Bayern 1-1 Dortmund: surprising Dortmund midfield shape leaves Kroos free

December 2, 2012
Bayern 1-1 Dortmund: surprising Dortmund midfield shape leaves Kroos free

The league leaders and the champions played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in Munich.

Bastian Schweinsteiger returned to the centre of Bayern’s midfield, while Jupp Heynckes selected Mario Mandzukic as his lone centre-forward.

Mats Hummels, Ikay Gundogan and Mario Gotze all returned to Dortmund’s side after missing the 1-1 draw with Dusseldorf in midweek.

This was an evenly-balanced game that went through various phases – the game started at a frantic tempo, then settled down into a tight tactical battle for the remainder of the first half, and then became more open after the break. Read more »

Milan 1-0 Juventus: Milan sit deep, then break quickly through their front three

November 27, 2012
Milan 1-0 Juventus: Milan sit deep, then break quickly through their front three

Juventus lost in Serie A for the second time under Antonio Conte.

Max Allegri continued with the 4-3-3 shape he used away at Napoli last week – Mario Yepes replaced Francesco Acerbi at the back, while Marco Amelia started in goal.

Antonio Conte picked Martin Caceres on the left side of defence in place of the injured Giorgio Chiellini – previously, Caceres has played to the right of the back three, with Andrea Barzagli moving across, but Barzagli remained in his usual position. Ahead of him, Mauricio Isla started rather than Stephane Lichtsteiner, who must have been more badly injured than was reported before the game.

Milan were a shade fortunate to win the game – it was universally agreed that the ball didn’t strike Isla’s arm for Robinho’s penalty – but overall they were the better side, as Gigi Buffon agreed. They defended solidly and attacked at great speed. Read more »

Chelsea 0-0 Manchester City: early caution from Benitez results in a dull game

November 26, 2012
Chelsea 0-0 Manchester City: early caution from Benitez results in a dull game

Rafael Benitez started his Chelsea reign with a goalless draw against the champions.

Benitez kept Roberto Di Matteo’s front six intact, although played Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz together at centre-back, a combination his predecessor never selected.

Roberto Mancini played four at the back, and continued with Edin Dzeko upfront, rather than Carlos Tevez – maybe after seeing how Chelsea were vulnerable to crosses last weekend. Vincent Kompany was fit to start at centre-back.

City dominated in terms of possession and shots, but neither side did enough to win the game. Read more »

Malaga 4-0 Valencia: Pellegrini gets the better of Pellegrino

November 26, 2012
Malaga 4-0 Valencia: Pellegrini gets the better of Pellegrino

Isco was the catalyst for a fabulous demonstration of movement and interplay from Malaga’s front four.

After rotating heavily for the trip to Zenit in midweek, Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini played a more familiar XI, unchanged from the draw at Osasuna last week.

Mauricio Pellegrino’s major decision was the use of Ever Banega – rather than Jonas – at the top of his midfield triangle. Roberto Soldado was out, so Nelson Valdez started upfront.

Malaga were well worth the win – the only surprising thing about the scoreline was that they weren’t out of sight sooner, having to wait until 74 minutes for the second goal.

There were only two major factors here – and both involved the two sides’ individual systems, rather than the actual clash between them. Read more »

Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid: City out

November 22, 2012
Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid: City out

Roberto Mancini started with a back three, then moved to a back four, but Manchester City couldn’t find a second goal.

Mancini decided to start with a similar XI to the second half shape against Tottenham, when they looked good with a back three. Nine of the 11 players were the same, with the exception of Matija Nastasic coming in for the injured Gael Clichy, and Samir Nasri (ill for the Spurs game) starting in the centre alongside Yaya Toure, an extremely attack-minded midfield.

Jose Mourinho named his expected side with one small exception – Luka Modric was at the head of the midfield triangle, rather than Mesut Ozil.

