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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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Three Things: Manchester United 2-2 Fulham

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Courtesy of Flickr/vnupdate.net

David Moyes employs predictable tactics

Of the many factors that made David Moyes an odd choice to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, the contrast in their style of play was near the top of the list. Moyes is a reactive manager that isn’t renowned for producing exciting football, and insists on predominantly generating attack from wide areas.

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On Sunday, crosses were a distinct factor in United’s attack. Moyes’ men dominated possession for large portions of the match, as they aimed to isolate Fulham’s fullbacks. United completed 82 crosses, nearly 400 more passes than their opponents, but the most shocking statistic was the startling difference in attacking third passes.

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Here, Fulham maintained a narrow shape, with 10 men behind the ball, so it was logical for United to utilize their wide options. The issue with Moyes’ approach was that it lacked variety – Fulham were prepared to cope with United’s willingness to deliver crosses into the box.

In fairness, both goals stemmed from initial crosses into the box from Adnan Januzaj and Patrice Evra, but many were disgruntled with Moyes’ approach. Simply, United encountered three problems  – they were outnumbered in Fulham’s box, their passing tempo in buildup play was slow, and the quality of the crosses was inconsistent.

Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie squandered legitimate goal-scoring opportunities from point-blank range through crosses from Ashley Young and Rafael, while Maarten Stekelenburg made key saves to frustrate the home side. Moyes’ men, however, stuck to their task, and continued to attack wide areas; it created the platform for United to score twice, but it wasn’t enough.

Carrick outshines world-class teammates

Juan Mata’s arrival to Manchester United was a sign of ambition. The goal was to provide an overall lift in the side to push for a top-four position, but it was also an opportunity to add world-class talent in their attack. The main talking point prior to Mata’s arrival was the threat Mata, Rooney and van Persie could pose.

While United dominated nearly every aspect of the match at Old Trafford, their three best players failed to impress. Despite Mata and van Persie’s involvement in the first goal, neither player enjoyed a great game, while Rooney drifted in and out of the match. This is not to say that the trio played poorly, but they didn’t ignite a spark to guide United to three points.

Carrick, however, was United’s key man – the Englishman enjoyed arguably his best game of the season, constantly changing the home side’s route of attack. Similar to Carrick’s fortuitous goal, the United midfielder’s passing was significant.

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Today, Carrick provided dynamism in attack, and when he wasn’t playing scintillating balls to Ashley Young, he was driving towards the Fulham penalty area. His shot from the edge of the box in the first half was inches wide of the post, but his goal in the second half nearly capped off a great afternoon for the England international.

Although United’s attacking trio didn’t play up to their standards, Carrick’s performance is a boost for Moyes. With United now sitting nine points behind Liverpool for the final Champions League spot, they’ll need all their top players performing at high-levels if they intend on doing – what looks to be – the impossible.

Fulham survive

The most impressive feat at Old Trafford was Fulham’s ability to secure a result. Although one should credit their perseverance to cope with United’s attack – even if it was far from United’s best performance – their overall approach was negative. Rene Meulensteen’s side preferred to play on the counter-attack, and maintained a compact shape, as they were in dire need of a result.

“We set out, as anybody can see, we needed to stay in there after the results we have had in the last couple of weeks. But we made it very difficult for them,” Meulensteen said. “We focused a lot on making sure we kept our shape, we defended well, but at times we didn’t really play the football that we really want to play. Having said that, we know where we are and this is a valid point for us.”

Johnny Heitinga and Dan Burn confidently dealt with United’s crosses from the flanks, while Lewis Holtby and Muamer Tankovic pressed Darren Fletcher and Carrick when possible. Fulham comfortably coped with United’s attacking threat in the first half, and while Meulensteen’s men didn’t enjoy much possession, they were efficient on the break.

Fletcher was responsible for not tracking Steve Sidwell in the build up to the Fulham midfielder’s goal from a magnificent Holtby ball. In the 37th minute, Fulham were presented a great opportunity to double their lead, and Tankovic broke on the counter from his own half. Tankovic was placed in a 2v2 situation, but waited for the overlapping Kieran Richardson, thus playing him in, but the Fulham winger skied his shot over the bar.

The Cottagers didn’t offer any attacking threat in the second half, as they spent majority of the half defending at the edge of their box. Meulensteen’s side were seconds away from defeat, before a poor Nemanja Vidic clearance led to Richardson forcing De Gea to make a key save, and substitute Darren Bent nodded a De Gea rebound into the net.

