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Portugal 1-0 France

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Portugal dispatched of hosts France to claim their first major international trophy courtesy of an extra-time winner from Eder.

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Didier Deschamps named an unchanged XI that narrowly snuck past Germany in the semi-final.

Fernando Santos welcomed back William Carvalho into his holding midfield role, while Pepe returned to the XI to form a centre-back partnership with Jose Fonte.

Portugal stuck to their defensive brand of football here, but Deschamps’ inability to alter his broken system witnessed Santos’ men strike late once again to become European champions.

Deschamps goes 4-2-3-1

Deschamps’ major decision ahead of kickoff was whether to return to the system he started the tournament with or aim to maximize Antoine Griezmann’s talent in a central role. Despite being completely outplayed by Germany in the semi-finals the French manager opted for the latter, which meant Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba formed a double-pivot ahead of the back four, while N’Golo Kante started on the bench.

Though the system caters to Griezmann’s strengths, it certainly decreases the impact France can produce in central areas. With Kante on the bench, Pogba and Matuidi were often adopting deeper positions to ensure the hosts weren’t overrun in midfield, thus making France’s attack quite predictable. It was simply based around knocking balls into striker Olivier Giroud, but only Griezmann was free to play off the striker or run beyond the defence, as the midfield duo were required to maintain their positions.

Portugal without the ball

The pattern of the match suited a Portuguese side that was never keen on being proactive. Their run throughout the knockout round has witnessed Santos’ side drop off into two banks of four, aiming to congest space between the lines and in central zones within their third.

To be fair, Santos was probably pleased that France went 4-2-3-1 because it ensured his men didn’t have to cope with the midfield runs from Pogba and Matuidi. Instead, Nani often attempted to sit goal-side of Matuidi, Adrien Silva stepped forward to Pogba when he received the ball around the halfway line, and William Carvalho was tasked with tracking Griezmann’s movement between the lines.

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Full-backs Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna were harried by Joao Mario and Renato Sanches when they received possession, which ultimately deprived France of natural width. Samuel Umtiti and Laurent Koscielny were free to carry the ball forward, and had no other option but to find the attacking midfield trio who sought out space between the lines, but this was what Deschamps must have expected considering Santos made no changes to his defensive approach.

France shape

Apart from the opening 10 minutes of the match, similar to their opponents, France equally dropped off into two banks of four and were reluctant to press the Portuguese defence from the front. This may have backfired against a German side containing genuine creative outlets possessing excellent passing range, but Santos midfield are renowned for being functional and dynamic. Therefore, the hosts could afford to allow Portugal monopolize the ball in their half while they conserved energy.

Giroud and Griezmann occasionally pushed forward to half-heartedly close down the centre –backs – on one occasion the former’s pressing forced Pepe to concede possession and Dimitri Payet instantly located Griezmann drifting across Fonte, but the forward’s nodded effort was pushed over the net by Rui Patricio – and William Carvalho was free to drop deeper to create 3v2 overloads. France, however, covered space in midfield superbly with Matuidi and Pogba closing down their markers, so apart from long-balls over the defence Portugal struggled to bypass the midfield zone.

Cristiano Ronaldo suffering from a collision with Payet in the early stages of the first half, combined with sloppy passing in transition meant Portugal’s offensive threat during the opening half hour was scarce. Perhaps Deschamps could have encouraged his men to win the ball in advanced zones, but Portugal rarely threatened despite receiving space in their third to build attacks because of their poor passing, so Deschamps’ decision was justified.

Santos adjusts

Ronaldo’s unfortunate substitution could be considered the turning point of the match, as it forced Santos to make a key decision regarding his shape. Santos could have summoned Eder to lead the line here with Nani playing off the striker to maintain their 4-4-2 system, but the Portuguese manager decided to alter his shape.

