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Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea: Both sides display signs of underachievement at Old Trafford

hazard united

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 28: Eden Hazard of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on December 28, 2015 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Manchester United and Chelsea battled to a score-less draw at Old Trafford.

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Louis van Gaal recalled Wayne Rooney to lead the line, and changed his midfield duo with the inclusion of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Mateo Darmian also returned from injury to start at left-back, pushing Daley Blind to centre-back, whereas Ashley Young featured on the right.

Guus Hiddink was forced into changes as well due to the suspension of Diego Costa, while Gary Cahill, Cesc Fabregas, Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao were also unavailable for selection. Therefore, Eden Hazard started upfront, John Obi Mikel protected the defence alongside Nemanja Matic, while Kurt Zouma provided mobility in a centre-back partnership with John Terry.

Chelsea approach

There were no surprises in regards to the overall pattern of the match prior to kick off. United lead the league in possession stats this season, whereas Chelsea were always likely to play on the counter especially without Costa leading the line.

With that being said, it was interesting to see how Chelsea would approach the match out of possession. Willian and Pedro were forced deeper to prevent Young and Darmian from creating overloads, whereas Oscar aided Hazard in pressing. At times, Oscar moved upfront to lead the line to give Hazard a rest – on the other hand, the United midfield received more time on the ball – whereas Oscar and Willian occasionally swapped positions to maintain energy levels.

United countered Oscar’s pressing by having both Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger drop behind the halfway line to receive possession before attempting to play long diagonals towards the flanks. Likewise, Mikel and Matic sat in front of a narrow back four, which inevitably left space for Juan Mata and Herrera to drift into when Oscar and Hazard were pressing in United’s half.

Chelsea were fortunate not to concede in the opening 20 minutes, but their overall approach – despite its structural flaws – was rarely tested because of United’s limited penetration in the final third.

Clumsy possession out the back

Interestingly, Chelsea constantly found themselves in trouble when they attempted to play out the back. Perhaps this was Hiddink’s ploy to build attacks without Costa, but here, Chelsea were simply sloppy in possession.

Oscar was forced into a last-ditch tackle on Herrera after being dispossessed in his own half. Then, Mata intercepted Courtois’ attempt to find Cesar Azpilicueta, but the Spaniard’s cross to an unmarked Rooney was cleared by Zouma. Also in the second half, there was a sequence that witnessed Mikel fail to control a simple five-yard Zouma pass, thus resulting in a United corner kick.

United’s possession dominance led to a few nervy moments for the Blues, but they were equally placing United in key goal-scoring positions with their sloppy passing around the box.

United attack down the left

One of the main issues preventing United from enjoying a successful campaign thus far is their productivity in the final third. The lack of penetration through incisive passing and direct running resulted in a tedious attack that was aided by their determination to operate down the left.

United constantly aimed to take advantage of Branislav Ivanovic down the left, which was logical considering Martial operated in this zone. Though United’s initial chance stemmed from the right – Mata’s shot off the cross bar – Pedro and Azpilicueta adequately closed down Young’s crossing, whereas Mata drifted centrally throughout.

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On paper, Martial against Ivanovic favoured the Frenchman, but the United youngster struggled to impose himself against the Serbian. Chelsea appeared susceptible down this flank in the opening stages with Darmian surging forward, and Martial hitting the post, but the Serbian fared well in 1v1 battles with the Frenchman.

Nevertheless, intelligent movement and positive combinations still witnessed United create their best chances down the left in the second half. Darmian moving infield provided Martial enough space to storm past Pedro to present Herrera with a golden opportunity that Courtois miraculously saved. While, substitute, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s cross in the latter stages of the second half should’ve resulted in a Rooney winner.

Martial didn’t thrive in his individual battle with Ivanovic, but United still exploited Chelsea’s frailty down this flank, creating their best goal-scoring opportunities.

Hazard

However, Hiddink’s major decision involved Hazard playing upfront. The unavailability of the natural centre-forwards meant the Dutchman had to tinker in this area, and with United fielding two attack-minded full-backs, combined with Hazard’s past defensive issues on the flanks, it was logical to start the Belgian upfront.

Frankly, both Oscar or Pedro have experience playing in this role – the former operated as natural no.9 at the Emirates last year, whereas the latter charged behind opposing defences during his time at Barcelona. Hazard performed superbly at White Hart Lane earlier in the year, receiving the ball in various areas, but the issue behind his role upfront was that Chelsea were deprived a penalty box presence. The same applied here, as the Belgian was outmuscled off the ball by Chris Smalling and Daley Blind when he received the ball with his back to goal.

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Still, the Belgian influenced an apathetic Chelsea midfield when he moved into deeper positions, however, suffering the most fouls throughout – the Belgian and Matic glided through challenges throughout to evade several challenges.

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One move at the beginning of the second half epitomized his threat from deep – Hazard easily rolled Herrera and bypassed Schweinsteiger before playing in Pedro at the edge of the box, but De Gea made two outstanding saves to keep match goal-less. From open play, Chelsea’s attacking threat was scarce, but they were most dangerous when Hazard received the ball in the midfield zone.

Chelsea counters

Ultimately, Chelsea’s deep positioning and poor passing when they retained possession placed significant precedence on their counter-attacks. It was the evident attacking ploy for the Blues, but without any substantial build-up play, and sporadic set-pieces in dangerous areas, it appeared to be the away side’s sole goal source.

But where Chelsea usually countered with devastating efficiency under Mourinho, here, their counters appeared improvised. In the opening 20 minutes, both United centre-backs committed mistakes that enabled Hazard and Oscar to break towards the box, but both plays concluded with the former and Willian failing to provide Pedro with a final ball.

Essentially, the lack of a natural forward thwarted Chelsea’s counter-attacks. The likes of Pedro and Hazard are used to having forward offer diagonal runs for a final pass or to create space, but here, it led to poor decision-making from both men and the potential ball receiver. The duo was actually involved in a 2v2 break following the Belgian turning Schneiderlin near the half way line, but the entire play was halted as neither player made the correct run or pass.

As players tired, Chelsea’s threat on the counter decreased significantly, but they still squandered possibly the best chance of the game via this method of attack. Pedro was once again involved, as he swiftly stormed into United’s half – subsequent to a United corner – before playing in an unmarked Matic who motored into the box but fired his shot over the net.

Second half

The match followed a relatively similar pattern in the second half, however, Chelsea retreated deeper, their pressing decreased, and United received more time and space to turn possession dominance into goal scoring opportunities. Yet, apart from the two spurned aforementioned chances that stemmed from the left flank, United rarely tested the fatigued away side.

Perhaps a lack of rotation affected Chelsea here, as Ashley Young grew in prominence down the right with Pedro struggling to close the United full-back down, whereas Oscar and Hazard’s threat on the counter perished in the final 20 minutes. Herrera continued to charge into space space in the channels behind Mikel, and deserved a penalty on the opposite side of the box following a late last-ditch Azpilicueta tackle, while Blind received more time on the ball to play forward penetrative passes.

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Chelsea’s shape was shockingly disjointed with Matic protecting Terry, and Mikel unaware of Herrera’s movement behind him. But with Rooney coming forward to link play, and not enough players in the box to attack the full-backs’ crosses, United’s attack remained blunt.

Substitutions

Oddly, Hiddink refrained from using all his substitutions despite fielding more than half of his XI against Watford two days prior. Ramires replaced Willian on the right, but where Pedro, Oscar and Hazard were evidently exhausted in the final 20 minutes, Hiddink was reluctant to summon his youngsters.