The shots statistics were interesting in this match. After 17 minutes, Real Madrid had attempted 7 shots, with 5 on target – whereas City hadn’t had a single attempt. Read more »

Juventus 3-0 Chelsea: Di Matteo uses Hazard upfront, but Chelsea lose the game elsewhere

November 21, 2012
Juventus 3-0 Chelsea: Di Matteo uses Hazard upfront, but Chelsea lose the game elsewhere

Juventus played excellently and comfortably defeated Chelsea.

Antonio Conte went with on-form Fabio Quagliarella upfront alongside Mirko Vucinic, and used Stephane Lichtsteiner rather than Mauricio Isla on the right.

Roberto Di Matteo dropped Fernando Torres in favour of Eden Hazard as a false nine – because he didn’t want to give Juventus’ three centre-backs a ‘reference point’. This meant he needed another wide player, and he wanted someone defensive-minded – this would have been Ramires were he not needed in the middle, so Cesar Azpilicueta became a cautious right-winger.

But Juventus were the superior side – their opening two goals were both aided with deflections, but they created significantly more goalscoring opportunities over the course of the 90 minutes, and put Chelsea under constant pressure. Read more »

Leverkusen 2-0 Schalke: Schurrle stays in a position to counter-attack

November 20, 2012
Leverkusen 2-0 Schalke: Schurrle stays in a position to counter-attack

Leverkusen comfortably won a very simple game of football.

Sami Hyypia selected a 4-1-4-1 / 4-3-3 shape with roughly his first-choice XI this season, although left-back Michal Kadlec is out injured, so versatile Japanese international Hajime Hosogai filled in.

Huub Stevens was without Ibrahim Afellay, so Julian Draxler started on the left of midfield. Otherwise, they were unchanged from the win over Werder Bremen.

Leverkusen were by far the better side throughout the game, with Stevens furious at the performance of his side. Read more »

West Brom 2-1 Chelsea: Morrison and Long drift wide, then stop Chelsea passing through middle

November 19, 2012
West Brom 2-1 Chelsea: Morrison and Long drift wide, then stop Chelsea passing through middle

West Brom’s mobile duo of Shane Long and James Morrison provided an assist apiece.

Ben Foster is injured, so Steve Clarke used Boaz Myhill in goal. Gabriel Tamas replaced Gareth McAuley, and Zoltan Gera started on the left.

Roberto Di Matteo shuffled his pack, leaving Oscar, Ramires, Juan Mata, Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole on the bench.

For such a surprise victory, the strangest thing is that West Brom didn’t have to play particularly well. This isn’t an attempt to take anything away from their victory, of course (if you were being charitable you could say it was a compliment – they beat the European champions without having to reach their peak), and there were good individual performances. But West Brom have played better football this season, and this arguably wasn’t a typical representation of their football. Read more »

Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham: Villas-Boas goes for two strikers, but loses Adebayor early on

November 17, 2012
Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham: Villas-Boas goes for two strikers, but loses Adebayor early on

For the third consecutive season, this fixture saw plenty of goals and featured an impressive comeback.

With Wojciech Szszesny back in goal, Arsene Wenger played his expected side – Theo Walcott was fielded on the right, while Thomas Vermaelen continued at left-back.

Andre Villas-Boas was without Steven Caulker, so shifted Jan Vetonghen into the middle and used Kyle Naughton at left-back. Upfront, he started Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor together for the first time in the Premier League, in a 4-4-2.

There were three separate tactical battles here. Stage one was the opening formation battle, stage two was Spurs’ reaction to Adebayor’s dmissal, and stage three was when Villas-Boas switched to a 3-4-1-1ish formation at half-time. Read more »

Milan 1-3 Fiorentina: Allegri’s Milan outplayed across the pitch

November 13, 2012
Milan 1-3 Fiorentina: Allegri’s Milan outplayed across the pitch

Fiorentina produced an excellent display, particularly in the first half, while Milan looked completely uncomfortable in their system.

