RSS

Tag Archives: Tactical Analysis

Bayern Munich 6-1 Porto

thiago jackson

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

 Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 5.35.17 AM

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.

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Three Things: Basel 1 – 0 Chelsea

Image

Stamford Bridge rang out in jeers. Chelsea had lost their second consecutive match, this time in front of their home supporters, as animosity drifted around the stadium. It was only September, and the West London side looked to be heading down a familiar cycle. The pressure was rising, as a club of Chelsea’s stature couldn’t afford to crash out of the group stage under their newly-appointed manager.

Subsequently, Chelsea went on a fantastic run, losing only once over the last two months, and climbing to the top of their Champions League group. The results displayed a gradual improvement under Mourinho, who is desperate to win silverware and a trip to Basel was the ideal occasion to make that statement.

A win for the West London club would secure qualification, but the Swiss side also required maximum points to keep their European campaign alive. Here are three observations on Basel’s historic victory against Chelsea.

Basel attack wide areas

It was an unexpected onslaught.  Basel was on the attack from the first minute and Chelsea couldn’t cope. They pegged Mourinho’s men into their own half, searching for an opening in the final third. The Swiss side was unfortunate not to take the lead on several occasions, as Petr Cech made numerous top-class saves to keep his side in the match.

Yet, Chelsea were the opposite – they were sloppy in possession, and their slow buildup didn’t help the cause. Their main outlet in the first half was right back Branislav Ivanovic, who earned his side a corner, and provided a scintillating cross for Samuel Eto’o, but he was unable to connect with the Serbian’s cross.

Apart from that chance, Chelsea were lethargic. Eto’o was practically an isolated figure upfront, Willian provided glimpses of brilliance – barring his final ball – and Oscar also failed to have an impact on the matches. Eto’o ‘s quiet night came to a halt in the 42nd minute, when the Cameroonian striker was stretchered off the pitch due to injury, thus leading to Fernando Torres’ appearance.

While Chelsea struggled to push forward as a unit, Basel found openings to exploit. Despite Willian and Oscar adequately tracking back to protect their fullbacks, Mohamed Salah and Valentin Stocker enjoyed space in wide areas. Chelsea’s fullbacks sat narrow when defending, and they were forced to come of position to close the wingers down.

Image

Basel’s wide men made runs behind the Chelsea fullbacks when possible – particularly they were dangerous on the break, as Ivanovic and Azpilicueta were caught out in narrow positions, which invited Basel’s wide players to push forward.

 Image

Coincidentally, a mixture of pushing too many men in advanced areas, and their narrow positioning led to Salah’s winner. Fabian Schar played an exceptional cross-field pass behind Ivanovic, and Salah ran onto it, brushed off the Serbian and beat Cech at the far post. The warning signs were evident, and it was shocking to see Mourinho ignore this feat, considering the joy Basel were having down both flanks.

Similar to the first meeting at Stamford Bridge, Basel’s wide men played a pivotal role in their well-deserved victory, as Salah and Stocker terrorized Chelsea’s defence.

Hazard and Torres impact

There was no significant improvement from the Blues at the start of the second half, which forced Mourinho to introduce Eden Hazard for the unimpressive Oscar. Chelsea was dismal in the final third – they didn’t test Yann Sommer, as the Blues only recorded one shot over the course of 90 minutes.

 Image

From an attacking perspective, Hazard and Torres’ introduction led to a gradual improvement in Chelsea’s activity around the final third. The Chelsea duo provided a direct element of attack that away side lacked in the first half – as Willian’s tracking forced him to start from deeper positions, and Chelsea’s passing was dire.

Hazard and Torres combined well around the 18-yard box, and their will to take defenders on from deep positions, opened up space for Chelsea’s midfielders to attack. Mourinho’s men got into a great position in the 60th minute, when Hazard and Torres combined, thus opening up a shooting lane for the Belgian, but he opted to played a well-weighed pass out wide to Ramires, but the Brazilian’s first touch was abysmal.

Image

Both men have been scrutinized in the past for uninspiring performances in a blue shirt, but they drove Chelsea into dangerous positions in the final third. Chelsea’s display was dire, but Torres and Hazard provided glimpses of brilliance that gave Blues supporters a glimmer of hope.

Chelsea need more than a striker

There’s been a constant shout for Chelsea to add a world-class striker to their squad in January, but the West London side shouldn’t overlook the other issues they possess. Mourinho opted to stick with the same three-man midfield that was successful at West Ham over the weekend.

“We go through because Schalke didn’t get a result, and that is not the same. I can only find one reason for the performance, and I saw signs of it from the first minute: my team were tired. We paid the price today of the international week, and from the game against West Ham where we had put in an outstanding performance,” Mourinho said.

“We paid the price today of the international week, and from the game against West Ham where we had put in an outstanding performance. But we made a big mistake in the first second of this game, immediately, and after that we made mistakes defensively, with the ball, lost easy passes, lost the ball, and we finished with a ridiculous goal,” he added. 

Chelsea’s midfield trio was constantly being overrun in midfield – Basel’s attacking three effortlessly skipped past Mourinho’s men in midfield and found it considerably easy to receive the ball between the lines. Lampard was out of breath chasing shadows, as he struggled to complete the full 90 – seemingly, the Englishman can no longer handle two games in a week. Ramires has failed to reach the heights of the past two seasons, as he wandered around midfield bewildered, conceding possession easily, and albeit finding good positions in the final third, his poor touches let his side down.

Image

Mourinho’s limited midfield trio withholds individual duties – Mikel protects the back four and ensures Chelsea sustain possession, while Lampard and Ramires push forward, but this leaves Chelsea vulnerable to counter-attacks, as their midfield often lacked structure. Frankly, besides making runs into the box – which is slowly becoming ineffective – Lampard doesn’t offer much going forward.

Chelsea’s weak area is in midfield – they lack a player that can dictate the tempo of the match, and provide positive forward passes. Likewise, in the double-pivot, Mourinho’s reluctance to play Mikel and Ramires together often leads to the Brazilian playing in a deeper role – which hinders his strengths.

Chelsea’s intent to sign a world-class striker is vindicated, but as the season wears on, the Blues will continue to suffer if quality personnel aren’t added to a feeble midfield.

