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Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool: Rodgers alters formation to stifle Arsenal’s passing and break with speed

Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool takes a shot at goal under pressure from Hector Bellerin of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. CREDIT: JULIAN FINNEY

Liverpool and Arsenal played to entertaining draw at the Emirates Stadium.

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Arsene Wenger was forced into forming a make-shift centre-back partnership of Gabriel and Calum Chambers, as first choice defenders Per Mertesacker (illness) and Laurent Koscielny (back issue) unavailable. Wenger persisted with the same front six that started a week prior at Selhurst Park.

Brendan Rodgers tinkered with the system that earned Liverpool two wins to start the season, moving to a compact 4-3-3. Roberto Firmino made his official Premier League debut from the right, while Emre Can and Lucas Leiva joined James Milner in midfield.

The abundance of attacking players in the starting XI combined with shaky back-lines suggested that there would be goals at the Emirates, but this action-packed, open affair shockingly concluded with neither side converting their chances. The Reds were dominant in the opening half, but as they tired Arsenal gained territorial dominance but were vulnerable in transition – put simply, it was a game of two distinct halves.

Rodgers adjusts

The most interesting story line heading into the match surrounded Rodgers XI. Liverpool kick-started their campaign with two unconvincing displays – albeit claiming maximum points – and with Jordan Henderson unavailable due to a foot injury, the opportunity to include a defensive-minded midfielder was a logical move.

Here, Rodgers moved to a 4-3-3, moving Milner and Emre Can as shuttlers ahead of Lucas. This was significant due to the risk of being overrun in midfield with Henderson and Milner started ahead of the back four, as neither player is a legitimate ball winner.

The 4-3-3’s defensive base shape is a 4-5-1, and Liverpool’s midfield band remained narrow and compact, improving the overall structure of the side. Rodgers was expected to alter his side’s approach against Arsenal’s fluid attack, and the move to a 4-3-3 suited the side, improving their natural balance and defensive solidity.

Liverpool’s quick start

Considering the several new additions to Rodgers’ squad combined with the Reds’ poor displays thus far, their energetic start came as a surprise. Surely, Rodgers most impressive win against Arsenal followed this template, but here, the lack of familiarity within the squad suggested that the home side would dictate the opening period.

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However, within the opening five minutes, Liverpool exploited Arsenal’s inexperienced make-shift back four and their fullback’s advanced positioning. Can was free to charge into left half-space before pulling back the ball for Benteke, but the Belgian slashed his shot wide. A similar move occurred a few minutes later, as Milner played in the Liverpool striker in right half-space, resulting in Coutinho firing the subsequent pullback off the cross-bar.

It’s key to note that Arsenal scored a lovely goal that was wrongly disallowed, yet shortly afterwards Lucas dispossessed Alexis, and clever work from the two Brazilian’s placed Benteke into right half-space, but Petr Cech made a key save. Oddly, Arsenal started poorly, with the Reds dominating half-spaces between both advanced full-backs, but once again, their profligacy in the final third proved costly.

Arsenal’s poor passing

Equally, the additional component to Arsenal’s difficulty in the opening half, and Liverpool’s dominance, involved the former’s poor passing in their half and the final third.

Much credit should be awarded to Lucas who negated Ozil’s threat between the lines and blocked off passes into Giroud. Wenger’s side found it difficult to break past Liverpool’s narrow 4-5-1 – Can and Milner closed down Arsenal’s midfield duo when they received possession, depriving the Gunners a genuine link between midfield and attack.

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Essentially, teams bypass midfield pressure through service from the back-line, but the inexperienced Arsenal centre-backs proved inadequate options. Chambers, in particular, enjoyed a dreadful half, conceding possession three times to Coutinho alone.

Liverpool’s midfield quintet was also influential via collective pressing, as they harried Arsenal’s duo when they attempted to play short passes through central areas. One incident in the opening half witnessed Lucas, Milner, Can, and Coutinho harry Coquelin and Cazorla, which forced the former to make a desperate last-ditch tackle to halt Benteke’s surge into the box.

At times, Arsenal produce their best football when they play quick combination passes amongst each other, but Wenger’s men failed to gain a rhythm due to Liverpool’s pressing, Lucas’ positioning, and incompetent passing out of their half.

Arsenal improve

As expected, Liverpool were unable to maintain their pressing over the course of 90 minutes, thus reverting back to a narrow 4-5-1 deep in their half. Therefore, the Gunners were free to monopolize possession in the box, and penetrate wide areas to create chances.

Now was the ideal time for Bellerin and Monreal to surge forward, and the full-backs delivered positive crosses into the box. Movement from wide areas led to Alexis hitting the post, and a Bellerin cross resulted in Giroud squandering a glorious opportunity to nick a winner in the six-yard box.

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Giroud benefitted from the shift in dominance, as he was subdued in the first half due to lack of service in the final third – Lucas’ influence also played a factor. The Frenchman wouldn’t be deemed a prolific finisher, but his superb link-up play virtually makes him an additional playmaker – hence, why he improved once his teammates received space to play passes into him and charge forward.