Max Allegri continued with the 4-2-3-1 system he’d successfully used in the 5-1 win over Cheivo, but brought back Philippe Mexes, Mattia De Sciglio and Kevin-Prince Boateng into the side.

Vincenzo Montella was without Stevan Jovetic, so used Luca Toni as his primary striker.

Fiorentina’s system seemed to cause Milan problems across the pitch – they were unable to win the ball quickly and didn’t exploit their numerical advantage on the flanks. Read more »

Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool: poor quality game with goals from corners

November 12, 2012
Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool: poor quality game with goals from corners

Brendan Rodgers started with three centre-backs, but switched to a back four during the second half.

Roberto Di Matteo used his expected front four, but surprisingly used Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back, presumably because he wanted pace and/or attacking drive. Branislav Ivanovic shifted into the centre.

Rodgers included Jamie Carragher, with Martin Skrtel unavailable. Suso was only on the bench, having often started in a front three in recent weeks.

Liverpool dominated possession throughout the game, but became more dangerous when reverting to a back four. Read more »

Manchester City 2-1 Tottenham: Mancini’s three-man defence shows first positive signs

November 12, 2012
Manchester City 2-1 Tottenham: Mancini’s three-man defence shows first positive signs

Manchester City turned the game around with a strong second half performance, helped by Roberto Mancini’s mid-game formation switch.

Mancini named Aleksandar Kolarov on the left of midfield, with Samir Nasri ill. David Silva returned on the right, while Matija Nastasic was again at centre-back. Javi Garcia was on the bench, and Mario Balotelli left out completely.

Andre Villas-Boas decided to use Emmanuel Adebayor upfront instead of Jermain Defoe, and Brad Friedel was picked ahead of Hugo Lloris.

This was an interesting tactical contest – Mancini’s switch wasn’t the only key feature, and it wasn’t the sole reason City won, but it was certainly an important factor. Read more »

Celtic 2-1 Barcelona: a famous victory

November 8, 2012
Celtic 2-1 Barcelona: a famous victory

Little possession for long periods – then a set-piece opener followed by a second on the break – a classic underdog victory.

Neil Lennon was forced into a few changes from the side he used at the weekend, but kept to a 4-4-1-1ish formation. Adam Matthews played at left-back despite being right-sided, Kris Commons moved to the right of midfield, and Miku linked up with Georgios Samaras upfront.

Tito Vilanova picked roughly his expected side – Cesc Fabregas was only on the bench (he’s been a regular this season) and Marc Bartra started at the back. Alex Song was in the holding role.

Yes, Celtic spent most of the game in their own half, and rode their luck at times – but they didn’t simply park the bus. They retained an attacking threat throughout the game, while changing their usual strategy to suit the task at hand. Read more »

Manchester City 2-2 Ajax: Ajax pressing forces Mancini to change shape

November 7, 2012
Manchester City 2-2 Ajax: Ajax pressing forces Mancini to change shape

Ajax raced into an early two-goal lead, but Manchester City pulled it back.

Roberto Mancini chose an unusual formation – something like a lopsided 4-2-3-1. Pablo Zabaleta returned to the side, while Javi Garcia and Sergio Aguero came in for Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli.

From the XI that defeated City 3-1 in Amsterdam, Frank de Boer dropped Tobias Sana and recalled Derk Boerrigter.

This was a peculiar match with a few different points of interest – City’s formation, Ajax’s pressing, and City’s continued struggles when defending set-plays.

Read more »

Valencia 2-0 Atletico: neither side at their best as Simeone’s midfield selection backfires

November 6, 2012
Valencia 2-0 Atletico: neither side at their best as Simeone’s midfield selection backfires

Valencia won 2-0 in a disappointingly tame contest.

Mauricio Pellegrino changed his two wide players, bringing in Andres Guardado and Sofiane Feghouli, and also introduced Jonas behind Roberto Soldado.

Diego Simeone made a few changes, bringing back Tiago, Arda Turan and Adrian Lopez and moving to a different midfield format.