Conclusion

Basel were worthy winners on the night – the Swiss side exposed Chelsea’s weaknesses in midfield and down the flanks, and they were organized when the away side held possession.

Image

In particular, Fabian Schar was exceptional – exceeding expectation on the defensive end, and providing a winner for Salah to win the match.

“After our great display in the first half we realized we could get a result. It obviously helped us that Chelsea wanted to play football themselves and not just sit deep. This allowed us to find gaps. To beat Chelsea twice is historic for this club,” Yakin said. 

“We had situations to score but had bad control, no sharpness. The team was tired. When the team is tired, defensive and attacking mistakes can happen, and you concede goals that you never normally concede. But Basel deserved the bonus. They were the better team,” Mourinho said.

Chelsea qualified for the round of 16 in an uninspiring manner, as Mourinho blamed the poor display down to fatigue and lack of squad rotation. Ultimately, the result, along with the performance was inexcusable – his men were poor on the night, they lacked invention, guile, structure and a proper game plan. Simply, Mourinho’s tactics were dire, and life at Chelsea won’t get easier until he improves the midfield, and provides another offensive dimension.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 27, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Portugal 1-0 Sweden

Image

Courtesy of Football.ua

Cristiano Ronaldo’s late winner earned Portugal a narrow victory over Sweden at the Estadio da Luz.

Image

Paulo Bento stuck with his traditional 4-3-3 with Ronaldo, Nani and Helder Postiga leading the line. Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles formed a midfield trio.

Erik Hamren didn’t provide many surprises either, as he preferred a 4-4-1-1 with Zlatan Ibrahimovic ahead of Johan Elmander. Alexander Kacaniklic and Sebastian Larsson operated on the flanks, while Kim Kallstrom and Rasmus Elm played in midfield.

Sweden defended admirably for large portions of the match, but Portugal’s guile, and perseverance guided them to an important victory.

Sweden shape

Hamren’s aim was evident in the opening minutes of the match, as his side swiftly dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball. The Swedish wingers tucked in centrally to help maintain a narrow shape and Elmander admirably tracked Veloso. Elmander’s positioning on Veloso was significant – in the past Veloso’s opted to drop between the centrebacks and play long diagonal balls to build play from the back. But here, Elmander prevented the Portuguese midfielder from dictating the tempo of the match.

With Elmander keeping Veloso quiet, Elm and Kallstrom had the duty of tracking Moutinho and Meireles. Hamren’s approach prevented Portugal from constant penetration in the final third, yet it also provided an attacking spark for Sweden. Sweden’s narrow shape allowed Portugal’s fullbacks forward, but it left gaps for Swedish fullbacks – mainly Mikael Lustig – to expose.

A main issue Portugal’s encountered over the past few years has been preventing 2v1 situations on the left flank, as Ronaldo sits higher up the pitch to lodge quick counters. In the 6th minute, Lustig got into an advanced position and delivered a great cross towards Elmander, but the Swedish striker directed the ball inches wide.

Seconds later, Hamren’s men got forward again, and earned a corner kick, as the Portuguese defenders couldn’t cope with Lustig’s venomous ball into the box. Sweden’s best chance of the half also stemmed through great wing play from Hamren’s men. Elmander did well to deliver a cross into the box, and Ibrahimovic cleverly dummied the oncoming ball, and it fell to Larsson who watched Rui Patricio parry away his shot.

Sweden’s shape nullified Veloso, halted Portugal’s activity in the final third and gave them attacking options from wide areas, but they were unable to make the most of their created chances.

Portugal approach

Sweden’s reactive approach towards the match handed Portugal the onus to go forward and search for a goal. One of the main issues this Portuguese team has encountered over the years is breaking down sides that sit deep, focus on organization, and maintain a compact shape when out of possession.

Bento’s men experienced the same recurring issues in the first half. The front three struggled to get involved in the match, thus leading to Ronaldo and Nani constantly swapping positions. The Portuguese wide men often took up more central positions to receive the ball, as their fullbacks and midfielders were encouraged to attack space in wide areas and attempt to create overloads.

In particular, Joao Pereira enjoyed heaps of space on the right flank with Kacaniklic tucked in centrally, but the Portuguese right back’s crosses didn’t connect with any attacking players. Martin Olsson and Kacaniklic struggled from defensive aspect throughout the match, and despite Bento’s men enjoying success down that flank, the productivity from the right was poor.

Meireles and Moutinho’s activity in the final third was limited when they attempted to build play from the back. The Portuguese duo were forced to drop deeper in midfield to string passes together and their combination should’ve led to an opener in the 4th minute. Meireles slipped a pass between the Swedish defence, and an advancing Moutinho received the ball, rounded Andreas Isaksson, but his shot hit the side netting.

Meireles and Moutinho both finished the match with an 85% pass accuracy rate, while Moutinho completed a game-high four tackles and accurate crosses.  Meireles was dangerous in deeper positions, as he lobbed passes over the Swedish defence, attempting to get Portuguese attackers in goal-scoring positions. The Portuguese pair were influential throughout the match, and although they were restricted to certain areas across the pitch, they were able to dictate the tempo of the match.

Portugal got into great positions in the final third out wide, but they were stifled in central areas. Hamren’s men maintained a compact shape in two banks of four –  this forced Portugal’s midfield into deeper positions and their attacking three were ineffective. For all of Portugal’s possession in the first half, it was shocking to know that Sweden had created the better chances, despite Ibrahimovic’s minimal influence.

Ibrahimovic

Portugal’s main concern heading into this two-legged affair was clear. Bento’s men were on a mission to neutralize Ibrahimovic, and over the course of 90 minutes, they succeeded.

First off, Sweden’s shape without the ball was an issue. Their midfield bank of five were pegged too deep into their half, and their transitions into attack were slow. Ibrahimovic was an isolated figure – in the first half, the Swedish striker had 17 touches on the ball. When the prolific striker successfully held the ball up, he lacked options and support to help push Sweden forward, but more importantly he didn’t receive adequate service.

