Montenegro 1-1 England: Montenegro start timidly but introduce attackers effectively

March 27, 2013
Montenegro 1-1 England: Montenegro start timidly but introduce attackers effectively

Branko Brnovic surprisingly started with a lone forward, but ended up with four outright attackers as Montenegro deservedly claimed a point.

Brnovic’s selection was hampered by injuries and suspensions – Miodrag Dzudovic, Mitar Novakovic and Simon Vukcevic all came into the side.

Roy Hodgson made significant changes from the side that comfortably defeated San Marino on Friday evening, with Danny Welbeck, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson returning.

A game of two halves – England dominated against an oddly passive Montenegro, but were unable to deal with the increased attacking threat after half-time. Read more »

Uruguay 1-1 Paraguay: Tabarez ditches his double pivot, then makes more attacking moves

March 25, 2013
Uruguay 1-1 Paraguay: Tabarez ditches his double pivot, then makes more attacking moves

Reigning South American champions Uruguay recorded their third consecutive 1-1 home draw – their participation in Brazil remains in the balance.

Oscar Tabarez fielded a familiar core to this side – Edinson Cavani was only on the bench, with Diego Forlan behind Luis Suarez upfront, the combination that won Uruguay the Copa America final against Paraguay in 2011. The major news was in the centre of midfield, where Tabarez played Nicolas Lodeiro rather than a second defensive midfielder.

Uruguyan-born Gerard Pelusso selected a cautious 4-4-2 formation for bottom-placed Paraguay, having experimented with 4-3-3 earlier in the qualification process. Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Valdez were together upfront, while Ricard Ortiz pushed forward to the left of midfield.

This game started slowly before gradually developing into something quite interesting – mainly because of Tabarez’s constant chances. Read more »

Croatia 2-0 Serbia: brave decision to use Kovacic in midfield helps Croatia dominate the game

March 24, 2013
Croatia 2-0 Serbia: brave decision to use Kovacic in midfield helps Croatia dominate the game

Croatia’s two strikers – Ivica Olic and Mario Mandzukic – scored a goal apiece before half-time, to win an incredibly hotly-anticipated derby.

Igor Stimac’s major decision was the surprise selection of 18-year-old Mateo Kovacic for his international debut in the centre of midfield.

Sinisa Mihajlovic used Ivan Radovanovic as a holder, and Alen Stevanovic rather than Dusan Tadic on the left. Marko Scepovic played upfront, although he lasted less than ten minutes.

Why Croatia v Serbia? Well, for both political and football reasons, this was an absolutely huge fixture – especially the meeting between fierce rivals Stimac and Mihajlovic. For the incredible background to the story, read this excellent summary – with that in mind, the main feature of the match was its surprisingly sporting nature. Read more »

Malaga 2-0 Porto: Malaga profit from balls over the top, and Defour’s red card

March 13, 2013
Malaga 2-0 Porto: Malaga profit from balls over the top, and Defour’s red card

Malaga overcame a 1-0 first leg deficit to book their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

From the first leg, Manuel Pellegrini made two changes – Jesus Gamez played rather than Sergio Sanchez at right-back, while Javier Saviola started upfront in place of Roque Santa Cruz.

Vitor Pereira made one change from the first leg, with Steven Defour replacing Marat Izmailov on the left.

This was a bitty, scrappy game featuring eight bookings – one of which was a second yellow, and the end of Defour’s night. Malaga started slowly, but eventually played better football. Read more »

Schalke 2-3 Galatasaray: Terim switches to a diamond but deals with Schalke width

March 13, 2013
Schalke 2-3 Galatasaray: Terim switches to a diamond but deals with Schalke width

Galatasaray recorded a surprise win and progressed 4-3 on aggregate.

Jens Keller was without Klaas-Jan Huntelaar following the injury he sustained against Dortmund, so Teemu Pukki played alone upfront. Otherwise, Schalke were unchanged.

Fatih Terim made one change from the first leg – Emmanuel Eboue replaced Sabri Sarioglu at right-back.

