Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal: United start positively then defend extremely narrow

November 13, 2013
Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal: United start positively then defend extremely narrow

David Moyes recorded the first major victory of his tenure at Old Trafford.

Moyes selected Phil Jones in the centre of midfield alongside Michael Carrick, and continued with Shinji Kagawa on the left.

Arsene Wenger was without Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky due to flu, so Thomas Vermaelen came into the side and Aaron Ramsey moved right.

This was a very narrow United victory, in a match where neither side played at their best. Read more »

Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal: Dortmund on top for an hour, but Arsenal excellent after scoring

November 7, 2013
Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal: Dortmund on top for an hour, but Arsenal excellent after scoring

Dortmund had significantly more shots, but Arsenal snatched a winner and saw out the game efficiently.

Jurgen Klopp was without Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan, so named an unchanged side.

Arsene Wenger didn’t have anyone back from injury, so kept the same side that defeated Liverpool.

This game was simultaneously high-tempo and slow-burning – an uneventful first half was followed by a very exciting second. Read more »

Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool: Arsenal adapt well to Rodgers’ tactical decisions

November 4, 2013
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool: Arsenal adapt well to Rodgers’ tactical decisions

Arsenal triumphed in a fast-paced and tactically interesting contest.

With Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini out, Arsene Wenger had no real selection dilemmas.

Brendan Rodgers continued with his 3-5-2 system, although was without both first-choice wing-backs, with Glen Johnson a late withdrawal – Jon Flanagan played instead.

Arsenal were the better side – just about keeping Liverpool’s front two quiet, and dominating both centrally and down the flanks in possession.

Read more »

Porto 3-1 Sporting: Porto more compact without the ball and more efficient with their attacking

October 28, 2013
Porto 3-1 Sporting: Porto more compact without the ball and more efficient with their attacking

This was first against second in Portugal – champions Porto won, extending the gap to five points.

Paulo Fonseca selected Silvestre Varela on the left, with Lica on the bench – otherwise, his side was as expected.

Sporting coach Leonardo Jardim played Ivan Piris in an unfamiliar left-back role, in the absence of Jefferson Nascimento.

Porto were the dominant force for the majority of this match, and deserved the victory. Read more »

Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City: counter-attack versus possession play but both attack in behind

October 28, 2013
Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City: counter-attack versus possession play but both attack in behind

Two ex-Atletico strikers – Fernando Torres and Sergio Aguero – were the most prominent players in a fast-paced, exciting clash.

Jose Mourinho played Gary Cahill rather than David Luiz, and left out Juan Mata with Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard on the wings. Torres started after his two goals against Schalke in midweek.

Manuel Pellegrini used Martin Demichelis for the first time, played three central midfielders with Yaya Toure pushed to the top of the triangle, two ball-players on the flanks, and Aguero upfront alone.

Joe Hart’s huge error in the 90th minute decided the game, and overall this was evenly balanced. Read more »

Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: Barca start well, lose control in the second half, then Martino belatedly makes changes to secure the game

October 27, 2013
Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: Barca start well, lose control in the second half, then Martino belatedly makes changes to secure the game

Both managers made surprise selection decisions upfront, but Barcelona’s line-up worked better.

Gerardo Martino left out both Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez, naming Cesc Fabregas as one of his three attackers.

Carlo Ancelotti omitted Karim Benzema and brought Gareth Bale into the side. Daniel Carvajal started at right-back, and three nominal three centre-backs were used: Pepe, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. Diego Lopez returned in goal.

Martino’s starting selection certainly worked better, but Real had a strong period after Ancelotti turned to his bench earlier. Read more »

Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus: Real take the victory, but fail to impress

October 24, 2013
Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus: Real take the victory, but fail to impress

Despite losing the contest, Antonio Conte can arguably draw more positives from this match after his side performed impressively with ten men.

Carlo Ancelotti selected a 4-3-3 system for the second time this season, with Gareth Bale and Isco both on the bench. Iker Casillas returned in goal.

Conte went for a 4-5-1 system with Claudio Marchisio and Carlos Tevez either side of the midfield, and Fernando Llorente upfront alone. Leonardo Bonucci was left out, and Angelo Ogbonna played at left-back.

The game was fairly evenly balanced in the first half, with Giorgio Chiellini’s unnecessary penalty concession handing Real the advantage. After Chiellini’s dismissal, Real dominated possession but failed to put the game beyond Juve. Read more »

Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: narrow midfield battle encourages both sets of full-backs forward

October 23, 2013
Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: narrow midfield battle encourages both sets of full-backs forward

Robert Lewandowski’s late goal gave Dortmund an important victory at the Emirates.