Secondly, Pepe and Bruno Alves held a 2v1 advantage over the Swede, and their physical presence kept the prolific striker quiet. Ibrahimovic didn’t have any clear goal-scoring opportunities, nor was he allowed space to penetrate – the Portuguese centre backs performed a magnificent job on the Swede, as he was merely a peripheral figure.

Portugal down the left

As the second half wore on, Portugal’s overall performance improved, due to Hamren’s men dropping deeper into their third. Ultimately, this left a large gap between Ibrahimovic and the Swedish midfield, and it placed a daunting task on the Swedish wingers, who were forced to track runs from Portugal’s adventurous fullbacks.

Nonetheless, Bento’s troops were still struggling to test Isaksson. Majority of Portugal’s play came down the left flank, where Coentrao began to take advantage of Larsson, as the Swedish winger’s energy levels dipped quickly.

  • 70th minute: Coentrao and Almeida completed a one-two and the Portuguese full back got behind Larsson and drove towards the box, where he was tugged down by the Swede, thus leading to a Larsson booking.
  • 80th minute: Nani’s movement pushed Lustig out of position, and Coentrao played a pass behind the Swedish fullback towards the Portuguese winger. Nani delivered a decent ball into the box, which was half-heartedly cleared by Anders Svensson, presenting an ideal shooting angle for the Portuguese winger, but Svensson made a timely block to earn Portugal a corner kick.
  • 88th minute: Ronaldo received the ball on the left side of the pitch, and wonderfully turned Lustig to break free. The Portuguese captain played in an advancing Coentrao – who once again got past Larsson – and his dangerous cross in the box fell to Moutinho, who laid the ball off for Ronaldo, but he fired his shot over the net.

Towards the end of the match it was evident that Bento’s men targeted Larsson. Portugal got into great positions through these three situations, as Ronaldo’s winner and his header off the crossbar were created down this flank.

Hugo Almeida

Over the past few years, Postiga and Hugo Almeida have been maligned figures for the national team. Their inability to capitalize in front of goal has led to their ridicule, but it would be difficult to criticize the Portuguese strikers here.

However, despite Postiga’s positive attacking contribution, Bento decided to take another route of attack, and introduced Almeida. The move created turmoil worldwide over social media, but Almeida’s impact on the match provided Portugal with that extra bit of attacking impetus they lacked throughout the half.

  • 65th minute: Almeida receives the ball between the lines and is allowed to turn and play an overweighed pass to Coentrao, who flew past Larsson into a goal scoring position. Although the ball went out for a goal kick, Almeida displayed his intent to penetrate in the final third, opposed to feeding the ball back to the midfield like Postiga.
  • 70th minute: As stated earlier, his one-two with Coentrao got the Portuguese fullback into a dangerous position, which resulted in a Larsson booking.
  • 82nd minute: Veloso quickly threw the ball into Almeida’s feet, and their quick one-two allowed Veloso to evade Larsson and deliver a cross into the box. Ronaldo got in front of Olsson and his diving header flew past Isaksson. This was significant because it was one of the few times Veloso wasn’t shackled by Elmander, and Ronaldo finally decided to target Sweden’s weak link in Olsson – Lustig had a pretty decent outing coping with Nani and Ronaldo in 1v1 situations.
  • 85th minute: Almeida drifted to the left flank and received a lovely diagonal ball from Joao Pereira. The Portuguese striker lofted a ball into the box, and once again Ronaldo beat Olsson, but his header rang off the post.

Portugal dominated the second half, but Almeida’s introduction made the difference. The Portuguese striker’s movement, mobility and intent to penetrate, gave his side an element of attack they lacked, prior to his arrival.

Conclusion

Although the performance from Bento’s men was below par, Ronaldo’s goal puts Portugal in a great position to progress to the World Cup. However, failure to increase their lead in the second half could come back to haunt the Portuguese as they squandered several chances to win the tie.

“I’m always disappointed when we lose. On the whole, we played a good match defensively. What hurts a bit is that we had three good chances to take the lead in the first half. We would have liked to have come away from here having scored a goal,” Hamren said. 

Sweden had the better chances in the first half, and defended admirably for large portions of the match, but one defensive miscue proved costly. In fairness, their negative approach in the second half allowed Portugal to mount pressure in their third, and limit their chances of nicking an important away goal. Sweden looked better when they attempted to play through midfield, opposed to the direct approach they adopted in the second half, as Ibrahimovic was often disconnected from the midfield.

“We dominated the whole match, even more so in the second 45 minutes, as we created several chances to get a more comfortable result. Now the goal is to prepare the team to win again in Sweden, knowing that we are going there with a slender lead but with no goals conceded. We certainly won’t go to Sweden to defend this result,” Bento said.

Nevertheless, this was an ideal result for Portugal. Ronaldo struggled throughout the match, but the team fought hard, and provided him the platform to once again display his superiority on the field. The importance of the first goal will be crucial in Stockholm, but the occasion plays into Portugal’s hands. Sweden will be forced to attack from the start, and Portugal’s reactive approach and threat on the counter could expose a feeble Swedish backline. Bento’s men are nearly there, but they’ll need to defend better, attack with more precision and be efficient in front of goal if they intend on securing qualification.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

Image

Robin van Persie continued to haunt his former employers, as his first half header pushes Manchester United within five points of league leaders Arsenal.

Image

Van Persie returned to the starting eleven to lead the line ahead of Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa. Michael Carrick and Phil Jones formed a midfield duo, while Jonny Evans partnered Nemanja Vidic at centre back.

Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that defeated Borussia Dortmund in midweek. Mathieu Flamini returned to the lineup to join Mikel Arteta in the double pivot, whereas Thomas Vermaelen formed a centre back partnership with Laurent Koscielny.

This was a vintage Moyes display – United’s reactive approach saw the Red Devils concede space on the flanks, as they sat in a narrow shape to nullify Arsenal’s threat in central areas.

United without the ball

One of the main feats in Arsenal’s success over the past few weeks has been their fluidity and quick interchanges in midfield, so the battle in central areas was always going to be pivotal. David Moyes’ men were impressive without the ball – when they lost possession, they quickly closed down the Arsenal defenders to retain possession, and when Arsenal were building play they maintained an extremely high-line.

