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Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona

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Courtesy of Flickr/Some rights reserved by Globovisión

Barcelona took a big step towards the Champions League quarter-finals, as they recorded a comfortable victory over Manchester City.

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Manuel Pellegrini made several changes to his starting XI with Alvaro Negredo leading the line ahead of David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov and Jesus Navas. Fernandinho returned from injury to partner Yaya Toure in midfield, while Martin Demichelis slotted in at centre-back.

Gerardo Martino made three changes to the side that defeated Rayo Vallecano over the weekend. Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano and Xavi returned to the starting lineup, while Neymar was available for selection.

Pellegrini’s tactics contained Barcelona’s attacking threats, but a defensive error shifted the tactical battle.

City without the ball

One of the interesting components regarding Pellegrini’s tactics was Manchester City’s shape without the ball, as there were two distinct features in their overall approach.

In the early moments of the match when Barcelona tried to play out of their third, City maintained a high-block and pressed Martino’s side as a unit. Fernandinho closed down Xavi, Toure stuck tight to Fabregas, and the wingers closed down Barcelona’s attack-minded full-backs. Barcelona usually played through it due to their 3v2 situation at the back with Sergio Busquets being the key man in midfield, but their was one incident in the first half that nearly led to a goal.

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Fabregas won possession at the edge of Barcelona’s box and tried to play out of the back, but City’s high-block quickly pressed the Spanish champions, and Xavi conceded possession, thus resulting in Negredo firing a shot directly at Victor Valdes.

However, City often sat deeper, and focused on limiting the space between the lines. Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta stuck tight to Barcelona’s wide men, and Martino’s full-backs rarely ventured forward. Kolarov’s role on the left was to prevent Dani Alves from pushing forward, while Alba feared that Navas’ pace could harm Barcelona on the break.

City contained Barcelona’s threat for majority of the first half. Apart from a Xavi shot from distance, the away side failed to pose any threats in the final third. Messi’s involvement in the first half was also limited: he often dropped deeper in search of possession, and when he drifted towards the right, Martin Demichelis intercepted key passes and won tackles.

Barcelona dominate midfield

When assessing Barcelona’s XI pre-match, the inclusion of a fourth midfielder highlighted Martino’s intent on dominating central areas. Andres Iniesta was fielded on the left, but throughout the match he subtly interchanged positions with Fabregas.

As I stated earlier, Busquets was the key reason as to why City’s high-block wasn’t effective. With Negredo and Silva leading the press, their aim was to close down Barcelona’s centre-backs. Busquets, however, dropped in between Mascherano and Gerard Pique to create a 3v2 situation at the back, which helped Martino’s men push into City’s half.

Barcelona continued to maintain a numerical advantage when they pushed into City’s half, as their midfield trio passed around Fernandinho and Toure. Silva moved into midfield to help City cope with Barcelona’s trio, but Iniesta often drifted infield to offer an additional passing option.

With Xavi and Busquets often sitting deeper, the key men in attack were Fabregas and Iniesta. The duo repeatedly combined and attempted to pull City defenders out of position, as they offered guile and a pinch of penetration with their quick, incisive passes, and nonchalant runs towards the box.

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Despite not creating many clear-cut chances in the first half, Barcelona created overloads on both ends of the field to ensure that they would dominate possession.

Silva

Although Barcelona dominated possession, Pellegrini’s men created the better chances in the first half. Their key player was Silva – who’s referred to as one of the game’s best space invaders – and here, he drifted into space between the lines, and key areas in Barcelona’s third.

Vincent Kompany’s well-weighed pass to Silva – the Belgian played an identical pass to Nasri in the buildup to Samir Nasri’s goal against Chelsea over the weekend – allowed the Spaniard to slip a ball into Negredo, and although Pique ushered him towards the byline, the City striker’s chip shot flashed across the six-yard box.

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Silva was the link between midfield and attack – he often won possession in deep positions prior to making a key pass, and constantly received the ball in a pocket of space before playing it into wide areas. His pass to Navas towards the end of the half led to Negredo guiding his header inches wide of the far post.

