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Germany 0-2 France

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Germany were dominant for large portions of the match, but they committed two suicidal mistakes in their penalty box which handed France a route to the Euro 2016 final.

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Joachim Low was forced to make a few changes due to suspensions and injuries and once again altered his system. Thomas Muller moved upfront for the injured Mario Gomez, which allowed Julian Draxler to return to the starting XI. Emre Can slotted into midfield for Sami Khedira and Benedikt Howedes shifted to centre-back alongside Jerome Boateng.

Despite Adil Rami and N’Golo Kante being available for selection, Didier Deschamps named an unchanged lineup.

Didier Deschamps may have got his tactics wrong, but France’s clinical finishing overcame an impressive German display.

Low’s system change

Similar to the quarter-final stage, Joachim Low’s decision to alter his stem was the main talking point of the round. Here, Low turned to the 4-3-3 that was successful at the World Cup, and it appeared Can’s inclusion was with the intent to offer a physical presence in the midfield zone.

Low probably assumed Deschamps would recall Kante into midfield, but the French manager’s decision to persist with a 4-4-2 left the hosts vulnerable in central areas as neither are natural holding midfielders.  Bastian Schweinsteiger dropped between the centre-backs for additional cover, which enabled the centre-backs to push into midfield and the wing-backs to position themselves in advanced positions by the touchline.

This was another example of Low’s growth as a manager, as his tactical rejig was responsible for Germany’s dominance throughout.

France’s issue

Deschamps didn’t instruct his men to press higher up the pitch, but he focused on limiting space in central areas to exploit. The hosts maintained their two banks of four out of possession, but the peculiar aspect to their approach was the reluctance to close down Germany’s chief passers in Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, and Boateng.

Kroos dropped deep to receive possession and was occasionally pressed by Paul Pogba, but in comparison to the Italians instructing Graziano Pelle or Eder to stick tight to the German, this was a contrasting defensive display. Boateng, on the other hand, was free to step into France’s third of the pitch to hit diagonals to the advanced full-backs, but fortunately for the hosts, neither Hector nor Joshua Kimmich translated their dangerous positions into quality chances.

Besides allowing Germany’s creative passers time and space to dictate the tempo of the match, the main issue Deschamps’ men encountered involved their ability to break on the counter. Apart from positive combinations between Antoine Griezmann and Blaise Matuidi, and the former with Patrice Evra down the left, France didn’t appear capable of testing Manuel Neuer from open play.

Although Germany’s counter-pressing played a factor, but ultimately it was down to sloppy passing in transition that halted possible counter-attacks. There were two situations that witnessed Griezmann launch an attack only to have his pass cut out by Schweinsteiger, and then playing a poor pass back to the Germans.

In many ways, France were responsible for their shortcomings in the first half. Their reluctance to press Boateng, Kroos or Schweinsteiger enabled the Germans to retain possession, and when they did so, it wasn’t cohesive and created space for the attacking midfielders to exploit between the lines. Likewise, this also meant the full-backs, pegged the wingers deeper into their half, so when Griezmann did receive opportunities to break forward, he lacked passing options, which is partially responsible for his poor decision making in transition.

German possession

Nevertheless, the biggest mystery heading into half-time was how France found themselves ahead. The Germans territorial dominance merited a goal, and they used space wisely throughout the final third.

It was evident Germany aimed to exploit space down the right to exploit Dimitri Payet’s unwillingness to protect his full-back. Germany essentially had three players operating in this zone in contrasting directions – Ozil drifted centrally, an advanced Can darted vertically or diagonally into the right channel, whereas Kimmich offered width by hugging the touchline. There were shades of the positional understanding between players on the opposite flank where Ozil passed the ball to Hector and immediately sprinted towards the touchline, with the left-back aiming to cut infield from the flank.

In truth, Low’s approach was working to fruition – the midfielders were able to play forward passes and the advanced positioning of the full-backs enabled Draxler, and specifically Ozil freedom to receive the ball between the lines. More so, Thomas Muller’s sluggish performance proved decisive. Muller was easily marked by both centre-backs in the box, and doesn’t offer an identical penalty box presence to Gomez, who has been the key component to the German attack.

Therefore, Germany struggled in the final third, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering Muller has failed to excel as a lone striker for his country. Meanwhile, Germany’s attack has been predictable and lacking the quick combinations to get behind a low defensive block without Gomez.

The few chances Low’s men created stemmed from the right, and despite the clever passing and interchangeable movement, poor penalty box finishing proved costly.

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With that being said, France took the lead during injury time of the first half courtesy of another German blunder. Boateng was culpable for an additional 30 minutes of extra-time following his hand-ball against Italy, and here, Schweinsteiger committed the same mistake.

It’s unusual to see experience players on elite teams make silly errors, and this was nearly identical to Boateng’s hand ball. Evra attacked a near post corner ahead of Schweinsteiger, and nodded the ball into the German’s hands, which led to Griezmann converting a penalty to put the hosts ahead.

Second half

Griezmann’s opener encouraged the French to sit deeper out of possession, while Low’s men stuck to their initial approach and probed within the final third. Germany’s best chance in the opening 15 minutes of the half witnessed Ozil drop deep to receive and the ball, and subsequently clip it over Bacary Sagna to Hector but the German defender couldn’t control the pass.

Perhaps the German’s created minimal chances in the second half due to France remaining more compact with a deeper shape, but Boateng’s departure for Shkodran Mustafi decreased their creativity from deep. Kroos still dropped deep to cycle possession throughout, but even a change to a 4-2-3-1 with Draxler and Mario Gotze upfront was unsuccessful.

Germany continued to find joy down Payet’s flank so Deschamps turned to Kante to offer protection in midfield and negate Hector’s forward runs by transitioning to a 4-3-3. Oddly, France sealed the game seconds later, as they finally pressed the German back-line in their box for their first time as a unit, and were able to see Griezmann confirm their place in the finals.

