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Three Things: Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United


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Cautious Moyes

After Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Fulham, many were criticizing David Moyes’ attacking approach. Although United completed 86 crosses in the match, displaying a lack of variety in attack, Moyes’ side was atrocious on the defensive end.

Despite dominating possession for large portions of the match, individual errors led to Steve Sidwell’s opener and Darren Bent’s late equalizer. With a trip to the Emirates Stadium on the horizon, United couldn’t afford to drop points if they had any hopes of finishing in the top four.

United dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, as they focused on minimizing space between the lines. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley provided astute protection in front of the back four, and Arsenal’s attacking players were unable to get into dangerous positions around the final third.


Moyes instructed his men to sit narrow – identical to their performance at Old Trafford earlier this season – but this time wide players Antonio Valencia and Juan Mata prevented Arsenal’s fullbacks from pushing forward. United was set up to contain Arsenal’s attacking players, and they succeeded. The Gunners created minimal chances from open play, their ball circulation was slow, and they lacked the penetration and guile to break down United’s back line.

The issue with United’s approach was that it sacrificed their threat on the attack. Apart from three squandered efforts from Robin van Persie, United didn’t test Wojciech Szczesny. Rooney was often yards away from the Dutch striker, and when United held possession, he was unable to receive the ball in key areas. Overall, United’s attack was stagnant; van Persie was constantly flagged offside, and with Moyes keen on his central midfielders – and Rooney – sitting deep, the champions lacked runners.

Moyes’ approach was logical, and it earned United an important point. However, while the Red Devils completed a job without the ball, their threat on the attack was languid.

Ozil improves his performance

Mesut Ozil’s form has been heavily critiqued and ridiculed over the past few months, and his performance at Anfield over the weekend was the last straw. Ozil’s involvement in two Liverpool goals left many questioning whether he truly is a world-class player.

While the sudden outrage in Ozil’s status is bizarre, encountering a dip in form in your first season in England isn’t. Nonetheless, the German playmaker took it upon him to silence the critics at the Emirates. Statistically, he was superb, creating the most chances and completing the most passes in the final third.


Although Ozil wasn’t the best player on the pitch, he was certainly the most influential Arsenal player. Laurent Koscielny – Arsenal’s best player on the night – nodded Ozil’s corner towards the back post, but it was cleared by Valencia, and his intricate passing with Santi Cazorla, led to the Spaniard forcing David De Gea to make a key save.

For the most part it looked like the gap in quality between Ozil and his teammates was vast. Ozil roamed around the final third playing passes with his teammates, and creating space for others to penetrate, but nothing came of it. Likewise, when he did attempt to play intricate passes in tight spaces the receiver often couldn’t play a returning pass.

Ozil’s price tag leaves him vulnerable to heavy criticism, but as of late it’s difficult to pinpoint an attacker who’s produced consistent performances.

Giroud or bust?

Arsene Wenger had one job to complete during the January transfer window – purchase a striker. An entire month flew by, and despite a few warning signs regarding fatigue and performance levels, Wenger was reluctant on meeting the wishes of Arsenal supporters.

Apart from their victory against Spurs earlier this season, Olivier Giroud has failed to score against the league’s top-sides. Giroud’s enjoyed a good campaign as Arsenal’s main striker this season, but his inability to provide goals in these matches has affected the Gunners’ results.

With Arsenal’s summer pursuit of Luis Suarez proving to be unsuccessful, and Theo Walcott sidelined for the remainder of the season, many expected Wenger to jump into the January market. The Frenchman, however, fully believes that the squad at his disposal possesses enough quality to end Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought.

Wenger included Nicklas Bentdner, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo on the bench against Manchester United, yet the trio witnessed Giroud struggle at the Emirates. Despite outmuscling and pestering United captain Nemanja Vidic in the first-half, the French international’s finishing was poor. In the 76th minute, Sagna created Arsenal’s best opportunity, but Giroud failed to convert the right-back’s delightful delivery into the six-yard box.

