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Zidane’s Real Madrid wins battle in wide areas against Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich

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Real Madrid’s quest for a historic European cup/league double was under significant threat when they drew Bayern Munich in the semi-finals, but as typified under Zinedine Zidane’s tenure, the reigning European champions squeaked past Carlo Ancelotti’s men.

Notching two away goals at the Allianz Arena placed Real in a great position to knockout the tournament favourites, and stylistically, suggested the hosts would receive opportunities to break on the counter.  With Gareth Bale unavailable due to injury, Zidane altered his side’s shape to a 4-3-1-2 with Isco floating behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

Zidane’s tactical tweak was possibly intended to ensure Real dominate the midfield zone, whilst providing space for the full-backs to push forward to provide width. Real’s heroic first leg fight-back was largely responsible to the proactive positioning of Dani Carvajal and Marcelo to exploit Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery’s reluctance to track-back, and it was likely both outfits would aim to dominate wide areas.

Ironically, the hosts encountered issues in the opening stages of the match in wide areas. Bayern’s first legitimate goal-scoring chance involved David Alaba overlapping Ribery in half space to pick out Thiago, but Marcelo blocked the Spaniard’s shot, while Robben smashed the rebound into the side-netting.

Robben also made similar moves into half space to receive passes from Philip Lahm, but Bayern’s productivity in wide areas – specifically Alaba’s crosses – was underwhelming. The away side equally received space in the channels to break in transition, but the likes of Ribery, Robben and Lewandowski failed to launch these swift transitional moves.

But where Bayern easily found space behind the Real full-backs in the channels, the hosts’ full-backs still surged forward behind Ribery and Robben. The other issue Bayern encountered was Xabi Alonso’s immobility ahead of the back four – he played extremely poor passes, was dispossessed when pressure was applied, and easily overrun in midfield – and Real breaking into space behind the full-backs.

Carvajal delivered a cross into the box that Manuel Neuer pushed into the path of Sergio Ramos, but the Spaniard’s effort was cleared off the line. Ronaldo also wasted a chance when he broke into a breakaway down the right channel, and also spurned an opportunity that stemmed from a brilliant solo Marcelo run.

Nevertheless, what proved to be an extremely open match in the first half swiftly changed as Bayern took ascendancy by retaining possession for extensive periods, whilst persisting with creating overloads in wide areas. Kroos and Modric’s protection decreased as the match wore on, thus leaving Carvajal and Marcelo unable to cope with Bayern’s wide threat.

Alaba and Ribery combined down the left with the former charging into half-space to create Robben’s chance that was cleared off the line. While Robben subsequently attacked the aforementioned space to earn a penalty that was converted by Lewandowski. Lahm and Robben continuously overloaded Marcelo with the latter lofting balls to the far post and attempting to clip forward passes over the Real defence, as Vidal, Alaba and Ribery spurned chances in the box.

Zidane, however, deserves credit for sacrificing Benzema for youngster Marco Asensio, and eventually Isco for Lucas Vazquez as Real reverted to a 4-1-4-1 to ensure there was proper protection for the full-backs. Real remained deep out of possession but with ensured structure, thus enabling Carvajal to lead a 3v2 counter-attack which should’ve resulted in a goal.

The general pattern of the match altered in the latter stages with Bayern’s sole chances stemming from Robben attempting to clip balls from the left over the defence, whereas Real began to locate Ronaldo in the box. The Portuguese forward struggled throughout the match, but similar to Real’s first leg triumph, Ronaldo eventually isolated Lahm to level the score-line.

Coincidentally, Thomas Muller’s introduction pushed Thiago deeper alongside Alonso, thus providing Lewandowski support around the box.

Bayern fortuitously regained the lead via a ball over the top for Muller to chest into the path of Lewandowski, and although the Polish striker didn’t score the goal, the move highlighted the shift in the away side’s approach following Zidane’s formation alteration. Robben also attempted a pass over the top for Muller in half-space to tee up Vidal but the Chilean’s shot was blocked.

Ultimately, Vidal’s harsh dismissal drastically shifted the pattern of the match. Ancelotti turned to Joshua Kimmich for Lewandowski, which pushed Muller upfront and the young German alongside Thiago in midfield. Bayern were now heavily reliant on Robben’s counter-attacking threat from the right, whereas Marcelo’s running also proved crucial.

Ronaldo began to locate pockets of space in the final third to receive possession, and although his final two goals were offside, it equally highlighted the Real talisman’s evolution into a classic goal-poacher. Mistakes from the match officials will continue to dominate headlines, but in pivotal moments throughout the tie, Ronaldo’s ability to adopt dangerous positions was the decisive factor.

