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Tactical Preview: Manchester United – Liverpool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho’s redemption mission looks promising

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United appointment was terribly overdue.

What possibly should have been the ideal hire following Sir Alex Ferguson’s sudden retirement, and Mourinho’s departure from Real Madrid, will officially take effect when United face Leicester City in Sunday’s Community Shield clash.

In that time United have terminated David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, as their attempts to maintain Ferguson’s winning mantra failed miserably. Several foreign signings and millions of dollars in transfer fees have been invested at Old Trafford, but apart from last year’s fourth place finish, United have missed out on the top four twice, and have never been apart of the title race.

While it was believed Mourinho was disappointed that United were reluctant to name him as Ferguson’s successor, the Portuguese manager’s return to Chelsea guided amongst England’s elite. A Premier League and Capital One Cup double was recorded in Mourinho’s second season, but failure to maintain such levels resulted in his immediate sacking midway through last season.

Ultimately both parties were at a crossroads – Mourinho’s options were limited considering previously managed clubs and current vacancies, whereas Van Gaal’s reign at Old Trafford turned United into a wretched watch and the club were slowly transitioning into perennial underachievers. Both United and Mourinho have been natural winners over the past decade, and with their current reputation severely battered, an opportunity at redemption couldn’t be ignored.

Where multiple United supporters displayed displeasure with Mourinho’s eventual hiring, oddly, he’s quite similar to the legendary Ferguson.

“He’s won the European Cup twice with different clubs and won titles with all the clubs he’s been at,” said Ferguson.

“You can’t ignore his record and I think Manchester United is the right kind of club for him.”

For one, they’re both pragmatists capable of utilizing players in the most efficient manner. While the general misconception surrounding Manchester United involves the club playing an attractive brand of football built on width and free-flowing possession, it’s key to remember that even the best Ferguson sides were reactive when required.

United comfortably dispatched of Premier League minnows by constantly pushing men forward at every opportunity, but the likes of Darren Fletcher, Park Ji Sung, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves all played key roles in United’s deep Champions League runs over the past decade. Often reverting to a 4-5-1, Ferguson knew how to grind out victories in a slightly more appealing way then Mourinho, but was rarely criticized for doing so.

More so, solely hailing Mourinho as a defensive-minded coach would discredit some of the most exciting sides of this era. Following his first stint at Chelsea, Mourinho’s Inter Milan sides were leading goal-scorers in the two seasons the Portuguese manager spent in Italy. Elsewhere, during his fierce rivalry with Pep Guardiola, Mourinho’s Real Madrid out-scored and beat arguably the best club side ever to claim a La Liga title in 2012.

Similarly, Mourinho’s 2013-2014 title winning Chelsea side played some of the best football in Europe over the first half of that season – combining Cesc Fabregas’ vision, intricate passing in tight spaces, and Diego Costa’s power upfront – before reverting to a defensive minded approach to combat fatigue during the run-in. Additionally, Mourinho’s equally incorporated players such as Deco, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo – players renowned for their minimal work rate out of possession – into defensive juggernauts further highlighting his ability to identify a proper balance.

Tactically, there shouldn’t be any drastic modifications to Mourinho’s set-up, which therefore should benefit a United side that hoisted the best defensive record in the division last season. Mourinho’s attention to detail should improve a sturdy defensive shape, as they transition between two deep banks of four, possible energetic high pressing, or a standard 4-5-1 in high-profile matches.

Likewise, while Mourinho is lambasted for not offering youth a chance, apart from the early stages of Ferguson’s career at Old Trafford, the former United manager has rarely turned academy prospects into regular first-team players. Players such as Gerard Pique and Paul Pogba have turned into world stars after being overlooked by Ferguson, whereas only Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher and Danny Welbeck maintained a consistent role in the first team.

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Mourinho, however won’t encounter that issue considering several youngsters are currently in the first team, so frankly the one possible downfall in this newfound relationship is the Portuguese manager himself. Although Ferguson was a notorious media bully, Mourinho’s siege-mentality has been nauseating in the past, thus leading to players and his medical staff turn against him. The Portuguese manager lost the dressing room at Real Madrid and most recently at Chelsea, and it’ll be interesting to see how the United players handle Mourinho’s antics.

Then there’s longevity. Mourinho has never stayed at a club for more than three full seasons, thus resulting in many insinuating he’s unable to build a dynasty. Mourinho embraced bigger challenges following treble triumphs with Inter and Porto, yet ironically, those moves witnessed the manager subsequently sacked at Chelsea and Real Madrid.

A second spell at Chelsea presented Mourinho with a chance to build a dynasty in a familiar environment with young promising talent, but failure to build on a title-winning squad – Chelsea’s new (one in-one out) transfer policy exploited a fatigued Blues squad still possessing weaknesses in key areas – was decisive considering it was a key factor in his return. Chelsea’s poor title defence – the worst of any champions in the Premier League area – was a low point for both club and manager, but it’s unlikely Mourinho will encounter such issues at Old Trafford.

At United he will inherit a side that can be classified as a genuine title contender. Mourinho has already added Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the United roster, and with Pogba reportedly set to make a return to Old Trafford, he arguably has more options at his disposal than his 2013-2014 Chelsea side in a league were several top sides are still enduring a transitional period.

