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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pressing

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

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

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

Brazil’s issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colombia chances

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

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

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

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

Sanchez

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

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

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

Substitutions/Second Half

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

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Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus

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

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

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

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

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

Real stop overload/Shape

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

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

kroos juventus

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

Marcelo

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

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

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

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

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

Marcelo juventus

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

Juve approach

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

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

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

Madrid counter

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

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

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

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

Ramos – Varane

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

Ramos juventus

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

Morata and Tevez fouled

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

Final half hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

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Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juve welcomes pressure

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

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

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

Juventus goal real madrid

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

Real sloppy in possession

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

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

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

Real attacks

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

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

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

Marcelo Carvajal juventus

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

Second half

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

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

2-1

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

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

Both managers react

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

Bale Ronaldo Juventus

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Bayern Munich 6-1 Porto

thiago jackson

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

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

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

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

Porto’s shape

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

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

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

Guardiola adjusts

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

Gotze Lahm Porto

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

Thiago Alcantara porto

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

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

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

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

Bayern’s goals

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

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

bayern goal porto

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

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

Second half

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

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

 Alonso Muller Brahimi

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago down the left

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

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

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

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

Defensive shape

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

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

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

TFC issue in the final third

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

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

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

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

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

11v10

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

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Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid

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Barcelona moved four points clear of rivals Real Madrid with a narrow victory at the Camp Nou.

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Luis Enrique named his expected XI with Javier Mascherano stepping into midfield for Sergio Busquets, who was unable to start the match, to join Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta. 

Similar to Enrique’s team selection, Ancelotti’s XI offered no element of surprise. The Italian recalled Toni Kroos into midfield alongside Luka Modric, Isco and Gareth Bale, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema started upfront. 

 This match followed a similar pattern to previous clasico’s with Real enjoying the better first half, and Barca improving throughout, but more importantly it showcased the stylistic alterations that have taken place at both clubs. 

 Barcelona struggle 

 Barcelona were far from their best in the opening half, but their inability to impose authority on the match was unsurprising. The home side’s transformation into a devastating counter-attacking outfit has been showcased on several occasions this season, but with limited space to exploit in Madrid’s third, Enrique’s men failed to consistently pose a threat in attacking zones. 

Madrid’s two banks of four maintained a high-line when Barca attempted to play out the back, and their pressing forced the home side to occasionally concede possession cheaply. On the other hand, Madrid limited space between the lines when they dropped deeper into their half, further thwarting a star studded attack. 

More so, Modric moved to the right to ensure Madrid held a numerical advantage against Neymar and Jordi Alba. The Croatian equally monitored Iniesta’s movement, whereas Kroos was handed the task of pushing forward to pester Javier Mascherano.

Although Suarez endured a quiet opening half, the Uruguayan was the most effective Barca player by dropping deep in attempt to link play – this movement forced Pepe to commit the foul that led to Jeremy Mathieu’s opener. 

The home side should have doubled their lead shortly afterwards when Suarez’s mishit shot fell to an unmarked Neymar in the box, but the Brazilian fired a tame effort directly at Iker Casillas. 

Real fly down the left 

Real produced arguably their best display in recent weeks in the latter stages of the first half. Kroos and Modric were tidy in central areas, igniting sleek attacks from deep areas, but majority of Real’s moves stemmed down the left flank.

With Barca dropping into a 4-5-1, and considerably keen on retreating into their base shape, Ancelotti’s men exploited space behind the advanced Messi. Marcelo freely surged down the left to steer Real into key areas, and he equally completed the most attacking third passes for the away side.

Marcelo barca

Ronaldo drifted to the left towards the end of the half with hopes of offering a greater impact, but Rakitic quickly shuttled over to his right flank to aid Dani Alves. Real’s minimal penetration in the final third has thwarted their threat in recent weeks, and while the right side was fairly anonymous throughout, Marcelo’s adventurous positioning was significant. 

Benzema 

However, the game’s most threatening attacking player was undoubtedly Benzema, as the Frenchman was often on the end of Marcelo’s surging runs. While Benzema has often been the scapegoat at the Bernabeu, mainly for some questionable finishing, and the pressure of playing alongside two of the most expensive players on the planet, the Frenchman was Madrid’s key man at the Camp Nou. 