The one issue City and Silva encountered was the tempo of their counter-attack, along with the fact that Barcelona always had numbers behind the ball. Xavi and Busquets protected the back four, while Alves and Alba’s cautious positioning ensured that Martino’s men wouldn’t get caught out of position.

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Ultimately, for all of City’s admirable work both in and out of possession the tie shifted in the buildup to Messi’s opening goal. Silva once again did well to break out Barcelona’s half with the intent of launching a quick counter-attack, but with a lack of runners, he opted to play a pass to Navas on the right flank.

Busquets quickly retreated and sat alongside Alba to prevent the full-back from being isolated, thus creating a 1v2 situation. The ideal move would be to sustain possession and push forward as a unit, but Navas attempted to take both players on and was dispossessed.

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This left City in an awkward position, with Toure and Fernandinho, along with their full-backs and Demichelis caught higher up the pitch, Messi moved into an onside position alongside Kompany. With fears of Barcelona’s attackers running behind the defence, Kompany dropped deeper, thus playing Messi onside.

Subsequently, Iniesta played an exceptional ball to Messi, and Demichelis’ split-second decision to prevent Messi from shooting resulted in a penalty. While many will hammer Demichelis for his decision-making, it’s difficult to name a defender that would allow Messi to shoot in that position, especially when slow-motion replays show that initial contact was made outside of the box.

Nonetheless, it was the one of the few mistakes City made prior to Demichelis’ dismissal, and a moment of brilliance from Iniesta handed Barcelona the lead.

Pellegrini makes substitutions as City go 10v11

Pellegrini quickly reacted to Demichelis’ dismissal and opted to introduce Joleon Lescott for Kolarov, and Nasri for Navas. City was now a 4-4-1 without the ball as Silva drifted to the left to protect Clichy, while Barcelona dominated possession.

Nasri’s inclusion handed Pellegrini another creative option that could expose pockets of space with Silva, and push City’s full-backs forward. Nasri exploited space in midfield after being played in by Silva, and his one-two with Negredo presented the Frenchman with space to shoot, but Mascherano blocked his attempt.

Afterwards, Silva played in Clichy down the left but his cross went directly to Valdes, and the Spaniard’s delivery from the right flank in the 86th minute was pushed away by Valdes for a corner. City’s best chance came from a Toure cross-field diagonal pass to Zabaleta, whose one-timed pass to Silva allowed the Spaniard to control the ball on his chest and volley his shot at Valdes, but the Spanish keeper made a great save to preserve Barcelona’s lead.

City continued to create chances due to Barcelona’s cautious approach, but Pellegrini’s men lacked quality in the final third.

Alves down the right

The key feat subsequent to Demichelis’ dismissal was Alves’ proactive role. The Brazilian became Barcelona’s key player in the second half, and scored the all-important second goal.

With Silva drifting into central positions to help City manufacture attacking moves, Alves capitalized on the space ahead of him, as Silva didn’t possess the energy to get back into position. This forced Clichy to defend Alves, while Lescott shifted over to cover the right-winger. Lescott’s passing from defence, positioning, and man marking was poor, as the City centre-back endured a difficult second half.

  • 66th min: Iniesta plays a ball out wide to an unmarked Alves and he squares his pass to Xavi inside the box, but the Spaniard guides his shot over the net.
  • 68th min: Iniesta once again supplies Alves, who then plays a one-two with Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez drags Lescott out of position and Alves runs by Clichy to receive the ball, and is free on goal but his shot glides inches wide of the post.
  • 89th min: Alves plays a pass into the right channel for Neymar to chase, and the substitute plays in Alves at the edge of the box. The right-back’s first touch guides him past a leggy Clichy, and he slid his shot past Hart.

Kolarov’s departure was massive in the sense that the Serbian provided astute cover for Clichy, and prevented the left-back from being isolated against an advancing Alves. Silva didn’t have the energy to track Alves’ runs, and Lescott was easily dragged out of position, which allowed the Brazilian to dominate the right flank in the second half.