Fulham currently sit at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League – three points away from safety – but this could be a vital point that separates survival and relegation at the end of the season.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Adam Johnson catapults Sunderland past Newcastle in the Tyneside Derby

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Courtesy of Flickr/ willis104

A renowned level of inconsistency has typified Adam Johnson throughout his professional career, and the arrival of Gus Poyet as Sunderland manager has rejuvenated the English winger’s performance levels.

There’s been a general lift within the Sunderland dressing room, which has seen the Black Cats lose once in normal time since Dec 7. With a current run of two clean sheets, Poyet’s men have found a balance between defence and attack.

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On their travels to St. James Park, Poyet stuck with his 4-1-4-1 that saw the in-form Adam Johnson, and Fabio Borini, play alongside Jozy Altidore, while Ki Seung-Yung and Jack Colback played ahead of newly acquired Liam Bridcutt in midfield. Newcastle was forced to enter the Tyneside derby without Yohan Cabaye, who completed his transfer to PSG this week, but the home side was eager to end a poor run against their rivals.

Here, Newcastle maintained more possession in the early stages of the match, but without midfield maestro Cabaye, Pardew’s men lack a ball-playing midfielder. Newcastle’s direct approach was unsuccessful, and Hatem Ben Arfa was unable to get involved in the attack. When the Magpies pushed into the final third, they were unable to produce the final ball to unlock an organized Sunderland backline.

Sunderland, however, were proactive in possession, providing the guile, and creativity the home side lacked. The key man in the match was Adam Johnson: the Sunderland winger injected creativity into Poyet’s attack, as Marcos Alonso headed his curling free-kick inches over the bar, and an unmarked Borini missed Johnson’s diagonal ball from deep inside the 18-yard box. Johnson was the main source behind Sunderland’s opener –  he dragged Sammy Ameobi and Davide Santon out wide, which created half-space for Phil Bardsley to attack, thus leading to a clumsy Vurnon Anita foul.

Johnson provided a direct threat from the wing, with a mix of flair, but his attacking instincts to drive towards the net enabled him to tap Steven Taylor’s deflected shot into the back of the net. In the second half, the Sunderland winger came close to securing maximum points when he slid past Paul Dummett and Moussa Sissoko before firing a shot off the post.

Sunderland was lethal on the attack, but their defensive work without the ball was also superb. Johnson and Borini nullified the attacking threat Santon and Matthew Debuchy pose in advance positions on the flank. Ki was a reliable passer that drove forward into attack, as did Colback, but his work on the defensive end – completing four tackles and three interceptions – was pivotal.

Newcastle continued their direct approach in the second half, as they introduced Luuk de Jong, and became a 4-4-2. Pardew’s men created opportunities on the break: tame efforts from De Jong, Ameobi’s header over the net, and Mannone’s save to deny the Nigerian striker summed up Newcastle’s afternoon.

The contrast in form heading into the match was massive, but Johnson’s ability to influence the match was crucial – at the moment Newcastle lack a player capable of replicating his impact.

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

 

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Juventus 3-0 Roma

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Courtesy of: Football.ua

Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A to eight points with an impressive victory over Roma.

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Antonio Conte fielded his preferred starting eleven, as he welcomed back Andrea Pirlo from injury.

Rudi Garcia made no significant changes to his 4-3-3. Francesco Totti, Gervinho and Adem Ljajic led the line, while Kevin Strootman, Miralem Pjanic and Daniele De Rossi formed a midfield trio.

This fixture had no major tactical theme – Juventus’ approach without the ball nullified Roma’s main attacking threat.

Juventus without the ball

One of the most significant feats in this match was Juventus’ approach without the ball. Opposed to bringing the match to the away side, Conte instructed his men to sit deep in their half and minimize space between the lines for Totti to drift into.

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This approach was logical because it ensured there was no space behind the Juventus backline to attack on the counter and Totti would be unable to drag defenders out of position. Conte’s men sat in two compact banks of four, with Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente sitting a few yards ahead of the midfield to maintain Juventus’ shape.

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Conte’s midfield trio sat in front of the back line, as Juventus became a 5-3-2, considering Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah sat deeper then usual. Vidal and Pogba pushed out wide when Roma’s fullbacks received the ball, to prevent them from pushing forward, and they diligently dropped deeper to ensure that their wingback wasn’t isolated against Roma’s front three – this meant Tevez and Llorente dropped into these central areas preserve structure in midfield.

Juventus’ approach out of possession was significant – Garcia’s men were left flabbergasted in possession, as the home side stifled their main attacking threats.