Van Gaal quickly reacted to Ramires’ introduction by introducing Borthwick-Jackson, and replacing Blind for Phil Jones. This saw Smalling push forward in the final 10 minutes, but the change was likely due to Blind’s fitness levels rather than a tactical shift, considering Chelsea’s threat was non-existent during these stages.

The United manager’s attempt to rescue the match saw Memphis Depay replace Mata, pushing Martial to the right. Nonetheless, the change proved futile, as Memphis rarely touched the ball, whereas Martial offered no threat on the right. It was peculiar to see Fellaini remain on the bench with United delivering multiple crosses into the box, along the Dutchman preferring not to utilize Martial’s pace against a nervy Chelsea back-line.

Conclusion

As expected, one day’s rest provided a cautious battle between two underachieving Premier League sides, in which goal-keeping heroics and poor finishing proved decisive.

Martial Zoma

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 28: Anthony Martial of Manchester United battles for the ball with Kurt Zouma of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on December 28, 2015 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Chelsea were far from impressive, but with limited time on the training ground for Hiddink to employ his philosophy, combined with several first-team players unavailable, the interim Chelsea manager may be pleased with the result.

United, on the other hand, displayed improved dynamism and commitment in attacking areas, but the hosts’ susceptibility to counter-attacks, along with their limited penetration showcased one of the few issues under Van Gaal. A place in the top four remains attainable, but United must improve in both phases if they intend on achieving their target.

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Posted by on December 30, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work, Uncategorized

 

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Wolfsburg 3-2 Manchester United: United have no answers for Wolfsburg swift counter-attacks

Naldo United

WOLFSBURG, GERMANY – DECEMBER 08: Naldo of Wolfsburg celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League match between VfL Wolfsburg and Manchester United FC at the Volkswagen arena on December 8, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Wolfsburg recorded a historic victory over Manchester United to knock the English side out of the Champions League.

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Dieter Hecking preferred a mobile attacking quartet, and therefore started Max Kruse ahead of Andre Schurrle, Julian Draxler and Vieirinha. Max Arnold and Julian Guilavogui formed a midfield duo, while Ricardo Rodriguez was fit to start the match at left-back.

Louis van Gaal faced several injury issues prior to kick-off, which eventually saw Guillermo Varela start at right-back, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marouane Fellaini sat in midfield. Juan Mata was the creative conductor behind the pacy attacking trio of Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.

Wolfsburg counter-attacked superbly in what proved to be a fairly open match that once again exploited Manchester United’s shortcomings on both ends.

United press

The most striking feat regarding the overall result was that United started the match fairly well. Wolfsburg prefer to pass their way from the back into the opposition’s third, so it was logical for Van Gaal to instruct his men to press from the front.

Essentially, United attempted a combination of high-pressing and man-marking with the centre-backs tightly marking Draxler and Kruse, while the full-backs prevent the wingers from getting a second or third touch in their attempts to turn towards goal.

Martial and Lingard pressed the centre-backs, and when Guilavogui dropped deep, Mata pushed forward to ensure it was 3v3 at the back. At times, the personnel varied with Mata and Martial pushing forward, while Fellaini closed down the Wolfsburg holding midfielder.

Though United’s pressing wasn’t entirely efficient, it led to some nervy moments for goalkeeper Julian Benaglio, whereas Memphis prevented Christian Trasch from surging forward. Memphis dispossessed Trasch and slid a pass into half-space for Martial, which ultimately troubled Benaglio. Later on, it was substitute Cameron Borthwick-Jackson that robbed Vieirinha in the buildup to Lingard’s contentious offside goal.

United created chances on the break due to their pressing, and successfully prevented Wolfsburg from enjoying long spells of possession in their half.

Wolfsburg without the ball

The hosts adopted a more simplistic approach out of possession, preferring to drop into a 4-5-1 rather than fully committing to pressing from the front. The midfield three were aligned and compact to ensure passes didn’t meet United players between the lines, but it was evident Wolfsburg aimed to prevent Schweinsteiger from dictating the tempo of the match from deeper positions.

Arnold stepped forward to fluster Schweinsteiger who’s been exposed in recent years when encounter dynamic pressing. However, when Wolfsburg sat off, Draxler was instructed to negate his compatriot’s passing lanes, where as Guilavogui matched Fellaini’s physicality in midfield.

United’s issue in open play has been apparent, so Hecking’s aim to press Schweinsteiger out of the game highlighted his intent to nullify the away side’s activity in the final third.

1-0

With that being said, Van Gaal’s men still scored from open play, and occasionally surged into key areas in the final third, but often lacked the final pass.

United’s attack was filled with pace, and Van Gaal intended on encouraging his ball-players to slide passes behind the defence for the onrushing runners. Daley Blind stepped forward to find Mata between the lines, and he instantly turned and located Martial’s diagonal run behind the defence for the opener.

It took United three passes to get to the Wolfsburg box, but it fully indicated their attacking intent going forward.

Minutes later, Memphis dispossessed Trasch and slid a through-ball into half space for Martial, but his cross on goal was hesitantly recovered by Benaglio. In the 27th minute, Guilavogui stepped forward to press Blind leaving space vacant between the lines, and though the Dutchman located Memphis between the lines, the United winger’s pass to Martial in the box was over hit – summing up United’s productivity around the penalty area.

Unfortunately for United, they were penalized for six offside calls throughout the match, with majority of the scenarios stemming around the box, as their attacking quartet failed to replicate the brilliance of the opening goal.

Wolfsburg counter-attack

The key attacking trend on the night was Wolfsburg’s counter-attack. This was partially down to United’s inability to collectively press as a unit for the entire first half, and Hecking’s men simply bypassed the opposition with nifty short passes.

Wolfsburg, however, stuck to their patented counter-attacking module by playing quick short passes around pressure and subsequently switching play to the opposite flank –  this element of attack was also implemented in last year’s riot of Bayern Munich. The hosts intended on isolating full-backs Varela and Matteo Darmian – the former is inexperienced and the latter’s form is poor – but Schurrle, in particular, failed to get the better of the youngster.

Hecking’s men attacked with five players as Arnold often ventured forward, and Vieirinha’s go-ahead goal represented the ideal Wolfsburg attack under this set-up. Following Wolfsburg successfully bypassing pressure in their half, two long diagonals were played to Schurrle and Draxler on both flanks, before the latter stormed past Schweinsteiger to combine with Kruse, thus resulting in a Vieirinha tap-in.

Schweinsteiger and Fellaini were both culpable for Wolfsburg’s ability to easily storm through midfield on the break. Schweinsteiger’s vertical passing in midfield zones was underwhelming, and he suffered under midfield pressure with Fellaini caught in advanced forward. One move saw Schweinsteiger give the ball away to Schurrle, who quickly located Draxler free on goal but David De Gea made a key save.

Fellaini and Schweinsteiger isn’t the ideal midfield duo against Europe’s better sides, and their inability to dictate the tempo of the match, combined with constantly being overrun by tricky dynamic players led to their first half issues.

Fellaini

On the defensive end, Fellaini was a liability, playing slightly ahead of Schweinsteiger. Van Gaal has retreated to playing through Fellaini late in games when chasing a goal, but the Belgian international represented an additional attacking threat that consistently worked opposed to a last-ditch approach.

The Belgian’s aerial prowess created several dangerous United moments, as he initially towered over Dante to force a terrific Benaglio save from an in-swinging Blind corner. In the second half, Benaglio made another sensational save to stop Memphis’ acrobatic shot, as Fellaini’s nod-down from a Martial cross placed United in a legitimate goal-scoring position

United’s equalizer was basically a carbon copy of Fellaini’s initial first half chance, as another Blind corner saw the Belgian shrug off Dante to nod the ball in the ground, but Guilavogui directed the ball into his own net. Fellaini’s offensive contribution vividly showcased why the Belgian is efficient in advanced areas, but here, in terms of overall balance, he was positioned in the wrong position.

