Benfica 0-2 Barcelona: Sanchez and Fabregas exploit the space between Pereira and Jardel

October 4, 2012
Benfica 0-2 Barcelona: Sanchez and Fabregas exploit the space between Pereira and Jardel

Barcelona constantly attacked into an inside-left position in their comfortable victory over Benfica.

Jorge Jesus chose 4-1-4-1ish system with Nemanja Matic sitting deep in midfield and Bruno Rodrigo having most license to get forward. Oscar Cardozo wasn’t fit, so Lima started alone upfront.

Tito Vilanova brought back Carles Puyol into defence, while Cesc Fabregas played in Andres Iniesta’s left-centre midfield position.

That turned out to be a crucial part of Barca’s gameplan – Fabregas stormed forward to turn Barcelona’s front three into a front four and overwhelmed the Benfica defence. Read more »

Manchester United 2-3 Tottenham: Spurs attack directly then defend deep

October 1, 2012
Manchester United 2-3 Tottenham: Spurs attack directly then defend deep

An excellent first half performance put Tottenham in control, and they hung on with a fine defensive performance in the second half.

Sir Alex Ferguson brought Paul Scholes back into the starting line-up and used Ryan Giggs on the left. Wayne Rooney was on the bench.

Andre Villas-Boas chose Clint Dempsey ahead of Gylfi Sigurdsson, and played Jan Vertonghen at left-back with Steven Caulker coming into the centre of the pitch. Brad Fridel continued in goal.

The halves were completely different – Tottenham were excellent going forward before half-time, before gradually sitting deeper and deeper in the second half. Read more »

Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: both sides vulnerable down their left

September 29, 2012
Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: both sides vulnerable down their left

Chelsea stay at the top of the table after scoring two goals from free-kicks.

Arsene Wenger went with the pace of Gervinho rather than the physicality of Olivier Giroud upfront, and continued with Aaron Ramsey on the right – although he had to shuffle into the middle after Abou Diaby’s injury.

Roberto Di Matteo left out Frank Lampard and continued with the front four that failed to click against Stoke last weekend, with three versatile playmakers behind Fernando Torres.

This wasn’t an inspiring game – none of the playmakers were on top form, and neither side played good football. Read more »

Napoli 3-0 Lazio: Cavani x 3

September 28, 2012
Napoli 3-0 Lazio: Cavani x 3

Edinson Cavani hit a hattrick – and missed a penalty – as Napoli stormed to victory.

Walter Mazzarri started Alessandro Gamberini rather than Salvatore Aronica in defence and Valon Behrami ahead of Blerim Dzemaili in midfield.

Vladimir Petkovic moved back to his 4-1-4-1 / 4-3-3 after an unsuccessful experimentation with 4-4-2 against Genoa, with Miroslav Klose returning upfront, Stefano Mauri moved inside and Senad Lulic out on the left.

Despite Klose’s early disallowed goal (struck off because he admitted punching the ball into the net), this was a fairly simple game. Napoli were more forceful, energetic and direct than Lazio – they won the battle in the midfield and counter-attacked swiftly. Read more »

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus: home side dominate in a clash of similar systems

September 25, 2012
Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus: home side dominate in a clash of similar systems

3-5-2 versus 3-5-2, and one point apiece.

Vincenzo Montella made three changes. The most significant involved him selecting the industry of Romulo over the creativity of Mati Fernandez. Adem Ljajic came in for Haris Seferovic, and Manuel Pasqual for Mattia Cassani.

Antonio Conte and Massimo Carrera decided to rest Claudio Marchisio, with Emanuele Giaccherini starting instead. Fabio Quagliarella replaced Mirko Vucinic after his impressive impact in the last couple of games.

Fiorentina were the better side but struggled in front of goal, with Juventus seemingly happy with a point. Read more »

Schalke 0-2 Bayern: Kroos controls the game

September 24, 2012
Schalke 0-2 Bayern: Kroos controls the game

Bayern dominated possession throughout the match, and eventually found a route to goal.

