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Three Things: Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United

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Courtesy of Flickr/Football Nomad

Cautious Moyes

After Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Fulham, many were criticizing David Moyes’ attacking approach. Although United completed 86 crosses in the match, displaying a lack of variety in attack, Moyes’ side was atrocious on the defensive end.

Despite dominating possession for large portions of the match, individual errors led to Steve Sidwell’s opener and Darren Bent’s late equalizer. With a trip to the Emirates Stadium on the horizon, United couldn’t afford to drop points if they had any hopes of finishing in the top four.

United dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, as they focused on minimizing space between the lines. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley provided astute protection in front of the back four, and Arsenal’s attacking players were unable to get into dangerous positions around the final third.

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Moyes instructed his men to sit narrow – identical to their performance at Old Trafford earlier this season – but this time wide players Antonio Valencia and Juan Mata prevented Arsenal’s fullbacks from pushing forward. United was set up to contain Arsenal’s attacking players, and they succeeded. The Gunners created minimal chances from open play, their ball circulation was slow, and they lacked the penetration and guile to break down United’s back line.

The issue with United’s approach was that it sacrificed their threat on the attack. Apart from three squandered efforts from Robin van Persie, United didn’t test Wojciech Szczesny. Rooney was often yards away from the Dutch striker, and when United held possession, he was unable to receive the ball in key areas. Overall, United’s attack was stagnant; van Persie was constantly flagged offside, and with Moyes keen on his central midfielders – and Rooney – sitting deep, the champions lacked runners.

Moyes’ approach was logical, and it earned United an important point. However, while the Red Devils completed a job without the ball, their threat on the attack was languid.

Ozil improves his performance

Mesut Ozil’s form has been heavily critiqued and ridiculed over the past few months, and his performance at Anfield over the weekend was the last straw. Ozil’s involvement in two Liverpool goals left many questioning whether he truly is a world-class player.

While the sudden outrage in Ozil’s status is bizarre, encountering a dip in form in your first season in England isn’t. Nonetheless, the German playmaker took it upon him to silence the critics at the Emirates. Statistically, he was superb, creating the most chances and completing the most passes in the final third.

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Although Ozil wasn’t the best player on the pitch, he was certainly the most influential Arsenal player. Laurent Koscielny – Arsenal’s best player on the night – nodded Ozil’s corner towards the back post, but it was cleared by Valencia, and his intricate passing with Santi Cazorla, led to the Spaniard forcing David De Gea to make a key save.

For the most part it looked like the gap in quality between Ozil and his teammates was vast. Ozil roamed around the final third playing passes with his teammates, and creating space for others to penetrate, but nothing came of it. Likewise, when he did attempt to play intricate passes in tight spaces the receiver often couldn’t play a returning pass.

Ozil’s price tag leaves him vulnerable to heavy criticism, but as of late it’s difficult to pinpoint an attacker who’s produced consistent performances.

Giroud or bust?

Arsene Wenger had one job to complete during the January transfer window – purchase a striker. An entire month flew by, and despite a few warning signs regarding fatigue and performance levels, Wenger was reluctant on meeting the wishes of Arsenal supporters.

Apart from their victory against Spurs earlier this season, Olivier Giroud has failed to score against the league’s top-sides. Giroud’s enjoyed a good campaign as Arsenal’s main striker this season, but his inability to provide goals in these matches has affected the Gunners’ results.

With Arsenal’s summer pursuit of Luis Suarez proving to be unsuccessful, and Theo Walcott sidelined for the remainder of the season, many expected Wenger to jump into the January market. The Frenchman, however, fully believes that the squad at his disposal possesses enough quality to end Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought.

Wenger included Nicklas Bentdner, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo on the bench against Manchester United, yet the trio witnessed Giroud struggle at the Emirates. Despite outmuscling and pestering United captain Nemanja Vidic in the first-half, the French international’s finishing was poor. In the 76th minute, Sagna created Arsenal’s best opportunity, but Giroud failed to convert the right-back’s delightful delivery into the six-yard box.

Giroud’s lack of pace puts him at a disadvantage, and his link-up play with advancing midfielders has become predictable. It’s illogical to believe the sole purchase of a striker would win Arsenal a trophy this season, but with the Frenchman showing evident signs of fatigue, a competent, alternative option could’ve been beneficial.

More so, Giroud’s poor performance symbolizes the Gunners’ issues upfront, but with three options at their disposal, maybe it’s time Wenger gives his main striker a rest.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Tottenham 2-2 Manchester United

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Manchester United came from behind twice courtesy of strikes from Wayne Rooney, to earn the champions a vital point at White Hart Lane.

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David Moyes made three changes to the side that comfortably defeated Bayer Leverkusen in midweek. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley were introduced in midfield, alongside Phil Jones, Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia. Also, Nemanja Vidic made his return to the starting line up, forming a centre back duo with Jonny Evans.

Andre Villas-Boas also made three changes to his starting eleven after last week’s embarrassing defeat to Manchester City. Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli slotted into midfield – which pushed Paulinho behind Roberto Soldado – while Vlad Chiriches played at centre back alongside Michael Dawson.

This was a tight affair that was decided by individual mistakes – Spurs went ahead twice, but failure to increase their lead, and individual defensive mistakes allowed United back into the match.

Shape

A main feat that contributed to the minimal chances created was the shape both sides dropped into when the opposition was in position.

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Shockingly, Spurs’ defence sat deeper than usual with the midfield sitting off in front of the back four, which allowed Jones and Cleverley time on the ball.  Villas-Boas’ men were content with the duo sustaining possession, and there was no surprise that the Cleverley and Jones completed the most passes in the match.