The game suddenly became stretched with Germany pushing for a goal. Although it seemed logical France would receive more chances to win the game now, Deschamps’ men still struggled to cause havoc via the counter-attack, whereas Kroos’ set-piece deliveries placed his teammates in several key areas where they failed to convert their chances.

Conclusion

This was arguably one of the best performances of the tournament from Low’s German side, yet they failed to win due to silly errors from their defence. Low displayed his tactical nous by altering to a 4-3-3 which witnessed the Germans dominate central areas, and prevent France from breaking on the counter attack.

Injuries played a significant role in Germany’s road to the semi-finals as Khedira’s dynamism, Hummels’ passing, and Gomez’s presence provides variety to Low’s attack. It must be said, that without a natural centre-forward, the Germans often lack penetration in the final third, which increases the belief that a false-nine system can be futile for a side that doesn’t possess runners breaking beyond the opposing defence.

Still, France’s standout performers – Lloris, Umtitti, and Sissoko – offer hope that the hosts may be capable of utilizing this system in the final, but it would be hugely surprising if Kante doesn’t return to the XI. Deschamps hasn’t been afraid to make bold decisions or change his XI, but the first half against Germany suggested that they’ll need a holding midfielder to avoid being overrun in central areas.

Sacrificing creativity for a solid defensive foundation would be the logical move in a major cup final, and after being outwitted tactically, and outplayed in every aspect, Deschamps could use this fortuitous victory as a learning tool for the final.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: France – Germany

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Courtesy of Flickr/William Morice

France’s showdown against Germany has the potential of being the tournament’s standout match. A rematch of the 2014 World Cup quarter-final witnesses a youthful French squad receive another opportunity to place themselves amongst the few elite international sides in the world if they can overcome the current world champions

Both sides altered their traditional systems to secure their quarter-final triumphs, but now it’s interesting to see how Didier Deschamps and Joachim Low approach the match. Needless to say, semi-finals tend to be tight, cautious affairs that are decided by fine margins, and both managers have several key decisions to make prior to kick-off.

Deschamps is expected to recall Adil Rami alongside Laurent Koscielny following his quarter-final suspension, but the main talking point is whether N’Golo Kante will be included in midfield. France have been at their utmost best at the tournament operating in a 4-4-2 with Antoine Griezmann closer to Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba partnering Blaise Matuidi in midfield, yet with Kante in midfield, France possess solid defensive cover ahead of the back four.

France were able to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Ireland and dispatch of Iceland 5-2 in those matches, but Germany offers a larger threat going forward. Neither Matuidi nor Pogba are natural holding midfielders and would likely encounter difficulties coping with Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, and Julian Draxler between the lines, so Kante’s return would be logical.

That means France would operate in a 4-3-3 with Payet drifting centrally from the left and Griezmann darting from the right flank to combine with Giroud. Griezmann and Dmitri Payet have excelled from a central role at this tournament, but conceding too much space between the lines in exchange for creativity would be quite the gamble.

Low, on the other hand, could return to a 4-2-3-1, but may consider adopting a 3-4-2-1 if Giroud plays alongside Griezmann. Mats Hummels’ suspension would see Benedikt Howedes partner Jerome Boateng at centre-back, but if Low were to persist with a three-man defence, Shkodran Mustafi would make his first start since his opening match goal against the Ukraine.

Bastian Schweinsteiger should be fit to start in midfield with Toni Kroos, which ensures competent passing in central zones, but equally deprives the German’s of dynamism going forward. With Payet and Griezmann roaming between the lines, Schweinsteiger and Kroos will need to be cautious with their positioning, as France will aim to exploit the former’s limited mobility.

Low’s main dilemma involves replacing the injured Mario Gomez. Thomas Muller hasn’t been at his best throughout the tournament, and though he’s struggled in a no.9 role for his country, he still offers an aerial threat upfront. Mario Gotze started the tournament in a false nine role, but Germany were frankly too predictable in possession and unable to create multiple chances from open play. Gotze can still feature in an attacking midfield role, with Muller moving upfront, as precise passing and quick interchanging between the lines would pose several issues for the French.

Germany can also turn to Andre Schurrle who has been utilized as a super sub over the past few years. Schurrle offers a direct threat beyond the defence, and his pace would force the French back-line to sit deeper, which could prove beneficial with Boateng and Kroos’ range of passing. In truth, Gomez’s absence is a massive blow for the Germans, because the striker offered a threat in the penalty box, thus offering variety to an attack that can sometimes become too predictable.

Nevertheless, Kroos still remains the key man for Germany. France will have to be wary of Germany’s threat between the lines, but halting Kroos’ ability to dictate the tempo of the match is equally crucial. Italy were forced to have Graziano Pelle and Eder stick tight to the German throughout, and Olivier Giroud may be tasked with this duty. But with Boateng capable of deputizing as an additional playmaker from centre-back, Deschamps will have to instruct Pogba or Matuidi to press forward and negate Kroos’ threat.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to predict how this match will unfold. Both managers can utilize several formations and are capable of shifting between systems throughout the match. Ultimately this could be down to which midfield can negate service between the lines, but both managers may opt for defensive-minded systems to ensure they avoid defeat.

While majority of the matches at this tournament have been fairly predictable, this showdown offers several plot twists that are truly fitting for a cup final.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Toni Kroos display against Ukraine showcased he may control Germany’s Euro destiny

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Toni Kroos of Germany runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Germany and Ukraine at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 12, 2016 in Lille, France. June 12, 2016| Credit: Alexander Hassenstein

Toni Kroos made it his mission to persuade Germany manager, Joachim Low, to start the 26-year-old in their Euro 2012 semi-final exit against Italy.

