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Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid

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Courtesy of Flickr/Ver en vivo En Directo

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

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Pattern

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

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

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

Madrid’s issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1-0

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

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

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

Di Maria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atletico go 4-2-3-1 

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

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

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

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

Swapped formations

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

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

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

Real dominate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extra-time

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Real Madrid – Atletico Madrid: Champions League final preview

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Courtesy of Flickr/avalaisure

A year ago, Diego Simeone’s side defeated Real Madrid for the first time in 14 years at the Santiago Bernabeu to claim the Copa del Rey. After winning their first La Liga crown in 18 years with a draw at the Camp Nou last weekend, Atletico Madrid travel to Lisbon to participate in the first-ever local derby Champions League final against Real.

Although Real are in search of La Decima, an Atletico victory would complete an unprecedented double, and be classified as one of the greatest triumphs in football history. But Carlo Ancelotti’s men will arrive in Lisbon as favourites with Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo aiming to claim his second Champions League crown, and increase his record-breaking 16-goal tally.

This is expected to be a high-octane, scrappy affair, between two sides that thrive on the counter-attack. Stylistically, Atletico’s ability to maintain a high level of play and compete with Europe’s richest clubs is remarkable, and it’s fair to say that they’re not underdogs.

Atletico possesses one of the best defensive records in Europe, and they prove to be a difficult outfit to beat when their back four is fit. Equally, they shift and press as a unit, and quickly transition into attack with quick intricate combination passes.

Simeone’s men drop into two banks of four without the ball and the two strikers stick goal-side to the opposition’s deepest midfielder’s to close down passing lanes. The wide men –– Koke and Arda Turan –– adopt narrow positions to limit space between the lines and central areas. Full-backs, Juanfran and Filipe Luis, also decrease space between themselves and the centre-backs, and encourage the opposition to play through the flanks, as Miranda and Diego Godin consistently dominate aerial duels.

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Atletico’s shape when Madrid maintain possession. The wingers tuck in centrally, and the two forwards allow the Madrid centre-backs to circulate possession.

Atletico are capable of winning the ball higher up the pitch, or sticking to the aforementioned tactic, but under both circumstances their ability to quickly break into attack is pivotal. Both wide players are technically astute, hardworking players, with Koke drifting infield to express his creativity, while Turan evades challenges and motors forward. The positioning of the two forwards usually enables them to receive the ball while running towards goal, or dropping off to receive the ball and pull defenders out of position.

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Atletico maintain the same shape, but Turan is ready to press Arbeloa when he receives the ball. Diego Ribas and Diego Costa have closed down Xabi Alonso’s passing lanes and Juanfran has also adopted a narrow shape closer to Miranda.

Diego Costa and Turan, however, are both injury doubts ahead of Saturday’s final following their early first half departures against Barcelona. While the latter is likely to feature against Madrid, Atletico are working hard to ensure the former is also fit. In both league fixtures this season, Costa worked the channels admirably and consistently tormented Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Likewise, Costa’s physicality, and eye for goal –– scoring 36 goals in all competitions –– is unmatched.

Adrian Lopez or Raul Garcia will be the likely replacement for the 25-year-old striker, and both men offer different threats. Similar to Costa, the former relies on pace, but in terms of strength and finishing he’s not quite at the Spaniard’s level. Still, when called upon Lopez has delivered, scoring goals against Barcelona and Chelsea en route to the final. The latter, on the other hand, could field on the right flank or upfront, and his physical presence would see Atletico play direct. In previous rounds he targeted Jordi Alba and Ashley Cole to utilize his aerial superiority, and the Spaniard’s 17 goals in all competitions is only bettered by Costa.

Atletico, though, isn’t the only side heading into Saturday’s final with personnel concerns. Gareth Bale and Ronaldo passed fitness tests earlier this week, but Pepe and Karim Benzema are both unlikely to feature, meaning Raphael Varane and Alvaro Morata will be included in the starting XI. Carlo Ancelotti will also be forced to decide between Sami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi to complete a midfield trio for the suspended Xabi Alonso.