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Soldado nor Paulinho applied much pressure on the United defenders either – Evans, Chris Smalling and Vidic completed the most passes after the duo – as it was an incentive for United to push forward, and Spurs to hit them on the counter. At times, Paulinho did work hard to close down United defenders, but there was always a spare outlet available.

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Lennon and Chadli tracked back into deeper positions admirably, while Sandro and Dembele worked hard to limit activity in the final third.

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On the other hand, United stuck to their defensive principle under Moyes, and prevented Spurs from playing out of the back. Valencia and Welbeck pressed the Spurs full backs when they received the ball, while Jones and Cleverley picked up Dembele and Sandro. Spurs were forced to play long balls into the channels for Soldado and Paulinho to chase, and their best opportunities were often created on the break.

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In the 14th minute, United were nearly awarded for their work ethic out of possession, as Rooney forced Chiriches to concede possession and he played a pass to the advancing Valencia. Dawson blocked the Ecuadorian’s initial cross, but he cut the ball back to Rooney, who also had his attempt blocked by Sandro.

United dominated the possession statistics due to Spurs’ approach – who chose not to press Moyes’ men – but when Villas-Boas’ men did move forward as a cohesive unit, the tempo was often slow and they lacked creativity.

Right flank

Similarly, there was a distinct feat in the set up of both sides, as they both enjoyed more freedom down the right flank.

Valencia was an influential figure in the match using his pace and strength to get the better of makeshift left back Vertonghen.

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This forced Chiriches to often come across to limit his threat in the final third, while Chadli sat deeper – more so in the second half – to prevent the Ecuadorian from isolating Vertonghen and Smalling from getting forward.

Likewise, the role Evra has developed under Moyes has left him vulnerable against sides that possess pacy, direct wingers. Lennon’s movement dragged Evra out of position, and the United left back was unable to cope with his pace. Also, Welbeck and Kagawa’s inclusion on the left flank ensured that Evra was vulnerable. Considering majority of Spurs’ attacks were on the counter, United’s left attacker was often caught out in a central position – specifically so Evra could push forward – and this allowed Walker to surge forward.

  • 27th min: Sandro wins a loose header that Lennon keeps in play, and the Spurs winger drove forward, holding off Welbeck and Evra, and plays a ball to an advancing Walker. Walker’s cross goes to the far post, but Chadli didn’t make a run at the far post.
  • 30th min: Soldado freely receives the ball, turns and finds Lennon making a diagonal run into the box. The Spurs winger beats Evra for pace, fires a shot at De Gea, and then squares the rebound across the six-yard box, but it’s a few yards ahead of the unmarked Paulinho.
  • 78th min: Jermain Defoe plays Walker in free on the counter, and Evans allows him to drive forward and play a sensational ball to Andros Townsend, but the substitute was unable to direct the ball on net.

Valencia was a significant threat in United’s attack, but the threat of Lennon and Walker pushed Spurs into dangerous positions – this will be explained below.

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In the 17th minute Paulinho received a ball around the 18-yard box – as Jones allowed Sandro’s nod back to bounce behind him – and the Brazilian was fouled at the edge of the box by Evans, thus leading to a Spurs free kick. Walker scored from a free kick, but the main issue in this situation was the wall in front of De Gea.

The free kick was positioned approximately 20-yards away from goal, and considering Walker is known to go for power opposed to precision, it was peculiar to see the United wall jump. The likeliness of Walker getting/opting to place the ball over the wall and beat De Gea was slim, and there was no need for the United wall to jump.

Soldado/Paulinho

One of the main talking points heading into this fixture was the utilization of Soldado in Villas-Boas’ attack. The Spurs striker hasn’t enjoyed a great start in the Premier League, as he’s often been an isolated figure up top.

Here, Villas-Boas played Paulinho in an advanced role – Lewis Holtby hasn’t prospered behind the Spaniard, and Christian Eriksen is injured. Not only did the inclusion of the Brazilian allow Spurs to play Dembele and Sandro, but it also gave Paulinho freedom to make runs into the box.

In the 28th minute, both men displayed what they offer to the Spurs attack. Paulinho played a ball to Soldado on the break and he did well to lay it for the Brazilian, who drove forward and played a well-weighed ball to the Spaniard, but he skied his shot over the net.

To an extent, Soldado’s poor scoring form can be down to the lack of chances created from the Spurs midfield – however, this wasn’t the case against United.

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  • 5th min: Sandro plays a good ball to Lennon, and his first touch evades Evra, forcing the United fullback to foul him. Paulinho picked up the loose ball and played it out wide to Walker, who ran behind Evra, but Soldado was indecisive with his movement, and the Spurs right back let the ball out for a goal-kick.

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  • 38th min: Dembele completed a powerful run from deep in his half and picked out Chadli, who played a nice ball behind Evra for Lennon, but Soldado nor Paulinho make a run to meet Lennon’s cross.

The decision to play Paulinho behind Soldado was to get a player close to the Spaniard, in hope that he would be more involved in the attack. While Villas-Boas did succeed in that aspect, Soldado’s movement in the final third was poor, and apart from his wild shot over the goal, he didn’t come close to testing De Gea.

United going forward

While United sustained majority of the possession for large portions of the match, they struggled to break down Tottenham’s back line. Initially Rooney and Kagawa didn’t have an impact around the edge of the box, so they dropped deeper into central areas, to help United push forward as a unit.

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Equally, this didn’t improve United’s attack. Kagawa, Welbeck and Rooney were dropping into the same area, leaving the Spurs centrebacks fairly comfortable at the back. Moyes’ men didn’t offer an attacking thrust in the final third – Rooney was starved of service, Kagawa didn’t stamp his authority on the match and United failed to create one legitimate goal-scoring opportunity in the first half.

