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Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid

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Barcelona moved four points clear of rivals Real Madrid with a narrow victory at the Camp Nou.

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Luis Enrique named his expected XI with Javier Mascherano stepping into midfield for Sergio Busquets, who was unable to start the match, to join Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta. 

Similar to Enrique’s team selection, Ancelotti’s XI offered no element of surprise. The Italian recalled Toni Kroos into midfield alongside Luka Modric, Isco and Gareth Bale, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema started upfront. 

 This match followed a similar pattern to previous clasico’s with Real enjoying the better first half, and Barca improving throughout, but more importantly it showcased the stylistic alterations that have taken place at both clubs. 

 Barcelona struggle 

 Barcelona were far from their best in the opening half, but their inability to impose authority on the match was unsurprising. The home side’s transformation into a devastating counter-attacking outfit has been showcased on several occasions this season, but with limited space to exploit in Madrid’s third, Enrique’s men failed to consistently pose a threat in attacking zones. 

Madrid’s two banks of four maintained a high-line when Barca attempted to play out the back, and their pressing forced the home side to occasionally concede possession cheaply. On the other hand, Madrid limited space between the lines when they dropped deeper into their half, further thwarting a star studded attack. 

More so, Modric moved to the right to ensure Madrid held a numerical advantage against Neymar and Jordi Alba. The Croatian equally monitored Iniesta’s movement, whereas Kroos was handed the task of pushing forward to pester Javier Mascherano.

Although Suarez endured a quiet opening half, the Uruguayan was the most effective Barca player by dropping deep in attempt to link play – this movement forced Pepe to commit the foul that led to Jeremy Mathieu’s opener. 

The home side should have doubled their lead shortly afterwards when Suarez’s mishit shot fell to an unmarked Neymar in the box, but the Brazilian fired a tame effort directly at Iker Casillas. 

Real fly down the left 

Real produced arguably their best display in recent weeks in the latter stages of the first half. Kroos and Modric were tidy in central areas, igniting sleek attacks from deep areas, but majority of Real’s moves stemmed down the left flank.

With Barca dropping into a 4-5-1, and considerably keen on retreating into their base shape, Ancelotti’s men exploited space behind the advanced Messi. Marcelo freely surged down the left to steer Real into key areas, and he equally completed the most attacking third passes for the away side.

Marcelo barca

Ronaldo drifted to the left towards the end of the half with hopes of offering a greater impact, but Rakitic quickly shuttled over to his right flank to aid Dani Alves. Real’s minimal penetration in the final third has thwarted their threat in recent weeks, and while the right side was fairly anonymous throughout, Marcelo’s adventurous positioning was significant. 

Benzema 

However, the game’s most threatening attacking player was undoubtedly Benzema, as the Frenchman was often on the end of Marcelo’s surging runs. While Benzema has often been the scapegoat at the Bernabeu, mainly for some questionable finishing, and the pressure of playing alongside two of the most expensive players on the planet, the Frenchman was Madrid’s key man at the Camp Nou. 

Here, Benzema’s off-the-ball movement was simple, yet efficient: he often made diagonal runs across centre-backs Gerard Pique and Mathieu, or cleverly drifted into half-space to receive forward passes. Real’s first legitimate chance saw Benzema move into half-space to receive a pass from the rampaging Marcelo, before receiving space from Alves to clip a ball into the far post but Ronaldo directed his shot off the crossbar.

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Prior to the aforementioned chance, Benzema made a simple diagonal run into right half-space, but he lashed his shot inches wide of the far post. Coincidentally, the Frenchman made an identical run in the buildup to Ronaldo’s equalizer, this time opting to back heel the ball into the path of the Portuguese striker who failed to test Claudio Bravo.

Likewise, Benzema’s general linkup up play was equally impressive. He dropped deep to receive the ball, and clip a pass into the right channel for Bale, and his ability to hold off Mathieu and spin Mascherano was pivotal in the buildup to Ronaldo’s long distance effort towards the end of the half . 

Overall Benzema’s movement was excellent, he combined well with teammates – creating Ronaldo’s equalizer – and was unlucky not to convert Real’s sole legitimate chance in the second half, following an excellent passing move on the break that was initiated by the Frenchman. 

Frankly, a few vital last-ditch tackles from MOTM candidate, Gerard Pique prevented Benzema from punishing the hosts in the first half.

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In a monumental (potential) title decider against the club’s biggest rivals, it was Benzema that posed several issues for Barca’s back-line opposed to Ronaldo or Bale. 

