, the Spaniard simply doesn’t perform at the level that warrants a formation change. However, Pogba performed well in this position closer to Ibrahimovic at Anfield, and could excel higher up the pitch if Mourinho wants to strengthen his midfield.

Nevertheless, despite the personnel void in specific areas, United’s issue doesn’t rest in the options at Mourinho’s disposal – he currently has a big enough squad with various skill sets to challenge for the league. Besides the first half hour against Manchester City, defensive errors have played a decisive factor in United’s erratic league form.

In ways, United are reminiscent of the Borussia Dortmund side during Jurgen Klopp’s final season. Dortmund finished seventh in the Bundesliga, yet their league position didn’t justify the strength of Klopp’s men. Battling injuries to nearly their entire back-line throughout the season, Dortmund created numerous chances per game, but were simply let down by poor finishing and defensive errors.

Mourinho proved he can still gain results in the big games following United’s solid display at Liverpool, but the Red Devils still struggle to convert quality chances into goals. United aren’t playing poorly under Mourinho, but there’s a distinct disparity between this current side, and his teams of the past that were devastatingly efficient in the final third and diligently organized out of possession.

“We kept creating chances and then by magic they crossed the midfield line and scored a goal which is very unfair for us,” said Mourinho following United’s draw to Stoke.

“I have to say they were lucky but luck is part of football. My tribute to them is they are not guilty of our bad luck, so congratulations on a good point for them.”

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Nonetheless, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have undergone contrasting careers, but the start to the 2016/2017 Premier League season suggests change may be imminent. A rivalry that started following Mourinho’s initial arrival to England witnessed Arsenal transition from title contenders to top four challengers, whereas Mourinho developed into one of the greatest managers in world football – subsequently winning domestic honours in three different countries.

Mourinho’s return to the Premier League three seasons ago restored the feisty enmity between the two managers, which even led to Wenger being deemed as a “specialist in failure.”

“If he is right and I am afraid of failure it is because I didn’t fail many times. Eight years without silverware, that’s failure,” said Mourinho.

“He’s a specialist in failure,” continued Mourinho. “If I do that in Chelsea, eight years, I leave and don’t come back.”

Yet since Chelsea’s 2015 title triumph, the tide appears to be turning in Wenger’s favour. Mourinho was sacked by the Blues ahead of their worst title defence in Premier League history, and his appointment at Manchester United has been filled with inconsistent results.

But where the aforementioned Premier League managers have altered their side’s previous philosophy – even Wenger has added a new dimension to Arsenal’s game by utilizing Alexis Sanchez as a centre-forward – perhaps its time for Mourinho to stray away from his initial approach. The pressure is mounting at the club – albeit it’s expected he’ll receive ample time to build a squad that meets his desire – but conceding his first Premier League defeat to Wenger would provide a seismic statement, and ultimately diminish United’s title hopes.

For United and Mourinho, underachievement remains risky considering what’s transpired over the last few years, but it would certainly put the latter at a cross-road. We’ve seen the brilliance of Mourinho’s managerial skills in an era-defining period upon his arrival to England, but it may be time to replicate his counter-parts’ decision to adjust what many consider to be an outdated approach, along with identifying the ideal system and roles for his players.

What may be heralded a new era that redefines the elite clubs in the country, could see Mourinho oblige to change, and potentially risk concluding one of the most successful managerial tenures at the club level.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2016 in Premier League, Published Work

 

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Bayern Munich 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Courtesy of Flickr/Dirk Vorderstraße

Courtesy of Flickr/Dirk Vorderstraße

Borussia Dortmund’s swift counter-attacks and energetic pressing played an integral role in their convincing victory over reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. 

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Pep Guardiola’s 3-4-3 missed a few World Cup stars with only Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer in Bayern’s XI. Xherdan Shaqiri, Robert Lewandowski and Muller started upfront; Juan Bernat and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg operated as wingbacks, while Sebastian Rode and Gianluca Gaudino formed a midfield duo.

Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spearheaded Jurgen Klopp’s 4-3-1-2 with Jonas Hofmann sitting behind the strike duo. Sebastian Kehl, Oliver Kirch and Henrikh Mkhitaryan formed a midfield trio.

Although both sides fielded weaker XI’s, the football philosophies remained the same, as Klopp outwitted Guardiola to guide Dortmund to their second consecutive German Supercup.

3-4-3 vs. 4-3-1-2

One of the main talking points prior to kickoff was Guardiola’s decision to field a three-man defence. Bayern’s aim was to push the wingbacks into advanced positions and hold a numerical advantage in their third as they intended on building attacks from the back.

Klopp’s system, however, handed Dortmund the advantage in central areas. The main man, though, was Hofmann, who pushed high to make up the numbers when Bayern tried to play out of the back, but quickly dropped deeper to overload the midfield zone.

Kehl was equally the spare man in midfield as he didn’t have to track a no.10, his freedom in central areas saw Dortmund easily bypassed Bayern’s pressing.