Moyes’ alterations

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Towards the end of the first half Moyes decided to play Kagawa on the left, and push Welbeck ahead of Rooney. This was a logical move because United lacked proper service in the final third, and a physical presence to compete with Dawson and Chiriches.

The move gave Rooney more freedom to express himself, and United were now more threatening in possession. Also, Welbeck was now a danger man because of the strength he possesses to hold up the ball, his pace to attack space behind the Spurs backline and he was still able to drift around the final third to help United sustain possession. Ultimately, Welbeck’s pace did pose problems against Spurs’ backline, and in the 68th minute, he nearly punished Villas-Boas’ men.

Welbeck received a simple ball over the top in the left channel, and he beat Dawson for pace at the byline, but his cross didn’t meet Rooney, who was closely watched by Dembele. Moyes’ alterations increased United’s attacking impetus, as there was a gradual improvement in the final third – Welbeck was now an attacking threat opposed to a defensive liability, Rooney vastly transformed from a peripheral figure to United’s most important player, and Kagawa limited Walker’s freedom down the right.

2-1/2-2

The most eventful moments of the match took place in the 54th minute when Sandro received the ball in midfield, drove forward, turning Cleverley in and out, before firing an unstoppable shot past De Gea.

Surprisingly, it took United two minutes to equalize.

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Walker gambled and flew into a 50/50 challenge with Vidic in United’s third, and came up short. Rooney picked up the loose ball and drove towards Tottenham’s half. With Lennon and Walker out of position, Sandro was forced to drift over to close down the United striker.

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Had Walker been disciplined, he’d be marking Rooney, and Sandro would be in a position to cut off Rooney’s reverse ball to Welbeck. However, Spurs were lacking numbers on the break, and Rooney provided Welbeck with a magnificent ball behind the Spurs backline. The Englishman took the ball in stride, and was tripped by Hugo Lloris.

Subsequently, Rooney converted a spot kick down the middle to level the score line, as United pounced on another defensive miscue from Walker.

Substitutions

Neither side was content with a draw, as it would increase Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table to double digits.

Villas-Boas replaced Lennon with Andros Townsend and Defoe for Soldado. Townsend added another element to Tottenham’s attack with his powerful running from deep areas. Unfortunately for Spurs supporters his crosses were comfortably dealt with, and he was unable to meet Walker’s ball in the 78th minute.

Defoe’s impact on the match was minimal, apart from a Vidic foul near the edge of the box in the 88th minute. Defoe’s mobility was an improvement to Soldado’s, but his decision-making and lack of service in the final third hindered his chances of winning the match.

Moyes’ changes were also straight swaps, as Javier Hernandez replaced Welbeck to no effect, while Nani and Ashley Young were introduced in the final minutes of the match, but there wasn’t enough time for the duo to have a significant impact.

Conclusion

Spurs created the better chances throughout the match, but two defensive miscues – solely from Walker – gave Rooney the platform to earn United a crucial away point.

Spurs will feel that they deserved maximum points, but the home side never looked comfortable when they took the lead. Their cautious approach limited United’s attacking threat, and their natural shape without the ball was a massive improvement from a defensive perspective. Spurs still need to address issues going forward, but Villas-Boas appreciated the overall response from his men.

“We are extremely happy with the performance but not so much the result, because a win would have taken us above them, but it’s a good response, not a bad result,” said Villas-Boas.

Once again glimpses of Rooney’s brilliance guided United to a positive result – Moyes’ men were mediocre on the day, and will need to improve as Rooney’s magic may not be enough to earn a result against Everton, Wednesday night.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal

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Aaron Ramsey’s second half goal put Arsenal in a great position to progress to the Champions League knockout round for the 14th consecutive year.

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Arsene Wenger made no changes to the side that defeated Liverpool over the weekend.

Sokratis formed a centre back duo with Neven Subotic, while Jakub Blaszczykowski was preferred over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the right of an attacking three, alongside Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Arsenal produced a mature, yet gritty performance, as they overcame a dominant opening hour from the Champions League finalists to earn a monumental victory at the Westfalenstadion.

Pressing

One of the main feats in the match at the Emirates was the battle in midfield, and it was interesting to see how both sides approached the match. Once again there was a contrast in styles – Arsenal were aiming to sustain possession, while Dortmund were keen on hitting the Gunners on the break.

Initially, Arsenal dropped into two banks of four with wide men – Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla – sitting in deeper positions to prevent Dortmund’s fullbacks from pushing forward. Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil pressed Sokratis and Neven Subotic, and when Nuri Sahin or Sven Bender dropped deeper, Rosicky closed them down. Dortmund was unable to build from the back, which hampered their control of possession.

Dortmund also dropped into two banks of four without the ball, but they maintained a high line and displayed terrific work rate throughout the pitch. Lewandowski and Mkhitaryan tracked the Arsenal centrebacks, and the Armenian midfielder also closed down Mikel Arteta when he received the ball. A key feat in the fixture at the Emirates was the amount of space all four fullbacks received down the flank.

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Klopp was adamant on nullifying that offensive source, seeing as Bacary Sagna has played a significant role in Arsenal’s attack over the past few weeks.

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Blaszczykowski and Reus pressed Kieran Gibbs and Sagna when they had the ball, and the likes of Sahin and Bender assisted the Dortmund wingers, as they tried to win possession higher up the pitch.

Arsenal struggled to cope with Dortmund’s pressure, and they failed to create a solitary legitimate goal-scoring opportunity in the first half. Most of their build-up play was halted before they entered the final third, as Wenger’s men conceded possession easily, due to Dortmund’s pressure. Arsenal’s attacking three dropped deeper alongside Arteta to help the Gunners sustain possession, and push forward as a unit, but Dortmund was exceptional without the ball.