United improves

United enjoyed lengthy spells of possession in the oppositions half during the final 45 minutes, with Hecking’s men dropping into two banks of four opposed to the initial 4-5-1. Hecking was wary of Blind’s vertical passes into pockets of space and encouraged Draxler to apply pressure on the Dutchman, while Kruse tracked Smalling.

This enabled Schweinsteiger to split the defenders to make it 3v2 in deep positions, with Arnold and Vieirinha occasionally pushing out of position to close the German down. However, majority of Schweinsteiger’s passes went to the flanks, and United persisted with astray balls over the Wolfsburg defence.

With United pushing so many men forward, Wolfsburg’s threat on the counter-attack increased. The trio of Schurrle, Draxler and Kruse consistently surged forward, with the former Chelsea man getting behind the United defence to force De Gea into key saves. Van Gaal turned to Michael Carrick and Nick Powell upfront, but neither player substantially influenced the match.

Set-pieces

Oddly, while United were fairly dominant attacking set-pieces, they were severely poor from a defensive aspect, conceding two goals in the process. In fairness, defensive solidity is a combination of familiarity and effective partnerships, so United’s injury woes at the back initially placed Van Gaal’s men at a disadvantage.

Still, the simplicity in Naldo’s movement for both goals frustrated Van Gaal because they came minutes after United had scored, stemmed from simple runs away from the marker. The Brazilian international ran across several defenders to side-volley Gustavo Rodriguez’s free-kick past De Gea.

The winner saw Naldo simply run past Carrick to powerfully nod the ball off the ground and past the United goalkeeper. Basic man-marking proved costly, as Wolfsburg exposed United’s make-shift back four, whom failed to carry out simple defensive responsibilities.

Conclusion

It was possibly the most adventurous brand of football United have played this season, yet consequently they were overrun in midfield and still failed to translate possession dominance into creating ample quality chances. For the second time in the group-stage round, United took the lead away from home, and failed to sustain the lead due to poor set-piece marking and quick counter-attacks.

Nevertheless, this is what Wolfsburg are about, and what makes Hecking’s achievement so remarkable is the fact that the German side topped the group following the sales of Bundesliga player of the year Kevin De Bruyne, and Ivan Perisic – two key players to last year’s success. They simply worked hard to shut down United’s creative ball-players, and aimed to play their way out of trouble before charging past an immobile pairing of Schweinsteiger and Fellaini.

schwein smalling united

WOLFSBURG, GERMANY – DECEMBER 08: Bastian Schweinstieger of Manchester looks dejected during the UEFA Champions League match between VfL Wolfsburg and Manchester United FC at the Volkswagen arena on December 8, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

United had no answers to Wolfsburg’s counters with Morgan Schneiderlin unavailable, and the heavy reliance on Schweinsteiger to be the focal point of United’s midfield at this stage in his career is peculiar. It’s difficult to question Van Gaal’s approach going forward, but apart from the opening 10 minutes, United’s work out of possession was shocking.

This puts Van Gaal’s work at United into question. In a group that many tipped United to win, the Red Devils rarely imposed sustained dominance in any match, whilst the recurring issues on both sides of the pitch played to their downfall. Van Gaal’s a stubborn man, but this should serve as a lesson to the United manager who risks stagnation if the required tweaks to his philosophy are overlooked.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work, Uncategorized

 

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AS Roma 2-1 Juventus

Xinhua News Agency Aug. 31, 2015-- AS Roma's Pjanic (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Juventus on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. Rome won 2-1.

Xinhua News Agency
Aug. 31, 2015– AS Roma’s Pjanic (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Juventus on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. Rome won 2-1.

Roma relied on two goals from Bosnian duo Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko to defeat title rivals Juventus.

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Iago Falque joined Dzeko and Mohammed Salah upfront in Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3. Daniele De Rossi moved to centre-back alongside Kosta Manolas, whereas Seydou Keita formed a midfield trio with Radja Nainggolan and Pjanic.

Max Allegri reverted to a 3-5-2 with Mario Mandzukic and Pablo Dybala leading the line. With Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira unavailable for selection, Simone Padoin and Marco Sturaro joined Paul Pogba in midfield.

Roma dominated possession over extensive periods of the match, and with Juventus unable to pose a threat on the counter, Allegri’s men succumbed to two moments of brilliance.

Roma press

While Roma’s dominance may have been down to Juve’s caution, Allegri’s side have displayed their ability to decrease their route to goal by instantly lobbing balls into the strikers. Juve’s only way to maintain a decent spell of possession was to build from the back, but here, Garcia instructed his men to press from the front, with all three attackers handed a distinct role.

Falque and Salah pressed the exterior centre-backs, while Dzeko possessed a dual role. If Dzeko pushed towards Bonucci – a very good passer of the ball – he instructed a midfielder to close down Padoin, but for the most part, the Bosnian striker stuck goal-side to the Juventus midfielder to negate his influence from deep.

Roma didn’t always press in this manner, as they were keen on dropping into a 4-5-1 when necessary to clog spaces in midfield, yet both methods effectively contained Juve’s threat in open play. The wide players maintained their discipline, keeping the adventurous wingbacks quiet, and Dybala rarely received passes between the lines.

Juventus shape

Where Roma pressed higher up the pitch in various spells, Allegri instructed his side to drop deeper into their half and pressed aggressively in midfield. This allowed De Rossi time on the ball, and Nainggolan, in particular was free to retain possession, stringing passes from flank to flank.

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Essentially, Roma overloaded central areas with several passers, and it could explain several reckless tackles and eventual bookings in midfield. The transition to a 5-3-2 negated Dzeko’s aerial threat, as he was always outnumbered around the box, but in general their approach was too conservative, allowing the home-side too much space to dominate.

Roma’s balanced attack

Ultimately, there were two ways to describe Roma’s dominance over the current champions. First, Enrique placed Gervinho to the bench for Falque, who in fairness offered the hosts genuine width. With Falque stretching the pitch, Salah operated in narrow mixed positions, before charging into half space to create chances.

Gervinho and Salah are similar players – both thrive when there’s space to break into on the counter attack – but here, both the latter and Falque created chances in their respected positions. Salah’s first half pull-back resulted in Pjanic directing a shot off the post, whereas Falque delivered a devastating ball across the six-yard box that went amidst.

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The hosts’ attack would improve with a trequartista in the XI, but the cohesion between the front six was an improvement from last year. There was balance in wide areas, and each midfielder was able to fulfill their role due to Juve’s setup. Keita sat deep to protect the back four, Nainggolan retained possession a few yards ahead, and Pjanic scurried between the lines to receive possession and force Chiellini and Pogba into first half bookings.

Lack of familiarity upfront

Juve’s deep defensive line limited the possibility of creating chances from deep, but the away side still appeared perplexed during the rare occasions when they sustained possession in Roma’s third. One of the keys to Juve’s success last season involved Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata understanding their roles – the former dropped deep to receive the ball, while the latter sprinted behind the defence.

Tevez’s departure deprives Juve of a creative threat between the lines that can score goals and effectively link play with his teammates, which resulted in flat possession in the final third. Dybala’s lateral movement in these areas was positive, but a sole individual slalom sufficed from his presence upfront.

Likewise, Mario Mandzukic doesn’t offer a threat behind the last defender, and with Juve maintaining a low block, the Croatian was isolated for long spells. This, nevertheless, is also related to a lack of familiarity between the pair, along with one of the downfalls that comes with Mandzukic.