Consistently displaying his displeasure from the bench throughout the tournament, Kroos received extreme faith from his manager to aid Mesut Ozil in combatting with Italy’s abundance of ball-playing midfielders. On the day, Low’s men were considerably outplayed, whereas Kroos failed to impress in a right-sided attacking midfield role that ultimately limited space in the final third for either German to maximize their talent.

Four years later, in a completely different midfield role, Kroos has transitioned into key component in Low’s setup.

Where the German excelled in an advanced playmaker role prior to Euro 2012, now, Kroos is at his utmost best in a midfield trio as the designated passer, rather than a destroyer or a chief creator. Ultimately it wasn’t an entirely new prospect for the Real Madrid star considering he’s always showcased his ability to fulfill various duties in central areas – put simply, Kroos is the ideal all-round midfielder that can meticulously dissect the opposition with his metronomic passing, yet is also capable of utilizing his physical stature to dominate the centre of the pitch.

However, the evolution of Kroos’ game didn’t occur overnight. Since that tragic defeat to Italy in Warsaw, Kroos has played a significant role in Germany’s World Cup success, and most recently, Real Madrid’ eleventh Champions League title. From open play, Kroos sets the tone of the match with his composed passing and willingness to locate open space to receive the ball. And from set-pieces, the German’s deliveries have been the catalyst to several pivotal goals for both club and country.

To be frank, his impact in midfield is unparalleled from a stylistic standpoint, as Germany are now suited to play on the counter-attack, but equally adopt a false-nine system that heavily emphasizes quick movement, constant interchanging, and possession dominance. But Kroos faced a different task in Germany’s Euro 2016 opener against Ukraine, where he was responsible for directing the route of attack, but also offering protection for a backline without the injured Mats Hummels, and the retired Phillip Lahm.

Essentially, German supporters and Low would prefer Kroos perform superbly in both phases, but here, his limitations were on display. From an attacking perspective, he was one of Low’s best performers – which isn’t saying much due to several average performances from his teammates – as he recorded the most passes, created the most chances, whilst winning all of his take-ons.

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In other words, Kroos did what he does best, and that’s passing his side to victory. Whether it was quick combination plays to evade defenders, an inch-perfect free-kick that resulted in Shkodran Mustafi’s opener, or the splendid ball over the Ukraine defence for Sami Khedira, Kroos provided penetration and invention to a German side struggling to create chances from open play.

Yet, out of possession – mostly in the opening half – he was left with too much space in midfield to cover, thus enabling Ukraine to pose a threat via swift counter-attacks.

Nevertheless, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s late cameo and insurance goal suggests he’s nearing full-fitness, which provides Low with the midfield trio that starred in Brazil two-years ago. Schweinsteiger offers additional muscle in central areas, and a defensive shield that will enable Kroos to play within closer proximity of the interchanging attackers.

Low’s attack was at their best when they played quick intricate passes amongst each other, and while the German manager may insist several shots from outside of the box was a tactic to limit counter-attacks, in truth, they simply lacked runners behind the defence. Mario Gotze didn’t offer much as a false nine, Mesut Ozil’s appreciation of space was evident, but he lacked runners to supply passes, whereas Thomas Muller’s movement from the right was lacklustre. At times, the reigning world champions were simply guilty of circulating possession casually, opposed to quickly moving forward and combining in tight spaces – they were dangerous when doing the latter.

On the other hand, apart from Mustafi’s winner, and Jerome Boateng’s distribution, Germany’s defence were vulnerable when Ukraine pushed men forward to deliver crosses into the box. In fairness, Low is forced to play an inexperienced make-shift back-line, which once again emphasizes the risk of presenting Kroos with such significant defensive duties.

Although Germany have developed a ‘getting the job’ done identity in recent years, there were too many underwhelming performances in one night to assume they won’t improve as the tournament progressed. Schweinsteiger’s return to fitness offers a new dimension to Low’s midfield, while Mario Gotze’s role as a false nine could be sacrificed for a classic centre forward in Mario Gomez.

What can’t be denied is the numerous options available to Low, and similar to Brazil, regardless on whether he persists with the same XI or makes various changes, anything less than a winner’s medal will be deemed a failure. But unlike four years ago, Low can now rely on Kroos’ passing to control the tempo and outcome of a nations fate.

 

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Brazil 1-7 Germany

Courtesy of Wikicommons/Steindy

Courtesy of Wikicommons/Steindy

Germany avenged their 2002 World Cup final loss by convincingly battering Brazil at Estadio Mineirao.

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Luiz Felipe Scolari made three changes to his XI welcoming back Luiz Gustavo alongside Fernandinho in midfield, while Dante formed a centre-back duo with David Luiz, and Bernard replaced the injured Neymar.

Joachim Low named an unchanged XI.

Germany played to their strengths and scored four goals in a six-minute span in what proved to be relatively straightforward tactical battle.

Germany’s shape

One of the key aspects to Germany’s success in the first half was their shape out of possession. Low’s side dropped into a 4-1-4-1 without the ball with Sami Khedira pressing Luiz Gustavo, Toni Kroos tracking Paulinho, and Bastian Schweinsteiger monitoring Oscar’s movement.

With the German’s keeping close to the Brazilian midfield, the vacant centre-backs had no passing options available, and were forced to play direct. For the most part, Low’s side negated the host’s threat in midfield, and without midfield runners, and Fred upfront –– he’s not renowned for his pace –– the German back-line was free to play higher up the pitch.

Brazil encountered identical issues throughout the tournament, but relied on quick transitions to score goals, and with Neymar unavailable, it always felt that a moment of brilliance or execution from set pieces would be their solitary goal outlet.

Direct Brazil

Similar to previous matches in the tournament, David Luiz’s long diagonal balls were pivotal towards Brazil bypassing Germany’s pressing. Luiz was Brazil’s creative outlet in the first half playing diagonal balls into the front four and surging through midfield to feed Hulk; the winger’s distribution in the final third, however, was putrid. Defensively, Luiz struggled due to the lack of protection in midfield, but he was undoubtedly Brazil’s most creative player on the field.

