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Manchester City’s defensive deficiencies further exposed by Klopp’s vibrant Liverpool

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Liverpool and Manchester City showdowns have developed into popular Premier League fixtures in recent years, and the arrival of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola was expected to enhance the competitive rivalry between the two clubs. Sunday’s clash at the Etihad was not only vital in regards to the current top four race, but stylistically, it also highlighted the growth witnessed throughout the league over the past 12 months.

Although the attacking philosophies vary between the two managers, the emphasis on dynamic pressing and clever passing combinations suggested the possibility of a potential goal-fest. But, unlike previous meetings against Klopp’s Reds, the hosts were dominant in the opening period.

Guardiola decision to employ a 4-2-3-1 meant David Silva operated in his preferred no.10 role, whereas Kevin De Bruyne sat deeper in midfield alongside Yaya Toure. The most intriguing change in Guardiola’s XI witnessed Fernandinho start at right-back, where he pushed forward at every opportunity and quickly pressed James Milner when the Liverpool left-back received possession.

Interestingly enough, City’s ability to stretch the pitch through Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling’s positioning created more space in central areas for David Silva to drift into. Silva’s positioning, here, was integral to City’s dominant spells, yet the hosts created majority of their chances in wide areas via overloads and incisive passing into half spaces.

Fernandinho and De Bruyne both delivered dangerous crosses into the six-yard box within the opening 15 minutes of the match, whereas Sane also created dangerous chances that resulted in a Simon Mignolet save, and a last-ditch tackle from James Milner to deny Sterling an easy tap-in. Later on, Milner was once again the key cog in denying City an opener following De Bruyne’s brilliant reverse pass to Silva in left half-space, but Guardiola’s approach was fairly successful in terms of field positioning to get the better of Silva and De Bruyne’s creativity.

A string of Liverpool chances towards the end of the half offered signs that they were growing into the game, but their poor start was down to sloppy passing and their reluctance to swarm Guardiola’s men in the early stages. Sadio Mane was presented a glorious breakaway following a poor John Stones back pass, whereas Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana both tested Willy Caballero.

Gael Clichy rarely pushed forward with fear of leaving vacant space for Mane to charge into, and despite Firmino’s positive link up play when he dropped into midfield zones, Liverpool’s possession was tedious, opposed to efficient in the final third. Liverpool’s positive spell continued in the second half, and Clichy’s slip subsequent to Emre Can chipping a pass over the City defence for Firmino led to a penalty that Milner comfortably converted.

Liverpool were now free to revert to a narrow 4-5-1 with the intent to hit City on the counter and one break ignited by Firmino and Philippe Coutinho forced Caballero into a vital save around the hour mark. Toure was now a liability in transition, and Guardiola quickly sacrificed the Ivorian for a natural right-back in Bacary Sagna, thus pushing Fernandinho into midfield. Toure’s decline has been evident in recent seasons, but with Coutinho easily gliding past the City midfielder in the aforementioned move, the possibility of Liverpool increasing their lead appeared evident.

However, Guardiola’s substitution was followed by Silva moving alongside Fernandinho, while De Bruyne hugged the touch-line on the right flank. Therefore, Sterling, Aguero and Sane operated centrally with the former as the no.10 – but his wayward passing limited his influence – while Sane constantly aimed to run behind the Liverpool defence.

Aguero, on the other hand, moved into wider areas to evade the pressure applied by Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan when the Argentine received the ball with his back to goal. For all of the speculation associated with Aguero’s future under Guardiola, here, his reliable finishing was his downfall, whereas his linkup play was fairly positive.

Nevertheless, City responded superbly following Guardiola’s alterations. Silva’s starting position was deeper, while De Bruyne delivered two dangerous crosses into the box before creating Aguero’s equalizer shortly afterwards. Guardiola’s decision to move his creative cogs away from the congested midfield zone was logical, and though it led to more chances, City remained vulnerable in transition.

Lallana missed a glorious chance set up by Firmino, and minutes later Mane’s powerful run from midfield resulted in the aforementioned Brazilian firing a low effort into side-netting. Meanwhile, besides Sterling breaking behind and nearly chipping Mignolet, and a wonderful individual effort from Aguero – when he dropped into a deeper zone in the left channel – De Bruyne and Silva architected City’s best moves down the right flank. Both men created opportunities for Aguero to notch a winner, but the Argentine’s profligate finishing ensured the score line remained deadlock at full-time.

