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Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid

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Courtesy of Flickr/Ver en vivo En Directo

Despite an ineffective first half display, Real Madrid came from behind to claim their 10th European title.

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Pattern

With this being the fifth meeting between the two sides this season, there was a good chance that the pattern of the match would be the same. Both sides prefer to play on the counter, but the manner in which they attack on the break is slightly different.

As displayed against Bayern Munich and Barcelona this season, Real prefer to sit deeper and utilize the pace of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to punish opponents. Atletico, on the other hand, press the opposition in midfield and look to facilitate the ball to their forwards, as they’re positioned to receive the ball while running due to their deep positioning.

Simeone’s side, though, won La Liga averaging less than 50% of possession, and similar to previous encounters, Real dominated possession and was forced to unlock an organized Atletico defence.

Madrid’s issue

The main issue Madrid encountered during three of the four meaningful matches with their cross-town rivals this season was the ability to create goal-scoring opportunities. Even their 3-0 victory in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal was flattering, as two of the three goals took heavy deflections.

Ancelotti opted to play Khedira –– who featured in 117 minutes of action since his return from a six-month layoff –– ahead of Illarramendi who’s been exploited in high-profile matches on a few occasions this season. Experience was a factor in Ancelotti’s decision, along with the German’s mobility, tenacity, and strength. Khedira, however, was fielded as the single-pivot in midfield.

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Similar to the first Madrid derby at the Bernabeu, Khedira’s presence was futile as he constantly decreased Real’s passing tempo, and his distribution was conservative. Atletico dropped into their traditional two banks of four to limit productivity in their third and central areas.

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Likewise, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria were forced to receive the ball near the halfway line to avoid Atletico’s press, thus impeding their impact on the match. Simeone’s side also pressed Madrid higher up the pitch –– more often in the earlier stages and when Costa was on the pitch –– as they aimed to quickly break into Real’s box. Villa and substitute Adrian Lopez harried Khedira when he received the ball, and the former also applied pressure on Modric in these areas.

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In the first half, Real failed to test goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Real’s best chance was created through Tiago’s misplaced pass at the half-hour mark. The pass fell to Bale, but as the Welshman ran into the box, desperate lunges from Tiago and Miranda forced the 24-year-old to steer his shot wide of the net.

Equally, Atletico’s shape without the ball must be lauded. Simeone’s men have impressively contained Bale and Ronaldo’s threat this season, and that continued in Lisbon. Both wide players prefer to drift into central areas to score goals, and while the Atletico wide players closed down passing lanes, Gabi and Tiago protected their back four admirably.

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Bale occasionally dropped deeper to retain the ball, but in the opening half neither Karim Benzema nor Ronaldo touched the ball in Atletico’s box.

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1-0

Adrian replaced Costa in the ninth minute, and suddenly Simeone was left with the XI many expected the Argentine to initially field. Ultimately this left Atletico’s attack limited in open play. It’s likely that Simeone would play Garcia behind Costa –– for his defensive pressure and offensive aerial threat –– with Turan on the flank, but with his best offensive options unavailable, set pieces appeared to be their best hope.

Prior to the goal, Atletico continuously aimed to overload the left flank, and deliver crosses to Garcia at the far post, as he attempted to isolate Fabio Coentrao. David Villa no longer offers the goal-threat he once did a few years ago, whereas apart from Adrian’s pace –– which forced Varane into conceding the corner that led to Diego Godin’s opener –– the 26-year-old’s threat upfront was scarce.

Subsequently, Varane half-heartedly cleared Gabi’s corner, and Juanfran instantly nodded the ball back into the box, but with Iker Casillas yards off his line, Godin out jumped Khedira and nodded the ball into the net. It was Godin’s eighth goal of the season –– all headers –– and without Costa it was the likely source for an Atletico goal.

Di Maria

Nevertheless, Real’s success always lied in the hands of Di Maria and Modric. Heading into the match they were two players that were required to perform if Real intended on claiming La Decima. The duo was outstanding in Real’s first leg Copa del Rey triumph, and in their draw at the Calderon, Turan and Koke nullified their strengths.

Here, however, Di Maria was the best player on the pitch. Often referred to as underrated, and rarely considered a big game player, the Argentine has developed into one of Madrid’s most important players since Ancelotti implemented the 4-3-3 system at the turn of the year.

Initially, Di Maria was instructed to play crosses from deep positions into the box. Although Atletico’s back four is dominant in aerial duels, the Argentine’s deliveries from deep have tormented Simeone’s men in every encounter this season. In the first half, though, a mixture of poor crossing, and lack of movement in the box meant Di Maria’s deliveries were ineffective.

Real required the Argentine’s dynamism in midfield, and his sharp runs from deeper positions tormented Atletico’s back four. In the early stages, referee Björn Kuipers, wrongly awarded advantage following Di Maria’s sensational run –– where Gabi fouled him –– which led to Coentrao breaking free into the box from the left channel.

That was a warning to Simeone’s men, as Di Maria forced Garcia and Miranda into bookings with his powerful runs from midfield. Meanwhile, in the second half, Juanfran feared that the Argentine would once again cause havoc in the final third, thus resulting in a cynical challenge subsequent to Di Maria’s first touch.

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Di Maria’s dynamism in midfield made him Real’s most proactive player on the field, as he produced another breathtaking performance.

Atletico go 4-2-3-1 

Simeone wasn’t getting the best out of Adrian as the highest attacker in Atletico’s 4-4-2, so the Argentine adopted a 4-2-3-1 in the second half. The alteration was beneficial to Atletico as they began to exploit key areas in Real’s third, whereas Adrian and Koke enjoyed a fine 10 minute spell on the left flank.

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Now Koke and Adrian were on the flanks –– with Koke drifting into central areas to become a third passer in midfield  –– and Garcia sat behind Villa as the main target man. Garcia played this role to perfection in the 2-2 draw at the Calderon this season, but the two wide players thrived in the early stages of the second half.

In the 49th minute, Filipe Luis dispossessed Dani Carvajal in Real’s third, and then played a pass to Koke who drifted over to the left flank to create the overload. Koke then delivered a cross towards the far post for Garcia, but the Spaniard side-volleyed his effort over the bar. Afterwards, the 22-year-old delivered another promising cross into Real’s box, and Coentrao’s header cleared the ball into Adrian’s feet, but his shot deflected off Khedira for a corner.

Equally, Adrian’s pace and ability to evade challenges in tight spaces enabled him to get the better of Carvajal –– along with Isco and Modric –– on a few occasions, but the 26-year-old lacked an incisive final ball. In terms of attacks created from open play, this was Atletico’s best spell, but their habit of not finishing their chances in big games led to their downfall.

