Thursday, 22 December 2011

Wigan 0-0 Liverpool - Tactical analysis

A tactically interesting game ended with a not so interesting scoreline.

Basic Shapes

Liverpool started with a 4-2-3-1 system with Kuyt mainly on the right and Downing mainly on the left of the three with Maxi playing off Luis Suarez.

Wigan started in a 3-4-3 shape with Jones wide out on the left and Moses and Gomez tucked in, in the three supporting Sammon.


Liverpool started off the game well, pressing high up the pitch and playing quick combinations when they won it there. Their front four was generally quite flexible in positioning, especially Suarez who was often moving into wider positions and trying to link up with players.

With their 'wingers', Kuyt and Downing, fairly narrow and Maxi drifting into good positions from attacking midfield, it was left to the full backs to provide width. Much of the Liverpool play early on ended up down their left with Wigan giving the ball away a number of times on that side and allowing Jose Enrique to move forward high up the pitch. Jordan Henderson was also moving high and slightly to the right, allowing him to link up with the attacking phase and giving an extra option for Liverpool's passing combinations.

And for the first 17-18 minutes, Liverpool were on top, with Wigan giving a number of vertical passes away after being pressed high. Wigan's back three were spaced out in possession, allowing Liverpool's wide men to close down their wide centre backs and when this was done effectively, Liverpool often won the ball back.

However Wigan slowly started to get into the game. While the home side did get numbers behind the ball when Liverpool were on the attack, they did press high up on the centre backs and full backs and tried to win the ball in high areas. With Liverpool's passing quality, it was difficult for Wigan to do this effectively all game especially when Liverpool pressed high up but they did this when Liverpool's defence had the ball.

The difference in tactics between the two sides was becoming more apparent . Liverpool's attacks were based on narrow interplay between around 3 or 4 players at a time with quick combinations. Because of the amount of players getting forward, they were able to do this. The problem was that with Wigan getting a number of men behind the ball, it was quite hard to open them up. It was also quite hard for Liverpool to spread the play from one side to another and create gaps in the Wigan defence and when the play was switched, it was done too slowly because players were gathered too close together.

The amount of players forward also made it difficult for Liverpool to regain possession when Wigan did win it and worked it past their frontline. With both full backs often forward, with one given the license to move higher up, depending on where the play was, and the front four forward with Henderson also making himself available, the away side were left with little overall control on the midfield area with only Adam left holding a lot of the time and as such Liverpool often couldn't maintain pressure in their attacks after the first 20 minutes.

Wigan were very different in how their attacks worked. Their back three was fairly spread out in possession and so were Jones and Stam, which allowed Wigan to spread the play effectively and meant that it didn't become too tight when being pressed with intensity.

It also created gaps inside. With Henderson often forward, there was a lot of space around Adam on the counter attack and with Moses and Gomez tucked inside between Liverpool's wide men and holding players, Wigan had some advantages in attacks. Often, vertical passes were played to Gomez or Moses in those areas, where the ball was then played to the wide areas.

In fact between the 20-30 minute mark, Wigan had a number of shots from outside the area behind Henderson and Adam, where Liverpool were evidently having problems.

Victor Moses' fantastic run around 37 minutes also highlighted the space left by Liverpool during attacks with the front player running into space left by Adam and Henderson and notable space left either side of the centre backs, with both full backs high up.

A number of long balls were played to Moses or Sammon to challenge in the air with Adam, dragging the Scotsman further away from his back four.

Towards the end of the first half, the game was becoming more counter attack based, with space left by both teams who were pressing the opposing defence high up the field. Both were passing the ball around at the back and with the centre backs fairly wide, it meant that pressing was made slightly easier to start high up, though left space in between the lines. Liverpool often played passes into Kuyt with his back to goal, allowing Liverpool to build possession further forward and also allowing Maxi to drift into the hole behind Wigan's midfield with Kuyt inside.