In a truly enthralling end-to-end game, the performances from both sides epitomized the current obstacles preventing a proper title challenge. Where Liverpool still lack a reliable goal-scorer despite their devastating high-octane brand of football, City’s defence and lack of protection in midfield outweighs Guardiola’s riches in the final third.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2017 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: Manchester United – Liverpool

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Something has to give in this weekend’s big clash between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford. The former is one of the in-form Premier League teams with nine consecutive wins, whereas Liverpool is coming off a draw at Sunderland and a Capital One Cup semi-final first leg defeat at Southampton.

United have improved since the two teams drew 0-0 at Anfield this season, but it’s difficult to believe Mourinho will stray away from his successful approach that night. Mourinho’s “big game mantra” is built around defensive organization and efficient finishing when chances arise, and though successfully attacking the Reds would be ground-breaking, the Portuguese manager can’t afford to drop three points.

At Anfield, United were fairly direct with their play by avoiding passes from the back, which prevented Liverpool from gegenpressing and winning the ball in advanced positions. Ironically, United’s high pressing stifled Liverpool’s buildup play in the opening half and were combative in midfield throughout.

There shouldn’t be many changes, here, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s fitness issues means the Swede may not lead the line ahead of Paul Pogba. Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial are the likely replacements upfront, offering genuine pace behind the Liverpool aggressive high-line.

Marouane Fellaini performed well at Anfield, and though Mourinho would typically opt for the Belgian’s physicality in central areas, Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera have developed a great partnership at the base of midfield. However, Mourinho may be concerned about Carrick coping with Liverpool’s intense pressing.

Carrick is accustomed to having ample time on the ball to dictate the game’s tempo, but Klopp will likely instruct his players to apply the pressure once the 35-year-old gains possession. This may lead to Herrera dropping deeper as well to alleviate pressure off Carrick, or witness the Spaniard attempt to help United build from deep despite potential pressure from the visitors.

The other decision Mourinho must make involves his wide personnel. Ashley Young performed well in a defensive winger role at Anfield and could merit another start, but it appears Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Martial will drift centrally from the flanks. The other possible option behind the striker is Jesse Lingard, who is often utilized in bigger games due to his discipline and ability to carry out instructions.

They can all fulfill defensive duties diligently, but equally pose a transitional threat when United regain possession. Juan Mata will likely be excluded because he lacks the aforementioned traits, but is a reliable impact sub off the bench if United require guile in the final third. Martial and Rashford possesses similar traits, and if Ibrahimovic starts upfront, one of the youngsters could start from the left, while the other is utilized as an impact sub.

Marcos Rojo’s fitness issues puts the Argentine’s place in the XI in jeopardy, meaning Chris Smalling and Phil Jones should start at centre-back. Meanwhile, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia should retain their spots as full-backs, despite the former possibly encountering issues against the attack-minded Nathaniel Clyne.

Liverpool, however, aren’t blessed with United’s depth, and Klopp shouldn’t have many big decisions to make. Sadio Mane’s absence due to African Cup of Nation’s duty deprives Liverpool of pace upfront, but the return of Philippe Coutinho balances out Klopp’s fortunes.

Divock Origi could return to the XI to replace Daniel Sturridge following an ineffective performance at Southampton. Nonetheless, Klopp may be better off without a natural centre-forward with Roberto Firmino upfront, whilst the returning Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana operating from the flanks.

That would mean Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum would start ahead of Jordan Henderson if deemed match-fit. But if Henderson is unavailable, Klopp will likely start Origi, and opt for Wijnaldum and Lallana ahead of Can. Joel Matip is set to return and could re-form his partnership with Dejan Lovren at centre-back, whereas Simon Mignolet is expected to start in goal.

With so many physical midfielders and both managers keen on heavy pressing, this could be another scrappy encounter with few chances. Liverpool’s approach is intriguing, nonetheless, especially if Mourinho attempts to replicate the defensive template set at Anfield.

Klopp’s Liverpool, however, have displayed their ability to remain compact and defend deep for lengthy spells, and they may be equally patient, and aim to combine quick passes to break on the counter. Still, it will be interesting to see how United cope with Liverpool’s interchanging movement and Lallana’s late charges into the box – especially if Carrick starts at the base of United’s midfield.