Swapped formations

Ancelotti quickly reacted to Simeone’s changes by introducing Marcelo and Isco for Coentrao and the underwhelming Khedira. Madrid effectively transitioned into a 4-4-2 with Isco and Modric sitting in midfield, while Di Maria was positioned on the left flank.

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Seven minutes later, Simeone replaced the fatigued Garcia for Jose Sosa, thus leaving Villa upfront on his own. Atletico were now shaped in a 4-3-3, but due to Real’s superiority in possession, Simeone’s men were pegged into their half and they were more of a 4-5-1. 

Atletico’s limited options on the bench may have forced Simeone to preserve his lead, and unlike previous meetings he reacted to Real’s offensive changes.

Real dominate

However, Ancelotti’s changes were identical to the ones made in the league showdown at the Calderon. There he started the match with two defensive-minded fullbacks before introducing Marcelo and Carvajal. Marcelo’s passing, dribbling and goal presence is superior to Coentrao’s, which explains the logic in the substitution.

Real also lacked a link between midfield and attack without Alonso, so Isco was introduced to exploit pockets of space as Atletico’s press decreased. Atletico’s players tired –– which is understandable due to their dynamic style of play and it being the final game of the season –– and with Simeone lacking match-changing options on the bench, or a threat on the counter, his men were forced to hang on.

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Modric was now the deepest midfielder and the Croatian dictated the tempo of the match. Isco also served as a reliable passer, as well as comfortably retaining possession in the final third. Modric’s run towards the box led to Ronaldo and Benzema exchanging passes, before Isco fired a shot wide of the net. Isco also received a glorious chance to win the match courtesy of Carvajal’s chipped pass and his wonderful first touch, and turn, but Godin made a remarkable last-ditch tackle to maintain their slender lead.

Real camped in Atletico’s half for the remaining 25 minutes, and their were two variations to their attack. The first being quick combination plays around the box. Modric’s pass into Ronaldo saw the Portuguese forward play in Bale, but the 24-year-old fired his shot wide of the net. Subsequently, Bale and Ronaldo combined and the 24-year-old winger received a pass from the current Ballon d’Or winner behind the Atletico defence, but Godin’s pressure forced the Welshman to guide his shot into the side netting.

Secondly, Di Maria continued to play crosses into the box from the left flank, but last-ditch clearances from every member of Simeone’s defence preserved Atletico’s lead. Considering Atletico’s successful set-piece defending, it was surprising to see Simeone’s men concede a goal in this manner. However, Real’s inability to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities against Atletico, and Ramos’ imperious form decreases the shock value; it was one of the few ways for Ancelotti’s men to equalize.

Ramos’ well-timed run towards the centre of the box allowed the Spaniard to get ahead of Tiago and nod Modric’s corner past Courtois with seconds to spare. Ancelotti’s offensive changes altered the tempo and pattern of the match, and Real were rewarded with a stoppage-time equalizer.

Extra-time

Simeone’s final change occurred minutes prior to Ramos’ equalizer as Toby Alderweireld replaced an injured Filipe Luis. Likewise, an injured Juanfran was forced to continue the match hobbling, as Atletico utilized their three available subs.

Nevertheless, the pattern of the match didn’t change. Villa did well to hold up the ball at times, but he doesn’t offer the physical presence Costa possesses, and he couldn’t outpace Varane and Ramos. When Atletico lost the ball it was immediately cleared back to Real, and with Simeone’s men wary of being exposed on the counter, they opted to soak up the pressure and play for penalties.

But in the second half of extra-time Real were rewarded for their persistent attacking. Di Maria evaded Juanfran and Miranda’s challenges following his run from the left flank, and while Courtois saved his initial effort, Bale nodded the rebound into the open net. Marcelo and Ronaldo added two more goals as the final 10 minutes was drab.

Conclusion

This match was similar to their league encounter at the Calderon. Atletico controlled the opening hour, but Ancelotti utilized his bench effectively in the second half to exploit Simeone’s side.

Costa’s ability to work the channels, break on the counter, and disturb Real’s centre backs were missed, and Atletico didn’t possess an attacking threat in open play.

“It was my responsibility to have [Diego Costa] play and obviously I made a mistake because I had to switch him as early as I did; obviously he wasn’t as good as he had been the day before. That was my decision to make. We looked at each other, we caught each other’s eye, and we didn’t want to waste part of the game with one less player,” Simeone said.

“What was most difficult was to get the equalizer. We didn’t have any space, Atlético defended very well, but we tried every way possible, right to the end – we managed to do it and then the game changed completely. The goal we scored gave us a lot of strength and after that perhaps we wanted the victory more,” Ancelotti said.

Frankly, the score-line doesn’t do Atletico justice; this was a remarkable season –– winning La Liga and reaching the Champions League final ––  in which the likes of Porto, Milan, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real failed to beat them in normal time.

Still, this was a straightforward tactical showdown. In ways Simeone is similar to Mourinho –– from the petulance to the methodical approach –– but here, defensive organization and tactical discipline couldn’t overshadow a meager bench and minimal transitional attacks.

That enabled Ancelotti’s side to dominate the latter stages of the match, and with the help of Di Maria’s dynamism and key changes, Real emerged victorious.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Napoli 1-0 Roma

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Courtesy of Flickr/Some rights reserved by calciostreaming

Napoli narrowed the gap with Roma to three points as Jose Callejon’s second half header handed Rudi Garcia’s men their second loss of the season.

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Rafa Benitez was pleased to welcome back Gonzalo Higuain and Raul Albiol to his starting XI, while Blerim Dzemaili slotted in midfield alongside Gokhan Inler.

Rudi Garcia was forced into making a few alterations as he was without the injured Francesco Totti, while Daniele De Rossi is currently serving a three-match suspension. Miralem Pjanic, Michel Bastos and Alessandro Florenzi formed an attacking trio behind Gervinho, while Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan retained their roles in midfield.

This was a tight affair in which Roma’s wastefulness in the final third prevented Garcia’s side from keeping pace with Juventus.

Shape

With both sides adopting identical formations, a significant feat in the match was based on which side defended better without the ball. Neither side opted to press high up the pitch, as they focused on limiting space in midfield. Nainggolan and Pjanic pressed Napoli’s double-pivot, while substitute Rodrigo Taddei tracked Marek Hamsik’s movement.