Space was at a premium in midfield, and Arsenal’s attacking three were unable to receive the ball between the lines, as United sat extremely narrow to close down their passing lanes. Arteta and Flamini dropped deeper between the centre backs to provide an outlet for their defenders and build play – which was odd considering Rooney’s impressive defensive display against Arteta last season – but majority of their passes were sideways. Ozil and Ramsey also attempted to receive the ball in deeper positions, but Valencia and Kagawa pressed them once they received the ball.

United’s wide men played an integral role in their success for large portions of the match. Kagawa and Valencia sat deeper than usual to help Jones and Carrick in midfield. Space was available out wide – which was risky based on Arsenal’s recent success in wide areas – but United’s wide men quickly closed down Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs whenever they received the ball, and the Arsenal duo didn’t offer any threats going forward.

 Image

United’s initial approach without the ball was excellent – they minimized space between the lines, pressed Arsenal’s fullbacks, and kept their creative players quiet.

2V1

During Arsenal’s impressive start to the season, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil’s form has overshadowed the underlying importance of Olivier Giroud in Wenger’s set-up. The French striker has improved vastly over the past few months, and has been a significant cog in Arsenal’s attack, which is why Moyes was keen on limiting his impact on the match.

Giroud’s developed a better understanding of playing as a lone striker using his brute strength and impressive work rate to thrive as Arsenal’s main man. The French striker struggled in the first half due to great defensive work from Evans and Vidic. The United centre back duo stuck tight to Giroud whenever he received the ball, and the Arsenal striker was unable to sustain possession.

One of the main feats in Giroud’s game this season has been his ability to link play with Arsenal’s midfielders, and allow runners to attack space behind him. But Giroud was outmuscled off the ball – often conceding possession or losing out in duels against the United centre backs. There was no space in midfield for Giroud to tuck into – United’s midfield pushed higher up the pitch swiftly to catch the Frenchman offside on numerous occasions, and his frustration was evident.

Vidic departure/Arsenal improve

Vidic was forced to leave the match at the interval, due to his late collision with David De Gea in the final moments of the first half. This forced Phil Jones to drop into centre back as Tom Cleverley joined Carrick in midfield. Although Cleverley didn’t produce a poor display, United’s lack of a double screen meant Arsenal would receive more opportunities to stamp their authority on the match.

Giroud’s influence on the match grew in the second half, and this was odd because Evans still featured in the match. As gaps began to build between the lines, Giroud was presented with more space to receive the ball and spread play, as Evans and Jones sat off the French striker. There was also a distinct dip in Kagawa’s performance – this could’ve been fatigue based, as he was involved in Wednesday’s midweek draw against Real Sociedad.

Ramsey started the second half on the right touchline stretching the play, and he played a key pass to Giroud in the 47th minute in ample space, and Cleverley was forced to foul him as he ran past the United defence. Three minutes later Ramsey won a loose ball at the halfway line, and played the ball into Ozil who combined with Giroud, but was unable to produce the final ball.

Image

Ozil had brief glimpses of positivity in his play as he drifted laterally into pockets of space on the right flank behind the United defence to receive the ball, and Santi Cazorla also dropped into those pockets of space to push Arsenal forward.

In the latter stages of the match, Arsenal continued to penetrate pockets of space in wide areas. Ramsey picked out substitute Serge Gnabry, who made a run behind Evra and Ryan Giggs. The Arsenal youngster played a ball across the edge of the box to Giroud, who skipped past Jones, but Smalling made a timely tackle to clear United’s lines.

A minute later, Sagna played a pass to Jack Wilshere, who moved forward and found Ramsey in a pocket of space behind Evra. Ramsey surged into the United box but was crowded out by Cleverley, Evans and Evra, and the ball fell to Giroud who flashed his deflected shot wide of the net.

Although it may have been Moyes’ idea to hit Arsenal on the break, Vidic’s departure and Kagawa’s inability to protect Patrice Evra  gave Wenger’s men a lifeline in the second half. Giroud and Ozil improved slightly, and as a unit Arsenal were getting into better positions.

Sagna

As stated earlier, Arsenal experienced joy down the right flank during the second half, and their star performer was Sagna. The Arsenal right back has been a key contributor in Arsenal’s attack over the past few weeks, as he played a pivotal role in goals in home fixtures against Napoli and Borussia Dortmund.

Image

Sagna was Arsenal’s bright spark in the second half as he constantly found space behind Kagawa, leaving him free to get forward and play crosses into the box. Majority of Arsenal’s best moves came down the right flank, and Sagna’s crosses gave Moyes’ men a few scares.

  1. 57th minute: Ozil’s corner kick was half-heartedly cleared, and Vermaelen played the ball backwards to Sagna. Sagna sprayed a ball across the box to an unmarked Ozil, but the German maestro fired his shot into the side netting.
  1. 72nd minute: Kagawa was caught out in a central position and Arteta picked out an unmarked Sagna on the right flank. Sagna played a precise ball across the six-yard box, but Evan’s nicked it past Gibbs, Smalling and Giroud for a corner.
  1. 91st minute: Sagna throws the ball into Giroud, and the Frenchman laid it off to Gnabry. Gnabry plays a pass to Sagna – who’s behind Giggs – and he delivers a venomous ball into the box that evades Evans, Jones and Nicklas Bendtner.

Sagna created three clear-cut opportunities for Arsenal to equalize, but his teammates were unable to connect with his fantastic deliveries into the box.

Substitutions

Wenger was forced to turn to his bench early in the second half, and he decided to introduce Wilshere for Flamini. Prior to the substitution, Arsenal lacked penetration in the final third, and struggled to get behind United’s defence. The move was made to add guile, energy, and penetration into Arsenal’s attack and from an attacking perspective the Gunner’s were brighter.

Bendtner and Gnabry also made appearances in the latter stages of the match, as Arsenal became a 4-4-2. Gnabry had a positive impact on the match with his direct approach and his ability to combine with Sagna, and Arsenal’s attacking players. Bendtner’s introduction was peculiar, as he took up a position on the left flank. The Danish striker isn’t renowned for his ability to beat players, but Wenger was hoping that he could get on the end of Sagna’s crosses.