Grosskreutz/Dortmund right side

Kevin Grosskreutz was a key-attacking element in Dortmund’s victory at the Emirates Stadium, and the German utility player continued to penetrate down the left flank. Gibbs’ positioning improved slightly, as he was rarely caught out in narrow positions – and he had Cazorla protecting him.

However, as the match wore on, Grosskreutz’s impact on the match increased, as his runs from right back weren’t being tracked. In the 24th minute, Reus played a ball to Grosskreutz between Cazorla and Gibbs, and the Dortmund right-back’s cross found Blaszczykowski, but the Polish midfielder’s shot flashed wide of the goal. Towards the end of the half, Grosskreutz broke free once again, but his cross went straight into Wojciech Szczesny’s hands. The German right back continued to torment Arsenal’s backline in the second half, as he broke free half towards the touchline, but Arteta intercepted his cutback pass.

But while Grosskreutz’s impact was significant, Dortmund’s aim was to isolate Gibbs. Dortmund’s best chance of the half stemmed from Robert Lewandowski turning Laurent Koscielny and playing a forward pass to Blaszczykowski. The Polish midfielder squared his pass to an open Mkhitaryan on the edge of the box, but the Armenian midfielder fluffed his shot wide. Blaszczykowski also played in a quality cross into the box – after beating Gibbs on the right flank – but Per Mertesacker acrobatically cleared his lines. In the second half, Bender was free on the right flank, and his delivery found Reus on the edge of the box, but Szczesny saved the German international’s header.

Unlike Klopp, who nullified Arsenal’s threat from wide areas, Wenger’s tactical naivety was once again displayed, and poor finishing prevented his side from being a few goals down.

Arteta-Ramsey double-pivot

The signing of Mathieu Flamini in the summer left many questioning Wenger’s transfer policy, but as shocking as it may sound, the French midfielder has become a key cog in Arsenal’s midfielder. His ability to make tackles, protect the back four, and do the dirty work for the Gunners is often overlooked. Equally, Flamini’s absence from the starting eleven has allowed many to see how important the Frenchman is.

The problem with the Ramsey-Arteta duo is the Welshman’s willingness to surge forward, which often leaves Arteta vulnerable to being overrun in midfield. The Spaniard is then forced to make cynical tackles, and his overall impact decreases, mainly because Arteta isn’t a natural defensive midfielder. At Crystal Palace he was wrongfully sent off for fouling Marouane Chamakh, after the Palace striker got behind the Spaniard. In the early moments against Liverpool, Sturridge and Suarez constantly got behind Arteta, posing a threat on the break. More so, this recurring theme continued against Dortmund, and the Spaniard was fortunate to stay on the pitch for the entirety of the match.

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In the 22nd minute, Arteta was booked for pulling down Blaszczykowski, after the Polish midfielder wriggled away from four Arsenal players and was nearly clear on goal. Eight minutes later, Reus slyly drifted past Arteta and ran at the heart of the Arsenal defence, but Mertesacker read his final ball. In the second half, Lewandowski did well to hold up the ball and play in an advancing Mkhitaryan who ran behind Arteta and played a pass to Blaszczykowski, but Szczesny saved his shot.

Mkhitaryan’s movement was clever and he found pockets of space behind Arteta to receive the ball and exploit on the counter. Arsenal may thrive with Arteta and Ramsey against lesser opposition in the Premier League, but the midfield combination has become a distinct weakness that opponents have targeted over the past few weeks, as Ramsey needs to provide better defensive cover for the Spaniard.

1-0

However, despite the deficiencies that come with the Ramsey-Arteta partnership, Ramsey’s attacking contributions proved to be beneficial. Sokratis failed to clear his lines after Rosicky conceded possession, and the Arsenal midfielder played the ball out wide to Ozil. Giroud outmuscled Grosskreutz to win Ozil’s looping cross and Ramsey got goal-side of Neven Subotic and nodded the ball past Roman Weidenfeller.

It was Arsenal’s first shot on target, and the first time Ramsey got into an advanced position in the final third. The Welsh midfielder has relished in central areas as he’s given more freedom to push forward, and minutes after the opener he nearly put the match out of sight. Giroud and Ramsey combined at the halfway line and pushed higher up the pitch. Giroud played a ball into Ramsey, who peeled away from Marcel Schmelzer. Ramsey’s first touch off his chest was immaculate, but Weidenfeller saved his venomous shot from a tight angle.

Prior to the goal, Arsenal were desperately hanging on by a thread, but the Gunners gambled and pushed higher up the pitch – knowing that Dortmund could blitz them on the counter – and Ramsey’s forward runs and composure in front of goal paid off.

Second half

The second half opened up once Arsenal took the lead, this time in favour of the Gunners. In fairness they had the better chances for the remainder of the match.

Off the corner kick from Weidenfeller’s save on Ramsey, Giroud nearly directed Cazorla’s corner into the net, but a combined effort from Sahin and Weidenfeller kept the ball out. Dortmund were unable to clear their lines and the ball circulated back to Cazorla’s flank, and he delivered another fabulous cross that Mertesacker nearly connected with. Mertesacker would receive another chance to double Arsenal’s lead a few minutes later, but he guided Cazorla’s free-kick a few inches over the goal.

Dortmund looked to the bench to shift the match in their favour by introducing Aubameyang, Julian Schieber and Jonas Hoffman, yet Dortmund’s overall approach didn’t change. Aubameyang was deprived space to take on Arsenal defenders, and as Wenger’s men sat deeper, Dortmund resorted to direct balls into Lewandowski. Wenger reacted to Klopp’s changes by sacrificing Cazorla and Rosicky for Vermaelen and Monreal. Monreal was brought on to nullify Dortmund’s threat on the right side – which forced Aubameyang to the left – and Vermaelen was another body at the back to win aerial duels.