Likewise, Napoli’s front two occasionally pressed Roma’s centre backs, as they aimed to contain Roma’s threat in midfield. Unfortunately, Pjanic’s movement and Taddei’s energy exposed Napoli’s midfield. However, both sides’ persistence on negating the opposition’s full-backs was pivotal.

The two sides possess attacking full-backs that provide width, but it was evident that both sets of wingers were instructed to prevent the opposing full-backs from pushing forward. With that being said, this meant that central areas were congested, thus explaining why both sides struggled to create chances when they sustained possession.

Roma on the break

Garcia’s team selection indicated Roma’s approach – the away side was aiming to play on the counter with three runners in their attack. Garcia’s tactics were logical, as Gervinho – arguably the best player in the match – consistently posed a threat on the break.

In the opening 20 minutes, Gervinho had already dragged a shot wide of the net, and ignited a break in which Taddei’s heavy touched ruined a legitimate goal-scoring opportunity. Afterwards, the Ivorian’s pace troubled Benitez’s men. Gervinho ran at Cristian Maggio and played a key pass to Florenzi – who should’ve shot – but the Italian winger conceded possession with a poor pass. Minutes later, Gervinho ran behind the Napoli defence and held up the ball, before teeing up Bastos – but Pepe Reina pushed away his long-distance effort.

Roma’s pace in attack constantly exposed Benitez’s back line but their decision-making in Napoli’s third was putrid, and a final ball eluded the away side.

Midfield battle

Seeing as both sides were unable to utilize their full-backs, the battle in central areas was significant. Strootman was forced to leave the match in the 12th minute due to injury, thus forcing Garcia to introduce Taddei alongside Nainggolan. Although Nainggolan struggled to impose his authority, Taddei and Pjanic outshone Dzemaili and Inler in midfield.

In the opening half, Taddei drifted into pockets of space to receive the ball, while playing key passes in midfield, and linking play in wide areas. Ultimately, the substitute was Roma’s most proactive player in midfield, thus signifying Napoli’s poor first half display.

Despite not being at his best, Pjanic influenced Roma’s attack in the second half. The Bosnian midfielder dropped into deeper positions, and provided the guile Roma lacked in the first half. It was Pjanic that played an exceptional ball into Gervinho that should’ve given the away side the lead, and although he was unable to replicate a pass of that quality, the Bosnian was Garcia’s spark in midfield.

Pjanic nearly crafted Roma’s opener when he slid a delicate ball into Bastos, but Florenzi couldn’t convert the Brazilian’s cutback pass. The Bosnian drifted into nifty positions to receive the ball, and was Roma’s link between midfield and attack – Pjanic did all he could.

Napoli, on the other hand, struggled to dictate the midfield. Despite Napoli looking dangerous when Hamsik received the ball in pockets of space in Roma’s third, the Slovakian midfielder was ineffective. Roma dominated central areas and created the better chances on the counter, but Napoli coped with their threat in midfield.

Second half

Prior to Callejon’s winner, both managers turned to their bench in search of a spark. Henrique and Lorenzo Insigne were introduced in the second half, and while the former’s inclusion didn’t affect the match, the latter offered Napoli mobility and pace behind Higuain.

One can argue that Napoli’s attacking three is superior without Hamsik, and Insigne’s arrival created more space for the likes of Callejon and Mertens to dominate. Callejon had already missed two great opportunities to hand Napoli the lead, while Mertens gift-wrapped a chance for Higuain, but the Argentine skied his shot over the bar.

Garcia, on the other hand, called upon Adem Ljajic for the unimpressive Florenzi. Ljajic’s persistence to locate pockets of space, and play quick intricate passes around the final third, while posing a goal-scoring threat led to the decision. Florenzi epitomized Roma’s wastefulness in front of goal, as his tame effort from an excellent Maicon pass, along with his inability to play a final ball around the edge of the box summed up his night.

Napoli’s winner came in the final 15 minutes of the second half as the shackled Faouzi Ghoulam finally busted into an advanced position – after receiving a pass from Mertens – and delivered a fantastic cross towards the back post towards Callejon, and the Spaniard nodded the ball past Morgan De Sanctis.

The second half was split with both sides creating legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, but Napoli’s attacking three improved in the latter stages, and Benitez’s side pounced when their full backs advanced further up the pitch.

Conclusion

Despite producing the better football for larger portions of the match, Roma failed to solve Pepe Reina, as they drop maximum points for the second time this season. Garcia’s approach was logical, but his men lacked conviction in the final third, and a top-class striker that can score goals when Totti is unavailable.

“We decided to wait for Napoli and go on the counter with Gervinho, Florenzi and Bastos. We had many scoring opportunities and only missed that little bit of luck to convert them,” Garcia said.

“Mattia came back from international duty with a slight injury and couldn’t play 90 minutes, but the truth is I didn’t want to leave too much space to the opposition full-backs, as Maggio and Ghoulam could do damage. That’s why I chose some energy on the flanks.”

The victory sees Napoli close within touching distance of Roma for second place – while maintaining an imperious record at the Sao Paolo – but it also ends the title race in Italy, as Juventus now hold a 14 point lead at the top.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Atletico Madrid 2-2 Real Madrid

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Courtesy of Flickr/All rights reserved by Notyfarandula

Atletico missed a golden opportunity to overtake their city rivals, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s late equalizer earned Madrid a vital point at the Vicente Calderon.

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The one major change in Atletico’s XI was the inclusion of Raul Garcia behind Diego Costa. Koke and Arda Turan were fielded on the flanks, while Gabi and Mario Suarez sat in the double-pivot.

Carlo Ancelotti made no changes to the side that blitzed Schalke in midweek.

Atletico dominated majority of the match subsequent to Karim Benzema’s early opener, but woeful finishing, and Simeone’s reluctance to turn to his bench allowed Madrid to dominate the latter stages of the derby.

Real Madrid’s great start

One of the worries many Madrid fans endured at the start of the season was the lack of depth upfront. With Gonzalo Higuain sold to Napoli, Karim Benzema was the sole senior option upfront, and his lackadaisical demeanour, along with his tendency to squander legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, left many skeptical regarding Ancelotti neglecting to find a replacement for Higuain.

Benzema, however, has improved over the last few weeks, and was Madrid’s most proactive attacker. Likewise, the French striker confidently guided Angel Di Maria’s cross from the right flank past Thibaut Courtois from point-blank range. The early goal was exactly what Ancelotti wanted – yet surprisingly it led to Atletico’s dominance.