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Likewise, Germany’s pressing in midfield prevented Brazil’s chief creator from receiving the ball in advanced positions in the final third. Prior to the goal fest, Oscar was most influential when he dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball and link play. Brazil’s best move was created in this manner, as Oscar combined with Fernandinho and Fred, thus leading to the ball being played into Marcelo in the box, but Philipp Lahm made a key tackle to halt their attack.

Germany’s pressing nullified Brazil’s attempt to play through midfield, and impeded Oscar’s role as the no.10, while Luiz’s deliveries and surging runs from defence served as the successful method in bypassing Low’s side.

Germany dominate right flank

In last year’s Confederations Cup, fullbacks Marcelo and Dani Alves played key roles in Brazil’s attack. The attack-minded fullbacks would surge into the final third, and their crosses from wide areas created several goals en route to the final. 12 months later, the former endured possibly the worst match of his career, while the latter was dropped for Maicon.

Germany’s dominance stemmed from Marcelo’s advanced positioning as Thomas Muller, Khedira and Lahm exploited this space in transition. This approach was evident from the opening minutes, and equally played a decisive role in the buildup to Germany’s opening goals.

Lahm Muller BrazilFirst, Khedira stormed past Oscar and Fernandinho before playing the ball wide to Muller, and his cross to the far post saw Mesut Ozil return the favour to Khedira who fired his shot off Kroos. Then Marcelo conceded possession cheaply, and Khedira shrugged off Gustavo, thus playing in Muller who earned a corner following Marcelo’s recovery run. Muller side footed Germany into the lead from the ensuing corner kick.

On an interesting note, a similar incident occurred on the right flank with Schweinsteiger looping a ball into space in the left channel for Ozil, who ran past Luiz, but the Brazilian centre-back out-muscled the diminutive playmaker to retain possession. Still, the massacre on the right continued as Muller surged into space behind Marcelo who was caught out of possession once again, but Dante cleared his corner to award the Germans a throw-in; seconds later, Klose slid the ball past Julio Cesar to double Germany’s lead, following great passes from Muller and Kroos.

Finally, the build up to Germany’s third goal was also created down this flank, as Lahm surged forward to receive an exquisite pass from Ozil, and the right-back’s low-cross fell into the path of Kroos, who fired a powerful effort past Cesar. A year ago, this appeared to be the logical approach to adopt from a Brazilian standpoint, but the quality from the fullbacks in the final third was putrid, whereas Bernard and Hulk failed to track the runs of Lahm and Benedikt Howedes.

This was a logical plan executed brilliantly by Low’s side, and it was surprising that Scolari didn’t instruct the fullbacks to sit deeper, or his wingers to trackback.

Brief Brazilian fight back

Scolari made two changes at the interval, introducing Ramires and Paulinho, and transitioning into a 4-3-3. This was the system the Brazilian manager should have utilized from the opening whistle, and there was an immediate response at the start of the second half.

Germany retreated into their half, whereas Ramires played as the highest midfielder to help Fred lead the press, and surge forward into attack. Ramires and Paulinho’s powerful running posed a few issues for Low’s side, and forced Neuer into making key saves to deny the latter and Oscar.

Low reacted brilliantly, introducing Andre Schurrle for Klose and moving Muller in the centre-forward position. Now Germany possessed pace upfront, and they were favoured to create chances on the break as Brazil pushed numbers forward in the second half. Likewise, Schurrle scored two wonderful goals in the second half, halting any chance of a miraculous comeback.

Conclusion 

In what should have been a tight-affair between two prestigious international sides, Germany annihilated Brazil on home soil in a match that will be remembered for years to come.

This was a one-sided affair that saw Germany play to their strengths, and dominate nearly every aspect of the match. There were three factors to Germany’s success: they exploited space behind Marcelo, their pressing in midfield –– an approach various sides have utilized in this tournament against the hosts –– prevented Brazil from playing through midfield, and Scolari’s reluctance to play a 4-3-3, saw Germany’s wide players drift centrally to overload central areas.

Shots Brazil Germany

Germany combined approaches that were unsuccessful against Scolari’s side in previous rounds, but their ruthlessness and execution in the final third proved decisive. Neymar and Thiago Silva were missed, but Scolari got his tactics wrong, and failed to react to Germany’s dominance in the opening half hour.

Under Scolari, Brazil’s biggest strength was their ability to win games, and how they react to this emphatic defeat will define whether this group of players is capable of making the next step in future competitions.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Published Work, World Cup 2014

 

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Borussia Dortmund 0-3 Bayern Munich

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Courtesy of Soccer.ru

Mario Gotze’s second half goal led to an impressive Bayern Munich victory, which sees the champions move seven points clear of Borussia Dortmund.

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Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger were unavailable, so Mario Mandzukic led the line with Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben on the flanks. Javi Martinez and Toni Kroos played ahead of Phillip Lahm, and Rafinha filled in at right back in Pep Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1.

Jurgen Klopp was forced to play a makeshift defence, as all four members of his preferred backline were unavailable. Kevin Grosskreutz and Erik Durm played as fullbacks, while Sokratis and Manuel Friedrich formed a centre back partnership.

Although Klopp was forced to make several changes at the back, Dortmund were very much in the match, but the Champions League finalist’s were unable to cope with Guardiola’s second half substitutions.

Dortmund shape

Dortmund came into the match four points behind league leaders Bayern Munich, so dropping points at home wasn’t on their agenda – a loss wouldn’t only benefit Bayern, as it would ensure Bayer Leverkusen second place at the end of the weekend.

Considering Bayern were expected to focus on ball retention, the onus was on Dortmund to nullify their opponents. As expected, Klopp’s men maintained a high line, dropping into two banks of four, to minimize space between the lines. Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski sat deeper than usual to prevent David Alaba and Rafinha from pushing forward.