United are slight favourites based on overall form between the two clubs, depth, and numerous game-changers off the bench. Both sides attempt to play quite narrow with the wide players drifting in-field, but Liverpool’s movement, cohesion and understanding of constant positional interchanging suggests United’s back-line should endure a few problems.

The first goal should open things up and determine the tempo of the match, but that depends on whether Liverpool can unlock United’s sturdy defence, and whether the hosts will push men forward to create ample chances. Despite several goal-scorers throughout both XI’s, this could be another tactical battle built around defensive organization and discipline.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2017 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Liverpool and Manchester United’s rivalry regains prominence under Klopp and Mourinho

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England’s most glorified rivalry is gaining prominent interest this season. Liverpool against Manchester United has been an underwhelming spectacle throughout the Premier League era, but the current table standing, prior history amongst the managers, and United’s signings over the summer provides optimism.

Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho are considered two of the greatest football managers in the modern game, and their presence has equally improved the overall standard of the Premier League from a tactical perspective. It’s also important that they’re managing the two most successful clubs in England, who combine for 38 league titles between each other. That is mainly why Klopp and Mourinho’s appointments were pivotal at both clubs – for one, the rivalry has lacked gusto over the years, whereas neither club is meeting the standards expected by supporters.

Oddly enough, from a geographical and historical sense, although Liverpool and Manchester United is considered the biggest game of the Premier League campaign, the rivalry’s surprisingly lacked memorable matches domestically and in Europe. Part of it is down to Liverpool’s inability to lack a proper title challenge during the Sir Alex Ferguson era, with only a sole 4-1 win at Old Trafford in the 2008/2009 season coming close to a monumental fixture – yet that only put the Reds four points – playing one more game than the Red Devils – behind the eventual title winners.

Despite being the two most successful clubs in England, the other factor that’s deprived the rivalry of genuine excitement is that both enjoyed their dominance in different eras. United’s most intense football rivalries have come against the likes of Blackburn, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, whereas apart from the Patrice Evra – Luis Suarez racism scandal, this matchup has been irrelevant to the title race.

In truth, United claiming 20 league titles, and their quest for two more European crowns – they currently have three to Liverpool’s five – are the sole reasons why the rivalry’s excitement remains. It’s developed into more of a fixture built around pride and bragging rights opposed to a derby defined by title-winning moments like El Clasico, O Classico (Porto – Benfica) or what Der Klassiker (Bayern Munich – Borussia Dortmund) is slowly transitioning into.

However, the current state of the Premier League witnesses both sides separated by a handful of points, in what could be the most thrilling title race of this era. Where Liverpool has finished second twice in the past decade, United’s status as yearly title contender’s has drastically declined since Ferguson’s sudden retirement. United never replaced Ferguson with a true winner of his mould, whereas Liverpool lacked a tactical proficient manager with concepts suited for the modern game – more so, in European competitions – like Klopp.

Liverpool have struggled to maintain a top four status in the post-Rafa Benitez era, whereas United were floating around the same level of mediocrity without Ferguson. This is truly fitting considering both managers were pivotal in English football’s dominance on Europe in the past decade. Klopp and Mourinho, however, provide a new tale in the quest for English supremacy both domestically as well as in Europe.

More so, the two managers play a huge factor in this regard, but for contrasting reasons. Louis van Gaal spent extensive money on a youthful core for the future, but it always felt that top players were still required to mount a title challenge. Liverpool, on the other hand, lacked a cult hero, but also a manager with a distinct football philosophy to move away from the underwhelming spells of Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish, and Brendan Rodgers – albeit the latter was inches away from doing the unthinkable courtesy in a similar environment that Klopp currently enjoys.

Another positive component, here, is previous meetings between the two managers during their respected tenures at Real Madrid and Dortmund. Mourinho’s tactics have been classified as outdated in recent seasons due to the difficulty he’s encountered on the domestic and continental stage. While a sole victory against Jurgen Klopp in seven meetings suggests the notion could be true, United’s display in a 0-0 draw at Anfield earlier this season proves otherwise.

