Colombia: absences to prompt tactical re-think?

June 9, 2014
Colombia: absences to prompt tactical re-think?

Colombia are the South American equivalent of Belgium – after being absent for a few World Cups, they’ve suddenly turned up with some brilliant footballers, especially in attacking positions. Read more »

Cameroon: need to get the midfield balance right

June 9, 2014
Cameroon: need to get the midfield balance right

With Cameroon, off-field issues are of greater concern than tactical factors. Read more »

Mexico: talented squad, but highly unpredictable

June 9, 2014
Mexico: talented squad, but highly unpredictable

No other country has such a frustratingly consistent record at recent World Cups. Mexico have been eliminated at the second round stage in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 – often after some promising performances in the group stage. Read more »

European Team of the Season, 2013/14

June 2, 2014
European Team of the Season, 2013/14

The final post of a very enjoyable 2013/14 domestic campaign – the usual XI (and back-ups) of the season.

Read more »

Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid (AET): Real snatch late equaliser at end of cautious first 90 minutes before becoming rampant in extra-time

May 27, 2014
Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid (AET): Real snatch late equaliser at end of cautious first 90 minutes before becoming rampant in extra-time

Real won the European Cup final with an impressive late rally.

Carlo Ancelotti selected Sami Khedira as Xabi Alonso’s replacement deep in midfield, and chose Fabio Coentrao over Marcelo at left-back. Raphael Varane started rather than Pepe, who wasn’t 100% fit.

Diego Simeone wasn’t able to call upon Arda Turan, so Raul Garcia started on the right. Simeone gambled on the fitness of Diego Costa, but the Brazilian-cum-Spaniard was nowhere near fully fit, and Adrian Lopez replaced him inside ten minutes.

This looked set to be a classic underdog victory – reactive, counter-attacking and with the winner from a set-piece – but Real’s own set-piece equaliser forced extra-time, and from then there was only one winner. Read more »

Barcelona 1-1 Atletico: Simeone’s side seal historic title victory at the Camp Nou

May 19, 2014
Barcelona 1-1 Atletico: Simeone’s side seal historic title victory at the Camp Nou

Atletico fought back from 1-0 down to record the most amazing title victory in years.

Gerardo Martino surprisingly left out Xavi Hernandez from his starting XI, with Neymar also only on the bench. Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez were preferred.

Diego Simeone named two strikers in an attack-minded line-up, although he lost both Diego Costa and Arda Turan through injury before half-time, with Adrian Lopez and Raul Garcia replacing them.

Barcelona had spells of pressure, took the lead and rallied late on – but overall this was another superb defensive performance from Atletico, meaning they ended the season unbeaten against Barca, with one victory and five draws. Read more »

Pass completion and possession

May 16, 2014
Pass completion and possession

Last week’s graph proved reasonably popular, so here’s another…

This graph is much simpler. It shows the average possession along the bottom, and the pass completion rate along the left.

These two metrics are generally considered to be, more or less, the same thing. They measure how well each side passes the ball. If your pass completion rate is very high, logically you’ll keep possession more. Or, to look at it the other way around, if your side is focused upon keeping possession, they’ll play safe passes and therefore complete a high percentage of them. Nothing too complex there.

This graph, then, which looks at Premier League sides over the course of this season, essentially confirms this pattern. Read more »

Points per game record versus top half and bottom half shows why Chelsea lost the title, and why Sunderland survived

May 9, 2014
Points per game record versus top half and bottom half shows why Chelsea lost the title, and why Sunderland survived

If there’s one result that sums up the crazy, unpredictable end to this Premier League season, it’s Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat at home to Sunderland.

That was Jose Mourinho’s first home league defeat as Chelsea manager, after 78 games, and proved crucial at both top and bottom. Chelsea’s chances of winning the league title took a huge blow, while Sunderland continued their great escape.

However, to a certain extent that result was typical of their campaigns, because Chelsea and Sunderland are the two sides in the division that have collected more points against top half sides, than against bottom half sides. Read more »

Chelsea 1-3 Atletico: Juanfran skips past Hazard for two goals

May 2, 2014
Chelsea 1-3 Atletico: Juanfran skips past Hazard for two goals

Atletico set up an all-Madrid European Cup final with a convincing victory at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho welcomed back John Terry but Petr Cech was still out, and Frank Lampard was suspended. He surprisingly named six natural defenders in his starting XI, with Cesar Azpilicueta pushed forward to the right of midfield and David Luiz in the holding role.