 2-1 

Suarez left the clasico a hero Sunday night, with his second half goal further displaying modifications made under Enrique. The goal itself wasn’t memorable, but it solidifies a shift in the club’s philosophy. In the past, Barca may have continued to try and break Real down with intricate passes in the final third, but here, and as they have on several occasions this season, they adopted a direct approach to bypass the away side’s pressing. 

Following several passes between the Barca defenders, it was Alves’ long ball into right half-space that saw Suarez run across Pepe to expertly control the pass on his chest and slide his shot past the keeper. Suarez had varied his movement throughout – running off the defenders shoulder or dropping deep to link with an advancing teammate – and fittingly both methods resulted in goals. 

Rakitic also played a key role in the build up as his vertical run in the right channel pulled Ramos out of position, and created a laneway for Suarez to run into.

This move would be classified as an atypical method of attack in the past, but Enrique’s shift deems Suarez’s winner as the ideal goal. 

 Final 35 minutes 

With that being said, Suarez’s goal altered the pattern of the match, and specifically flustered what was turning into a classic Madrid performance. Mascherano attempted a simple long ball over the defence for Neymar 10 minutes after Suarez’s goal, but Carvajal did well to nudge the Brazilian aside. 

But Real were desperate for a winner, and in return sacrificed their solid shape to push more men forward. Neymar’s influence increased with his individual slaloms from the left, while Messi found more space between the lines to drive at Real’s defence to place his teammates in goal scoring positions. 

Now there was plenty of space for Barca’s prolific front three to exploit on the counter, but their finishing and final ball was consistently underwhelming.

 Messi improves real

Madrid’s attempt to rescue a point failed, with Benzema’s deflected effort serving as the sole chance that tested Bravo. Where Enrique turned to three ball playing midfielders in Xavi, Busquets and Rafinha ensure his side retained possession in the final minutes, only Jese Rodriguez’s introduction looked capable of impacting the match. 

Still, Madrid transitioned into a lopsided 4-2-4 that equally played into Barca’s hands when they won possession. Ancelotti lacked options on the bench to alter the match, and an attempt to rescue a late point left Madrid vulnerable on the counter.

 Conclusion 

In the past, Barca was renowned for dominating possession, whereas Real relied on quick transitions to bypass their energetic pressing and score goals. But where Ancelotti’s side has shifted into a possession-based outfit, Enrique has maximized the strengths of his attacking three with an enhanced direct approach. 

Both sides stuck faithful to their systems throughout, with both centre forwards playing key roles in the end result. Benzema’s terrific movement and linkup play resulted in several slick passing moves that terrorized Barca’s back-line. But Suarez served as a diligent reference point upfront that offered the home side an additional element of attack that they have missed in recent years.

 “He (Suarez) is not just an old-style striker; he can also combine with his team-mates, he reads the game well, he knows what the team needs at key moments,” Enrique said. 

 “You have to have [different] resources; that’s very important. Our aim is to have the ball, to create chances and to defend a long way from our goal but your opponent plays too and we have to interpret what we need in the game. We scored from a set play as well [as a long pass], and that’s gratifying for all of us.” 

Real’s initial approach was logical considering the threat Barca have posed in transition this year, but wasteful finishing in the first half proved crucial. Barca, in fairness, weren’t dominant until Suarez’s winner, which could represent Madrid’s tired legs in midfield, and their determination to find an equalizer. 

The tactical elements were scarce throughout, but both goals epitomized the current ethos at both club – Madrid didn’t possess an alternative attacking method in the latter stages, but worryingly (with a two legged clash against Atletico on the horizon) Madrid still encounters issues breaking down organized back-lines.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Real Madrid – Atletico Madrid: Champions League final preview

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Courtesy of Flickr/avalaisure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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Atletico Madrid 2-2 Real Madrid

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Courtesy of Flickr/All rights reserved by Notyfarandula

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

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

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

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

Real Madrid’s great start

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

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

Atletico shape

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

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

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

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

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

Costa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancelotti substitutions

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

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Luka Modric solidifies significant role in Real Madrid’s title hunt

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Courtesy of Flickr/ franklemus7

One of the most difficult tasks managers have faced throughout the past decade is succeeding Jose Mourinho. Normally the introduction of a new manager ignites a spark in the dressing room, as players believe their role in the squad could be threatened or enhanced, but Mourinho’s departures presented a rigorous challenge at Real Madrid.

The bond Mourinho builds with his players are usually inimitable – look no further than Didier Drogba breaking down into tears when Mourinho left Chelsea, or the footage between the Portuguese manager and Marco Materazzi after Inter Milan’s Champions League triumph.

