Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea: Chelsea stay deep, narrow and compact but City find a way through

February 25, 2013
Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea: Chelsea stay deep, narrow and compact but City find a way through

Chelsea played negatively, and afforded City too many goalscoring opportunities.

Roberto Mancini surprisingly played Yaya Toure behind Sergio Aguero, a combination he’s rarely used this season. Jack Rodwell started alongside Javi Garcia, while Vincent Kompany wasn’t fit, so Kolo Toure started at the back.

Rafael Benitez used Demba Ba instead of Fernando Torres. John Terry was on the bench, as were Cesar Azpilicueta and Oscar, with Branislav Ivanovic used at right-back and Ramires on the right of midfield.

City dominated the first half but broke through in the second, after Mancini turned to his bench. Read more »

Milan 2-0 Barcelona: Barca completely nullified

February 22, 2013
Milan 2-0 Barcelona: Barca completely nullified

Milan restricted Barcelona to only one shot on target – a hopeful effort from 25 yards – and pounced at the other end with a set-piece and a counter-attack.

Max Allegri was without cup-tied Mario Balotelli, so Giampaolo Pazzini played upfront. Kevin-Prince Boateng replaced M’Baye Niang on the right, and Max Ambrosini returned to the side.

Jordi Roura selected what appears to be Barcelona’s first-choice XI – Alexis Sanchez and David Villa on the bench, and Cesc Fabregas in his roaming free role. Aside from Victor Valdes’ return, it was the same XI that started the recent Copa Clasico against Real Madrid.

This was a highly impressive display from Milan, and arguably the most convincing defeat of Barcelona since the current era started in 2008. Read more »

Arsenal 1-3 Bayern: Arsenal outpassed and outpressed

February 21, 2013
Arsenal 1-3 Bayern: Arsenal outpassed and outpressed

Bayern took a commanding lead following a dominant first leg performance.

Arsene Wenger chose to leave out Olivier Giroud, using Theo Walcott as the primary striker with Santi Cazorla right and Aaron Ramsey in midfield. Left-back problems forced Thomas Vermaelen into that position.

Jupp Heynckes was without Jerome Boateng and long-term injury victim Holger Badstuber, so Daniel van Buyten came in at centre-back.

Arsenal made another poor start at the Emirates, and despite a promising spell for Wenger’s side after the break, Bayern always looked the better side. Read more »

Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United: Real dominate but United withstand the pressure

February 14, 2013
Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United: Real dominate but United withstand the pressure

A headed goal for either side – and all to play for the in the second leg.

Jose Mourinho chose Rafael Varane at the back, and Karim Benzema upfront – elsewhere, his side was as expected.

Sir Alex Ferguson named a very positive starting XI, with four outright attacking players in the side – Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa both started. Jonny Evans played at centre-back rather than Nemanja Vidic.

Real Madrid dominated in terms of possession, territory and shots – but both sides had chances to win the game. Read more »

Celtic 0-3 Juventus: Celtic cause problems in the first half, but Juve’s finishing far superior

February 12, 2013
Celtic 0-3 Juventus: Celtic cause problems in the first half, but Juve’s finishing far superior

There was much to admire about Celtic’s performance, but they couldn’t sustain their early effort.

Neil Lennon decided to use Efe Ambrose at the back, despite his participation in Nigeria’s 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations win on Sunday evening. Upfront, Lennon used three attackers – Kris Commons, James Forrest and Gary Hooper.

Antonio Conte is still without Giorgio Chiellini, so Martin Caceres was on the left of defence, and Federico Peluso was the left-wing-back. Alessandro Matri’s good run of form saw him get another start upfront.

An odd match – for spells in the first half Juventus looked genuinely rattled, and yet they had already gone 1-0 up with Matri’s early goal. Celtic’s first-half performance depended on energy and brave pressing, which resulted in tiredness late on. Read more »

Nigeria 1-0 Burkina Faso: Nigeria triumph

February 10, 2013
Nigeria 1-0 Burkina Faso: Nigeria triumph

Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations following a typically tight, tense final.

Stephen Keshi was able to select Victor Moses (who had been a doubt) but Emmanuel Emenike was injured, and replaced by Ikechukwu Uche.

Paul Put, who has tinkered with his formations and line-ups throughout the tournament, was able to name an unchanged side after Jonathan Pitroipa’s suspension was overturned.