Neither side played particularly sparkling football in this match – the only interesting tactical feature was in the centre of midfield. Read more »

Juventus 1-3 Inter: unbeaten run ends at 49

November 4, 2012
Juventus 1-3 Inter: unbeaten run ends at 49

Juventus lost a Serie A game for the first time under Antonio Conte, and for the first time in their new stadium.

Conte selected a partnership of Mirko Vucinic as the primary striker and Sebastian Giovinco just behind – the rest of the side was as expected.

Andrea Stramaccioni slightly surprisingly selected his tridente rather than a more cautious 3-5-1-1 system, so Fredy Guarin was only on the bench.

Juventus took the lead within twenty seconds, but Inter were the better side for the majority of the game. Read more »

Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal: United attack down the right

November 3, 2012
Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal: United attack down the right

Manchester United won comfortably without having to play well.

Sir Alex Ferguson named the same side that started last weekend’s win over Chelsea – Tom Cleverley retained his place in the centre of midfield.

Arsene Wenger also named an unchanged side from Arsenal’s last league fixture, so Theo Walcott was on the bench despite his midweek hat-trick.

Manchester United raced into an early lead and Arsenal never looked likely to get back in the game, failing to record a shot on target until they were 2-0 down, and reduced to ten men after Jack Wilshere’s dismissal. Read more »

Chelsea 2-3 Manchester United: two goals a dangerous lead, two men a significant advantage

October 29, 2012
Chelsea 2-3 Manchester United: two goals a dangerous lead, two men a significant advantage

Manchester United snatched the three points after Chelsea went down to nine men at 2-2.

Roberto Di Matteo was again without John Terry through suspension, while Frank Lampard was injured, so Chelsea’s starting XI was as expected.

Sir Alex Ferguson returned to more of a traditional Manchester United system after recent experimentations with a diamond. Ashley Young was the biggest surprise on the teamsheet, deployed out on the left.

Manchester United went ahead on the counter as Chelsea dominated the first half, before the away side’s numerical supremacy led to dominance of the final 25 minutes. Read more »

Everton 2-2 Liverpool: surprising levels of pressing, while Rodgers switches to a back three

October 29, 2012
Everton 2-2 Liverpool: surprising levels of pressing, while Rodgers switches to a back three

A frantic first half, followed by a more subdued second half.

David Moyes was without Steven Pienaar so used Kevin Mirallas on the left, where he was the first half’s brightest player. Steven Naismith started on the right, while Marouane Fellaini returned behind the main striker.

If looking for betting tips click here. In the absence of Glen Johnson, Brendan Rodgers fielded Andre Wisdom at right-back and Jose Enrique at left-back. Brad Jones was in for Pepe Reina.

Liverpool stormed into a 2-0 lead, before Everton pulled it back to 2-2 shortly before half-time. Read more »

Dortmund 2-1 Real Madrid: Dortmund press as a unit and expose Essien at left-back

October 24, 2012
Dortmund 2-1 Real Madrid: Dortmund press as a unit and expose Essien at left-back

Dortmund bounced back from their weekend disaster against Schalke to record an important victory.

After Saturday’s disaster against Schalke, Jurgen Klopp returned to something approaching his first-choice formation and XI, although Jakub Blaszczykowski remains unavailable.

Jose Mourinho selected his expected starting XI. With Fabio Coentrao, Marcelo and Alvaro Arbeloa all out, Sergio Ramos and Michael Essien were at full-back. Sami Khedira only lasted twenty minutes before being replaced by Luka Modric.

This match took a while to get going, with the first half ruined by a combination of a slippery pitch and the players’ apparent poor selection of footwear. Once they changed their boots at half-time, it was an excellent game.

There were basically two key features of the match: the pressing, and Real’s weakness at left-back. Read more »

Shakhtar 2-1 Chelsea: Shakhtar attack with pace and forward bursts from Fernandinho and Srna

October 23, 2012
Shakhtar 2-1 Chelsea: Shakhtar attack with pace and forward bursts from Fernandinho and Srna

Shakhtar dominated the match, and should have won by more.