That night, Mourinho’s United were fairly reactive, but their approach was superb: avoiding passes in defensive areas to limit Liverpool’s gegenpressing, whilst pressing high and forcing the Reds into mistakes in their half. It was one of the rare moments at Anfield this season where Klopp’s high-scoring Reds were perplexed, and although David De Gea was forced into two world-class saves, Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed arguably the best chance of the game.

It was the standard Mourinho “big match performance” – defensively solid to ensure a result is obtained opposed to risking a loss to a title rival. It ultimately epitomizes what United supporters have subconsciously desired in recent seasons. Surely, attractive football is appreciated, but the short-term nature of the sport values trophies and wins on a higher scale – an aspect of coaching that defines Mourinho’s career.

United have only lost one domestic match since that night, with Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rediscovering their best form, whereas the return of Michael Carrick enables the former and Ander Herrera to perform at their optimum best in midfield. United weren’t necessarily playing poorly prior to that result, but as of late their level of play is more expansive and vividly showcases a side full of confidence.

With United sitting a mere five points behind second placed Liverpool ahead of Sunday’s kick-off, and a possible Capital One Cup final showdown awaiting, it appears that tide is turning in this historic rivalry. Klopp’s Liverpool, though out-of-form, have overachieved with the absence of European football, whereas despite a slow-start to the season, Mourinho’s United is finally playing to the high standards many expected the club to maintain subsequent to Ferguson’s departure.

In short, both clubs appear to be headed in the right direction. Mourinho has added – and will continue to do so in the upcoming transfer windows – top class players to provide the perfect balance of youth and experience in his team. And it’s likely that the Portuguese manager will receive the time and patience to build his preferred side to challenge on both fronts.

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Elsewhere, a full pre-season with the Reds enabled Klopp to properly instill his methodology, and though major signings weren’t made, the German is displaying his ability to maximize the talent at his disposal. Financial limitations and the strength of their rivals will always put Klopp at a disadvantage, meaning identifying players suited to his system – along with the improvement of his young core – is the ideal route to sustaining long-term success.

Short of a top class all-rounder forward, Liverpool have been at their best with Roberto Firmino dropping deep to encourage runners forward, and making inwards runs into the channels to combine with teammates around the box. Klopp has favoured Divock Origi in recent weeks due to injuries and may rely on Belgian’s growth during his tenure, but the Reds’ fluid, interchanging football is fully maximized with Firmino operating as the focal point of the attack.

Although four months remain in the current Premier League season, Sunday’s matchup holds huge merit on the title race and the improving state of English football’s most prestigious rivalry. A United win would pull Liverpool into a scrap for a top four spot and build on the Red Devils’ current winning streak. Yet, from a tactical viewpoint, it presents Klopp with the task of overcoming United’s powerful side away from Anfield.

Following years of criticism regarding the stagnation throughout the top Premier League sides, it appears that the bigger games are slowly delivering more than sole exciting, attack-minded matches. In what could be the greatest era in Premier League history, it’s fitting that England’s most famous clubs can finally deliver a potential ‘classic’ based  purely on football terms.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2017 in Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: Liverpool – Manchester City

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Manchester City’s trip to Anfield sets up the final big match of the year, with Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp’s tactical rivalry holding vital significance to the current title race. Liverpool currently sit one point ahead of Guardiola’s men prior to kick-off, but a Chelsea win against Stoke could shift this into a match neither side can afford to lose.

The main talking point ahead of the match is the return of Sergio Aguero from a four-game suspension. City has operated without a natural striker for majority of the Argentine’s suspension – losing once in that time span –  but it’s unlikely Kevin De Bruyne or Nolito start upfront here. Aguero’s pace and ruthless finishing around the box could harm an unconvincing Reds back-line.

Nonetheless, City have coped well without Aguero, but as per usual, Guardiola’s shape isn’t certain here. Considering Liverpool often play in a 4-3-3, there’s a good chance City match the hosts in midfield and play in a 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho at the base. Ilkay Gundogan’s injury means he could go 4-3-3 as well with a combative midfield trio of Fernandinho, Fernando and Yaya Toure, but given Liverpool’s efficient pressing, the former is probably Guardiola’s best option.

With that being said, Guardiola may still opt for additional protection ahead of the back four and shift to a 4-2-3-1 with Fernando in a deeper role opposed to David Silva alongside Fernandinho. Upfront, Raheem Sterling should retain his spot on the left in what will be a pivotal battle against the adventurous Nathaniel Clyne, whereas De Bruyne’s counter-attacking ability and exceptional crossing may force James Milner to be cautious from left-back.