It’s unsurprising to see Giroud involved in Arsenal’s best moves during their 20-minute spell of dominance, and though he missed a key chance to put the Gunners ahead, it was odd to see the Frenchman replaced for Theo Walcott.

Liverpool swift attacks

With the Gunners pushing men forward, there was ample space for Rodgers’ men to exploit on the counter. Liverpool broke quickly in the first half, but most moves involved the Reds pressing higher up the pitch to win possession.

Contrastingly, Gomez, and substitute Alberto Moreno, won the ball in their own half before charging forward into Arsenal’s half on the counter. The former’s opportunity witnessed Milner fire a shot directly at Cech, while the latter’s poor decision-making saw him overrun the ball opposed to playing in the unmarked Can.

Nevertheless, the away side’s additional method of attack in the final quarter of the match was strictly direct. Lucas located Coutinho between the lines, and the Brazilian evaded a few challenges from deep to test Cech from distance – the Liverpool attacker also skipped past Bellerin to test the Arsenal keeper. Then a simple Mignolet punt resulted in Benteke winning an aerial duel and subsequently combining with Firmino to fire a wayward shot over the net.

Wenger’s late direct attempt

While Rodgers appeared content with the result in the final half hour, Wenger made attacking alterations to introduce pace in the final third. Walcott replaced Giroud upfront, whereas Coquelin was sacrificed for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, pushing Ramsey alongside Cazorla upfront.

The risky change deprived Arsenal of a natural ball-winner, yet the introduction of Chamberlain would have benefited Giroud upfront. Liverpool’s deep defensive line prevented the Walcott from running behind the opposition’s back-line, but Oxlade-Chamberlain merited why he’s due for a starting role, particularly in home games.

Courtesy of: Getty Images/David Price Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Courtesy of: Getty Images/David Price
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Ramsey’s driving runs from midfield did present a chance that nearly fooled Mignolet, but it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who forced the Belgian into several saves, foiling a weak area in Joe Gomez. Perhaps a pairing of Ramsey and Cazorla left Arsenal susceptible to quick counters, but the Gunners lacked powerful deep runners throughout the match, and Chamberlain’s inclusion improved the balance in the final third and the likelihood of a winner.

Conclusion

Most goal-less draws are quickly classified as dull encounters, but this fixture was fairly open and entertaining despite the poor finishing throughout. Liverpool will feel unlucky not to put the match out of sight in the first, yet Arsenal moved into better positions in the second, and should have executed.

“Performance-wise I was very happy with how we worked. First half in particular we created chances and should have been in front. In the second half you always expect pressure,” said Rodgers.

“Our performance level has grown over time, our defensive organization is good against big teams.”

Rodgers displayed his tactical awareness and flexibility with the inclusion of Can and Lucas in midfield, thus leading to Liverpool’s best performance of the season. They pressed and harried superbly in central zones, maintained a narrow shape when required to do so, and constantly exploited Arsenal’s make-shift back four when they swiftly broke on the counter – inevitably all that was missing was the all-important goal to classify this as a remarkable away display.

The same can’t be said for Wenger, as Arsenal’s entire set-up was peculiar. From the full-backs maintaining advanced positions, to not providing another holding midfield to help Coquelin protect the back four, the home side’s display was appalling. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s direct running from the right was beneficial, but this served as further evidence that Wenger must identify his preferred attacking quartet sooner rather than later.

It appears Rodgers finally has a team that fits his stylistic preference – in regards to funds available – and his decision to move to a 4-3-3 highlights that while he can make mistakes, his side still remains tactically flexible. More so, this could be the Liverpool manager’s approach in big games until Daniel Sturridge returns to the XI.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus

Alvaro Morata of Juventus celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Real Madrid CF and Juventus at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.

Juventus progressed to their first European final in 12 years, earning a significant 1-1 draw against holders Real Madrid.

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Massimiliano Allegri made one change to his XI that defeated the Real Madrid last week in Turin, slotting Paul Pogba into midfield alongside Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo.

Carlo Ancelotti persisted with a 4-4-2, welcoming back Karim Benzema to his attack, and pushing Sergio Ramos to centre-back alongside Raphael Varane.

In ways, this was very similar to the first leg: despite Real negating service into Juve’s strikers, the away side nicked an early second half goal, and remained organized and compact in deeper positions to close out the match.

Real stop overload/Shape

Sometimes it’s interesting to see how a personnel change can shift the pattern of an overall tie. Juve maintained an overload in central areas in the opening stages of the first leg due to Gareth Bale’s reluctance to press Pirlo – along with Vidal dropping deeper – thus providing Allegri’s side with an outlet into the strikers.

Benzema’s inclusion, however, ensured it was 4v4 in midfield. Juventus, though, encountered a few issues with their system. Even though Marchisio and Pogba pressed the Real full-backs when they received the ball, the Juventus midfielders couldn’t cope with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal’s adventurous running.

kroos juventus

Also, while Benzema stuck close to Pirlo, neither Carlos Tevez nor Alvaro Morata were interested in picking up Toni Kroos. Kroos was free to dictate the tempo of the match from deep positions, often playing a few exquisite diagonal balls behind Pogba for Carvajal.