Dortmund Press 

Dortmund’s pressing has been a recurring theme in previous encounters, as Klopp’s men tend to start the match well, but fade away in the latter stages. Here, Guardiola and Klopp encouraged their attackers to press the opposition’s defence on goal kicks, and both sides failed to build play from the back.

Dortmund’s pressing, though, disrupted Bayern’s passing tempo, which prevented Guardiola’s side from controlling the match. Rode and Gaudino occasionally dropped deeper to help Bayern bypass Dortmund’s pressing, but Mkhitaryan and Kirch tracked the midfield duo’s movement, forcing Guardiola’s side to concede possession. Klopp’s side nearly took the lead in the ninth minute when Dortmund’s pressure forced David Alaba into poor pass that ricocheted off Aubameyang and into Immobile, but the Italian fired his shot wide.

Dortmund’s effective pressing also forced the champions to play direct football. Muller and Lewandowski couldn’t link play or turn past the impressive Sokratis and Matthias Ginter, who quickly closed down the forwards when they received the ball. Equally, Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer pegged the Bayern wingbacks into their half.

In the first half, Bayern recorded a sole shot on target which illustrated Dortmund’s efficient pressing.

Wasteful Shaqiri

While Dortmund’s pressing was deemed effective, Bayern occasionally moved into key areas in the final third, but the German champions failed to test goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak.

Shaqiri created a great chance to take the lead two minutes into the match, when he cleverly turned Piszczek and ran towards goal, but the Swiss attacker fired his shot directly at Langerak. That was Bayern’s sole chance of the half, but Shaqiri’s movement guided the 22-year-old into the final third on a few occasions.

However, Shaqiri’s final ball was too short, while his deliveries from wide areas and decision-making around the box was dire.

Dortmund break

Dortmund’s best moves were been orchestrated in transition, but unlike Bayern, there was variety in their attack.

The first element was Kirch’s off the ball running. Kirch’s movement into half-space led to a shot that Neuer pushed aside; he also combined with Aubameyang with intricate passing around the box and a lofted long ball that saw the attacker outpace Dante, thus leading to Kehl and Hofmann firing powerful shots at Neuer.

Kirch was also the catalyst in Hoffman’s dominance in transition, as his passes ignited attacks that saw the Dortmund midfielder exploit pockets of space with his pace. Hofmann flourished in advanced areas due to Bayern’s lack of a natural holding midfielder, as the 22-year-old exploited Gaudino’s defensive limitations and his inexperience at this level.

  • 14th min: Kirch slides to win a 50/50 challenge against Rode and Dortmund breaks through Hofmann, who has acres of space to run into and he spreads the ball wide to Aubameyang, but the attacker’s cross was cleared by Javi Martinez.
  • 22nd min: 1-0 Mkhitaryan. Dortmund takes the lead, as their pressure and willingness to target Gaudino were key elements in the build up. Immobile’s pressure saw Neuer’s clearance fall to Piszczek, and the right back nodded the ball into Mkhitaryan in a pocket of space. The Armenian winger ran past Gaudino and surged towards goal, before he slid a pass to Aubameyang that was poorly cleared by Alaba, and Neuer could only watch Mkhitaryan fire the loose ball into the net.
  • 25th min: Lewandowski lost possession in midfield following a challenge with Mkhitaryan, thus leading to Kehl and Kirch bypassing Bayern’s pressure and the latter found Hofmann between the lines. Hofmann slid a pass into Aubameyang in right half-space, but Neuer stopped the Dortmund attacker’s shot.
  • 31st min: Piszczek combined with Kirch and the former’s pass connected with Hofmann, who made a run behind Gaudino into the box, but Boateng blocked his shot and the Dortmund right back fired the loose ball over the net.
  • 43rd min: Hofmann outmuscled Rode in midfield to win possession, and he effortlessly ran past Gaudino, and played a pass to Mkhitaryan that forced Hojbjerg to clip the midfielder and earn a booking. 

Somehow, Dortmund only carried a one-goal lead into the break, but the countless chances created in transition showcased their dominance.

Guardiola tinkers

Guardiola reacted immediately at half time, introducing Phillip Lahm for Thomas Muller as Bayern transitioned into a 3-5-1-1, with Shaqiri operating as the chief playmaker. Lahm’s introduction was logical as Bayern now had a natural defensive player ahead of the back three to limit Hofmann’s threat.

Shaqiri’s central role also gave Bayern the advantage in midfield, and they came within inches of an equalizer in the opening minutes of the second half. Lahm found Shaqiri between the lines, but the Swiss midfielder’s through ball to Lewandowski was heavy, and the Polish striker could only poke his effort at Langerak.

Dortmund limited their energetic pressing in the second half, allowing Lahm time to string passes together, and although the 31-year-old connected with his teammates in advanced positions, the lack of quality in the final third hindered Bayern’s attack. Mario Gotze was also involved in the second half, but the former Dortmund player failed to lift his side’s performance.