Drogba is one of the most dominant strikers of his generation, whom struck fear into the heart of the opposition backline. Likewise, Materazzi was a stone cold enforcer that didn’t tolerate nonsense – the former and the latter weren’t renowned for being emotional characters, so the tears shed during Mourinho’s departure exemplify his personal impact.

It’s surreal to see grown men of their stature shed tears for Mourinho, but the decline his former teams encountered was alarming. Porto hasn’t come close to contending for the Champions League since their triumph in Gelsenkirchen, only now is Chelsea developing the consistency needed to challenge for the Premier League title – apart from their triumph in 2010 – while Inter Milan is no longer a contender for the Scudetto, nor are they in any European competition.

However, Real Madrid was different. The Portuguese manager fell out of favor with the supporters and his players, thus leading to Mourinho’s first trophy-less season of his career – subsequently, Mourinho was sacked. Carlo Ancelotti was chosen to follow the path of Victor Fernandez, Avram Grant and Rafa Benitez, but unlike Mourinho’s previous sides, Madrid was eager to return to the top of Spain and Europe.

The early stages of Ancelotti’s tenure were challenging, especially with the absence of Gareth Bale and Xabi Alonso, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals kept Madrid afloat. Yet, with the La Liga title race into the final stretch, Ancelotti’s men sit three points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid, and most recently battered their cross-town rivals by three goals in the Copa del Rey.

Madrid remains undefeated in 2014, conceding one goal – a Ibai Gomez screamer – and Ancelotti believes balance has been pivotal towards their success. “The most important thing is the balance we have at the moment; it’s the key. We defend and attack very well,” Ancelotti said following a win against Granada.

A key feat in Madrid’s hot form was the permanent change to a 4-3-3 that has seen Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric form an imperious midfield trio. Ancelotti has always been keen on including playmakers in his midfield, to compliment his possession-based system by controlling central areas.

Alonso is the deep-lying playmaker that connects play with the attack with long-diagonal balls. Di Maria is now playing in a role similar to the one he adopts for Argentina – he drives forward to join the attack, and while he does sit centrally, he ensures the opposition doesn’t overload the left-back. Then there’s Modric – a dynamic, diminutive, controlling playmaker that’s arguably been Madrid’s star performer this season.

Modric’s first season at the Santiago Bernabeu was underwhelming by the Croatian’s standards, as he failed to adapt to Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1. Mourinho was keen on bringing in Modric after Toni Kroos’ terrific performance in the 2012 Champions League semi-final, and he believed the Croatian could fulfill the role.

However, Modric was unable to settle in an advanced position, whereas his role in the double-pivot alongside Xabi Alonso left the Spaniard vulnerable against counter-attacks. Modric was unable to express himself in Mourinho’s two-man midfield, but he still provided moments of brilliance such as his Champions League goal at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

Perhaps, with a mobile defensive holding midfielder Modric may have succeeded, but Mourinho was reluctant on playing two ball-playing midfielders in front of his backline. Yet, in the second leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund, Modric was the key man as Jurgen Klopp’s men aimed to nullify Alonso’s threat. United did this admirably in the round of 16, pressing Alonso and allowing Sami Khedira – not the greatest passer – to sustain possession.

With Modric as the second pivot, Dortmund was unsure of how to cope with his threat. The Croatian completed 88 percent of his passes, but also freed up space for Alonso to influence the match. As time passed in Mourinho’s tenure, opponents began to realize the importance of Alonso, and even now, as Ancelotti has moved to a 4-3-3, Modric’s significance in the side has increased.

Most recently in matches against Athletic Bilbao and Atletico, Modric was the key man – he provided an additional passing outlet when Alonso was pressed, and was Madrid’s most reliable passer, while providing penetration with his silky runs through midfield.

Ancelotti who’s been an admirer of the Croatian for some time has recently praised Modric’s impact on Madrid’s attack. “His finest quality is getting through with the ball. At the start of the season he seemed to be a little bit lacking in personality but now he is displaying a lot of character, and it is very important to have personality. Modric is changing the rhythm of the way we play in attack,” Ancelotti said.

Although Modric’s frail figure puts him at a disadvantage, nor is he the greatest tackler, the Croatian relentlessly hounds the opposition in search of possession. He’s usually the first man from midfield to close down defenders, as his dynamic presence forces his opponent into mistakes.

In attack, the Croatian nonchalantly glides from box-to-box evading challenges reminiscent to the ones he received as a 17-year-old while playing at Zrinjski Mostar in Bosnia. Modric feels that experienced helped him toughen up, as the hits inflicted and the nature of the game was rough.