Conclusion

Barcelona dominated possession for large portions of the match, and their patient approach paid dividends as they pounced on Navas’ mistake, while Alves dominated the right flank in the latter stages.

“Barcelona had a lot of the ball but they had it where we wanted. They were not near our area; that’s what we wanted. The team played with courage, with personality, and tried to draw the match with ten men,” Pellegrini said.

Pellegrini’s logical approach was correct as it negated Barcelona’s threats in the final third. However, two-away goals puts City in a difficult predicament ahead of the second leg, and Pellegrini will rue the fact that a simple error disrupted the natural tactical battle.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – Weekly Roundup Podcast November 20th

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Courtesy of Fanny Schertzer

This week on 2 Guys and a Mike, Tyrrell Meertins and Hugo V breakdown World Cup qualifying playoffs, Ballon d’Or and they touch on Southampton and David Moyes.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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Barcelona 3-2 Sevilla

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Barcelona remains at the top of La Liga courtesy of Alexis Sanchez’s injury time winner against a resilient Sevilla side.

Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino made two changes to the side that defeated Valencia at the Mestalla, two weeks ago. Christian Tello started along side Lionel Messi and Neymar in the attacking three, while Xavi Hernandez joined Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in midfield.

Unai Emery made four changes to the side that drew Malaga two weeks ago, adding Jairo Sampeiro and Vitolo to the attacking three behind Kevin Gameiro. Sebastian Cristoforo played with Stephane M’Bia in the double pivot of Emery’s 4-2-3-1, while Beto started in goal.

This match came to life in the final 15 minutes once Messi gave the Catalan side a two-goal lead – yet despite their victory, Barcelona’s issues at the back are now palpable.

Sevilla’s Shape

Emery’s men faced an onslaught of pressure in the opening 45 minutes but were only down a goal, due to their shape without the ball. Emery’s men dropped into two banks of four with Gameiro and Rakitic up top, aiming to close down Busquets and Xavi – when they dropped deeper. M’Bia was instructed to track Iniesta’s movement, while Cristoforo occasionally pressed Xavi.

However, what was most impressive was Sevilla’s ability to limit the gaps in midfield and defence. Barcelona constantly aimed to penetrate through the middle but was unable to find the final ball or gap in the final third, and that was down to their compact shape and organization. This affected Messi’s influence on the match, as he often dropped deep into midfield, attempting to drag defenders out of position and find his own gaps – but the Argentine forward had little success.

Barcelona down the left

Martino’s men did enjoy success in the first half, mainly down the left hand side. It was a constant source of attack, as Tello and Dani Alves were peripheral figures for large portions of the opening 45. Neymar received the ball countless times and was encouraged to take on Coke Andujar. The Brazilian winger constantly got the better of the Sevilla fullback – due to his marvelous skills and Jordi Alba’s ability to get forward – but his decision-making and quality in the final third was subpar.

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Alba was forced to leave the match midway through the first half, thus allowing Adriano to make an appearance. This now presented Barcelona with a balance, yet neither fullback was eager to push forward – but when Alves did, he was moving centrally. Neymar continued to trouble Coke for the duration of the match, but Barcelona’s opener was orchestrated on the left flank. Adriano finally surged forward and provided a cross to the far post, which Alves nodded past Beto. It was one of the few time Alves broke forward due to Vitolo’s admirable will to track back and protect Alberto.

Martino’s men struggled to find openings in the Sevilla defence, but their narrow shape allowed Barcelona’s left-sided players freedom to penetrate.

Jairo-Vitolo

Barcelona continued to dominate possession in the second half, as they searched for a second goal. Vitolo drifted centrally early in the second half, looking to find gaps to exploit, but the Sevilla attacker realized the service was limited. Yet, two wide men enjoyed a terrific second half, due to Adriano and Alves’ will to surge forward, thus leaving space available behind them to penetrate. Jairo and Vitolo isolated the Barcelona fullbacks, and got into dangerous positions in the final third, which led to corner kicks.