Nevertheless, despite the Gunners finishing the match with six astute defenders, the way they utilized possession in the second half was marvelous. Wenger’s men slowed down the tempo of the match by focusing on ball retention, and with the onus on Dortmund to chase the match and their pressing-game depleted, there was more space for Arsenal to play into.

Conclusion

Klopp’s men were the superior side for large portions of the match – they combined midfield pressing, quick transitions, and attacks down the right flank to trouble the Gunners, but they were unable to create many clear-cut scoring opportunities or test Szczesny.

“I told the team afterwards what everyone who watched the match saw for themselves: we didn’t reward ourselves for the work we put into this game. Losing was unnecessary, but we haven’t lost our hopes yet and everything is still possible as long as we win our two remaining games,” Klopp said. 

This is a monumental, yet fortuitous, victory for the Gunners ahead of their Premier League showdown against Manchester United at Old Trafford. They weathered the Dortmund storm for the first hour and executed on their first opportunity handed to them.

“I was pleased with our focus tonight. We were under pressure from first minute to last but we didn’t make any mistakes and defended well. We were compact and worked together and although there was a difficult period in the first half we put in a very mature performance,” Wenger said. 

The remarkable feat in Arsenal’s performance was their response once they took the lead. Wenger’s men continued to defend well as a unit, but they retained possession and could’ve added to their lead from set pieces. While progression isn’t secured, Arsenal is in a great position to advance to the knockout round.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arsenal’s fluid midfield knocks Liverpool back to reality

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Arsene Wenger was a calm figure in his pre-match press conference Friday afternoon. Arsenal was in their darkest hour since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa, as they lost consecutive home matches to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea in cup competitions.

However, the Arsenal manager didn’t show a sign of fear. He was confident his men would show up to the occasion. And a big occasion it was. Although Arsenal hasn’t encountered stern opposition yet, they hosted a Liverpool side in hot form. Liverpool’s success has been down to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge’s great run of form, and Arsenal’s main goal was to keep them quiet.

While there aren’t many people buying into Arsenal’s great start this season, Wenger is confident that his men will prove the doubters wrong. He’s developed an ‘us against the world mentality’ within his squad that’s proved to be quite successful thus far. The media’s doubt in Arsenal’s title credentials has been Wenger’s fuel to motivate his men, and once again they produced a scintillating performance.

The Gunners’ superiority in midfield proved to be pivotal, as they aimed to get runners from midfield to attack space and latch onto the final ball. Their attacking midfielders dropped deeper to sustain possession, Aaron Ramsey continued to impress on both ends and Bacary Sagna is proving to be a sensible outlet on the right flank.

Similar to Olivier Giroud’s goal against Borussia Dortmund, Sagna got into an advanced position down the right flank, and delivered a wonderful cross towards Santi Cazorla – aided by Giroud’s movement, which dragged Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel out of position. Cazorla nodded the ball off the post, but quickly reacted and smashed the rebound into an open net. From an attacking sense Sagna’s role can become prominent with Arsenal fielding a narrow midfield, depending on his ability to consistently deliver quality balls from the right flank.

Liverpool did present Wenger’s men with a few scares, mainly through their direct play on the break between Sturridge and Suarez. In the early moments of the match, both men dropped deep to receive the ball and got past Mikel Arteta on a few occasions. But as the match progressed, Laurent Koscielny mirrored Arteta’s defensive responsibilities – as it was evident he needed assistance – and stayed tight on the forward that dropped deep.

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Ultimately this hampered Liverpool’s attack, as they lacked invention when Arsenal had players behind the ball.

Brendan Rodgers’ men were stifled when trying to play out of the back as Arsenal pressed higher up the pitch, winning possession in Liverpool’s third. Liverpool could have benefitted from pushing higher up the pitch as a unit, and getting their wingbacks forward, but they preferred to do neither, despite Jon Flanagan getting into decent positions.

Rodgers attempted to turn the tide in the second half, by reverting to a 4-4-2 and introducing Philippe Coutinho on the left. Although Coutinho looked a bit off pace – considering he returned from injury – Liverpool maintained a better shape without the ball. Coutinho’s impact on the match was less eventful from an attacking perspective – the Brazilian’s movement was positive, but he was unable to complete his precise passing in the final third.

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The tactical shift allowed Suarez more space to attack when he dropped into deeper positions, but it left Sturridge isolated. Suarez scampered around the final third causing mayhem with his intelligent movement, but his decision making let him down massively. With Ramsey pushing forward to join the attack, Arteta was left vulnerable, thus providing Suarez with more space to penetrate

Ramsey put the match out of reach when he received a clever pass from Ozil at the edge of the 18-yard box. The Welshman let the ball bounce and confidently struck it on the half volley past Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool failed to impress on their first legitimate test of the season, while Arsenal continued to focus on their superiority in midfield. Arsenal’s fluid, canny, relentless and patient, yet when you add in the improvement of Giroud’s overall game and their manageable schedule thus far, you can understand why the Gunners are top of the table.

Regardless of what their defensive statistic’s state, Wenger’s men still look vulnerable at the back, and it’ll be interesting to see how they develop in the latter months of the season. Nonetheless, this result should boost Arsenal’s confidence ahead of a week that sees them travel to Dortmund and Manchester United.

The Gunners have been imperious thus far, but we’ll get a better sense of their overall strengths next week.

Analysis

  • Chelsea missed an opportunity to go top of the table for a few hours, as they fell to Newcastle at St. James Park. Jose Mourinho’s men struggled to move forward a unit in the opening minutes, due to Newcastle’s early pressure. Chelsea’s fullbacks were quickly closed down, while Frank Lampard and Ramires were also unable to push forward.