Guardiola also has issues at the back where John Stones’ availability is uncertain after limping off the field at Hull a fortnight ago. Aleksandar Kolarov would join Nicolas Otamendi in midfield, while Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy are expected to operate as full-backs.

Liverpool, on the other hand, are still without Philippe Coutinho, but the Reds have fared well without their Brazilian star. Normally, Klopp would lean towards potential squad rotation, but he’s named an unchanged XI for the past few games and it’s unlikely he’ll tinker here. Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can would potentially fill in if required, but Klopp’s sole change hinges on Joel Matip’s fitness.

The front trio of Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane should start upfront, and Guardiola must fear Mane’s pace against Clichy. More so, the interchanging movement of the front three could exploit City’s shaky back-line, which further emphasizes the significance of Guardiola’s midfield decision-making.

Adam Lallana, Liverpool’s most in-form player, also poses a threat in this regard via late runs into the box. Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson will operate from deeper zones with the former pushing forward when possible, but Liverpool’s main threat comes from the right. Mane can drift inwards to encourage Clyne forward, whereas if Firmino tucks in, the Senegalese winger maintains width to isolate full-backs.

Essentially Liverpool’s cohesion and enhanced understanding of Klopp’s system could fluster a Manchester City side still attempting to reach optimum form. But the other key battle involves how City cope with Liverpool’s gegenpressing.

Everton and Stoke attempted to bypass Liverpool’s press via long direct balls into the centre-forward, a ploy that Guardiola utilized during his time at Bayern Munich, which witnessed Javi Martinez operated as an advanced midfielder behind Mario Mandzukic. Guardiola can persist with this approach by placing Fernandinho or Yaya Toure closer to Aguero to ensure City can retain possession if Aguero is unable to win aerial duels upfront.

Elsewhere, City’s high-pressing could also prove beneficial considering Guardiola’s men have looked less assured when forced to defend over extensive periods. Liverpool’s ability playing out the back can be exploited with cohesive pressing, and work-rate efficiency from both sides will be decisive.

Nevertheless, neither side have displayed defensive solidity throughout the season, and there should be goals here. Liverpool’s movement in the final third and the understanding of covering positions may overwhelm City’s defence, but Klopp must also worry about the space invaders Silva and De Bruyne between the lines activity between the lines as they represent Aguero’s main supply lines.

Liverpool’s dominant home form tips them as slight favourites here, but a returning Aguero, along with City’s form attackers suggests this could be a potential Premier League classic.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Koeman’s Everton can’t rely on improvisation to overcome Klopp’s cohesive Liverpool

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The significance of Ashley William’s late winner against Arsenal can’t be overlooked. In terms of the current title race, the Gunners fell further behind league leaders Chelsea, but Williams’ goal granted Everton their second win in 11 outings.

A bright start under Ronald Koeman hinted that Everton could possibly challenge for a European spot this season, and though they aren’t the defensively incompetent side often featured under Roberto Martinez, there’s still a sense of underachievement surfacing around Goodison Park.

The fear of further regression loomed with a difficult December schedule, but positive results against Manchester United and Arsenal alleviated pressure on the Dutchman – especially since both results witnessed the Toffees come from behind to earn results.

“How we played after 20 minutes, there was aggression in midfield and I think James McCarthy played fantastically,” said Koeman following the Arsenal result.

“When you have one win out of 10 games it starts with commitment, working hard, being aggressive and you get the support and you get the win finally.”

Perhaps that vividly describes Everton’s approach under Koeman that appears to be predominantly based around wing-play, but the football displayed at Goodison Park in recent weeks offered improved energy and work-rate. But Everton’s away performances against big clubs this season have been contrasting – at Chelsea a switch to a back three saw the Blues disassemble Koeman’s men, whereas at City, the Dutchman adjusted to a back-four at half-time to nick a second half equalizer at the Etihad.

With that being said, there’s been a certain degree of luck associated with Everton’s positive form in these matches. City’s poor penalty taking – denied twice by Marten Stekelenburg from the spot – along with Mesut Ozil’s profligacy and Ander Herrera striking the woodwork enabled timely second half resurgences, which suggests Koeman’s men simply aren’t performing to the level expected at Goodison.