Diego Simeone named Adrian Lopez, rather than Diego or David Villa as Diego Costa’s support, while Gabi’s unavailability meant Mario Suarez played instead.

Same drill as last week, alas – text is over at the Guardian, but some StatsZone graphics to accompany it below… Read more »

Bayern Munich 0-4 Real Madrid: Real go ahead through set-pieces, ensure thrashing with counter-attacks

April 30, 2014
Bayern Munich 0-4 Real Madrid: Real go ahead through set-pieces, ensure thrashing with counter-attacks

Real Madrid produced a remarkable performance at the home of the European Champions to progress to the final.

Pep Guardiola named a more adventurous team than in the first leg, playing Thomas Muller at the top of the midfield, with the knock-on effect that Philipp Lahm was moved to right-back.

Carlo Ancelotti made only one change – Gareth Bale was fit to start on the right, so Angel Di Maria swapped sides and Isco dropped out.

This game was over before half-time, with Real’s gameplan working brilliantly. Read more »

Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: Chelsea play ultra-defensively but win the game

April 28, 2014
Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: Chelsea play ultra-defensively but win the game

Chelsea scored breakaway goals in stoppage time at the end of both halves.

Brendan Rodgers named an unchanged side from the nervous win at Norwich last week. Jordan Henderson was still suspended, Daniel Sturridge fit only for the bench.

Jose Mourinho named a heavily changed side, preserving his best players for the return match against Atletico in midweek.

Chelsea’s defensive performance was highly effective, and Demba Ba capitalising on Steven Gerrard’s error meant they were able to continue with this strategy into the second half. Read more »

Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich: Real’s counter-attack proves too good for Bayern

April 25, 2014
Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich: Real’s counter-attack proves too good for Bayern

Real take a one-goal lead to Germany for next week’s second leg after another fine counter-attacking display.

Carlo Ancelotti stuck with the XI he used for last week’s Copa del Rey victory over Barcelona – with the exception of the returning Cristiano Ronaldo in for Gareth Bale, who was ill.

Pep Guardiola surprisingly named Rafinha at right-back with Philipp Lahm in his central midfield role, and also took the curious step of moving Bastian Schweinsteiger to the top of the midfield triangle.

Apologies for being unable to come up with the usual ZM piece, but I’ve written an analysis of the game for the Guardian and other duties mean I don’t have the time to write something similar here.

However, as well as the usual diagram to the left, there’s the usual StatsZone grabs below.

The Guardian piece, along with these graphics, should hopefully form the usual analysis – if you jump between two tabs accordingly…

Usual service will be resumed shortly! Read more »

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Chelsea: Atletico unable to successfully adapt against defensive opposition

April 23, 2014
Atletico Madrid 0-0 Chelsea: Atletico unable to successfully adapt against defensive opposition

Atletico Madrid and Chelsea played out a very cautious first leg.

Arda Turan was only fit enough for the bench, while Diego Simeone chose Diego rather than David Villa as Diego Costa’s partner.

Jose Mourinho selected a defensive-minded 4-1-4-1 system. Branislav Ivanovic was suspended, so Cesar Azpilicueta switched flanks and Ashley Cole made a rare start at left-back.

Chelsea’s defensive approach was obvious from the outset, and Atletico dominated possession. There were few genuinely interesting features of the game and no real progression to the tactical battle. Read more »

Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona: Bale shines in Ancelotti’s counter-attacking 4-4-2

April 17, 2014
Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona: Bale shines in Ancelotti’s counter-attacking 4-4-2

Gareth Bale scored a sublime late winner to win the Copa del Rey.

Carlo Ancelotti was without Cristiano Ronaldo, which meant Isco coming into the side. He also used Iker Casillas, his cup goalkeeper.

Tata Martino returned to the system he favoured in the Champions League matches against Atletico, with Andres Iniesta on the left and Cesc Fabregas in midfield. Neymar was given another chance.