Huub Stevens made just one change from the side that defeated Olympiakos in midweek, bringing in Julian Draxler in place of Tranquilo Barnetta.

Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern side had played a day later than Schalke (beating Valencia 2-1) so he freshened up the side with three changes – Mario Mandzukic was back in for Claudio Pizarro, while Thomas Muller and Luis Gustavo replaced Franck Ribery and Javi Martinez.

Bayern always seemed on top, but the game was lacking in excitement and tempo, so there were few goalscoring chances until the away side took command early in the second half. Read more »

Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal: two goals from corners

September 23, 2012
Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal: two goals from corners

There was plenty of attacking talent on show, but centre-backs Joleon Lescott and Laurent Koscielny got the goals.

Roberto Mancini chose Scott Sinclair on the left in the absence of Samir Nasri, with Sergio Aguero returning upfront to partner Edin Dzeko.

Arsene Wenger was without Thomas Vermaelen so Laurent Koscielny came in at the back. Aaron Ramsey started on the right, with Gervinho as the primary forward.

Arsenal can be more pleased with their performance – they dominated possession and got into dangerous positions in the final third – but they trailed for 42 minutes, and had to scrap to win a point. Read more »

Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United: United come from behind to win

September 23, 2012
Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United: United come from behind to win

Liverpool started stronger, but Manchester United gained control of the game after Jonjo Shelvey’s dismissal.

Brendan Rodgers used Shelvey as the highest player in his midfield triangle, and Glen Johnson continued at left-back.

Sir Alex Ferguson rested Nemanja Vidic, and played Ryan Giggs, rather than Paul Scholes or Tom Cleverley, in the centre of midfield.

Liverpool dominated the first half, United the second – Shelvey’s dismissal was a huge turning point in terms of the tactical battle. Read more »

Chelsea 2-2 Juventus: Juve take advantage of their areas of strength

September 19, 2012
Chelsea 2-2 Juventus: Juve take advantage of their areas of strength

Oscar’s strikes gave Chelsea two-goal lead, but Juventus found a way back into the game.

Roberto Di Matteo selected Oscar as the central playmaker in his 4-2-3-1, with Juan Mata on the bench. The rest of the side was as expected.

Antonio Conte (and assistant Massimo Carrera) named the expected side.

There were no major surprises in the way the sides lined up, either – it was 4-2-3-1 against 3-5-2, and both sides had areas of strength and weakness. Read more »

Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City: second half switches leave City exposed down their right

September 19, 2012
Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City: second half switches leave City exposed down their right

An excellent match, defined by a chaotic final 15 minutes.

Jose Mourinho surprisingly named Michael Essien, rather than Mesut Ozil or Luka Modric, in the centre of his midfield. Sergio Ramos was dropped, with Raphael Varane starting at centre-back instead.

Roberto Mancini also made a surprise selection decision, with Matija Nastasic starting over Joleon Lescott at the back. Yaya Toure played at the head of City’s midfield triangle.

Real dominated the majority of the game but twice fell behind, while City scored two goals against the run of play, before losing the game after some shambolic defending late on. Read more »

Dortmund 3-0 Leverkusen: Leverkusen caught out by Dortmund full-backs overlapping

September 17, 2012
Dortmund 3-0 Leverkusen: Leverkusen caught out by Dortmund full-backs overlapping

Dortmund recorded a comfortable victory over Leverkusen side that offered little attacking threat.

Jurgen Klopp named a side familiar from last season, with Marco Reus carrying a slight knock and therefore only on the bench.

Sami Hyypia made a single change, bringing in Jens Hegeler for captain Simon Rolfes.