Marcelo

It’s not often that defensive players serve as the most significant factors in key European ties, but both full-backs were pivotal to Real’s goal threat. In the first leg it was Dani Carvajal’s clever ball into half space that allowed James to create Ronaldo’s goal, and here, Marcelo was equally important.

Against sides that play in two narrow banks of four, with midfielders playing in wide roles – specifically Atletico – Ancelotti has relied on the width from his full-backs to stretch the game – it’s quite simple, but the quality in these areas coincide with Real’s efficiency.

However, Marcelo’s threat was displayed in several ways throughout the match. In the first minute he stormed past Marchisio and clipped the ball to the far post, but Bale’s tame header flew over the net. Later on in the half, the Brazilian showcased his passing range – Marchisio also failed to close him down quickly – by clipping a ball into half space for Benzema, but Patrice Evra cleared his compatriot’s pull back to Ronaldo.

For the most part, majority of Madrid’s attacks stemmed down the left flank, with Ronaldo occasionally drifting over to the touch-line to create space for himself to receive the ball, It was Marcelo’s pass into Ronaldo that led to the Portuguese forward charging towards the box, before James won the penalty that put Madrid ahead.

Where Ancelotti may have introduced attacking full-backs later in the second half to torment a leggy back-line, both started at the Bernabeu as Madrid were required to score. Still, Marcelo didn’t tire and overloaded the left flank on two occasions – with James and Isco initially, then Ronaldo – but Bale skewed both chances inches wide of the net.

Marcelo juventus

Marcelo was undoubtedly Madrid’s best player — he was the catalyst behind Madrid’s best moves, and recorded the most take-ons and passes in the final third.

Juve approach

It appeared that Allegri might have reverted to a 5-3-2 to preserve a slender first leg lead, but the Juventus manager persisted with four ball-playing midfielders, and simply instructing his defensive line to sit a few yards deeper.

Following a shaky 10-minute spell, it was evident that the plan was to instantly get the ball into Morata and Tevez’s feet. Initially, Tevez aimed to scamper between the lines, while Morata played off the last shoulder, but the away side got into dangerous positions through the former breaking into Madrid’s half.

Tevez dispossessed Kroos twice in the first half to break forward, storming into Madrid’s half to win a corner, while Vidal forced Iker Casillas to make a key save. Though Juve was calm in possession, and retained the ball confidently in short spells, apart from quick breaks through Tevez, the away side failed to create legitimate goal scoring opportunities from open play.

Madrid counter

Another interesting feat at the Bernabeu was the pattern change following Ronaldo’s opener. Both sides operated in a variation of a 4-4-2, and where Juve initially dropped into two banks of four, Real followed suit knowing Ronaldo’s penalty would secure progression.

The issue with Allegri’s selection, however, was the lack of natural width. This meant Evra and Stephane Lichtsteiner surged forward to help stretch the pitch, thus leaving space in the channels for Madrid to break into. Similar to Juve, Ancelotti’s side easily ignited swift counters to move into dangerous positions, but this was purely based on the system tweak opposed to individual errors.

First, James’ clearance into the left channel freed up Benzema to play a reverse ball into Ronaldo, but the recovering Lichtsteiner’s presence – despite being dropped to the floor – forced the Portuguese forward to deliver a cross, rather than shoot. Real exposed space behind Lichtsteiner minutes later through a simple Bale outlet pass, but this time the Swiss defender’s recovery run forced Ronaldo to rush his shot into the side netting.

Pogba moved in-field to create space for Evra in the early stages, but the Juve were susceptible to counters when they pushed the full-backs forward. Both Lichtsteiner and Evra were cautious with their positioning in the second half.

Ramos – Varane

Sergio Ramos’ poor outing in Turin led to Ancelotti placing the Spaniard in his preferred position at the Bernabeu, which helped Real shut down Juve’s main threat. Real’s centre-backs proactively stepped forward to intercept passes and prevent the away side’s front pairing from turning towards goal.

Ramos juventus

Although this effectively limited passes into the strikers, there were moments, when Morata in particular, held up the ball superbly and linked play with his teammates. Likewise, this forced Ramos and Varane into silly challenges away from Juve’s half, enabling the Italian club to push forward to alleviate constant waves of pressure.

Morata and Tevez fouled

Coincidentally, it was Ramos’ clumsy challenge on Vidal that resulted in Morata scoring from the subsequent set-piece. Perhaps Ramos and Varane’s proactive defending stifled Juve’s main strength in the first leg, but it equally backfired on the European champions.

Final half hour

Morata’s equalizer prompted both managers to make identical moves from the first leg to alter the match. This time Javier Hernandez replaced Benzema, whereas Allegri reverted to a 5-3-2 with Andrea Barzagli moving into defence at Pirlo’s expense.

The match followed a similar pattern at the Bernabeu with Madrid chasing a goal, and Juve sitting deep in their half to defend their lines. Ancelotti’s side reverted to hopeless crosses that were comfortably dealt with, and shots from distance that failed to test Gianluigi Buffon.