Dortmund focus on wide areas

Klopp’s side, however, directed their attack into wide areas in the second half, as substitute left back Erik Durm constantly exploited space behind Hojbjerg, which eventually led to a Lahm booking.

Immobile, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang attacked the space behind the advanced Hojbjerg in transition, as Guardiola’s side were consistently caught on the counter, pushing men forward to snag an equalizer. The issue Bayern encountered following their switch to a 3-5-1-1 involved Gaudino and Rode allowing the full backs to attack vacant space in the channels and isolate their wingbacks.

Dortmund doubled their lead in this manner as Piszczek was allowed to surge into the final third; the Polish full back overloaded Bernat with Aubameyang before playing a great cross from the byline to the onrushing attacker, who snuck behind Lahm and out-jumped Jerome Boateng to nod the ball past Neuer.

Langerak made a key save from an Alaba free kick to preserve his clean sheet, as Bayern provided no response for Dortmund’s dominance.

Conclusion

Dortmund’s dynamic pressing was no secret heading into the match, and it played a significant role in the outcome as it disrupted Bayern’s attack. Guardiola’s side encountered difficulties moving up the pitch as a unit, and without a holding midfielder, Dortmund successfully overloaded central areas, as Hofmann and Mkhitaryan terrorized Gaudino. 

While very little can be taken from this result, due to both sides missing several first-team players, Dortmund was undoubtedly the better side over 90 minutes, showcasing their adaptability, variety in attack, and disciplined pressing. 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

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Bayern Munich claimed their fifth Champions League title courtesy of an Arjen Robben winner in the 88th minute.

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There were no real surprises in either starting line up as both sides stuck with their traditional 4-2-3-1. Mario Mandzukic led the line, while Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben played behind the Croatian striker. Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger played in midfield, while Jerome Boateng was selected over Daniel van Buyten to start at centre back.

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Jurgen Klopp selected his best side possible – Marco Reus, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Kevin Großkreutz played behind Robert Lewandowski. Ilkay Gündoğan and Sven Bender formed a midfield two, and Mario Gotze was forced to watch the game in the stands as he failed to recover from an injury.

Ultimately, it was a game of two halves – Dortmund’s pressing nullified Bayern in the first, but as they tired Bayern imposed their authority on the match.

Pressing

As Juventus did for a short period of time when they met Bayern in the quarter-final stage, Dortmund pressed Bayern high up the pitch. Lewandowski and Reus prevented Boateng and Dante from pushing forward, while Großkreutz and Błaszczykowski had the same effect on Bayern’s fullbacks. Bayern struggled to play from the back, so Schweinsteiger dropped in between the two Bayern centre backs to provide them with a passing option. This created 3v2 situations, but Schweinsteiger had no passing options available – Dortmund’s fullbacks stayed tight to Bayern’s wingers, Martinez was picked up and Muller didn’t drop into midfield.

Toni Kroos has dominated this fixture this season, as the German playmaker had the tactical awareness to drop into the midfield to give Schweinsteiger and the Bayern centre backs an extra passing option. Muller on the other hand was looking to receive the ball in between the lines – Bayern struggled to get on the ball into Dortmund’s half, as they failed to play forward passes.

Bayern dropped into two banks of four when Dortmund aimed to play from the back. Muller and Mandzukic closed down Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels preventing them from coming forward to play key passes. Gündoğan had little to no impact on the match – Heynckes’ men did an excellent job in shutting down the Dortmund maestro, as he failed to play positive forward passes. Martinez and Schweinsteiger took turns closing him down in midfield, while Mandzukic pressed the German midfield when he dropped deeper.

Dortmund counter

Dortmund’s pressing was beneficial from both an offensive and defensive standpoint – they prevented Bayern from gaining a rhythm, and it allowed them to win the ball higher up the pitch in order to work quick transitions. Reus was the focal point of their attack, and he caused Bayern’s back line a few problems when he had the ball.

Considering Gündoğan was marked out of the match, Reus provided the link between midfield and attack. The German attacker dropped deep into the midfield to pick up the ball, and he ran at the Bayern defence. Reus combined well with Lewandowski, but rarely did you see him connect with the Dortmund wingers.

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Gotze and Reus have developed a strong partnership this season, that sees them play quick intricate passes amongst one another – we didn’t see much of that against Bayern.

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Although Dortmund was thriving with their quick transitions, they failed to take any of the chances they created. Dortmund had six shots in the opening 25 minutes before Bayern recorded their first shot, but Klopp’s men failed to beat Manuel Neuer when they had control of the match.

Robben’s chances

One can argue that it was meant to be for Arjen Robben. The Dutch winger made appearances off the bench for majority of the season, but was thrown into the starting lineup when Toni Kroos limped off the field against Juventus in the quarter-finals. Since then Robben has produced some fantastic displays, reminding many that on his day he’s one of the best wingers in football.