Khedira has featured in Madrid’s final two games of the season –– 117 minutes –– after tearing a cruciate ligament in his knee six months ago. Khedira was in the midfield that lost to Atletico in at the Bernabeu in October, but he failed to trouble Simeone’s midfield. Illarramendi, 20, has struggled against physical sides that intentionally target the Spaniard, and it’s likely that Ancelotti may go for Khedira’s dynamism and tenacity, despite the German’s scarce match fitness.

Madrid have been at their utmost best in this tournament when given the opportunity to play on the counter –– most recently displayed against Bayern Munich –– but Ancelotti’s men will likely dominate possession, and the pattern of the match will be identical to previous encounters this season.

In three matches of significant value this season –– the tie was over in the second leg of the Copa del Rey –– Madrid struggled to break down and create legitimate goal scoring opportunities against Simeone’s men. The one match that Madrid won two goals stemmed from major deflections, and a well-worked move from Angel Di Maria and Jese Rodriguez. Atletico, on the other hand, pose a legitimate threat through set pieces, and if Costa is unavailable, Simeone’s men will aim to exploit Madrid in these situations.

Considering the circumstances, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria will be the key men for Madrid. Both men provide the dynamism and creativity in midfield that steered Madrid to the Copa del Rey final, but were equally nullified in their second league encounter at the Vicente Calderon. With Ronaldo and Bale keen on drifting into central areas, Atletico’s narrow defending nullifies space for the wide players to cut into. Both men have failed to produce quality performances against the newly-crowned Spanish champion, with Bale struggling in 1v2 situations, and Ronaldo lacking service and space to create shooting angles. With that being said, Modric’s ability to dictate the tempo of the match, and Di Maria’s willingness to spring forward and provide a goal-scoring threat will be key.

In eight of the last nine fixtures between the two sides, a goal has been scored within the opening 15 minutes. And while an early goal is expected, it won’t necessarily alter the predicted pattern of the match. Atletico’s system solely focuses on limiting space in their third, defensive solidity, and quick transitions, and Simeone is reluctant to stray away from his philosophy.

With Madrid’s recent issues in open play against Simeone’s side, and their tendency to switch off during matches, one goal may be the difference between success and failure. In 12 months, Atletico have snapped various droughts against their cross-town rivals, and on the biggest stage in world football, they’ll be seeking to avenge their loss to Bayern Munich –– in which the late Luis Aragones scored –– 40 years ago.

With Atletico’s limited financial resources and diminutive squad, Simeone’s ability to get his side to sustain maximum levels and challenge on both fronts –– domestic and European –– serves as a triumph for modern football. Meanwhile, Madrid’s return to the final for the first time in 12 years will be considered a failure if they don’t claim La Decima.

The sky is the limit for Atletico, whereas Real have everything to lose.

 
 

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Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea

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Courtesy of Flickr/dubai88info

Manchester City avenged their league set-back against Chelsea with a convincing victory over Jose Mourinho’s men.

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Manuel Pellegrini made four changes to the side that drew Norwich last weekend. Costel Pantilimon started in goal, while Joleon Lescott formed a centre-back partnership with Vincent Kompany. Javi Garcia slotted in midfield alongside Yaya Toure, and Edin Dzeko led the line.

Mourinho was still without John Terry, as he made one change to his starting XI with John Obi Mikel pushing Oscar to the bench.

Manchester City improved their overall shape, and defensive approach to stifle Chelsea’s attackers and dominate the midfield area.

Chelsea without the ball

Heading into the match, many were curious as to whether Mourinho would alter his tactics, but the Portuguese manager stuck to an identical game-plan that enabled Chelsea to record the double over their title rivals.

Without Terry, Mikel slotted into midfield and sat alongside Matic to limit space between the lines. The midfield duo pressed Yaya Toure – with help from Willian – and they closed down David Silva when he drifted infield. Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic quickly closed down wide men, whereas Ramires tucked into midfield to cope with Silva’s movement.

Similar to their league encounter, there was still space for Ivanovic to drive forward, but the introduction of Gael Clichy provided Pellegrini with a natural left-back that is keen on intercepting passes and staying tight to his opponents – yet he didn’t offer the same attacking threat as Aleksandar Kolarov, as he’s limited going forward.

Mourinho opted to stick with his initial approach without the ball, thus leaving his side predictable, and Pellegrini’s changes within his XI punished the league leaders.

