RSS

Tag Archives: uefa

Luka Modric solidifies significant role in Real Madrid’s title hunt

Image

Courtesy of Flickr/ franklemus7

One of the most difficult tasks managers have faced throughout the past decade is succeeding Jose Mourinho. Normally the introduction of a new manager ignites a spark in the dressing room, as players believe their role in the squad could be threatened or enhanced, but Mourinho’s departures presented a rigorous challenge at Real Madrid.

The bond Mourinho builds with his players are usually inimitable – look no further than Didier Drogba breaking down into tears when Mourinho left Chelsea, or the footage between the Portuguese manager and Marco Materazzi after Inter Milan’s Champions League triumph.

Drogba is one of the most dominant strikers of his generation, whom struck fear into the heart of the opposition backline. Likewise, Materazzi was a stone cold enforcer that didn’t tolerate nonsense – the former and the latter weren’t renowned for being emotional characters, so the tears shed during Mourinho’s departure exemplify his personal impact.

It’s surreal to see grown men of their stature shed tears for Mourinho, but the decline his former teams encountered was alarming. Porto hasn’t come close to contending for the Champions League since their triumph in Gelsenkirchen, only now is Chelsea developing the consistency needed to challenge for the Premier League title – apart from their triumph in 2010 – while Inter Milan is no longer a contender for the Scudetto, nor are they in any European competition.

However, Real Madrid was different. The Portuguese manager fell out of favor with the supporters and his players, thus leading to Mourinho’s first trophy-less season of his career – subsequently, Mourinho was sacked. Carlo Ancelotti was chosen to follow the path of Victor Fernandez, Avram Grant and Rafa Benitez, but unlike Mourinho’s previous sides, Madrid was eager to return to the top of Spain and Europe.

The early stages of Ancelotti’s tenure were challenging, especially with the absence of Gareth Bale and Xabi Alonso, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals kept Madrid afloat. Yet, with the La Liga title race into the final stretch, Ancelotti’s men sit three points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid, and most recently battered their cross-town rivals by three goals in the Copa del Rey.

Madrid remains undefeated in 2014, conceding one goal – a Ibai Gomez screamer – and Ancelotti believes balance has been pivotal towards their success. “The most important thing is the balance we have at the moment; it’s the key. We defend and attack very well,” Ancelotti said following a win against Granada.

A key feat in Madrid’s hot form was the permanent change to a 4-3-3 that has seen Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric form an imperious midfield trio. Ancelotti has always been keen on including playmakers in his midfield, to compliment his possession-based system by controlling central areas.

Alonso is the deep-lying playmaker that connects play with the attack with long-diagonal balls. Di Maria is now playing in a role similar to the one he adopts for Argentina – he drives forward to join the attack, and while he does sit centrally, he ensures the opposition doesn’t overload the left-back. Then there’s Modric – a dynamic, diminutive, controlling playmaker that’s arguably been Madrid’s star performer this season.

Modric’s first season at the Santiago Bernabeu was underwhelming by the Croatian’s standards, as he failed to adapt to Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1. Mourinho was keen on bringing in Modric after Toni Kroos’ terrific performance in the 2012 Champions League semi-final, and he believed the Croatian could fulfill the role.

However, Modric was unable to settle in an advanced position, whereas his role in the double-pivot alongside Xabi Alonso left the Spaniard vulnerable against counter-attacks. Modric was unable to express himself in Mourinho’s two-man midfield, but he still provided moments of brilliance such as his Champions League goal at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

Perhaps, with a mobile defensive holding midfielder Modric may have succeeded, but Mourinho was reluctant on playing two ball-playing midfielders in front of his backline. Yet, in the second leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund, Modric was the key man as Jurgen Klopp’s men aimed to nullify Alonso’s threat. United did this admirably in the round of 16, pressing Alonso and allowing Sami Khedira – not the greatest passer – to sustain possession.

With Modric as the second pivot, Dortmund was unsure of how to cope with his threat. The Croatian completed 88 percent of his passes, but also freed up space for Alonso to influence the match. As time passed in Mourinho’s tenure, opponents began to realize the importance of Alonso, and even now, as Ancelotti has moved to a 4-3-3, Modric’s significance in the side has increased.

Most recently in matches against Athletic Bilbao and Atletico, Modric was the key man – he provided an additional passing outlet when Alonso was pressed, and was Madrid’s most reliable passer, while providing penetration with his silky runs through midfield.