Atletico shape

The key to Atletico’s dominance was their approach without the ball. The first significant feat was the role of Raul Garcia. Garcia worked hard to press Xabi Alonso, forcing him to play sideways passes in his third, opposed to the long diagonal’s he prefers to make. Garcia’s inclusion was logical, and the midfielder successfully completed his required task.

Secondly, Atletico maintained a narrow shape in midfield when Madrid tried to play out of the back – they simply couldn’t play passes through midfield or to their two best players. On the contrary, this was down to the great work of Atletico’s wide players. Koke and Turan quickly closed down Luka Modric and Di Maria, when the fullbacks pushed towards Gareth Bale and Ronaldo. Yet, there were times when Koke and Turan dropped deeper and prevented the Madrid wide players from receiving the ball.

Ronaldo and Bale were peripheral figures for large portions of the match. Both players drifted infield, but Alvaro Arbeloa was likely to break forward, while Fabio Coentrao was wary of being exposed, despite his involvement in the buildup to Benzema’s opener.

Equally, the Atletico wide men were pivotal in Atletico’s attack, as they tucked in to ensure Simeone’s men dominated midfield. Modric was unable to impose his authority on the match, and the Argentine’s threat in midfield was negated, apart from Di Maria’s long diagonal ball to Benzema that forced a Courtois save.

Atletico’s overall approach without the ball was exceptional – Garcia limited Alonso’s impact, the wide players aided the fullbacks in nullifying Bale and Ronaldo, while as a whole they ensured there was no link between midfield and attack in a scrappy match, which on their standards was beneficial.

Costa

In general, the match suited Costa, as once again he was involved in all the controversy. Surprisingly, the Spanish international was Atletico’s key man, but he can also be held responsible for their inability to secure maximum points.

It took 10 minutes for Costa to make a statement, as he played a pass to Turan and made a run into the left channel, where Sergio Ramos committed a clumsy tackle on the Spanish international, which should’ve resulted in a foul. The Atletico striker’s runs into the channels, and willingness to find space in the final third tormented Madrid’s centre backs.

Nonetheless, he was effective when he dropped deeper and dragged Pepe and Alonso out of position, then charged into space – although, he was usually fouled when doing so. Costa was the games most dangerous player, but his wastefulness in front of goal kept Madrid in the match.

For the most part, world-class strikers always finish 1v1 situations with the goalkeeper, and here he struggled to complete that job. A shot from the right side of the box ricocheted off the side netting, and a failed chip attempt minutes before Gabi’s thunderous goal, summed up Costa’s first half.

However, his best opportunities were spurned in the second half. He cleverly hit a free kick at the edge of the box under the wall but it fell straight into Diego Lopez’s arms. Afterwards, Garcia played him in free on goal, but Pepe’s presence forced Costa to force his shot wide of the net. While that was his best opportunity to double Atletico’s lead, Costa’s header from a corner kick went inches wide.

It’s not often that your most proactive player equally leads to your downfall, but on this occasion, Costa played this role to a tee.

Ancelotti substitutions

With the match drifting away from Madrid, Ancelotti’s substitutions enabled his side to dominate the latter stages of the match. Here, the Italian was wise with the timing and personnel selection, while Simeone’s reluctance to turn to his bench saw his side’s energy levels dramatically decrease.

Although the decision to introduce Marcelo and Dani Carvajal was peculiar, it enabled his side to peg Atletico into their own half – although, fitness levels also played a factor. Unlike Coentrao and Arbeloa, the duo bombarded forward and created chances. Carvajal created two chances for Ronaldo – which ultimately led to his equalizer – and Marcelo’s ball to Modric saw the Croatian sky his shot inches over the bar.

Isco, on the other hand, provided the energy that Di Maria lacked in the second half. He provided a link between midfield and attack, and intelligently found pockets of space in the final third to circulate the ball. The two fullbacks provided more thrust in the final third, whereas Isco was the link that Madrid desperately lacked in the first-half.

Simeone made one substitution by introducing Christian Rodriguez for Turan, but at that point, Atletico were already teetering. Atletico required energy and pace in wide areas – as their pressing decreased – and Simeone’s lack of options, along with his reluctance to make a change gave Madrid the upper hand in the second half.

Conclusion

Atletico dominated majority of the match, but Costa’s wastefulness in front of goal, and Ancelotti’s substitutions merited a draw.

While Atletico lost two points, they now possess the tiebreaker, if the duo were to possibly finish the season level on points. Simeone’s initial game plan was logical and successful, but his inability to identify that substitutions were required led to his downfall.

This may be one of Madrid’s worst performances since the turn of the year, and while their trip to Europe may have played a part, they were outmatched in midfield for large portions of the match. While their lead at the top is now trimmed to a sole point, Ancelotti’s ability to obtain a point when his side was thoroughly outplayed could prove beneficial in May.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Emmanuel Adebayor justifies his return to prominence at Old Trafford

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Courtesy of: Roger Gorączniak

One of the few alterations in Tim Sherwood’s resurgent Spurs side is the inclusion of two strikers. Andre Villas-Boas’ reluctance to play a 4-4-2 left supporters and the ownership disgruntled, and it was one of the key factors that led to his dismissal.

Villas-Boas’ persistence to play marquee signing Roberto Soldado as the lone striker didn’t replace the attacking void Gareth Bale’s departure left in attack – and it’s difficult to solely blame the Spaniard for Spurs’ attacking deficiencies. Soldado isn’t a traditional number nine – he thrives when teammates are within close proximity to link play, and adequate service is provided. Villas-Boas’ side struggled to score goals and create chances during the latter stages of Villas-Boas’ tenure, while Soldado was merely a peripheral figure that spent many matches isolated against the opposition’s centrebacks.

Another difference to the North London side since Sherwood’s appointment is Emmanuel Adebayor’s presence in the starting XI. Villas-Boas banished Adebayor from the first-team, and the Spurs striker only featured for 45 minutes this season prior to Sherwood’s appointment.

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Tottenham’s trip to Old Trafford was pivotal, and their impressive away record instilled optimism, as Sherwood’s men aimed to defeat Manchester United for the second consecutive season. Sherwood made one change to the attacking six that comfortably defeated Stoke City over the weekend, introducing Etienne Capoue for the injured Paulinho. Christian Eriksen was expected to drift infield from the left flank to provide creativity, whereas Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker were responsible for width on the right.

While Eriksen’s impact on the match was monumental, Adebayor’s performance exhibited Spurs’ attacking approach. Spurs struggled to sustain possession in the opening half hour – they constantly misplaced passes in key areas, and their decision-making was poor. Yet, despite United’s dominance in possession and down the right flank, it was Sherwood’s men who created the better chances.