This was an even contest, and would have finished in a draw had Schalke not needed to push forward seeking the fitfh goal of the game – but Galatasaray started as underdogs, so it’s fair to give Terim great credit for his tactics. Read more »

Barcelona 4-0 Milan: Villa plays centrally and allows Messi space between the lines

March 13, 2013
Barcelona 4-0 Milan: Villa plays centrally and allows Messi space between the lines

Barcelona recovered from a 2-0 first leg defeat.

Jordi Roura (perhaps with help from Tito Vilanova) used David Villa upfront, with Cesc Fabregas on the bench, and played Javier Mascherano rather than Carles Puyol.

Max Allegri kept things close to the first leg XI – Mathieu Flamini replaced Sulley Muntari, with Riccardo Montolivo moving to the left of the midfield trio. Upfront, with Giampaolo Pazzini injured, M’Baye Niang played upfront.

Barcelona were excellent in the first half here – and although the home side’s strategy was slightly confused after the third goal which had tipped the balance of the tie, Milan didn’t have an answer for their unusual system. Read more »

Schalke 2-1 Dortmund: squeezed game allows full-backs forward on the overlap

March 12, 2013
Schalke 2-1 Dortmund: squeezed game allows full-backs forward on the overlap

Schalke won the Revierderby with an excellent first-half display.

Atsuto Uchida came back into Jens Keller’s side, with Marco Hoger moving forward into midfield in place of Jermaine Jones.

Jurgen Klopp recalled Mats Hummels – although he didn’t seem 100% fit and only lasted half the game. Klopp left out Marco Reus, presumably because of rotation after a busy couple of weeks for Dortmund.

This game was amazingly attack-minded in the opening stages, and almost solely about the flanks, with all four full-backs playing attack-minded roles. Read more »

Lazio 0-2 Fiorentina: Ledesma shows how not to play the holding midfield role – again

March 11, 2013
Lazio 0-2 Fiorentina: Ledesma shows how not to play the holding midfield role – again

A familiar, assured passing performance from Fiorentina – but a rare away victory. They leapfrog Lazio into fourth.

Vladimir Petkovic was without right-winger Antonio Candreva after his red card against Milan last week, so moved Alvaro Gonzales to the flank and used Ederson in the middle. Lorik Cana started at the back, in place of Giuseppe Biava.

Vincenzo Montella selected his 4-3-3 formation. Alberto Aquilani was unavailable in the centre of the pitch, so Giulio Migliaccio started in his position, while Nenad Tomovic played at right-back.

Fiorentina were clinical here – dominating the opening period with clever passing triangles, then playing possession football in the second half to seal a relatively comfortable victory. Read more »

Lyon 0-0 Marseille: A bad reflection of Ligue 1, and a bad result for Ligue 1

March 11, 2013
Lyon 0-0 Marseille: A bad reflection of Ligue 1, and a bad result for Ligue 1

PSG were the real winners, as 2nd versus 3rd played out a boring goalless draw.

Remi Garde was without Anthony Reveillere, so Mohamadou Dabo played at right-back, with Samuel Umtiti on the left. Clement Grenier dropped to the bench, with the more defensive-minded Gueida Fofana starting instead.

Elie Baup was without Morgan Amalfitano, so used the pacey Modou Sougou in his place. Otherwise, his side was as expected.

This was desperately poor – two negative sides apparently content to play out a goalless draw, in a match featuring just three shots on target. Read more »

Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea: United storm into an early lead, then Chelsea dominate

March 11, 2013
Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea: United storm into an early lead, then Chelsea dominate

Manchester United appeared firmly in control for 20 minutes, but substitutions helped Chelsea get back into the game.

Sir Alex Ferguson recalled Wayne Rooney, using him behind Javier Hernandez, with Shinji Kagawa left and Nani right. Jonny Evans also returned.

Rafael Benitez surprisingly named Ramires and Frank Lampard in midfield, allowing him to play three attackers, including Victor Moses, behind Demba Ba. Cesar Azpilicueta was at right-back.

United took an early lead with goals from Hernandez and Rooney, but then seemed to stop playing – and Chelsea could have won it late on. Read more »