Moyes’ substitutions reflected United’s approach in the final minutes of the match. Giggs replaced Kagawa in hopes that he could provide better protection for Evra. While Marouane Fellaini replaced van Persie, as United became a 4-5-1 without the ball to preserve their lead.

Conclusion

Arsenal improved in the second half as United sat deeper, but Moyes’ reactive approach was successful, as van Persie’s first half winner claimed maximum points.

The gap between United an Arsenal is now five points, but it’s difficult to assess the progress of Moyes’ side. Nonetheless, It was a vintage big match display masterminded by Moyes  – United were organized as a unit, and once they went ahead they cautiously attacked on the break.

Similar to their away draw against West Brom and loss against Chelsea, its been proven that an organized narrow shape can frustrate the Gunners – thus emphasizing the importance of their injured direct attackers. Arsenal weren’t at their best today, but dropping points at Old Trafford doesn’t necessarily inhibit their title aspirations. How the Gunners respond to this defeat heading into the Christmas period will be vital.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Porto survive Zenit’s second half resurgence

Image

Courtesy of Soccer.ru

Luciano Spalletti was confident in his side’s ability to earn a victory at home against FC Porto. Apart from Spalletti’s peculiar comments on obstacles and weather conditions, the Zenit manager believed quality would outshine tactics. “When both teams have a number of talented individuals, then it is not the tactical nuances that decide the outcome but how the key players perform. The result will also be determined by the mentality and the team spirit shown,” Spalletti said.

Spalletti’s comments were peculiar, but when Norwegian referee Tom Harald Hagen blew his final whistle at the Petrovsky Stadium, his prediction was justified.

Image

Porto was dominant for majority of the first half, as they continued to implement their high-pressing game, and Zenit were unable to settle. Axel Witsel and Viktor Fayzulin couldn’t get a touch on the ball as Porto quickly circulated passes around the Zenit midfield, and Paulo Fonseca’s men worked twice as hard to retain possession, when they gave it away cheaply. Fernando and Steven Defour glided between the Porto centre backs to receive the ball and continuously build plays, and Zenit didn’t attempt to pressure the midfield duo as they dictated the tempo of the match.

Surprisingly, Zenit’s shape without the ball was disjointed. There were large gaps of space between the lines for Josue and Lucho Gonzalez to slide into to receive the ball. While Jackson Martinez enjoyed his best spell in the opening hour, dropping deep to link play and making intelligent diagonal runs.

The most alarming feat was the tactical naivety from Hulk and Oleg Shatov, who completely ignored their defensive duties.

Image

While this could’ve been Spalletti’s aim to hit Porto on the counter, it was nearly suicidal, as Alex Sandro and Danilo – arguably the best fullback duo in Europe – constantly drove into advanced positions.

Image

Varela and Alex Sandro shared Porto’s highest pass combination throughout the match, whereas Danilo’s cross from the right flank created Lucho Gonzalez’s terrific headed goal.

However, Porto’s lead was short-lived as their back four was responsible for their second mental lapse in the span of four days. Zenit’s first patch of composed possession resulted in Domenico Criscito combining with Witsel, who back-heeled the ball to Roman Shirokov. Shirokov’s heavy touch guided the ball into the 18-yard box, and an unmarked Hulk pounced on the loose ball, and rounded Helton, thus handing Zenit a fortuitous equalizer.

Despite Porto’s superiority in possession, Zenit gave the Portuguese champions a few scares on the break. Considering the Russian side’s inability to move forward as a unit and Porto committing men forward, this was a risky, yet logical approach from Spalletti. In the eighth minute, Shirokov played a simple ball over the top of the Porto defence that Hulk latched onto, and the Brazilian squared it to Witsel, who fired his shot over the net. Approximately 30 minutes later, Hulk triggered the break as he played a simple straight ball into the right channel for Aleksandr Kerzhakov. The Russian striker played a ball to the edge of the box for Shatov, and the Zenit midfielder squared it onto the path of Fayzulin, who fired his shot directly at Helton.

Fonseca was aware of Zenit’s legitimate threat on the break, but the Portuguese manager failed to adjust his shape in the second half to prevent being overrun in midfield. Zenit approached the second half with more energy and belief and they began to press Defour and Fernando, while their shape in midfield gradually improved. Lucho and Martinez were peripheral figures, as Porto penetrated wide areas for the remainder of the match.

 Image

The main issue with Porto’s shape was they committed so many men high up the pitch, and they were unable to retreat into position during Zenit’s quick transitions on the counter. Although Danilo and Alex Sandro possess great threats out wide, there’s no need for both fullbacks to push forward, whereas Lucho should’ve dropped deeper to assure Porto’s dominance in midfield.

Zenit’s second half resurgence was highlighted in the 50th minute, when Shatov closed down Nicolas Otamendi and deflected his pass towards Shirokov, in Porto’s third. Shirokov played in Shatov and his attempted cross hit Otamendi in the hand, earning Spalletti’s men a penalty. Shockingly, Hulk stepped up to the spot and hit a tame shot that Helton comfortably saved.

With 30 minutes left in the match, Porto’s press diminished due to fatigue and Zenit’s threat on the break increased. Alex Sandro brought down Hulk, after Tomas Hubocan drove through midfield from his 18-yard box and played the Brazilian winger free. Then Hulk turned provider and played another ball into the right channel for Kerzhakov, who fed Shatov, and this time he back-heeled the ball to Andrey Arshavin, who was denied by Helton.

 Image

Fonseca made attacking player swaps to implement a larger threat in the final third, but Porto’s approach was unchanged. On the other hand, Spalletti’s decision to introduce Arshavin was positive, as it led to more activity in Porto’s third. The Russian winger played clever passes and crosses in advanced areas, produced penetrating runs on the left flank, and displayed a bit of trickery, whilst helping his side maintain possession. Zenit were denied a stonewall penalty in the final minutes of the match when Arshavin drove at the heart of the Porto defence and played in Hulk, who got a yard ahead of Eliaquim Mangala with a step over, and was pulled down inside the box.