This was a disappointing game, both in tactical and entertainment terms. Nigeria played better football, but there were very few shots on target from either side. Read more »

Tottenham 2-1 Newcastle: all about Gareth Bale

February 10, 2013
Tottenham 2-1 Newcastle: all about Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale scored twice in a match that started slowly, but turned into an exciting contest.

Andre Villas-Boas handed a first start to Lewis Holtby – Jermain Defoe was injured, so Clint Dempsey played upfront.

Alan Pardew named an unchanged XI from the side that beat Chelsea 3-2 last weekend.

This was a relatively unexciting game tactically, but Bale’s half-time switch in position was very interesting. Read more »

Burkina Faso 1-1 Ghana: Burkina Faso dominate and win the game on penalties

February 7, 2013
Burkina Faso 1-1 Ghana: Burkina Faso dominate and win the game on penalties

Burkina Faso upset the odds to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations final.

Paul Put made various chances  to the side which beat Togo – in came Artistide Bancé upfront, and Prejuce Nakoulma on the right. With two holding midfielders, Charles Kabore became the number ten and Jonathan Pitroipa moved left

James Appiah made one change – Wakaso Murabak replaced Albert Adomah.

Ghana went ahead but Burkina Faso deserved the win – they pressed well, passed smoothly and Bancé was magnificent upfront. Read more »

Nigeria 4-1 Mali: a battle of attacking left-backs

February 7, 2013
Nigeria 4-1 Mali: a battle of attacking left-backs

Nigeria qualified for the final by controlling the game in midfield and attacking with more speed.

Stephen Keshi named an unchanged side from the XI that triumphed over the Ivory Coast at the quarter-final stage.

Mali coach Patrice Carteron left out Samba Sow and Samba Diakite, with Mahamane Traore coming into the side on the left, and Mohamed Traore in the centre. Mahamdou N’Diaye returned in place of Adama Coulibaly.

Nigeria dominated this match and fully deserved their victory. Read more »

Leverkusen 2-3 Dortmund: Dortmund exploit the space in front of Leverkusen’s midfield, and in behind their defence

February 5, 2013
Leverkusen 2-3 Dortmund: Dortmund exploit the space in front of Leverkusen’s midfield, and in behind their defence

Both sides had spells of dominance, but Dortmund were more ruthless in the final third.

Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski named an unchanged side from last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Freiburg.

Jurgen Klopp had Mitchell Langerak in goal rather than Roman Weidenfeller, with Felipe Santana in defence rather than Neven Subotic – both decisions forced upon him. Otherwise, this was his first-choice side.

Dortmund started the game superbly, but came under significant pressure during the second half after Leverkusen changed to a more attack-minded formation. Read more »

Man City 2-2 Liverpool: Liverpool press nicely, Mancini’s formation switch helps City

February 4, 2013
Man City 2-2 Liverpool: Liverpool press nicely, Mancini’s formation switch helps City

Liverpool produced an impressive performance, but were denied a win by Sergio Aguero’s superb finish.

Roberto Mancini was without both Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure. In defence, he chose left-footers Matija Nastasic and Joleon Lescott together, something he’s tried to avoid this season. Edin Dzeko partnered Sergio Aguero, while James Milner was selected over Samir Nasri.

Brendan Rodgers made only one change from the draw at Arsenal – Jose Enrique replaced Andre Wisdom, so Glen Johnson swapped sides.

This was an impressive performance by Liverpool, who pressed effectively and exploited space both behind and in front of the Manchester City defence. Read more »

Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: Real press excellently but tire and allow Barca chances

January 31, 2013
Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: Real press excellently but tire and allow Barca chances

Real pressed effectively in the first half, but Barcelona exerted their dominance after the break.

With various absences, Jose Mourinho was forced to name a makeshift backline – Ricardo Carvalho played alongside Rafael Varane, Alvaro Arbeloa had to play left-back, so Michael Essien deputised on the right. New signing Diego Lopez started in goal, Jose Callejon was in for the suspended Angel Di Maria, and Kairm Benezema got the nod upfront.

Barcelona assistant coach Jordi Roura chose Jose Manuel Pinto in goal, as is customary in the Copa del Rey. Otherwise, the side was roughly as expected – many would say that this is Barcelona’s current strongest XI, with Daniel Alves showing signs of improvement after a poor 2012.

Real were brave with their early pressing and probably had the better of the first half, but Barcelona increasingly found space after half-time. Read more »

Galatasaray 2-1 Besiktas: Gala comfortably win the derby – now for Sneijder and Drogba

January 29, 2013
Galatasaray 2-1 Besiktas: Gala comfortably win the derby – now for Sneijder and Drogba

Galatasaray outplayed Besiktas across the pitch – and were rarely troubled even after Felipe Melo’s red card.