There were no major surprises from Mircea Lucescu – Alex Teixeira was on the right, and Tomas Hubschman in the centre of midfield.

Roberto Di Matteo brought Frank Lampard back into the side, with Ramires pushed to the right. But Lampard only lasted 18 minutes – Eden Hazard came on, Ramires dropped back into the centre of midfield, and Chelsea were back to their usual format of three rotating attackers. John Terry returned in place of Gary Cahill.

This was an extremely fast, frantic game that Shakhtar dominated primarily of better attacking combinations. Read more »

Dortmund 1-2 Schalke: Klopp takes the blame as shift to 3-5-2 backfires

October 22, 2012
Dortmund 1-2 Schalke: Klopp takes the blame as shift to 3-5-2 backfires

Dortmund surprisingly started in a 3-5-2 formation – despite not trying it in training beforehand – and produced a terrible performance.

Jurgen Klopp was without four regulars – Mario Gotze, Ilkay Gundogan, Marcel Schmelzer and Jakub Blaszczykowski – which was one of the reasons for his unusual formation choice.

Huub Stevens had Kyriakos Papadopoulos unavailable at the back, while Ibrahim Afellay started on the left of midfield.

Dortmund started awfully and played poor football throughout the game – the 3-5-2 didn’t last long, but was  a key factor in their poor performance. Read more »

Juventus 2-0 Napoli: substitutes settle a tight encounter

October 22, 2012
Juventus 2-0 Napoli: substitutes settle a tight encounter

First versus second in Serie A – Juventus eventually got the breakthrough, and now lead Napoli by three points.

Antonio Conte’s main decision was about which forward combination to select – he went with Fabio Quagliarella and Sebastian Giovinco, the same duo he selected at Fiorentina, last time ZM covered Juventus. Marco Storari played, as Gigi Buffon was injured.

Walter Mazzarri rarely makes any surprise selection decisions, and his XI was as expected, with Alessandro Gamberini starting on the left of the back three.

Tight, tense and tactical. These sides have played each other so frequently in the past twelve months – with Conte choosing a system that deliberately mirrors Napoli’s – that it rather felt like the sides knew each other too well, and both needed a surprise element. Read more »

Tottenham 2-4 Chelsea: Mata stars in an eventful game

October 22, 2012
Tottenham 2-4 Chelsea: Mata stars in an eventful game

Tottenham had a strong spell either side of half-time, but Chelsea were the better side.

Andre Villas-Boas was unable to select either Moussa Dembele or Gareth Bale, so used Clint Dempsey on the left and Tom Huddlestone came into the centre of midfield. Brad Friedel started, with Hugo Lloris on the bench.

Roberto Di Matteo left Frank Lampard on the bench and persevered with three rotating attackers behind Fernando Torres. John Terry was banned.

This was a strange game – it was open and enjoyable, yet lacked a defining tactical feature. Read more »

Spain 1-1 France: Deschamps’ formation switch results in late France dominance

October 17, 2012
Spain 1-1 France: Deschamps’ formation switch results in late France dominance

Spain failed to win for the first time in 25 qualification matches.

Vicente del Bosque continued with Sergio Busquets at the back and Xabi Alonso as the sole holding player. David Silva started on the left, but went off injured after 13 minutes, replaced by Santi Cazorla.

Didier Deschamps started with a single striker, Karim Benzema, flanked by Jeremy Menez and Franck Ribery. Patrice Evra came back in for Gael Clichy, and Maxime Gonalons played as the holding midfielder.

Spain dominated before the break, but France were excellent for the final half hour following a clever change in formation from Deschamps, and the away side created enough goalscoring chances to feel they merited a point. Read more »

Argentina 3-0 Uruguay: Messi the main man

October 15, 2012
Argentina 3-0 Uruguay: Messi the main man

Argentina dominated the entire match, but took an hour to get the breakthrough.