Giroud’s lack of pace puts him at a disadvantage, and his link-up play with advancing midfielders has become predictable. It’s illogical to believe the sole purchase of a striker would win Arsenal a trophy this season, but with the Frenchman showing evident signs of fatigue, a competent, alternative option could’ve been beneficial.

More so, Giroud’s poor performance symbolizes the Gunners’ issues upfront, but with three options at their disposal, maybe it’s time Wenger gives his main striker a rest.

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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Three Things: Manchester United 2-2 Fulham


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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.


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.


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.


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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Lazio 1-1 Juventus


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Lazio held Juventus to a 1-1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico despite Gianluigi Buffon’s first half dismissal.


Edy Reja made several changes to his starting XI. Miroslav Klose led the line with Hernanes and Antonio Candreva playing behind the German international. Luis Cavanda and Abdoulay Konko played as wingbacks, while Cristian Ledesma and Lucas Biglia formed a midfield duo.

Antonio Conte recalled Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente upfront, while Paul Pogba, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah took up their traditional positions in midfield.

Both sides created little from open play – Juventus pounced when opportunities were presented, while Reja’s cautious approach prevented Lazio from increasing their lead. A draw was a fair result.

Juventus play out of the back

Juventus found it relatively easy to move forward as a unit due to Lazio’s lack of press. Conte’s back three were free to push forward and play passes amongst one another because they were often in 3v1 situations against Klose. Occasionally, Hernanes joined Klose and pressed Conte’s defenders, but there was always a spare man, while Marchisio dropped into a deeper position to receive the ball.


For the most part, Reja’s men dropped into their half and focused on maintaining a compact shape in midfield. Conte’s backline were free to play forward passes into midfield, thus leading to Juventus’ superiority in possession.

Lazio without the ball

Despite sustaining a mere 38% of possession in the first half – with a man advantage – Lazio went into half-time with a one goal lead, containing Juventus’ main threats. Reja’s men dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, and encouraged their wingbacks to quickly close down Lichtsteiner and Asamoah.


Lazio’s narrow shape limited space in central areas, meaning Pogba and Vidal struggled to influence the match from midfield. The main issue Juventus encountered was service to their strikers – Llorente was a peripheral figure in the first half, despite being involved in Juventus’ only legitimate goal-scoring opportunity, and Tevez found it difficult to receive the ball. Biglia and Ledesma protected the back four, while Lorik Cana and Giuseppe Biava also closed down the Argentine when he received the ball.


Reja’s reactive approach was beneficial in the first half as Lazio nullified Juve’s attack. Shockingly, Lazio was in the lead at half-time courtesy of Candreva’s spot kick that was initially created through Konko’s magnificent through ball to Klose – which led to Buffon’s sending off.


Buffon’s sending off forced Juventus to reshuffle, and Conte sacrificed Asamoah, thus leaving him without a left-sided player. Juve became a 4-4-1, with Tevez drifting to the left and Ogbonna playing as a left back.


The onus was on Juve to attack, but with Lazio maintaining a man-advantage, one would expect the home-side to dominate possession. Conte’s men tried to play through the middle, and with Tevez slowly growing into the match, Juventus’ buildup play improved. With Ogbonna playing as a make-shift left back, Marchisio drifted infield so Lichtsteiner could push forward to provide width.

There was no significant change in either sides approach for the remainder of the first half – Juve dominated possession but struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, whereas Lazio sat narrow, defended deep, and opted to launch quick counters.


The games most proactive players subsequent to Buffon’s sending off were Tevez and Hernanes. Both players flourished in different roles – Tevez worked off Llorente as an energetic second striker, whereas Hernanes sprung quick counter-attacks when Juventus conceded possession.


Tevez’s influence on the match increased when Juve went down to 10 men. The Argentinian striker was positioned on the left, but when Juve won possession he moved into spaces on the field that Lazio’s defensive six wouldn’t drift into.

Now, Tevez linked play with the midfield, allowing them to move into key areas, but the Juventus striker also posed a goal threat around the 18-yard box. His main contribution was the buildup to Llorente’s goal – Tevez received Marchisio’s pass in space and distributed the ball wide to Lichtsteiner, and his back heel played in the Swiss wingback, thus leading to the cross that Llorente nodded into the far corner.