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The Croatian’s denies his team of natural pace upfront, but he was equally reluctant to drop deep to link play with his teammates. There was one moment towards the conclusion of the first half where Pogba was clearly frustrated with his attackers’ movement upfront, as neither attacker aimed to drop deep to receive the ball.

More so, Juve’s deep line, combined with a new strike partnership lacking Allegri’s basic attacking concepts is partially responsible for the away side’s blunt productivity in the final third.

Allegri adapts

Pjanic’s superb free-kick put Roma ahead at the hour mark, but Roma’s threat from wide areas decreased significantly. Majority of the hosts’ buildup play was narrow, and with Pogba offering improved protection for Evra, Garcia’s men relied on distant Nainggolan efforts on goal that forced Buffon to make a few saves.

Allegri instantly reacted to Pjanic’s opener, introducing Morata for the subdued Mandzukic, but the away side’s best chances stemmed from corner kicks. Then the Juve manager altered to a midfield diamond, sacrificing Lichtsteiner for Roberto Pereyra.

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Pereyra represented the ideal player suited for Allegri’s approach as his pace offers a genuine threat on the counter, and it was odd to see the Argentinian reduced to a bit-part role considering the circumstances. The Argentine forced Dzeko into a booking, while his pace and clever combination with Morata led to Dybala’s consolation goal – Morata dispossessed Keita in midfield to ignite the swift break.

Evra’s second dismissal proved costly in the final stages of the match, but a change of shape and additional space from Morata and Pereyra nearly inspired a comeback.

2-0

Roma, though, quickly pounced on the champions’ mistakes. Subsequent to Evra’s dismissal, Pjanic played a lovely diagonal behind Juan Cuadrado for Falque, and his cross into the box witnessed Dzeko tower over Chiellini to notch his first goal for the hosts.

The significance of the goal may be overlooked, but it distinctly highlights two areas that Garcia seeked to improve this summer. Put simply, it was another dangerous delivery from Falque in a wide area that was converted by a legitimate centre-forward.

There’s a chance that the signings may not elevate Roma into potential champions, but the goal provides evidence that Garcia has made it priority to offer variety to an attack that was mightily predictable last season.

Conclusion

Juve’s apathetic display enabled Roma to dominate the match, as a moment of brilliance and a defensive lapse punished the champions in the second half.

This was an improved display for Garcia’s side, following a poor draw to Verona, with the most intriguing theme involving the balance within his attacking trio. In the past, the attacking options at Garcia’s disposal represent a team suited to play on the counter, and natural width combined with an aerial threat can improve Roma’s difficulty breaking down organized back-lines.

Miralem Pjanic (15) of AS Roma competes for the ball with Paul Pogba (10) of Juventus FC during the Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

Miralem Pjanic (15) of AS Roma competes for the ball with Paul Pogba (10) of Juventus FC during the Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy.
CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

Allegri’s approach was logical considering the scheduling of the fixture and limited time to integrate his philosophy, but here, his personnel selection was incorrect. Perhaps match fitness prevented Morata from starting, but Pereyra’s pace in midfield proved crucial in transition, and was the missing piece to a disjointed attempt to break on the counter.

Still, it would be harsh to prematurely criticize Juventus as the club lost a leader in Andrea Pirlo, and the league’s best attacker and midfielder in Tevez and Arturo Vidal, last summer, leading to several new additions in Turin. Allegri will be assessed attentively in the upcoming weeks, as the Juventus manager rightly requires time to find the correct balance, and welcome back injured players on his quest to retain the Scudetto.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Brazil 0-1 Colombia: Colombia stifle Brazil’s direct game with Carlos Sanchez getting the better of Neymar

Miguel Tovar/STF Neymar of Brazil fights for the ball with Carlos Sanchez of Colombia during the 2015 Copa America Chile Group C match between Brazil and Colombia at Monumental David Arellano Stadium on June 17, 2015 in Santiago, Chile.

Miguel Tovar/STF
Neymar of Brazil fights for the ball with Carlos Sanchez of Colombia during the 2015 Copa America Chile Group C match between Brazil and Colombia at Monumental David Arellano Stadium on June 17, 2015 in Santiago, Chile.

Colombia avenged their World Cup disappointment with a deserved 1-0 victory over Brazil.

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Dunga made two changes to the side that defeated Peru in Brazil’s opening game of the tournament. Thiago Silva started at centre-back alongside Joao Miranda, whereas Roberto Firmino’s inclusion pushed Diego Tardelli to the bench.

Jose Pekerman persisted with his default 4-4-2 formation, introducing Teo Gutierrez alongside Radamel Falcao upfront. James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado drifted infield from the flanks, while Carlos Sanchez and Edwin Valencia sat in midfield.

This was a cagey encounter that saw Colombia defend superbly in open play, stifling Neymar’s threat in transition, and clogging space in central areas, before breaking forward with numbers. Better finishing would solidify Colombia’s overall performance, as here, they were clearly the superior side.

Pressing

Considering the previous fixture between these two sides at the World Cup, the likelihood of a cagey, frenetic match was expected. The common theme throughout, though, was slightly contrasting: a slow-burning encounter filled with fouls and several transitional attacks.

The disparity in creativity in central areas was evident, but the manner in which both teams pressed served as the significant factor towards the outcome of the match. With both sides operating in a 4-4-2, the standard base shape out of possession was identical – a simple shift into two banks of four.

Where Brazil sat off and allowed Sanchez to play horizontal passes to the flanks, Filipe Luis stuck tight to his Chelsea teammate, Juan Cuadrado, preventing the Colombian winger from dribbling forward. Identical formations equally ensured that the individual battles were even, yet Sanchez’s freedom, along with Cuadrado and James moving centrally from the touch-line – enabling the full-backs to adopt advanced positions – led to Colombia enjoying the better half of possession.

Brazil’s issue

This was another unbalanced Brazil performance. There was a better sense of defensive solidity and organization out of possession, with Silva offering stability, and an improved performance in midfield from Elias and Fernandinho, but the issue the Brazilian’s encountered involved their route to goal.

Dunga’s men struggled to create chances in open play, and occasionally found it difficult to bypass Colombia’s pressing. Unlike the Brazilian’s, Pekerman instructed Valencia to press Elias, whereas Teo sat goal-side of Fernandinho, thwarting the midfielder’s influence from deeper positions .

Another issue involved overall creativity. Fred endured an abysmal opening half, and while Willian started the match well, his transition into a diligent, functional winger solely offered brief moments of balance, and minimal guile on the pitch. This match was a prime example as to why Brazil misses Oscar: a technically disciplined midfielder that would likely stifle Sanchez from deep, whilst moving into wide positions to balance the attack and create space in central areas.

Colombia's defender Jeison Murillo (C) celebrates next to teammate Teofilo Gutierrez, after scoring against Brazil during their Copa America football match, at the Estadio Monumental David Arellano in Santiago, Chile, on June 17, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA

Colombia’s defender Jeison Murillo (C) celebrates next to teammate Teofilo Gutierrez, after scoring against Brazil during their Copa America football match, at the Estadio Monumental David Arellano in Santiago, Chile, on June 17, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA

Here, Dunga’s men were too narrow, which was odd considering their consistent source of attack against Peru developed through Dani Alves’ crossing. Brazil’s best chance stemmed through Alves: the right back received a pass from Fernandinho between the lines, before turning Murillo, driving to the box and delivering a cross to an unmarked Neymar, but David Ospina’s heroics preserved Colombia’s lead.

Apart from Neymar’s dribbling, which in fairness was fairly mediocre – in terms of evading challenges to beat defenders – Brazil lacked natural combinations, guile and creativity in the final third.