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Sevilla’s first goal stemmed from majestic work from Vitolo. The Sevilla attacker won the ball on the break and attacked space after being played in by Marko Marin. Vitolo danced past Busquets and Gerard Pique, then laid the ball off for Ivan Rakitic to fire past Victor Valdes.

Besides an improvement in the minimal pressure applied by Sevilla, their were two elements of attack that led to their comeback – Jairo and Vitolo’s threat in wide areas on the break was the first positive aspect in Sevilla’s second half resurgence.

Set-pieces

Martino has been heavily criticized for the club’s decision to ignore their defensive issues. The Catalan club is in desperate need of a top-class centreback, but continue to have faith in a Javier Mascherano – Pique partnership. Also, over the past few years, Barcelona has lost players that possess an aerial threat, such as Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal, Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

This season, Barcelona’s slow defenders have been exposed and their inability to successfully defend set pieces has also been highlighted. Helder Postiga made a near post run and freely nodded in a corner kick at the Mestalla, two weeks ago – and the same issues recurred against Emery’s men.

In the 63rd minute, Cala snuck between Alves and Busquets and nodded a corner kick at the near post, past Victor Valdes. The goal was wrongfully ruled off for a ‘ghost’ foul, which should’ve equalized the scoreline. Martino noticed his side’s disadvantage in height, so he took his players off the post to develop a numerical advantage in the box. Cala got the best of Busquets and Fabregas in the 82nd minute, but the Sevilla defender nodded his header wide of the net. But eight minutes later, Coke earned the equalizer, as the Sevilla fullback was left unmarked to hit the corner kick on the volley, past Valdes.

For all of Barcelona’s talent in attack, they still look frail in defence, and it’s an issue Martino needs to address, if the Catalan side aims on claiming trophies this season.

Fabregas

There’s no question about Cesc Fabregas being Barcelona’s most influential figure this season, and he continued to showcase that in the second half. Minutes upon his arrival, Fabregas made a simple run between the lines to free space for Messi to make a pass, and run into space to tap in Barcelona’s second goal of the night.

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Martino’s men began to find gaps of space between the lines and in the final third in the final 15 minutes of the match, and Fabregas played a key role in their success. His direct forward runs into pockets of space and behind the defence, along with his persistence to get into key areas in the final third, opened up space for Messi, Neymar and Sanchez to penetrate.

Fabregas’ movement and direct approach opened up space for Barcelona’s attackers to express themselves – prior to that they struggled to penetrate in central areas, thus highlighting the impact of his appearance.

Conclusion

Barcelona was dominant in possession for large portions of the match, but their lack of penetration and issues on the break and defending set pieces is alarming. Sevilla will feel they were robbed of points due to Cala’s goal being called off, and the timing of Sanchez’ winner, as their second half performance was promising – specifically Jairo and Vitolo’s

Martino’s men remain unbeaten in league play, as Fabregas’ arrival shifted the match offensively for the Catalan side. It seems evident that the Spaniard is now a key asset to Barcelona, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can sustain this good run of form throughout the season.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Paraguay 2-5 Argentina

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Argentina secured a spot in the 2014 World Cup with a convincing victory against Paraguay.

Alejandro Sabella aligned his side in a 4-3-3 with Lionel Messi, Rodrigo Palacio and Sergio Aguero leading the line. Fernando Gago, Angel Di Maria and Lucas Biglia formed a midfield trio, while Fabricio Coloccini formed a centre back partnership with Hugo Campagnaro.

Victor Genes opted to play in a risky 3-4-1-2 that saw Roque Santa Cruz and Jose Nunez form an attacking duo ahead of Jonathan Fabbro. Miguel Samudio and Victor Ayala played as wingbacks, while Cristian Riveros and Richard Ortiz were instructed to play deeper roles in midfield.

Argentina capitalized on Paraguay’s poor shape without the ball – blitzing the hosts on quick counter attacks – which gifted them a spot in next year’s World Cup, albeit producing a mediocre performance.

Shape

The general football fan often overlooks the importance of one’s defensive shape without the ball. Matches are usually blamed on a sole defensive error, or the vast gulf in class of the opposition. But as the modern game continues to evolve, the significance of a team’s shape without the ball becomes vital.

