Arsenal v Barcelona: passing statistics

March 31, 2010
Arsenal v Barcelona: passing statistics

We were told constantly before the game that Arsenal against Barcelona was a clash of two sides who play football ‘the right way’ – short, quick passes from excellent technical players comfortable in possession. And that proved to be correct, although this graph shows a stark contrast between the sides. Read more »

Bayern 2-1 Manchester Utd: Ferguson loses the game with a strange substitution

March 30, 2010
Bayern 2-1 Manchester Utd: Ferguson loses the game with a strange substitution

How on earth did Manchester United manage to lose this game? On top after twenty seconds of playing time, Rooney causing the Bayern centre-backs no end of trouble, and a spare man in the centre of the pitch, it really is quite remarkable that Bayern will go to Old Trafford with the advantage. Sir Alex Ferguson has been constantly praised on ZM for his tactics so far this season, but he might have to take the blame here. Read more »

Teams of the Decade #1: Greece, Euro 2004

March 29, 2010
Teams of the Decade #1: Greece, Euro 2004

This Greek side achieved perhaps the most astonishing thing in the history of international football. There have been one-off shocks, games that went against the favourites because of a particular set of circumstances. USA 1-0 England in 1950. Senegal 1-0 France in 2002. But those things can happen; shocks in football happen because it’s such a low-scoring game, and dominance doesn’t always equal goals. Read more »

Bayern Munich v Manchester United – tactical preview

March 29, 2010
Bayern Munich v Manchester United – tactical preview

On paper, United should be set up perfectly to deal with this one. No side in Europe rely on their wide players as much as Bayern do, no side in Europe defend from the wings as effectively as United do. Read more »

Arsenal v Barcelona – tactical preview

March 29, 2010
Arsenal v Barcelona – tactical preview

The contest that many neutrals might have hoped to see in the final. Two similar sides in many ways – they play a similar brand of football and have both favoured 4-3-3 systems this season. Read more »

Zonal Marking’s 20 teams of the decade – in full

March 28, 2010
Zonal Marking’s 20 teams of the decade – in full

After twenty trips down memory lane, this series has finally come to an end. Below are the twenty sides chosen, in descending order, to represent the 2000s in tactical terms.
Choosing the sides was a difficult task. The intention was not to choose the twenty ‘best’ sides, but to choose twenty sides who were somehow interesting tactically, or those who made a significant impact upon the game. Read more »

Roma 2-1 Inter: A narrow victory that could turn out to be crucial

March 27, 2010
Roma 2-1 Inter: A narrow victory that could turn out to be crucial

There’s a case for saying that was the first huge game of the season. Title favourites Inter against the side who look most likely to topple them, and Jose Mourinho up against Claudio Ranieri – the man he replaced at Chelsea almost six years ago. Read more »

Nani continues his good run of form with two assists

March 27, 2010
Nani continues his good run of form with two assists

It’s not yet a case of ‘Cristiano who?’ but Nani has finally started to justify his hefty price tag, in his third season at Manchester United. Today he got two assists, and had a hand in another goal. As the Chalkboard shows, Nani’s crossing from wide positions on the left-hand side is not the best, but he is very effective at beating his full-back, coming inside and providing more accurate passes.

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How the 2000s changed tactics #2: Classic Number 10s struggle

March 26, 2010
How the 2000s changed tactics #2: Classic Number 10s struggle

The decade started with the most attacking, open tournament in modern football, at Euro 2000. The four semi-finalists all played ‘classic’ Number 10s in the hole between the opposition defence and midfield. France, Italy, Portugal and Holland had Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Manuel Rui Costa and Dennis Bergkamp respectively – it almost seemed essential to have a player in this mould to be successful – helped by trequartista-less England and Germany’s early exits. Read more »

Is this the best season of football in recent years?

March 26, 2010
Is this the best season of football in recent years?