Porto spent majority of the second half trying to create chances from wide areas but the quality from their wide players was poor. Fonseca witnessed his side over commit players in attack, and were fortunate not to concede a goal on break, as Helton made a few key saves to preserve the draw. It’s been a recurring theme in Porto’s season thus far – Start the match with intense pressing and dictate possession, but slowly fade away in the latter stages when energy levels dip, leaving them vulnerable against counters, due to a lack of natural balance.

Fonseca’s tactical shrewdness was anonymous as he watched his key players fade in the second half. Performances of this stature should worry Porto fans that demand better performances in Europe’s most prestigious tournament. More so, this result sets up an interesting conclusion to Group G, as second place is still up for grabs.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal

Image

Aaron Ramsey’s second half goal put Arsenal in a great position to progress to the Champions League knockout round for the 14th consecutive year.

 Image

Arsene Wenger made no changes to the side that defeated Liverpool over the weekend.

Sokratis formed a centre back duo with Neven Subotic, while Jakub Blaszczykowski was preferred over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the right of an attacking three, alongside Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Arsenal produced a mature, yet gritty performance, as they overcame a dominant opening hour from the Champions League finalists to earn a monumental victory at the Westfalenstadion.

Pressing

One of the main feats in the match at the Emirates was the battle in midfield, and it was interesting to see how both sides approached the match. Once again there was a contrast in styles – Arsenal were aiming to sustain possession, while Dortmund were keen on hitting the Gunners on the break.

Initially, Arsenal dropped into two banks of four with wide men – Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla – sitting in deeper positions to prevent Dortmund’s fullbacks from pushing forward. Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil pressed Sokratis and Neven Subotic, and when Nuri Sahin or Sven Bender dropped deeper, Rosicky closed them down. Dortmund was unable to build from the back, which hampered their control of possession.

Dortmund also dropped into two banks of four without the ball, but they maintained a high line and displayed terrific work rate throughout the pitch. Lewandowski and Mkhitaryan tracked the Arsenal centrebacks, and the Armenian midfielder also closed down Mikel Arteta when he received the ball. A key feat in the fixture at the Emirates was the amount of space all four fullbacks received down the flank.

Image

Klopp was adamant on nullifying that offensive source, seeing as Bacary Sagna has played a significant role in Arsenal’s attack over the past few weeks.

Image

Blaszczykowski and Reus pressed Kieran Gibbs and Sagna when they had the ball, and the likes of Sahin and Bender assisted the Dortmund wingers, as they tried to win possession higher up the pitch.

Arsenal struggled to cope with Dortmund’s pressure, and they failed to create a solitary legitimate goal-scoring opportunity in the first half. Most of their build-up play was halted before they entered the final third, as Wenger’s men conceded possession easily, due to Dortmund’s pressure. Arsenal’s attacking three dropped deeper alongside Arteta to help the Gunners sustain possession, and push forward as a unit, but Dortmund was exceptional without the ball.

Grosskreutz/Dortmund right side

Kevin Grosskreutz was a key-attacking element in Dortmund’s victory at the Emirates Stadium, and the German utility player continued to penetrate down the left flank. Gibbs’ positioning improved slightly, as he was rarely caught out in narrow positions – and he had Cazorla protecting him.

However, as the match wore on, Grosskreutz’s impact on the match increased, as his runs from right back weren’t being tracked. In the 24th minute, Reus played a ball to Grosskreutz between Cazorla and Gibbs, and the Dortmund right-back’s cross found Blaszczykowski, but the Polish midfielder’s shot flashed wide of the goal. Towards the end of the half, Grosskreutz broke free once again, but his cross went straight into Wojciech Szczesny’s hands. The German right back continued to torment Arsenal’s backline in the second half, as he broke free half towards the touchline, but Arteta intercepted his cutback pass.

But while Grosskreutz’s impact was significant, Dortmund’s aim was to isolate Gibbs. Dortmund’s best chance of the half stemmed from Robert Lewandowski turning Laurent Koscielny and playing a forward pass to Blaszczykowski. The Polish midfielder squared his pass to an open Mkhitaryan on the edge of the box, but the Armenian midfielder fluffed his shot wide. Blaszczykowski also played in a quality cross into the box – after beating Gibbs on the right flank – but Per Mertesacker acrobatically cleared his lines. In the second half, Bender was free on the right flank, and his delivery found Reus on the edge of the box, but Szczesny saved the German international’s header.

Unlike Klopp, who nullified Arsenal’s threat from wide areas, Wenger’s tactical naivety was once again displayed, and poor finishing prevented his side from being a few goals down.

Arteta-Ramsey double-pivot

The signing of Mathieu Flamini in the summer left many questioning Wenger’s transfer policy, but as shocking as it may sound, the French midfielder has become a key cog in Arsenal’s midfielder. His ability to make tackles, protect the back four, and do the dirty work for the Gunners is often overlooked. Equally, Flamini’s absence from the starting eleven has allowed many to see how important the Frenchman is.

The problem with the Ramsey-Arteta duo is the Welshman’s willingness to surge forward, which often leaves Arteta vulnerable to being overrun in midfield. The Spaniard is then forced to make cynical tackles, and his overall impact decreases, mainly because Arteta isn’t a natural defensive midfielder. At Crystal Palace he was wrongfully sent off for fouling Marouane Chamakh, after the Palace striker got behind the Spaniard. In the early moments against Liverpool, Sturridge and Suarez constantly got behind Arteta, posing a threat on the break. More so, this recurring theme continued against Dortmund, and the Spaniard was fortunate to stay on the pitch for the entirety of the match.

 Image

In the 22nd minute, Arteta was booked for pulling down Blaszczykowski, after the Polish midfielder wriggled away from four Arsenal players and was nearly clear on goal. Eight minutes later, Reus slyly drifted past Arteta and ran at the heart of the Arsenal defence, but Mertesacker read his final ball. In the second half, Lewandowski did well to hold up the ball and play in an advancing Mkhitaryan who ran behind Arteta and played a pass to Blaszczykowski, but Szczesny saved his shot.

Mkhitaryan’s movement was clever and he found pockets of space behind Arteta to receive the ball and exploit on the counter. Arsenal may thrive with Arteta and Ramsey against lesser opposition in the Premier League, but the midfield combination has become a distinct weakness that opponents have targeted over the past few weeks, as Ramsey needs to provide better defensive cover for the Spaniard.