Juve, on the other hand, equally had their chances, with Vidal breaking lines on two occasions, yet Morata and Tevez were reluctant to set the Chilean free on goal. Another example of Morata’s hold up play was also on display when he rolled Varane to play a pass into Vidal, who instantly slid the ball to Marchisio in the box, but Casillas made a key save.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF duels for the ball with Arturo Vidal of Juventus during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Real Madrid CF and Juventus at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF duels for the ball with Arturo Vidal of Juventus during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Real Madrid CF and Juventus at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.

Fernando Llorente and Roberto Pereyra were summoned in the latter stages, with the former also holding off Varane to create a chance for Pogba – further showcasing Allegri making better use of his bench than Ancelotti. Madrid lacked imagination for large portions of the second half, and despite the home side’s territorial dominance – and a few squandered Bale efforts – they never looked like scoring.

Conclusion

Stylistically, there were minimal changes to the tactical battle at the Bernabeu. Madrid continued to attack through their full backs, and attempted to thwart Juve’s threat through proactive defending from their centre-backs.

Yet the pattern in both legs perfectly illustrated Real’s issue this season. They squandered several chances in the opening period, stagnated and conceded a goal midway through the match, and failed to provide Ronaldo with service (reverting to hopeless crosses into the box) in the latter stages.

More importantly, Juve didn’t concede in open play, and deserve credit for defending superbly in two banks of four, while executing from a set-piece. Allegri comfortably out-coached Ancelotti over two legs, and will likely be forced to adopt similar tactics against Barcelona’s fluid South American attacking trio in Berlin.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid

TURIN, ITALY - MAY 05: Alvaro Morata of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images) Credit: Marco Luzzani / stringer

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 05: Alvaro Morata of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League semi final match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Credit: Marco Luzzani / stringer

Juventus recorded an impressive home victory against reigning European champions Real Madrid, courtesy of goals from Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata.

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Massimiliano Allegri was still without Paul Pogba in his preferred 4-3-1-2, and handed Stefano Sturaro a place in midfield alongside, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo in midfield.

Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo formed a pacy strike partnership upfront in Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-4-2. Sergio Ramos maintained his makeshift role in midfield with Toni Kroos, whereas James Rodriguez and Isco drifted infield from the flanks.

This was something of a traditional European Juventus performance under Allegri: the Bianconeri attacked directly with balls into the strikers, and once they regained the lead in the second half, showcased the ideal manner in closing out a match through organized defending.

Juve welcomes pressure

The most interesting tactical approach throughout full-time was Juve’s approach in the first half. Most Serie A teams are often ridiculed for their inability to cope with intense pressing and dynamic opposition, but under Allegri, Juve have managed to overcome the stereotype.

Similar to their victory over Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16, Juve intended luring Real forward with patient passes in their half, and then bypassing the press with simple lofted balls into their strikers. Real, however, weren’t keen on blitzing the hosts with pressure in the opening minutes, and were at times reluctant to move higher up the pitch as a unit. A simple Leonardo Bonucci punt saw Morata’s presence fluster Pepe, but the Spaniard’s audacious chip nearly fooled Iker Casillas.

Nonetheless, with Vidal dropping deeper into midfield to create overloads, Juve were free to play vertical passes into advanced positions, and Tevez shifted into space behind Ramos and Kroos. It was Pirlo’s ball into Tevez between the lines that led to Sturaro recording Juve’s first shot on target. Following a terrific Juventus passing move, it was Tevez again that drifted into an ocean of space between Marcelo and Raphael Varane to receive a pass from Marchisio, and fire a low shot at Casillas, which ultimately resulted in Morata’s tap in.

Juventus goal real madrid

This was a brave decision from Allegri, but Morata’s positioning on the last defender stretched Real’s shape, and the Spanish side’s reluctance to press, combined with Juve’s overload in central areas, enabled Tevez to find space between the lines.

Real sloppy in possession

Juve was equally proactive without the ball in the early stages. The shuttlers pushed forward on the wingers, and while Kroos was free to retain the ball, Juve’s centre backs weren’t scared to step forward ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

There was a moment when Chiellini stepped forward to dispossess Bale, which resulted in Tevez receiving the ball in space and firing an audacious effort wide of the net. Sturaro also nicked the ball off Ramos in the opening half and broke down the left channel before cutting the ball back to the Argentine striker, but his effort was poor once again.

More importantly it was Morata who led by example: the Spaniard forced Casillas into a poor pass to Marchisio that led to a Vidal penalty shout, and dispossessed Varane in Real’s box, but was harshly penalized for a foul. While lackadaisical play from several Real players resulted in several Juve transitional moves, the hosts’ discipline to quickly close down their markers proved beneficial.

Real attacks

Real eventually settled into the match once Juve dropped deeper into two narrow banks of four. This was the identical shape Real adopted when Juve monopolized possession, but where the Italian champions appeared perplexed when required to break down the opposition, the away side overcame their issues through width from the full-backs.