City’s approach

The key to City’s success in this match was the manner in which they contained Chelsea’s attacking three. The league match at the Ethiad saw Chelsea continuously blitz City on the counter attack, and Pellegrini’s decision to tinker with his side’s shape was logical.

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City broke into two banks of four without the ball, encouraging Dzeko and Jovetic to sit off the Chelsea defenders. Pellegrini instructed the attacking duo to press Nemanja Matic, restricting his ability to ignite Chelsea’s attacks from deep. The other key feat was City’s disciplined midfield – which will be pivotal against Barcelona this week – as the first bank ensured that Chelsea’s attackers didn’t locate pockets of space to receive the ball.

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Javi Garcia offered better cover in midfield, constantly pressing Willian in deep positions, while his reliable passing aided City in possession. Clichy closed down Ramires whenever he received the ball, yet the Brazilian’s wastefulness in possession was beneficial to Pellegrini’s side.

The inclusion of Milner contained Hazard’s threat down the left side, despite a few moments of brilliance from the Belgian. Milner recorded five tackles – a match-high – and his persistence to prevent Hazard from isolating the Argentinian full-back was important. Hazard relished previous battles against Zabaleta, but here, Milner sat a few yards deeper, often leaving the Belgian in 1v2 situations when he received the rare opportunity to run at City’s defence. There were two separate occasions where Milner made a recovery run and powerfully broke up play to retain possession, which summed up the significance of his inclusion.

Likewise, even Kompany played a pivotal role in City’s work ethic without the ball. The Belgian pushed higher up the pitch to prevent Chelsea’s attacking three from turning towards goal. He comfortably dispossessed Willian on the half-way line on one occasion, but his foul on Hazard in the buildup to a Chelsea counter-attack signified City’s approach – prevent Chelsea from penetrating space in the final third at any cost.

Pellegrini instructed his side to contain Chelsea’s attacking three by limiting their time and space with the ball, and their dynamism enabled them to complete this task.

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One of the issues Chelsea encountered in the first-half was their disjointed pressing. Although the tempo of City’s ball circulation increased, Chelsea didn’t press well as a unit, and they were easily bypassed in midfield.

City’s opening goal highlighted Ramires’ poor play, Chelsea’s poor pressing in midfield, and the importance of space between the lines. Clichy ran past Ramires towards the half-way line, and his off-balanced pass evaded two Chelsea players and found Silva between the lines. Dzeko was also unmarked in space ahead of him, and Mourinho’s men were caught out of position.

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Silva quickly played in Dzeko, whereas Jovetic drifted alongside Milner, thus creating a 2v1 against Azpilicueta. Milner made a darting run inside of the Spanish full-back to drag him out of position, and Jovetic’s run behind Azpilicueta freed up space to receive Dzeko’s pass and fire a low shot past Petr Cech.

Chelsea admirably denied City space between the lines in previous matches this season, but a poor outing from Ramires, and City’s flexibility going forward gave Pellegrini’s men the attacking impetus they lacked in the previous meeting.

Mourinho’s substitutions

Mourinho decided to tinker with his personnel in the second half, by dismissing the isolated Samuel Eto’o for Mohamed Salah. This pushed the unimpressive Willian to the left, while Salah and Hazard played off one another. The goal was to get runners behind City’s defence with Salah’s pace, but Chelsea’s direct distribution was putrid, and the away side’s productivity in the final third didn’t improve.

Afterwards, Fernando Torres replaced Ramires, pushing Hazard and Salah to the flanks. While Torres successfully won a few aerial duels, and created a bit of space for Chelsea’s midfield to play into, their counter-attack still couldn’t cope with City’s pressing, and the quality in the final third was lacklustre.

Oscar replaced Willian in Mourinho’s final roll of the dice, but the change was overdue. Mourinho possibly expected a response from his side at the start of the second half, but Oscar’s tactical intelligence could’ve led to Chelsea being more proactive in possession. The Brazilian often drops deep to create space for the Chelsea wide men to attack; he also helps his teammates push forward as a unit. With Chelsea chasing the match, Oscar’s influence decreased, as they hurried their passes and were eager to break into the final third.