A pragmatic, yet organized David Moyes Everton often frustrated the top sides, but fear of further progression witnessed the duo part ways. Roberto Martinez, on the other hand, instilled a proactive possession based system that lacked penetration in the final third, and equally saw the Merseyside club experience the defensive issues that led to Wigan’s relegation.

A Monday night Liverpool visit presents another sturdy test this month, considering Jurgen Klopp’s men are the best attacking side in the country. More so, the contrast between the two sides is stark despite both conceding 20 league goals this season – which further highlights the defensive issues both sides possess. Liverpool, though, have recorded twice as many goals, and there’s a clear juxtaposition regarding the Reds’ buildup.

Neither club are blessed with legitimate world-class players in their XI, but Klopp’s year long-tenure has provided his current side time to understand his methodology. ‘Gegenpressing’ is the significant trait associated with Klopp, but in possession, the Reds are capable of breaking down the opposition with swift combination play around the box.

Frankly, it’s difficult to defend against Liverpool because of the constant movement between their attacking quintet. Jordan Henderson sits at the base of the midfield and spreads the play, but the remaining attackers tend to overload central areas to encourage the full-backs forward to provide width.

Where this would present a problem for most teams due to congestion, Liverpool counter the issue by ensuring a teammate’s natural position is covered. For instance, Liverpool’s three goals at Middlesbrough displayed the Reds’ spatial coverage. Sadio Mane drifted centrally for the opener to encourage right-back Nathaniel Clyne forward which is basic football instincts.

The insurance goal, however, witnessed Adam Lallana make a diagonal run into right half space due to Mane’s deeper movement to combine with Georginio Wijnaldum thus resulting in the England international to square the ball across goal for a Divock Origi tap in. The third goal involved a role reversal between Mane and Origi with the former dropping into midfield to receive the ball and the latter darting into the right channel, as another Lallana late run into the box increased Liverpool’s lead.

Out of possession they vary their pressing, but going forward the constant interchanging of movement and spatial coverage provides evidence that Klopp’s approach is being executed at Anfield. Very little can be said about Everton, though, which is the main worry regarding Koeman’s side.

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Relying on individual brilliance doesn’t represent a sustainable long-term approach, and the best sides in the world often follow a clear attacking module. There’s been a huge emphasis on crosses into the box, which could explain the summer arrival of Yannick Bolasie – a powerful tricky dribbler – whereas Ross Barkley has been much better in a midfield trio than a no.10 role behind the striker.

But where Everton were at least possessed the identity of a counter-attacking side that finished efficiently around the box, under Martinez during his final season at Goodison, there’s a been a bit of uncertainty around the opposition’s box this season. Still lacking a player capable of unlocking organized back-lines with incisive final passes and inconsistent quality from wide areas has left Romelu Lukaku isolated upfront.

From a defensive perspective, Everton are susceptible to crosses into the box and the centre-back options have been unreliable. Though this could be a league-wide issue unravelling at most clubs, the fact that Koeman’s men struggle in the attacking third insists they can’t turn to outscoring their opponents like Klopp’s Liverpool can.

Given it’s Koeman initial season at Goodison Park, patience may be required before we see results. But basic defensive errors, failure to add guile in deeper and advanced midfield positions, and limiting the involvement of their best attacking players certainly questions Koeman’s long-term plan.

Everton simply represent a side built around wide direct attacks and sheer dynamism in midfield, but the lack of cohesion and collective organization separates them from a Liverpool side carrying out Klopp’s philosophy with devastating efficiency. Ultimately, that alone, can be the decisive factor that prevents Everton from a potential Merseyside derby triumph.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2016 in Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: Liverpool – Manchester United

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Manchester United’s trip to Anfield represents a chance at redemption for both club and manager Jose Mourinho. For the first time in recent memory, both sides consider themselves genuine title contenders, but where Jurgen Klopp’s side are simply bombarding opponents, United are struggling to build a winning foundation under Mourinho.

Klopp and Mourinho’s battles on the European stage consisted of near finished products in Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, which certainly isn’t the case, here, but it clearly demonstrated the latter manager must identify a way to cope with the former’s high-octane approach.

Mourinho’s caution hasn’t proved successful against Klopp’s dynamic gegenpressing in the past, and last month’s derby defeat to Manchester City may encourage the Portuguese manager to alter his approach. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is expected to lead the line, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wayne Rooney start on the bench, but the main personnel issues for Mourinho rests in midfield.