With James and Isco moving infield, central areas were congested, which could also explain the former’s delivery into the box for Varane serving as Juve’s first scare. Prior to Ronaldo’s goal, it was the Portuguese forward’s diagonal run between the centre-backs to meet Isco’s delicate through ball that stretched the Juventus back-line.

However, Juventus’ deep positioning prevented Ronaldo and Bale space to run into, and their narrow shape limited Real’s creative players from sliding incisive balls behind the back four. Where Juve bypassed Real’s midfield band with balls into the forwards, the away side countered their issue by pushing the fullbacks forward. Coincidentally, the duo completed the most passes in the attacking third at Juventus Stadium.

Marcelo Carvajal juventus

It was Dani Carvajal’s clever ball into half-space for James that bamboozled Juve’s defence and allowed the Colombian to deliver the cross for Ronaldo’s equalizer. It was one of many long passing moves – and also similar to Juve’s patient buildup for Morata’s opener – that eventually prevailed due to width. Real nearly took the lead minutes from half-time from a similar move that saw Marcelo and Isco overload the left flanks, but James’ nodded the latter’s cross off the bar.

Second half

Juve started the second half with the energy that was displayed in the early stages of the first. Allegri’s men pressed higher up the pitch once again to prevent Real from playing out the back, and created the first legitimate chance of the half when Tevez turned Pepe and fired a shot directly at Casillas.

Although the home side’s ambition to win possession higher up the pitch was successful in the first, the initial ten minutes of the second was stop-start due to Real constantly breaking lines. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sturaro and Bonucci all committed cynical fouls to half Real breaks, and it appeared the match was shifting in Real’s favour with every passing minute.

2-1

Then came the equalizer. While it may have been another direct move involving the two Juventus strikers, it was rather fortuitous then planned. Still, Real were caught on the break, a situation Ancelotti should have been wary about heading into this tie – particularly following Juve’s triumph over Dortmund earlier this year.

Marcelo’s shot ricocheted off Kroos, igniting a 2v2 break between Juve’s strikers and Real full-backs, which resulted in both men being fouled – Carvajal clipping Tevez in the box. Tevez notched his 29th goal of the season from the spot, but also shifted the match back into Allegri’s hand despite a nervy start to the second half.

Both managers react

The goal forced both managers into significant system alterations. Ancelotti turned to his only fit striker, Javier Hernandez, to replace Isco, as Madrid effectively became a 4-3-3. Allegri instantly reacted by inserting Andrea Barzagli into defence for Sturaro to make Juventus a 3-5-2 that eventually transitioned into a 5-3-2 out of possession.

Bale Ronaldo Juventus

Bale was finally involved in the match, receiving space downn the right flank, but Real’s attempt to blitz the penalty area with hopeless crosses proved unsuccessful, as Juve’s experienced back trio and Gianluigi Buffon coped well. In theory, the move was supposed to provide a focal point upfront, but also offer more service into Ronaldo, but the Portuguese star’s threat in the final third was scarce.

Juve, however, comfortably managed the final quarter of the game. They were organized defensively, whereas Morata held up the ball well to bring his teammates forward. Allegri’s substitutions were equally impressive, replacing Morata for compatriot Fernando Llorente, and Tevez for the energetic Pereyra.

Llorente was involved in the two best chances of the match subsequent to Tevez’s winner. Once again a simple Marchisio ball over the top troubled Varane – who had a poor outing – enabling Llorente to round Casillas, but Carvajal intercepted his pull back to the onrushing Pereyra. Then, from a stoppage time Pirlo free kick, the Spaniard nodded a tame effort at Casillas.

Tevez’s winner forced the Italian managers to alter their approach, but in terms of preparation and overall efficiency, Allegri outwitted Ancelotti.

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Carlos Tevez of Juventus celebrates as he scores their second goal from a penalty during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Juventus and Real Madrid CF at Juventus Arena on May 5, 2015 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) Credit: Michael Regan / staff

Conclusion

The overall pattern of the match went as expected when you assess Juve and Real’s road to the semi-finals. Ancelotti has often relied on width from the full-backs to overcome narrow defensive lines, whereas direct balls into Morata and Tevez has been Allegri’s method of bisecting the opposition’s pressing.

But Juve’s method of baiting Real into pushing higher up the pitch was interesting. Yet it’s difficult to understand Ancelotti’s approach in this tie. Surely several players performed poorly – Bale, Varane, Ramos, and to an extent Marcelo – but Real appeared flabbergasted by Tevez’s movement in the opening stages, and constantly looked vulnerable when balls were played into the strikers.

It’s unlikely that Real will perform this poorly at the Bernabeu, but they haven’t been entirely impressive at home this season.

Allegri’s second half changes preserved a positive home triumph over the reigning champions, and it’s likely he may stick with a three-man defensive system with the wingbacks maintaining cautious positions, and rely on quick counters led by their dynamic front two in the return leg at the Bernabeu.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Chicago Fire 3-2 Toronto FC: TFC makes the same mistakes in Chicago which calls for change

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - APRIL 04: Warren Creavalle #3 of Toronto FC and Joevin Jones #3 of the Chicago Fire battle for the ball during an MLS match at Toyota Park on April 4, 2015 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated Toronto FC 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Credit: Jonathan Daniel / staff

BRIDGEVIEW, IL – APRIL 04: Warren Creavalle #3 of Toronto FC and Joevin Jones #3 of the Chicago Fire battle for the ball during an MLS match at Toyota Park on April 4, 2015 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated Toronto FC 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Credit: Jonathan Daniel / staff

Toronto FC conceded a second half lead against the Chicago Fire to suffer their third consecutive loss of the season at Toyota Park.