A brief break from the in-depth tactical analysis here, to round-up the major European leagues, highlight this weekend’s crucial table-topping fixtures, and celebrate how wonderful European football has been this season. Read more »

Teams of the Decade #2: Barcelona, 2008/09

March 24, 2010
Teams of the Decade #2: Barcelona, 2008/09

What more can you say about this Barcelona side? European champions, La Liga champions and Copa Del Rey winners, all in the first season under the charge of Pep Guardiola. And they didn’t do it by merely winning games, they did it by winning in style, making them perhaps the most universally respected side of the decade. Read more »

How the 2000s changed tactics #3: The decline of the three-man defence

March 24, 2010
How the 2000s changed tactics #3: The decline of the three-man defence

It’s a shame that the three-man defence has become so unfashionable in recent years, because tactically it’s a lot more interesting and varied than a four-man defence. It essentially did the same job – with one fewer player, allowing the side to dominate the midfield with an extra man. Read more »

Defending Steven Gerrard’s Old Trafford display

March 23, 2010

It’s easy to criticize Steven Gerrard at the moment. After all, he’s having the worst season of his career, in an amazingly underwhelming campaign for Liverpool, having come so close to their first Premiership title last time out. Meanwhile, more persistent doubts remain about his true ability as a footballer. The master of modern football tactics, Arrigo Sacchi, once said that Gerrard ‘lacks what I call knowing-how-to-play football’, describing him as ‘a great footballer, but not a great player’. Read more »

A superb debut from Blackburn’s Phil Jones

March 23, 2010
A superb debut from Blackburn’s Phil Jones

If you’re a centre-back making your Premiership debut, the one striker you don’t want to come up against is Didier Drogba. Skilful, strong and a great goalscorer, Drogba is almost unplayable on his day. Read more »

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool: a contest about the small details

March 21, 2010
Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool: a contest about the small details

No major tactical surprises here, and no surprise outcome either. Ferguson’s default line-up for these ‘big’ games is a flexible 4-5-1 shape (which means no Dimitar Berbatov) whilst Benitez was always going to go with Lucas ahead of Alberto Aquilani for a more solid midfield away at Old Trafford. Read more »

United’s superior tackling the main difference at Old Trafford?

March 21, 2010
United’s superior tackling the main difference at Old Trafford?

Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool this weekend was hardly a classic – it was a mundane, scrappy game producing few chances. Indeed, it is exactly the sort of victory United always achieve at this time of the season – picking up results without playing well. Read more »

The reason why Arsene Wenger loves Denilson

March 21, 2010
The reason why Arsene Wenger loves Denilson

Denilson is one of the Premiership’s most underrated players. After an impressive 2008/09, his place has recently come under threat thanks to the good form shown by Abou Diaby, especially in games where Arsene Wenger wants a more offensive slant to his midfield. Read more »

Arsenal 2-0 West Ham: Zola brave for going with a 4-4-2, but foolish for sticking to it

March 20, 2010
Arsenal 2-0 West Ham: Zola brave for going with a 4-4-2, but foolish for sticking to it

You have to admire Gianfranco Zola for going to the Emirates and playing a 4-4-2. Without his two best players, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole, it would have been tempting to do what most sides do when they play Arsenal away – go 4-5-1 and try and hit Arsenal on the counter. Read more »

Teams of the Decade #3: Manchester United 2006-09

March 20, 2010
Teams of the Decade #3: Manchester United 2006-09

Unlike most sides on this list, Manchester United have not used a specific formation in their amazingly successful last three seasons. Sir Alex Ferguson has used a variety of formations – 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1 – and probably a few others.

Read more »

Is Barcelona’s alternative shape really a 4-2-4?

March 19, 2010
Is Barcelona’s alternative shape really a 4-2-4?

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side have generally played with a 4-3-3 since he took over nearly two years ago. His natural ‘plan B’ last season was to switch his striker, Samuel Eto’o, with his outside-right, Lionel Messi. Barcelona aren’t able to do that this season, because Eto’o has left the club, and been replaced by Zlatan Ibrahimovic – a magnificent player, but one who would be uncomfortable being deployed in a role away from the centre of the pitch. Read more »

Champions League ties – home or away first?

March 19, 2010
Champions League ties – home or away first?