Arsene Wenger was without the concussed Mathieu Flamini, so Aaron Ramsey returned. Santi Cazorla isn’t yet at 100% fitness, so Tomas Rosicky replaced him on the left.

Jurgen Klopp is still without Ilkay Gundogan and Lukasz Piszczek, while on the right, Jakub Blaszczykowski started rather than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

This was a relatively tight, evenly-matched game almost entirely based around the positioning of the full-backs: Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs, and Dortmund’s Kevin Grosskreutz and Marcel Schmelzer. Read more »

Fiorentina 4-2 Juventus: Juve lead 2-0, but Montella changes formation to prompt comeback

October 22, 2013
Fiorentina 4-2 Juventus: Juve lead 2-0, but Montella changes formation to prompt comeback

Champions Juventus suffered their first defeat of the season, despite taking a 2-0 lead by half-time.

Vincenzo Montella is still without Mario Gomez, so fielded Giuseppe Rossi upfront alone, and brought Massimo Ambrosini into the midfield.

Antonio Conte left out Arturo Vidal after he was late back from international duty, but fielded Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente upfront together.

This was one of those crazy, inexplicable football matches where the goals had little relation to the tactical battle unfolding – but it was still a fascinating contest. Read more »

Roma 2-0 Napoli: Pjanic punishes Napoli after two Cannavaro fouls

October 21, 2013
Roma 2-0 Napoli: Pjanic punishes Napoli after two Cannavaro fouls

Roma still have a 100% record in Serie A, and extended their gap over second-placed Napoli to five points.

Rudi Garcia changed both his full-backs – Federico Balzaretti was suspended so Dodo played at left-back, with Maicon back in for Vasilis Torosidis.

Rafael Benitez was unable to use Gonzalo Higuain from the start, so Goran Pandev started upfront. The absence of Juan Zuniga meant Giandomenico Mesto played at left-back.

Roma ran out winners, but this game could have gone either way – Napoli had plenty of chances at 0-0. Read more »

New managers: Martino at Barcelona

October 11, 2013
New managers: Martino at Barcelona

In an ideal world, Gerardo Martino wouldn’t be coaching Barcelona this season. Whereas the majority of Europe’s top clubs were after a new manager this summer because of footballing reasons, Barca were forced to turn to a new coach because of Tito Vilanova’s health problems.

Barcelona background

That makes Martino’s task slightly complicated, because this summer there was a genuine debate about how much Barcelona needed to evolve their style of play. Martino has not been appointed because his predecessor failed, but because he was simply unable to continue.

It’s impossible, however, to ignore Barcelona’s 7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern in last year’s Champions League semi-final. That was a quite astonishing result, and the way Barca were completely outplayed and outfought throughout both legs was a genuine shock that understandably forced many to question whether the club was too committed to its favoured style of play. Read more »

Inter 0-3 Roma: Totti drags Inter’s back three out of shape to prompt quick attacks

October 8, 2013
Inter 0-3 Roma: Totti drags Inter’s back three out of shape to prompt quick attacks

Roma maintained their 100% record with a win at previously unbeaten Inter.

Walter Mazzarri made two changes from the 1-1 draw at Cagliari, bringing in Saphir Taider and Rodrigo Palacio for Mateo Kovacic and Ishak Belfodil.

Predictably, Rudi Garcia kept exactly the same side which demolished Bologna 5-0.

This was another superb Roma display – and although their 3-0 half-time lead was slightly flattering, they played some sparkling football at times. Read more »

Manchester City 1-3 Bayern Munich: Bayern dominate midfield through numbers & pressing

October 2, 2013
Manchester City 1-3 Bayern Munich: Bayern dominate midfield through numbers & pressing

Bayern Munich completely outplayed Manchester City for the vast majority of this contest.

Manuel Pellegrini somewhat surprisingly decided to use Micah Richards rather than Pablo Zabaleta at right-back, while Gael Clichy returned at left-back. David Silva was only considered fit enough for the bench – so it was Pellegrini’s usual midfield and attack.

Pep Guardiola named Thomas Muller as his main striker, with Mario Mandzukic only on the bench.

Bayern were superior to a staggering extent here, only force to withstand heavy pressure in the final 15 minutes. Read more »

Arsenal 2-0 Napoli: Arsenal win the game early by attacking down the right flank

October 1, 2013
Arsenal 2-0 Napoli: Arsenal win the game early by attacking down the right flank

Arsene Wenger fielded five natural central midfielders, but Napoli were opened up repeatedly in their left-back zone.