Ancelotti who’s been an admirer of the Croatian for some time has recently praised Modric’s impact on Madrid’s attack. “His finest quality is getting through with the ball. At the start of the season he seemed to be a little bit lacking in personality but now he is displaying a lot of character, and it is very important to have personality. Modric is changing the rhythm of the way we play in attack,” Ancelotti said.

Although Modric’s frail figure puts him at a disadvantage, nor is he the greatest tackler, the Croatian relentlessly hounds the opposition in search of possession. He’s usually the first man from midfield to close down defenders, as his dynamic presence forces his opponent into mistakes.

In attack, the Croatian nonchalantly glides from box-to-box evading challenges reminiscent to the ones he received as a 17-year-old while playing at Zrinjski Mostar in Bosnia. Modric feels that experienced helped him toughen up, as the hits inflicted and the nature of the game was rough.

Nonetheless, it’s Modric’s passing ability that is often overlooked. The Croatian’s ability to retain possession is extraordinary – he quickly switches the route of attack from flank to flank, and his willingness to play a penetrating pass is invigorating. Only Barcelona’s midfield trio – Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets – better Modric’s 90 percent passing rate in La Liga. In terms of assists, tackling and pass completion rates, this has been the Croatian’s best season of his career, as he’s slowly molding into the player many Madridstas envisioned.

“I’m in great form right now. Playing in pre-season was important for me. It’s key to have the coach’s fully backing and trust. That’s why I’m playing better. I also have a great relationship with the fans. They’ve always had my back and that has made things easier for me,” Modric told Marca.

Ancelotti’s decision to modify his formation has been beneficial – despite a sudden Ronaldo goal-scoring drought. As devastating as Ancelotti’s men can be in attack, their overall shape without the ball has improved with an extra man in midfield. Di Maria diligently moves to the left to prevent overloads, while Gareth Bale, and Jese complete their required defensive duties. Now, Madrid is consistently keeping clean-sheets, and their midfield trio has provided a mixture of proficient passing, guile, grit, and dynamism.

Ancelotti’s Madrid is finally taking shape, and with Barcelona encountering issues both on and off the field, and Atletico’s slim squad, a cup double isn’t far-fetched. Modric, however, has flourished under the side’s new possession-based system, producing genuine world-class performances.

Twelve months ago, the Croatian was voted as the worst signing of La Liga, now, he’s become a key cog in a Madrid shirt – Modric can finally call the Bernabeu home.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 7, 2014 in FIFA, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Lazio 1-1 Juventus

Image

Courtesy of Flickr/ mbah_pascal

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

 Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

11v10

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.

Image

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.

Tevez/Hernanes

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.

Image

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.

Conclusion

Image

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.

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gareth Barry: Everton’s unsung hero

Image

The underlying significance of a ball-playing holding midfielder has been highly recognized in modern day football. The elite sides around Europe all possess a player in this mold – the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Sergio Busquets and as of late Phillip Lahm have consistently performed at world-class levels as the single pivot, abolishing the belief that only players whom possess a physical presence can succeed in this role.

Most recently, the admiration for a deep-lying midfielder has shifted towards the Premier League. Michael Carrick was a standout last season in a deeper role, similar to Mikel Arteta’s impressive showing the year prior. And while sides like Liverpool occasionally play with a midfield trio, they still combine energy (Henderson), passing (Gerrard), and strength (Lucas) in these areas. The aim to control central areas is pivotal in the modern game, which explains why teams prefer to sustain possession and have players that are capable of dictating the tempo from deep positions.

Everton has undergone a radical transformation in terms of their philosophy, since Roberto Martinez’s arrival. Opposed to their reactive approach under David Moyes, Martinez has instilled a pragmatic possession-based philosophy. Despite losing Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United, Martinez has put his faith in Ross Barkley to be the main source of creativity, Romelu Lukaku to spearhead the attack and Kevin Mirallas as a direct wide threat – thus forming a tantalizing partnership on the right flank with Seamus Coleman. Nevertheless, Martinez inherited a great core of players, and the Spaniard has found a balance between promising technical youth, and experienced veterans.

Surprisingly, Martinez’s most influential signing came at no cost, minutes before the transfer window closed. Gareth Barry was surplus to requirements at Manchester City, and in desperate need of first-team football, so a change in scenery was tempting – even if it wasn’t the dream move to Liverpool that he hoped for in 2008. Rafa Benitez was keen on bringing in Barry for Xabi Alonso – who was reportedly set to depart Anfield – but Liverpool didn’t have the funds to meet Villa’s price valuation, and Alonso stayed at the Merseyside club for another season.