In a tie heavily dominated in wide areas, where Bayern were deprived a fully-fit Lewandowski, Real could rely on arguably the best no.9 in the sport. Albeit Bayern’s potential second half fight-back, Real were worthy winners, and Zidane deserves credit for making significant alterations over both legs to ensure Real preserved their status as Europe’s dominant club.

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Posted by on April 20, 2017 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Three Things: Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich

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Courtesy of Flickr/ Some rights reserved by peterpribylla

Sanogo?

Arsene Wenger’s decision to hand 21-year-old Yaya Sanogo a place in the starting lineup was the main talking point when the team-sheets came out. Prior to kick-off, Sanogo had only played 127 minutes for the Gunners, with this being his second start for the club. Wenger’s reluctance to sign a striker in January left many Arsenal fans frustrated, and with Olivier Giroud requiring rest, Sanogo was the best option available.

The French striker led the line against Liverpool over the weekend, and played a key role in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener when he wonderfully controlled Mesut Ozil’s cross, in which his blocked shot fell into the path of the Arsenal winger. Sanogo constantly made runs into the channels, while flustering Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel with his physical presence and dynamism.

Bayern Munich, however, is not Liverpool, they’re the best team in Europe and this presented a new challenge for the Arsenal striker. But Wenger’s inclusion of Sanogo was logical: here, he wanted to utilize his pace and great movement off the ball to attack the space behind Bayern Munich’s high-line.

Santi Cazorla’s long ball over the top of the Bayern back-line signified the approach, as the Frenchman broke free, but the ball rolled out of play. Afterwards, his strength in the area led to a scramble, which resulted in Manuel Neuer making a wonderful save to keep the score levelled and prevent Sanogo from scoring his first-goal as a Gunner.

Sanogo offers the mobility and pace that Giroud lacks, and with Bayern playing a high-line, and Theo Walcott unavailable, Giroud’s threat would be minimal. The 21-year-old displayed his work-rate in the first-half when he dropped deep to dispossess Javi Martinez, and then played a great ball into the right channel for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who nearly forced David Alaba into a horrendous error.

Sanogo’s impact on the match decreased once Wojciech Szczesny was sent off, but Wenger’s decision to include the Frenchman in the starting XI was logical.

Penalties, Penalties, Penalties

The main talking point surrounding the first half was the controversy in the penalty box. Arsenal pressed and harried the European champions in the opening 15 minutes, and Wenger’s men created the better chances.

The Gunners were rewarded for their positive start when Jerome Boateng made a clumsy tackle on Mesut Ozil, thus resulting in a penalty. Similar to his spot-kick against Marseille earlier this season, the German’s languid run-up led to Neuer comfortably batting away Ozil’s poor penalty.

Subsequently, the momentum shifted and Bayern began to connect their passes and dictate the tempo of the match. Despite lacking penetration, and struggling to shift the Arsenal back-line out of position, Wenger’s men dropped deeper towards their box.

It took a scintillating ball from Toni Kroos to Arjen Robben to carve open Arsenal’s defence, and it forced Szczesny to commit a reckless challenge on the Dutch winger. The Polish goalkeeper received a red card, which forced Lukasz Fabianski to enter the fray, while Santi Cazorla was sacrificed.

Alaba stepped to the spot, but was forced to patiently wait for Arsenal to make their changes, and during that time he witnessed a wall of Gunners supporters heckle and jeer him. It took approximately two minutes for Fabianski to enter the goal, and Alaba’s mind was clustered. The Austrian left-back sent the Polish goalkeeper the wrong way, but his shot hit the post.

Both sides received the opportunity to take the lead through well-deserved spot-kicks, but neither shooter coped with the pressure – however, Bayern’s man advantage gave Guardiola’s side the onus to push for an away goal.

Kroos Control

For all the depth Bayern Munich possesses throughout their squad, the one player that doesn’t receive the credit he deserves is Toni Kroos. Kroos has been the heartbeat of Bayern’s creative play, and the 24-year-old midfielder saved his best performances for the European stage.

Last season at the Emirates, Kroos’ remarkable goal ignited a Bayern onslaught, but this time Szczesny saved his fantastic strike in the second minute. Yet, while Bayern struggled to cope with Arsenal’s energetic start, Kroos calmly settled Bayern into the match. He wandered around midfield looking for spaces to pick up the ball, and his precise passing helped his teammates come to grips with the frenetic pace.