This was an interesting formation battle that favoured Dortmund, whose movement had a clear purpose and was effective at dragging Leverkusen out of position, before exploiting the space on the flanks. Read more »

Sevilla 1-0 Real Madrid: Sevilla score after 2 minutes, then protect the lead for 88

September 16, 2012
Sevilla 1-0 Real Madrid: Sevilla score after 2 minutes, then protect the lead for 88

Sevilla triumphed in a fascinating tactical battle at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

Sevilla coach Michel made an interesting selection decision, introducing Hedwiges Maduro into the midfield triangle. This pushed Piotr Trochowski forward to the left, and meant Manu had to settle for a place on the bench.

Jose Mourinho chose a familiar side, with Luka Modric on the bench. Gonzalo Higuain started ahead of Karim Benzema upfront.

There were two major phases to this game – the first half was about how well Sevilla’s initial gameplan worked, the second half was about how Mourinho adapted, and then the two coaches traded blows with substitutions until the end. Read more »

Inter 1-3 Roma: Zeman collects the first win of his second spell at Roma

September 3, 2012
Inter 1-3 Roma: Zeman collects the first win of his second spell at Roma

An extremely open game finished with Roma on top.

Andrea Stramaccioni surprisingly used new signing Alvaro Pereira on the left of his central midfield three in place of Esteban Cambiasso – otherwise, the XI was the same as in the 3-0 win over Pescara last week.

Zdenek Zeman gave debuts to Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Alessandro Florenzi and Mattia Destro within his standard attack-minded 4-3-3 system.

As with all games involving a Zeman side, this was very open with space all over the pitch, despite both sides trying to play with a high defensive line. Read more »

Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal: Cazorla stays high up and exploits space between the lines

September 2, 2012
Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal: Cazorla stays high up and exploits space between the lines

Arsenal started nervously but eventually got into their stride to record an impressive win over Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers brought Daniel Agger straight back into the team after he was suspended for the draw against Manchester City, while Nuri Sahin was given his debut in midfield, in place of the injured Lucas Leiva.

Arsene Wenger kept his back four intact despite the return to fitness of Laurent Koscielny. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Gervinho on the right.

Liverpool dominated possession – 53% – but Arsenal were more penetrative with their passing, thanks to the positioning and use of the ball by Santi Cazorla between the lines. Read more »

West Ham quicker to the second balls in 3-0 victory over Fulham

September 1, 2012
West Ham quicker to the second balls in 3-0 victory over Fulham

This game’s main story was always going to involve the debut of Andy Carroll. 24 hours after confirmation of his loan from Liverpool, he went straight into Sam Allardyce’s first XI.

That came as little surprise – new signings often need time to settle in, but any doubt about his tactical role was unlikely. As with all Allardyce sides, it was long balls towards the big man straight away – and West Ham went ahead within a minute.

But it wasn’t Carroll’s aerial threat that directly threatened the Fulham defence. In Brede Hangeland the away side had a strong centre-back that relishes physical confrontations, and although Carroll won the majority of his aerial duels (9 from 15, 60%), he didn’t have any headed attempts on goal. His only shot was hit from outside the penalty area, and was blocked. Read more »

Modric and Song arrivals indicate Barcelona and Real are thinking about each other’s style

August 30, 2012
Modric and Song arrivals indicate Barcelona and Real are thinking about each other’s style

Last night’s Supercopa match – a 2-1 win to Real, meaning they won the tie on away goals – highlighted the huge difference in playing style between the two sides.

Real dominated the game in the opening period when the match was frantic and direct. Constant long balls in behind the Barcelona defence produced numerous chances and a red card for Adriano, and Real could have been 4-0 up before Barcelona had even started playing.

But Barcelona dominated the second half, even with ten men, as Real dropped off and let Barcelona dictate the tempo. Barcelona’s passing is quick, in terms of going from player to player, but the speed of their attacks from back to front is very slow and patient.