1-0

However, despite the deficiencies that come with the Ramsey-Arteta partnership, Ramsey’s attacking contributions proved to be beneficial. Sokratis failed to clear his lines after Rosicky conceded possession, and the Arsenal midfielder played the ball out wide to Ozil. Giroud outmuscled Grosskreutz to win Ozil’s looping cross and Ramsey got goal-side of Neven Subotic and nodded the ball past Roman Weidenfeller.

It was Arsenal’s first shot on target, and the first time Ramsey got into an advanced position in the final third. The Welsh midfielder has relished in central areas as he’s given more freedom to push forward, and minutes after the opener he nearly put the match out of sight. Giroud and Ramsey combined at the halfway line and pushed higher up the pitch. Giroud played a ball into Ramsey, who peeled away from Marcel Schmelzer. Ramsey’s first touch off his chest was immaculate, but Weidenfeller saved his venomous shot from a tight angle.

Prior to the goal, Arsenal were desperately hanging on by a thread, but the Gunners gambled and pushed higher up the pitch – knowing that Dortmund could blitz them on the counter – and Ramsey’s forward runs and composure in front of goal paid off.

Second half

The second half opened up once Arsenal took the lead, this time in favour of the Gunners. In fairness they had the better chances for the remainder of the match.

Off the corner kick from Weidenfeller’s save on Ramsey, Giroud nearly directed Cazorla’s corner into the net, but a combined effort from Sahin and Weidenfeller kept the ball out. Dortmund were unable to clear their lines and the ball circulated back to Cazorla’s flank, and he delivered another fabulous cross that Mertesacker nearly connected with. Mertesacker would receive another chance to double Arsenal’s lead a few minutes later, but he guided Cazorla’s free-kick a few inches over the goal.

Dortmund looked to the bench to shift the match in their favour by introducing Aubameyang, Julian Schieber and Jonas Hoffman, yet Dortmund’s overall approach didn’t change. Aubameyang was deprived space to take on Arsenal defenders, and as Wenger’s men sat deeper, Dortmund resorted to direct balls into Lewandowski. Wenger reacted to Klopp’s changes by sacrificing Cazorla and Rosicky for Vermaelen and Monreal. Monreal was brought on to nullify Dortmund’s threat on the right side – which forced Aubameyang to the left – and Vermaelen was another body at the back to win aerial duels.

Nevertheless, despite the Gunners finishing the match with six astute defenders, the way they utilized possession in the second half was marvelous. Wenger’s men slowed down the tempo of the match by focusing on ball retention, and with the onus on Dortmund to chase the match and their pressing-game depleted, there was more space for Arsenal to play into.

Conclusion

Klopp’s men were the superior side for large portions of the match – they combined midfield pressing, quick transitions, and attacks down the right flank to trouble the Gunners, but they were unable to create many clear-cut scoring opportunities or test Szczesny.

“I told the team afterwards what everyone who watched the match saw for themselves: we didn’t reward ourselves for the work we put into this game. Losing was unnecessary, but we haven’t lost our hopes yet and everything is still possible as long as we win our two remaining games,” Klopp said. 

This is a monumental, yet fortuitous, victory for the Gunners ahead of their Premier League showdown against Manchester United at Old Trafford. They weathered the Dortmund storm for the first hour and executed on their first opportunity handed to them.

“I was pleased with our focus tonight. We were under pressure from first minute to last but we didn’t make any mistakes and defended well. We were compact and worked together and although there was a difficult period in the first half we put in a very mature performance,” Wenger said. 

The remarkable feat in Arsenal’s performance was their response once they took the lead. Wenger’s men continued to defend well as a unit, but they retained possession and could’ve added to their lead from set pieces. While progression isn’t secured, Arsenal is in a great position to advance to the knockout round.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Juventus 2-2 Real Madrid

Image

Courtesy of Football.ua

Real Madrid secured a berth in the Champions League knockout round as they earned a valuable draw in Turin.

Image

Antonio Conte introduced Leonardo Bonucci  to his starting eleven for the suspended Giorgio Chiellini, while Kwadwo Asamoah slotted in at left back for Angelo Ogbonna.

Carlo Ancelotti made a few changes to the side that defeated Juventus at the Santiago Bernabeu a few weeks ago. Gareth Bale and Xabi Alonso made their first starts in the Champions League this season, while Raphael Varane’s inclusion in the back four, pushed Sergio Ramos to right back.

This match showcased a recurring theme that’s been displayed by both sides this season – Juventus dominated the opening 45 minutes, but Real Madrid’s energetic pressing led to a vast improvement in their second half performance.

Juventus Shape

Conte’s men mirrored the approach utilized at the Bernabeu, by dropping into a 4-5-1 without the ball. Claudio Marchisio and Carlos Tevez were instructed to prevent Sergio Ramos and Marcelo from pushing forward, but they sat narrow alongside the midfield three to minimize gaps. They had a fairly easy time coping with Madrid due to the lack of cohesion in Ancelotti’s attack. Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were higher up the pitch, while Modric and Khedira sat close to Alonso in a deeper position.

With Madrid’s full backs monitored, and their midfield unable to find gaps in central areas, Conte’s men didn’t face many issues on the defensive end. Khedira didn’t offer any attacking threat going forward, and Vidal admirably tracked Modric, when he attempted to dribble forward. In particular, Vidal was superb in midfield, breaking up play with his combative tackles, intercepting passes and quickly leading the transition from defence to attack.

Image

Similar to the fixture two weeks ago, Madrid was stifled in midfield, and this was down to Ancelotti’s approach and Juventus’ shape.

Pirlo vs. Alonso

Ancelotti was pleased to welcome back Alonso to the side, seeing as they missed a player of his stature in midfield. Like Pirlo, Alonso sits deeper in midfield, but he tends to play diagonal cross-field balls to build the attack. It’s a key element in Madrid’s game that they’ve lacked during his absence, as no other midfielder in Ancelotti’s squad possesses his passing range.