Predominantly fielding a 4-2-3-1 this season, Mourinho may prefer to flip his system to a 4-3-3 to cope in central areas as he usually tends to do in big matches. Pushing Paul Pogba closer to Ibrahimovic – where the two have developed a positive partnership – is an option, but it’ll be interesting to see if he elects for Marouane Fellaini’s aerial presence and strength in midfield.

Ander Herrera’s excelled in a deeper role in recent weeks, but a pairing with Pogba would risk the possibility of being overrun in midfield, and it’s unlikely Mourinho will trust Michael Carrick in a deeper role against Liverpool’s pressing. Morgan Schneiderlin is also an option, but his tumultuous spell at Manchester United ensures that it’s unlikely he’ll play a factor.

It’s unlikely Mourinho will alter his back-line despite their dodgy defending that resulted in a 1-1 draw against Stoke City two-weeks ago. However, both full-back roles will be interesting: despite Daley Blind’s excellent positional awareness and ability to identify danger, Sadio Mane’s pace could trouble the Dutchman. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho’s reluctance to track runners may leave James Milner exposed at left-back, unless Georginio Wijnaldum shifts over to the left to negate Antonio Valencia’s threat from right-back.

Although Daniel Sturridge’s arrival aided Liverpool’s stagnant attack at Swansea, Roberto Firmino should be fit to feature in his preferred false nine role. This means Coutinho will start from the left and Sadio Mane from the right, whereas Emre Can may be awarded his first start of the season with Adam Lallana and Wijnaldum fighting to regain full fitness.

Firmino’s growth as the lone striker witnesses the Brazilian drift into half-spaces between the centre-backs and full-backs, thus encouraging forward runners into the box, and if required, Divock Origi or Sturridge’s intent to play off the last striker will be utilized as a plan B. Can normally wouldn’t start here due to Wijnaldum and Lallana’s form, but the German all-rounder’s inclusion would offer improved penetration and muscle in midfield.

Still, Henderson’s position remains key considering Ibrahimovic is renowned for dropping deeper to encourage runners forward. The Swede boasts an evident advantage over the Liverpool captain in terms of height and physicality, and may be encouraged to position himself into pockets of space in deeper areas.

Elsewhere, the positioning of Milner and Nathaniel Clyne will be interesting. Klopp could encourage the full-backs to push forward to peg back United’s wide-men, but that does risk the possibility of being overrun on the counter-attack. As a whole, Liverpool have defended well in spurts opposed to lengthy spells, but with the attacking players often interchanging positions in central areas, he may require the full-back to be slightly adventurous to ensure they maintain width.

Ibrahimovic’s versatility may not trouble Liverpool, here, as Joel Matip’s excellent display against Diego Costa a few weeks ago suggests the Reds can cope with opposing forwards dropping into midfield. But Ibrahimovic’s aerial threat could pose several issues in open play and via set-pieces, where United will fancy their chances of scoring due to Liverpool’s past collective defensive issues, combined with the concrete contrast in height between the two sides.

Though United may possess the better individuals, Liverpool remain the in-form side producing better performances and results as a whole. Out of possession they remain organized and diligent in a base 4-5-1, and their dynamic pressing fluster opponents into simple mistakes. Ultimately, the outcome hinges heavily on Mourinho’s midfield set-up.

Liverpool’s persistence to overload central areas, along with their energetic pressing could foil a United side yet to display collective discipline in defensive phases. And though Mourinho’s side pose a legitimate threat via the counter-attack and set-pieces, it’s difficult to see United controlling the game unless they engage in a physical midfield battle.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2016 in Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: Chelsea – Liverpool

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Liverpool’s trip to Stamford Bridge features two sides that may remain optimistic about a potential title challenge this season.

Neither side were active in last year’s title race but without European football to focus on Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte will have enough time to solely prepare for league fixtures. Essentially Klopp and Conte are similar: two managers popularizing a brand of football to win domestic trophies abroad and now being asked to guide their current side back to prominence.