Adebayor was a reliable passing outlet for the North London side, as he often dropped deep into midfield to receive the ball, and bring the midfield – that often sat deep – into the match to link play; a feat that Soldado struggled to complete as the lone striker. The Togolese striker initiated quick counters from his own half, and his rampaging run into United’s third, which led to Lennon’s tame effort in the 12th minute, highlighted his impact. Towards the end of the first half, Adebayor wonderfully brought down a loose ball, and played an incisive pass to Lennon that led to a squandered Soldado opportunity.

The Spurs striker’s involvement in both goals summed up his influence on the match. Eriksen’s ability to locate and attack space enabled the Dane to get into United’s third to deliver a cross at the far post, and Adebayor rose above Chris Smalling to direct the ball past David De Gea – it was the Togolese striker’s fourth goal since his return from exile.  Likewise, it was Adebayor who brought his midfield into the attack in the buildup to Eriksen’s goal, as he played the initial pass to Soldado, which led to Lennon’s penetrating run towards United’s box.

And while Adebayor’s involvement in both goals was pivotal, his determination and work ethic was identical. His battle with Wayne Rooney to win possession near the Spurs corner flag, along with his powerful run to the byline, before cleverly back-heeling the ball to his teammate displayed his ambition.

Unfortunately for the Togolese striker his exceptional afternoon was short-lived as he was stretchered off the pitch midway through the second-half. Spurs dug deep for the final moments of the match, and Hugo Lloris made a few key saves to preserve the lead. Sherwood’s belief in Adebayor has gifted Spurs with a rejuvenated striker, who’s developed into a key cog in their push for Champions League football. Here, he was the goal scorer, creator, and at times the heartbeat of the Spurs attack.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Chelsea’s superior squad sneak past Liverpool

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Chelsea’s slender victory against Liverpool displayed the difference between a potential title contender, and a side heading in that direction. Chelsea’s cautious performance provided a short period in the first half that saw Jose Mourinho’s men produce their best football since his return.

Liverpool’s lack of squad depth forced Brendan Rodgers into making one change to the side that lost at the Ethiad Stadium – the Reds were without Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, while Victor Moses was ineligible to feature. On the other hand, Mourinho had the luxury of tinkering with his starting lineup, recalling Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, Willian and Frank Lampard.

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The away side fortuitously took the lead in the opening three minutes, due to poor set-piece defending from Mourinho’s men. Both sides have experienced difficulties defending set-pieces this season, so this was a logical point of attack to exploit – Martin Skrtel pounced on a loose ball in the box – that Branislav Ivanovic failed to clear – and tapped it into an open goal from six-yards out.

Similar to their victory against Southampton, Chelsea responded well. However, Liverpool’s work ethic without the ball in the opening minutes of the match frustrated Mourinho’s men. Raheem Sterling and Phillipe Coutinho quickly closed down Chelsea’s fullbacks, and Luis Suarez worked tirelessly against John Terry and Gary Cahill, but the problem was in midfield.

Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson looked weary and sluggish throughout the match, as they half-heartedly pressed Chelsea’s midfield. David Luiz and Frank Lampard adopted deep positions in midfield and freely played passes around the pitch, while Willian, Oscar and Hazard drifted infield, and successfully operated between the lines. The buildup to Hazard’s equalizer witnessed Chelsea’s three creators combine in central areas, and Oscar’s powerful run led to Hazard’s curling effort.

Liverpool was overrun in midfield at certain points during the first half, and their attempt to replicate this feat failed. Coutinho drifted infield to help his side control the midfield – with Allen pushing into an advanced position on the right – but the Brazilian’s final ball was consistently poor. Suarez was merely an isolated figure in the opening half, as Cahill and Terry closely monitored his movement around the final third.

Chelsea’s success was also down to their pressing – Mourinho’s men limited Liverpool’s ability to play out of the back, and it also prevented their midfield from developing a fluid passing rhythm. Whenever Rodgers’ men evaded Chelsea’s press, they struggled to get behind the Chelsea defence, or create legitimate goal scoring opportunities.

Mourinho was forced to introduce Ashley Cole midway through the half, which pushed Azpilicueta to right-back. Although Coutinho occasionally closed down Ivanovic, the Chelsea defender rarely  surged forward. Azpilicueta had different intentions  – he ventured forward at the first opportunity presented, and his cross found Oscar, who snuck past Mamadou Sakho and played a ball across the box, which Eto’o directed past Simon Mignolet.

There was a significant decline in Chelsea’s attacking impetus in the second half, and Liverpool began to pose a threat in the attacking third. Sterling scampered down the right flank admirably, Sakho’s header – from a Henderson cross – rattled the crossbar, and Petr Cech saved Suarez’s tame volley.

Unlike Mourinho, Rodgers doesn’t possess legitimate game changers on the bench and he was forced to hand a debut to 19-year-old Brad Smith for the injured Allen, as Liverpool became a 3-5-2. Liverpool’s wingbacks pushed into advanced positions out wide, thus pegging Chelsea’s creators into deeper positions. Coutinho began to drop into better positions in the final third, and Suarez effortlessly ran the channels, but apart from two penalty cries – Eto’o’s clip being his only legitimate shout – Liverpool didn’t come close to an equalizer.

Liverpool’s overachievement in the first half of the season has been derailed over the Christmas period; while they do possess an exciting starting eleven, Rodgers’ side doesn’t possess the depth required to secure a Premier League crown, and possibly a Champions League spot.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Tactical Analysis: Bosco Lions vs. 2-1-2

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The 2-1-2 has been the Bosco Lions’ preferred formation since their existence. Other formations were experimented with in the early days, but this system enhanced the performances of their attacking players. Defensively, the Toronto-based side has never been strong, yet they always had an abundance of attacking impetus – and the players who were playing consistently for the first time had the potential to increase this threat.

Flashback to three years ago; Sunday’s – usually utilized for leisure time or rest – brought together a group of friends that decided to form a soccer team. Initial success wasn’t expected, but the determination to win was evident. On a weekly basis these young men took the field in their bright lime green jerseys and put their bodies on the line for one another.

Their road to glory wasn’t a formality – penalty shootouts, nail-biting late winners and a surmountable attempt at revenge against rivals DMP is what led them to lifting a championship on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. They did the impossible. A team built to have fun and potentially grow into ‘winners’ did the unthinkable on their first try.

It’s easy to win a title, but defending the crown is a difficult task. The hunger was gone. Complacency snuck upon them, and although their confidence levels increased, they were unable to replicate such success.