This left Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Robert Lewandowski up top to press the Bayern centre backs. Ultimately, it was 3v2 at the back, as Lahm dropped into a pocket of space when Dante and Jerome Boateng split, so Bayern always had a passing option available. Drum could afford to track Muller’s movement from the wing – with Reus protecting him – and Robben had glimpses of chances on the left flank, but was often seen buzzing around in Dortmund’s third, searching for gaps of space.

Dortmund’s shape was superb – they disrupted Bayern’s passing, limited their threat in the final third, and clearly created the better chances in the first half.

Bayern approach/Martinez false 10?

The main surprise in the opening minutes of the match was the positioning of Javi Martinez. The Spaniard, renowned for his brute strength and ability to break up play, was fielded as an attacking midfielder – therefore he was a ‘false 10’. When Dortmund attempted to play out of the back, Martinez closed down Sven Bender or Nuri Sahin, and with Muller and Mandzukic pressing the centre backs, Roman Weidenfeller was forced to lob the ball away.

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Martinez pegged Bender and Sahin into deeper positions, thus limiting their impact on the match from an attacking perspective. While Bayern’s superiority in possession was evident, Martinez’s role as an attacking midfielder contributed to their low passing numbers.

However, the Spaniard’s role affected Bayern’s ability to play through midfield. With Lahm dropping deeper to provide an outlet for his centrebacks, Kroos was the only outlet available in midfield. Kroos drifted around midfield – mostly the left side of the pitch – looking for spaces to receive the ball, but Dortmund’s pressure forced the German to play conservative passes.

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Guardiola’s men struggled to play forward balls, due to Dortmund’s shape, and whenever they did get forward, Martinez’s inability to play passes in tight areas were displayed.

But Guardiola wasn’t alarmed with his side’s difficulty breaking through midfield. Another element in Guardiola’s decision to play Martinez in an advanced role was their direct approach. The aim was for Muller and Martinez to attack balls that were knocked down by Mandzukic, but Dortmund comfortably dealt with Bayern’s long balls.

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Muller and Mandzukic were peripheral figures in the first half, as they failed to trouble, or stretch Dortmund’s backline. Yet, they were both involved in Bayern’s best chances of the half –  Mandzukic’s acrobatic overhead kick from Muller’s cross, and Robben latching onto a Dante long ball, which he squared to Mandzukic, only for the Croatian to mishit his shot.

Martinez’s inclusion in an advanced role limited Bender and Sahin’s impact on the match – however, it had the same effect on Bayern’s possession-based and direct approach.

Dortmund break

A recurring theme in the last few meetings between these sides has been Dortmund’s inability to convert their chances. Once again, Klopp’s men created several chances on the break, but they lacked that extra bit of quality to beat an impressive Manuel Neuer.

But there were a few key feats in Dortmund’s breaks that shouldn’t be ignored. Alaba’s positioning, along with no defensive protection from Robben, left the right flank free for Blaszczykowski and Grosskreutz to penetrate. Majority of the chances Dortmund created resulted in the final ball being played behind Alaba.

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Also, Lewandowski displayed both sides of his all-around attacking game – the Polish striker can play as a conventional no.9 and a no.10. Lewandowski’s movement got him into great positions to play his teammates clear, and although he squandered a great chance at the start of the match, his physical presence and aerial ability gave the Bayern defenders a few problems.

  • 2nd min: Bender played a pass to Lewandowski, who dropped deep and laid the ball off for Blaszczykowski. The Polish wide man cut in and played a great ball to Lewandowski at the edge of the six-yard box, but he turned and fired his shot over the net.
  • 23rd min: Reus intercepts Boateng’s forward pass and Mkhitaryan picks up the ball and drives forward. The Armenian midfielder played a pass to Lewandowski and he slides the ball to Blaszczykowski, who cut in but his shot was blocked.
  • 25th min: Durm’s pressure forces Muller to concede possession, as he can’t control Boateng’s pass, and the Dortmund defender back heels the ball to Mkhitaryan. Mkhitaryan drives forward and picks out Blaszczykowski, who plays a forward pass to an overlapping Grosskreutz, but he takes a first touch and Alaba’s recovery run allowed him nick the ball out for a corner.
  • 28th min: Lewandowski flicked on Weidenfeller’s goal kick and Boateng slipped, allowing Reus clear on goal, but he fired his shot directly at Neuer.
  • 50th min: Bender leads the attack and plays a pass to Blaszczykowski on the right flank. The Polish midfielder cut the ball back to Bender and he chipped the ball into the box, and Lewandowski – who ran ahead of Rafinha – nodded the ball wide of the net.
  • 69th min: Rafinha wildly conceded possession to Grosskreutz, who drove forward and played a pass to Blaszczykowski, who then found Lewandowski between the lines and the Polish striker played an exceptional through ball to Grosskreutz. The Dortmund right back dinked a ball to an unmarked Mkhitaryan, and he controlled the ball on his chest, then took another touch with his feet – giving Neuer time to settle – and fired a shot at the near post, but Neuer made a great save.
  • 72nd min: Grosskreutz’s ball over the top finds Lewandowski, who nudged Martinez aside, and back heeled the ball to Reus, and the German attacker’s shot – that deflected off of Dante – forced Neuer to make a key save.

Dortmund created six clear-cut opportunities on the break to take the lead, but they were unable to beat Neuer. They broke up Bayern’s play, attacked space in wide areas, and pounced on individual errors, but their lack of quality in front of goal made the difference.

Guardiola makes changes

The turning point in the match occurred when Guardiola turned to his bench and introduced Mario Gotze for Mandzukic, and Thiago Alcantara for Boateng – which pushed Martinez to centreback.

The change gave Bayern an additional ball-playing midfielder, along with fluidity and mobility in their attack.

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Gotze was dropping deeper to help Bayern retain possession, and pull defenders out of position, and he also made runs behind the Dortmund backline. Bayern began to dictate the midfield, and slowly triangles were beginning to form.