Fatih Terim was without right-back Emmanuel Eboue and left-sided midfielder Nordin Amrabat because of the Africa Cup of Nations, so played Sabri Sarioglu and Emre Colak. Johan Elmander started rather than Burak Yilmaz, and Wesley Sneijder was only on the bench.

Samat Aybaba was forced to cope without striker Hugo Almeidia, which meant Filip Holosko was pushed upfront to play as a lone centre-forward, and Roberto Hilbert was moved forward to play on the right of midfield, perhaps to deal with Albert Riera. Mehmet Akgun made a rare appearance at right-back, while Gokhan Suzen came in at left-back.

Galatasaray were the better side for the majority of the game, and although Besiktas built some pressure when Galatasaray were reduced to ten men, they never did enough to merit an equaliser. Read more »

Braga 1-2 Benfica: Lima stars on his return

January 28, 2013
Braga 1-2 Benfica: Lima stars on his return

Benfica produced a fine away performance to preserve their unbeaten Liga Sagres record.

Jose Peseiro was forced to use an inexperienced centre-back combination of Vincent Sasso and Max Haas. The rest of his side was roughly as expected.

Jorge Jesus was without Oscar Cardozo and Ezequiel Garay. Lima started alone upfront, while Ola John was selected on the left of midfield.

Braga weren’t outclassed and had some decent moments, but intelligent attacking play and swift counter-attacking meant Benfica deserved their victory. Read more »

Valencia 0-5 Real Madrid: ruthless counter-attacking puts Real five up by half-time

January 22, 2013
Valencia 0-5 Real Madrid: ruthless counter-attacking puts Real five up by half-time

Real Madrid produced one of their finest performances under Jose Mourinho.

Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde was without David Albelda and Joao Pereira, so Fernando Gago played a very deep midfield role, and Ricardo Costa was forced to move to right-back.

Jose Mourinho named Fabio Coentrao rather than Marcelo at left-back alongside an unfamiliar centre-back combination, and selected Gonzalo Higuain upfront, possibly because of his excellent record against Valencia.

Real utterly dominated the first half – they pressed well without the ball, and countered at incredible speed to produce a constant stream of goalscoring chances. Read more »

Roma 1-1 Inter: Bradley & Guarin sum up Serie A’s obsession drivers rather than creators

January 22, 2013
Roma 1-1 Inter: Bradley & Guarin sum up Serie A’s obsession drivers rather than creators

A match that started strongly before fading in the second half.

Zdenek Zeman didn’t feel Miralem Pjanic was 100% fit, so went for Alessandro Florenzi in the centre of midfield.

Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni was without both Antonio Cassano and Diego Milito, so selected youngster Marko Livaja upfront. Juan Jesus, Yuto Nagatomo and Walter Gargano also returned to the side.

The game was all about tempo – Roma looked very good in a frantic first 20 minutes, but as the game calmed down, it became more balanced. Read more »

Tottenham 1-1 Manchester United: United stop Bale, but leave gaps elsewhere

January 21, 2013
Tottenham 1-1 Manchester United: United stop Bale, but leave gaps elsewhere

Tottenham finally managed a last-minute equaliser, after constant pressure throughout the majority of the game.

Andre Villas-Boas used Scott Parker in the holding midfielder role, in place of the injured Sandro, who is expected to be out for the rest of the season. With Emmanuel Adebayor at the Africa Cup of Nations, Clint Dempsey played just behind Jermain Defoe, while Jan Vertonghen’s illness meant he was only on the bench.

Sir Alex Ferguson surprisingly used Phil Jones – effectively in place of the injured Ashley Young when compared with last week’s game against Liverpool, although this obviously meant a change in formation. Wayne Rooney was fit again, but only on the bench after good performances from Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck last weekend.

Dempsey’s late equaliser changed the scoreline and the narrative, but it shouldn’t change analysis of the game – United defended well for long periods, but invited too much pressure and failed to counter-attack effectively. Read more »

Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal: Chelsea stronger in the first half, Arsenal better after the break

January 20, 2013
Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal: Chelsea stronger in the first half, Arsenal better after the break

Chelsea took charge with a commanding start to the game, then held on in the second half.

Rafael Benitez was without Victor Moses and Jon Obi Mikel because of the Africa Cup of Nations, and David Luiz was injured. This meant Ramires and Frank Lampard was the only possible midfield duo, with three creators ahead. Fernando Torres surprisingly started upfront, rather than Demba Ba.