Here, Benzema’s off-the-ball movement was simple, yet efficient: he often made diagonal runs across centre-backs Gerard Pique and Mathieu, or cleverly drifted into half-space to receive forward passes. Real’s first legitimate chance saw Benzema move into half-space to receive a pass from the rampaging Marcelo, before receiving space from Alves to clip a ball into the far post but Ronaldo directed his shot off the crossbar.

 benzema madrid

Prior to the aforementioned chance, Benzema made a simple diagonal run into right half-space, but he lashed his shot inches wide of the far post. Coincidentally, the Frenchman made an identical run in the buildup to Ronaldo’s equalizer, this time opting to back heel the ball into the path of the Portuguese striker who failed to test Claudio Bravo.

Likewise, Benzema’s general linkup up play was equally impressive. He dropped deep to receive the ball, and clip a pass into the right channel for Bale, and his ability to hold off Mathieu and spin Mascherano was pivotal in the buildup to Ronaldo’s long distance effort towards the end of the half . 

Overall Benzema’s movement was excellent, he combined well with teammates – creating Ronaldo’s equalizer – and was unlucky not to convert Real’s sole legitimate chance in the second half, following an excellent passing move on the break that was initiated by the Frenchman. 

Frankly, a few vital last-ditch tackles from MOTM candidate, Gerard Pique prevented Benzema from punishing the hosts in the first half.

pique barca

In a monumental (potential) title decider against the club’s biggest rivals, it was Benzema that posed several issues for Barca’s back-line opposed to Ronaldo or Bale. 

 2-1 

Suarez left the clasico a hero Sunday night, with his second half goal further displaying modifications made under Enrique. The goal itself wasn’t memorable, but it solidifies a shift in the club’s philosophy. In the past, Barca may have continued to try and break Real down with intricate passes in the final third, but here, and as they have on several occasions this season, they adopted a direct approach to bypass the away side’s pressing. 

Following several passes between the Barca defenders, it was Alves’ long ball into right half-space that saw Suarez run across Pepe to expertly control the pass on his chest and slide his shot past the keeper. Suarez had varied his movement throughout – running off the defenders shoulder or dropping deep to link with an advancing teammate – and fittingly both methods resulted in goals. 

Rakitic also played a key role in the build up as his vertical run in the right channel pulled Ramos out of position, and created a laneway for Suarez to run into.

This move would be classified as an atypical method of attack in the past, but Enrique’s shift deems Suarez’s winner as the ideal goal. 

 Final 35 minutes 

With that being said, Suarez’s goal altered the pattern of the match, and specifically flustered what was turning into a classic Madrid performance. Mascherano attempted a simple long ball over the defence for Neymar 10 minutes after Suarez’s goal, but Carvajal did well to nudge the Brazilian aside. 

But Real were desperate for a winner, and in return sacrificed their solid shape to push more men forward. Neymar’s influence increased with his individual slaloms from the left, while Messi found more space between the lines to drive at Real’s defence to place his teammates in goal scoring positions. 

Now there was plenty of space for Barca’s prolific front three to exploit on the counter, but their finishing and final ball was consistently underwhelming.

 Messi improves real

Madrid’s attempt to rescue a point failed, with Benzema’s deflected effort serving as the sole chance that tested Bravo. Where Enrique turned to three ball playing midfielders in Xavi, Busquets and Rafinha ensure his side retained possession in the final minutes, only Jese Rodriguez’s introduction looked capable of impacting the match. 

Still, Madrid transitioned into a lopsided 4-2-4 that equally played into Barca’s hands when they won possession. Ancelotti lacked options on the bench to alter the match, and an attempt to rescue a late point left Madrid vulnerable on the counter.

 Conclusion 

In the past, Barca was renowned for dominating possession, whereas Real relied on quick transitions to bypass their energetic pressing and score goals. But where Ancelotti’s side has shifted into a possession-based outfit, Enrique has maximized the strengths of his attacking three with an enhanced direct approach. 