What happened?

This team did encounter a few changes that conflicted with their natural balance, but as a whole they improved over the past three years. The core of the team is the same, and the players who were beginners at the time have improved vastly. These players know how to win, so what’s the issue?

They’ve won more games than they’ve lost during this period, but they fail to prosper when it matters. The dependency on individual brilliance hit an all-time high, and although this method of attack was positive, Bosco has been overrun in midfield on several occasions over the past few years.

Is there a talent issue?

No.

Bosco could field their five best players for longer periods of the match, and the chances of them claiming another title would still be slim. Their method of attack has become predictable, whereas they’ve yet to instill a proper defensive system.

However, despite all the flaws they hold, this Bosco side isn’t a lost cause. In short, they lack a bit of structure and tactical discipline. More so, this is a simple guide that can be beneficial towards these young men maximizing their individual talent. A key component that leads to success in indoor soccer is cohesion, and below I will explain what Bosco needs to do to achieve a cohesive system.

Intro   

The 2-1-2 is a common formation used in indoor soccer that relies on two hard working strikers and an energetic, yet tactically disciplined midfielder – pretty much a box-to-box midfielder. Here, the midfielder has two jobs – they need to be able to link play with the attackers, but also provide astute defensive cover for the two defenders. Playing one midfielder is the risk, because there’s a great chance that your side is overrun in midfield, which is why this player needs to be tactically disciplined.

Base shape   

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Bosco Lions 2-1-2

Bosco doesn’t possess two naturally gifted strikers so they often field two grinders upfront. Their main strength is in midfield, and while they do possess competent defenders, these men are attacking minded.

A key feat towards the success of this system is the positioning of the midfielder. In the past, he’s often positioned himself with his back to goal, or roamed higher up the pitch searching for space to receive the ball. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the sole purpose of this system is to sustain possession, and hand the midfielder full control of the match.

In retrospect, the system I’m about to present is similar to the way Pep Guardiola’s sides play. In the early days at Barcelona, Dani Alves would play as a right winger – which led to a great understanding with Lionel Messi and tons of goals from the right side – with Eric Abidal sitting back to provide balance. In Guardiola’s final year, Barcelona played a 3-4-3, which ultimately became a 3-3-4 as Alves bombed forward, and Sergio Busquets dropped in between the defenders.

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David Alaba and Phillip Lahm are in the widest/highest positions on the pitch as fullbacks.

Now, Guardiola implements a 4-1-4-1 at Bayern Munich – although his approach is risky, the field at the Vaughan Sportsplex is neither wide nor long. The Spaniard encourages his fullbacks to surge into advanced positions, while his midfield players drop deep to dictate the tempo of the match.

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Alaba and Lahm are higher up the pitch out wide, and Thiago dropped deep. In this screenshot he’s about to play a pass to Lahm, so he can drive forward.

However, while the generic shape is a 2-1-2, the aim of this system is to end up in a 1-2-2. Ball retention is pivotal, and even though this system could be somewhat conservative, if executed properly, it’ll lead to success.

Without the ball

The most important feat regarding success in 5v5 matches is your shape when your opponent has possession. Your side can field a lineup with a strong attack, but if they’re disjointed as a unit without the ball, there’s a good chance that you won’t succeed over the long-term.

More so, shape is a factor that most teams tend to overlook – but little do they know that your defensive shape wins you the big games, especially against superior opposition. Defending at the Sportsplex should be fairly simple – based on the size of the field, assigning each player a man would be the easy route to take.

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How Bosco should be set up on goal kicks and when the goalie has the ball

The first area that needs to be addressed is defending your opponent’s goal kick or when they opt to play passes to their goalie. This is the only time Bosco should press high. The forwards should close their defenders – midfielder on midfielder and the defenders should keep tight on their attackers. The main goal is to force the opponents goalkeeper to concede possession, and if this press is executed properly then there’s a 99% chance he will.

Apart from those scenarios, Bosco should NEVER press high or press the goalkeeper, unless you’re confident you’ll steal the ball or force him to concede possession. Defensive solidity, organization and cohesion are pivotal in a 5v5 match, and majority of the time it makes a difference.

To avoid being overrun in midfield, or dragged out of position, it’s important that the strikers drop a few yards away from the opposition’s defenders. The aim is to stay compact, and force your opponent to work hard to break your backline down. Regardless of the situation, the attackers should always be behind the ball, which requires improved work-rate on both ends. Below I break down two scenarios that are likely to occur.

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Our shape if the defender beats Randy

Here, the right defender evades Randy’s press. The wide men is the least threatening player so Jose should drop back to cover him, while Randy picks up the left defender. Steve/Nooch should press the opposition’s midfielder, while Bosco’s midfielder should close down the opposition’s right defender.

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If Claudio/Jose gets beat by a defender

Another situation would be Jose/Claudio getting beat by the left defender. Here we still want Jose/Claudio to hustle back and cover the player out wide and Steve/Nooch to close down the midfielder. Bosco tends to concede fouls when their forwards relentlessly track back in attempts to win the ball from the defender that beat them – this gives them the responsibility to keep wide player on their flank, and ensures that the three defenders protect central areas.

In Bosco’s most recent fixture, this defensive model was displayed in the second half after going down 4-1. Subsequently, the opposition failed to threaten Bosco’s goal for the rest of the match. Coincidence?

Midfielder

The 2-1-2 Bosco intend on playing leaves the midfielder with a huge task on both ends – as stated earlier, this player is practically a box-to-box midfielder. Although that isn’t necessarily a bad option when playing inferior opposition, the idea of playing a box-to-box midfielder in a single pivot can be suicidal.

This formation abandons that philosophy – the midfielder in this approach needs to be tactically disciplined, as he’ll be somewhat of a deep-lyer. The main responsibility this player withholds is dictating the tempo of the match. This player is effective when the ball is at his feet. He drops deep to receive the ball and build play, but he’s also required to constantly string passes together, in search of openings.

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Here you see Thiago dropping deep. This allows Alaba and Lahm to push forward, but the centre back the freedom to play long diagonal balls. Also if Lahm or Alaba lost the ball in their zone, Thiago provides defensive cover when either centre back is forced to sweep up.

On the defensive end, he drops deep to become the third defender. Many can see this as an impractical approach, but this is important because it ensures that Bosco always has a numerical advantage at the back.