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Coincidentally, it was Gotze who gave Bayern the lead 10 minutes after his arrival. The goal displayed the difference in how Guardiola’s men utilized possession – there were nifty intricate passes from the right to the centre of the pitch, after Thiago dispossessed Sahin, and it led to Lahm playing a killer pass to an unmarked Muller on the right, and his cross found Gotze unmarked in the box, and he directed the ball past Weidenfeller.

Guardiola introduced Daniel van Buyten for Rafinha, which pushed Lahm to right back and Martinez in the single pivot, but the Spaniard’s decision to introduce Gotze and Thiago was a key factor in Bayern’s second half improvement.

Klopp reacts?

Unlike Guardiola, Klopp doesn’t possess an abundance of resources on the bench, but he decided to replace Blaszczykowski and Mkhitaryan with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jonas Hofmann.

Apart from fatigue, the decision to introduce Aubameyang was down to the impact he had in the Super Cup a few months backs, when he dominated Bayern’s backline with his pace. However, Guardiola’s substitutions and Dortmund’s intent on going forward, left Klopp’s men vulnerable – Bayern were now keen to sustain possession, and there was space available for Robben and Muller to attack.

2-0/3-0

Bayern put the match out of sight in the final five minutes, but the matter in which the goals were constructed, highlighted the significance of Guardiola’s changes.

  • 85th min: Dante dispossessed Reus near the corner of his 18-yard box and played a pass to Kroos, and he quickly directed the ball to Gotze. Gotze then found Thiago, and the Spaniard played a magnificent cross field pass to Robben, which led to a 3v1 break, and Robben confidently chipped Weidenfeller.

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  • 87th min: Alaba, Kroos and Thiago form another passing triangle, and Thiago plays a ball to Martinez who attacked space in midfield and found Robben to his right. Robben runs at Drum before playing in an advancing Lahm at right back, and he delivered a ball across the box for Muller to tap in.

Like the opening goal, Thiago and Gotze were key figures in the build up, and Guardiola’s in-game tinkering – moving Lahm to right back and Martinez as a holder – contributed to the final goal. Once again Bayern showcased their tactical flexibility.

Conclusion

This match showcased a few elements that we’ve seen in previous encounters – Dortmund’s reactive approach nullified Bayern, but they were unable to convert their chances on the break, whereas Bayern were clinical in front of goal.

“Everything is decided in midfield. If you want to win the game, you need to control the midfield,” Guardiola said.

Nonetheless, Guardiola’s second half changes gave his side the advantage, thus leading to their dominance for the remainder of the match. 

“I’ve seen Bayern a lot. Tonight, they played as many high balls as in the last three years combined,” Klopp said.

“First, they got at us with long balls, then they bring on the 1.70m boys, not a bad idea,” he added. 

Guardiola’s pragmatic approach displayed his side’s flexibility and why many classify the Spaniard as unpredictable, – but it also showcased that his side isn’t ready to express themselves under his philosophy. While Bayern continue to grow under Guardiola, Klopp’s tactics are beginning to take their toll on his slender squad, which could diminish their domestic and European challenge.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 1-3 Bayern Munich

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Bayern Munich decimated Manchester City at the Ethiad Stadium.

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Pep Guardiola made one change to the side that defeated Wolfsburg this weekend. Toni Kroos returned to partner Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, while Thomas Muller led the line in Bayern’s 4-1-4-1. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery kept their spots on the flanks, while Phillip Lahm started as the sole holding midfielder.

Manuel Pellegrini made four changes to his starting eleven that fell to Aston Villa on Saturday. Edin Dzeko led the line in Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1, ahead of Sergio Aguero, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri. Gael Clichy and Micah Richards returned to the City back four, while Yaya Toure and Fernandinho played in the double-pivot.

Bayern produced a magnificent away performance, which saw Guardiola’s men press efficiently and dominate the midfield from the opening whistle.

Pressing

It was always going to be interesting to see how City coped with Bayern’s pressure. Guardiola’s men pegged City into their third of the pitch – getting numbers around the ball carrier, thus forcing Pellegrini’s men to concede possession. Frankly this pressure led to Bayern’s dominance, as City was unable to sustain possession for the entirety of the first half.

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It all started with Robben and Ribery closing down the City fullbacks – Muller charged down the centre backs, Bayern’s fullbacks pressed City’s wingers, while the European champions had a distinct numerical advantage in midfield. Bayern repetitively won the ball in City’s third which led to the European champions dominance for majority of the match.

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City without the ball

With Bayern maintaining a large portion of possession, City’s aim to maintain a solid shape in midfield was logical. City dropped into a narrow 4-4-2 when Bayern was in possession and there were many factors in their shape that led to Bayern’s superiority.

First off the duo of Navas and Richards were unable to cope with Alaba and Ribery’s attacking threat. The Frenchman constantly got the better of the Manchester City fullback, and Navas struggled to track Alaba, who was persistent on surging forward. The Bayern duo’s persistence to get forward led to Ribery’s opener, as Alaba’s overlapping run confused Navas and Richards, thus leading to Ribery cutting inside and unleashing a powerful shot from distance that slipped past Joe Hart at the near post.

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Yet, on the opposite side, Nasri played narrow attempting to maintain a compact shape, but this urged Guardiola’s men to penetrate on the right flank. Rafinha constantly scampered down the right side on several occasions attacking space and aiming to create overloads with Robben. Schweinsteiger also ventured over to the right side when Nasri protected Clichy to help Bayern overload the right flank. Clichy was an isolated figure at left back, and Guardiola instructed his men to penetrate the space available – and to no surprise, Bayern’s goals in the second half came down that flank.

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City’s shape without the ball was questionable – as Guardiola instructed his men to penetrate wide areas.