Wenger was without a variety of players comfortable in wide roles – Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – while Jack Wilshere was rested, with Mikel Arteta coming into the side and Arsenal’s three attacking midfielders playing fluid roles.

Rafael Benitez was still without Christian Maggio, and also lost Gonzalo Higuain through injury.

Arsenal were dominant from the first whistle, and Napoli rarely offered a goal threat. Read more »

Tottenham 1-1 Chelsea: Spurs play neat passing combinations but fail to adjust defensive line

September 30, 2013
Tottenham 1-1 Chelsea: Spurs play neat passing combinations but fail to adjust defensive line

A fair result at White Hart Lane as Andre Villas-Boas’ starting strategy proved successful, but Jose Mourinho’s in-game changes worked better.

Villas-Boas named roughly Spurs’ expected side – Kyle Naughton continued at left-back, while Andros Townsend continues to keep out Erik Lamela.

Mourinho named Ramires on the right of, the first time he’s played that way. John Obi Mikel started in midfield and Fernando Torres got the nod upfront.

This was a game of two halves – Spurs dominated the first, Chelsea the second. Read more »

Real Madrid 0-1 Atletico Madrid: Diego Costa leads the line superbly in excellent Atleti display

September 30, 2013
Real Madrid 0-1 Atletico Madrid: Diego Costa leads the line superbly in excellent Atleti display

Atletico Madrid went ahead early at the Bernabeu, and then created much better chances.

Carlo Ancelotti felt Gareth Bale wasn’t ready to make his first home start, instead using Angel Di Maria on the right. Asier Illaramendi partnered Sami Khedira in the centre.

Diego Simeone has rotated his midfield well this season – here Raul Garcia and Mario Suarez missed out.

Real dominated possession but Atletico always seemed comfortable, protecting their back four excellently and creating a succession of fine chances at the other end. Read more »

PSG 1-1 Monaco: PSG create better chances

September 26, 2013
PSG 1-1 Monaco: PSG create better chances

Ligue 1’s new ‘big two’ played out a reasonably entertaining 1-1 draw.

Laurent Blanc made three changes – Marquinhos made his first league starts in place of Alex, while in the wide positions Hervin Ongenda and Lucas Moura made way for the returning ex-Napoli duo of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani.

Claudio Ranieri named an unchanged side – Jeremy Toulalan was still out injured, while James Rodriguez continued on the bench.

The start of this contest was cautious, but as the tempo dropped PSG’s creative players saw more of the ball. Read more »

Man City 4-1 Man United: Nasri’s narrowness and Kolarov’s overlapping put City in charge

September 22, 2013
Man City 4-1 Man United: Nasri’s narrowness and Kolarov’s overlapping put City in charge

Manchester City dominated from the opening moments, and completely outplayed Manchester United..

Manuel Pellegrini named Alvaro Negredo rather than Edin Dzeko upfront, the first time the Spaniard has started alongside Sergio Aguero. Down the left, Gael Clichy and David Silva were out, so Aleksandar Kolarov and Samir Nasri played.

David Moyes was without Robin van Persie, who was out injured with a thigh strain – so Danny Welbeck partnered Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young played on the left.

City played better in almost every respect, but it was down the left where they really excelled and took command of the game. Read more »

Napoli 2-1 Dortmund: Higuain & Insigne exploit Dortmund’s failure to heed their warnings

September 18, 2013
Napoli 2-1 Dortmund: Higuain & Insigne exploit Dortmund’s failure to heed their warnings

Gonzalo Higuain and Lorenzo Insigne scored the goals from set-piece situations – but they had been the most threatening players in open play, too.

Rafael Benitez’s line-up was as expected, with Insigne’s role on the left probably the biggest news on the teamsheet.

Jurgen Klopp is without long-term absentee Lukasz Piszczek at right-back, and the excellent central midfielder Ilkay Gundogan. Kevin Grosskreutz and Nuri Sahin played in those roles, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was only on the bench.

The teams were evenly matched for long spells of the first half, but Napoli increasingly threatened in two particular ways – and they proved the game-changing situations. Read more »

Real Sociedad 0-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: Sociedad start excellently but Shakhtar more ruthless

September 17, 2013
Real Sociedad 0-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: Sociedad start excellently but Shakhtar more ruthless

Alex Teixeira was barely noticeable for long periods – but struck twice to give Shakhtar three crucial points in a tough group.