2-0

Ultimately, the match concluded when City doubled their lead.  Prior to the goal, Samir Nasri replaced Jovetic with City aiming to sustain possession and further dominate central areas. Nasri’s a disciplined, creative midfielder that aims to attack space and play key passes around the final third; with Chelsea struggling to maintain a structured shape, Nasri’s movement was bound to torment the away side.

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Here, Chelsea were dragged completely out of position, thus leaving Silva and Nasri unmarked in a pocket of space. Kompany played an accurate ball to Nasri, and he was free to drive forward, and slide in an incisive pass to Silva. Nasri continued his run and darted into the box to receive the ball, and slid it into an open net.

Chelsea failed to cope with Nasri and Silva’s collective movement, and the Frenchman killed the game, thus allowing Pellegrini to introduce Jesus Navas for Silva to balance City’s midfield.

Conclusion

Pellegrini’s additions to the starting XI played a key role in City’s victory over Chelsea, and the modifications within their defensive work were also beneficial. “Today we played very well in all senses. Defending, in possession, attacking – Chelsea didn’t have any chances to shoot and that was important for us,” Pellegrini said.

Chelsea’s dependence on quick, direct counter-attacks was nullified, and the Blues lacked variety in the final third. They were sloppy in possession, uninventive in attacking areas, and their passing was atrocious – Mourinho’s men didn’t record a shot on goal.

Pellegrini ensured Chelsea didn’t have space to launch counter-attacks, and his personnel changes played their roles to a tee. Jovetic and Nasri opened up additional space in the final third, while Milner aided Zabaleta in shackling Hazard. This was an improved performance from City; Pellegrini learned from his naivety in the league encounter, as his side produced a fantastic performance, which keeps their quadruple hopes alive.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Three Things: Everton 3-1 Swansea

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Courtesy of Flickr/sbos2

Full-backs pose problems

With Romelu Lukaku unavailable for selection, Roberto Martinez’s main attacking outlet is through his advancing full-backs. Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines have established themselves as arguably the best fullback duo in the Premier League, as they quickly transition defence to attack with their surging runs forward.

Everton, however, was sloppy in possession throughout the opening minutes of their FA Cup tie against Swansea. Despite their early goal, and Ross Barkley’s activity between the lines, Martinez’s men struggled in the final third. Wayne Routledge and Roland Lamah quickly closed down the Everton full-backs when they received possession, while Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas were quiet in the opening half.

Nevertheless, with Pienaar and Mirallas drifting infield, space opened up for the fullbacks to get into advanced positions – this is where Everton’s best chances were created. Pienaar drifted into a pocket of space to flick a Sylvain Distin pass into Baines, and the South African international audaciously chipped the Everton left-back’s pass off the crossbar.

Subsequently, Coleman and Mirallas combined, thus leading to Coleman driving towards the byline, and the Everton right-back’s well-weighed ball into the box was smashed light-years over the crossbar. Although Baines’ impact decreased in the second half, Coleman and Mirallas combined on numerous occasions, as they dominated the right-flank.

The duo’s movement on the right created an opening for Barkley to attempt a shot on goal. Afterwards, Coleman drove to the byline on two separate occasions delivering a ball at the far-post to Pienaar, which he nodded inches wide of the post – Mirallas also received an opportunity to increase Everton’s lead but thrashed his shot over the cross-bar.

Despite Baines’ quiet second-half, the left-back coolly slotted a penalty kick past Gerhard Tremmel, which secured Everton’s progression into the last eight of the competition. More so, Everton’s activity in wide-areas exposed Swansea’s makeshift back four.

Individual errors prove costly

Swansea was aiming to extend their unbeaten run under Monk on their travels to Goodison Park. Monk’s approach to the match was logical, and his side nullified Everton’s strengths, but individual mistakes in their own third led to their downfall.

Kyle Bartley’s return to the Swansea XI following his loan spell at Birmingham started poorly, as his defensive error contributed to Lacina Traore’s debut goal. Bartley failed to clear Baines’ free kick, and Traore back heeled Sylvain Distin’s ball towards the six-yard box past Tremmel. Swansea maintained an organized shape –despite conceding space between the lines – as they quickly pressed Everton on the ball, forcing them to play backwards, and their full-backs struggled to assert their dominance in the opening half.