Impact substitute, Ricardo Quaresma, replaced Ronaldo and shifted to the right of a midfield band of five (it was effectively a 4-1-4-1) while Nani remained upfront as a lone striker. This made sense due to Nani’s impressive movement upfront – in the opening three minutes he received a half chance following an intelligent run behind Koscielny to receive Raphael Guerreiro’s long diagonal, but the Portuguese forward fired his effort wide.

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Nani’s passing in the final third was sharp, and on the rare occasion Portugal drifted into France’s third he looked capable of creating a half chance at minimum. Likewise, the system alteration provided Portugal with cover in wide areas, and now gave Renato Sanches and Adrien sole marking jobs against the France double-pivot.

Sissoko

The most peculiar feat of the match, though, was that Moussa Sissoko was the standout attacking player throughout. Renowned for excelling when provided space on the counter attack for now relegated Newcastle United, Sissoko’s inclusion on the right of a 4-2-3-1 offered defensive discipline and powerful running.

However, here, Sissoko darted infield from the right or into deeper central positions to receive the ball and instantly motor past opposing defenders to earn corner kicks. Although Sissoko’s impact decreased significantly in the second half, he still forced Rui Patricio to make a key save when he received a pass from Umtiti between the lines and subsequently tested the keeper from 30-yards – the move illustrated one of the structural flaws Portugal encountered out of possession.

With France lacking invention and penetration in the final third, Sissoko’s quick change of pace and direct running highlighted the structural issues Santos’ men faced. But it equally showcased France’s sole route of attack when Portugal put numbers behind the ball, obviously indicating that Deschamps system wasn’t maximizing the strengths of his star players.

France attack

It was France who created the better chances from open play, yet apart from Sissoko’s individual slaloms through midfield, the hosts generated their attacks predominantly down the left flank. Karim Benzema’s suspension from the national side meant Giroud would always be the first choice striker at this tournament, and while the Arsenal man receives criticism for his production in front of goal, he remains a useful focal point upfront.

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It was evident Giroud was instructed to nod down balls into Griezmann’s path, whilst bringing other teammates into advanced areas – he effectively created chances for substitute Kinglsey Coman, and a combination with Griezmann led to a Sissoko chance, but Deschamps may have envisioned this route of attack would create space beyond the Portuguese back-line.

Secondly, Giroud and Griezmann constantly stormed down the left behind Cedric to get into good scoring positions. The opening minutes witnessed Matuidi nod the ball behind Cedric for Griezmann, but the Frenchman fired his effort wide of the net. Both strikers received opportunities to take the lead via precise incisive passes from Coman, but both failed to beat Rui Patricio at the near post.

France weren’t particularly poor going forward, but their attacking moves appeared fairly individualistic rather than cohesive. The wider players were now nullified, and the midfielders rarely ventured near the box, so the hosts’ intent to cleverly play quick passes around the Portuguese defence rarely occurred. More so, they were solely relying on Coman and Sissoko’s penetrative runs narrow positions to unlock Portugal’s defence.

Second half

The second half followed a similar theme until the managers made personnel alterations. Deschamps replaced Coman for Payet, which should have resulted in natural width from the left to create more space for Griezmann centrally, and another dribbler/crosser. But Coman’s positioning was identical to Payet, yet he offered pace and quick combinations to fluster the Portuguese back-line. The French substitute forced Santos to react, as Coman’s arrival sparked a brief French resurgence.

Coman created the game’s golden chance when he cut onto his right foot and clipped a cross to the far post that saw Griezmann glance it inches over the net. And along with creating chances in half space for both strikers, he equally combined with Giroud at the edge of the box, and broke away from Fonte, but his heavy touch led to a poor shot at Patricio.

Santos turned to Moutinho for the tiring Adrien, and with the overall tempo of the match decreasing significantly, Portugal improved when they retained possession. Meanwhile, France’s preference of waiting for Portugal to push forward as a unit helped the midfielder settle, and Portugal began to create some half chances from both flanks, but lacked a striker to attack crosses into the box.