Arsene Wenger was without wide forwards Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski, as well as Mikel Arteta, so he started with the same XI that beat Swansea in the FA Cup in midweek.

The game was all about the tempo of passing – Chelsea moved the ball quicker in the first half and dominated, then this suddenly dropped after half-time, allowing Arsenal back into the game. Read more »

Benfica 2-2 Porto: four goals in the first twenty minutes, then Matic and Fernando dominate

January 14, 2013
Benfica 2-2 Porto: four goals in the first twenty minutes, then Matic and Fernando dominate

An absolutely crazy start was followed by a much cagier, quieter period – both sides retained their unbeaten record.

Jorge Jesus selected Lima as his second striker, and Nico Gaitan rather than Ola John on the left of midfield.

Vitor Pereira was without his outside-right James Rodriguez, a significant loss. In his place, midfielder Steven Defour played out of position.

There were three distinct phases in this game – (1) a goal-crazy opening 20 minutes, (2) Porto dominance for the rest of the first half, (3) a stronger showing from Benfica after half-time. Read more »

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool: United press

January 14, 2013
Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool: United press

Manchester United dominated the first hour, then hung on in the final stages.

Sir Alex Ferguson named Danny Welbeck in his starting XI, with the out-of-form Antonio Valencia on the bench. Jonny Evans was out injured, so Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic played at the back.

Brendan Rodgers kept Daniel Sturridge on the bench, preferring Stewart Downing and Raheem Sterling.

Liverpool fought back in the second half, but took too long to get going, and United dominated the majority of the game. Read more »

Valencia 2-0 Sevilla: two Soldado goals from corners

January 13, 2013
Valencia 2-0 Sevilla: two Soldado goals from corners

A disappointing game between two sides that have regressed over the past couple of seasons.

Ernesto Valverde named an unchanged side from the XI that won at Granada last time out, which meant Andres Guardado continued at left-back.

Michel also selected an unchanged side, from the 1-0 win over Osasuna.

Valencia dominated the ball and eventually broke through – but really, this was a good demonstration of why the two sides have underachieved this season. Read more »

QPR 0-0 Tottenham: Tottenham dominate but false nine Taarabt creates chances

January 13, 2013
QPR 0-0 Tottenham: Tottenham dominate but false nine Taarabt creates chances

Harry Redknapp and his successor at Tottenham, Andre Villas-Boas, settled for a point apiece.

Redknapp reverted to the system he used in the surprise 1-0 win at Chelsea, although Shaun Wright-Phillips started rather than Junior Hoilett, and Park Ji-Sung played in the centre of midfield instead of Esteban Granero.

Villas-Boas went for his 4-4-2, the same XI as the side that defeated Reading in Spurs’ previous game – with the exception of Gareth Bale’s return, in place of Gylfi Sigurdsson.

This wasn’t an open match, nor was it particularly attractive – but it was an interesting tactical battle. While Tottenham dominated possession and tested Julio Cesar frequently, QPR had chances on the break. Read more »

Corinthians 1-0 Chelsea: Corinthians disrupt Chelsea’s passing and pinch a scrappy goal

December 16, 2012
Corinthians 1-0 Chelsea: Corinthians disrupt Chelsea’s passing and pinch a scrappy goal

Corinthians lifted the World Club Cup after a typical 1-0 win.

Tite left out his number ten, Douglas, and instead selected Jorge Henrique to play a disciplined role on the right.

Rafael Benitez moved David Luiz to centre-back with Branislav Ivanovic going to right-back. Frank Lampard and Ramires started in the middle, and Victor Moses was chosen over than Oscar.

Chelsea had their chances – particularly late on – but overall Tite’s strategy was effective, particularly in a negative, spoiling sense. Read more »

Barcelona 4-1 Atletico: Falcao’s opener wakes up Barca

December 16, 2012
Barcelona 4-1 Atletico: Falcao’s opener wakes up Barca

Atletico started the match excellently, but still lost 4-1…

Tito Vilanova chose Alexis Sanchez rather than David Villa on the left of his attack, and Adriano started rather than Daniel Alves at right-back.

Despite the failure of the 4-4-2 at the Bernabeu, Diego Simeone again selected that system after Atletico’s 6-0 win over Deportivo last week. Miranda replaced Daniel Diaz at the back.