Monk’s men received opportunities in the final third to punish Everton’s shaky back line, but the away side lacked a killer instinct. Alvaro Vasquez was played in free in the first minute, but his reluctance to shoot with his left foot after rounding the goalkeeper, allowed Everton to recover from their mistake. Likewise Lamah constantly surged forward down the left flank, but no Swansea attacker attempted to connect with his deliveries across the six-yard box.

Despite their positive attacking opportunities, the away side’s attempt to record a historic FA Cup triumph halted due to ensuing defensive mistakes. Neil Taylor’s poor back pass towards Tremmel was intercepted by substitute Steven Naismith and the Scottish attacker slotted his shot into the net. Naismith’s impact on the match increased when Ashley Richards committed a clumsy tackle on the Scotsman.

Everton failed to unlock the away side’s backline in the buildup to all three goals, but Swansea’s defensive lapses presented Martinez’s men with goal scoring opportunities, and they pounced.

Traore debut disappointing

Traore is supposed to serve as an astute replacement for the injured Romelu Lukaku, and while his life at Goodison started with a goal, his overall performance was underwhelming.

It’s irrational to believe that the Ivorian will offer an identical physical threat as Lukaku, and Martinez insisted that the on-loan striker has more to his arsenal. “His size will give you the wrong impression of the way he is as a footballer. He is technically very gifted, he has a real understanding of the space and combination play around him and is really quick with his penetrating runs, he [Traore] is a real athlete,” Martinez said.

“All those aspects make us a little bit different because we haven’t got that sort of player with that presence and height. He is a footballer who is going to bring us a lot.”

Traore’s debut resulted in 19 touches – receiving two more touches than Naismith – as he spent long portions of the match anonymous. Everton lacked a focal point, along with a goal-scoring threat in attack, as he didn’t attempt to make runs behind the backline or drop into spaces to receive the ball.

The Ivorian’s debut was poor, and it may take time to adapt to the frenetic pace of the Premier League, but surely Martinez will demand a better performance in future matches – especially with Everton aiming to finish in a European spot.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Lazio 1-1 Juventus

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Courtesy of Flickr/ mbah_pascal

Lazio held Juventus to a 1-1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico despite Gianluigi Buffon’s first half dismissal.

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Edy Reja made several changes to his starting XI. Miroslav Klose led the line with Hernanes and Antonio Candreva playing behind the German international. Luis Cavanda and Abdoulay Konko played as wingbacks, while Cristian Ledesma and Lucas Biglia formed a midfield duo.

Antonio Conte recalled Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente upfront, while Paul Pogba, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah took up their traditional positions in midfield.

Both sides created little from open play – Juventus pounced when opportunities were presented, while Reja’s cautious approach prevented Lazio from increasing their lead. A draw was a fair result.

Juventus play out of the back

Juventus found it relatively easy to move forward as a unit due to Lazio’s lack of press. Conte’s back three were free to push forward and play passes amongst one another because they were often in 3v1 situations against Klose. Occasionally, Hernanes joined Klose and pressed Conte’s defenders, but there was always a spare man, while Marchisio dropped into a deeper position to receive the ball.

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For the most part, Reja’s men dropped into their half and focused on maintaining a compact shape in midfield. Conte’s backline were free to play forward passes into midfield, thus leading to Juventus’ superiority in possession.

Lazio without the ball

Despite sustaining a mere 38% of possession in the first half – with a man advantage – Lazio went into half-time with a one goal lead, containing Juventus’ main threats. Reja’s men dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, and encouraged their wingbacks to quickly close down Lichtsteiner and Asamoah.

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Lazio’s narrow shape limited space in central areas, meaning Pogba and Vidal struggled to influence the match from midfield. The main issue Juventus encountered was service to their strikers – Llorente was a peripheral figure in the first half, despite being involved in Juventus’ only legitimate goal-scoring opportunity, and Tevez found it difficult to receive the ball. Biglia and Ledesma protected the back four, while Lorik Cana and Giuseppe Biava also closed down the Argentine when he received the ball.

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Reja’s reactive approach was beneficial in the first half as Lazio nullified Juve’s attack. Shockingly, Lazio was in the lead at half-time courtesy of Candreva’s spot kick that was initially created through Konko’s magnificent through ball to Klose – which led to Buffon’s sending off.