Bayern dominate midfield

Another key element in City’s shape was their numerical disadvantage in midfield. The Bayern trio of Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm and Kroos dominated Fernandinho and Yaya Toure for large portions of the match. Also, the intelligent movement of Robben, Ribery and Muller into central areas presented Bayern with several passing options in midfield.

More so, Pellegrini’s idea to play two strikers was logical – due to Dzeko’s height and ability to hold up the ball, while Aguero’s pace to run behind defenders – but it allowed Guardiola’s men to dictate possession. Aguero wasn’t instructed to press Lahm – who was often the spare man in midfield – and the German international was allowed to control the tempo of the match.

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Each member of Bayern’s midfield trio had a pass completion rate over 90%, but it was Kroos who shined brightest. Kroos possesses a wonderful gift of finding pockets of space in midfield to receive the ball – frankly there aren’t many in the world better than him at doing this.

And despite being pressed by Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, the German midfielder still managed to stamp his authority on the match – specifically in the final third. But despite Kroos’ positive impact going forward, he played a key role in Bayern’s high-press – relentlessly working hard to win the ball in City’s third. Kroos cleverly dispossessed Fernandinho in City’s third and played in Robben, who danced past Nemanja Nastasic and beat Hart at the near post.

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Furthermore, City’s shape without the ball allowed Bayern’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, as the numerical advantage in midfield allowed Guardiola’s trio to thrive.

Muller

However, the most interesting talking point pre-match was the role of Muller. The German midfielder rarely receives the plaudits he deserves, but once again he performed exceptionally on a monumental European night.

Muller closed down defenders efficiently and ran the channels superbly, aiming to find cracks in City’s high line – but his ability to win 50/50 challenges from direct balls was pivotal. Despite Bayern’s constant passing in central areas, the Bavarian’s did mix up their play, spraying a few long balls towards goal that Muller nodded down to his teammates.

And Bayern’s winner stemmed off a similar play. Muller drifted to the right flank and made a run behind Clichy – who was caught ball-watching – controlling a well-weighed Dante long ball, and his second touch was magnificent, which guided the German past Hart to tap the ball into the net. Muller’s movement in the second half was great – he constantly rotated with both wide men, taking up their positions when they drifted centrally, and the City back line was unable to cope.

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Muller produced a mature performance as the lone striker – he allowed his teammates to get into better positions by linking play, provided them with forward passing options, his energy and will to close down defenders was vital, and he scored a great goal that highlighted his wonderful movement and tactical intelligence.

Second half

Bayern continued to flex their muscle and out pass City in the second half and it was surprising to see Pellegrini stick with Dzeko and Aguero upfront. It was strange considering he had James Milner – a hardworking utility player – on the bench, while Javi Garcia was also available to add numbers in midfield. But Pellegrini stuck with his shape, and replaced Dzeko with Alvaro Negredo.

Aguero began to stick closer to Lahm, but as the game wore on, the Argentine tired. David Silva and Milner then replaced Aguero and Nasri – and life was restored in the match when Jerome Boateng took down Yaya Toure who was clear on goal, thus resulting in a red card. City’s shift to a 4-2-3-1 did mount a positive end to the match – Negredo scored a well-taken goal as Bayern failed to press efficiently when they lost the ball, Milner began to trouble Rafinha, and Silva was lively in the final third after Boateng’s sending off.

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Zonalmarking.net editor, Michael Cox makes a great point on Bayern’s performance in the final 15 minutes of the match. Guardiola’s men began to tire, resulting in a decline in their pressing. Like the game at the Emirates in 2010 – when Guardiola was Barcelona manager – Arsene Wenger’s substitutions were pivotal to their monumental win, as Barcelona’s energy levels dipped after pressing for majority of the match.

This, along with Bayern’s tie against Freiburg – earlier this year – are examples of Guardiola sides fading after pressing for large portions of the match, leaving them likely to concede in in the final quarter of matches. It’s an issue the Spaniard will need to sort out, as Heynckes was able to find a balance between pressing and an organized shape – whether he decides to do so will be pivotal in the latter stages of this competition.

Bayern continued to dominate for majority of the second half, yet Pellegrini’s changes did harm the European champions in the final minutes of the match.

Conclusion

Bayern Munich blitzed City for majority of the match, yet Pellegrini’s approach needs to be questioned.

Pellegrini’s decision to play with two strikers wasn’t absurd, but his inability to alter the problematic issue was irrational. The Chilean failed to change his sides shape or add numbers in midfield – as Bayern’s midfield and constant pressing, pegged City in their third for large portions of the match. 

“We pressured them well when we weren’t in possession and thus forced City to play long balls, which we were able to win. We moved the ball around well. Ever since Philipp Lahm started playing further up the pitch, we have started to create more chances,” Guardiola said. 

“We now need to show the same presence and dominance in the return game, but until then we won’t stop working hard and trying to improve,” he said. 

Guardiola’s men were superb on the night, and we’re beginning to see his philosophy reap rewards, as they produced one of the better European away performances we’ve seen in sometime.

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

 

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Bundesliga Matchday 1 Recap: Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Successful But a Work in Progress

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It was refreshing to see Pep Guardiola smiling in his Bundesliga debut, after a 15-month hiatus from the touchline. The Spaniard was filled with hand gestures, confidence and a load of emotion, as he earned his first competitive win as Bayern manager.

Guardiola’s starting line up contained 10 players that started in last season’s Champions League final, with Toni Kroos being the only exception as he was unavailable due to injury. It’s normal to see Guardiola sticking with the same crop of players that were successful last season, as a major upheaval would only cause further set back for the Spaniard. The Bavarians kicked of the season in fine fashion, taking a two-goal lead in the opening 16 minutes.

But all the Guardiola critics proclaiming that the Spaniard’s side is no different to Heynckes’ treble winners would be slightly incorrect. Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1 has been interesting to assess, but it’s slowly coming to fruition.  Robben and Ribery have continued to dazzle on the flanks, and are eager to take players on – but they’ve also been encouraged to overload flanks to isolate their opposing fullbacks.