The other significant change occurred at the same time with Andre-Pierre Gignac replacing Giroud and Eder being summoned in exchange for Renato Sanches. Gignac moved laterally into the channels to receive the ball and his sole contribution to the match was decisive, as he received Evra’s low cross from the left, subsequently turned Pepe to the ground, but scuffed his shot off the post.

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Eder, on the other hand, provided an alternative threat to Portugal’s attack. The Portuguese midfield were now provided a penalty box threat when they delivered crosses into the box, but more importantly, his hold up play brought his teammates further up the pitch, and equally forced the French centre-backs into committing needless fouls. Eder’s arrival resulted two bookings – Umtiti and Matuidi were both cautioned – whilst pushing Nani to the right flank, which saw the Portuguese veteran expertly negate Evra’s threat from left-back.

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Nevertheless, it was fitting that the game’s defining moment featured the two impact players Santos brought off the bench. The goal came seconds following Raphael Guerreiro’s brilliant free kick that smashed off the crossbar, and it vividly illustrated the positive contrast in Portugal’s game following Santos’ substitution.

Moutinho dispossessed Griezmann following an Evra throw-in and quickly combined with Quaresma before playing the ball into Eder with his back to goal. The Portuguese striker easily shrugged off Laurent Koscielny and ran towards goal – Umtiti retreated backwards to his box – and fired a low shot past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Moutinho provided the forward penetrative passing and ball retention Portugal lacked for large portions of the match. Likewise, Deschamps’ men couldn’t cope with Eder’s physical presence, and regardless if whether Lloris was at fault for conceding the long distance drive – or slightly injured trying to save Guerreiro’s free-kick 30 seconds prior – the Portuguese striker represented an unlikely goal threat within the final third.

This was simply the case of proper game management from Santos, while Deschamps panicked following Eder’s winner, and immediately introduced Anthony Martial without a legitimate method of attack to rescue the match.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to find anyone other than Deschamps culpable for France’s downfall. Unable to identify his best XI, the French manager persisted with a 4-4-2 that didn’t get the best out of his dynamic midfielders and equally left his side exposed in central areas. While Deschamps did get his initial system wrong, what’s more disappointing was his inability to acknowledge his mistake: Martial’s mobility and willingness to run the channels and take on defenders was wasted, while Kante was forced to watch from the bench with Pogba and Matuidi being virtually ineffective from deeper midfield zones.

The semi-final against Germany was a prime example that France were unable to reach an elite status if changes weren’t made. Against Portugal they provided scares in brief spells, but Deschamps reluctance to alter his ineffective approach proved crucial. While basing the side around the in-form Griezmann was logical, following his missed opportunities, it’s difficult to understand why Deschamps didn’t alter formations — in short, that’s where he deserves blame.

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Santos deserves credit for Portugal’s triumph as he out-witted and out-coached Deschamps on the night. Portugal were unconvincing for large portions of the tournament, and relied on a few standout performers on their road to success, but they remained unbeaten throughout the tournament which validates their success.

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Ultimately you need a bit of good fortune to win a cup competition, and finishing third in their group turned out to be a blessing as Santos’ men avoided the few elite sides in the tournament. More so, this was bigger than Ronaldo, which is once again credit to Santos for properly displaying how to effectively utilize a squad throughout the tournament as all 20 players featured at Euro 2016.

Moving natural wingers upfront saw Ronaldo and Nani transition into timely penalty box poachers, and though his side’s defensive shape wasn’t perfect, it was surely enough to ensure Portugal remained unbeaten at Euro 2016.

Nonetheless, Portugal’s European Cup run epitomizes Santos’ tenure thus far: uninspiring, scrappy games that were ultimately won in the latter stages of matches. With majority of the experienced players likely to be phased out, now, Santos is tasked with building an identity the current winners severely lacked throughout the competition.

Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro, Rui Patricio and Nani were outstanding throughout the tournament, but now they must develop a coherent brand of football to build on this success. They were far from the best team at the tournament, but it’s fitting that a centre-forward is responsible for Portugal’s first major triumph following their decade long search to fill the void in this position.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: Wales – Portugal

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Courtesy of Flickr/Jon Candy

Euro 2016’s first semi-final will feature the top two players at the tournament. Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo may be teammates for Real Madrid, but they stand in each other’s path of claiming their country’s first trophy at the international level.

Surprisingly, while the two men are capable of single-handily winning matches, it’s arguable that the work-rate of their teammates has been pivotal towards their success thus far. Portugal and Wales have been labeled as “one-man teams” prior to the tournament, yet their progress illustrates the significance of working as a collective.

Tactically, this could prove to be another underwhelming showdown between two sides that prefer to play on the counter-attack. This was supposed to be the case between Wales and Belgium, but the latter’s poor defensive structure ensured the former received ample space for Bale to constantly launch counter-attacks.

Portugal offers an entirely different challenge. Fernando Santos’ men won’t be naïve out of possession, and they pose a larger threat on the counter attack that should worry Chris Coleman considering Wales weren’t entirely stellar in that aspect despite out-playing Belgium in the previous round.

Nonetheless, the biggest disappointment revolves around the players suspended for the semi-final. Portugal will be without William Carvalho, whereas Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies have also been suspended for the semi-final. In comparison to Portugal, Wales’ quality is limited and it’s evident that the suspensions could prove decisive.

Three-man defences have fared well thus far, and it will be interesting, yet equally surprising if Santos were to replicate Joachim Low’s decision to alter his system. In many regards, on paper at least, Chris Coleman’s system may frustrate a Portuguese side that severely lacks width.

Wales’ centre-backs prefer to engage in aerial duels, and their man advantage at the back ensures Ronaldo will be positioned in many 1v2 positions when he attacks crosses, or aims to cut centrally from the left. Then, similar to their triumph against Belgium, Coleman could encourage his wing-backs to position themselves higher up the pitch to negate Portugal’s main source of width.

The main issue for Wales could be the Ramsey suspension solely due to his role in midfield. Ramsey has been impressive throughout the tournament, offering diligent work-rate, tenacity, and an additional body in midfield.

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Likewise, he was provided the freedom to join counter-attacks with Bale and the selected striker, whilst covering his box-to-box duties. The build up to Hal Robson-Kanu’s quarter-final winner epitomized his significance – Ramsey made a diagonal charge from the half way line into right half space to meet Bale’s dinked pass, and the midfielder instantly delivered the cross that resulted in the goal.

Without Ramsey, Coleman may transition into more of a 3-4-2-1 with Jonny Williams joining Bale behind the striker. Williams is more of a raw attacking threat – he plays nifty passes into tight areas and is capable of dribbling beyond opponents – in comparison to Ramsey, and though it doesn’t affect Joe Allen and Joe Ledley’s role ahead of the back four, Wales will likely need another body central areas to cope with Portugal’s gritty midfield.

This could interest Coleman to field Bale in a midfield role – he’s displayed he can be disciplined defender in a reactive system during his time at Real Madrid – and have Robson Kanu playing off Sam Vokes to ensure Wales have a focal point upfront. If not, Williams will be forced to play a more functional role alongside Ledley and Allen.

On the other hand, William Carvalho’s suspension also affects a crucial aspect of the match. The game’s pivotal battle will be whether Portugal can cope with Bale’s threat on the counter. In terms of form, Bale is the best player on both sides ahead of kick-off. The Welshman consistently displayed his threat via set-pieces, on the counter-attack and hints of creativity from deeper positions.