A youthful attack containing the devious Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford’s ability to run the channels, and Jesse Lingard’s tactical discipline compliments the experience of Wayne Rooney and Ibrahimovic. Pogba’s anticipated return to Old Trafford would bolster a midfield alongside the dynamic Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin or genuine passers in Michael Carrick and Daley Blind.

Then in defence, Mourinho has attack-minded full-backs and is expected to prefer a powerful centre-back partnership of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. With most sides aiming to press from the front, he can also slot Blind to centre-back to help United play out the back, whilst pushing full-backs Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw forward.

When you assess the current state of the Premier League, the Portuguese manager’s familiarity with the league and the options at Mourinho’s disposal presents both parties a chance to return amongst the higher echelon of English football.

“I came to Manchester United because I wanted to work under Alex Ferguson and then in the latter years [with] what Mourinho has done in football, in Spain and Italy and England, he is a manager who you want to play under,” said Rooney.

“He is one of the best around and to learn from what he brings it’s going to be exciting for me to try and learn under a manager such as himself.”

Unlike Real Madrid and Chelsea, where Mourinho was deemed a failure, a spell at Old Trafford will provide the Portuguese manager with adequate funds to build his preferred team, and the required patience to gain results. Modern day football will never see a tenure comparable to Ferguson’s, but at United, Mourinho’s ensured ample time to attempt to build a dynasty, assuming he doesn’t replicate the disaster that transpired at Stamford Bridge last season.

At the time of Ferguson’s departure, United required a proven winner to maintain the club’s success, whereas now, Mourinho is tasked with guiding his troops back to glory. With a great balance of creativity, experience, youth, technical ability and power, there’s no reason why United shouldn’t be challenging for domestic honours and participating in the latter stages of the Champions League in the next few years.

Regardless if Mourinho fails to display longevity at Old Trafford, his main job is to regain the winning mantra and fear factor once displayed at the club so it can be further evolved in the near future. Nevertheless, the club and manager’s obsession with silverware should be the catalyst in rediscovering the winning aura that’s disappeared.

“I want to be champion,” Mourinho told The Sun. “To say before the season starts that the top four is the target? The top four is not the target. We want to play to be champions.”

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2016 in Published Work

 

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Bayern Munich 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Courtesy of Flickr/Dirk Vorderstraße

Courtesy of Flickr/Dirk Vorderstraße

Borussia Dortmund’s swift counter-attacks and energetic pressing played an integral role in their convincing victory over reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. 

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Pep Guardiola’s 3-4-3 missed a few World Cup stars with only Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer in Bayern’s XI. Xherdan Shaqiri, Robert Lewandowski and Muller started upfront; Juan Bernat and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg operated as wingbacks, while Sebastian Rode and Gianluca Gaudino formed a midfield duo.

Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spearheaded Jurgen Klopp’s 4-3-1-2 with Jonas Hofmann sitting behind the strike duo. Sebastian Kehl, Oliver Kirch and Henrikh Mkhitaryan formed a midfield trio.

Although both sides fielded weaker XI’s, the football philosophies remained the same, as Klopp outwitted Guardiola to guide Dortmund to their second consecutive German Supercup.

3-4-3 vs. 4-3-1-2

One of the main talking points prior to kickoff was Guardiola’s decision to field a three-man defence. Bayern’s aim was to push the wingbacks into advanced positions and hold a numerical advantage in their third as they intended on building attacks from the back.

Klopp’s system, however, handed Dortmund the advantage in central areas. The main man, though, was Hofmann, who pushed high to make up the numbers when Bayern tried to play out of the back, but quickly dropped deeper to overload the midfield zone.

Kehl was equally the spare man in midfield as he didn’t have to track a no.10, his freedom in central areas saw Dortmund easily bypassed Bayern’s pressing.

Dortmund Press 

Dortmund’s pressing has been a recurring theme in previous encounters, as Klopp’s men tend to start the match well, but fade away in the latter stages. Here, Guardiola and Klopp encouraged their attackers to press the opposition’s defence on goal kicks, and both sides failed to build play from the back.

Dortmund’s pressing, though, disrupted Bayern’s passing tempo, which prevented Guardiola’s side from controlling the match. Rode and Gaudino occasionally dropped deeper to help Bayern bypass Dortmund’s pressing, but Mkhitaryan and Kirch tracked the midfield duo’s movement, forcing Guardiola’s side to concede possession. Klopp’s side nearly took the lead in the ninth minute when Dortmund’s pressure forced David Alaba into poor pass that ricocheted off Aubameyang and into Immobile, but the Italian fired his shot wide.

Dortmund’s effective pressing also forced the champions to play direct football. Muller and Lewandowski couldn’t link play or turn past the impressive Sokratis and Matthias Ginter, who quickly closed down the forwards when they received the ball. Equally, Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer pegged the Bayern wingbacks into their half.

In the first half, Bayern recorded a sole shot on target which illustrated Dortmund’s efficient pressing.

Wasteful Shaqiri

While Dortmund’s pressing was deemed effective, Bayern occasionally moved into key areas in the final third, but the German champions failed to test goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak.