Second half

The second half began as had the first, with Liverpool on the front foot. Liverpool initially lost the ball from the kick off out wide but with tight sectorial pressing from a Wigan throw, they won the ball and moved it quickly down the left with a number of players moving forward again leading to a couple of set piece opportunities.

Wigan were still finding space on the counter attack around Henderson and Adam and they did this with pace not long into the second half although Victor Moses' 25 yard shot was poor.

Not long after though, Adam found space in midfield and switched the play to Enrique on the left. His run pushed Wigan back and after a series of passes outside the penalty area on the right hand side after the ball had been squared, a lovely diagonal pass was played along the floor behind Wigan's right for Enrique to run onto again, and the ball was played across. From there Liverpool won their penalty which was saved by Al Habsi.

Liverpool's play for a couple of minutes after that was ok with the deeper midfielders attracting the attention of Wigan's centre midfield, allowing Maxi space to drift in behind when that happened and also when the ball was moved wide.

However, Wigan started to get more possession, with Liverpool's pressing not as aggressive high up, and Martinez's side were well spread out, allowing them to switch effectively and making it harder for Liverpool to press.

The tempo of the game was slower now with Wigan using slower transitions and working the gaps which they were creating with their wide shape. Stam and Jones were moving very high up in possession and creating good outballs for switches in play though Jones was increasingly moving inside from the left, interchanging with Moses.

Liverpool changed their formation around the 60 minute mark, with Maxi moving to the left, Downing on the right and Kuyt deeper in a central position in a 4-2-1-3 formation. Dalglish's side were beginning to play wider in attack and spread the play, though were still leaving space and were beginning to look tired with a lack of incision in the final third. With just less than 20 minutes left, Jonjo Shelvey replaced Kuyt and Bellamy replaced Maxi on the left.

Wigan then shifted to a 4-3-3 with tiredness affecting the game and the knowledge that Liverpool had brought on extra pace on the left with Bellamy and fresh legs helping to dominate the midfield area with Shelvey. Watson replaced Jones and Rodallega replaced Gomez.

Wigan's frontline became their biggest threat at this stage. With Rodallega on and Di Santo, an earlier substitution, also on, their directness and speed, especially with Moses, was a threat on the counter. Rodallega was used as the centre of their front three when they were attacking and a number of direct vertical balls were played forward to him with Di Santo making diagonal runs from the left for the flick on.

However when defending, it was Rodallega who moved to the left while Di Santo was left on his own up front. With this, it meant that Di Santo, with his extra pace, could attack quicker on the break and also, because he was better with the ball at his feet and could move across to the flanks quicker, he could create space for vertical runs from deep, in a similar way that Suarez did on the counter attack for Liverpool.

Generally at this point Liverpool's most lively and penetrative players were their full backs, with Moses and Rodallega struggling to track Enrique and Johnson with their pacy movement forward. Other than that Liverpool struggled to open them up with Wigan playing a low block and making it compact in the middle. This meant that Downing was running into a number of players when moving inside from the right, Bellamy couldn't use his pace and overall Liverpool were not creating space efficiently enough

Eventually a draw was probably the most balanced result from a game in which both teams created space in the hole but where neither had the incision to get a goal

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A couple of tactical points on El Clasico

A full game summary can be found here from Michael Cox at Zonal Marking

Here is a brief look at a couple of notable things from the game:

Real Madrid's pressing game

Before the game, much of the talk had been about whether Madrid would press high and stop Barcelona building up transitions from the back or sit deep and shut off space in the final third. They went for the former.

Though the goal came from a bad pass from Valdes and a marking mistake from Pique (should have been tight on Benzema), it did show one thing teams can do to give themselves a chance against the Catalonians.

It's common sense but from a kick off both teams are on equal levels; both in their own half with roughly the same lines in midfield and defence. What often happens from kick offs is that the ball gets passed back to midfield or defence and then gets knocked long. However with Barcelona's possession game, they often prefer to pass it around the back.

Because everyone is in their own half from kick off, it means that you can't push the defensive line up to give yourself more time and space in possession. Because of this, it is an idea to press Barcelona high and aggressively from the kick off.