Alejandro Sabella kept a similar side to the XI that drew in Peru last month, with a couple of Manchester City players replacing a couple of recent Napoli players – Pablo Zabaleta replaced Hugo Campagnaro and Sergio Aguero returned in place of Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Oscar Tabarez was without Diego Perez, Alvaro Pereira and Gaston Ramirez, so in came Walter Gargano, Martin Caceres and Alvaro Gonzales.

Argentina were superior in every department – although particularly in the final third, thanks to the fluidity, movement and clever combinations of the attackers. Read more »

Milan 0-1 Inter: Inter strike early, then hold on with ten men despite constant Milan pressure

October 9, 2012
Milan 0-1 Inter: Inter strike early, then hold on with ten men despite constant Milan pressure

Inter preserved a one-goal lead for almost the entire match after Walter Samuel’s crucial early goal.

Max Allegri played Daniele Bonera at right-back rather than Ignazio Abate, and used Urby Emanuelson on the right flank.

Andrea Stramaccioni named the same XI that defeated Fiorentina last weekend, in a 3-4-1-2 starting shape.

There was barely a tactical battle at 0-0 – Inter went ahead after 3 minutes, making it difficult to tell whether Milan’s dominance of possession was because of the formations and overall approaches, or because they needed to get back into the game and Inter were content to defend. Read more »

Marseille 2-2 PSG: Gignac and Ibrahimovic

October 8, 2012
Marseille 2-2 PSG: Gignac and Ibrahimovic

Andre-Pierre Gignac and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both scored twice in Le Classique.

There were no surprises in Elie Baup’s line-up – this is his first-choice XI since the departures of Cesar Azpilicueta and Stephane Mbia.

Carlo Ancelotti brought Javier Pastore into the side, and there were also returns at the back for Christophe Jallet and Alex.

This was an entertaining game and all four goals were very fine finishes, but the tactical battle wasn’t particularly interesting. Read more »

Newcastle 0-3 Manchester United: Ferguson’s diamond forces Newcastle to change shape

October 8, 2012
Newcastle 0-3 Manchester United: Ferguson’s diamond forces Newcastle to change shape

Manchester United won the game primarily because of a dominant opening 15 minutes.

Alan Pardew selected a 4-4-2 from the start. James Perch was at centre-back, Davide Santon on the right, and Shane Ferguson at left-back.

Sir Alex Ferguson continued with the diamond he played against Cluj in midweek. Danny Welbeck replaced Javier Hernandez, while Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick came in for Anderson and Darren Fletcher.

There were three phases here. First, Manchester United’s diamond dominated Newcastle’s 4-4-2. Second, Pardew switched to a 4-5-1 to compete in the centre of midfield. Third, Ferguson switched to a 4-5-1 to give protection to his full-backs. Read more »

Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid: two goals each for Ronaldo and Messi

October 7, 2012
Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid: two goals each for Ronaldo and Messi

Both sides appeared content with a point from an entertaining match.

Tito Vilanova surprisingly named Adriano at centre-back rather than Alex Song, in the absence of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. Andres Iniesta returned to the side in place of Alexis Sanchez.

Jose Mourinho went for a familiar side – with no Luka Modric or Michael Essien, it was essentially the Real of last season, with Mesut Ozil as the number ten.

It was the usual pattern – Barca dominating possession, Real a threat from quicker attacks and set-pieces. Read more »

Porto 1-0 PSG: Porto dominate with more width

October 4, 2012
Porto 1-0 PSG: Porto dominate with more width

PSG remained narrow while Porto played with plenty of width – and the home side’s two wingers were the key attacking players.

Vitor Pereira chose his expected line-up in the usual 4-3-3 system.

Carlo Ancelotti left out Javier Pastore, preferring Jeremy Menez and Nene. At the back he brought in Mamadou Sakho.

Porto played superior football throughout the match, and although PSG had a few chances on the break, Pereira’s side were fully deserving of the three points. Read more »