Both sides stuck faithful to their systems throughout, with both centre forwards playing key roles in the end result. Benzema’s terrific movement and linkup play resulted in several slick passing moves that terrorized Barca’s back-line. But Suarez served as a diligent reference point upfront that offered the home side an additional element of attack that they have missed in recent years.

 “He (Suarez) is not just an old-style striker; he can also combine with his team-mates, he reads the game well, he knows what the team needs at key moments,” Enrique said. 

 “You have to have [different] resources; that’s very important. Our aim is to have the ball, to create chances and to defend a long way from our goal but your opponent plays too and we have to interpret what we need in the game. We scored from a set play as well [as a long pass], and that’s gratifying for all of us.” 

Real’s initial approach was logical considering the threat Barca have posed in transition this year, but wasteful finishing in the first half proved crucial. Barca, in fairness, weren’t dominant until Suarez’s winner, which could represent Madrid’s tired legs in midfield, and their determination to find an equalizer. 

The tactical elements were scarce throughout, but both goals epitomized the current ethos at both club – Madrid didn’t possess an alternative attacking method in the latter stages, but worryingly (with a two legged clash against Atletico on the horizon) Madrid still encounters issues breaking down organized back-lines.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Brazil 1-7 Germany

Courtesy of Wikicommons/Steindy

Courtesy of Wikicommons/Steindy

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

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

Joachim Low named an unchanged XI.

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

Germany’s shape

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

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

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

Direct Brazil

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

Luiz Germany

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

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

Germany dominate right flank

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief Brazilian fight back

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

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

Shots Brazil Germany

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

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

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

 

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Spain 1-5 Holland

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Courtesy of Wikicommons/Football.ua

Holland avenged their World Cup finals defeat by thrashing the reigning champions in the second half.

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Diego Costa was deemed fit to feature in Vicente del Bosque’s 4-2-3-1 ahead of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and David Silva. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets played in the double-pivot.

Louis van Gaal started Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie upfront in his 3-4-1-2 with Wesley Sneijder playing behind the duo. Jonathan de Guzman and Nigel de Jong formed a midfield two, while Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat operated as wingbacks. 

Despite starting the match well, Spain failed to cope with Holland’s direct approach that involved the midfield quickly facilitating the ball to their strikers behind the Spanish defence.

Holland with out the ball

The most intriguing talking point subsequent to kickoff was Holland’s approach without the ball. Usually teams would opt to defend in two deep banks of four and force the Spaniards to break them down, but here, van Gaal’s men held an extremely high-line and pressed in midfield.

Van Gaal aimed to pack central zones with hard-working players and limit as much space as possible for the Spaniards to work in. De Guzman and de Jong pressed Xavi and Xabi Alonso – who were both quiet – Sneijder worked hard to cut off Busquets’ passing lanes, and the surprising feat was the positioning of Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi.

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The two outside centre-backs man-marked Iniesta and Silva when they drifted infield to receive the ball; sometimes all the way into Spain’s half. Iniesta and Silva were often fouled and they struggled to turn due to the committed defending of de Vrij and Indi.

Likewise, neither Cesar Azpilicueta nor Jordi Alba got forward enough, as their was limited time in central areas to string passes out in these wide zones, while Janmaat and Blind closed the Spanish full-backs down.

Holland’s intent was to clog spaces in central zones to prevent the Spaniards from overloading the midfield and dictating the tempo of the match.

Spain’s shape

Spain, on the other hand, was more conservative out of possession, and didn’t rely on their high-pressing that has proved beneficial in recent years. Spain dropped into two banks of four with Xavi behind Costa attempting to close down the Dutch defenders.

The issue with Spain’s approach without the ball was that it lacked motivation and grit. At times, Holland easily shifted the ball from side to side, as the Spanish players failed to effectively close van Gaal’s men down. Silva and Iniesta also appeared disinterested in committing their defensive duties in wide areas, further allowing Holland’s wingbacks forward, while Robben and van Persie made runs into the channels.

Spain’s work ethic out of possession was the vast difference between Holland’s approach as del Bosque’s men were sluggish and lacklustre.

Spain attacks 

With both side’s opting to play with high-lines, the space to exploit was behind the defence. Spain, however, encountered two issues throughout the match.