An interesting feat in this match was the naïve approach both sides maintained when they dropped into their shape. Sabella’s men often dropped deep, with the front three roaming higher up the pitch waiting to break on the counter – but despite it being successful, it was an odd decision for Sabella to make. Di Maria and Gago often drifted into wide areas to support the full backs, but it left the centre of the pitch vulnerable. Argentina’s attacking three were instructed to press the three centre backs when they tried to play from the back, but there was still loads of space to penetrate, and if this approach is replicated, a stronger side will do so.

Despite Argentina’s questionable shape, Sabella’s men possessed a competent threat on the counter attack . But Paraguay didn’t have the same luxury in their attack, which meant any attempt to replicate Argentina’s risky approach could open up gaps of space in their third. Paraguay failed to press the Argentinian’s when they were in possession, and they failed to keep a compact shape. The gaps between defence and midfield, along with midfield and attack were large, thus benefitting Sabella’s men on the attack – in particular Messi. Messi constantly dropped into midfield to pull defenders out of position, stamp his authority in central areas and provide Aguero and Palacio with service going forward.

In fairness, neither side looked phenomenal without the ball – the difference being Argentina’s shape had some sort of structure – but Paraguay looked disorganized an unbalanced when Argentina was in possession.

Paraguay’s front three

Although Paraguay’s shape was woeful, their front three did manage to trouble the Argentina backline. Each player was given distinct roles to play, and the balance in the attack was excellent. Santa Cruz drifted into wide areas to combine with the wingbacks, and he also made runs into the channels that offered Paraguay a substantial direct option.

Along with running the channels, Nunez operated around the edge of the box, but he preferred to stay near Coloccini and make runs off his shoulder. It was a compelling battle, and although Coloccini often got the better of the Paraguayan striker, Nunez did beat the Argentinian defender to Samudio’s cross to level the match, early in the first half. Of the three, Fabbro looked threatening in the final third. As the first half continued, the Paraguayan midfielder located pockets of space in midfield to drift into, played several incisive passes in the final third, and was determined to find gaps in the Argentinian defence to play penetrating balls.

Paraguay’s attack was lively in the first half – although they could’ve created more chances – but the midfield’s inability to take control of the match, limited the threat they’re capable of imposing.

Samudio’s width

Another interesting feat regarding Paraguay’s attack was the importance of Samudio. The Paraguayan wingback was eager to get into advanced positions, prior to the front three having an impact on the match. With Pablo Zabaleta also interested in pushing forward, along with his narrow positioning throughout the match, it was a logical for Samudio to attack the space.

Samudio provided assists for both goals, which highlighted his significance in Paraguay’s attack. Santa Cruz drifted wide and held up the ball, for the advancing wingback, who played in a lovely cross to Nunez for the first goal. Towards the end of the match, Samudio contributed to the second goal by attacking the space behind Zabaleta, to provide a cross for Santa Cruz to nod into the back of the net.

Samudio had a significant impact on the match, and could’ve given Argentina more problems down the left flank, but Paraguay’s inability to sustain possession led to their downfall.

Argentina exploit space

Sabella’s men failed to dictate the match in terms of possession – despite not being pressured, their midfield had trouble retaining possession, playing several misplaced passes. This was the main reason why Messi dropped so deep throughout the match, and when he did, Argentina always made positive moves forward. Their three attackers sat higher up the pitch and the gap between midfield was enormous, which explains why they heavily relied on quick breaks to threaten the Paraguayan back line.

But with Paraguay pushing numbers forward, this left Aguero, Palacio, Messi and Di Maria – who pushed forward swiftly – free to attack the Paraguayan centrebacks. Three of Argentina’s goals stemmed from Paraguay being stretched on the counter attack. Simple balls over the top led to the two penalty calls, whereas Messi combined well with Gago who played a delightful ball to the onrushing Di Maria, for Argentina’s third goal.

Argentina didn’t need to dictate possession – although Sabella and many supporters expected them too – because of Genes’ naïve tactical approach.