Nonetheless, it’s Modric’s passing ability that is often overlooked. The Croatian’s ability to retain possession is extraordinary – he quickly switches the route of attack from flank to flank, and his willingness to play a penetrating pass is invigorating. Only Barcelona’s midfield trio – Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets – better Modric’s 90 percent passing rate in La Liga. In terms of assists, tackling and pass completion rates, this has been the Croatian’s best season of his career, as he’s slowly molding into the player many Madridstas envisioned.

“I’m in great form right now. Playing in pre-season was important for me. It’s key to have the coach’s fully backing and trust. That’s why I’m playing better. I also have a great relationship with the fans. They’ve always had my back and that has made things easier for me,” Modric told Marca.

Ancelotti’s decision to modify his formation has been beneficial – despite a sudden Ronaldo goal-scoring drought. As devastating as Ancelotti’s men can be in attack, their overall shape without the ball has improved with an extra man in midfield. Di Maria diligently moves to the left to prevent overloads, while Gareth Bale, and Jese complete their required defensive duties. Now, Madrid is consistently keeping clean-sheets, and their midfield trio has provided a mixture of proficient passing, guile, grit, and dynamism.

Ancelotti’s Madrid is finally taking shape, and with Barcelona encountering issues both on and off the field, and Atletico’s slim squad, a cup double isn’t far-fetched. Modric, however, has flourished under the side’s new possession-based system, producing genuine world-class performances.

Twelve months ago, the Croatian was voted as the worst signing of La Liga, now, he’s become a key cog in a Madrid shirt – Modric can finally call the Bernabeu home.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in FIFA, Published Work

 

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Valencia 2-3 Real Madrid

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

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

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

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

Valencia shape

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

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

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

1-0

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

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

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

Alonso/Modric

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

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

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

Valencia down the left

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

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

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

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

Canales

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

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

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

Madrid 4-4-2

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Ancelotti switched to a 4-4-2.

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Gareth Bale’s Galactico expectations require time

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Gareth Bale is encountering an arduous situation at the Santiago Bernabeu. It’s been two months since Bale made the move to Real Madrid, and the Welshman has been vilified and harshly scrutinized by the Spanish media. The rapid influx in fans, owners and the media demanding immediate success has somewhat tarnished modern day football, as players and manager’s are continuously under severe pressure. Despite all the negativity surrounding Bale, it’s shocking to know that he was a household favourite a few months ago.

Tottenham Hotspur supporters were on the edge of their seats when Bale received the ball on the right flank in their final game of the season against Sunderland. Had it been a few years ago, he may have opted to pass the ball or attempt a pacy dash towards the byline to provide a cross – but not this time. His confidence was oozing off his sweaty skin and fear was expressed in the Adam Mitchell’s eyes, as there was only one logical outcome.

The 24-year-old Welshman cut infield with his fancied left foot and curled the ball with precision and pace, humbling Simon Mignolet as could do nothing but watch the ball fly into the top corner, despite his efforts to make a save. White Hart Lane erupted. Spurs faithful adapted to Bale’s brilliance throughout the season, and this was just another piece of magic to add to the highlight reel.

Bale ran towards the Spurs supporters jubilant, knowing that this would be the last time he’d share a moment of this magnitude at White Hart Lane. The celebration was more of a ‘come get me NOW’ opposed to a sign of hope that relied on their London rivals dropping points on the final day of the season to solidify fourth place.

Daniel Levy’s most prized asset was ready to make the big jump abroad, despite the North London side earning a club-high 72 points. Truthfully, it was foreseeable. Bale’s vast growth into a world-class player couldn’t be ignored. He thrived in a no.10 position under Andre Villas-Boas that handed the Welshman a free role to roam around the final third searching for gaps and openings in the opposition’s backline. However, he maintained defensive responsibility by quickly closing down centre backs to complement Spurs’ high-pressing game.

The pressure of living up to the ‘galactico’ billing is insurmountable. However, Bale – the 11th galactico – had bigger shoes to fill as his summer transfer to Real Madrid made him the world’s most expensive player. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to know that on two separate occasions, Bale’s career hung by a thread.

Bale’s athleticism was evident at a young age. The Welshman excelled in rugby, hockey and track-field throughout school, but football was Bale’s top priority.  The Welshman’s PE teacher Gwyn Morris was aware of the Welshman’s talent and challenged him to improve other aspects of his game by forcing Bale to play one-touch football and predominantly use his weaker right foot, as he was superior to the rest of his schoolmates.

Southampton youth scout Rod Ruddick spotted the Welshman when he played for Cardiff Civil Service in a U-9 five-a-side tournament in Newport, Wales. “Even at the age of eight Gareth had fantastic ability. When you sign a player at that age it is because they have great potential and he has just kept getting better,” Ruddick said.