Hernanes offered a different threat – his quick nimble feet allowed the Brazilian to evade challenges and drive forward, and he was  the main outlet on the counter-attack. On two separate occasions Hernanes ran at the heart of the Juventus defence before playing balls out wide, but Candreva wasted both attempts.

The Brazilian summed up Lazio’s approach – he was disciplined without the ball, but crafty and direct on the break. Both men provided the invention that the match lacked, but their teammates were unable to make the difference.

Second half

Juventus continued to dominate possession for large portions of the second half, but their approach was slightly different. Conte instructed his men to utilize Llorente and play long balls into the Spaniard. There best chance stemmed from Bonucci’s direct ball into the striker, who held it up for Vidal, and the Chilean played in an onrushing Tevez, but his near-post shot was pushed away for a corner.

Majority, of Juventus’ attacks were now based on the counter, but their transitions were slow, and their passing around the final third was poor. Nonetheless, for a side that played with a man advantage for the entire second half, Lazio disappointed. When they managed to sustain possession in Juventus’ third, they failed to get behind or penetrate Conte’s organized side.

Apart from Hernanes’ involvement on the break, the home side was presented with two opportunities to win the match. In the span of four minutes, Klose got on the end of two Ledesma free-kicks: the first header led to a sensational save from Marco Storari, while the second attempt was offside, yet Storari caught the German’s tame effort.

Reja made two substitutions in the half, introducing Alvaro Gonzalez for Cavanda and Keita Balde for Candreva. Keita provided a pacy direct threat in the final moments of the match – here, he constantly ran at Lichtsteiner, and Klose played the Spanish-born Senegalese striker in on the break, but his curling effort hit the post.

Both sides were sloppy in possession, and they adopted direct approaches that nearly paid off. However, the match lacked guile, and creativity in the final third, but neither side was willing to gamble, thus leading to an uneventful second half.



Juventus’ poor run of form at the Stadio Olimpico continues in a match that possessed two distinct features. Lazio’s reactive approach contained Juventus for large portions of the match, but their transitions were disappointing. Meanwhile, Conte’s decision to play through Llorente in the second half nearly secured maximum points.

“We knew Juve came forward with one striker who’d flick it on for the other, so we worked on closing down those vertical lines. There’s also Arturo Vidal who moves down the right and Andre Dias was ear-marked to close down whoever went down that line,” Reja said.

“Perhaps we should’ve done better on the counter-attack. Marco Storari also performed some extraordinary saves.”

Buffon’s sending off changed the course of the game, but the likelihood of this match being a spectacle was very low, based on Reja’s approach. The draw leaves Roma six points behind the league leaders, and they’ll ironically meet Conte’s men at the Stadio Olimpico on the final day of the season, where Juventus can avenge last week’s shortcomings.

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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Luis Suarez turns provider in Liverpool’s FA Cup triumph over Bournemouth


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For all the attacking prowess Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool possess, there’s a vast contrast in terms of their defensive qualities. Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge guided Liverpool to the fifth round of the FA Cup, in a match that revolved around Rodgers’ men providing a threat on the counter, opposed to dominating possession.

After Liverpool’s 2-2 slip-up against Aston Villa at Anfield, the Reds were expected to alter their formation to provide adequate protection ahead of the back four. But with Rodgers persistent on keeping Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge upfront, Liverpool continued to play with a two central midfielders.

Liverpool struggled to sustain possession for large portions of the match, and Bournemouth created several half-chances. Marc Pugh and Charlie Daniels surged forward at every opportunity, dominating the left flank, while creating openings behind Martin Kelly, but the home side lacked quality in the final third.  Meanwhile, Bournemouth posed a threat in wide areas, as Liverpool’s issue defending set-pieces, and balls from the flank, troubled Rodgers’ backline.

Rodgers’ decision to play Steven Gerrard as a deep-lying midfielder last week was bold, and the Reds nearly lost the match in the first half. Here, without the injured Lucas Leiva, Henderson and Gerrard were paired in midfield again – and despite both men completing over 90% of their passes, they were a liability on the counter attack. Bournemouth consistently bypassed Liverpool’s midfield on several occasions, but the home side failed to convert chances around the 18-yard box.