While it’s arguable Danilo is better suited in Portugal’s 4-1-3-2 opposed to William Carvalho, he faces a difficult task in coping with Bale’s running on the counter-attack. Assuming Coleman will avoid engaging in a physical battle between Vokes and standout defender Pepe, Kanu’s decoy diagonal runs into wide areas could fluster the Portuguese back-line. Ultimately, if Danilo struggles against Bale’s runs, Pepe may need to exceed the superb performance levels displayed throughout the tournament.

In truth, Portugal must improve in open-play. Wales will happily concede possession to Santos’ men and welcome crosses into the box, and the intent of quickly facilitating passes into Ronaldo may not prove successful considering the Portuguese talisman will be outnumbered upfront.

Renato Sanches’ physical presence and powerful running is one of the few positives during this semi-final run, but Santos may turn to Joao Moutinho alongside the 18-year-old and Joao Mario. Moutinho is the sole genuine passer at Santos’ disposal – his pass over the Polish defence to Ronaldo in the second half of the quarter-final was evidence – and with the full-backs likely to remain cautious due to Bale’s threat, it’s difficult to highlight how Portugal will get behind the Welsh defence.

Here, we have two teams utilizing diverse systems: Coleman’s success has been based around a collective effort whilst maximizing the talents of his best players. Santos hasn’t been afforded that luxury – Ronaldo hasn’t been effective in the final third, but individual performances from Nani, the defenders, and Renato Sanches combined with previous tournament experience has sufficed.

The threat of Bale and Ronaldo will dominate pre-match talks, but a place in the finals will rest on which side can perform better as a unit.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Fernando Santos’ Portugal live and die through crosses against inspired Iceland

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ST ETIENNE, FRANCE – JUNE 14: Ronaldo (L) of Portugal objects to Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir (R) during the EURO 2016 Group F football match between Portugal and Iceland at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium in St Etienne, France on June 14, 2016. (Photo by Evren Atalay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Birkir Bjarnason’s second half equalizer earned Iceland a historic draw against Portugal, but Fernando Santos’ side produced a positive performance that merited maximum points.

Over the past decade, the one issue preventing Portugal from becoming a genuinely good side has been the lack of a competent centre-forward. The wide players were the main attacking threats in a 4-3-3, whereas the midfield and defence usually compensated for their occasional shortcomings upfront.

Nevertheless, Santos’ reign with the national team has seen a transition towards an unorthodox 4-4-2 with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani upfront. Essentially, the movement of the front two could confuse the opposing defenders, but with Portugal’s strengths now based around a youthful group of talented midfielders, Santos opted to shift the culture, stylistically.

Ironically, Portugal’s width was pivotal throughout their opening group match despite Santos tweaking the formation. Once upon a time, Ronaldo was renowned for cutting in from the left, and Nani produced crosses from the right, but here, two central midfielders in Andre Gomes and Joao Mario operated in wide zones.

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The main weakness in Portugal’s XI is the back-line, so the decision to field four tenacious midfielders that can remain compact and narrow evidently benefits the Group F favourites. On paper, it appeared the Portuguese may encounter difficulties incorporating natural width, yet surprisingly, it was the main facet of their buildup play.

Gomes and Joao Mario drifted centrally to deliver crosses into the box, whereas right-back Vieirinha surged forward at every opportunity to join the attack. Coincidentally, it was Gomes and Vieirinha’s swift combination down the right flank that created Nani’s opener, thus justifying Santos’ insistence to play through wide areas.

Though Portugal were unable to penetrate the Iceland defence with incisive passes in the final third, they showcased a legitimate threat via crosses from either flank. However, Nani and Ronaldo squandered several opportunities in the opening half – in truth, Portugal could have been up by three or four by the half hour mark.

Nonetheless, Santos’ decision to start Ronaldo and Nani upfront is logical due to their experience operating as wide attackers in previous tournaments. However, although Ronaldo has developed into an exceptional poacher, he still prefers to roam around the final third opposed to solely attacking crosses. This presented an issue to the Portuguese attack even with the duo maintaining balance.