In the past Robben hasn’t taken advantage of opportunities handed to him in monumental matches, and it looked like this familiar theme would continue based on his first half outing. All three chances occurred in the final 15 minutes of the half, when Bayern gained control of the match.

Roman Weidenfeller made a good save to deny Robben on his initial chance, as the Bayern winger ran behind Marcel Schmelzer, who was tucked in due to Dortmund’s narrow shape. Muller’s pass found Robben, but he was unable to beat the Dortmund goalkeeper.

Robben and Muller combined well on the right for his second chance – Robben passed the ball to Muller, he then drifted centrally and ran behind Subotic. Muller played a delightful ball to the Bayern winger, but he was unable to create a chance or beat Weidenfeller.

Dante’s hopeful long ball created Robben’s final chance as Hummels failed to deal with the ball in the air. Robben pounced on Hummels’ error, but the Dutch winger’s shot bounced off Weidenfeller’s face.

Robben was Bayern’s danger man going forward, looking to exploit the space behind Dortmund’s back line, but the Dutch winger’s finishing let him down severely.

Bayern/Schweinsteiger grow into the match

There were two key changes in the second half – Robben and Muller swapped positions, while Dortmund’s energetic pressing eventually faded.

Dortmund was unable to sustain there pressing for the entirety of the match, while Bayern worked harder as a unit to close down Dortmund. Klopp’s men tired, and this allowed Schweinsteiger to take over the match. He began to play positive passes around the pitch, and Bayern began to demonstrate their superiority in midfield.

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Schweinsteiger controlling the tempo of the match was a problem Dortmund faced, but surprisingly it was far from their major concern. Klopp’s men slowly stopped pressing, but they still kept a high-line. So now, not only was there more space for Schweinsteiger to dictate, but there was also heaps of space for Muller and Robben to attack.

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Bayern created more chances in the second half, which ultimately led to goals.

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Robben moves centrally

I must highlight that Robben also completed his defensive duties exceptionally well, as did Ribery – throughout the tournament both men have prevented overloads and kept opposing fullbacks from having an impact on matches.

The half-time change allowed Robben to have a larger influence on the match going forward. The Dutch winger who was already drifting centrally throughout the first half, began to make diagonal runs behind the Dortmund defence or into the channels.

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Bayern’s goal started with Mandzukic chesting the ball to Robben. The Dutch striker played a pass to Ribery, made a run behind Subotic and Bender, and received a pass from the French winger, which allowed him to square the ball to Mandzukic. Robben’s second chance in the first half was similar – the only difference was Robben combined with Muller and he completed the pass to Mandzukic.

Robben nearly gave Bayern the lead, as Muller’s powerful run allowed him to latch onto a loose ball and round Weidenfeller, but Subotic cleared his pass that was squared for Robben.

The Dutch winger became provider, as he played a lovely through ball for Muller in a deeper position, but the German attacker was unable to get his shot off. Robben was Bayern’s key man going forward, and it was fitting that he got the winner with minutes to go.

Ribery held up David Alaba’s simple longball from a free kick, and back heeled it to Robben, who made a surging run from midfield – Robben skipped past challenges from Subotic and Hummels and slid the ball past Weidenfeller. Dortmund didn’t comfortably deal with Dante’s long ball in the first half, and Weidenfeller made a fortunate save to deny Robben – this time Robben kept his composure and haunted Dortmund for making the same mistake.

Conclusion

The third time was a charm for Bayern, as Heynckes’ men avenge their heartbreaking loss against Chelsea last season. Ironically they win the title in London, after losing 12 months ago to a London side at home.

Throughout this tournament, they’ve adapted to their opponents style of play, displaying their tactical flexibility and ability to cope without Kroos. Like he did at Madrid, Heynckes leaves Bayern a European champion – he’s created a side that was undoubtedly the best in Europe this season, and they’ll only get stronger under Guardiola’s wing.

Bayern improved in the second half as Dortmund tired – but Klopp’s men failing to take their chances, stem away from their high line, as well as coping with Robben was the difference maker on the night. For the second time this season in a cup competition, the Dutch winger haunts Dortmund with a moment of brilliance keeping the Bavarians on course for an historic double.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Ilkay Gundogan: Borussia Dortmund’s Unsung Hero

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Courtesy: Michael Kranewitter

Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich has set up the first all-German Champions League final. The newly crowned Bundesliga champions enter the match as heavy favourites, but it would be irrational to count out Dortmund. The two sides have met 10 times over the past three seasons – the pattern of these matches have been similar, Bayern dominates possession, while Dortmund rely on quick transitions on the counter-attack.

Bayern has won two of the four meetings this season, while both league encounters ended in draws. Heynckes’ summer signings in Dante, Mario Mandzukic and Javi Martinez have seen Bayern evolve tactically, allowing them to nullify the strengths Dortmund executed against the Bavarians in the past. As a unit their pressing is exceptional – Martinez has improved Bayern’s superiority in midfield, as they now possess strength and superb ball retention – at the back Dante has been a massive improvement, as Bayern was susceptible to counter-attacks in the past. Dortmund has yet to defeat Jupp Heynckes’ men this season and without Mario Gotze available they face a daunting task.