Real played an extremely reactive, counter-attacking system, and were forced to withstand long periods of pressure – but they created better chances on the break. Read more »

Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City: Liverpool start superbly, City respond after the break

April 14, 2014
Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City: Liverpool start superbly, City respond after the break

Philippe Coutinho’s late goal handed Liverpool a crucial victory in a superb match.

Brendan Rodgers named his expected XI, which meant Joe Allen – often an option in big games – only on the bench.

Manuel Pellegrini played Gael Clichy ahead of Aleksandar Kolarov because of his his defensive discipline, and decided Sergio Aguero wasn’t fit enough to start the game, so continued with a 4-2-3-1 and Edin Dzeko upfront alone.

This was the classic game of two halves – Liverpool were dominant in the first period, Manchester City were superior after the break. Read more »

Atletico 1-0 Barcelona: Gabi v Busquets, and pressing the opposition keeper?

April 11, 2014
Atletico 1-0 Barcelona: Gabi v Busquets, and pressing the opposition keeper?

At the fifth time of asking this season, a contest between these two finally produced a winner – Atletico deservedly progressing to the semi-finals.

Diego Simeone was without two key players. Diego Costa hadn’t recovered from limping off in the first leg, and Arda Turan was also out. This meant Adrian Lopez played upfront and Raul Garcia played on the right of midfield.

Tata Martino continued with Cesc Fabregas and Neymar in the side, while Marc Bartra started as Gerard Pique was absent.

Atletico should have had the game wrapped up inside the first half, creating a number of great opportunities and hitting the woodwork three times. Read more »

Bayern Munich 3-1 Manchester United: Guardiola uses his full-backs in midfield, but Bayern better with a standard system

April 10, 2014
Bayern Munich 3-1 Manchester United: Guardiola uses his full-backs in midfield, but Bayern better with a standard system

Pep Guardiola played an unusual system, but it didn’t help Bayern break down Manchester United.

Guardiola fielded Toni Kroos in the pivot role, with Thomas Muller in midfield and Mario Mandzukic returning upfront.

David Moyes brought Shinji Kagawa and Darren Fletcher into his midfield, and recalled Patrice Evra and Chris Smalling at the back.

The pattern of the game wasn’t significantly different from the first leg, and the major talking point was Guardiola’s use of his two full-backs. Read more »

Chelsea 2-0 PSG: Mourinho takes risks late on

April 9, 2014
Chelsea 2-0 PSG: Mourinho takes risks late on

Chelsea recorded the 2-0 victory they required to progress on away goals.

Jose Mourinho welcomed back Samuel Eto’o upfront, although was without Nemanja Matic and Ramires in the centre of midfield. Eden Hazard started on the left, but lasted only a quarter of the game before being replaced by Andre Schurrle.

Laurent Blanc was without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, so moved Edinson Cavani upfront and brought on Lucas Moura down the right, which promised more counter-attacking thrust.

This was a tense but poor quality game for this level, and the major tactical interest was how Chelsea became more attacking late on. Read more »

Everton 3-0 Arsenal: Everton maintain their challenge for fourth place

April 7, 2014
Everton 3-0 Arsenal: Everton maintain their challenge for fourth place

Everton outfoxed Arsenal with a surprise strategy and some clever movement.

Roberto Martinez wasn’t able to welcome back Phil Jagielka, but John Stones has been excellent as his replacement. Ross Barkley was left out, with Leon Osman favoured – but Osman barely lasted ten minutes before getting injured, and Barkley replaced him.

Arsene Wenger is without the preferred left side of his defence, as well as Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Aaron Ramsey was on the bench after three months out, alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had been expected to return.

Everton have often won games late on this season, but here they took command in the first half and sealed the contest on the hour mark. Read more »

Barcelona 1-1 Atletico: a predictable pattern, and two great goals

April 5, 2014
Barcelona 1-1 Atletico: a predictable pattern, and two great goals

Atletico and Barcelona played out their fourth draw of the 2013/14 campaign – with two crucial meetings still to come…

Tato Martino selected his expected side for this match: his ‘big game’ shape with Cesc Fabregas in midfield, Andres Iniesta out on the left and Neymar on the right. Gerard Pique didn’t last the first half, and was replaced by Marc Bartra.