At the time, Barry’s growth was gaining recognition at Aston Villa, so when Manchester City inquired about his services in 2009, the Englishman couldn’t decline. “I feel I am joining a club that will seriously challenge to win major honours,” Barry said.

However, while Barry’s stature continued to rise, his deficiencies were exposed on the world’s largest stage in South Africa. Barry was exhausted. He looked unfit, out of his element, average, frankly there weren’t enough words to describe Barry’s unpleasant afternoon at the Free State Stadium nearly four years ago. The English midfielder chased German shadows when Joachim Low’s men slaughtered England in the most recent World Cup. The Englishman conceded possession at the edge of the box, which led to Germany’s third goal – and he was lucidly beaten for pace by Mesut Ozil, thus putting the match out of reach.

Barry’s career was scarred – he’s never fully recovered from that humid, summer day in Bloemfontein, and many began to closely critique his weaknesses afterwards. Despite enjoying two good seasons at Manchester City, Barry’s progress at the club level was impeded. In terms of silverware, the 32-year-old midfielder coveted an FA Cup and Premier League medal, but he was incapable of solidifying a role alongside Yaya Toure in City’s midfield. While the Englishman’s performances were rarely putrid, his natural ability wasn’t enough to boast the Manchester Club amongst Europe’s elite. 

And as the years went by, City desperately searched for players to fill this void. By the end of Barry’s fourth season with the club, City had Jack Rodwell, Toure, Javi Garcia, and newly acquired Fernandinho at their disposal.

At the age of 32, Barry knew his minutes would be scarce when manager Manuel Pellegrini told him a starting role was unattainable, as many midfielders were ahead of him. Barry began to realize that a move abroad was logical, and with Marouane Fellaini set for a move to Manchester United, Everton’s interest persuaded the Englishman.

“Firstly, it’s all about playing regular football in the Premier League. I haven’t joined Everton to try and help my England ambitions but that will come if I’m playing consistently well for Everton,” Barry said. 

“I wasn’t comfortable with my last year at City, with not playing, so now I’m looking to establish myself here. It was made clear to me that I wasn’t going to be guaranteed first team football.”

The arrival of Barry has led to a formidable midfield partnership with James McCarthy – the Englishman often sits as the deepest midfielder, while McCarthy’s dynamism enables him to drive forward into attack. More importantly, Barry’s positional and tactical awareness allows Everton’s attacking players to express themselves. He drops between the centrebacks and in vacant spaces out wide, giving the fullbacks onus to surge forward.

Barry sits in deep areas ahead of the two centrebacks, and focuses on dictating the tempo of the match – his passes often go sideways, but the Englishman isn’t wary of playing forward, penetrating balls. The 32-year-old averages 69.7 completed passes per game – a team high – at an 86% success rate, but he also plays an integral role on the defensive end breaking up play. More so, Everton hasn’t lost a match at full strength, with Barry in the starting XI.

Martinez has expressed his praise for the midfielder on several occasions, as he believes English supporters don’t appreciate the importance of the no.6 role. “To be able to see a pass and execute it in the way he does is a talent which you either have or you haven’t but he has developed an incredible awareness – the way he sits in for other players, the way he drives forward when he has to, the way he takes decisions,” Martinez said.

In the buildup to Gerard Deulofeu’s equalizer against Arsenal, we witnessed a glimpse of what Barry offers Everton. Barry controlled a loose ball, and played a forward pass to Ross Barkley, who turned Mathieu Flamini wonderfully, and evaded Arteta’s challenge. Barkley sprayed the ball out wide to Bryan Oviedo, and Barry continued his run powerful from midfield, aiming to create an overlap, which gave Oviedo half-a-yard to deliver a cross – thus leading to Deulofeu’s magnificent finish.

Everton’s transformation under Martinez has been remarkable – The Spaniard’s ability to evolve their attack over a short period of time has produced a different side at Goodison Park. The young attacking players may steal the headlines, but Barry remains a key cog towards the club’s success this season.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 27, 2013 in EPL, Match Recaps

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal

Image

Manchester City moved three points behind Arsenal with a convincing victory at the Ethiad Stadium.

Image

Arsene Wenger made five changes to the side that Napoli defeated at the San Paolo. Nacho Monreal, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna were in the starting lineup.