Roma struggle

Juventus’ reactive approach meant Roma enjoyed majority of the possession throughout the match. Apart from Tevez occasionally closing down defenders, and Juventus’ attempt to press from goal-kicks, Roma’s centrebacks, along with De Rossi, were free to push forward.

The issue that Roma encountered – besides Juventus’ great organization – was their slow ball circulation and a focal point in attack. Strootman retained possession well and Pjanic – who looked injured – attempted to penetrate, but the midfielders’ impact was minimal. Gervinho was caught offside when he broke into good positions, and was always put into 1v2 situations when he intended on isolating a wingback – and Ljajic drifted infield desperately looking for gaps to penetrate.

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Totti found it difficult to grow into the match, and he failed to create space for Roma’s attacker to run into. Whenever Totti dropped deep to receive the ball the closest Juventus centreback stuck tight to the Italian – Vidal also tracked his movement and closed Totti down when he roamed around the halfway line.

Ultimately, the only way Roma could create an opportunity to expose Juventus on the counter would be to press the Juventus backline higher up the pitch, or force them to concede possession in their third, and quickly commit men forward. Ljajic received a great chance early in the match when Totti dispossessed Leonardo Bonucci, but besides that effort, Buffon made routine saves to preserve his clean sheet.

Despite monopolizing majority of the possession, the away side rarely created legitimate goal-scoring opportunities because they couldn’t find openings in Juventus’ shape. The ball circulation was slow, their playmakers were nullified, and there was no space in the final third for Gervinho to attack.

Pirlo – De Rossi

Although Roma opted to drop into their shape and allow Juventus’ centrebacks to play from the back, Garcia instructed his men to press Pirlo. Totti was handed the duty to track the Italian maestro, and Pjanic occasionally stepped in when Totti was out of position. Garcia’s attempt to nullify Pirlo was logical, but as the game wore on, the Italian found it easier to receive the ball and build attacks from deep – this was down to fitness levels, and Roma’s lack of structure without the ball.

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On the other hand, De Rossi was free to play passes from deep – he often switched balls towards the fullbacks, but rarely played long diagonal balls or forward penetrating passes. De Rossi’s passing was conservative, and while his passing rate was phenomenal, it didn’t influence Roma’s attack. Here, De Rossi often dropped between the two Roma centre-backs to ensure a numerical advantage at the back, and help push Dodo and Maicon forward.

Although neither man dominated the match from midfield, both held pivotal roles – Pirlo helped Juventus get into better attacking positions as the match wore on, whereas De Rossi’s presence prevented Juventus’ strike force from isolating the Roma’s centrebacks.

Set-pieces

The home side’s threat from open-play was minimal, but they efficiently executed set-pieces. In fairness, Pogba and Vidal ignited attacks on the break, but their final ball let them down – however, Roma looked vulnerable defending set-pieces, and Juventus took advantage.

Juventus’ opening goal came from a simple Lichtsteiner throw-in that led to the Swiss wingback playing a pass into Tevez, who cleverly turned De Rossi, slid an incisive ball towards Vidal, and the Chilean beat Morgan De Sanctis at the near post. 20 minutes later, Pirlo tricked the Roma defence into thinking he’d play a ball into the six-yard box, and laid it off to Pogba, whose shot was blocked – Roma failed to clear their lines and Barzagli’s diagonal pass to Tevez subsequently led to the Argentinian striker whipping a ball across the six-yard box, which Bonucci couldn’t latch onto.

Bonucci doubled the home side’s lead minutes into the second half, when he broke free from Leandro Castan and guided in Pirlo’s free-kick at the far post. Roma further displayed their inability to defend set-pieces when Chiellini nodded back Pirlo’s free-kick at the far post and Castan handled the ball in the area, thus leading to his dismissal and a penalty, which Mirko Vucinic converted. Although Juventus’ influence from open-play was minimal, Conte’s men exposed Roma through set-pieces, and were rewarded with three goals.

4-2-3-1

Garcia opted to bring on Mattia Destro and Vasilis Torosidis for Pjanic and Dodo, as Roma moved to a 4-2-3-1.

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The move was logical as Roma now possessed a focal point in attack, but unfortunately for the away side, they struggled to get the ball into Destro – Pjanic’s departure deprived the away side of any penetration, as they were left with Strootman’s complacent passing and De Rossi in a deeper role.

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Garcia’s final attempt to alter the match saw Alessandro Florenzi replace Totti, but De Rossi and Castan were sent off within four minutes of his introduction. With Roma down to nine-men away from home against the champions, the match was over, and Juventus comfortably sustained their two-goal lead.

