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Atletico 0-1 Barcelona: the Messi and Pedro combination wins Barcelona the title

May 20, 2015
Atletico 0-1 Barcelona: the Messi and Pedro combination wins Barcelona the title

Barcelona wrapped up La Liga with a 1-0 victory at the home of Atletico Madrid, the previous champions.

Atletico selection

Diego Simeone played his usual formation, but made a few changes from the team which drew 2-2 at Levante last weekend.

At the back, Diego Godin returned in place of Miranda. In midfield, Thiago dropped out and Mario Suarez came in. Upfront, Fernando Torres got the nod over Mario Mandzukic.

Barcelona selection

Luis Enrique’s best XI is now established, although here he was forced to cope without Luis Suarez, who was injured. Pedro Rodriguez was the obvious replacement.

Otherwise, there were no surprises. Aside from in goal, where Barcelona rotate for the cups, this XI will start the European Cup final next month.

Match summary

We’ve seen this contest many times before – Atletico sit back and counter, Barcelona dominate possession. This was an exaggerated version of that – Barca had 77% possession – and the game was played at a surprisingly high tempo, especially considering the sweltering heat in Madrid. Barcelona’s possession play was highly impressive at times. Read more »

Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus: Real attack through the full-backs but Juve hold on

May 15, 2015
Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus: Real attack through the full-backs but Juve hold on

Juventus qualified for the European Cup final with a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Real Madrid selection

Carlo Ancelotti surprisingly dropped Pepe and shifted Sergio Ramos back into his favoured centre-back position, after an unsuccessful stint in midfield during the first leg.

Upfront, Karim Benzema was fit to return, and otherwise it was Real’s expected side, with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal returning having been rested for the weekend draw with Valencia.

Juventus selection

Having missed the first leg through injury, Paul Pogba was fit to return in place of Stefano Sturaro.

This might have also influenced Max Allegri’s formation decision – had Pogba been out, he might have switched to the 5-3-2 system he used towards the end of the first leg, providing more defensive structure in a game where a draw would suit Juventus. Pogba’s availability, though, meant it was worth sticking with the diamond.

Otherwise, the team was as expected.

Match summary

Juventus emerged victorious but Real dominated for long periods of this second leg, and their tactical approach worked better here. Read more »

Barcelona 3-0 Bayern: Guardiola changes system within first 15 minutes, Messi wins it in the last 15 minutes

May 7, 2015
Barcelona 3-0 Bayern: Guardiola changes system within first 15 minutes, Messi wins it in the last 15 minutes

Barcelona eventually prevailed thanks to some fantastic Lionel Messi play, at the end of a fascinating, high-tempo contest.

Barcelona selection

Luis Enrique continues to use Marc-Andre ter Stegen as his cup goalkeeper, with Claudio Bravo dropping to the bench.

Otherwise, the team was as expected. Jeremy Mathieu was ruled out through injury – and it was interesting to see Thomas Vermaelen on the bench following his injury problems – but there were no real surprises, this was Barcelona’s regular outfield starting side.

Bayern selection

Pep Guardiola, on his first return to the Camp Nou, was still without key players – particularly Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who were so devastating in this fixture two seasons ago – but also David Alaba.

Guardiola’s team selection was very similar to the XI which started in the cup match against Dortmund last week. The only change was Bastian Schweinsteiger in for Mitchell Weiser, which hinted that Bayern would again use a three-man defence.

Match summary

Not so much a game of two halves – more a game of four quarters. First, Barcelona were dominant in the opening period, then Bayern stabilised the game before half-time but remained on the back foot. After the break, Bayern emerged re-energised and played their best football, but then Messi took charge and put the tie out of Bayern’s reach. Read more »

Bayern 1-1 Dortmund: Klopp floods the centre to harm Bayern’s build-up

May 1, 2015
Bayern 1-1 Dortmund: Klopp floods the centre to harm Bayern’s build-up

Dortmund progressed to the DFB-Pokal final on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

Bayern selection

Pep Guardiola started with a three-man defence, and surprisingly named Rafinha, traditionally a right-back, as the left-sided centre-back.

Further forward, Mitchell Weiser was handed the right-sided midfield role for the newly-crowned Bundesliga champions, with Arjen Robben fit enough only for the bench.

Thiago Alcantara returned to the head of a midfield triangle, so Mario Gotze was on the bench.

Dortmund selection

Jurgen Klopp, facing Bayern for the final time as Dortmund coach, brought Ilkay Gundogan back into his midfield, in place of Matthias Ginter.

He also changed shape to a 4-3-3 / diamond midfield, with Marco Reus returning in place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Jakub Blaszczykowski narrowed into a midfield trio, with Shinji Kagawa playing as a false nine, although the front three often rotated.

Match summary

Bayern dominated in terms of possession, although the ball spent far too long in non-threatening positions, and Bayern rarely converted their possession into clear-cut chances. Read more »

Real Madrid 1-0 Atletico Madrid: poor Atletico transitions mean Real dominate the entire tie

April 24, 2015
Real Madrid 1-0 Atletico Madrid: poor Atletico transitions mean Real dominate the entire tie

Javier Hernandez struck in the 178th of the 180 minutes in this European Cup quarter-final, but Real had been the better side throughout.

Real selection

Carlo Ancelotti had a mini-injury crisis, with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Marcelo all out.

This meant Javier Hernandez, Fabio Coentrao and Isco were all recalled, although the replacement for Modric was more surprising – Sergio Ramos was fielded in the middle alongside Toni Kroos, as Ancelotti’s system was more 4-4-2, or 4-2-2-2, than 4-3-3.

Atletico selection

Diego Simeone elected to leave out Gabi, with Koke fielded in a central role and Saul on the left wing.

However, Simeone reverted back to his usual approach at half-time, with Gabi returning, Koke pushing out wide, and Saul withdrawn – suggesting Simeone felt his initial starting selection wasn’t right.

Match summary

We’ve come to expect Real dominating possession and Atletico sitting back, staying compact and then playing on the counter-attack. However, Atletico simply weren’t able to launch many breaks, and therefore found themselves effectively parking the bus for the majority of the game. Real had plenty of chances, and only Jan Oblak’s heroics kept Atletico in the tie.

The problem with this contest, however, is that it’s simply happened too often. This was the eighth Real v Atletico game this season, and the 13th since the start of last season. The pattern to the game is familiar, and the main points of interest weren’t about the overall tactical battle, but very small things. Therefore, a rundown of some of these minor points is more interesting… Read more »

Porto 3-1 Bayern: Porto press effectively

April 17, 2015
Porto 3-1 Bayern: Porto press effectively

Porto recorded a hugely impressive victory, largely thanks to their intense pressing in the opening stages, which put them into an early two-goal lead.

Porto selection

Julen Lopetegui was still without forward Cristian Tello, who had scored five goals in four games before suffering a thigh injury.

The good news, however, was that captain and centre-forward Jackson Martinez was fit again to lead the line, despite initial fears he wouldn’t even make the second leg. The rest of the side was as expected.

Bayern selection

Pep Guardiola was without his two wing wizards, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, which meant Bayern were forced to play in a somewhat narrow system which was roughly 4-3-2-1.

David Alaba, Mehdi Benatia and Bastian Schweinsteiger were also missing, which meant that while Guardiola was still able to call upon a solid group of players, he didn’t have many tactical options or alternatives from the bench after half-time.

Match summary

Porto played this very impressively, pressing intensely in phases to win the ball in dangerous positions, before gradually sitting deeper and remaining compact.

Read more »