The key feat in both approaches was the ability to nullify the prolific deep-lying playmakers. At the Bernabeu we witnessed Karim Benzema press Pirlo for a small portion of the match to some effect, but allowed the Italian to dictate the match in the latter stages, prior to Giorgio Chiellini’s sending off. And once again Benzema was handed the duty to track Pirlo when Juventus had possession of the ball.

Nonetheless, one of the main components that led to Juventus’ superiority in midfield was Pirlo’s freedom and Conte’s intent on nullifying Alonso. Benzema’s defensive work on Pirlo didn’t improve, and once again the Italian maestro was free to facilitate passes into the channels and wide areas.

Image

However, Conte was weary of Alonso’s threat, and instructed Llorente to close him down whenever he received the ball.

Image

The contrast in forward passes is evident between the two deep-lying playmakers, and it was down to the work ethic of both strikers.

 Image

It was strange seeing Bonucci given time on the ball considering his proficient range of passing, and for the most part Juventus had two exceptional passing outlets available going forward. Ancelotti’s defensive tactics were once again naïve, and it led to Juventus’ first half superiority. Alonso’s impact on the match was limited, and this is an approach most sides will take if they encounter Madrid in the latter stages of this competition.

Space in wide areas

Although Juve’s attacking approach was logical, they enjoyed space in wide areas due to Madrid’s shape. The initial aim was to drop into two banks of four without the ball, which explains why it was odd to see Ancelotti’s men defend with seven men – leaving the three attackers higher up the pitch.

With Madrid already outnumbered in midfield, Ancelotti’s men couldn’t afford to leave their fullbacks without sufficient protection. Initially Asamoah was cautious about surging into advanced position – which was logical based on Madrid’s threat on the counter – thus handing the onus to Caceres to get forward. The Uruguayan took advantage of the space behind Ronaldo, and was one of Pirlo’s favored passing option aft. In the second half, it was Caceres’ cross that found Llorente in the box, which saw Conte’s men equalize.

Juve’s superiority in midfield was clear in the first fixture, and the spare man was often Paul Pogba, as Khedira failed to track his runs. Pogba produced another decent outing on the left side, specifically on the break as he freely attacked space. Specifically, there were two separate occasions – besides his outside foot cross that deflected off of Pepe – that led to legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

  1. Vidal did well to sustain possession and played a scintillating ball to Pogba, who drove forward and played a pass to the oncoming Tevez. Tevez looked up and delivered a quality cross to the back post towards Marchisio, but Iker Casillas denied the Italian midfielder.
  1. Llorente received a flick-on from Vidal, and dropped deep with the ball to play a pass to Tevez on the flank. Tevez drove at the defence, and played an incisive ball into the box for the advancing Pogba. Pogba received the ball, forcing Varane to come across and make a last-ditch tackle on the French midfielder, thus resulting in a penalty.

Juventus were exceptional in the first half, and a few top-class Casillas saves prevented Conte’s men from increasing their lead. Nevertheless, Madrid’s shape without the ball was bizarre, yet beneficial to Juventus, who penetrated space in wide areas.

Madrid press

Ancelotti’s men enjoyed a great start to the second half, and that was down to their work rate without the ball. Opposed to the first half, where Juventus was allowed to freely play out of the back, Ancelotti instructed his men to press higher up the pitch. Madrid’s front six squeezed Juventus in their own half and forced them to either play long balls or concede possession in their own half.

Conte’s men were unable to sustain possession and break past Madrid’s press, which ultimately led to Ronaldo’s equalizer. Luka Modric pressed Caceres, Ronaldo cut off the passing lane to Andrea Barzagli, Karim Benzema was near Bonucci and Alonso closed down Pirlo. Caceres played a poor pass into Benzema, and the Frenchman ran towards the Juventus defence, before playing in Ronaldo, who solemnly chipped Gianluigi Buffon.

Ancelotti’s men posed a sufficient attacking threat when they pressed high, as they won the ball in key areas in the final third, and began to dictate the match.

Second half

There’s been a recurring theme in the way both sides perform in the final 45 minutes of matches, and it was displayed in the second half. Madrid have produced more adventurous displays in the second half, while Juventus endure massive energy dip in their performance levels.

There was an overall improvement in Madrid’s second half performance, and the success of their high press proved to be beneficial. Juventus began to drop deeper into their third when Madrid had possession of the ball, and Modric was more inventive with his passing.

Image

The Croatian midfielder began to push forward into attacking positions, as he picked out positive passes between the lines and in wide areas.

 Image

Also, Ramos began to push forward in the latter stages of the second half, as Tevez failed to track his runs. There were two separate occasions that saw Ramos fouled by Bonucci at the edge of the box, and his shot being blocked in the 18-yard box, after beating Asamoah in a 1v1. Madrid posed a larger threat on the break – Ronaldo and Benzema were receiving balls between the lines and Ancelotti urged his men to play Ronaldo into 1v1 situations. Juventus did have their chances in the second half, but a lack of penetration in the final third and quality in their passes, prevented them from nicking a winner.

Conclusion

Casillas’ brilliance in the opening 45 minutes, along with Madrid’s improved second half display secured first place in Group B. Both sides looked threatening on the counter, but all four goals were down to defensive miscues, highlighting how vulnerable both sides were without the ball.

Ancelotti’s initial tactics were questionable, but once again Madrid produced a positive second half performance to earn a point. Their defensive shape, and their overall build up play between midfield and attack still needs grooming, but Madrid continue to find ways to win during this significant transitional period.

“I’m leaving here feeling satisfied with my team’s second-half performance,” Ancelotti said. 

“The reaction was very good on our part. After the break we were much better in terms of courage and aggression,” he added. 

On the other hand, Juventus are in a favourable predicament ahead of their final two matches. Conte will be disappointed with their second half dip, but progression is still attainable. Two wins and they’re in. It sounds straightforward, but Conte’s men will need to improve on both ends if they want to achieve maximum points.

“We deserve more points than we have, but when you face a team like Real Madrid, who have players that can turn the match around in a few minutes, there’s not much you can do,” Conte said. 

“My team played a great game tonight – we played very well especially in the first half, just like we had planned to. It’s the sixth game in 18 days for us and it’s normal to be a little tired,” he added.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 6, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,