Where the verdict is still out on whether Conte’s Chelsea can compete against the better sides in the league, Klopp’s men have developed a habit of doing so. The Reds already dispatched of last year’s runner-ups Arsenal and Leicester City – scoring four goals on each occasion – but a trip to Chelsea should pose a different test. Conte’s arrival now witnesses a team that now possesses the organization and discipline that went missing last year, combined with a legitimate counter-attacking threat in transition.

“I think Liverpool are a really good team,” said Conte. “They play with high intensity, they bring many players in offensive situations, they are very good.”

“We must pay great attention tomorrow because we know they are very strong.”

Liverpool’s major decision rests on whether to start Daniel Sturridge upfront. The striker’s pace posed several issues for Leicester last weekend, but Klopp’s big game XI’s have often featured Roberto Firmino in a central role. The Brazilian’s movement pressing is integral to Klopp’s set-up, but likewise, his outside runs into the channels to create space, and willingness to drop deep and play quick intricate passes encourages forward runners into the box.

Sadio Mane’s pace and willingness to track back should merit a start on the right, whereas Philippe Coutinho may return to the XI on the left. Coutinho remains an interesting proposition that constantly intends on shooting from distance opposed to influencing his side’s buildup play within the final third, but similar to Firmino, Klopp turns to the Brazilian in the big games.

Therefore, it’s unlikely Sturridge will still start upfront, with Firmino drifting infield from the left hand side, and attempt to find space goal-side of N’Golo Kante. Klopp will also be hoping to recall one of his centre-backs following Lucas’ error that resulted in Jamie Vardy’s goal last week. While the Brazilian already lacks height, it’s evident Conte would encourage Costa to exploit his defensive deficiencies and unfamiliarity with the position.

On the other hand, though the midfield trio excelled thus far, this could be one area of concern for a Reds side yet to face an opposing group with proficient ball-winning traits. Liverpool lack that type of player in their midfield, opting to field Jordan Henderson as the deepest midfielder, along with Lallana’s creativity and Georginio Wijnaldum’s verticality and late runs into the box.

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Projected Starting XI’s

However, Conte’s Chelsea eradicated last year’s issues in midfield by moving to a 4-1-4-1 with Nemanja Matic and Oscar pressing the opposition midfielders while Kante sits deeper to protect the back four. Liverpool’s midfield will face their first stern test in terms of pressing across the pitch, and they may have to revert to a more cautious shape to encourage the Blues forward and play on the counter.

In attack, Chelsea aren’t expected to make any changes: Eden Hazard and Willian should feature on the flanks, with the latter possibly providing a greater threat if Coutinho operates from the left due to his unwillingness to track. That would leave makeshift left-back James Milner vulnerable against the speedy Brazilian and the high possibility of Branislav Ivanovic surging forward on the overlap. On the opposite flank, Hazard has displayed signs that he’s rediscovering his best form and Nathaniel Clyne will likely adopt cautious positions in fear of the Belgian’s threat behind him.

Meanwhile, Costa is the joint-leading goal-scorer in the league, and may finally relish a battle against a Liverpool defence lacking a physically imposing centre-back following Martin Skrtel’s departure. Klopp should be able to feature his preferred centre-back partnership with Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, but they lack familiarity and natural aggression, thus making Costa’s presence their most difficult task to date.

“[He’s] world class,” Klopp said of Costa. “The best thing I can say, if other supporters love you then that’s not a good sign!”

“But he’s a real warrior on the pitch and he uses his body all the time. That’s a quality and what you need to know.

The major change in Chelsea’s XI will see the debut of David Luiz for the injured John Terry. Kante’s arrival at Stamford Bridge was beneficial to preserving the aging back-line, and Conte will hope Luiz’s indiscipline and constant habit of making mistakes will be protected until he fully adjusts into the Italian’s methodology.

However, Mane’s pace and the positional intelligence of Firmino could bamboozle the Brazilian and inconsistent Cahill. Nonetheless, if Conte’s men can cope with Liverpool’s first phase of aggressive gegenpressing, Luiz’s ball-playing skills will be an instant improvement to Chelsea’s build-up play from deeper positions.

Two contrasting styles consisting of a cagey midfield battle presents an interesting spectacle. Neither back-line, though, is sturdy or reliable, but Chelsea’s Kante could make the difference whereas Henderson could be overrun. Both sides have been wasteful in the final third this season, and this may simply rest on efficiency in the final third and which outfit can overcome the opposition’s dissimilar pressing schemes.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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