Kroos’ passing was magnificent, and his ability to retain possession was also pivotal towards Bayern’s dominance. The German dynamo was at his best in the second half as Bayern picked up their tempo. Phillip Lahm cleverly created an angle for Kroos to fire an unstoppable shot into the top corner, to secure an important away goal.

The German was imperious in midfield and his long diagonal ball to Arjen Robben, followed by a well-weighed pass into Rafinha highlighted his creativity, but both wide players failed to provide an accurate final ball to increase Bayern’s lead. Kroos received an opportunity to kill the tie with seconds to spare, but his well-placed, low-driven shot ricocheted off the post.

It’s been nearly two years since Kroos’ master-class against Madrid , and his long-term injury forced him to miss last year’s road to Wembley. The German, however, is eager to display to the world that he’s Bayern’s key man, and arguably the best no.10 in the world, by guiding the Bavarians to their second consecutive Champions League triumph.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Can Joachim Low, False-nines and Mesut Ozil lead Germany to international glory?

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  Courtesy of Steindy

It was a night that was all too familiar to German supporters. Germany stumbled when it mattered most – once again it was Joachim Low that guided a dejected group of talented footballers down the tunnel and into the dressing room, to explain why they wouldn’t be participating in the finals.

Surprisingly, Low’s head didn’t drop when Stephane Lannoy blew the final whistle at the National Stadium. The German manager stood on the touchline emotionless, in his crumpled white dress shirt, blankly staring at the pitch, potentially questioning where he went wrong. His men were second best on the night. An experienced Italian side outdid Low’s men, thus continuing their inability to defeat the Azzuri in a competitive match.

While one nation rejoiced, the other had to watch 23 of their finest players solemnly stand – or sit – in disbelief, as they knew another golden opportunity passed them by.

Frankly, many tipped the Germans to come out of their shell and avenge their recent two tournament defeats to Spain, along with their semi-final exit on home soil against Italy in 2006. But it didn’t happen. Yet, despite their catastrophic exit in Warsaw, Low assured that his side – the youngest team in the tournament – was flustered, but would grow from this experience.

“I’m not going to question everything we’ve done. The team has great quality. It will continue to develop and learn,” Low stated. “Even though there’s disappointment today, we played a wonderful tournament and I am sure we will be able to cope with this defeat,” he added.

However, Low was correct. His men produced top-class performances in their last two tournaments, prior to the semi-finals, giving many false hopes that they’d gasp in glory. The German manager, hailed for evolving this splendid group of young talent, witnessed his men cruise through tournaments, yet buckle when they encountered elite opposition. What’s more shocking is the manner in which they’ve conceded matches.

In 2010, Low’s side focused on defensive solidity, quick transitions and pace on the counter-attack. They often dropped into two banks of four, and exploded into attack when they won the ball, which undeniably handed the likes of Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil world recognition. Germany was devastating on the counter, handing England and Argentina a footballing lesson en route to the semi-finals.

But, their energetic threat on the counter was simply nullified when they came across a Spanish side that possessed a midfield at their peak of their careers. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Khedira were unable to cope with Spain’s midfield, as Spanish manager Vicente Del Bosque instructed his men to overload central areas, ultimately making it 4v2 in midfield – with Andres Iniesta drifting infield. With Thomas Muller suspended, and Sergio Busquets admirably tracking Ozil’s movement, the Germans were simply outclassed.

Subsequently, Low’s men headed into Poland and Ukraine a different machine – one that consisted of more depth, which should’ve provided Low the tactical flexibility he didn’t possess in South Africa.

The German’s transformed into a side that focused on ball retention, and were keen on dictating possession. Likewise, they found ways to carve open the likes of Portugal and Greece, who preferred to sit deeper than most. However, once again, they came across an elite side that focused on superiority in midfield, and Low’s men were on the losing end of another major semi-final.

Cesare Prandelli fielded a midfield diamond to dictate the match and nullify Schweinsteiger and Khedira, thus leading to a dominant first half performance from the Italians. Meanwhile, Low’s men – mainly Ozil and Toni Kroos – didn’t seem to comprehend their tactical duties. Ozil often drifted into Kroos’ space, whereas Kroos wasn’t sure when he should press Andrea Pirlo.

While many can criticize Low’s team selection, along with his initial game plan, defeat at the same stage, in the same manner – with a better squad – is unacceptable.

While Low was busy evolving Germany, did he evolve as a manager?