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Lampard’s inclusion in away matches or against top class sides is quite bizarre considering his limited impact on the match. Due to Lampard’s inability to play penetrating forward passes, David Luiz proved to be a vital cog in Chelsea’s attack, as he played balls between the lines for Oscar and Juan Mata to receive. Newcastle was complacent in the first half, and despite Chelsea’s dominance in possession, the Blues were dull in the final third.

The onus was on Mourinho to make changes in the second half, to give his side a slight advantage. However, it was Pardew who made the most of the personnel on his bench. Vurnon Anita was superb upon his arrival, allowing Yohan Cabaye to push forward, and the movement of Loic Remy improved massively in the second half. Remy dropped deeper to help Newcastle push forward – a feat neither striker completed in the first half – while Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko were threatening on the counter, as Chelsea pushed more men forward. Coincidentally, it was Gouffran who was on the receiving end of a wonderful Cabaye delivery, which gave Pardew’s men the lead.

Samuel Eto’o, Willian and Andre Schurrle were introduced in the second half, as Chelsea gradually improved, but their passing tempo was still slow and penetration was at a minimum. Loic Remy put the match out of reach for the Blues as they fail to end their week on a high note. Chelsea missed a great opportunity to keep pace with Arsenal at the top of the table, and they now sit five points behind the league leaders.

  • Manchester United won their fourth consecutive match in all competitions, as they easily dispatched of a poor Fulham side. United scored three goals in the opening 30 minutes to earn three valuable points ahead of a monumental showdown against league leaders Arsenal next week. Fulham’s overall shape without the ball was shambolic, as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie found it relatively easy to receive the ball between the lines. United’s notorious strike force tormented Fulham’s makeshift centre back duo, as they played a key role in all three United goals. The Red Devils were in full control of the opening 45 minutes – Phil Jones was given time and space to dictate the midfield, whereas Fulham was dismal in central areas. There was a vast improvement in Fulham’s second half performance as United were content with the result. They now await a trip to Spain midweek, and host Arsenal at Old Trafford, in a match that can truly define their season. Moyes’ men can’t afford to lose another match at home, especially when it can put them 11 points behind Arsenal.
  • Tottenham and Everton wasted the opportunity to climb to second in the table as they played to a dire draw at Goodison Park.  Andre Villas-Boas’ men were dominant in the first half pressing Everton and preventing them from playing out of the back. Aaron Lennon, Jan Vertonghen and Andros Townsend were rampant down the flanks causing the Everton fullbacks nightmares. Villas-Boas’ men struggled to play out of the back in the early periods of the match, but relied on Michael Dawson’s cross-field diagonal balls to push the North London side forward. Yet, despite Spurs’ superiority in possession, Spurs didn’t provide Roberto Soldado with quality service.

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Nevertheless, the Spaniard was poor on the night, failing to connect with his teammates when the opportunity was presented, and his touches were dismal. Everton improved in the second half when Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley sparked energy in Everton’s attack – with Barkley’s movement between the lines and Deulofeu’s pace. Despite Holtby’s positive outing in the no.10 role – pressing the opposition and playing positive passes – the German midfielder, like the wide men, failed to connect with Soldado, which has been Spurs’ major issue this season.

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While Spurs continue to be impressive on the defensive end, their inability to score goals is worrying. Soldado is top-class striker, but he needs service and players to work off of, hence why Christian Eriksen’s arrival was pivotal.

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He’s the only player in the Spurs side capable of playing incisive passes in the final third, and if runners aren’t getting behind Soldado, his ability to play defence-splitting passes will be significant towards Spurs’ and Soldado’s success.

  • Joe Hart was dropped from the Manchester City starting XI, thus handing Costel Pantilimon a spot in the City lineup. The Romanian goalkeeper didn’t have much work to do, as six different City players got on the score sheet in their impressive 7-0 victory over Norwich.
  • Steven Caulker’s second half header earned Cardiff City three points in the Premier League’s first Welsh Derby. It was a cagey affair that saw both sides nullify their opponent’s strengths in midfield. The main source of attack came from long diagonals behind the left back – it led to openings for Swansea in the first half, and the corner that led to Caulker’s goal in the second. Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay stated pre-match that his men had to get it right tactically to earn three points, and that’s what they did.

Results: Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea, Hull City 1-0 Sunderland, West Brom 2-0 Crystal Palace, West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa, Manchester City 7-0 Norwich City, Stoke City 1-1 Southampton, Manchester United 3-1 Fulham, Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool, Everton 0-0 Tottenham, Cardiff City 1-0 Swansea City

Weekend Stats

  • Cardiff City v Swansea City was the first ever top-flight fixture in England not to feature any English teams.
  • Spurs have only conceded one league goal in the first half of Premier League games this season, fewer than any other team.
  • Asmir Begovic’s goal 13 seconds into Stoke City’s match against Southampton makes him the FIFTH goalkeeper to score a Premier League goal and the previous fastest was in the 62nd minute.
  • Manchester United’s total of 14 points after nine matches is seven points less than they had at this point last season.
  • José Mourinho suffers his worst Premier League defeat as Chelsea manager since a 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa in September 2007.
  • Arsenal has lost 28 Premier League matches in the month of November, more than in any other month. Under Wenger, have lost 22 of 67 in November (33%).

Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) provides all the stats in this recap.