Colombia chances

As stated prior, both sides encountered difficulties in open play, which led to several players resorting to ambitious shots from distance. Colombia, however, enjoyed the better chances in transition and through their intense pressing.

Alves was dispossessed twice in the opening half – by James and Valencia – with both plays resulting in crosses from the left flank into the box, but neither midfielder was able to connect with the strikers. The strikers were paired against two physical Brazilian centre-backs and were unable to dominate around the box, yet when chances were presented it was the finishing and confidence, mainly from Falcao, that kept Brazil alive.

Then there were the quick transitions that were often sparked by deep balls from James to the flanks or over the Brazilian defence. There was a quick pass from James that hit off Teo into the path of Falcao, but the striker fired his effort wide. Yet, subsequently both Cuadrado and Falcao both stormed forward from half on individual runs, but neither player could hit the net.

Colombia’s pressing was vastly superior to Brazil’s throughout, and the combination of dynamism and creativity from Cuadrado and James posed several problems when they recovered possession.

Sanchez

More so, when you compare both sides, the major difference lied in the manner that both guarded central areas. The key man throughout was Sanchez, who formed an efficient pairing with Valencia.

Initially, Cristian Zapata and Jeison Murillo tracked Neymar’s runs in central areas, and proactively stepped forward to steer the tricky Brazilian away from goal – Murillo recorded a match-high seven interceptions. Yet, when Neymar moved into the midfield zone, Sanchez, who impressively completed five tackles and interceptions, often overpowered the Brazilian talisman.

With Neymar frustrated with the physicality throughout, Brazil was deprived of the penetrative runs that served as one of the few plausible sources for a goal. Ultimately, Brazil lacked a player in Sanchez’s mold – the provided adequate protection ahead of the back four, negating the opposition’s threat in the final third with powerful tackles, combined with vital last ditch blocks and interceptions.

Substitutions/Second Half

Following a disappointing opening half, Dunga turned to Philippe Coutinho to replace the underwhelming Fred. Whereas Brazil’s shape remained, it was evident Dunga was seeking another passer in midfield. The issue was that Coutinho’s incisive passing in tight spaces is mediocre, and he didn’t offer Brazil the required assistance. Coutinho excels in a deeper role in midfield, playing penetrative passes behind the defence, but here, he helped Brazil retain possession at a slow tempo, whereas his distribution was fairly sloppy.

Ultimately this made things worse for Brazil: They still remained narrow, and with Alves equally in a central position, Colombia simply sat two banks of four into a congested midfield. Brazil moved to a 4-3-3 with the introduction of Douglas Costa, and then Tardelli, but it equally didn’t alter the pattern of the match, as all three strikers maintained narrow positions.

Essentially, Brazil’s best chances came via transition through Neymar, and from a Murillo error that Firmino oddly squandered. Pekerman eventually moved to a 4-2-3-1 with the arrival of Victor Ibarbo, but their task remained the same. Maintain a compact shape, and break with numbers in transition to kill the game.

Cuadrado and James both came close following impressive individual moves, yet despite the two system alterations, stylistically, the second half was drab. Brazil couldn’t break down a determined Colombian outfit, yet while Pekerman’s men attacked well in numbers, their finishing was disappointing.

Conclusion

Two games into this year’s Copa America, and the vast dissimilarity between both Brazil performances highlights the lack of balance throughout the squad. While Colombia defended well for lengthy spells of the match, the lack of cohesion and heavy reliance on Neymar’s dribbling for creativity was vivid.

This wasn’t a vintage Colombian performance, but here, Pekerman’s tactics were spot on. Four years ago, Sanchez negated Lionel Messi’s threat against Argentina, and his performance was equally impressive on Neymar. The Colombian midfielder continuously thwarted Neymar’s mazy dribbles, preventing Brazil from attacking their zones with pace.

When two teams nearly at the same skill level play identical systems, the outcome of the match is often determined by definitive margins. Colombia were rarely tested due to Sanchez’s impressive job on Neymar, and in a match with very few created chances, Pekerman’s men displayed an effective approach to defeat Brazil.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Chile 2-0 Ecuador: Chile makes Ecuador pay for individual mistakes, despite a late direct resurgence

Chile's forward Alexis Sanchez (L) vies with Ecuador's forward Enner Valencia during the Copa America inauguration football match at the Nacional stadium in Santiago, on June 11, 2015. Chile won 2-0. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BERNETTI

Chile’s forward Alexis Sanchez (L) vies with Ecuador’s forward Enner Valencia during the Copa America inauguration football match at the Nacional stadium in Santiago, on June 11, 2015. Chile won 2-0. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BERNETTI

Chile squeaked past Ecuador to claim the first Copa America 2015 triumph, courtesy of goals from Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas.

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Mena doesn’t play both positions simultaneously, therefore Claudio Bravo was in net.

Jorge Sampaoli’s side operated in their expected 3-4-2-1 with Alexis Sanchez spearheading the attack ahead of Jorge Valdivia and Vidal. Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla started the match as advanced wingbacks, while Marcelo Diaz and Charles Aranguiz sat in midfield.

Gustavo Quinteros, the new man on the block for Ecuador, is without star player Antonio Valencia for the entire tournament, but persisted with the nation’s reliable 4-4-2. Enner Valencia and Miller Bolanos formed a strike partnership upfront, with Jefferson Montero and Fidel Martinez on the flanks. Christian Noboa was also handed a new partner in midfield, as Osbaldo Lastra made up the other half of the midfield duo.

This match distinctly typified both sides – Chile’s energy pegged Ecuador into their third for extensive periods in the first half, with Quinteros’ men defending near their box. Oddly, both sides opened up in the second half, creating their best chances in transition – the Ecuadorian’s squandered legitimate opportunities late on and were punished for two mental lapses.

Chile’s quick start

Stylistically, Chile may be the most exciting football side over the past five years, and their energetic start was slightly anticipated. Sampaoli’s men press higher up the pitch to break into tackles and possess dynamic attackers capable of making penetrative runs and evading challenges towards goal.

Ecuador, however started the match flat, and within the opening three minutes could have trailed by two goals. The moves, though, were quite contrasting: Aranguiz found Valdivia between the lines, thus leading to Sanchez darting past a few challenges to slide the ball wide of the net. Shortly afterwards, a simple Valdivia lob to Sanchez saw the Chilean audaciously attempt to chip goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.

Valdivia

The one recurring theme in Chile’s buildup throughout the first half involved Valdivia’s movement in Ecuador’s third. Without a legitimate centre forward upfront, Chile relied on Sanchez’s diagonal runs behind the defence, and Vidal charging into space from midfield.

Valdivia also charged into this space once to control a ball from Gonzalo Jara once in the first half, but for the most part his movement involved the attacking midfielder drifting laterally behind the Ecuadorian midfield duo, or dropping deeper into midfield to obtain the ball in midfield. Ultimately, Lastra and Noboa were overloaded 4v2 in midfield, and failed to prevent Valdivia from receiving passes between the lines.

However, the downfall to the Chilean’s movement was his final ball. Despite starting the game superbly in the final third, majority of Valdivia’s passes were unsuccessful – he completed 73% of his passes throughout, and although many were penetrative, the Chilean’s decision-making was poor.

This in result thwarted Chile’s approach. Frickson Erazo or Gabriel Achilier followed Sanchez when he was in search of the ball, but with Sampaoli’s men particularly reliant on runs behind the defence, Valdivia’s poor passing limited their territorial dominance.

Ecuador’s shape

Surely, Valdivia’s productivity proved beneficial to Ecuador in the first half, but this was further warning that their defensive shape was often substandard. They dropped into two banks of four when Chile monopolized possession in the final third, yet occasionally dropped into a 4-5-1 with Bolanos aiding Noboa and Lastra in protecting central areas.