Jagoba Arrasate named Haris Seferovic upfront having used Carlos Vela there at the weekend. The Mexican returned to the right flank, while Imanol Agirretxe – first-choice centre-forward last season – wasn’t yet fit enough to start, but was on the bench. Ruben Pardo and Marek Bergara returned having been rested at the weekend.

Shakhtar are wobbling in the league – three games without a win, having won their opening six. Mircea Lucescu rested his full-backs at the weekend, but named his expected XI here – Tomas Hubschman returned to the side having suffered from сonjunctivitis in recent weeks.

Real Sociedad dominated early on thanks to their energetic pressing, but failed to take advantage of their dominance. Read more »

New managers: Mourinho at Chelsea

September 17, 2013
New managers: Mourinho at Chelsea

Jose Mourinho isn’t so much a ‘new’ manager as a returning manager, following nearly six years away from Chelsea.

The obvious advantage Mourinho has over David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini, the other two newcomers amongst top Premier League clubs, is that he has experience of competing (and triumphing) in a Premier League title fight. The downside, however, is that opposition coaches are now fully aware of his tricks, both in terms of psychology and tactics. Whether that means they’ll be able to counteract them with an intelligent strategy of their own, however, is a different matter. Chelsea odds to win the league at freebets.org Read more »

Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham: Cazorla provides the overloads in midfield, and the through-balls for Giroud and Walcott

September 1, 2013
Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham: Cazorla provides the overloads in midfield, and the through-balls for Giroud and Walcott

(First things first: all the other big games (Bayern v Chelsea, Man Utd v Chelsea, Man Utd v Liverpool, Barca v Valencia, Barca v Atletico etc) will be included in the ‘new managers’ series which will start this next week. And will hopefully be worth the wait. If that excludes some teams in those match-ups, apologies – but that just means they have been covered last season under their current manager…)

Arsenal recorded a narrow victory in the north London derby.

Arsene Wenger was still without Mikel Arteta, Lukas Podolski is a new injury blow, while Bacary Sagna was unwell so Carl Jenkinson played at right-back.

Andre Villas-Boas was without Gareth Bale ahead of his departure to Real Madrid, while Erik Lamela was only just signed in time and was on the bench, while Christian Eriksen wasn’t yet under consideration.

In terms of tactical analysis, this was a remarkably simple game based entire around two concepts (and how those two concepts worked together). Read more »

Shortly: ‘new managers’ series

August 19, 2013

This summer has seen an unprecedented wave of new managerial appointments across Europe – as things stand, the seven favourites for the European Cup have all appointed a new manager.

Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, PSG are the seven.

Porto, Napoli, Everton, Valencia, Real Sociedad, Inter, Roma and PSV have also undergone a chance of coach.

Therefore, rather than the usual analysis of individual matches, the next few weeks will be spent assessing these coaches and their new sides. Obviously, drawing grand conclusions from one or two games would be a little foolish – especially with the likes of Levante and Hull not putting up a great challenge – so things might be slow over the next couple of weeks, perhaps until after the international break. By that time, we’ll have been able to work out patterns and approaches – and the transfer window will have closed.

Normal (ish) service will be resumed shortly…

ZM

Bayern Munich 3-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach: evolution rather than revolution for Guardiola

August 13, 2013
Bayern Munich 3-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach: evolution rather than revolution for Guardiola

Bayern Munich appeared comfortable towards the end of the contest, but they endured some nervous moments during Pep Guardiola’s Bundesliga debut.

Guardiola was unable to call upon Bayern’s major two summer arrivals, Thiago Alcantara or Mario Gotze, so there was a familiar feel to the home side’s starting XI.

Lucien Favre’s back four was also very familiar from last season, although there were changes ahead – Christophe Kramer has signed from Bochum, Brazilian Raffael played in the central attacking role, while Max Kruse’s impressive season at Freiburg means he’s started this campaign as the first-choice striker, with last season’s flop Luuk de Jong only on the bench.

As expected, Bayern dominated – but things didn’t go entirely swimmingly. Read more »

Brazil 3-0 Spain: Spain unable to cope with Brazil’s pace and power on the break

July 1, 2013
Brazil 3-0 Spain: Spain unable to cope with Brazil’s pace and power on the break

Brazil won the Confederations Cup at the Maracana after a convincing demolition of the world champions.

Luis Felipe Scolari stuck with his usual side – in five games he only deviated from this XI once, when Paulinho wasn’t 100% fit for the final group game.

Vicente Del Bosque brought in Juan Mata on the left of his 4-3-3 system, but otherwise the side was unchanged.