First, Spain didn’t offer runners in midfield, and the only player aiming to get behind the defence was Diego Costa. Costa made several intelligent runs behind Holland’s back-line, and he appeared frustrated when passes weren’t played into his path. Jordi Alba was the other player that could have offered this threat but Janmaat kept the left-back quiet.

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Silva’s movement into central areas left gaps of space available on the right, but Azpilicueta was quite cautious with his positioning. Pedro Rodriguez would serve as a useful option on the right flank, as would Juanfran who displayed his adventurous running when he exploited Eden Hazard in the Champions League this season; but it appeared that Azpilicueta was preferred based on his defensive qualities.

Spain, however, did receive their opportunities when they occasionally bypassed Holland’s press, or the outside centre-backs were caught out of position. Xavi played two balls into Costa – one from deep and the other between the lines – but on both occasions the recovering Ron Vlaar broke up the play. Xavi’s third pass was the charm, and it occurred when the Dutch centre-backs didn’t come out to press Iniesta and Silva. The duo exchanged quick passes ahead of de Guzman and de Jong before sliding the ball into Xavi between the lines, and the Spaniard delivered an inch-perfect pass to Costa who was taken down and awarded a penalty.

An identical situation occurred in the latter stages of the half with Iniesta dropping deep into midfield – away from de Vrij – and Silva drifted to the left channel to make an unmarked forward run to collect the Barcelona midfielder’s sumptuous no-look pass, but he failed to beat goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with his delicate chip.

The Spanish attacking three exploited space between the lines frequently in the second half, but they weren’t on the same wave-length with Costa – who didn’t appear 100 per-cent fit – and their final ball was often underwhelming.

Spain struggled to play their preferred game due to Holland’s pressure, but with limited runners providing penetration, and the lack of conviction or a final ball in advanced areas, del Bosque’s men were bound to encounter issues.

Holland attacks

Van Gaal’s aligned his side to exploit the space behind Spain’s high-defensive line, and the warning signs were evident in the opening minutes. Alba’s poor chest pass in Spain’s half saw Robben slide the ball into Sneijder, but the Dutch midfielder fired his shot directly at Casillas.

Robben and van Persie were both caught offside on a few occasions prior to the latter’s opening goal, yet del Bosque was unfazed by their threat. The other worry was the combination plays on the flanks subsequent to Alonso’s goal that led to de Guzman and Blind delivering quality crosses into the box that surprisingly evaded everyone. The work ethic from Iniesta and Silva in these defensive errors were poor and Holland’s forwards were keen on drifting wide to create overloads.

Coincidentally, the buildup in Holland’s opening goals were identical, as Blind’s terrific long diagonals from the half-way line saw van Persie lose Ramos, and Robben sneak behind Pique to provide quality finishes. The quality of the finishing and deliveries were world-class, but the defending from the Spanish centre-backs was putrid.

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The two following goals were merely defensive errors – both by Casillas, while Azpilicueta deserves some blame for the third goal – but the final goal epitomized Holland’s attacking approach. Indi won the ball off Pedro and Sneijder quickly sprayed the loose ball into the path of Robben who outpaced Ramos before cutting back inside to grab his second goal of the night.

While Spain didn’t field enough options to exploit the space behind the defence, van Gaal possessed two forwards capable of punishing any side in the world under these circumstances.

Conclusion

There were evident flaws in Holland’s brave approach, but van Gaal’s decision to alter his preferred system reaped rewards.

“If I played with three attackers, my wingers would have chased down the Spain backs too much, that would be a waste,” van Gaal said.

“I played this system because I believe that we are not good enough to beat Spain with our normal 4-3-3 formation.”

Van Gaal’s approach maximized the pace of Robben, and prevented Spain from dictating the tempo of the match in a congested area. Certainly if del Bosque introduced runners, or Silva converted his chance prior to van Persie’s equalizer the match could’ve been different.

This serves as another crushing blow on Brazilian soil, yet the fact that it was preventable – del Bosque didn’t need to risk going 4-3-3, which created more gaps in midfield for Holland to penetrate on the counter – and could harm Spain’s chances of progressing out of the group.