Sampaoli’s decision to operate in a back three ensured that the hosts could play out of the back with a spare man, but they found joy in wide areas due to Vidal’s movement and the advanced wing-backs. With that being said, while Ecuador’s shape wasn’t necessarily impressive, the centre-backs admirably coped with crosses from wide areas, and limited Sanchez’s space to test Dominguez.

Chile down the right

Still, apart from the early spell of pressure, the hosts found it difficult to create goal-scoring chances. The intricate combination passes into tight areas was remarkable, but rarely did Sampaoli’s men successfully complete the final ball.

However, in the latter stages of the first half, Chile’s persistence on stretching the pitch proved successful. It was evident from the first whistle that Beausejour and Isla were instructed to stick near the touchline in an advanced position. Likewise, when Vidal wasn’t charging into the box, the midfielder stormed into these positions to combine with the wingbacks.

Vidal’s movement into these areas maintained balance, but also ensured Ecuador couldn’t remain compact in central areas for lengthy spells. Yet within a two-minute spell Vidal was involved in overloads with Isla and Sanchez. The first opportunity was a lovely passing move that saw Vidal back heel the ball into half space for Isla, but his cross was cleared. Then, Vidal’s initial forward pass enabled Sanchez and Isla to combine, but the right wing back curled his shot wide of the net.

Isla offered Chile an outlet down the right with his advanced movement, whereas Vidal drifted into these areas to maintain balance and create overloads – it appeared a plausible route to goal following an underwhelming first half.

Ecuador more direct

The second half was completely contrasting to the first in terms of the tempo and structure of both sides. For the most part, the match was fairly open with both sides taking turns breaking into space on the counter to launch attacks.

Perhaps this benefited Ecuador, who in fairness improved substantially in the second half. The lone chance to attack on the counter was wasted, and the attempts to bypass Chile’s midfield and defence with simple conservative passes proved unsuccessful.

Quinteros possesses the personnel to play a direct brand of football, which partially explains why Montero was positive in brief spells throughout, serving as Ecuador’s sole attacking threat in the first half. Apart from a lackadaisical mistake from Diaz, which led to a Martinez shot on goal, it was Montero’s dribbling that steered Ecuador towards goal – unfortunately, the winger’s crosses were underwhelming.

Alexis Sanchez of Chile discusses with Gabriel Achilier of Ecuador during the 2015 Copa America Chile Group A match between Chile and Ecuador at Nacional Stadium on June 11, 2015 in Santiago, Chile.

Alexis Sanchez of Chile discusses with Gabriel Achilier of Ecuador during the 2015 Copa America Chile Group A match between Chile and Ecuador at Nacional Stadium on June 11, 2015 in Santiago, Chile.

Montero simply drifted into space behind the advanced Isla – who operated as a wingback in the first half, and a natural right back in the second – before charging into dangerous areas. Valencia, though, was arguably Ecuador’s best player in the second half.

Frankly, this should have been Quinteros’ initial approach. Valencia exploited his physical and aerial superiority against a diminutive Chilean defence – nodding a free header off the crossbar in the latter stages of the second half – but his overall influence improved, as balls were constantly played into the striker to lay off to his teammates, allowing them to push forward and peg the hosts back.

Likewise, the Ecuadorian striker was involved in his side’s best moves. Great combination play and use of half space between Ayovi and Valencia saw the latter fire a shot inches wide of the net, whereas Lastra’s ball recovery in midfield led to the midfielder clipping a pass over the defence for the Ecuadorian striker, who nearly rounded Bravo to equalizer.

The decision to quickly launch balls into Valencia and Montero troubled Chile on a few occasions, and it equally provided Ecuador with an outlet to maximize the talents of their top players.

Chile moves to a 4-3-3

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The other noticeable tactical move saw Chile move from a 3-4-1-2 to a 4-3-3, which has been a common alteration under Sampaoli. Eduardo Vargas replaced Beausejour to join the attack, further pushing Vidal into midfield.

Although there was no significant change to Chile’s threat in open play – with Isla in an advanced position, there was arguably more space for Ecuador to break into – the fast paced second half saw Sanchez grow into game as he dropped deeper off Vargas to receive the ball. Sanchez ignited two breaks that resulted in a Vidal shot flying over the net, and the Chilean attacker sliding a pass into Vargas, but his effort was parried away by Dominguez.

The open game and move to a 4-3-3 offered Sanchez the space to run at defenders, opposed to his role in the first half where he was constantly fouled when he successfully evaded challenges on the half-turn. A poor pass from substitute Renato Ibarra led to Sanchez running at the defence to create Vargas’ winner: surely, the goal was created from a mistake – both Chilean goals were preventable – but had this been the first half, Sanchez would be looking to receive a pass, and it’s uncertain as to whether he would, further showcasing one of the few benefits to the move.

Substitutions

Chile reverted to a back trio once they took the lead, transitioning into a five-man defence when Ecuador maintained possession. Matias Fernandez – who received two bookings within a 20 minute span – replaced Valdivia was an expected change as the latter’s fitness prohibits him from completing many games, whereas David Pizarro made a brief appearance in the final 10 minutes.

Quinteros appeared content with Ecuador’s progress in the second half, as his two changes followed Vidal’s winner from the spot. Pedro Quinonez and Ibarra offered the required dynamism in midfield – however, apart from a late squandered Valencia opportunity, neither player could ignite a comeback.

Conclusion

This game went as expected – a tough fight for an exciting Chilean outfit that struggle to score goals, due to a shaky defence and the lack of a reliable striker. Chile was dominant in brief spells, throughout, but they didn’t create enough chances in the final third, instead capitalizing on simple Ecuadorian mistakes.

Ecuador’s approach, on the other hand, was quite peculiar. Perhaps the initial goal was to play reactive and cope with the expected pressure from the hosts, but they inevitably improved when they employed a direct game.

Stylistically, the second half epitomized the way the Ecuadorians should approach this tournament. They aren’t blessed with creative playmakers in central areas, but can rely on tricky wide players and an imposing centre forward – crosses into the box should remain their main route to goal.

Nevertheless, we didn’t learn anything new about these two sides. On the day Chile executed when chances were presented to them, as superior talent prevailed. Ecuador remains the team that can sustain pressure and pose a threat when they attack directly, whereas Chile has yet to identify a combination between exciting football and results.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Bayern Munich 6-1 Porto

thiago jackson

Bayern Munich overturned a poor away leg result with a convincing performance at the Allianz Arena.

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Pep Guardiola made one change to the side that suffered a defeat at the Dragao, introducing Holger Badstuber alongside Jerome Boateng at centre back.

Julen Lopetegui was without his first choice full-backs, which saw Diego Reyes and Marcano slot into Porto’s makeshift back-line. The Portuguese club’s front six was unchanged.

This was the antithesis of Bayern’s performance at Dragao, as they comfortably monopolized possession, whilst focusing on width to create chances.

Porto’s shape

The most interesting feat prior to the second leg was whether Porto would replicate the effective pressing that thwarted the Bavarians at Dragao. In Portugal, Lopetegui’s side pressed in phases out of possession, but here, the away side displayed considerable caution by dropping deeper into their half when Bayern surged forward.

Jackson continued to position himself goal-side of Xabi Alonso to prevent service into the Spaniard, along with preventing him from dictating the tempo from deep. Ricardo Quaresma and Yacine Brahimi moved towards the Bayern fullbacks, with only Hector Herrera pushing forward to aid the front three.