In the past Bosco has relied on their midfielder to be their attacking thrust, and in certain situations he should be, but this role allows him to be beneficial to Bosco’s overall play. By no means is the midfielder shackled to tactical instructions – indoor soccer provides a lot of openings and chances to break on net, and the midfielder should only push forward when the opportunity is certain.

Finally, teams will be keen to press the midfielder out of the equation, but as the match progresses and players tire, he’ll slowly be handed the space to influence the match. The key is patience – most games are 50 minutes, and in reality the midfielder might take 10-15 minutes before he begins to dictate the tempo. He’ll receive the ball higher up the pitch, but his significance increases once he picks up the balls in pockets of space or at the edge of his own box.

In short, the midfielder’s role in this system is more defined – if he fulfills his duties, the chances of his side’s success increases. He needs to be disciplined, calm, a leader, and defensively astute – yet his ability to play incisive passes and eye for goal must be proficient.

Attacking philosophy

This system instills a sense of defensive solidity, so some may fear that Bosco’s approach going forward will be conservative. In fairness, this may be the case, but if you’re not attacking on the break, the intent should be to move up the field as a cohesive unit.

Virtually, Bosco should be a 1-2-2 when they’re possession. In order to do this, they must focus on ball retention. An issue Bosco encounters on the attack apart from a lack of movement would be their persistence to force passes. They continuously force long balls over the top, or attempt to squeeze penetrating passes into tight areas.

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Here, we see the Bosco midfielder as the last man – his job is to circulate the ball around the field, but also move laterally to provide a passing outlet for wide players that have no forward option. Bosco defenders seem to be hesitant with playing the ball backwards, but they should ALWAYS drop the pass back to the midfielder or the goalie if a passing lane isn’t available – the same goes for corner kicks, as the chances of completing a successful cross into the box is slim.

The longer Bosco holds possession, the less defending they have to do, which conserves energy levels. Likewise, not every pass needs to go forward. There’s nothing wrong with restarting the play and going back to your goalie or back to the player who initially played the pass. You can’t concede a goal if you have the ball, which is why possession is vital. Passing lanes will eventually open, legs will tire, and chances will be created, but Bosco needs to monopolize possession in a professional manner.

When the midfielder drops deep to receive the ball in any situation, the two defenders should be pushed into advanced positions. Majority of the time, this will create 3v2 situations and their will always be an outlet for the midfielder to play into. But the advanced positioning of the defenders is key, because it pegs the opposition into there half, as they now become an offensive threat.

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How Bosco should be shaped when they enter the oppositions half.

Essentially, the Bosco defenders are auxiliary inverted wingers on the attack. They have two options when pushing forward – they can either cut in and shoot, or drive forward and stretch the field. Each Bosco defender has the tendency to cut in and shoot, and while this is encouraged, the opposite winger’s job is to stay wide and stretch the field. Also, the defenders have to be disciplined with their movement, as they’ll be required to transition from attack to defence quickly to support the midfielder, if they’re caught on the break. However, if Bosco can sustain possession in a 1-2-2, their defenders will maintain high energy levels, and sprinting back into position won’t be difficult.

Bosco currently have three strikers at their disposal, and you can argue that they haven’t been utilized properly. Claudio is a pacy, dynamic attacker, Jose is a hardworking space invader, whilst Randy is a genuine poacher.

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Identical diagram to the one above, but now we’re highlighting the attackers.

Here, Jose and Randy are the two strikers up top, and Claudio would preferably slot into Jose’s spot, because they somewhat pose a similar threat. The diagram above encourages Jose to drop deep into space, and then subsequently move out to the flanks and push forward. Jose’s movement is key because it drags a defender out of position and allows either a defender or the midfielder to attack the space.

Jose/Claudio’s movement should be varied – dropping deep into the midfield and drifting over to the wing is encouraged, but most of their energy should be dedicated to their defensive duties. You should NEVER tire yourself out when Bosco has possession of the ball.

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The midfielder won the ball and sprints forward to put himself in a 2v2 situation. Jose is encouraged to make a diagonal run to drag the defender with him – this allows the midfielder to isolate the defender in a 1v1 scenario.

Also, Jose/Claudio play a pivotal role on the break if a midfielder or defender surge forward. There job is to make an opposite run from the ball carrier to drag a defender out of position, and give the carrier half a yard to make a pass or shoot.

Randy’s position is unique – no player on the team possesses the ability to get into goal scoring positions like him. This system will free up space for the midfielder to locate Randy and the defenders to take shots, which can potentially lead to rebounds for him to pick up. Randy needs to get to/near the box frequently, but he also needs to be aware of the space that Jose is creating for him to run into. If Tim/Araujo cut in, Randy will make a straight run into the box, but if the right defender provides width then Randy should make a diagonal run towards the box.

Conclusion

“Whether detailed or vague, good or bad, effective or ineffective, all football teams try to play a certain way to win.”

Richard Whittall, soccer features writer at theScore.com, stated that in his weekly ‘The Skeptical Tactician’ column, and frankly, it’s true. Bosco currently play a high-octane game that allows them to score, but there’s also heavy reliance on individual brilliance.

This system presented allows the forwards to be scrappy, the midfielder freedom to dictate the match, and gives the defenders a chance to express themselves in an attacking sense. Now, it will take time for Bosco to adapt to this system, but it’s a system that should lead to success over the long-term.

Furthermore, the system ensures defensive solidity and organization at the back, yet it requires patience, cohesion and possession to reap rewards.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in College Soccer

 

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Bayer Leverkusen 0-5 Manchester United

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Manchester United arguably produced their best performance of the David Moyes era, as they thumped Bayern Leverkusen at the BayArena.

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Robin van Persie, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick were still unavailable, so David Moyes was forced to make a few changes to his 4-4-1-1. Wayne Rooney led the line ahead of Shinji Kagawa, Nani and Antonio Valencia, while Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones formed a midfield duo.

There were no surprises in Sami Hyypia‘s 4-3-3 as Stefan Kiessling, Gonzalo Castro and Heung-Min Son led the attack, while Lars Bender, Stefan Reinartz and Simon Rolfes formed a midfield trio.

United were terrific – they were organized, disciplined, and frightening on the counter attack, and Leverkusen was punished for their naïve approach.

Leverkusen impress early

Leverkusen started the match in a positive manner, and this was down to United’s shape. United maintained a high line in the early moments, and although it left them vulnerable to balls over the top, the gap between the midfield and backline was large.

This is where Son thrived – The South Korean attacker drifted centrally to pick up pockets of space in the final third, and he attacked Moyes’ men at every opportunity. Son received two opportunities to hand the home side the lead, but both of his attempts didn’t test David De Gea. Kiessling also had a glorious opportunity to hand Leverkusen the lead when he skipped past Rio Ferdinand, but Jonny Evans made a vital interception to keep the match scoreless.