Like several young footballers, 22-year-old Ilkay Gündoğan has many dreams. Playing abroad, preferably in England or Spain, along with his inclusion into the German first team ahead of the World Cup is what the German international is working towards in the near future. Gündoğan has seen one dream come true as he’ll feature in the Champions League finals at Wembley – he also received the opponent he desired. “I hope to lock horns with Bayern Munich in the final,” Gündoğan said ahead of their quarter-final tie against Malaga.

Marco Reus, Gotze and prolific striker Robert Lewandowski have all shared the spotlight in Dortmund’s fantastic European run – yet Gündoğan has been their unsung hero. The German midfielder has developed into one of world footballs top midfielders since his €4.5m move from Nurnberg in the 2011/2012 season – as he replaced the Bundesliga player of the year Nuri Sahin. Prior to his arrival, Klopp shared his insights on Gündoğan.

“He has a fantastic attitude and is very clever and keen to learn,” Klopp said.

“Ilkay has an excellent passing game and is overall a very high quality player who fits perfectly into our system.”

Despite not having an impressive start to life at Dortmund, Gündoğan found his feet midway through the season as Dortmund won a domestic double – the German also became a regular in Klopp’s starting lineup.

Without Gotze, Dortmund’s attack is limited, but they still possess a few match winners. Lewandowski is the ruthless poacher that can drop deep to link play – Reus is the flashy dribbler that can skip past defenders, but Gündoğan is different.

He is a nifty midfielder that often drops into deep positions – he possesses great vision, which allows him to play inventive forward passes, and he holds no fear to surge into advance positions and dribble past defenders. In the Champions League this season, the German international has averaged 49 passes per match, with an 87% accuracy rate – completing an average of five long balls. Quietly, he’s been Dortmund’s key man in the Champions League this season.

With Klopp’s men keen on playing from the back, Gündoğan’s ability to drop deep and create plays is vital.

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The German midfielder is the link between the midfield and the front four – against Shakhtar Donetsk, Dortmund were allowed to play from the back, while Gündoğan pressed Fernandinho and Tomas Hubschmann whenever they attempted to receive the ball from deep.

This also occurred in the semi-finals against Real Madrid, as Luka Modric failed to press the German and he imposed his authority on the match.

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Gündoğan also displayed his tactical discipline, as his defensive work in midfield disrupted Madrid’s attack.

Malaga provided a sterner test, as they kept a compact shape and allowed Dortmund to have possession. Gündoğan received more of the ball, and was the key man in the tie – albeit being seconds away from a quarter-final exit.

In the first leg, he was Dortmund’s best player, as he was allowed time to play incisive balls across the pitch – Gündoğan received the ball 68 times, and frankly poor finishing from Gotze and Lewandowski was the solitary reason why the match ended in a draw.

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Gündoğan was excellent in the second leg as well, but Malaga’s pressing decreased his influence on the match. Most of his passes were sideways, and he struggled to receive the ball from deep positions – unlike the first leg Gündoğan was unable to produce penetrating runs or passes.

Gündoğan has flourished on European nights, producing scintillating performances that caught the eyes of many. Unfortunately for Dortmund fans, he’s been unable to replicate his extraordinary performances against Bayern Munich this season.

Unlike their two title-winning seasons, Dortmund has failed to cause Bayern many problems. Klopp’s men have failed to expose this well-equipped Bayern side on the counter attack, while Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez have dominated the midfield.

In both competitive meetings this season, Klopp has reacted to Bayern’s system, playing in a cautious 4-3-3 opposed to their natural 4-2-3-1. A recurring theme in these fixtures has been Kroos finding space to receive the ball in key areas – mainly behind Gündoğan and Bender who sat deep in the midfield. In the first encounter, Gündoğan failed to impress, as Bayern’s pressing nullified his offensive threat.

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Defensively, he was better, making key tackles and vital interceptions on the left flank, which may have been enough to earn a draw.

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Although Klopp hasn’t defeated Bayern this season, he may have found his solution in Dortmund’s DFB-Pokal loss against the Bavarians. Despite Bayern’s dominance for majority of the match, Gündoğan became an influential figure in the second half as he dropped in between his centre-backs to build plays. This was effective as it gave Dortmund an initial outlet that they lacked in the first half, and it provided Gündoğan with several passing options that enabled Dortmund to break past Bayern’s press – Dortmund was the better side in the second half due to Gündoğan’s tactical awareness, and considering it was the last competitive match between the two sides, it may be an approach Klopp takes in the final.

In an interview with UEFA.com, Klopp was full of praise of the German international,

“We got him [in summer 2011] and he has turned into a real strategist. It is extraordinary. Not many players can do that,” Klopp said.

“Many players can play in a small space, play fast and do a lot of great things, but to have such vision, such a passing game, such an eye for the situation, is extraordinary and makes him an extraordinary player.”