“I don’t know if it is my favourite position, but it is where the coach puts me,” Ronaldo said. “I like more to arrive from the wing to the centre, but I have the freedom to go where I want. I will have to get used to it.”

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For the most part, Ronaldo drifted wide, whereas Nani stayed central and vice-versa – both men created super chances for each other in this manner but were denied by Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson. Yet, there were times when they were both guilty of drifting into the channels, which deprived Portugal a crossing target in the box. Ronaldo and Nani simply didn’t operate as a natural strike partnership, and neither player consistently aimed to link play with teammates, thus limiting Portugal’s threat around the box.

Iceland equally posed a threat in wide areas by initially attacking make-shift Vieirinha in the opening stages of the match, but were only tested Rui Patricio once in the first half. Bjarnason’s equalizer may have not stemmed from the right flank, but the make-shift defender was culpable because his poor positioning ultimately left the Iceland attacker unmarked at the far post.

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson’s combination via aerial duels was initially promising, but as Iceland were pegged deeper into their half, their impact decreased drastically. Heimir Hallgrimsson’s men sustained lengthy spells of pressure due to their inability to retain possession, and when they aimed to push out of their zone in unison, neither striker was capable of linking play with the midfield.

Santos’ decision to introduce Renato Sanches, Ricardo Quaresma and then Eder in the final 20 minutes saw the Portuguese increase the tempo in their forward passes, as they suddenly transitioned into a 4-2-4. Sanches quickly turned defence into attack on a few occasions, Quaresma always ran towards goal from the right flank, whereas Eder’s presence created additional space in the box for Ronaldo.

The score-line and result flatters an Iceland side that barely posed a threat to Santos’ side, and although they should still feel comfortable in topping the group, Portugal’s attacking structure is fairly interesting. Portugal’s final two group games are expected to follow a similar pattern, and though they could turn to set-pieces for goals, they must discover another attacking ploy from open play.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Real Madrid – Atletico Madrid: Champions League final preview

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Courtesy of Flickr/avalaisure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Real Madrid

Match in a Sentence

Borussia Dortmund proved to the world why they believe they’re a top club in Europe, as the German champions produced a fantastic performance against Real Madrid that sees them top the group of death!

Analysis

  • It was a battle of the 4-2-3-1 as both sides opted to set up in this shape. Unfortunately, for Madrid they were without Marcelo, Coentrao & Arbeloa. This meant that Michael Essien would start at left back and Sergio Ramos on the right with Varane and Pepe in the middle
  • It was a cagey start to the game and Madrid was unable to settle, due to the excellent pressing from the German champions. Sami Khedira only lasted 15 minutes, as he appeared to get a knock, which forced Mourinho to bring on Luka Modric.
  • Khedira’s energy and combatant style was dearly missed as Modric had a difficult time displaying his magic as he was often outnumbered in the midfield.
  • As the half continued, Dortmund began to take control of the game forcing Madrid to lose possession in the middle of the park on numerous occasions. Mario Gotze did a great job on Xabi Alonso pegging him deeper, the duo of Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl outnumbered Modric and Mats Hummels did a great job on Mesut Ozil in advanced areas.
  • I’ve watched Robert Lewandowski over the years and although I’ve seen him score numerous goals I haven’t been to keen on him, which is why I tweeted this…

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  • The power of twitter is unbelievable as moments after sending that tweet, Pepe gave away the ball in the middle of the park (NOT SURPRISED) and Kehl was able to play Lewandowski through and the Polish striker made no mistake sending his shot near post past Casillas.