Manuel Pellegrini recalled Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri to the starting line up.

Arsenal’s complacent approach without the ball led to City’s dominant performance, as Pellegrini’s men were devastating in the final third.

Shape

Coming off a midweek loss to Napoli in the Champions League, many questioned how Wenger and his men would respond. It’s uncertain as to whether their conservative approach without the ball was down to fatigue, but it allowed City to assert their dominance on the match.

Image

Wenger’s men dropped into two banks for four, but like their press was non-existent. They allowed City’s midfielder’s time on the ball, while Silva and Nasri freely roamed between the lines.

Image

Arsenal invited pressure into their third, but they didn’t prevent City from asserting their dominance in these areas.

On the other hand, while City also dropped into two banks of four, their approach was pragmatic. City minimized space between the lines for large portions of the match – Toure and Fernandinho sat closer to their back four, and the midfield pressed Arsenal’s creative players when they approached dangerous areas.

Image

Arsenal’s approach without the ball enabled City to get into better positions, whereas Pellegrini’s men displayed impressive work ethic to prevent Arsenal from penetrating in the final third.

Full backs freedom

Nonetheless, the two teams had different approaches when they dropped into two banks of four, yet there shapes were identical. Both sides were fairly narrow when the opposition was in possession, and this encouraged fullbacks to push forward.

Arsenal’s enjoyed a different element of attack this season through Sagna’s crossing ability from the right, while Pablo Zabaleta is renowned for driving into advanced areas. Gael Clichy was the least active fullback from an attacking sense, and this was logical, as he was the only fullback that was matched up against a legitimate wide player in Walcott.

 Image

Zabaleta constantly pushed forward, attacking space behind Wilshere, as the Englishman was often caught in central positions.

Image

With Wilshere and Monreal dragged into the centre of the pitch, Zabaleta was a preferred outlet for Pellegrini’s men – coincidentally, it led to City’s second goal.

 Image

Here, we see two issues with Arsenal’s approach – one, Toure is allowed too much time on the ball, and once again Zabaleta is free on the right flank. Arsenal’s midfield failed to close the Ivorian down, and he found Zabaleta on the right flank, which resulted in a well-weighed ball for Negredo to tap in.

Sagna, also received space on the right to deliver crosses into the box, but unlike previous matches, the quality of the deliveries were poor – and when they did get into the box, Kompany did well to clear his lines.

1-1

Arsenal struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, but they did find an equalizer against the run of play. The goal was significant because it was one of the few times an Arsenal player pressed a City midfielder, and it highlighted Ozil’s use of half space.

Ramsey stepped forward to dispossess Toure, and he drove forward to play a ball to Ozil on the left flank.

Image

Ozil ran into half-space after receiving the ball from Ramsey. He can now chose to go forward and continue to penetrate or look for an option. His run into half space forced Yaya Toure to track a forward run into the box, when he/or a midfielder should be looking to intercept a potential cutback.

Ozil did well to attack the half space, and he played a cutback ball to Walcott, who placed his shot into the right corner.

Image

Ozil decided to make the cut back pass to the advancing Walcott, who is unmarked at the edge of the box. This is down to Ozil penetrating half space.

Ramsey’s tackle was pivotal, but Ozil’s ability to efficiently utilize the half-space led to the goal, as it drew Toure and the rest of the City defenders into the box, thus leaving the edge of the area vacant.

Silva/Nasri

Another issue Arsenal encountered was their inability to contain Silva and Nasri. City’s fluid system is maximized when both players are in the XI, and they were a constant threat against Arsenal.

 Image

The duo was City’s most proficient passers – alongside Toure – as they constantly buzzed around the final third. They dropped deep to help City push forward as a unit, but quickly found space between the lines to spring City attacks.

Image

Nasri and Silva roaming around between the lines

Silva drifted around the final third, weaving in and around the edge of the area, yet he also ignited swift counter attacks.

Image

Whereas Nasri was more direct with his approach – he provided intricate passes, and nonchalantly drifted past his opposition at every opportunity.

Image

Here Yaya Toure isn’t closed down, while Nasri and Silva are free between the lines

The Frenchman improved when moved into the no.10 role, but failed to score against his former side.

Image

Shockingly, Arsenal struggled to close down the duo’s passing lanes or close them down – Nasri and Silva dominated Arsenal in the final third, leaving Wenger’s men to chase shadows.