Kroos’ dominance has been the theme in both competitive matches this season – with the German playmaker out indefinitely, and Gündoğan’s success in the second half of the Pokal match, Klopp’s men will fancy their chances.

Bayern’s pressing as a unit, tactical flexibility and their ability to keep a compact shape has been one of their main strengths this season. There’s no question that Heynckes’ will instruct his midfield to limit Gündoğan’s time on the ball – when no pressure is applied Gündoğan controls the game with ease, but he becomes highly ineffective when players attempt to close him down.

Gündoğan faces two challenges when Dortmund meets Bayern for the fifth time this season. His battle with Schweinsteiger could be the difference maker – finding pockets of space to receive the ball, along with imposing his authority on the match is vital, but preventing Schweinsteiger from dictating the tempo of the match is also necessary.

Nevertheless, the key man is Gündoğan, and he will need to be at his best if he intends on driving Dortmund to European glory for the first time in 16 years.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2013 in FIFA

 

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Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 Bayern Munich

Phillip Wollscheid’s own goal, three minutes from fulltime handed Bayern Munich a Bundesliga record 12th away win this season – leaving the Bavarians six points away from securing the league title.

Bayern vs leverkusenLeverkusen 1st half vs bayern

Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski lined their side up in a 4-3-3. Gonzalo Castro, Stefan Kießling and Andre Schurrle played upfront, while Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes and Stefan Reinartz made up the midfield. Phillip Wollschied and Sebastian Boenisch returned to the starting lineup replacing Michal Kadlec and Manuel Friedrich.

Jupp Heynckes made a few changes to his traditional 4-2-3-1, and it started with Mario Gomez leading the line. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri played behind the German striker, while Luiz Gustavo and Javi Martinez protected the back four. Rafinha and Jerome Boateng were also in the lineup replacing Daniel Van Buyten and Phillip Lahm.

Considering the gap between the sides going into the match was 21 points, there was no surprise that the atmosphere was quite subdued. It was a game of two halves that saw the Bavarians dominate the first and Leverkusen grow into the second.

Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger played in an advanced role behind Gomez, while Gustavo and Martinez played in a double pivot. Toni Kroos’ was unavailable due to a knee injury, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to see him play behind Gomez. Schweinsteiger was key in the first half, and one of many reasons why Bayern were dominant.

Schweinsteiger dropped deep into the midfield, as Kroos’ normally does and he linked play with the wide men and Gomez. His presence also opened up another passing option and it helped Heynckes’ side advance up the pitch. The German international ran the channels, and it opened up space for Shaqiri and Robben to drift into.

Bayern Dominance

Leverkusen dropped into a 4-5-1 when they didn’t have the ball and opted to press Gustavo and Martinez. This is what made Schweinsteiger so vital, he dropped deeper and launched several balls across the pitch.

Another key element in Bayern’s dominance was their ability to keep their shape and quickly get numbers behind the ball. Leverkusen often attacked on the break in the first half, and they conceded possession easily, allowing Bayern to counter with pace. Balls were usually sprung out to the right, so Robben and Rafinha could exploit the empty space. Ultimately, this led to the first goal as this time the counter was on the left hand side, in which Shaqiri played a ball to Gomez. Gomez went on a fantastic run from half beating two defenders and the German international calmly slotted his shot past Bernd Leno. The goal forced Leverkusen to move away from their cautious approach, and they began to press Dante, but the Brazilian did a great job in playing short incisive passes in between them.

Shaqiri’s involvement in the first half was also instrumental to Bayern’s stellar half. The Swiss international would often drift into central positions and in between the lines to pick up the ball. This allowed Alaba to make surging runs forward that Leverkusen struggled to deal with. For everything that went right for Heynckes’ men in the first half, it was a surprise to see Bayern only lead by a goal.

Hyypia-Lewandowski changes

Bayer leverkysen second half

Leverkusen made a half-time change taking off the ineffective Andre Schurrle, and bringing on Sidney Sam. Sam played on the right flank and Castro drifted to the left.

With 30 minutes remaining in the game, the duo made their final change by bringing on Jens Heleger in place of Stefan Reinartz.

Leverkusen began playing the ball out to Sam, and he took Alaba on 1v1 every single time. Not only did he stretch the pitch, but he provided a direct approach that Leverkusen lacked in the first half. They were far too narrow, and it made easier for Bayern’s defenders to contain them.

Hegler moving to the left hand side, pushed Castro into the midfield. Heleger didn’t make the same impact as Sam did, but he did help stretch the Bayern backline. There was more space for the midfield three to play in, and the presence of two wide men pegged Alaba and Rafinha back.

Martinez-Gustavo pairing

With Kroos’ unavailable, Martinez and Gustavo started in the two holding roles for the second straight game. On paper it looks like a very good combination, but they had a second consecutive mediocre outing. To be fair Heynckes’ hasn’t played the two together throughout the season, but the duo has started in both Champions League losses for Bayern this season.