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  • Dortmund’s lead would last for a few minutes as Mesut Ozil dropped deeper and played a fantastic ball over the top of the Dortmund defence to Cristiano Ronaldo who chipped his shot over Weidenfeller and in the back of the net.
  • It was a superb finish from Ronaldo, but poor from Weidenfeller who theoretically didn’t need to leave his goal.
  • Before I get into the second half in which Dortmund were far superior to Madrid, I must highlight Lukas Piszczek. I’ve been able to watch him play a lot over the last 12 months, and I must say he is maturing into one of the top right-backs in world football. He’s an integral piece to the success of this Dortmund side and the Polish national team. A week ago he tore England’s left side to shreds and tonight, although it was Essien at left back, he was fantastic, bombing down that right hand side.
  • Jurgen Klopp’s men targeted Madrid’s weakness, which was Essien, as Reus and Gotze began to drift out wide occupying the large amounts of space between Ronaldo and Essien. With CR7 so high up the pitch, Piszczek , Reus, or Gotze doubled up on Essien and he had no answers for the threats they caused.
  • To no surprise the game winner was also crafted from that side. Xabi Alonso and Modric finally came over to help Essien who was getting slaughtered out wide. Gotze zipped by Alonso and the dire Essien and sent in a cross that Casillas couldn’t clear which fell at the top of the box for the unmarked Marcel Schmelzer, who smashed his shot passed Casillas.
  • Casillas/Varane will be held responsible for the goals because of their miscommunications, and rightfully they should be, but Mourinho and every Madrid player on the field should be held accountable as well. Apart from Di Maria who I thought was the best player in white, an impressive Dortmund side out worked the Spanish champions.
  • What I found alarming was Mourinho’s inability to tinker with his side once he noticed that Lewandowski, Reus and Gotze were using the space in behind Ronaldo. Also, why not get Ronaldo to swap flanks with Di Maria who is better defensively and could’ve tracked to help Essien complete his defensive duties. Ronaldo sat far too high up the pitch and his inability to track was the difference maker, as Dortmund did a fantastic job in exposing Essien who is not a natural left back. We’ve seen this happen for Portugal at times and it happened today, and unfortunately for Madrid, Dortmund made them pay! It’s these little things that can earn you a point or cost you three against quality sides in Europe.
  • Real Madrid weren’t good enough on the night but with Manchester City collapsing at Ajax they sit in a great position to advance to the final 16. There will be better nights for Mourinho’s men, but it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to another loss this season.
  • Jurgen Klopp’s men were fantastic on the night and now sit four points away from a berth in the round of 16. Many thought they couldn’t emulate the performance away to City, but they did and this time picked up the three points they deserved. Sitting 12 points back of Bayern who’ve been superb thus far domestically, it seems like we’re really seeing Klopp’s men go for it. They showed no fear against arguably the best team in the world, and they exposed their weaknesses and nullified them by defending superbly as a unit. It’s Dortmund’s group to lose now, home games against City, Ajax and a trip to Madrid is what they’re destiny holds, and frankly the only team that can prevent Dortmund from progressing out of the group of death is Dortmund!

Three Stars

  1. Lukasz Piszczek   
  2. Mario Gotze    
  3. Sebastien Kehl

 Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Match Recaps

 

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Portugal 2-1 Holland

Match in a sentence

The world’s second best player Cristiano Ronaldo came to life tonight silencing his critics as his two goals have put Portugal into the quarter finals were they await the Czech Republic.