Van Gaal pragmatically built his approach towards nullifying and exploiting Spain’s strengths, whereas del Bosque’s belief in his players and reluctance to stray away from their philosophy led to their downfall in a match that could’ve gone either way.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2014 in Published Work, World Cup 2014

 

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Brazil 3-1 Croatia

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Courtesy of Flickr/Jose Martinez

Neymar scored twice as Brazil came from behind to defeat Croatia in the opening match at the World Cup.

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Luiz Felipe Scolari fielded his expected starting XI with Fred leading the line ahead of Neymar, Oscar and Hulk. Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho started in the double-pivot.

Without the suspended Mario Mandzukic, Niko Kovac was forced to start Nikica Jelavic upfront ahead of Ivica Olic, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Perisic. Talented midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic formed a midfield duo in Kovac’s 4-2-3-1.

Croatia enjoyed a positive opening 15 minutes before Oscar stamped his authority on the match. However, a poor decision by the referee tilted the momentum in Brazil’s favour, and the hosts dealt with Croatia’s late onslaught.

Croatia’s defensive approach

The key to Croatia’s shape in the opening minutes was partially based around their shape. Kovac’s decision to field three ball-playing midfielders led many to believe that Croatia would attempt to control the match. Croatia, however, maintained a medium defensive block, as they dropped into two banks of four without the ball.

Kovacic and Jelavic sat off the Brazilian centre backs and positioned themselves ahead of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho to cut off passing lanes into midfield. The Brazilian duo was forced to play conservative passes into wide areas, and Kovac’s pragmatism ensured that Croatia negated one of Brazil’s main strengths.

Perisic and Olic – two wide forwards – tirelessly pressed Marcelo and Dani Alves and prevented the full-backs from pushing forward. Considering Marcelo and Dani Alves’ offensive impact in the Confederations Cup, Kovac’s decision to instruct his wingers to limit their threat was pivotal.

Croatia’s approach without the ball was logical, and equally effective in the opening period.

Croatia attacks

Croatia surprisingly took the lead in the opening 10 minutes courtesy of a Marcelo own goal, but the goal and a previous opportunity followed the same pattern.

Modric ignited the break from midfield before playing a pass to Perisic on the right flank, and the Croatian winger’s cross towards the back post saw Olic out jump Alves and steer his header inches wide of the post. Subsequently, Rakitic’s ball to Olic on the left flank led to Jelavic guiding the Croatian winger’s cross off Marcelo and into the net.

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There was always space behind Alves and Marcelo as they continuously aimed to maraud forward, thus leading to the duo conceding possession and being caught out of position. Equally, Croatia aimed to use their wide players’ physical presence to outmuscle Brazil’s diminutive full-backs. Along with Olic’s early chance, Perisic received a cross from Jelavic, and out jumped Marcelo, but he guided his header directly at Julio Cesar.

Croatia’s intelligent midfielders quickly transitioned into attack when they won possession, and exploited the physical and positional deficiencies of the Brazilian full-backs.

Oscar

Scolari’s men were poor in the opening 15 minutes, and their shape was often disjointed when they were in possession. Brazil required a link between midfield and attack, as Neymar was forced to drop too deep to receive the ball, while the midfielders couldn’t facilitate passes towards the wide players and Fred.

Oscar’s start to the match was quite shaky, but he did play two good crosses into the box that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Brazilian continued to take advantage of Vrsaljko – who isn’t a natural left-back – by pushing the ball towards the byline to earn a corner and delivering a cross into the six-yard box that evaded both Neymar and Fred.

Most of Oscar’s play continued down the right; his curling effort following Neymar’s magic was pushed aside by Pletikosa, and he played a great ball into Paulinho between the lines, but the midfielder’s shot was saved by Pletikosa. Oscar usually moves to the right to create space for his teammates, but here he served as the link that Brazil required. Oscar was equally impressive on the defensive end as he protected his full-backs out of possession, and completed key tackles in midfield to halt Croatia’s breaks on the counterattack.