Diego Simeone also named his expected side, and Atletico also suffered from an injury. Diego Costa was doubtful before the game and pulled up midway through the first half. He was replaced by Brazilian playmaker Diego, who played behind David Villa.

The first half was slow and cautious, the second much more intense – but the overriding feeling was that these two sides knew each other too well, and the tactical battle was rather familiar. It was more notable for minor points of interest, rather than the overall pattern – which was entirely as expected. Read more »

Manchester United 1-1 Bayern Munich: Welbeck causes problems upfront but Bayern attack down the right

April 4, 2014
Manchester United 1-1 Bayern Munich: Welbeck causes problems upfront but Bayern attack down the right

Bayern started as overwhelming favourites and dominated for the majority of the game, but Manchester United caused problems and weren’t flattered by a draw.

David Moyes had both first-choice full-backs out, so Phil Jones and Alexander Buttner played in those positions. Further forward, Moyes picked Ryan Giggs after his excellent game against Olympiakos in the previous round. Juan Mata is cup-tied.

Pep Guardiola was without Dante so Javi Martinez played at the back. Mario Gotze was only on the bench, as was Mario Mandzukic – Thomas Muller led the line.

Bayern had lots of possession, but didn’t create better goalscoring opportunities than Manchester United. Read more »

Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City: all the attacking down the same flank

April 1, 2014
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City: all the attacking down the same flank

Arsenal and Manchester City played out an enjoyable 1-1 draw.

Arsene Wenger was still without Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a knock, so Thomas Vermaelen continued at the back and Lukas Podolski returned to the side.

Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City side were unchanged from the side that won convincingly at Old Trafford in midweek.

City started well and took the game to Arsenal, but the home side responded and looked more likely to score at 1-1. Read more »

Manchester United 0-3 Manchester City: United forced to change shape within ten minutes

March 26, 2014
Manchester United 0-3 Manchester City: United forced to change shape within ten minutes

Manchester City recorded a comfortable victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.

David Moyes named Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley in the same team for the first time, with Danny Welbeck returning to the side. Rio Ferdinand was fit enough to return at the back.

Manuel Pellegrini went for Edin Dzeko ahead of Alvaro Negredo, and Gael Clichy ahead of Aleksandar Kolarov.

City started brilliantly, and probably should have won the game within the first 25 minutes. Read more »

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: Chelsea’s pressing wins the game within 20 minutes

March 25, 2014
Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: Chelsea’s pressing wins the game within 20 minutes

Jose Mourinho recorded his biggest league victory as Chelsea manager with a crushing win over Arsenal.

Mourinho continued with Samuel Eto’o upfront rather than Fernando Torres – Eto’o only lasted 10 minutes, but scored the opener. In midfield, Mourinho was without Ramires and Willian, both suspended – he left out Frank Lampard and played David Luiz in the centre of midfield alongside Nemanja Matic.

Arsene Wenger named the same side that defeated Tottenham the previous weekend.

This game was done and dusted within the first quarter – Chelsea were 3-0 up, Arsenal were one man down, and the rest of the game was simply a question how how many Chelsea would score. Read more »

Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona: intelligent players find space in a crazily open match

March 24, 2014
Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona: intelligent players find space in a crazily open match

Barcelona came out on top in a brilliantly topsy-turvy Clasico.

Carlo Ancelotti named his expected starting XI.

Gerardo Martino selected Neymar rather than Pedro Rodriguez or Alexis Sanchez as his second forward, and continued with Andres Iniesta tucking inside from the left, as he’s often done in big games.

This was the most fast-paced game you’ll see all season, with neither side controlling the game but both attacking relentlessly. Read more »

Manchester United 3-0 Olympiakos: United exploit the space in the inside-right channel

March 19, 2014
Manchester United 3-0 Olympiakos: United exploit the space in the inside-right channel

Manchester United qualified for the European Cup quarter-finals, becoming only the second side to recover from a 2-0 first leg deficit.

David Moyes surprisingly brought Ryan Giggs into the centre of his midfield, used more direct options on the flanks than in the weekend defeat to Liverpool (Juan Mata was cup-tied) and Rio Ferdinand started alongside Phil Jones.