The games most important player was Luis Suarez – the Uruguayan striker ran the channels, admirably tracked back to complete defensive duties, and he displayed his ability to play as a competent no.10. His cross-field pass on the break led to Moses’ near-post opener, and he received the ball behind the Bournemouth midfield and slid an incisive pass into Sturridge, who expertly doubled Liverpool’s lead.

The score-line doesn’t reflect the fact that Liverpool found it considerably easy at Goldsands Stadium, but once again their defensive issues were exposed. Suarez and Sturridge will torment back lines around the country, but an unreliable backline and Gerrard’s inability to consistently break up play in midfield can impede Liverpool’s top-four aspirations.

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


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Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United


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Chelsea produced an efficient performance against Manchester United that all but ends their hopes of retaining the Premier League title.

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Jose Mourinho made two changes to his starting lineup recalling Branislav Ivanovic to the starting XI, and opting to go with Samuel Eto’o over Fernando Torres.

David Moyes was without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, and he was forced to make three changes to the side that defeated Swansea, last weekend. Phil Jones and Ashley Young returned from injury, while Jonny Evans formed a centre-back partnership with Nemanja Vidic.

Manchester United’s overall game wasn’t poor, but defensive errors and minimal production in the final third led to their downfall.

United press

A key component in United’s impressive start to the match was their work ethic without the ball. Moyes instructed his men to press higher up the pitch and deny Chelsea’s midfielder’s space to receive the ball.


United pressing Chelsea higher up the pitch

Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj closed down Chelsea’s centrebacks, and the duo took turns dropping off and pressing David Luiz to prevent the Brazilian from playing forward passes. United’s wingers quickly pressed Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, while Jones and Michael Carrick pushed forward to close down Chelsea’s double-pivot.

This forced Chelsea’s attacking three to drop deeper to receive the ball, but they cheaply conceded possession and Samuel Eto’o was unable to hold up the ball and bring the midfield into the match. United’s pressing prevented Chelsea’s midfield from dictating the tempo of the match by forcing them to concede possession, which ultimately led to United’s superiority.

Chelsea break

For the most part of the first half, Chelsea struggled to sustain possession and develop quality build-up play. However, their best attacking chances were created when they broke on the counter-attack.

Ramires easily bypassed United’s midfield, but David De Gea saved the Brazilian’s tame effort. A United defender blocked Willian’s shot a minute later, when he surged towards the 18-yard box after Oscar and Eden Hazard cleverly combined. Willian continued to demonstrate his impact on both ends of the pitch when he ignited a counter-attack from his box and played in Hazard, who easily turned Vidic, which created Oscar’s overhead kick that sailed over the bar.

Mourinho’s side’s best moments were created on the counter-attack, as they rarely penetrated or sustained enough possession to unlock United’s backline.

Midfield battle

Shockingly, while many have crucified United’s inept midfield this season, here, they were effective in comparison to the opposition. Ramires and David Luiz struggled to maintain their shape, and at times left Chelsea’s back-line vulnerable as Januzaj and Welbeck found space between the lines to penetrate. Mourinho was an animated figure on the touchline, constantly ordering the Brazilian to stay deep and protect the back four, but he was constantly caught out of position.

On the other hand, despite Jones and Carrick getting pulled out of position on the break, they were reliable passers, and Carrick, in particular, fulfilled Moyes’ wishes on the defensive end completing a match-high eight interceptions.  The main issue was that Moyes may have wanted Carrick to be more involved in the attack, and provide penetrating passes. United’s midfield dominated the match throughout certain periods, and stifled Chelsea’s duo, which could explain why Mourinho was shocked that United were down two-goals at half-time.

United overload left flank

United’s main attacking threat came through Januzaj – against Swansea, the Belgian started the match as the no.10, but only provided an impact when he moved out wide. At Stamford Bridge, he provided United with a spark when he created 3v2 situations on the left flank.