Conclusion

Argentina’s performance was far from spectacular, but the threat they posed on the counter attack merited a victory. Paraguay’s reluctance to keep a compact shape and attack cautiously led to their downfall, adding to another disappointing loss in their qualifying campaign.

Genes’ front three were efficient, but they rarely received service, despite having a fair share of possession. With Messi dropping into midfield, Paraguay relied on Samudio’s width – which created two goals – as it was their only source of creativity once Fabbro departed at half time.

Sabella’s approach shouldn’t be overlooked as they took advantage of Paraguay’s deficiencies, but their defensive approach was inexcusable – especially from a team of their calibre. Argentina will head into next year’s World Cup as potential favourites, but performances of this nature will diminish their hopes of rising to the occasion for the third time.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Ecuador 1-1 Argentina

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Courtesy of Fanny Schertzer

Group leaders Argentina stole a point in a difficult encounter against Ecuador at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa.

Reinaldo Rueda made one change to the side that fell to Peru last week. Star striker Felipe Caicedo returned to the line up to form a strike partnership with Joao Rojas. Rueda’s side played in a 4-4-2 with Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero on the flanks, while Segundo Castillo and Cristian Fernando Noboa formed a midfield two.

Alejandro Sabella was forced to play without his two main goalscoring threats – Lionel Messi wasn’t fit to play the full 90 and Gonzalo Higuain was serving a suspension, as was Pablo Zabaleta. Rodrigo Palacio started up front with Sergio Aguero, and Ever Banega returned to the starting lineup to form a midfield three with Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano. Gino Peruzzi and Jose Basanta were also included in Sabella’s line up as Argentina lined up in a 5-3-2.

This match failed to live up to its expectations – Ecuador started slow, but eventually grew into the match, yet their quality in the final third prevented them from claiming all three points.

Shape

Sabella’s team selection was interesting, yet nothing out of the ordinary. He chose to play with wingbacks based on the threat of Ecuador’s direct wingers, and three centrebacks to not only give Argentina a spare defender, but also double up on Caicedo.

Rueda’s men were lined up in two banks of four when they didn’t have the ball, and Rojas occasionally dropped deep, leaving them in a 4-5-1. Argentina struggled to retain possession, and Rojas getting close to Mascherano throughout the game was key. Sabella’s men repeatedly conceded possession all over the field, allowing Ecuador to have more of the ball and penetrate in wide areas.

Aguero goal

It was a surprise to see Argentina take the lead in the opening three minutes, considering Ecuador had only conceded two goals at home in qualifying prior to this match. Aguero scored from the spot – but the main issue was the manner in which the penalty was conceded. Ecuador’s defensive shape was rarely tested prior to Messi’s introduction, yet it was exposed in the opening minutes.

The gap between the midfield and the back four was spacious, and Di Maria was able to receive the ball unmarked and run at defenders. Also, Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez, should have held onto the ball, opposed to leaking a huge rebound for Palacio to pounce on.

Lastly, Palacio ran into the box freely, and Rueda’s back four looked vulnerable when Argentina played direct balls to their strikers. Aguero and Palacio received opportunities from nothing, but were unable to find the back of the net.

Ecuador’s width

Sabella assembled his side to nullify Ecuador’s strengths in wide positions, but his plan failed – luckily for the Argentinian coach, Rueda’s men struggled to create legitimate chances in front of goal.

Montero and Valencia terrorized Rojo and Peruzzi throughout the game and were Ecuador’s danger men going forward. The Ecuadorian wingers thrived in 1v1 situations and played venomous balls into the six-yard box. Ecuador settled into the match once they started supplying service to their wide men – One of many Montero take-on’s led to Ecuador’s equalizing goal. Montero won the free-kick, that Ayovi delivered to Castillo – once again Argentina’s defensive inadequacies were exposed. Montero and Valencia kept Rojo and Peruzzi from surging forward when Argentina had the ball, which explains why Sabella’s side had limited options going forward.