Michel was without Michael Olaitan – who is thankfully OK after collapsing in a recent league game – upfront and therefore played Joel Campbell as the lone striker and used Diego Fuster on the right. Otherwise the side was unchanged from the first leg.

The match itself wasn’t particularly interesting – tension came from the fact Manchester United had lost the first leg 2-0, and a late ‘consolation’ goal (on the night) would have sent Olympiakos through on away goals. But on the night, the reality is that Manchester United were comfortably the better side in a standard 3-0 win. Read more »

Manchester Utd 0-3 Liverpool: Rodgers plays a diamond midfield, Liverpool win easily

March 17, 2014
Manchester Utd 0-3 Liverpool: Rodgers plays a diamond midfield, Liverpool win easily

Liverpool were dominant throughout the match, and could have won by a few more goals.

Chris Smalling was a late withdrawal so Nemanja Vidic returned at the back, but otherwise David Moyes named his expected XI.

Brendan Rodgers replaced Coutinho with Raheem Sterling at the top of the diamond instead, and he switched his full-backs – Glen Johnson returned to the right, Jon Flanagan moved to the left.

Liverpool were in control of possession throughout the game, and gradually forced United mistakes. Read more »

Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal: Arsenal grind out a win

March 17, 2014
Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal: Arsenal grind out a win

Arsenal went ahead within two minutes, then sat uncharacteristically deep for the remainder of the game.

Tim Sherwood made four changes from the side that lost to Benfica, with Nacer Chadli in the number ten role and Nabil Bentaleb returning to the side.

Arsene Wenger named his expecting starting XI, in a 4-3-3 shape with Mikel Arteta as the holding midfielder.

Spurs had plenty of possession, but failed to find an equaliser. Read more »

Milan 0-2 Juventus: Milan play well, but Juventus show ruthlessness upfront

March 7, 2014
Milan 0-2 Juventus: Milan play well, but Juventus show ruthlessness upfront

Clarence Seedorf’s Milan played extremely well – but couldn’t translate their dominance into goals.

Seedorf changed no fewer than six players, despite winning 2-0 at Sampdoria last time out. Mario Balotelli was still unavailable.

Juventus were without Arturo Vidal through suspension and Giorgio Chiellini was only fit enough for the bench, but otherwise Antonio Conte’s line-ups was as expected.

Milan were superior for long periods, but lacked combination play and reliable finishing upfront – in stark contrast to Juventus, Read more »

Atletico Madrid 2-2 Real Madrid: Atleti’s energy dominates midfield, but proves unsustainable

March 6, 2014
Atletico Madrid 2-2 Real Madrid: Atleti’s energy dominates midfield, but proves unsustainable

Despite Real’s early lead, Atletico dominated the first half – but tiredness caught up with them.

Diego Simeone decided to leave David Villa on the bench, using Raul Garcia as a number ten.

Carlo Ancelotti continued with the midfield and defence that had thrashed Schalke, but went for cautious options at full-back.

This was a standard Madrid derby: high-tempo and scrappy. Karim Benzema put Real into an early lead following a set-piece, but from then Atletico dominated. Real remain the title favourites – see online betting.

Read more »

Manchester City 3-1 Sunderland: City win the cup despite a fine Sunderland display

March 3, 2014
Manchester City 3-1 Sunderland: City win the cup despite a fine Sunderland display

Two superb goals saved the day for City, after they’d struggled to break down a well-drilled Sunderland side.

Manuel Pellegrini welcomed back Sergio Aguero, who partnered Edin Dzeko upfront. Samir Nasri was selected on the right, with Aleksandar Kolarov at left-back. Costel Pantilimon continued as the ‘cup’ goalkeeper.

Gustavo Poyet dropped striker Jozy Altidore from the squad and pushed Fabio Borini upfront, with Sebastian Larsson coming into the side, while Wes Brown returned after suspension and Lee Cattermole replaced the cup-tied Liam Bridcutt.

Sunderland’s starting approach worked nicely and they responded impressively after going 2-1 down – tactically, they deserve great credit for this performance. Read more »