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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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Torres shines bright as Chelsea climb to second in the table

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Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini were under the spotlight as their new squads met at Stamford Bridge, Sunday afternoon. Arguably the two legitimate favourites to contend for the title in May were aiming to keep pace with league leaders Arsenal, who defeated Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

However, Fernando Torres stole the headlines from both managers, as he produced his best performance this season – including the match-winner at the death. In particular, Torres thrived in the first half, due to City’s poor shape without the ball. It was evident that they would drop into two banks of four, but Pellegrini’s men left gaps between the lines and around the final third for Chelsea’s attackers to exploit.

Torres dropped deeper to link play and he was allowed time and space to receive the ball between the lines and then turned to run at defenders. One of the issues the Spaniard has faced during his spell at Chelsea has been adapting to the football philosophy at Stamford Bridge. At Liverpool, Torres enjoyed space between the lines and his pace terrified defenders – this is a key feat that Mourinho is trying to implement in Chelsea’s style of play.

Nevertheless, Mourinho’s men benefitted from the space available – specifically on the right – and it started with Oscar delivering a great ball to an unmarked Gary Cahill, but the English defender skied his shot over the bar. In the 28th minute, Torres beat the offside trap, and admirably controlled Ramires’ cross from the right side, but the Spaniard also sent his shot over the bar.

It was a shocking miss, and a familiar scenario, leaving many to believe we’d witness another uninspiring performance from El Nino, but minutes later Torres won the ball and turned onto his left shoulder to mount an attack. The Chelsea striker used his pace to blitz past the poor Gael Clichy, and the Spaniard delivered a great ball for Andre Schurrle to tap in.

Manchester City did enjoy a few decent spells in the first half, as their aim was to sustain possession and get their fullbacks forward to provide width. Fernandinho and Javi Garcia sat deeper to protect the back four, and although Garcia was poor, Fernandinho was continuously winning tackles and aiming to provide a direct approach to City’s game. Oscar was handed the role of pressing the deepest midfielder, but both midfielders sitting deeper was beneficial to City as they always had passing option going forward.

City started the second half in fine fashion, when Samir Nasri played a lovely through ball to Sergio Aguero. Aguero did well to sneak behind Cahill and John Terry, and the Argentinian striker fired a sensational shot past Cech to equalize. Pellegrini’s men vastly improved in the second half, as Nasri and Silva pulled the strings.

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Similar to the first half, Nasri and Silva dropped deeper into midfield to sustain possession, as they patiently waited for openings. The main difference was the tempo, precision and the penetration in their passing. Pellegrini’s men began to play more incisive passes into the box, forcing Cech to make a few key saves.

Also, City’s shape without the ball in the second half improved – gaps were limited as Pellegrini ordered his men to maintain a compact shape. Torres wasn’t allowed to receive the ball freely, or penetrate space between lines.

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Furthermore, Chelsea didn’t attempt to push for a victory, as their substitutions were strictly player swaps – with Samuel Eto’o’s introduction being Mourinho’s sign of attacking intent without risking the balance of his side. Pellegrini introduced Aleksandar Kolarov, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas to give City a direct threat, but City was unable to find another significant opening.

Conclusively, Chelsea won the match in a bizarre manner. A simple long ball over the top provided miscommunication between Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic, allowing Torres to run past the latter and tap the ball into the net. The goal highlighted a significant issue City suffered throughout the match, as they were unable to cope with balls over the top.

City packed the midfield to avoid being blitzed on the counter, but it was also to sustain possession when attacking. However, City succeeded when they played a more direct style of football in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. On the other hand, Chelsea focused on attacking on the counter, but with City aiming to sustain possession, they left gaps of space available when they pushed higher up the pitch.

“When everybody was expecting a draw, even ourselves, I tried to play Samuel and give a bit more but I didn’t want to risk too much. It was the kind of game that you wanted to win but you didn’t want to lose, because if you lose it you lose points against a title contender, so I wanted to take a risk but with balance,” Mourinho said. 

Stamford Bridge erupted, Torres shined and Chelsea kept pace with league leaders Arsenal, despite encountering a difficult schedule compared to majority of their title rivals. Although Chelsea didn’t play well, results of this magnitude can tilt the balance of the title race in May.

Analysis

  • Arsenal faced adversity midway through the second half when Mikel Arteta was harshly sent off for fouling – former Gunner – Marouane Chamakh. Palace created two key chances to equalize when Joel Ward received Kagisho Dikgacoi’s wall pass and smashed a scintillating shot, which Wojciech Szczesny deflected off the crossbar. Off the initial corner kick, Szczesny failed to clear his lines and Mile Jedinak forced the Arsenal goalkeeper to make a phenomenal save.

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Prior to Arteta’s dismissal, Arsenal continued to overload central areas and patiently waited for openings. Ramsey took the initiative to surge forward and join the attack, while Arteta sat deep. While Arsenal was in full control of possession, it took a silly Adlene Guedioura challenge on substitute Serge Gnabry to hand Arteta a penalty, giving the Gunners the lead. Giroud added the second goal to secure all three points, nodding in Ramsey’s cross, after the Welshman did well to hold the ball up. Arsenal remains top of the table, and now have their eyes set on a showdown against Liverpool, next week.

  • Manchester United mounted a late second half comeback to survive a shocking defeat against Stoke City. Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez were on the score sheet, as United scored twice in two minutes to earn all three points. However, United struggled for large portions of the match to assert their dominance on the match. Mark Hughes’ men targeted the space behind Chris Smalling and created a few legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. Peter Crouch’s first goal came through Erik Pieters’ cross on the left flank. 11 minutes later, Marko Arnautovic beat Smalling, and delivered a cross to Jonathan Walters who nodded the ball to Crouch, who flashed his shot over the bar.