There is a feeling amongst football fans that when it comes to Champions League knockout fixtures, your side is better off playing the first leg away from home, with the comfort of the second leg back at your own ground. Arsenal’s task against Barcelona is trickier, apparently, because they’ll have to go to the Nou Camp in the second leg and get a result. Read more »

Champions League pass completion statistics – Barca and Real dominate again

March 18, 2010
Champions League pass completion statistics – Barca and Real dominate again

As in the first leg, the pass completion percentages favours the big two Spanish clubs – Barcelona in first place, Real Madrid in second place. On the other end of the scale, the bottom two – Fiorentina and Lyon – are also the same as in the first leg. But again, the most noticeable thing here is how the sides with the lowest pass completion rates all got good results. Fiorentina won (but went out), Lyon drew (which was effectively a win), Manchester United won, Inter won and CSKA won – and yet they are the sides with the lowest pass completion ratios. Read more »

Barcelona 4-0 Stuttgart: Guardiola’s alternative shape proves successful for the second time in four days

March 17, 2010
Barcelona 4-0 Stuttgart: Guardiola’s alternative shape proves successful for the second time in four days

Fascinating that Pep Guardiola continued to use Barcelona’s ‘alternative’ system – the 4-2-4ish formation they played in the second half against Valencia at the weekend – to great effect. Zlatan Ibramimovic (banned for the weekend game) was available again, but Guardiola opted for Thierry Henry instead. Read more »

Chelsea 0-1 Inter – a classic Mourinho victory, but no blame attached to Ancelotti

March 16, 2010
Chelsea 0-1 Inter – a classic Mourinho victory, but no blame attached to Ancelotti

This is what Jose Mourinho does. Not the prettiest victory you’ll see in this season’s Champions League, but incredibly effective. Inter reduced the game to a scrappy, stop-start battle, defended brilliantly from the front, and then pounced when Chelsea started to push forward. Read more »

Barcelona 3-0 Valencia – a Messi masterclass, but credit to Guardiola and Henry

March 14, 2010
Barcelona 3-0 Valencia – a Messi masterclass, but credit to Guardiola and Henry

A fascinating game in terms of tactics here, because Barcelona were awful in the first half. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended and Thierry Henry on the bench, the Messi-Bojan-Pedro trio looked too lightweight and one-dimensional to cause Valencia’s backline significant problems. It took a dramatic half-time change from Guardiola to turn things around.

Read more »

Arsenal’s victory over Hull – Chalkboard analysis

March 14, 2010
Arsenal’s victory over Hull – Chalkboard analysis

Two successive late victories away from home against Arsenal, both against scrappy Northern sides – Stoke and Hull – who had been reduced to ten men. They haven’t showed their best football, but the old adage that “A good side is one that wins without playing well” appears to – for once – be applicable to Arsene Wenger’s side. Read more »

Bolton 4-0 Wigan – when a thrashing isn’t really a thrashing

March 14, 2010

To look at the result of yesterday’s game at the Reebok Stadium – Bolton 4-0 Wigan – you’d assume that it was a thrashing. And in terms of the scoreline, it certainly was. But it doesn’t reflect the balance of play. Wigan had more attempts than Bolton during the game – and the same number on target. The main difference was that whilst Jussi Jaaskelainen saved five out of five shots, Chris Kirkland let in four out of five, underlining the importance of a top-class goalkeeper for bottom-half clubs. Read more »

Gareth Bale’s pace key to Tottenham victory

March 13, 2010

The key feature of Tottenham’s 3-1 win over Blackburn today was the number of times they looked to quickly switch the ball to Gareth Bale, who had the beating of Michael Salgado every time he got the ball. Bale claimed an assist, should have had two penalties, and was Spurs’ main attacking outlet throughout the game.

Read more »

How the 2000s changed tactics #4: Off-the-ball movement

March 12, 2010
How the 2000s changed tactics #4: Off-the-ball movement

Movement is not a new thing in football – as outlined by Jonathan Wilson in Inverting The Pyramid, the hallmark of the legendary Hungary side which famously beat England 6-3 in 1953 was their players’ tendency to drift out of their natural position and switch with teammates, thereby confusing the opposition about who they were supposed to be marking. Read more »

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Sporting Lisbon – organised nine-man Sporting deserve their draw

March 11, 2010
Atletico Madrid 0-0 Sporting Lisbon – organised nine-man Sporting deserve their draw

An exciting first half hour was brought to a close with the dismissal of Grimi, who was joined for an early bath by Tonel late on. Sporting got men behind the ball, and Atletico struggled to create chances. Read more »

Manchester United 4-0 Milan – an efficient and comprehensive victory for Ferguson

March 10, 2010
Manchester United 4-0 Milan – an efficient and comprehensive victory for Ferguson

Another game where Sir Alex Ferguson got things spot on. To run out 7-2 winners against any side in the latter stages of the Champions League is impressive, but to do it against Milan is quite remarkable. Read more »