Both men are great passers on the ball, that have the ability to destroy plays. The problem is that they have difficulties slowing down the tempo/dictating the game. When Leverkusen pushed on in the second half, they found themselves sitting deeper, but when they won possession they were unable to settle. With Bayern nearly dropping points with both men on the field, this might leave Heynckes’ concerned with the fitness levels of Kroos and Schweinsteiger going into the final stages of the Champions League.

Second Half

Hyypia and Lewandowski’s half-time changes improved Leverkusen’s performance in the second half. The introduction of direct wide player’s kept the Bayern fullbacks cautious when going forward, and mounted pressure on Bayern as they sat deeper as the half continued.

With Gustavo and Martinez failing to slow down the tempo of the match, Bayern continuously broke on the counter, but they didn’t have enough men pushing forward. This resulted in Gomez being substituted for a more mobile Claudio Pizzaro. Heynckes’ also brought on Daniel Van Buyten and Anatoliy Tymoschuk for Gustavo and Robben. Bayern was content with a 1-0 victory, but Leverkusen’s wingers continued to penetrate and Bayern conceded from a corner kick.

Pattern?

In terms of goals, this game had the same pattern to the fixture between these sides earlier this season. The only difference was in the first meeting, Bayern dominated possession and created several chances.

Leverkusen handed Bayern their only defeat in the league, in which Mandzukic equalized and Sam’s header ricocheted off Gustavo’s face into the net. Mandzukic’s goal came in the 77th minute and the winner came 10 minutes later.

This match saw Rolfes’ equalize in the 75th minute and Schweinsteiger’s freekick deflected off of Sebastian Boesnisch in the 87th minute as well. It also saw Heleger and Sam introduced as subs, in which they made a significant impact.

Coincidence? Possibly, but this has been the pattern in these tight affairs between these sides this season.

Conclusion

This was a game of two halves – Bayern dominated the first half, but they took their foot off the gas, and Leverkusen’s changes allowed them to grow into the game.

Leverkusen lose two consecutive games in the league for the first time this season, but with the league out of reach, Hyypia and Lewandowski will focus on securing their Champions League football next season.

Despite not being at their best, Bayern was able to claim their 22nd victory this season. The Bavarians currently sit 20 points ahead of second place Dortmund and need six points to claim their 22nd Bundesliga title.

With the league wrapped up, all eyes will be turned to their monumental European clash against Juventus in a few weeks.

Three Stars

1.    Dante

2.    Simon Rolfe

3.    Mario Gomez

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Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Borussia Dortmund

Match in a sentence

A late equalizer from Mats Hummels has given Borussia Dortmund a deserved tie and two away goals to bring back to the Westfalenstadion in three weeks time.

Analysis

  • Jurgen Klopp’s men opted to play in a 4-2-3-1 with Robert Lewandowski leading the line, and Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Jakub Blaszczykowski behind him. Felipe Santana and Sven Bender replaced the injured Neven Subotic and Ilkay Gundogan.
  • Mircea Lucescu’s men also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Luiz Adriano leading the line and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Taison and Alex Teixeira behind him. Fernandinho and Tomas Hubschman protected the backline in Shakhtar’s first competitive match in over two months.
  • Both sides played in identical systems, but with different approaches to the match. Shakhtar was unable to dominate in possession due to Dortmund’s high pressure, which allowed Dortmund to dictate the game in terms of possession. Shakhtar was shaped in a 4-1-4-1 when Dortmund had possession, hoping to break on the counter. Dymytro Chygrynskiy and Yaroslav Rakitskiy was forced to hit balls out wide to Taison, Srna or Teixeira, as they couldn’t get Fernandinho on the ball due to Dortmund’s pressure.
  • Despite all the pressure, Dortmund was unable to create any clear-cut goal scoring chances. Dortmund did look dangerous when going forward as Reus terrorized defenders when he picked the ball up from deep, Blaszczykowski had a few chances stopped by Andriy Pyatov and Hummel’s rattled the cross bar from a corner kick.
  • Shakhtar took the lead in the 31st minute courtesy of a Darijo Srna free kick that flew past Roman Weidenfeller. Unfortunately for Lucescu’s side, their lead lasted 10 minutes as Lewandowski equalized. Lewandowski’s failed miskick dropped two Shakhtar defenders and the Polish striker coolly slotted his shot past Pyatov. Shakhtar defenders could only blame themselves for the goal, seeing as they failed to clear their lines.
Lewandowski vs shahkhtar

Lewandowski goal GIF

  • In the first half  Sebastian Kehl and Bender dictated the midfield, but Gotze and Taison were the key players. Gotze was getting the ball in between the lines (drifting to the right) and it caused the Shakhtar defenders a few headaches. While Taison stormed down the left flank several times, always looking a danger when the ball was at his feet. Taison attacked the space that Lukasz Piszczek left available when he surged forward. Piszczek was more cautious when getting forward in the second half and usually did when Gotze freed space up for an overlap.
  • Lucescu made the first change in the second half replacing Taison (their best player on the pitch) with Douglas Costa. It was more of a tactical change for Lucescu as Alex Teixeira moved to the left and Costa pushed to the right. Shakhtar became an odd shaped 4-3-2-1 when they didn’t have the ball as Costa tucked into the midfield. If Srna didn’t bomb forward it opened up space for Fernandinho to attack.
  • Shakhtar took the lead once again and it came from the sub Costa. Hummel’s failed to deal with a simple ball over the top, Costa shrugged off Marcel Shmelzer and struck his shot past Weidenfeller. Costa’s first touch was superb, but the shot was even better.