Walter Ayovi and Juan Carlos Paredes also contributed to Ecuador’s width because Argentina played with no significant wide men – meaning there was no Argentine player tracking their runs. Di Maria and Banega were forced to drift out wide to help prevent overloads – but they struggled to help their wingbacks, who were struggling with Ecuador’s pace and strength in wide areas. Also, Ayovi was able to play cross field passes to Valencia, which stretched the play, due to his freedom in wide areas.

Sabella reacted to Ecuador’s dominance in wide areas by instructing Palacio to drop into the midfield to form a 5-4-1 without the ball. It eased pressure off the Argentine defence, as they found themselves dropping deep into their final third. Ecuador’s threat out wide declined, and they suddenly became quite predictable. Rueda’s men had no other source of attack – this allowed Federico Fernandez and Ezequiel Garay to cope with Caicedo’s aerial threat.

Ecuador created a few half chances throughout the match, but their high dependence on balls from wide areas left their attack predictable and was the main reason why they rarely tested Sergio Romero.

Argentina struggle

Argentina found it difficult to get forward in the opening half. Most of their chances were constructed from breaks on the counter and several audacious Di Maria shots from distance. The midfield had minimal passing options going forward – the wingbacks were pegged in their third, while the midfield couldn’t hold onto the ball, because Rojos dropped deep to create a 3v3 battle – that was significant because Argentina no longer had a spare man in midfield.

Aguero created havoc in the opening minutes of the match, when Sabella’s men had possession of the ball – the Manchester City forward made runs into the channels, got into good positions between the lines and he attempted to latch onto long balls behind the defence.

Sabella’s side didn’t have a link between midfield and attack – the forwards were isolated, especially when Palacio had to drop into the midfield to help prevent overloads. Aguero was more than 20 yards away from his midfield as they dropped deeper to cope with Ecuador’s pressure throughout the match – with Ecuador closing down Argentina’s midfield, Sabella’s men were unable to settle.

Messi

Messi replaced Aguero with 30 minutes to play, and the four-time Ballon D’Or made an immediate impact.

Messi was the link in midfield that Sabella’s side lacked, and he dropped into pockets of space between the lines and deep in midfield to receive the ball and dictate the tempo of the match.

His overall presence gave his teammates a lift and they began to pass the ball with a bit more confidence. Messi began to combine with his teammates and play incisive passes in the final third – Di Maria and Messi both had great chances to win the game, but they fired their shots wide of the post.

Once again we witnessed how pivotal Messi is to Sabella’s system – he exposed the space between the lines and found pockets of space in midfield to receive the ball, which helped Argentina create numerous chances.

Conclusion

Both sides will have to wait until September to secure a spot in next year’s World Cup – despite Ecuador’s superiority throughout the match, they failed to create enough clear-cut chances and always looked vulnerable at the back.

Despite their poor performance, Sabella will be content with a point that they arguably didn’t deserve. Argentina still have a few issues to sort out at the back, but with many key players unavailable, a point in Ecuador is a positive. Messi’s fitness is vital if Argentina intend on succeeding next year – however, it may be time for Sabella to focus on forming a balanced XI that can compete in case Messi is unavailable at some point next season.

Ecuador need a few points to secure qualification, but Rueda’s men face a daunting task as three of their final four games are on the road. Ecuador have only earned two of their 21 points on the road in qualifying and Rueda will need to make a few adjustments tactically as his job is certainly on the line. If Ecuador intend on reaching their third World Cup, they will need to find a plan B, adjust their shape off the ball and become ruthless in front of goal.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – Champions League Podcast May 2nd

Tyrrell Meertins and Hugo V recap the second leg ties that took place in the Champions League this week. They discuss whether Jose Mourinho’s tenure at Real Madrid has been successful, why Bayern Munich need Pep Guardiola and breakdown whether German football is on the rise!

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Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – Champions League Podcast April 25th

Tyrrell Meertins and Hugo V breakdown all the action that transpired in the Champions League this week. They discuss the brilliant Germans, the decline in Spain and briefly touch on Manchester United’s 20th Premier League title. They also explain why Dortmund will be fine when Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski depart this summer.

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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