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Buffon’s sending off forced Juventus to reshuffle, and Conte sacrificed Asamoah, thus leaving him without a left-sided player. Juve became a 4-4-1, with Tevez drifting to the left and Ogbonna playing as a left back.

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The onus was on Juve to attack, but with Lazio maintaining a man-advantage, one would expect the home-side to dominate possession. Conte’s men tried to play through the middle, and with Tevez slowly growing into the match, Juventus’ buildup play improved. With Ogbonna playing as a make-shift left back, Marchisio drifted infield so Lichtsteiner could push forward to provide width.

There was no significant change in either sides approach for the remainder of the first half – Juve dominated possession but struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, whereas Lazio sat narrow, defended deep, and opted to launch quick counters.

Tevez/Hernanes

The games most proactive players subsequent to Buffon’s sending off were Tevez and Hernanes. Both players flourished in different roles – Tevez worked off Llorente as an energetic second striker, whereas Hernanes sprung quick counter-attacks when Juventus conceded possession.

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Tevez’s influence on the match increased when Juve went down to 10 men. The Argentinian striker was positioned on the left, but when Juve won possession he moved into spaces on the field that Lazio’s defensive six wouldn’t drift into.

Now, Tevez linked play with the midfield, allowing them to move into key areas, but the Juventus striker also posed a goal threat around the 18-yard box. His main contribution was the buildup to Llorente’s goal – Tevez received Marchisio’s pass in space and distributed the ball wide to Lichtsteiner, and his back heel played in the Swiss wingback, thus leading to the cross that Llorente nodded into the far corner.

Hernanes offered a different threat – his quick nimble feet allowed the Brazilian to evade challenges and drive forward, and he was  the main outlet on the counter-attack. On two separate occasions Hernanes ran at the heart of the Juventus defence before playing balls out wide, but Candreva wasted both attempts.

The Brazilian summed up Lazio’s approach – he was disciplined without the ball, but crafty and direct on the break. Both men provided the invention that the match lacked, but their teammates were unable to make the difference.

Second half

Juventus continued to dominate possession for large portions of the second half, but their approach was slightly different. Conte instructed his men to utilize Llorente and play long balls into the Spaniard. There best chance stemmed from Bonucci’s direct ball into the striker, who held it up for Vidal, and the Chilean played in an onrushing Tevez, but his near-post shot was pushed away for a corner.

Majority, of Juventus’ attacks were now based on the counter, but their transitions were slow, and their passing around the final third was poor. Nonetheless, for a side that played with a man advantage for the entire second half, Lazio disappointed. When they managed to sustain possession in Juventus’ third, they failed to get behind or penetrate Conte’s organized side.

Apart from Hernanes’ involvement on the break, the home side was presented with two opportunities to win the match. In the span of four minutes, Klose got on the end of two Ledesma free-kicks: the first header led to a sensational save from Marco Storari, while the second attempt was offside, yet Storari caught the German’s tame effort.

Reja made two substitutions in the half, introducing Alvaro Gonzalez for Cavanda and Keita Balde for Candreva. Keita provided a pacy direct threat in the final moments of the match – here, he constantly ran at Lichtsteiner, and Klose played the Spanish-born Senegalese striker in on the break, but his curling effort hit the post.

Both sides were sloppy in possession, and they adopted direct approaches that nearly paid off. However, the match lacked guile, and creativity in the final third, but neither side was willing to gamble, thus leading to an uneventful second half.

Conclusion

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Juventus’ poor run of form at the Stadio Olimpico continues in a match that possessed two distinct features. Lazio’s reactive approach contained Juventus for large portions of the match, but their transitions were disappointing. Meanwhile, Conte’s decision to play through Llorente in the second half nearly secured maximum points.

“We knew Juve came forward with one striker who’d flick it on for the other, so we worked on closing down those vertical lines. There’s also Arturo Vidal who moves down the right and Andre Dias was ear-marked to close down whoever went down that line,” Reja said.

“Perhaps we should’ve done better on the counter-attack. Marco Storari also performed some extraordinary saves.”

Buffon’s sending off changed the course of the game, but the likelihood of this match being a spectacle was very low, based on Reja’s approach. The draw leaves Roma six points behind the league leaders, and they’ll ironically meet Conte’s men at the Stadio Olimpico on the final day of the season, where Juventus can avenge last week’s shortcomings.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea

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Arsenal and Chelsea battled to an apathetic draw at the Emirates Stadium.