Kroos continues to play a pivotal role in the side, often drifting from flank to flank to link play with the wide men.  What’s special about Kroos, besides his reliable passing in the final third, is his ability to find space to receive the ball, providing another passing option when teams press Bastian Schweinsteiger. Muller also displayed improvement as the right shuttler, often getting into key areas in the final third to link play. Like Mario Mandzukic, Muller has struggled to get involved in matches, and has often looked confused with his positioning, but there was a significant improvement against Monchengladbach.

However, this was far from a blowout, and Lucien Favre’s men caused the Bavarian’s problems throughout the match.  Max Kruse made constant runs into the channels to receive long balls and retain possession – and in the 30th minute, Kruse also forced Manuel Neuer into making a wonderful save.

As influential as Kruse was, Patrick Herrmann was Favre’s key man, as Gladbach was determined to find the German winger on the right flank. Of the few issues that Bayern suffered, one has been the positioning of their fullbacks. With the Bavarians aiming to press higher up the pitch, Phillip Lahm and David Alaba left a significant amount of space free behind them, which Favre’s men were keen on exposing. Juan Arango and Herrmann constantly got behind the Bayern fullbacks, creating chances for Kruse.

One of the major changes Guardiola has made was the removal of the double pivot, thus playing with one holder in Schweinsteiger. The Bavarians encountered the same issue in the German Super Cup, and once again they were caught on the break numerous times. Favre’s men were unable to take their chances, saving Bayern from conceding more goals and possibly dropping points.

Guardiola’s men put the game out of reach in the 69th minute, when Alvaro Dominguez conceded two penalties in the span of two minutes, allowing Alaba to convert his shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Bayern start their title defence with three points, but Guardiola’s system will take a few more weeks to flourish – until then, it’ll be fascinating to see how the Bavarians evolve under their new manager.

Aubameyang! Aubameyang! Aubameyang! (Augsburg 0-4 Borussia Dortmund)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s life in Germany kicked off in fine fashion, as he became the sixth player in Bundesliga history to score a hat trick on his debut. Borussia Dortmund is out to make a statement this season and challenge for domestic honours, and Augsburg was their first victim, as they cruised to a 4-0 victory. Robert Lewandowski added the fourth goal with a thunderous penalty kick.

“I pointed out to my team that our intensity would have to be the same as all other matches before, the Supercup included,” Klopp said.

“Our opponents were extremely strong but in the second half we won the ball more and found more space. We scored great goals and finished the game with confidence,” he added.

One area that Klopp will look to address is getting the best out of Ilkay Gundogan, who has played in the no.10 role and has failed to impress. But Aubameyang was the main man on the night displaying his aerial prowess, quality finishing, and ability to get behind the defence with his pace.

Although Jurgen Klopp sold Mario Gotze to the Bavarians, the German manager looks to have assembled a side that’s potentially better then last season, with the inclusion of Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Sam’s pace guides Leverkusen past Freiburg (Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 SC Freiburg)

Heung Min Son marked his Leverkusen debut with the match winner as Sami Hyypiä’s men easily dispatched of Freiburg at the BayArena. Last season’s Golden boot winner Stefan Kießling opened the scoring, but Mike Hanke leveled the match in the 40th minute, courtesy of a Jonathan Schmid assist.

However, Leverkusen’s wide men had the biggest impact on the match, after both sides found the back of the net in a dull first half. Sidney Sam used his pace to make identical runs behind the Freiburg backline to assist Son’s winner and score Leverkusen’s third goal.

Christian Streich’s men pushed for an equalizer but they struggled to create any opportunities in the final third. Frankly, most of their work came through Hanke, who was constantly moving across the final third linking play, but the creativity and final ball was lacking.

6-goal thriller at the Veltins-Arena (Schalke 3-3 Hamburg)

Adam Szalai’s 72nd minute equalizer saved Jens Keller’s men from a disappointing opening day loss at the Veltins Arena. Klass-Jan Huntelaar once again caused the Hamburg backline trouble, scoring two goals, making it five in two games.

But Schalke had other problems to deal with, starting with the 22nd minute departure of Julian Draxler, who limped off the pitch. Prior to his injury, Draxler was Schalke’s main attacking threat in the final third – spreading incisive passes in key areas, and assisting Huntelaar’s first goal.

Yet, once he departed, Thorsten Fink’s men began to assert their dominance, exposing Schalke’s weakness in wide areas and aerial duels. Maximillian Beister got behind the Schalke defence on numerous occasions with his direct runs, and his 24th minute header gave Hamburg the lead. Meanwhile, Lars Sobiech out jumped Joel Matip in the second half to retake the lead, after Huntelaar leveled the game before half time. Matip and Benedikt Höwedes struggled in the air, and were unable to cope with Jacques Zoua’s intelligent movement, as they were constantly dragged out of position.

Fink decided to switch to a 4-3-3 midway through the second half to preserve their lead, but it allowed youngsters Christian Clemens, Leon Goretzka and substitute Adam Szalai to stamp their authority on the match. They began to find gaps in the Hamburg midfield and looked threatening in the final third. More so, it was Clemens’ shot that Adler spilled and Szalai tapped in the rebound.

We start by conceding three goals at home. That’s way too many. We weren’t in the game at all in the first half, but we did a lot right in the second half,” Keller said.

Schalke fell behind twice, but found the courage to fight back, despite struggling for large portions of the match. Fink’s men were tactically superb, but the Hamburg manager’s decision to preserve their lead, led to their downfall, as the Royal Blues improved in the second half.

Other Results: Hannover 2-0 Wolfsburg, Braunschweig 0-1 Bremen, Hertha 6-1 Frankfurt, Hoffenheim 2-2 Nürnberg, Mainz 3-3 Stuttgart

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Published Work

 

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