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Greg Vanney was able to recall Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to his starting XI, while Justin Morrow formed a makeshift centre-back partnership with Nick Hagglund.

Former TFC striker Quincy Amarikwa led the line ahead of Shaun Maloney in Frank Yallop’s 4-4-1-1. Harry Shipp and David Accam operated on the flanks with Matt Polster and Michael Stephens sitting in midfield.

TFC controlled possession for large portions of the match, but they rarely offered a threat in the final third, and Chicago continuously exploited space in wide areas.

Chicago down the left

The main storyline over 90 minutes, and TFC’s season thus far, has been the Reds’ vulnerability in wide areas. With Mark Bloom unavailable, and Vanney short of centre-back options, the TFC manager was forced to persist with Ashtone Morgan and Warren Creavalle in fullback roles.

But Chicago’s intent to press high, and isolate Creavalle, in particular, was evident from the second minute. Joevin Jones dispossessed Creavalle in TFC’s half and stormed into the box to squeeze a shot on goal, but Joe Bendik pushed the left-back’s effort aside. The away side received an early warning within minutes, which is why it was odd to see both full-backs push forward.

The Fire enjoyed the better chances throughout the match, opting to surge forward through quick transitions opposed to well-worked passing moves. On three separate occasions, simple long outlet balls in transition were played into the left channel, but neither Accam nor Amarikwa could solve Bendik.

Ultimately, the two goals Chicago scored were created down the left, with Jones dispossessing Robbie Findley before combining with Maloney for the first, and the former Wigan Athletic midfielder gaining a yard on Hagglund to snag the second. Creavalle, not a natural fullback, constantly bombed forward ahead of the speedy Accam, and the home-side’s main source of attack were ignited in the vacant space.

Defensive shape

Another interesting feat regarding TFC’s struggles this season has been their reinvigorated 4-3-1-2. The system, however, deprives the Reds of natural width – they also possess one natural winger – which explains why the fullbacks are instructed to maraud forward into advanced positions.

However, the fullbacks lack adequate protection when the Reds drop into their natural shape and sit in front of the ball. TFC tend to defend with seven men behind the ball, with exterior central midfielders, Benoit Cheyrou and Jonathan Osorio responsible for pushing into wide positions without the ball.

But when the duo is unable to move into wide positions, neither Giovinco, Altidore, nor Findley appears interested in fulfilling their defensive duties, enabling the opposition’s fullback’s freedom to surge into advanced positions. The home side, on the other hand, dropped into two narrow banks of four with the midfield band remaining compact with the back four to limit space between the lines. Chicago’s back four proactively pressed TFC’s attacking trio when they received the ball with their back to goal, preventing the forwards from turning towards goal, as Altidore’s influence was scarce, and Findley’s link up play was severely underwhelming.

TFC issue in the final third

One of the evident changes under Vanney, helped by off-season acquisitions, involves the Reds playing proactive football. Under Ryan Nelsen, TFC often defended in deep banks of four with hopes of punishing teams on the counter, and struggled to break teams down in the latter stages of the season.

Where Vanney has assembled an XI capable of retaining the ball for long spells, TFC still encounter the issues that thwarted last season’s playoff run. Giovinco’s space in the final third will decrease with every passing week, but without natural width in the XI, the onus on Bradley, Cheyrou, and Osorio to create chances, and offer adequate service for the front three is significant.

Bradley and Cheyrou were involved in a lovely move for Giovinco’s equalizer, and the latter lobbed a ball into the channel for the Italian to score the second. Still, this is a TFC midfield trio filled with passers, but lacks energy and strength to serve as an additional outlet to unlock organized back-lines.

Although the lack of pressure on Bradley enabled the American to connect short passes to set TFC forward, the buildup often halted in the middle third. Considering Bradley has struggled this season, mainly against teams that press him aggressively, Vanney’s reluctance to start Collen Warner in his natural role is peculiar.

With Bradley higher up the pitch, TFC then receive the energy and running Osorio doesn’t – and may never – offer at this stage of his career. Considering another lacklustre attacking display, the trio of Warner, Bradley, Cheyrou must cross Vanney’s mind, as powerful runs from deep and penetrative balls in the final third have been non-existent.

11v10

Nevertheless, Creavalle’s second half sending off was the defining moment, as TFC was forced to finish another match with 10 men. While it’s uncertain that the Reds would claim a point had Creavalle remained on the pitch, Jeff Larentowicz’s well-taken free kick following the TFC defender’s dismissal, enabled the Fire to sit deeper and play on the counter.