Arsenal improve

Arsenal’s best spell of the game lasted 13 minutes. Fernandinho increased City’s lead in the 50th minute, which led to Arsenal’s brief resurgence.

In fairness, City should also be held responsible, as their lackadaisical approach saw them drop deeper towards their box and avoid their defensive duties. Ozil became a prominent figure as he dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball and began facilitating passes, while aiming to create overloads in wide areas.

Olivier Giroud received wonderful chances to bring Arsenal back into the match, but his poor finishing let him down.

Image

No City player closes down Ozil and Ramsey is free to receive the ball

Luckily for Arsenal, City continued to sit off, opposed to applying pressure, and as you can see below Ozil and Ramsey received ample space to create Walcott’s second goal.

Image

Ramsey is still unmarked between the lines. He’s free to receive the ball, and play a pass into Walcott, which leads to Arsenal second goal.

There’s no pressure applied on Ozil and Ramsey, and they were able to find pockets of space to exploit. However, Arsenal’s lead was short lived, as City stormed forward on the attack once again, and negligence to Silva’s movement in the final third restored City’s two-goal lead.

Substitutions

The way both managers utilized their substitutions was pivotal in the latter stages of the match, yet it also displayed an issue Arsenal possess.

Pellegrini was forced to introduce Jesus Navas for Aguero, who suffered a calf injury. Subsequently, he also replaced Silva with Milner, thus pushing Nasri behind Negredo, as City became 4-2-3-1. This forced Arsenal’s fullbacks deeper due to City’s threat in wide areas, and it also injected more pace into the home side’s approach. Milner was fouled for City’s sixth goal, while Navas’ direct approach, led to his cross for Silva’s goal.

More so, with the game now stretched, the injected pace constantly troubled the Gunners backline. The onus was on Arsenal’s their tired legs to search for a goal, and it let to mistakes that Fernandinho pounced on, which contributed heavily to his improved second half performance.

 Image

As for Arsenal, they made a player swap by introducing Nicklas Bendtner for Giroud, while Serge Gnabry replaced Flamini. Wenger conceded defensive solidity in midfield for a direct wide threat, but neither Wilshere nor Ramsey were capable of completing their jobs. The match had slipped away from the Gunners, but Pellegrini’s substitutions preserved the result.

Conclusion

City produced another superior performance at the Ethiad, and Arsenal’s feeble approach ensured that. They allowed City’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, Wilshere failed to track Zabaleta’s runs, and Wenger’s options on the bench failed to change the match. 

“It’s very important to be an entertaining team but I would prefer we won 6-0 rather than 6-3,” Pellegrini said. 

“It’s possible to [win in attacking fashion without conceding] but the whole team must know how to defend. I will watch the game again but I don’t remember Arsenal having that many chances to score more than three.” 

Pellegrini should be wary of City’s defensive frailties – while they do score a lot of goals, there were periods in the match where his men lost awareness, and were exposed by Arsenal.

However, Wenger’s reluctance to tinker the squad is finally catching up with his side. This will be an interesting period for the league leaders, as the fixture list picks up, and failure to rotate the squad can lead to individual burnouts, and dropped points.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 16, 2013 in EPL, Match Recaps

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Image

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

Is there a talent issue?

No.

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

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

Intro   

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

Base shape   

Image

Bosco Lions 2-1-2

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

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

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

Image

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

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

Image

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

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

Without the ball

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

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

Image

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

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

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

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

Image

Our shape if the defender beats Randy

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

Image

If Claudio/Jose gets beat by a defender

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

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

Midfielder

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

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

Image

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

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

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

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

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

Attacking philosophy

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

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

Image

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

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

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

Image

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

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

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

Image

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

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

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

Image

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 12, 2013 in College Soccer

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Guys and a MIKE – World Cup Draw Vodcast December 8th

Image

Courtesy of: Christophe Badoux

On the debut of the 2 Guys and a Mike vodcast, Tyrrell Meertins and Mike the Mod breakdown the World Cup Draw that took place Friday afternoon.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 8, 2013 in Podcasts

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bayer Leverkusen 0-5 Manchester United

Image

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

 Image

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

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

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

Leverkusen impress early

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

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

1-0

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

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

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

United’s shape

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

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

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

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

Image

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

Leverkusen shape

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

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

Midfield battle

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

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

Image

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

 Image

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

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

Leverkusen press

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

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

United down the right

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

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

Kagawa

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

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

 Image

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,