Real aren’t in great shape physically, and therefore wouldn’t have been able to sustain their first half aggression all game, but it was probably a mistake to allow Barcelona to assert such dominance in the second period, especially as Real had a man advantage. The key tactical feature of the game was not about positioning, but about tempo. Read more »

Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City: neither entirely comfortable with new approach

August 26, 2012
Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City: neither entirely comfortable with new approach

Liverpool scored from two dead ball situations, Manchester City scored after some poor defending.

Brendan Rodgers gave a full league debut to Raheem Sterling on the left wing, and played Sebastian Coates rather than Jamie Carragher at the back. Lucas Leiva started in midfield despite getting injured in the warm-up, and was replaced after three minutes by Jonjo Shelvey, with Joe Allen dropping into the Lucas role.

Roberto Mancini used that 3-4-1-2 system showcased in the Community Shield. David Silva was left on the bench, and Kolo Toure started rather than Joleon Lescott, with Pablo Zabaleta to the left of the three.

There was relatively little creativity from open play here, and the tactical battle was relatively unexciting despite City’s unusual formation. Read more »

Everton 1-0 Manchester United: Fellaini dominates in the air

August 21, 2012
Everton 1-0 Manchester United: Fellaini dominates in the air

Marouane Fellaini was the game’s star player, and scored the winning goal with a fine header.

David Moyes used a familiar 4-4-1-1 system, with Fellaini deployed behind Nikica Jelavic.

Sir Alex Ferguson had major injury problems at the back, with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand all out. Michael Carrick had to play at the back, and Antonio Valencia started at right-back, with Rafael still recovering from the Olympics. Further forward, Shinji Kagawa started as the number ten, but Robin van Persie remained on the bench.

Manchester United performed as you’d expect by looking at their starting XI – they dominated possession and passed the ball swiftly across midfield, but they lacked a physical presence in midfield, and Carrick’s defensive weakness was exposed at the back. Read more »

Ferguson showcases a 4-2-1-3 against Everton

August 21, 2012
Ferguson showcases a 4-2-1-3 against Everton

The main story on the night was Everton’s excellent performance, but the more significant development in the long-term was Manchester United’s choice of formation and personnel. The arrivals of both Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie have seen many questions about precisely how they’ll fit into the side, and while this starting XI doesn’t solve the issue of where van Persie plays, it hints at a change in strategy.

I’ve written more about this at ESPN (before this match), but Ferguson has been playing a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 system in the past three seasons or so. Regardless of what you want to call it, it’s generally featured two forwards – Wayne Rooney and one of Dimitar Berbatov, Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez. The wide players were deployed as wide midfielders rather than wide forwards. Read more »

Real Madrid 1-1 Valencia: Xabi Alonso dictates the game but Real fail to find the finishes

August 21, 2012
Real Madrid 1-1 Valencia: Xabi Alonso dictates the game but Real fail to find the finishes

Mauricio Pellegrino’s debut as Valencia coach resulted in a draw at the Bernabeu.

Jose Mourinho’s side was very familiar from last season – no new signings played. The main surprise was that Lassana Diarra was fielded alongside Xabi Alonso in midfield.

Valencia continued to play in a 4-2-3-1 system, the formation they’ve pretty much used since Pellegrino’s mentor Rafael Benitez was in charge of the club a decade ago. New signings Joao Pereira, Fernando Gago and Andres Guardado all slotted in where you’d expect.

This was a game that started surprisingly open, before becoming increasingly cagey as the match wore on, as Valencia sensed they could pick up a draw by parking the bus. Read more »

Newcastle 2-1 Tottenham: Pardew switches formation; Ben Arfa excels in both systems

August 20, 2012
Newcastle 2-1 Tottenham: Pardew switches formation; Ben Arfa excels in both systems

Newcastle started their 2012/13 campaign with a hard-fought victory over Tottenham.

Fabricio Coloccini wasn’t fit to start for Newcastle, so Alan Pardew used James Perch at centre-back. New signing Vernon Anita was on the bench.