For the most part, Lopetegui’s makeshift back four weren’t keen on surging into advanced areas, and Porto often sat deeper in a 4-5-1 with the wingers pegged back due to Bayern’s adventurous fullbacks. The Porto wingers couldn’t dribble away from pressure, and with two makeshift fullbacks – who are natural centre backs – the decision to play a highline would be too risky.

Guardiola adjusts

However, the main talking point surrounded Bayern’s set up. In the first leg, Bayern’s 4-3-1-2 deprived the German side of natural width, and they equally encountered difficulties getting service into their attacking players.

Gotze Lahm Porto

Guardiola reacted to Bayern’s insufficiencies at Dragao by moving to a natural 4-4-2 with Phillip Lahm and Mario Gotze as wingers, while Lewandowski and Muller formed a natural strike partnership. Lahm aimed to combine with Rafinha and Muller, whereas Gotze stuck wide and drifted infield to create space for Bernat to surge into.

Thiago Alcantara porto

Both elements of width were non-existent in the first leg, enabling Porto to congest central areas and easily regain possession. Here, their initial shape was stretched, which presented more gaps for the likes of Thiago and Alonso to play into. But with both men faced with the task of evading Porto’s pressing in midfield, Badstuber and Boateng continuously pinged passes into wide areas.

Ultimately Gotze and Lahm’s wide positioning benefitted Lewandowski and Muller, as they effectively thrived as a natural strike duo. Lewandowski, renowned for his ability to operate as a poacher and a player to drop deep, was at his supreme best here.

Apart from the goal, Bayern’s best moves were created from the front two’s movement – Lewandowski would drop deep, whereas Muller would charge into the space behind the Porto defence. Bayern’s first legitimate chance was a prime example. Lewandowski dropped to the centre circle to receive service, and subsequently flicked the ball into space for Muller, thus leading to Fabiano making a good save, and the Pole hitting the post.

Although a traditional 4-4-2 is quite simplistic in the modern era, Guardiola’s alteration solved the main attacking issues Bayern faced in the first leg. Lahm and Gotze’s width created space for Alonso and Thiago to control the game in midfield, whereas Muller and Lewandowski operated as a classic strike partnership and attacked crosses into the box.

Bayern’s goals

Bayern’s superiority was evident throughout the first half, and width was equally crucial in the buildup to their goals. Coincidentally, their lone away goal in the first leg stemmed from a Boateng cross, and in the first half, Guardiola’s men continuously launched balls into the box.

Initially it was Rafinha’s over hit cross that fell to Gotze, and his lay off to Bernat saw the Spaniard run past Quaresma to deliver a devastating ball towards the near post, which Thiago nodded past Fabiano. Badstuber and Boateng rose high to combine, as the latter nodded in Alonso’s cross from a short corner for Bayern’s second.

bayern goal porto

Still, it was the third goal that epitomized their approach. It was a truly superb goal that witnessed a 26 pass move conclude with a wonderful Thiago diagonal to the right flank and three magnificent first touches: Lahm instantly delivered the ball into the box, and Muller directed it into the path of Lewandowski who finished superbly.

As expected, the Bayern dominated possession, but Porto couldn’t cope with countless crosses into the box, which epitomized Guardiola’s successful tactical modification.

Second half

Both managers reacted to Bayern’s first half onslaught with caution: Ruben Neves replaced Quaresma as Porto transitioned into a 3-5-1-1 with Brahimi behind Jackson. Porto’s additional ball playing midfielder helped the away side enjoy longer spells of possession – Bayern’s pressing decreased – while the wingbacks pushed higher up the pitch to prevent Bayern’s fullbacks from storming forward.

Porto’s changes were made to gain control of the match through possession, and direct balls into Jackson led to a goal and great chance shortly afterwards. Jackson was still isolated upfront, and though Herrera assisted his side’s sole goal, the Mexican and Brahimi rarely combined with the Porto striker.

 Alonso Muller Brahimi

Bayern’s intent to close the match out through possession saw Guardiola move to a 4-3-3 with Lahm moving into midfield. Yet, Bayern’s best chances prior to Jackson’s consolation goal stemmed through deliveries from the right flank. The German outfit won the tie with a terrific first half performance, and the final 45 minutes were merely based around preventing further embarrassment.

Conclusion

Bayern were heavy favourites to mount a comeback in the second leg, and this was a truly remarkable display. Surely Porto displayed increased caution and pragmatism in comparison to their first leg triumph, but this was more about Guardiola altering the mistakes made in Portugal.

Put simply, Bayern focused on width and crossing to overturn the first leg result: it was a simple, yet effective approach. This was another example of Bayern’s augmented flexibility and evolution under Guardiola.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Chelsea 2-2 PSG (AET): Blanc outwits Mourinho as PSG are rewarded for their bravery following Ibrahimovic’s dismissal

Fabregas veratti

Ten men PSG relied on goals from their Brazilian centre backs to come from behind on two separate occasions, effectively knocking Chelsea out of the Champions League at Stamford Bridge

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Jose Mourinho made one change to the side that featured in France, with Oscar joining Eden Hazard and Ramires behind Diego Costa. This was the expected Chelsea XI with the back four unchanged, while Cesc Fabregas dropped deeper to form a midfield duo with the returning Nemanja Matic, and Ramires operated on the right to help contain Blaise Matuidi.

Laurent Blanc welcomed back Thiago Motta into the XI alongside Marco Verratti and Matuidi to form a midfield trio. Javier Pastore was selected over compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right of a three-pronged attack, with David Luiz moving to centre back and Marquinhos pushing Gregory Van der Wiel to the bench.

Although PSG never took the lead, the French champions displayed the confidence to not only maintain their initial approach, but also outplay and outmuscle a limp Chelsea side that held a man advantage for over 90 minutes.

Cagey opening period

This was a contrast of last year’s return leg at Stamford Bridge. On that night, Chelsea required two goals to secure progression, and PSG happily sat deep in their half, with the intent of playing on the counter. But this time around, a scoreless draw would see the French champions crash out of the tournament, which led many to believe an entertaining European clash was on the horizon.

Marquinhos van der wiel chelsea psg 2014 2015

The interesting feat in the opening half hour, however, was the manner in which both sides approached the match without the ball. Blanc’s men maintained a medium block and their pressing, led by Verratti, was initiated when Chelsea’s attacking players entered the French side’s half. Chelsea aimed to peg PSG into their half from the opening kickoff, with Oscar joining Diego Costa in leading the press. PSG enjoyed lengthy spells of possession in the first leg with Verratti and Luiz retaining possession near the semi-circle, but Mourinho instructed his men to cut off those passes. Costa and Oscar sat between the two players, while Matic sporadically pushed forward to aid the aforementioned attackers.

Still, PSG was better equipped for Chelsea’s threat in open play and it started with the inclusion of Marquinhos, who was handed the task of negating Hazard’s threat down the left – mainly because van der Wiel struggled in the first leg. Hazard was fairly quiet down the left in this regard, only enjoying a powerful run when he skipped past Pastore in the third minute.

On the other hand, Cesar Azpilicueta was a tad more adventurous. The Spanish left back moved into advanced positions due to Pastore’s reluctance to track his runs, along with his narrow positioning, but his attacking impact was scarce. Nonetheless, an interesting feat of the second leg was the risk Blanc took on the left. With Cavani often in a central position, Branislav Ivanovic, the best right back in the Premier League, and Ramires, a powerful runner received space to overload Maxwell. Oddly, Chelsea’s activity often transpired on the opposite flank, whilst Matuidi’s discipline was evident, as his tireless work ethic saw the French midfielder track Ramires and Ivanovic when they attempted to surge forward.