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Likewise, the Chelsea man was involved in all three Brazilian goals. His persistence in a challenge against Rakitic and Modric enabled the Chelsea midfielder to break free and flick the ball to Neymar who opened the scoring. Oscar impressively ran past Vrsaljko and Marcelo Brozovic and played a great pass into Fred, which resulted in the referee harshly awarding a penalty to Brazil for Dejan Lovren’s non-foul on Fred. Lastly, Oscar received a loose ball and capped off his tremendous performance with a low shot past Pletikosa to double Brazil’s lead.

Oscar nearly created another goal from the right flank as his cross into the box to an unmarked David Luiz was steered wide of the net. Oscar was undoubtedly the best player on the field, and oddly it was from the right flank – a position he isn’t naturally accustomed to playing – as he was the catalyst in Brazil’s comeback with his deliveries from wide areas, clever passes, and tireless work rate.

The 22-year old displayed why many classify him as Brazil’s most important player.

Second half

Prior to Neymar’s controversial second goal, Brazil continued to struggle as a unit. Their passing tempo was vividly slow, and Croatia did a better job in attempting to nullify Oscar’s threat. Croatia dropped a bit deeper in the second half, but continued to exploit space behind Alves and Marcelo.

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On a few occasions Olic and Perisic broke into space behind the full-backs, but their poor final ball was often cleared, and Thiago Silva and David Luiz made several timely last-ditch clearances and tackles. Perisic, in particular, enjoyed a good game with his admirable defending, reliable passing, along with his pace and power to drive forward down the flanks. Rakitic and Modric saw more of the ball in the second half as players tired. Oscar and Gustavo harried the latter in deep areas, and without Neymar closing down Rakitic, the Sevilla midfielder began to string positive passes forward.

The match lacked many clear-cut chances apart from the goals and the managers’ attempt to alter the match via substitutions were futile. Scolari’s decision to introduce Hernanes was logical – he’s a good passer of the ball and could quickly increase the passing tempo – but the Inter Milan midfielder was ineffective. Bernard’s direct threat injected energy but he didn’t offer much going forward, while Ramires’ short cameo led to Oscar’s third goal.

Marcelo Brozovic’s presence did offer another threat upfront, as he remained higher up the pitch, and although Ante Rebic offered mobility, he failed to influence the match.

The match opened up in the final 15 minutes with Neymar receiving plenty of space between the lines to drive forward, but Brazil didn’t test Pletikosa. Scolari’s men preferred to drop into their shape to preserve the lead, but Croatia’s persistence led to Modric and Perisic’s efforts from distance – that Cesar poorly dealt with — and Cesar’s controversial collision with Olic.

 Conclusion

Croatia will feel robbed of a potential point following an effective display prior to Neymar’s second goal. However, Oscar’s well-rounded performance along with Pletikosa’s poor goalkeeping also contributed to Brazil’s success on the night.

Kovac’s men did a great job without the ball in negating Brazil’s full-backs and equally exploiting space behind the attack-minded defenders, but they didn’t create enough chances and their final ball was poor.

This wasn’t a great Brazilian performance, but to some degree this is what to expect from Scolari’s men. Brazil is a highly functional side that may not play the most attractive football in the tournament, but they possess a quality that majority of the teams in the tournament lack.

They know how to win games.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2014 in Published Work, World Cup 2014

 

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The Champions League has surpassed the World Cup as the pinnacle of world football

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Courtesy of Flickr/Arturo Miguel

Cities across the world will be in the midst of a soccer craze. Throughout June and July, bars and local pubs will hit capacity, the streets filled with passionate supporters, and plastic flags will be blowing in the wind.

Yes, it’s World Cup year.

Every four years, FIFA’s illustrious tournament brings people in unison to enjoy the global game. Hearts are broken, stars are born, and one country will gasp in glory –– obtaining bragging rights as World Champion for the ensuing four years.

This is arguably the ultimate sporting event.

In 2010, 700 million viewers tuned into the World Cup finals between Spain and Holland, while approximately 3.2 billion watched at least one match in the tournament.

In a few weeks, eyes worldwide will be set on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s not like the duo are unfamiliar with the attention, but the increased expectancy to dominate in Brazil will be instilled, especially with both failing to match irrational targets for their national squads in previous years.