Conclusion

Juventus’ defensive solidity and set-piece efficiency merited three points – this was far from their best performance of the season, yet their defensive display was superb, as Conte’s men stifled Roma’s attack.

Roma dominated possession for large portions of the match, but the away side lacked invention, guile and penetration when they broke into Juventus’ half. Garcia’s men circulated the ball too slow, allowing Juventus to maintain their shape, while their set-piece defending was abysmal. Roma have overachieved by some margin this season – considering this is their first loss of the season – and if they can positively bounce back from this result, then the title race is far from over.

Roma’s overall performance wasn’t great – nor was it poor – here, they lost to a better side, executing a well-thought-out approach.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Tomas Rosicky’s energy and perseverance drives Arsenal past Spurs

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Arsene Wenger’s decision to acquire Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline day has been identified as the spark that’s led to Arsenal’s formidable form this season. The signing displayed the North London side’s title ambitions, and his presence has influenced his teammates to raise their overall game – but initially, it put Tomas Rosicky’s place in the squad at risk.

Rosicky, who most recently celebrated his 33rd birthday, has struggled to solidify a place in Arsenal’s XI throughout his eight-year spell in North London. Injuries have hampered the Czech’s ability to reach his expected potential, and with Arsenal possessing an abundance of creative players, his role within the squad was questionable.

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Here, the 33-year-old midfielder started alongside Santi Cazorla and Serge Gnabry in Arsenal’s attacking trio, behind Theo Walcott. Walcott aimed to attack space behind the fullbacks, Gnabry stuck to the touchline to provide width and isolate defenders – a logical approach based on Spurs’ fullbacks willingness to surge forward, while their centrebacks lack pace – whereas Cazorla drifted centrally to provide a creative spark.

Rosicky has occasionally slotted into the no.10 role behind the striker this season, opposed to Cazorla or Ozil, and it’s because the Czech midfielder provides a different element to Arsenal’s attack. Rosicky isn’t renowned for his sleek penetrating passes, or ability to take control of games – he’s an energetic direct threat that drives Arsenal forward, when their intricate passing is ineffective.

When Arsenal drew Everton at the Emirates this season, Wenger made a triple-substitution, which included Walcott and Rosicky replacing Cazorla and Jack Wilshere. It took 10 minutes for the duo to influence the match, as Rosicky’s long diagonal ball into the box met Walcott, and he nodded it towards Ozil, who gave Arsenal the lead from close range.

On two separate occasions, Rosicky drove Arsenal forward from deep positions in midfield, with swift, sleek combination play. Quick intricate passes with Cazorla and Wilshere enabled the 33-year-old to push forward and play a pass into Walcott, whose curling effort swerved inches wide of the net. Five minutes later, Rosicky dropped towards the halfway line to receive the ball, play a quick one-two with Wilshere, then inventively combine with Cazorla, who drifted infield and also curled his shot wide of the net.

The interesting feat about Rosicky is his admirable work-rate – he scampers around the pitch with the energy levels of a 20-year-old, quickly closing down the opposition, and breaking into tackles. Wenger’s decision to place him behind Walcott was with the intent of preventing Spurs from playing out of the back. For the most part, they were successful, and Rosicky was rewarded for his tireless running.

In the 61st minute, Rosicky closed down Danny Rose at the halfway line – the Czech subsequently dispossessed the Spurs left back, and shrugged off Kyle Walker, before cleverly chipping the ball over Hugo Lloris. Rosicky’s ability to drift into pockets of space and push runners forward is often overlooked, yet pivotal in an attack that can occasionally lack guile and penetration.

Although Rosicky could improve his goal-scoring/assist tally, the 33-year-old still offers a positive blend in Arsenal’s attack. His consistent dynamic style of play that involves direct running, and quick intricate passing has seen Rosicky quietly become one of Arsenal’s key men this season. Trophies have become a distant thought in the mind of Arsenal supporters, but Rosicky’s energetic play from midfield can play a decisive factor in ending their prolonged title drought.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Emmanuel Adebayor justifies his return to prominence at Old Trafford

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Courtesy of: Roger Gorączniak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Jordan Henderson’s success is a testament of hardwork and patience

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The manner in which we assess successful signings in the transfer window is atypical. Hype, elation, and belief fill the air, but along with the positive vibes come a sense of accountability. The demand to instantly perform has become mandatory, as supporters and the media are quick to tarnish your name if you fail to make an impact.