Atletico started the game very nicely, staying compact, pushing up and restricting the number of chances Barcelona created – but eventually crumbled. Read more »

Inter 2-1 Napoli: Cassano & Insigne the key men but Guarin provides the most important contributions

December 12, 2012
Inter 2-1 Napoli: Cassano & Insigne the key men but Guarin provides the most important contributions

Inter leapfrogged Napoli and into second place in Serie A.

Andrea Stramaccioni was without Walter Samuel, so moved Esteban Cambiasso into the centre of defence.

Walter Mazzarri brought Christian Maggio back into the starting line-up, but otherwise named an unchanged side.

This was a good, open game of football – Inter stormed into a 2-0 lead and although Napoli fought back, they couldn’t quite find an equaliser, partly thanks to some fine Inter defending. Read more »

Roma 4-2 Fiorentina: Roma attack three v three

December 11, 2012
Roma 4-2 Fiorentina: Roma attack three v three

An extraordinarily open game at the Stadio Olimpico.

Zdenek Zeman named an unchanged side from the XI which defeated Siena 3-1, which meant Daniele De Rossi was only on the bench after his return from suspension.

Vincenzo Montella was without two key players – Stevan Jovetic and David Pizarro. Adem Ljajic was also out, so Montella surprisingly named Juan Cuadrado as a support striker behind Luca Toni, bringing in Mattia Cassano on the right. Ruben Oliveira replaced Pizarro at the bottom of the midfield.

4-2 wasn’t unfair, but a better reflection of the match would have been 7-4… Read more »

Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United: possession versus counter-attack

December 9, 2012
Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United: possession versus counter-attack

Manchester United stormed into a 0-2 lead, City got it back to 2-2, then United pinched the win very late on.

Roberto Mancini went with Mario Balotelli upfront rather than Carlos Tevez – the rest of his side was as expected.

Antonio Valencia was surprisingly declared fit, so Sir Alex Ferguson chose the same XI he selected in United’s most comparable fixture this season, the 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge in October.

In one sense United were fortunate to win the match because of the manner of their late winner, in another they were unfortunate not to be 3-0 up earlier in the second half. In a match of contrasting approaches, United carried out theirs more effectively. Read more »

Christmas book ideas?

December 7, 2012
Christmas book ideas?

Some possible gift ideas / requests ahead of Christmas… Read more »

Shakhtar 0-1 Juventus: Juve’s bravery pays off

December 5, 2012
Shakhtar 0-1 Juventus: Juve’s bravery pays off

Juventus were the better side, and won to secure their place in the knockout stages, at the expense of Chelsea.

Mircea Lucescu was without two key players, Luiz Adriano and Tomas Hubschmann. He selected Eduardo upfront.

Antonio Conte was without the suspended Claudio Marchisio so played Paul Pogba in midfield, while Sebastian Giovinco was chosen alongside Mirko Vucinic upfront.

Of course, the interesting factor here was that a draw was a satisfactory result for both. Shakhtar had already confirmed their qualification for the knockout stages, but a draw would ensure them topping the group. Juventus were at risk of going out (with Chelsea winning, as expected, against Nordsjaelland) but a draw would confirm qualification. Read more »

LA Galaxy 3-1 Houston Dynamo: working the channels and maximising set-piece chances

December 2, 2012
LA Galaxy 3-1 Houston Dynamo: working the channels and maximising set-piece chances

The Galaxy won their second consecutive MLS Cup after a second half turnaround.

Juninho and Landon Donovan returned to Bruce Arena’s side, in place of Marcelo Sarvas and Edson Buddle respectively.

Dominic Kinnear chose a 4-4-2 system, with Calen Carr upfront alongside Will Bruin. Macoumba Kandji was only on the bench.

The goals broadly fitted the pattern of the game – the Dynamo played good football in the first half, but were unable to withstand the Galaxy’s pressure in the second half. Read more »

Real Madrid 2-0 Atletico Madrid: Simeone goes 4-4-2, Real score through a set-piece and a break

December 2, 2012
Real Madrid 2-0 Atletico Madrid: Simeone goes 4-4-2, Real score through a set-piece and a break

Real Madrid triumphed in a hugely disappointing match.

Jose Mourinho named a familiar side, basically the 2011/12 Real Madrid team. Fabio Coentrao was at left-back, while Luka Modric was only on the bench with Mesut Ozil starting in the hole.

Diego Simeone named a 4-4-2 side, which meant Diego Costa playing upfront with Falcao, and Koke on the right side of midfield. Cata Diaz came into the side very late, at left-back.

There was little to recommend this game, which lacked rhythm, tempo, shape and genuine attacking quality. Read more »