Observations

  • It was simple both teams needed a win to have any chance of coming out of this group of death. Portugal’s line up was unchanged from the previous two group games that seen them lose to Germany and beat Denmark.
  • Meanwhile, the Dutch who needed to win by two goals started with their usual 4-2-3-1 where we saw Rafael Van der Vaart replace Mark Van Bommel, Klass Jan Huntelaar replace Ibrahim Affelay and Ron Vlaar replace John Heitinga. Huntelaar played up top and Robin Van Persie played behind him pushing Wesley Sneijder to the left flank.
  • The first 15 minutes were quite cagey but the Dutch were in firm control.It looked as if the Portuguese were going to approach this game the same way they did against Germany,because when Holland had possession there was always eight or nine men behind the ball.
  • It only took 11 minutes for the game to come to life as Rafael Van der Vaart who was surprisingly the Dutch captain, cut in onto his left foot and hit venomous strike past Rui Patricio and into the goal.
  • The goal was spectacular but Van Persie and Huntelaar’s movement dragged two Portuguese defenders out of position and freed up space for Van der Vaart to score such a fine goal. Cristiano Ronaldo was also to play villain on this goal, as just like the second Danish goal, his inability to drop back and defend allowed the Dutch to overload Fabio Coentrao.
  • Albeit a couple of minutes of end to end attacks filled with last ditch tackles, the Portuguese like they did against the Germans responded well. They were able to grab the game by the throat and create chance after chance after chance. They were easily getting in behind this poor Dutch defence and we were just waiting for them to equalize.
  • In the 28th minute it finally came when 18 year old Jetro Willems gave up possession in his own half and the Dutch allowed the Portuguese to string a few neat passes together before the ball got to Joao Pereira who sent in a magnificent ball to Cristiano Ronaldo who timed his run to perfection and calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net.
  • Ronaldo was fantastic throughout the game, but was simply a man on a mission in the first half. He forced multiple saves from Maarten Stekelenburg, and provided many goal opportunities that his teammates couldn’t latch onto.
  • The second half began and Holland coach Bert Van Marjwik tinkered with the squad as he pushed Arjen Robben to the left, Wesley Sneijder behind Huntelaar and Robin Van Persie to the right. It didn’t work, and I must say Arjen Robben was absolutely dreadful not only today but throughout the entire tournament.
  • Since I’m touching on players, I have to admit I have a love/hate relationship for Pepe. Yet again was the Portuguese CB superb, as nothing got past him. At the same time his ignorant actions and his ability to be moronic at times is what ignites the hate. Nonetheless, he was magnificent yet again and a key component as to why Portugal are into the final eight.
  • In the 67th minute Van Marwijk gambled knowing he needed to win this game and he brought on Afellay to replace Willems. This left the Dutch with three at the back and no left fullback.
  • It took seven minutes for Portugal to make the Dutch pay as Van der Vaart conceded possession in his own half and the break was on. The Portuguese made no mistake as Nani found Ronaldo who cut right and struck it past Stekelenberg.
  • Van der Vaart who captained today’s side (after saying it was run by favourites day’s before) was the Dutch’s only goal scorer and he also hit the post. Today, many witnessed why Van Bommel was chosen over him in big games. Although he does provide that attacking spark, he leaves too much space in the midfield for Nigel De Jong to cover and the impressive trio of Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso simply dominated them today.
  • The Dutch were winless in their three games at Euro 2012, for many of them they will remember their last time in an orange jersey as a disgrace. They were simply lethargic and albeit the Denmark game, they deserved everything they received. Whether there were problems in the dressing room, this team was always poor in defence, but going forward they were abysmal. The likes of Robben, Van Persie, Van Bommel, Van der Wiel didn’t live up to their bill. The much maligned Wesley Sneijder to be fair had a decent tournament but without Stekelenburg they would’ve been blown out by both the Germans and the Portuguese. The real loser here is their coach Van Marwijk who tried everything in his power to get this team to click and in result will most likely get fired.
  • The Portuguese LIKE I PREDICTED, have finished second in the group of death and have made it to the knockout rounds of every major tournament since Euro 2004. They started off the game slow, but were brilliant on the night from the back to the front and will fancy their chances against the Czech Republic in their quarter-final tilt Thursday night. I believed this team would make it to the semi finals and they are one step closer to that achievement, where they can possibly meet Italy or Spain. They now have a few days to rest up before this tournament officially begins (not a fan of the group stage), and if they continue to play at this level it will be tough for any team to defeat them.

Three Stars

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo
  2. Pepe
  3. Joao Moutinho

 Honourable mention goes out to Maarten Stekelenburg, Miguel Veloso, Joao Pereira.

 Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Match Recaps

 

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