Andre Villas-Boas left Jan Vertonghen and Rafael van der Vaart on the bench. Jermain Defoe, Tottenham’s only senior striker, played upfront.

This game started slowly but got progressively more interesting. There were three main points of interest – (a) Villas-Boas’ strategy in his first game at Tottenham, (b) the battle down Newcastle’s right in the first half, and (c) Pardew’s half-time change in formation. Read more »

Mancini to use a three-man defence as plan B?

August 14, 2012
Mancini to use a three-man defence as plan B?

Sunday’s Community Shield was an enjoyable, eventful match – but it was difficult to take too many conclusions from it. It wasn’t just that the match is something of an irrelevance (a feeling supported by the fact Branislav Ivanovic escaped a ban for his red card because the match isn’t considered a first-team game – Ivanovic is instead suspended from three reserve matches), but due to the red card itself. It arrived a couple of minutes after Chelsea went 1-0 up, and though Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea have shown their ability to withstand heavy pressure with only ten men previously, this is a large caveat when praising Manchester City’s comeback to win 3-2.

Roberto Mancini had provided great tactical interest, however, by lining up with the 3-4-1-2 formation he’d been experimenting with in other pre-season matches. Read more »

ZM’s team of Euro 2012

July 4, 2012
ZM’s team of Euro 2012

ZM’s team of Euro 2012…

Iker Casillas, Spain

This wasn’t a tournament of particularly fine individual goalkeeping displays, but the best two goalkeepers of the tournament – and of the century – met as captains in the final. Until the, there was nothing to separate Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, but after Casillas made a fine save from Di Natale and prompted Spain’s second goal with a good ball out to Alba, he must get the nod.

Joao Pereira, Portugal

The position of right-back had plenty of good performers, but for the second tournament running, Portugal’s defence was extremely impressive. Pereira was a key part of that – he tackled tenaciously and attacked purposefully down the flank. Portugal conceded four goals in the competition, and none originated from Pereira’s wing. Read more »

Spain 4-0 Italy: Spain win Euro 2012

July 2, 2012
Spain 4-0 Italy: Spain win Euro 2012

Spain produced by far their best performance of Euro 2012, and won the final with ease.

Both teams were as expected. Vicente del Bosque made a single change – Cesc Fabregas returned upfront in place of Alvaro Negredo.

Cesare Prandelli also made one change, bringing back Ignazio Abate at right-back, with Federico Balzaretti dropping to the bench. Giorgio Chiellini continued at left-back, although didn’t last long before Balzaretti replaced him.

Spain were the better side by a considerable distance. They didn’t settle for mere dominance of possession, and instead attacked with speed and determination to produce a wonderful display of football. Read more »

Euro 2012 final: Spain v Italy preview

June 30, 2012
Euro 2012 final: Spain v Italy preview

Of the 30 games at Euro 2012 so far, the 1-1 draw between these two countries in the first game of Group C was probably the most fascinating in a tactical sense. A back three battled against a false nine – not a formation match-up you see very regularly.

Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to see such a contest this time around, now Italy have moved away from a 3-5-2 to a midfield diamond. But then again, the diamond is also unique in this tournament – and besides, it gives us an entirely different tactical battle.

It’s odd that these two managers should produce interesting strategic battles. Both are fine coaches, but neither are particularly keen tacticians. Read more »

Italy 2-1 Germany: Balotelli double

June 29, 2012
Italy 2-1 Germany: Balotelli double

Jogi Low tried to change his shape to compete in the centre of midfield, but Italy produced an excellent performance to qualify for the final.

Cesare Prandelli kept his diamond system. Giorgio Chiellini returned at left-back, but Ignazio Abate was unfit, so Federico Balzaretti moved over to an unfamiliar right-back role.

Jogi Low had decisions to make in his front four, with only Mesut Ozil sure of his place. Mario Gomez was chosen ahead of Miroslav Klose, and Lukas Podolski was selected rather than Andre Schurrle. But the real surprise was in the other role, as Toni Kroos came into the side.