Low was quick to brush off the scrutiny he received after Germany’s loss in a press conference ahead of a friendly against Argentina.

“We wanted to go to the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa and begin forming a team that could then win Euro 2012, so the loss in the semifinal against Italy was particularly painful,” Low said.

“We now have the task of working on the errors we made at Euro 2012, and find solutions to those errors over the next two years. We went on this path a few years ago, and we have a long-term plan to which we will stick,” he added.

The apparent solution has been to implement a false-nine system – one that has reaped success for Barcelona, and most notably, their competitive rivals Spain. With Miroslav Klose aging, and Mario Gomez branded as a one-dimensional striker that disjoints their fluidity, testing out a system that would be beneficial to Germany’s attack was logical. And it’s evident that Low is short on strikers, as he’s recently called up Max Kruse as a potential option upfront – while Stefan Kiessling has ruled out a national team return.

Although, Spain has enjoyed success playing without a striker, they’ve often struggled to grind out results. Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas possesses a direct threat from midfield, which explains why Spain can succeed in this system. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say Low’s false nine can succeed if he displays authority in his team selection opposed to picking favourites.

As of late, Ozil has operated as the false-nine, but Germany hasn’t looked any better going forward. Their passing tempo is too slow, forcing them to spread the ball out wide – and they possess minimal aerial threats. Meanwhile, runners aren’t getting forward, legitimate goal-scoring opportunities are decreasing and they lack bodies in the box.

Temporarily, it’s difficult to assess Mario Gotze’s ability to play in this role, albeit shining against inferior opposition such as the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan. More so, it’s strange to witness Low continuously search for an answer upfront, when he possesses one in his squad.

Thomas Muller produced a magnificent performance at the Ethiad Stadium earlier this month, in a convincing Bayern Munich away victory – where most assumed he was a false nine, yet he was far from it. Muller worked hard to close down City defenders, and his ability to win aerial duels gave Bayern Munich a different outlet going forward. The self-proclaimed space investigator ran the channels superbly, linking play with his teammates, as he nonchalantly roamed around the final third.

Indeed, Muller and Gotze can provide an alternative – or possibly a permanent – role upfront for Die Mannschaft, but this leaves Ozil out of a spot. Now, it would be easy to hand him a spot as Germany’s central playmaker – as Low has done throughout his tenure – but Germany can do without their sleek, bug-eyed creator in the ‘big’ games?

In both semi-finals exits, Ozil had minimal influence on the final result. It was somewhat reminiscent of Champions League ties against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, during Real Madrid’s downfall.

Coincidentally, both Kroos and Gotze were the opposing playmakers in Madrid’s Champions League exits, and the duo showcased their ability to provide a balance of defence – by dropping deep to create a midfield three – and attack in their play.

The Arsenal playmaker conducts his business in the final third, but the modern game now relies on playmakers to produce on both ends – Spain and Italy’s creators were tactically disciplined enough to fulfill these duties, thus resulting in a numerical advantage in central areas.

Over the past 12 months, Kroos has developed into a legitimate world-class player, and he merits a start in a central playmaker role in matches against elite sides – even at the expense of Ozil. Kroos’ tactical awareness to find space in midfield to receive the ball, and drop deeper to prevent overloads is vital in the modern game. The 23-year-old midfielder has completed 95% of his averaged 90.5 passes in his last four competitive appearances for Germany.  Also, Kroos completes 3 key passes per game, as he plays incisive balls in the final third to complement his ability to sustain possession.

Promptly, this isn’t to say Ozil isn’t a key cog in Germany’s attack, but Low needs to have the pluck to tactically align his side according to his opponent’s strengths. The managers that have defeated him in these fixtures – Prandelli and Del Bosque – utilize their squads to the fullest, and it’s a craft that Low has yet to master.

Likewise, the fabricated belief that a false-nine system is required for the Germans to succeed is farfetched. While it does display a sign of evolution, Low has catered more to the bigger names, opposed to starting the astute personnel.

As the Germans continue to struggle defensively, the issue that has been the focal talking point of the German national team can be altered easily. Muller is a logical option upfront, whereas Kroos’ brilliance can no longer be ignored – but will Low rise to the occasion, or once again watch his side underachieve on the world’s biggest stage?

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in FIFA, Published Work

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – Champions League Podcast April 25th

Tyrrell Meertins and Hugo V breakdown all the action that transpired in the Champions League this week. They discuss the brilliant Germans, the decline in Spain and briefly touch on Manchester United’s 20th Premier League title. They also explain why Dortmund will be fine when Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski depart this summer.

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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