Vanney replaced the ineffective Findley with Jackson, moving the Brazilian to right back, as TFC operated in a 4-3-1-1. The TFC manager also summoned Bright Dike for Osorio, but Yallop, swapping Amarikwa for Kennedy Igboanaike, was the key change.

The away side pushed men forward in search of a winner, thus leaving space for the speedy Igboanaike and Accam to exploit on the counter. This played into the Fire’s hand, as they were equally poor in open play, and simple balls into Igboanaike in the channels constantly stretched TFC’s back-line.

A move in the 83rd minute summarized Chicago’s threat subsequent to Creavalle’s dismissal. Igboanaike was released into the left channel before laying the ball off to an onrushing Accam, but the Ghanaian fired his shot over the net. TFC were unable to trouble Chicago’s back four, and frankly wasteful finishing prevented a Fire onslaught.

Conclusion

TFC squandered a glorious opportunity to obtain valuable road points against a mediocre MLS side, but the loss equally highlighted the current issues at the club. Still, both side’s relished quick transitions, and were unconvincing when faced with the task of breaking down the opposition’s defence.

Chicago’s attacks were calculated, as they constantly relied on their pacy attackers to surge into space behind the TFC fullbacks. More so, TFC’s midfield balance isn’t correct and the current system hasn’t reaped rewards on both ends – they’re vulnerable out of possession, and lack conviction in attacking areas.

Perhaps the Reds miss their sidelined first team defenders, but this performance serves as an indicator that Vanney must show tactical flexibility going forward.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Brazil 1-7 Germany

Courtesy of Wikicommons/Steindy

Courtesy of Wikicommons/Steindy

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

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

Joachim Low named an unchanged XI.

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

Germany’s shape

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

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

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

Direct Brazil

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

Luiz Germany

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

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

Germany dominate right flank

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief Brazilian fight back

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

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

Shots Brazil Germany

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

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

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

 

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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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Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool

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Courtesy of Flickr/Ronnie Macdonald

Arsenal advanced to the last eight of the FA Cup with a resilient victory against Liverpool at the Emirates.

Image Arsene Wenger made several changes to the starting XI that drew Manchester United in midweek. Yaya Sanogo led the line with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski filling in alongside Mesut Ozil. Mathieu Flamini returned from suspension, Lukasz Fabianski started in goal, and Carl Jenkinson and Nacho Monreal started at full-back.

Brendan Rodgers made two changes to his starting lineup, as Daniel Agger slotted into the back four, and Joe Allen joined Steven Gerrard, and Philippe Coutinho in midfield.

Liverpool started the match well, but defensive lapses and woeful finishing saw them crash out of the FA Cup.

Liverpool’s great start

Liverpool produced arguably the best 20-minute spell of football in Premier League history during their 5-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield, and were looking to replicate that performance at the Emirates. Rodgers’ side have started matches well this season, scoring majority of their league goals in the first-half, and they will be disappointed that they weren’t two goals ahead within the opening five minutes.

Daniel Sturridge was played in free – courtesy of a Gerrard through ball – against Fabianski, but the Polish goalkeeper saved his tame effort. Minutes later, Luis Suarez chipped a delicate ball over Arsenal’s back four towards Sturridge, and while the Liverpool striker rounded Fabianski, his shot hit the side-netting.

Within the opening five minutes Sturridge was presented with two glorious opportunities to possibly replicate the result at Anfield. Apart from an ambitious shot from Suarez at the edge of the box, Liverpool failed to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities for the remainder of the half.

Defensive shapes

The first-half lacked the high-octane, free-flowing football that both sides are renowned for and that was down to their shape without the ball.

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Arsenal dropped into two banks of four without the ball and encouraged their wingers to press Liverpool’s fullbacks, while Mikel Arteta energetically closed down Philippe Coutinho – as the Brazilian struggled to cope with the physical battles in midfield. Sturridge had minimal impact on the match due to Laurent Koscielny’s proactive role, in which he didn’t allow the striker to turn with the ball.

More so, it was peculiar to see Liverpool reluctant to play balls in behind the defence. Flamini offered grit in midfield, while Arsenal still lacked pace at the back.

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Liverpool, on the other hand, dropped into a 4-5-1 that at times looked like a 4-1-4-1. Rodgers also encouraged his side to close down Arsenal’s full-backs, while Coutinho and Joe Allen alternated when pressing Arteta. Some of Jordan Henderson’s best performances have come against Arsenal, and his dynamism was missed in midfield, as Arsenal exploited pockets of space in the first half.

Gerrard

Liverpool’s key player in attack was Gerrard. With Lucas absent, the Liverpool captain remained at the base of the midfield, and constantly switched the Reds’ route of attack. Gerrard was the most proficient passer, completing 64 passes, and he created Liverpool’s best chances in the match.

The key to Gerrard’s success, however, was the fact that no Arsenal player applied pressure on the Reds skipper. Mesut Ozil preferred – or was instructed by Wenger – to drop ahead of the midfield bank of four, opposed to limiting Gerrard’s influence on the match. In the opening minute his well-weighed through ball to Sturridge should’ve handed the Reds a lead.