That was an attempt to deal with Italy’s midfield diamond, but Germany didn’t have the right structure in the centre of the pitch and were disappointing for long periods. Read more »

Germany v Italy preview

June 28, 2012
Germany v Italy preview

Euro 2012 has been a fine tournament, but we’re still waiting for a truly classic match. Could this be it?

There is a good chance. In each of the quarter-finals there was one side looking only to defend, and last night’s semi-final was contested between two cautious sides. But both Germany and Italy want to play good football.

“We cannot sit deep, Germany will press us high up the pitch, and we are ready for this,” says Cesare Prandelli. “We will not change what has brought us here, it would be a shame to waste the work of two years.”

“We have to think of a way to play better than Italy in midfield and dictate the tempo of the match,” Jogi Low stated. “We will not let Italy show us how to play football. It’s a confidence thing. We have to be cheeky, we have to be strong and brave.”

If the coaches are true to their word – and there’s no reason to suggest otherwise – this should be tremendously entertaining match. Read more »

Spain 0-0 Portugal: Portugal upset Spain’s rhythm but fail to record a shot on target

June 28, 2012
Spain 0-0 Portugal: Portugal upset Spain’s rhythm but fail to record a shot on target

Spain defeated Portugal on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

Vicente del Bosque surprisingly named Alvaro Negredo as his lone striker, meaning Cesc Fabregas dropped to the bench. The rest of the side was as expected.

Paulo Bento was forced to change his striker, with Helder Postiga injured. As already announced, Hugo Almeida replaced him.

A difficult game to summarise – Portugal pressed well in midfield, broke up Spain’s passing and restricted the number of opportunities del Bosque’s side had. However, they lacked a goal threat of their own, and then Spain were the better side in extra time. Read more »

Portugal v Spain preview

June 27, 2012
Portugal v Spain preview

Will Portugal be able to break up Spain’s dominant passing game? More to the point, will they attempt to?

Selection

There will be few surprises in selection. Paulo Bento, having kept the same starting XI for his previous six competitive games, has been forced to bring in Hugo Almeida upfront in place of the injured Helder Postiga. Nelson Oliveira is another option, and some would argue that his greater mobility brings more to Portugal’s game. But he’s seen as a supersub by Bento, and will probably replace Almedia after around an hour, to give Portugal’s attack more pace.

Vicente Del Bosque’s only area of concern is in the same position. Having used Cesc Fabregas as a false nine in two games, and Fernando Torres as a proper nine in the other two, it’s a difficult decision to predict. Spain acted as if they didn’t know how to play with a false nine against Italy in their opening game (which is understandable, as Cesc Fabregas said they hadn’t trained in that system before) but were much improved against France. Read more »

Italy 0-0 England: Pirlo dictates the game

June 25, 2012
Italy 0-0 England: Pirlo dictates the game

Italy somehow failed to score despite dominating for 120 minutes, but won the resulting penalty shoot-out.

Cesare Prandelli brought in Riccardo Montolivo to play at the top of the diamond, because of concerns over Thiago Motta’s fitness.

Roy Hodgson made no changes from the XI that narrowly defeated Ukraine in the group stage.

Italy were the better side all over the pitch here – only finishing let them down. Read more »

England v Italy preview

June 24, 2012
England v Italy preview

After three one-sided quarter-finals, this should be a much tighter, tenser tactical battle.

Roy Hodgson will name a standard 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 formation, and although there’s a chance that a more direct winger could start on the flanks, it’s probable that he’ll stick with the starting XI that overcame Ukraine in the final group game.

Cesare Prandelli’s formation is much less clear. Having used a 3-5-2 for Italy’s opening two games against Spain and Croatia, he switched to a 4-4-2 diamond for the win over Ireland. Read more »