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Arsene Wenger was forced to make a few changes to the side that lost to Manchester City, as Jack Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny were unavailable. Olivier Giroud led the line ahead of Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Mesut Ozil, while Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta sat in the double-pivot.

Jose Mourinho made three changes to the side that defeated Crystal Palace. Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill and John Obi Mikel were included in the starting XI, while Oscar, Juan Mata and Andre Schurrle were on the bench.

Chelsea’s reactive approach frustrated Wenger’s side in a dull match between two of the top sides in the Premier League.

Chelsea’s shape

One of the main issues Arsenal’s encountered when facing Jose Mourinho’s side has been penetrating space between the lines and behind Chelsea’s backline. Mourinho has preferred to take a reactive approach when facing Arsenal, and here, the Portuguese manager stuck to his beliefs.

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Chelsea dropped into a narrow 4-5-1, and opted not to press the Arsenal centre backs. Mourinho’s men maintained a compact shape limiting space between the lines, while Ramires, Lampard and Fernando Torres took turns pressing Arteta – Cesar Azpilicueta quickly closed down Theo Walcott when he received the ball out wide, and the Englishman often drifted centrally, congesting the middle of the park.

Chelsea’s defender’s pushed higher up the pitch knowing that Giroud didn’t possess the pace to exploit their back line, and their positioning ensured that there was minimal space between the lines. Mourinho’s approach stifled Arsenal’s midfield, as they struggled to get into their preferred zones to create chances – it took the Gunners 83 minutes to record their first shot on target.

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Arsenal’s shape

On the other hand, Arsenal’s approach without the ball was quite peculiar. Similar to Chelsea, they also dropped into their shape, but the distance between the midfield and defence was vast. Also, their midfield five didn’t press in central areas, and Mourinho’s men easily found gaps between the lines to exploit. Mikel and Lampard sat deeper, and they were able to play passes to Ramires, and the two attacking wide players in these zones.

Wenger’s men looked much better in wide areas – Walcott quickly closed down Azpilicueta when he received the ball, and despite Rosicky drifting centrally when Chelsea was in possession, the Czech midfielder scurried out wide when Ivanovic received the ball. Chelsea’s fullbacks were pegged back, and their wingers were stifled in wide areas.

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Hazard found it difficult to get the better of Sagna, whereas Willian was also quiet near the touchline – the Chelsea duo influenced the game when they drifted centrally and attacked space between the lines.

Wenger’s side comfortably nullified Chelsea’s threat in wide areas, but their inability to prevent Mourinho’s men from playing between the lines was naïve.

Chelsea counterattack

Chelsea’s source of offence was evident from the first whistle. Torres was an isolated figure upfront who struggled to trouble the Arsenal backline, and with the midfield soaking up pressure, Chelsea’s best chance of scoring was on the counter.

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This is why his selected attacking trio behind Torres was logical – they were capable of tracking back to complete their defensive duties, but their zing posed a threat on the counter. Willian, Ramires and Hazard drove Chelsea’s counterattack forward on several occasions, but were unable to beat Wojciech Szczesny. Chelsea’s best chance came when Hazard drifted infield and chipped a ball over the Arsenal defence, which led to Lampard’s volley off the crossbar.

Besides that, Willian’s tame efforts didn’t trouble Szczesny and he often played a poor final ball, Ramires nodded a cross over the net, and Lampard’s shot from distance flew straight into the Arsenal goalkeeper’s arms. Chelsea tormented the home side on the break, but their quality in the final third was disappointing.

Second half

There was a slight improvement in Arsenal’s display in the final 25 minutes, and it nearly led to the home side nicking a winner. Chelsea was suddenly sloppy in possession, and they constantly conceded the ball to the home side.

Ozil became a prominent figure in the latter stages of the match, as he glided towards each flank attempting to create overloads – specifically the right.

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However, Lampard tracked his runs into these zones to prevent 3v2 situations, and the Englishman – who enjoyed arguably his best performance this season – made key tackles in these areas.