Subsequently, Gerrard’s second half cross-field diagonal ball towards Coutinho should’ve seen the Brazilian level the score, but he opted to play a tame cross into the box. Gerrard was also influential via set-pieces, as his cool penalty narrowed the lead to a goal, and his free-kick delivery to Martin Skrtel was an additional goal-scoring opportunity.

Gerrard provided a positive impact towards Liverpool’s attack due to Arsenal’s naivety without the ball, but poor finishing and decision-making aided Wenger’s side.

Ozil

Ozil’s performance at Anfield was maligned by the media, as the German looked disinterested; he casually drifted through the match, and was constantly bullied off the ball by Henderson and Gerrard. The German’s looked knackered as of late, which could be down to Wenger mismanaging his minutes, but here the 25-year-old midfielder quietly sparked Arsenal’s attack.

Specifically in the first half, when Arsenal pushed forward, the Gunners located pockets of space throughout the midfield and Ozil was often the lynchpin behind their attacks. Ozil was the link in attack; whether it was his delicate chip to play in Sanogo, his cross that led to Chamberlain’s goal, or his ability to evade a challenge before driving to the box to have his shot blocked, the German dictated Arsenal’s activity in the final third. Ozil’s inch-perfect pass to Chamberlain in the second half, allowed the Arsenal winger to cut back the ball to Podolski for Arsenal’s second goal.

Ozil’s contribution in both goals signified his importance to Arsenal’s attack, as the German was heavily involved in majority of the Gunners’ offensive moves.

Oxlade-Chamberlain vs. Sterling

With Theo Walcott out for the remainder of the season, the talks as to who will play in wide areas in Brazil has been heavily debated. At the Emirates, two ideal candidates in Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling were eager to impress.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was terrific on the night – he constantly tracked back to protect Jenkinson, thus keeping Aly Cissokho quiet throughout the match. He scored and assisted a great goal, and his pace continuously tormented the Liverpool back-line. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace also exposed Gerrard’s vulnerability at the base of Liverpool’s midfield.

The Arsenal attacker generally picked up the ball from his own half and quickly transitioned into attack, thus resulting in Gerrard and Coutinho making poor challenges and earning yellow cards – Gerrard was fortunate not to see red as he committed a clumsy second-half tackle, which merited a booking.

Likewise, Sterling, who’s been in great form over the past few weeks, was dangerous in the second half. With Liverpool forced to attack, the English winger constantly received long diagonal balls from Gerrard and attacked Monreal. Sterling was successful beating defenders and stretching the play towards the byline, but his final ball was often poor.

Yet, towards the latter stages of the match, when Rodgers fielded him as an attacking right-back, Sterling showcased his defensive attributes and impressive work-rate, by constantly getting back into position and making timely tackles.

Although Sterling didn’t replicate the impact he posed in the league encounter at Anfield, he, as did Oxlade-Chamberlain, displayed that they could fill the role that Roy Hodgson demands in wide areas.

Substitutions

With limited options on the bench, Rodgers introduced Henderson for the ineffective Cissokho, as Liverpool became a 4-2-3-1. Jon Flanagan moved to the left and Sterling became a right full-back. Suarez drifted centrally, allowing Sterling to peg Arsenal back and attack the space behind Podolski. Henderson occasionally pushed forward, but he often sat deep with Gerrard, which allowed Coutinho more space in midfield.

As Arsenal dropped deeper towards their box, Liverpool, and in particular Gerrard received more space to switch balls from flank-to-flank. Liverpool’s best chance came when Coutinho drifted into space and played in Sturridge, but as he tried to round Fabianski, the Polish keeper pushed the ball away. Apart from the aforementioned Gerrard ball to Coutinho, Liverpool’s other opportunities were snap-shots from Suarez and Sturridge from distance.

Wenger’s reluctance on removing Ozil was peculiar, considering his limited influence in the second half, lack of defensive work, and the fact that they host Bayern Munich in midweek. However, Cazorla replaced Podolski at first, which was also odd based on his limited defensive work – and Sterling still posed a threat down the right.

Minutes later, Kieran Gibbs replaced the leggy Oxlade-Chamberlain, and swapped flanks with Cazorla. Now, Gibbs nullified Sterling’s threat in attack, and his energy pegged Sterling deeper into his half, forcing him to defend. Giroud replaced Sanogo to wind down the clock, as Arsenal survived Liverpool’s second half resurgence.

Conclusion

Despite an early scare, Arsenal was clinical in front of goal, and escaped the Emirates with an important victory. Rodgers was upset with the result, and poor officiating, but he highlighted that clinical finishing was the difference. “We could very easily have had another five or six goals today, but we weren’t as clinical,” Rodgers said.

Howard Webb’s poor officiating will dominate headlines, but besides a few defensive issues, Wenger’s weakened side showcased resilience at the back – including Fabianski’s key saves – as they gained revenge for their drubbing at Anfield.

Nevertheless, the games key players could all play a key role in England’s World Cup quest. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pace, defensive work, and quality in the final third snuck Arsenal past the Reds, but Gerrard’s passing could’ve equally tilted the tie if his teammates converted their chances.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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