Factors such as adapting to a new club, city or country, living arrangement and style of football are forgotten. Patience is no longer a virtue – it’s a rarity. Ask Jordan Henderson, a promising English talent whom was the media scapegoat when he moved to Liverpool in summer 2011. It was a transitional period for a club that was looking to head in a different direction, but their decisions in the transfer market provided inadequate assistance.

Unfortunately for Henderson, being signed around the same period as Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing wasn’t beneficial – their combined transfer fee equaled £78m. Unlike the other signings – Carroll and Adam were brought in as poor replacements for Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles, while Downing was purchased to supply service to Carroll – Henderson was a future prospect that required time to develop. Shockingly, Henderson started 31 of 38 Premier League games, playing in various positions across midfield – his performances were lacklustre, and his steep transfer fee led to more criticism.

“Players used to come to Liverpool and go into the reserves for two years. These kids are having to go straight into the team,” said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, after a draw against Arsenal in January. Theoretically, he had a point – Henderson was thrown into the fire, but that didn’t affect the young midfielder, who was familiar with encountering daunting challenges.

Although Henderson enjoys playing table tennis and badminton during his leisure time, football always played a significant role in his life. Yet, there was skepticism as to whether he would receive a professional contract from boyhood club Sunderland – where he’s plied his trade since the tender age of eight. Towards the latter stages of his youth career, manager of the Sunderland academy, Ged McNamee feared that Henderson may not make the grade.

“There were times you’d look at Jordan and you’d think ‘There’s something special about that boy’ and then other times you’d see him struggling and you’d worry for him,” McNamee said.

“It was only really when he turned 16, where we were forced into making a decision whether or not to give him a contract that we began to realize what kind of special player we’d signed.”

Likewise, matters got worse for the 16-year-old starlet when he learned that he was diagnosed with the Osgood-Schlatter disease. According to Boston’s Children Hospital the disease is an overuse condition or injury of the knee that causes pain and swelling below the knee area over the shinbone. Growing children and adolescents whom participate in athletics are prone to the disease because that is when bones are growing faster than muscles and tendons.

Nevertheless, Henderson overcame the roadblocks that nearly halted his career, but his move to Anfield wasn’t rosy. Succeeding Steven Gerrard in midfield looked unlikely, and his ability to maintain a certain level of consistency was non-existent, as he constantly drifted out of matches. The demand for Champions League football was evident, and neither fans, nor upper management were settling for mediocrity.

Henderson’s Liverpool career was hanging by a thread, and the Merseyside club was willing to offload the Englishman to Fulham, in exchange for Clint Dempsey 16 months ago. But Henderson refused to leave – he wanted to prove his worth and fight for a starting role in midfield. That’s the type of man Henderson is – while his slender build may be deceiving, the 23-year-old possesses the heart of a lion.

His unmatched work ethic separates him from many players his age, as he covers every blade of grass tirelessly. Henderson’s characteristics can stem from the upbringing he developed within his household – The Liverpool midfielder doesn’t drink or smoke, and isn’t afraid to admit that he’s a tad introverted.

“I don’t really go out. I stay in and watch TV. None of my mates are bad lads, they didn’t go drinking at a young age or anything like that, but when they used to go out, they’d tell me not to, which was a good thing,” Henderson said.

“I just love playing football and I don’t want anything to jeopardize that. I like to go in every day training and working hard.”

Henderson’s performances this season have been superb – his powerful forward runs from midfield, combined with his ability to press the opposing midfield higher up the pitch to make key tackles have been acknowledged. While his finishing in front of goal could improve, the absence of Steven Gerrard has provided Henderson the platform to display his proficient passing.

The 23-year-old has started every Premier League game this season, and there’s been a vast improvement in his passing statistics. Henderson averages a career high 53.5 passes per game with an 87% success rate. And while scoring goals may not be Henderson’s niche at this point in his career, halfway through the season he’s recorded five assists – matching a career high.

Liverpool doesn’t possess a player of Henderson’s stature in midfield – a dynamic, tactically disciplined, hard-working runner, whom is also a reliable passer. Henderson is an ideal role model for many young footballers – his ‘never say die’ attitude and determination to succeed will enable him to improve over the course of his career.

More so, the Liverpool midfielder is a prime example of why supporters should have patience with new signings. It took the 23-year-old two full seasons to find his feet at Anfield, but he’s developed a prominent role in Liverpool’s push for Champions League football – Henderson is gradually silencing all the cynics.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in EPL, Published Work

 

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