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Crouch was the main cog in attack, and the dismal performance from United’s entire backline contributed to Stoke’s threat in the final third. Meanwhile, United’s issue was down to their narrow shape in attack. It took the introduction of Adnan Januzaj to lift United’s energy. His direct penetrating runs, and will to be on the ball gave Moyes’ men a new element of attack. Arnautovic’s departure also played a key role, as Marc Wilson didn’t offer any attacking threat going forward. Moyes introduced Hernandez and Antonio Valencia to increase the Red Devils’ attacking impetus – a moment of brilliance from Wayne Rooney, David De Gea’s top saves, and natural width led to their victory. United’s poor defending, along with their narrowness in attack, halted their attacking fluidity. Over the years United’s attack has relied on width, and once again it was a key component towards earning three points.

  • Gus Poyet earned his first victory as Sunderland manager in the all-important Tyneside Derby. Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore worked exceptionally well as a strike partnership, as they dropped deep to link play and played off the shoulders of the Newcastle defence. Fletcher opened the scoring from an Adam Johnson cross – handing the Black Cats the attacking movement they’ve lacked in their opening games. Alan Pardew initially started in a 4-3-3, but the Hatem Ben Arfa experiment as centre forward miserably failed. Pardew altered his formation into a 4-4-2 and although Ben Arfa began to find more space, Loic Remy and Papiss Cisse were unable to hold up the ball and link play. More so, Poyet’s decision to introduce Fabio Borini reaped rewards, as he scored a fantastic goal to hand Sunderland their first win of the season.
  • Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge continued to cause havoc against teams in the Premier League; this time their opponent was West Bromwich Albion, as Suarez scored a hat trick and Sturridge scored the fourth. The win leaves Liverpool two points behind league leaders Arsenal, heading into their showdown at the Emirates Stadium next weekend. Also, Roberto Soldado notched his third penalty shot of the season, which earned Tottenham three points, and sees them climb into the top four.

Results: Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal, Aston Villa 0-2 Everton, Manchester United 3-2 Stoke City, Norwich City 0-0 Cardiff City, Liverpool 4-1 West Brom, Southampton 2-0 Fulham, Sunderland 2-1 Newcastle, Swansea City 0-0 West Ham, Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City, Tottenham 1-0 Hull City

Weekend Stats

  • Mikel Arteta’s last six Premier League goals for Arsenal have come from the penalty spot.
  • Luis Suarez scored his first hat-trick for Liverpool at Anfield – all his previous three for the club had come away from home.
  • Javier Hernandez scored his 12th ‪Premier League goal as a substitute. Only Ole Gunnar Solkjaer (17) has more substitute goals for Manchester United.
  • Chelsea win opening five Premier League home matches for the third time (2009/10 & 2010/11). They are unbeaten in all 65 Premier League home matches under Jose Mourinho (W51-D14)
  • Peter Crouch has yet to win a Premier League match against Manchester United: 17 previous matches, W0-D4-L13.
  • Arsenal will be leading ‪Premier League after nine matches for first time since 2007/08. They finished 3rd that season.

Infostrada Sports @InfostradaLive provides all the stats available

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

 

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

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  Courtesy of Steindy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Carrick displays why he needs to anchor England’s midfield in Brazil

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There was a sigh of relief around Wembley. Steven Gerrard surged forward and fortuitously skipped past Kamil Glik, clipping the ball over Wojciech Szczesny to double England’s lead – securing a spot in next year’s World Cup. It wasn’t easy, but Roy Hodgson did it. The Three Lions will return to the ‘world’s biggest stage’, this time with less expectation, but some optimism based on Hodgson’s bold moves over the past four days.

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However, while the old guard – Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard – will receive the headlines for netting the goals, the men that received the opportunity to impress didn’t look back. It must be said that Poland started the match well – in terms of pressing – and Hodgson’s men struggled to stamp their authority on the match. Adrian Mierzejewski pressed Michael Carrick, limiting his influence – and when Gerrard dropped deeper into midfield, Robert Lewandowski helped his Polish teammate close the English captain down.

Nonetheless, Mierzejewski also posed an attacking threat, as he constantly got behind the English double pivot, spreading incisive passes in the final third. Meanwhile, Poland also tormented Hodgson’s men when they swiftly broke on the counter after English set pieces – going from box to box – but Lewandowski squandered two legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

Andros Townsend and Leighton Baines continue to make legitimate stakes for a starting spot – based on impressive outing – but neither Poland nor Montenegro intended on dictating the match, which benefitted the duo. That’s not saying that neither can solidify a spot in the starting lineup, but will Hodgson trust the latter when England encounter elite opposition?

Nevertheless, it was Carrick who starred in the heart of midfield against Poland. His three tackles – only bettered by Phil Jagielka – and 94% pass completion was exceptional. Once the Polish players tired and their press diminished, Carrick became the key figure in Hodgson’s side. His inch perfect passes found Wayne Rooney, and Daniel Sturridge lurking between the lines, while his ability to retain possession is a feat no current English midfielder possesses.

And, it was Carrick’s one-time pass to the advancing Leighton Baines that led to England’s opener. The Everton fullback delivered an exceptional cross – one that Ashley Cole would value – to Rooney, who rose above the Polish defenders and nodded the ball past Szczesny.

England’s attacking quartet continues to take a step in the right direction – Rooney’s movement around the final third and midfield displayed his maturity as an international player, while Townsend’s unpredictable direct approach troubled the Polish backline. Also, Welbeck and Sturridge’s movement into central areas and their intricate play in the final third have been positive, as they continue to improve as international players, albeit there poor form in front of goal.

Nevertheless, the main man is Carrick. Unlike Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere and Gerrard, the Manchester United midfielder provides astute defensive cover, and has the ability to anchor England’s midfield with his precise penetrating passes. Carrick isn’t getting younger, but in an area where Hodgson is currently lacking star performers, the 31-year-old is the present and future of England’s midfield.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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