Shaqiri created a great chance to take the lead two minutes into the match, when he cleverly turned Piszczek and ran towards goal, but the Swiss attacker fired his shot directly at Langerak. That was Bayern’s sole chance of the half, but Shaqiri’s movement guided the 22-year-old into the final third on a few occasions.

However, Shaqiri’s final ball was too short, while his deliveries from wide areas and decision-making around the box was dire.

Dortmund break

Dortmund’s best moves were been orchestrated in transition, but unlike Bayern, there was variety in their attack.

The first element was Kirch’s off the ball running. Kirch’s movement into half-space led to a shot that Neuer pushed aside; he also combined with Aubameyang with intricate passing around the box and a lofted long ball that saw the attacker outpace Dante, thus leading to Kehl and Hofmann firing powerful shots at Neuer.

Kirch was also the catalyst in Hoffman’s dominance in transition, as his passes ignited attacks that saw the Dortmund midfielder exploit pockets of space with his pace. Hofmann flourished in advanced areas due to Bayern’s lack of a natural holding midfielder, as the 22-year-old exploited Gaudino’s defensive limitations and his inexperience at this level.

  • 14th min: Kirch slides to win a 50/50 challenge against Rode and Dortmund breaks through Hofmann, who has acres of space to run into and he spreads the ball wide to Aubameyang, but the attacker’s cross was cleared by Javi Martinez.
  • 22nd min: 1-0 Mkhitaryan. Dortmund takes the lead, as their pressure and willingness to target Gaudino were key elements in the build up. Immobile’s pressure saw Neuer’s clearance fall to Piszczek, and the right back nodded the ball into Mkhitaryan in a pocket of space. The Armenian winger ran past Gaudino and surged towards goal, before he slid a pass to Aubameyang that was poorly cleared by Alaba, and Neuer could only watch Mkhitaryan fire the loose ball into the net.
  • 25th min: Lewandowski lost possession in midfield following a challenge with Mkhitaryan, thus leading to Kehl and Kirch bypassing Bayern’s pressure and the latter found Hofmann between the lines. Hofmann slid a pass into Aubameyang in right half-space, but Neuer stopped the Dortmund attacker’s shot.
  • 31st min: Piszczek combined with Kirch and the former’s pass connected with Hofmann, who made a run behind Gaudino into the box, but Boateng blocked his shot and the Dortmund right back fired the loose ball over the net.
  • 43rd min: Hofmann outmuscled Rode in midfield to win possession, and he effortlessly ran past Gaudino, and played a pass to Mkhitaryan that forced Hojbjerg to clip the midfielder and earn a booking. 

Somehow, Dortmund only carried a one-goal lead into the break, but the countless chances created in transition showcased their dominance.

Guardiola tinkers

Guardiola reacted immediately at half time, introducing Phillip Lahm for Thomas Muller as Bayern transitioned into a 3-5-1-1, with Shaqiri operating as the chief playmaker. Lahm’s introduction was logical as Bayern now had a natural defensive player ahead of the back three to limit Hofmann’s threat.

Shaqiri’s central role also gave Bayern the advantage in midfield, and they came within inches of an equalizer in the opening minutes of the second half. Lahm found Shaqiri between the lines, but the Swiss midfielder’s through ball to Lewandowski was heavy, and the Polish striker could only poke his effort at Langerak.

Dortmund limited their energetic pressing in the second half, allowing Lahm time to string passes together, and although the 31-year-old connected with his teammates in advanced positions, the lack of quality in the final third hindered Bayern’s attack. Mario Gotze was also involved in the second half, but the former Dortmund player failed to lift his side’s performance.

Dortmund focus on wide areas

Klopp’s side, however, directed their attack into wide areas in the second half, as substitute left back Erik Durm constantly exploited space behind Hojbjerg, which eventually led to a Lahm booking.

Immobile, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang attacked the space behind the advanced Hojbjerg in transition, as Guardiola’s side were consistently caught on the counter, pushing men forward to snag an equalizer. The issue Bayern encountered following their switch to a 3-5-1-1 involved Gaudino and Rode allowing the full backs to attack vacant space in the channels and isolate their wingbacks.

Dortmund doubled their lead in this manner as Piszczek was allowed to surge into the final third; the Polish full back overloaded Bernat with Aubameyang before playing a great cross from the byline to the onrushing attacker, who snuck behind Lahm and out-jumped Jerome Boateng to nod the ball past Neuer.

Langerak made a key save from an Alaba free kick to preserve his clean sheet, as Bayern provided no response for Dortmund’s dominance.

Conclusion

Dortmund’s dynamic pressing was no secret heading into the match, and it played a significant role in the outcome as it disrupted Bayern’s attack. Guardiola’s side encountered difficulties moving up the pitch as a unit, and without a holding midfielder, Dortmund successfully overloaded central areas, as Hofmann and Mkhitaryan terrorized Gaudino. 

While very little can be taken from this result, due to both sides missing several first-team players, Dortmund was undoubtedly the better side over 90 minutes, showcasing their adaptability, variety in attack, and disciplined pressing. 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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