1-0

United continued their impressive run of scoring in the opening 25 minutes of each Champions League match this season – they’ve done so in each group stage match this season – despite Leverkusen’s positive attacking contributions at the start of the match. Shockingly, prior to the goal Kagawa and Rooney were peripheral figures.

Nonetheless, United pounced on Reinartz’s mistake, which allowed Kagawa to break into midfield with pace, before playing a ball to the oncoming Giggs. The Welshman found Rooney on the left, and the Englishman delivered an exquisite ball at the far post for Valencia to tap in.

This was a devastating move that highlighted Moyes approach on the counter attack. United utilized their pace in wide areas, whereas Kagawa excelled in a no.10 role that relied on the Japanese playmaker’s wonderful ability to swiftly transition from defence to attack.

United’s shape

One of the main differences between the sides was the way they approached the match without the ball. United were terrific on both ends – their natural shape was compact, whereas their pressing was cohesive.

Rooney and Kagawa closed down Leverkusen’s centre backs and Giggs tracked Reinartz when he attempted to drop deeper and create 3v2 situations. Hyypia’s men attempted to play around United’s press by having Bender and Rolfes drop deeper, but Nani and Valencia took the authority to track the duo, and left Patrice Evra and Chris Smalling the responsibility of marking Leverkusen’s fullbacks – this left Moyes’ men 3v3 at the back, but the German outfit had difficulties breaking past United’s press.

However, United looked comfortable when Leverkusen pushed forward. The issue Leverkusen encountered was the shape of their attacking three – Castro and Son aren’t natural wide players – they rely on movement around the final third, and United’s narrow shape prevented the wide players from flourishing, as central areas were often congested.

Hyypia’s men were in desperate need of width – which is often provided from their full backs – and although Emre Can and Giulio Donati pushed into advanced positions, the quality in these wide areas were poor. Rolfes and Bender also attempted to push forward to help their full backs attain better positions, but Nani and Valencia admirably tracked their runs.

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It’s been awhile since we’ve seen an impressive defensive display from United, but they showcased their grit in Germany.

Leverkusen shape

While United displayed a sense of organization and discipline, there was a significant contrast in the German side’s approach. Leverkusen’s front three dropped off the United backline, and allowed Evans and Ferdinand to have the ball – yet whenever they did press the centre backs, Jones or Giggs would drop between them and receive the ball.

The German side also encountered issues between the lines – there was a heap of space between midfield/attack and midfield/defence. With no pressure being applied on central players, Giggs, Jones, and Kagawa found it relatively easy to receive the ball, and facilitate play. United didn’t necessarily trouble the German side with their possession, but the multiple gaps available in Leverkusen’s shape left Hyypia’s men vulnerable throughout the entire match.

Midfield battle

One of the most surprising feats in this match was the midfield battle. Heading into the fixture, the biggest concern was whether United would be able to cope without Carrick or Marouane Fellaini against a midfield trio.

Leverkusen’s numerical advantage in midfield favoured the German side to dictate central areas, yet Giggs and Jones produced their best performances of the season. The United duo were intelligent with their movement, and often slotted into deeper positions, knowing that Leverkusen’s midfield wouldn’t press them.

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This played into Giggs’ hands as he was allowed to showcase his impressive range of passing, whilst the duo also contributed on the defensive end, when needed.

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It was shocking to see neither an attacker nor midfielder press Giggs, as he was dominating the midfield, and in the 88th minute his glorious over the top ball to Nani, highlighted this fact. Giggs was allowed time and space to cleverly pick out the Portuguese attacker, who subsequently produced a cheeky finish past a helpless Bernd Leno.

Despite United’s lack of numbers in midfield, Leverkusen’s naïve approach towards containing the duo led to Giggs and Jones’ dominance in midfield.

Leverkusen press

There was a difference in Leverkusen’s approach in the second half – opposed to the opening 45 minutes, Hyypia instructed his men to press higher up the pitch. There were brief glimpses of their press towards the end of the first half, when Bender and Rolfes closed down Giggs and Jones.

However, the issue Leverkusen faced was their press was disjointed. There was no structure in midfield, and United smoothly drove into advanced positions. Equally, it left more space for United’s attackers to drop into, thus leading to Rooney and Kagawa having a larger influence in the second half.

United down the right

Also, with Leverkusen attempting to win possession in advanced positions, space in wide areas were outlets for United to exploit. With Son and Castro rarely tracking back, the onus was on Rolfes and Bender to protect their full backs.

Their was a vast improvement in Valencia’s performance throughout the second half, as Can – who was absolutely dreadful in and out of possession – was caught higher up the pitch on several occasions. Valencia attacked space behind the makeshift left back, and the Ecuadorian’s pace and strength tormented Can. Valencia was involved in four different situations that could’ve led to a goal – likewise, his dangerous cross in the 64th minute led to the corner kick that provided United with their third goal.

Kagawa

Of the many star United performers against Leverkusen, it was Kagawa that impressed – with that being said, Rooney and Giggs’ imperious displays shouldn’t be overlooked.

Kagawa thrived in the no.10 role, which he rarely gets to feature in due to Rooney’s inclusion in the squad. However, Moyes’ reactive approach also played a factor in his success. The Japanese playmaker succeeded at Dortmund playing behind the striker in a transition-based game, which focused on quick attacks on the break – coincidentally this was Moyes’ approach towards the match.

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But the United playmaker dropped deeper to retain possession, and Leverkusen was unable to contain his swift movement. Kagawa’s involvement in Chris Smalling’s fourth goal showcased his highly-rated creative niche. The Japanese international dinked a clever ball over the Leverkusen back line to Rooney, and the Englishman lobbed a pass to Smalling, who guided the ball into the open net.

Kagawa’s performance was impressive – United’s approach played to his strengths, and now it’s evident that United has another element of creativity at their disposal, especially against superior sides in Europe.

Conclusion

This was a convincing United performance – arguably the best display of Moyes’ tenure thus far. Nonetheless, Leverkusen was lethargic – their narrow attack favoured the away side, whereas their defensive approach allowed Kagawa, Giggs and Jones freedom to control the match.

United were by far the superior side, and individual performances from the midfield and Rooney merited three points, and a berth in the round of 16. Moyes can breathe for a few days, but upcoming fixtures against Spurs and Everton should provide a sterner test, and display whether genuine progress has been made.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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