Adnan Januzaj penetrates half-space

The Belgian attacked half-space and the left channel on a few occasions and created United’s best chances throughout the match. Jones’ move to the right led to a Patrice Evra cross that Januzaj collected, but he was reluctant to shoot. The issue Januzaj encountered was his final ball – his movement into these spaces was clever, but Luiz – who dropped between John Terry and Gary Cahill to become a third centreback – cleared his deliveries, while the Belgian’s ball into the six-yard box wasn’t met, and Azpilicueta did a great job to divert Welbeck’s shot into Cech.

United’s best chances were created down the left flank, and although Januzaj wasn’t always behind the attack, it was evident that it was an area Moyes’ men intended on exploiting.

Second half

Eto’o’s goal at the start of the second half gave Mourinho the incentive to close out the match, and Chelsea effectively completed their task. John Obi Mikel replaced Oscar, and Chelsea became a 4-3-3, and subsequently Nemanja Matic replaced Willian.

Moyes turned to Javier Hernandez, and the Mexican led the attack ahead of Welbeck. Although United began to create chances through the United poacher, they were unable to replicate their successful overloads from the first half. Hernandez improved his impressive scoring record against Chelsea, but United didn’t create enough chances to mount a comeback.

Chelsea finished the match with four defensive midfielders, and Hazard to support Torres, while United failed to supply Welbeck and Hernandez with quality service – had Hernandez started the match, we may have witnessed a completely different score line.


United started the match well, but defensive errors in the final third led to their downfall. Moyes’ men created the better chances in the first half, by dominating the left side, but the required final ball was non-existent.

Chelsea were solid at the back, and coped with United attacks down the left, and Mourinho’s decision to field Eto’o over Torres paid off – here, the Cameroonian’s poaching abilities was an efficient attacking source that condemned United’s experienced back line.

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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Adnan Januzaj’s superstar status increases in United’s victory over Swansea


Manchester United’s reliance on wide personnel has vastly increased since David Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford. The utilization of width was a key element in United’s recent success, but it’s currently a feeble component in the United attack that lacks adequate wingers.

Moyes’ philosophy encourages the two midfielders in the double-pivot to sit in deep positions, and facilitate the ball to their wide players. This season, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck – a playmaker and a striker – have been fielded on the left flank, as they drift centrally to create space for Patrice Evra to push forward. On the opposite flank, Antonio Valencia has been a regular selection – he stretches the pitch by positioning himself near the touchline, delivering balls into the box, and creating overloads with the right fullback.

Despite possessing an abundance of wide attacking options, inconsistent performances have hindered United’s approach. But, Moyes’ decision to include 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj in the first-team has reaped rewards. With Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie unavailable, United has desperately required a spark in the attacking third.

Similar to their midweek defeat to Sunderland, Januzaj was United’s best player – the 18-year-old began the game behind Danny Welbeck, and was the catalyst in the home side’s best chances in the first half. His 10th minute free kick rattled the cross-bar, and he played a great ball towards Valencia, which led to an opportunity for Welbeck in the latter stages of the half.

Swansea dominated possession for large portions of the first half with Wayne Routledge and Alejandro Pozuelo drifting between the lines, and completing quick, intricate passes – but the away side lacked conviction in United’s half, and failed to test David De Gea. United’s recurring issues in the attacking third was evident, but Moyes’ decision to push Januzaj to the left flank shifted the match.

Equally, the move was logical – Januzaj’s presence pegged Rangel Angel into his own half and he was encouraged to attack the Swansea right back. The Belgian posed a lethal threat down the flanks and was involved in both goals – Ashley Williams was unable to clear Januzaj’s cross and the ball flew towards Kagawa, who nodded it towards Valencia, and the Ecuadorian opened the scoring. Subsequently, Januzaj pressed Routledge, and intercepted Tremmel’s long throw, which ultimately led to Welbeck’s fortuitous goal.

At the tender age of 18, Januzaj’s exceeded his personal expectations this season. He took the onus upon himself to provide the guile and creativity United supporters demand on a weekly-basis. Januzaj has excelled in Moyes’ system, and although United are enduring a dark period, the Belgian is shining bright under Old Trafford’s floodlights.

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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Juventus 3-0 Roma


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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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