  • Dortmund applied more pressure, but this time on the flanks as Costa’s introduction nullified Bender and Kehl’s control of the midfield. With three minutes to go they got their winner, from an unmarked thunderous Hummel’s header that Pyatov could only dream of saving.
  • Hummel’s not only made up for his error that caused the second goal, but it provided Dortmund with a fantastic away draw. Dortmund now head to the Westfalenstadion as favourites and Lucescu’s men will feel like they let this match slip away.
  • Lucescu himself has an issue with Taison, who looks like a great replacement for Willian. Will Taison and Douglas Costa start in three weeks? Klopp will be looking to get a better performance from his men in three weeks time, because this Shakhtar team is more than capable of getting a result in Germany. It was a first leg that was overshadowed by Manchester United – Real Madrid, but in terms of the quality of football the match was fantastic and the second leg will be even better.
  • Mats Hummels – “It is important that we are going into the second leg level and a 0-0 would see us through.”

Tyrrell Meertins

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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Aside

Match in a Sentence

On a night where it looked like Roberto Mancini was outdone in Europe yet again, Mario Balotelli came to the rescue to deny a Dortmund side that outclassed the Premier League champion’s two valuable points.

Analysis

  • Manchester City lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and Mancini opted to go with Dzeko and Nastasic over Tevez and Lescott.
  • Dortmund also went with the same formation, with the likes of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze behind Robert Lewandowski. There was no surprise to the starting lineup, but their performance at the Ethiad might’ve surprised many.
  • The first half was back and forth with both sides sharing equal amount of possession. It was very narrow from the hosts, who were at their best when David Silva was gliding through the middle or Sergio Aguero was dancing past defenders. Apart from that, City was sending balls over the top to Dzeko to latch onto. Unfortunately for Dzeko he was caught offside four times.
  • Dortmund was also narrow, and when defending their 4-2-3-1 looked like a 4-5-1. They came to the Ethiad with no fear and looked to break when winning possession. They enjoyed possession and the source of their attack was through the right flank.
  • It’s safe to say that Joe Hart and Roman Weidenfeller dominated the first half. Both goalkeepers were fantastic, stopping several shots that on any other night would result in goals.
  • The game came to light in the second half when Samir Nasri who was frankly anonymous during his time on the pitch was taken of for Kolarov. Mancini then reverted back to a 3-5-2 and it simply didn’t work and exposed them again in wide areas.
  • Dortmund who squandered multiple opportunities in front of goal finally got their reward minutes after Mancini went to a back three. Jack Rodwell’s misplaced pass was intercepted by Reus, and he used his pace to get by the City defenders and slot his shot past Hart.
  • Dortmund continued their onslaught but Joe Hart kept City in the game with a superb performance. It was save after save and although City was poor in the second half, there was always that feeling that they might find a way to equalize. Dortmund missed multiple chances including a Lewandowski sitter from five yards out. Although they dominated most of the second half, their finishing was a key reason why they failed to obtain 3 points.
  • Then Mancini went for broke and brought on Balotelli for Clichy and surprisingly it was Balotelli that saved the day. City was awarded a penalty in the 89th minute courtesy of a Subotic hand ball (it was harsh but it was a penalty). Balotelli stepped up and calmly converted his spot kick to save City from a disastrous result at home.
  • Dortmund was excellent on the night and might feel like they deserved three points. Apart from their poor finishing, they exposed City at the back numerous times, especially on the right side. Also, the midfield pair of Gundogan and Bender was superb in silencing Yaya Toure. Last season Dortmund started their first two games in this competition with 1 point; however, this season they have four. They also failed to pick up a point on the road, whereas tonight they picked up one and deserved three. Talk about progress.
  • Problems at the Ethiad continue, and as weeks go by I’m more convinced that Mancini is losing the plot. If it weren’t for Harts stellar performance, City would’ve been battered tonight by Dortmund. Mancini continues to keep the shackles on his players and it seems like the players are slowly losing belief in their manager. They were second best and Mancini’s tactical changes nearly cost him points again. City has now put themselves in a tough predicament, and performances like these might see them crash and burn again.

Three Stars

  1. Joe Hart   
  2. Ilkay Gundogan   
  3. Mario Gotze

Tyrrell Meertins

Manchester City 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Champions League, Match Recaps

 

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