As the game wore on Ozil’s decision to drop into deeper positions was interesting. When the German adopted these deep/wide areas, Rosicky began to find space between the lines to receive the ball and spread play wide to push Arsenal forward and vice-versa. Arsenal’s best chances stemmed through Rosicky’s advanced positions – his driving run from midfield led to Giroud’s effort that went wide, and his one-two with Gibbs on the left flank forced Petr Cech to make a key save to deny the Arsenal striker.

Mourinho’s substitutions were strictly player swaps that maintained balance and his side’s shape, while Wenger didn’t make any alterations, and his side looked leggy in the final minutes, as Chelsea pushed for a winner.

Conclusion

Neither side gambled for a winner due to the fear of losing the match, and they both displayed the flaws that may inhibit them from winning the league. Arsenal had difficulties playing through Chelsea’s shape and press, as Mourinho’s tactics stifled their creative midfielders and direct threat in Walcott.

“They played their game but it was the game we wanted them to play. They tried to win the game but we played tactically well,” Mourinho said. 

Arsenal’s lack of options on the bench is an issue the Gunners may encounter – as Arsenal’s congested schedule approaches, Wenger’s men are slowly showing signs of fatigue. However, while Chelsea displayed that they can get results away from home against the top-sides, this match was a perfect indicator as to why they may actually need a top striker.

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

 

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United regain superiority at Old Trafford

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Courtesy of: Football.ua

Many milestones have been broken at Old Trafford this season. Most recently, Everton and Newcastle ended overdue winless droughts at the Theatre of Dreams, and West Ham was looking to replicate their achievements. Manchester United were in jeopardy of losing three consecutive home matches for the first time since 1979, as West Ham came into the match confident off their midweek Capital One Cup victory at White Hart Lane.

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United took control of the match in the opening minutes, due to West Ham’s cautious approach. The issue David Moyes’ side encountered was the lack of creativity in the final third.

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Luckily, Antonio Valencia and Rafael continued to impress down the right flank, completing the most passes between two players. United’s main goal in the first was to overload the right flank – a tactic used during Moyes’ tenure at Everton – Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones drifted forward towards the right, aiming to find openings behind George McCartney, but they rarely harmed the West Ham back line.

United dominated possession in the opening half, but rarely tested Hammers goalkeeper Adrian. However, Danny Welbeck’s inventive back heel to Rooney was the magic Moyes’ side lacked in the final third, and it was fitting that it led to the Englishman’s left-footed strike past the West Ham keeper – his first home goal in 14 months. Subsequently, it was Welbeck’s ability to hold up the ball, and James Collins’ putrid defending that led to Adnan Januzaj’s first goal at Old Trafford, doubling United’s lead and securing three points. The Welbeck/Rooney partnership has reaped rewards in the past, and here, Welbeck was pivotal – thus leaving Moyes worried, when the English striker was forced to leave the match early in the second half.

United’s midfield was untested as Jones comfortably protected the back four, and confidently drove at the heart of the West Ham back line.

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Cleverley passed his way through midfield, whilst Rooney began to find pockets of space between the lines, and picked up deeper positions in midfield to demonstrate his excellent passing range and help the midfield duo sustain possession. Also, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans were magnificent – displaying defensive solidity and assuring that United may have found their new first team centre-back partnership.

Although Carlton Cole found a way through United’s impeccable backline, Moyes’ right side replicated their first half performance and constantly tormented McCartney. The West Ham left back was exposed for United’s third goal when Rafael played a lovely ball to Valencia in the right channel. The Ecuadorian’s cut back pass to Rooney was decent, and the Englishman laid it off to substitute Ashley Young, who struck the ball into the top corner, scoring for the first time in 19 months in front of the United faithful.

West Ham was lethargic for large portions of the match. Sam Allardyce’s men lack a significant focal point to link play and bring the midfield forward – Modiba Maiga was woeful – whereas they relied on creativity from wide areas, and their wingers were unable to get into advanced positions. West Ham’s poor away form played a factor, but Allardyce’s side desperately need a competent target man.

Robin Van Persie – the man who singlehandedly won them the title last year – is unavailable, but Moyes is getting the best out of the players that recently fell out favour with the supporters. United enjoy a manageable festive period, and results of this stature will push Moyes’ side back into the title hunt.

Don’t count out the Red Devils, yet.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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