“You could see his pace and quality on the training pitch but I think his left foot helped him stand out. What we saw then we knew he was going to be something special,” he added.

Bale worked his way through Southampton’s satellite academy, but his recurring back injuries sustained from a growth spurt, nearly prevented him from receiving a full-time scholarship.

The Welshman signed with Spurs for £10m in 2007 – a year after breaking into the Southampton first team – and he endured 24 consecutive losses when he featured for the North London club. Bale’s frail build was his downfall, as he struggled to stay fit, which saw Alex McLeish attempt to pursue to the Welshman to join Birmingham in 2009. “Gareth wasn’t in the Spurs side at the time and Harry Redknapp wasn’t able to get him a game for whatever reason,” McCleish said.

“What if he had come to Birmingham and enjoyed it? We were in the Championship at the time but eventually got promoted to the Premier League. That would have changed the picture for us financially. You just don’t know. Unfortunately, this time, for us it didn’t, he said.”

Bale worked hard over the next few years to become stronger physically and mentally – with help from former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp’s tough love approach in training – and the football world witnessed glimpses of his brilliance. He took the world by storm through his two performances against Inter Milan in 2010, where he singlehandedly terrorized Brazilian fullback Maicon. Bale’s ability was never questioned – it was whether he could replicate his performances on a consistent basis.

Under Andre Villas-Boas, the 24-year-old winger flourished, and took the first chance to move abroad to challenge for trophies, opposed to spending another year at White Hart Lane, fighting to secure a Champions League spot. It was his childhood dream to play for Madrid, but scrutiny and ridicule followed him like a shadow.

More so, Bale’s transfer fee has been the focal point during his sluggish start at the Santiago Bernabeu. Had Bale set the valuation, or publicly stated he was worth £85m, then it would be understandable – however he didn’t. The inflated transfer market has been beneficial to teams with lesser financial power, as they now possess the power to hold out until they receive their required price tag.

Is Bale a £85m player? No.

At the time, was Bale worth £85m? Possibly.

Considering his remarkable performances throughout 2012/2013, the three years remaining on his contract, and the fact that Spurs initially weren’t willing to sell the Welshman, the valuation isn’t far-fetched.

Consequently, the Bale saga, and a few niggling injuries, prevented the Welshman from participating in pre-season activities. Given the circumstances, it’s absurd to label the Welshman a ‘flop’ based on the first two months of the season. Adapting to a new league, culture, country and style of football is never easy. While some players settle quickly into a new environment, others need time and patience – and based on the abundance of turnover that transpired at Madrid this summer, it’s rational.

Carlo Ancelotti, known for his possession-based philosophy has struggled to find his best starting eleven, and has been adamant on fitting Bale into the equation. But the rise of Angel Di Maria – arguably Madrid’s best player this season – has highlighted the need of natural balance in Ancelotti’s attack, specifically in their 7-3 victory against Sevilla.

“The team lacks little offensively, but lost concentration when at 3-0, but then continued to play well. We need more balance because you cannot open up a game when you are winning 3-0,” Ancelotti said.

“We played faster and more vertical. We need more offensive balance, but the game was fantastic,” he said.

Bale displayed glimpses of old, grabbing two goals and two assists. Sevilla’s shape without the ball was diabolical for large portions of the match, which benefitted a Madrid side that prefers to attack on the break. The Welshman was allowed space to isolate defenders, use his blistering space to stretch the match by running towards the byline, make darting runs into the box and combine with his teammates in wide areas.

Likewise, Bale has struggled to impose his authority on matches against sides that prefer to sit deeper, and defend with nine men behind the ball. Opposed to England, La Liga sides are precise with their overall shape without the ball, as they aim to be organized and compact. With Cristiano Ronaldo playing a free role, Bale has less space to work with, is more likely to drift out of games via isolation, and is a conventional winger, which will explain his inevitable statistical decline.

Coincidentally, Bale and Madrid, are going through a transitional period. Ancelotti is searching for balance, a preferred formation and a cohesive unit – whereas, Bale is settling into life abroad, which will expect him to thrive with less space, in a natural wide role.

An £85m transfer fee guarantees high expectations, but if Madrid supporters and owners are patient, then Bale can prove to be an intelligent investment in the near future.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2013 in FIFA, Published Work

 

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Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus

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

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

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

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

Juventus’ Shape

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

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

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

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

Madrid press

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

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

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

4v3

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

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

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

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

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

Madrid struggle

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

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

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

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

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

11v10

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

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

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

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

Final 25 minutes

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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