The two superstars are undeniably the best players of our generation; some can argue that they will be the best to ever play the game. Their consistency, goals per-game ratio, and ability to perform under heaps of pressure are astonishing for their clubs, but many have harshly lambasted the duo for lesser performances on the international stage.

The World Cup may be the largest sporting event based on viewership, but is it still the pinnacle soccer event?

Currently, top players in the past who have claimed World Cup success are put in a separate category to those still searching for international glory. But with the vast changes in the modern game regarding transfer fees, wages, and the physical demands of playing for club and country, players would prefer to prolong their club career, rather than endure a career-impeding burnout.

On average, the top-sides play 50-60 games a season; when you include friendlies and international tournaments, the aforementioned numbers incline. Last season, Chelsea playmaker Oscar played 71 games, and he’s currently featured in 56 since the start of the new campaign. Xavi Hernandez, a key cog in Spain’s international success over the six years, has appeared in a minimum 55 games per season, thus highlighting the physical demands of a modern day soccer player.

With the World Cup held in the summer –– after an excruciating club season –– players enter the tournament fatigued, and often find it difficult to reach their best form. In retrospect, the UEFA Champions League is an 11-month marathon –– when you include the qualifying rounds –– in which teams have an entire season to derive a well thought-out plan to claim European glory and maintain energy levels; simply it’s a larger measuring tool opposed to seven games within a month. Managers are able to turn to the market and build a team that suits their philosophy, whereas international managers are forced to work with the players at their disposal.

Ahead of the 2010 Champions League final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, Jose Mourinho stated his thoughts on the European tournament.

“This game is the most important in the world,” Mourinho said. “It is even bigger than the World Cup because the teams in it are at a higher level than national teams, who can’t buy the best players. If you hold it to be important, you have to transmit that to the players.

With that being said, Mourinho’s acknowledgement of the best players featuring in the Champions League was factual. The World Cup’s four-year gap has slowly become a nuisance, opposed to a timely feat focused on the significance of the tournament.

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, also agreed that the Champions League has surpassed the World Cup.

“I always said that club football is better than national team football, by far,” Wenger told Arsenal.com

“You have the best players from any country in the national team. In any big club you have the best players of all the countries in the world. It’s as simple as that.”

This year’s World Cup will be missing a few star performers, which inhibits the overall quality of the tournament. The likes of Gareth Bale, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba and Arda Turan won’t feature in Brazil this summer, yet the aforesaid men were prominent figures in the Champions League knockout rounds.

The average career of a professional soccer player has decreased over the years, which explains why many have focused on achieving European glory.

Now the best players are moving to the biggest clubs in the world to increase their chances of winning the Champions League; the tournament has slowly become a goal that every player aspires to achieve.

In the past, former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, shared his thoughts on the rise of the Champions League.

“The Champions League is the best competition in the world now, better than the World Cup, better than the European Championships; it’s a fantastic tournament,” Ferguson said.

“Have you seen the last six World Cups? It is better going to the dentist, I suppose.”

While both tournaments are a drab during the group-stages, there’s a vast difference between the two in the knockout rounds. The Champions League two-legged knockout set-up enables a variety of approaches, and challenges managers tactically, especially with the away goal rule.

The World Cup, on the other hand, has faced its critics in the past due to amount of conservatism in the latter stages. Look no further than Spain’s success under Vicente del Bosque –– they have yet to concede in the knockout round during his reign, and average a solitary goal per game. Del Bosque’s approach is logical, but in terms of overall quality and excitement their fixtures have been tedious.

Ronaldo and Messi have already achieved European glory –– the former once, while the latter has claimed three –– and despite not replicating their imperious form on an international stage, both men have produced sensational performances on numerous occasions. If they continue to maintain the consistency that’s elevated them into elite players, there’s no question that the duo will be put in the same conversation as Diego Maradona and Pele, regardless of their international shortcomings.

Perhaps the World Cup may be the largest sporting event in the world, but it is no longer soccer’s most prestigious tournament.

The Champions League provides a platform for the best players and managers to showcase their talents on a yearly basis to a global audience. The level of play is higher, the best players feature on a consistent basis, and the competition is stiff.

The days of defining a player’s career based on their international success are over.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2014 in FIFA, Published Work

 

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