Chelsea attacks

While Chelsea’s attacking six combined well with nifty intricate passing, the Blues lacked a final ball on numerous occasions. And despite the likes of Oscar, Costa and Fabregas finding space between the lines to receive the ball, Chelsea’s creative players were underwhelming.

Chelsea PSG shots prior iBRA SEND OFF

A tame Oscar effort was the sole attempt on target from both sides combined, but more importantly, Mourinho’s side were breaking into key areas. On two occasions in the first half, Thibaut Courtois coolly collected corners and instantly ignited breaks with his quick throws. First, Fabregas found Oscar between the lines but his heavy touch halted the play. Then, Courtois’ rolled ball to Hazard earned Matuidi a booking for tugging the Belgian to the ground. Chelsea’s quick breaks from Courtois throws were promising, but ultimately, the quality in the final third was disappointing.

As stated prior, it was peculiar to see Chelsea reluctant to overload Maxwell or increase Matuidi’s workload. Costa, who was heavily isolated in Paris, drifted to the left to avoid 1v2 situations with Luiz and Silva, and attempt to combine with Hazard. Silva eventually shifted over to the left to provide Marquinhos cover as the match progressed, and despite a splendid individual slalom that led to a penalty shout, Costa rarely outfoxed the Brazilian centre backs.

10 v 11

The turning point in this frenetic second leg took place when Ibrahimovic was harshly dismissed for a tackle on Oscar. Despite occasionally dropping deep to help PSG push forward and launch counter attacks, the Swede hardly influenced the match – in reality, the sending off was beneficial to the French side.

Oddly, the tempo of Chelsea’s passing and movement decreased, which ensured PSG’s solid shape was rarely threatened. Likewise, Blanc’s formation remained the same: Cavani moved upfront, with Matuidi playing a dual role on the left, and Pastore drifting laterally into pockets of space on the right.

PSG dominate

More so, PSG’s assertion of dominance was spectacular considering the French side was down a man against the Premier League leaders. In particular, Motta and Verratti were the key men: they completed the most passes (Motta 95 and Verratti 80) and achieved over a 90 per-cent passing rate.

Motta verratti passing tackles chelsea 2014 2015

The duo grew in prominence in the second half, as Chelsea’s work ethic and approach out of possession was shocking, while their energy levels significantly decreased. Mourinho’s side sat in two banks of four, but the midfield band wasn’t compact, and there was plenty of space to drift into to receive the ball. PSG’s ball playing midfielders weren’t pressed, and when so, it was often disjointed, which could explain why the top passing combinations in the match involved Motta and Verratti.

Motta verratti pass combo chelsea

Similar to Verratti, Matic pushed forward to press the Italian – the duo led the match with five fouls committed – and disrupt the away side’s passing rhythm, but apart from the Serbian’s effort, Chelsea was overloaded in midfield. The midfield trio casually waltzed into pockets of space to serve as passing options, and Pastore also dropped deeper to offer an outlet.

Matic Verratti fouls chelsea psg 2014 2015

PSG’s best move of the match, and arguably the tie, illustrated the freedom they received in midfield. Prior to picking up the ball near his box and quickly combining with Marquinhos and Motta, the Italian evaded challenges from Hazard and Willian, slid a pass between the lines for Pastore, who finally connected a through-ball to Cavani – who ran behind Fabregas and off the shoulder of Ramires – to round Courtois, but he fired his shot off the post.

Cavani was culpable for missing two key chances in the same tie last season, and although he was nearly responsible for their exit once again, the move vividly epitomized a mobile, yet fluid side in the second half. Cavani played off the shoulder of the centre backs, Matuidi continued to shuttle forward from the left to try to connect with crosses from wide areas, Motta sat deeper and retained the ball, Verratti offered tenacity and intelligent passing with his dynamism, and Pastore’s aim to drift into pockets of space and play through balls should have resulted in a goal.

Perhaps Chelsea can be criticized for their dire play, but PSG were clearly the better side in the second half, with their ball playing midfielders overloading central areas to steamroll Chelsea’s midfield.

Substitutions

Apart from Willian’s second half arrival, it was interesting to see both managers attempt to alter the match subsequent to Cahill’s opener – there was less than 10 minutes remaining in the match.

Blanc called upon Adrien Rabiot and Ezequiel Lavezzi to replace Matuidi and Verratti with PSG moving to a 4-2-2-1. Rabiot and Motta sat in midfield, with Lavezzi and Pastore behind Cavani – the former stormed forward from the right to play closer to the Uruguayan striker, and the latter persisted with drifting between the lines.

Within seconds, Pastore’s move to the left proved beneficial as it offered Maxwell space to surge past Willian to deliver a cross to Lavezzi in the box, but the Argentine’s header flew right at Courtois. Then, Maxwell’s adventurous off the ball run enabled Pastore to isolate Willian to earn that corner that resulted in Luiz’s equalizer.

Mourinho, on the other hand, remained cautious and introduced Kurt Zouma for the knackered Matic, and similar to big matches against both Manchester clubs this season, the Blues conceded a late goal after dropping deep to soak up pressure. Mourinho turned to Didier Drogba in extra-time opposed to Juan Cuadrado or Loic Remy, and was likely aiming to add an additional aerial presence in the box.

Drogba moved upfront, and Costa was now positioned on the left, which in truth, didn’t harm Chelsea because Marquinhos rarely ventured forward and the Spanish international was often positioned in that area throughout the match. The Ivorian served as an expedient outlet for Hazard to play off of in extra-time, but Marquinhos and Salvatore Sirigu’s last ditch efforts prevented the Blues from notching a third goal.

Set pieces

Nevertheless, set pieces, or to be specific, aerial duels, proved decisive over 210 minutes of football. The first leg saw three Chelsea defenders combine for an unorthodox away goal, PSG aim to isolate Cesar Azpilicueta via crosses, and Cavani rising high to snatch a second half equalizer.

Both sides possess dominant aerial players, and the lack of guile and creativity – despite PSG showcasing both as they pushed for a goal and created a few half chances in the second half – increased the significance of set pieces. Where Sirigu desperately flapped at corners throughout, PSG’s inability to clear their lines resulted in both Chelsea goals.

However, PSG’s two goals were quite extraordinary considering their corners and crosses into the box in the opening half – that Courtois easily snagged – were poor. But moments of sheer brilliance from the world’s most expensive centre backs, combined with shocking marking from Chelsea’s defenders, saw Luiz’s thunderous header force extra-time, and Silva win the tie on away goals – he beat Terry on two occasions within minutes, as Courtois made a stellar save prior to the equalizer.

Conclusion

PSG’s performance at Stamford Bridge was superb, and amazingly it appears Ibrahimovic’s dismissal was a blessing in disguise. The French side was unconvincing prior to the sending off, as Chelsea’s numerical advantage altered the Blues’ approach both mentally and tactically.

Blanc, however, deserves credit for his game management. The French manager stuck with his initial approach in a major European tie at Stamford Bridge: his side was defensively organized out of possession, while the ball playing midfielders were vastly superior in central areas.

Mourinho was astonishingly unprepared for this situation, and his sluggish midfielders, particularly Matic (who trained once prior to kick-off) failed to dictate the tempo of the match and were severely underwhelming in the final third. The Blues were lethargic in possession, and they were shockingly open without the ball in the second half, lacking the structure and solidity required to compete with PSG’s powerful, yet technical ball playing midfielders.

In recent years, Mourinho has been left humbled in world football’s most prestigious tournament, but here, he was outcoached and outwitted by Blanc’s bravery. While Chelsea and Mourinho continue the club’s “evolution” – a mission to return the former to Europe’s elite – Blanc will hope PSG’s historic triumph could be the catalyst in the club’s journey into that exclusive group.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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