Brazil yet again started superbly – but Spain failed to mount a significant fightback. Read more »

Spain 0-0 Italy: a lopsided tactical battle but an evenly-balanced game

June 28, 2013
Spain 0-0 Italy: a lopsided tactical battle but an evenly-balanced game

Spain progressed on penalties after an intriguing stalemate.

Vicente Del Bosque recalled Fernando Torres and David Silva to play in the front three.

Cesare Prandelli was without Mario Balotelli and Ignazio Abate through injury, and Riccardo Montolivo wasn’t 100% fit. Therefore, he switched to a 3-4-2-1ish formation, using an all-Juventus backline and introducing Alberto Gilardino upfront.

This was a long, drawn-out match of many phases – Italy dominated the opening, the second half was more even, then Spain were the better side in extra-time. Read more »

Brazil 2-1 Uruguay: Brazil through to the final after substitutes help increase the pressure

June 27, 2013
Brazil 2-1 Uruguay: Brazil through to the final after substitutes help increase the pressure

Brazil weren’t on top form, but Paulinho’s late header sends them through to the final.

Luiz Felipe Scolari brought back Paulinho after injury kept the Tottenham target out of the victory over Italy – so Hernanes dropped to the bench.

Having changed his entire side for the win over Tahiti, Oscar Tabarez reverted to the side that defeated Nigeria.

This was a disappointing match in technical sense, with none of the attacking players sparkling, although it was interesting in tactical sense. Read more »

Spain 3-0 Nigeria: Alba & Pedro crucial in a more direct match than Spain are accustomed to

June 25, 2013
Spain 3-0 Nigeria: Alba & Pedro crucial in a more direct match than Spain are accustomed to

Nigeria were more adventurous than the majority of Spain’s opponents, but they left plenty of space for the World Champions to break into.

After changing almost his entire team for the thrashing of Tahiti, Vicente del Bosque returned to the outfield side that defeated Uruguay, although Victor Valdes was in goal.

Stephen Keshi brought back Sunday Mba in a straight swap for John Ogu, while Joseph Akpala started upfront with Ideye Brown moving to the flank.

This wasn’t a typical Spain match – the play flowed from end to end very quickly, and both sides had plenty of chances. Read more »

Brazil 4-2 Italy: Brazil run riot after half-time

June 24, 2013
Brazil 4-2 Italy: Brazil run riot after half-time

This match took more than 45 minutes to get going, but it turned into a fantastic end-to-end contest.

Luis Felipe Scolari brought Hernanes into his side at the expensive of Paulinho, but otherwise his starting XI was unchanged.

Cesare Prandelli was without Andrea Pirlo so Alberto Aquilani came into the side, while Leonardo Bonucci, Antonio Candreva and Alessandro Diamanti were all given starts in a rough 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 system.

The first half was dreadful, but Brazil took charge in the second half and fully deserved their victory. Read more »

Uruguay 2-1 Nigeria: Tabarez switches to a back three, then to a back four, then to a back five

June 21, 2013
Uruguay 2-1 Nigeria: Tabarez switches to a back three, then to a back four, then to a back five

Diego Forlan hit the winner on his 100th international appearance, as Uruguay unconvincingly defeated Nigeria.

After a terrible performance against Spain, Oscar Tabarez brought back Diego Forlan into his starting XI, completely changed his midfield duo, and switched to a back three.

Stephen Keshi swapped his two central attackers – Ideye Brown replaced Anthony Ujah, and John Ogu came in for Sunday Mba.

Uruguay were a little fortunate to win this one – over the course of the game they hardly outplayed Nigeria, although they unquestionably had more quality in the final third. Read more »

Italy 4-3 Japan: Italy start terribly but Prandelli makes an early change to prompt a comeback

June 21, 2013
Italy 4-3 Japan: Italy start terribly but Prandelli makes an early change to prompt a comeback

Italy were rather fortunate to win an amazingly open match.

Against Mexico, Italy were superb down the left but disappointing down the right, so Cesare Prandelli kept the left flank intact and changed two players on the right of his 4-3-2-1 – Christian Maggio replaced Ignazio Abate, while Alberto Aquilani came in for Claudio Marchisio.

Alberto Zaccheroni, up against his home country, brought in Ryoichi Maeda upfront, moved Shinji Okazaki to the right, and dropped Hiroshi Kiyotake.

Japan were excellent in the first half hour, but a combination of Prandelli’s substitution and a crazy, end-to-end game somehow let Italy back in. Read more »