Madrid did exactly that. Immediately as the ball went back, Benzema and Ozil moved forward quickly, Benzema making good pressing movements and following the ball, man on the ball and taking into account the next pass while Ozil followed in a deeper position behind.

As the ball goes back to Puyol, Benzema presses him while Ozil follows, pressing the player behind. Di Maria moves forward  ready for when the ball moves to the left.

As the ball is played across to Pique, Benzema goes to close him down with Di Maria doing the same from the right and Ozil stopping the ball going into midfield. This forces Pique to play it back to Valdes.

Of course the goal came seconds later from a misplaced pass from Valdes but just see the pressing shape high up when Valdes went to play the ball:

Benzema on the left, Ozil down the middle, Di Maria on the right.

Real Madrid's 4-2-3-1 shape was a factor in their high pressing. Before the game, the rumours were that Ozil wouldn't start and that a 4-3-3 would be played, particularly when assistant coach Karanka said in the press conference the day before that they would.

A 4-2-3-1 however allows your central attacking midfielder to fulfil a number of pressing roles. It all depends on where the ball is, where the nearest players are (both on the same team and opposition team) and where the current position of the player is. One of these roles is to press alongside the main striker. This is generally seen against a 4-4-2 when the ball is passed around at the back. Generally the wingers will also press in this situation when the ball goes towards the full back, thereby creating a 4-2-4 pressing shape. This is seen here:

Because of Barcelona's threat in midfield and link up play, you can see Di Maria and Ronaldo slightly deeper, creating a 4-4-2 shape. If the ball had gone to the full back, the winger would either have held position or would have pressed, and Ozil or Benzema would have pressed Pique, while the other dropped deep to stop the overload and ball going into midfield:

Diagram of if the ball goes to Puyol - Ronaldo will close him down, Ozil presses Pique while Diarra and Alonso deal with the two players in front of them. Benzema drops deep.

One of the other pressing roles is shown from the goal - just behind the striker. The idea here is that the winger and the striker press the full back and centre back while the attacking midfielder (Ozil) stops the ball going into midfield. Often this creates a 'pressing triangle':

Real Madrid did this very well early on, making it very difficult for Barcelona to work their transitions around in defence and forcing them back.

If a 4-3-3 had been played, arguably only the second of those pressing roles is possible. Having Ozil playing there also meant better transitions.

Barcelona between the lines

When a team is being pressed high up, the short, horizontal passes are the most risky. Of course in a possession based team like Barcelona, who do build transitions from the back, it is possible to halt the flow if you press high and aggressively. This is far easier said than done of course and it takes a very well organised team to do that. Real Madrid managed to do it in a lot of situations in the first half.

Barcelona's main transitions however often go from the defence into players between the lines like Messi and then back to the midfield to control from there. Villas Boas explains it very well in this interview in the telegraph from August:

Guardiola has talked about it: the centre backs provoke the opponent, invite them forward then, if the opponent applies quick pressure the ball goes to the other central defender, and this one makes a vertical pass.
Not to the midfielders, who have their back turned to the ball, but to those moving between lines, Andres Iniesta or Lionel Messi, or even directly to the striker.
Then they play the second ball with short lay-offs, either to the wingers who have cut inside or the midfielders, who now have the game in front of them.
In the first half this was certainly needed when in possession at the back. Because of the Barca midfield dropping deep, thereby enticing Real Madrid to press them, there was space in between the lines if the ball was moved there, often in between the full backs, wingers and defensive midfielders, as highlighted here:

The space between the full backs and wingers and the overload in the centre in Barca's favour.

With Iniesta the main player on the left for Barca and Messi and Alexis drifting around further forward, they were very important in getting the ball out of defence and actually creating spells of possession. Towards the end of the first half, Barcelona were increasingly keeping more of the ball thanks to their quick combinations in the centre and between the lines and this told the difference in the second half.

With hindsight the move from Guardiola to move Alves forward was inspired. The width that came from it and the option for the diagonal outball to him was important particularly as Iniesta was coming quite narrow to create overloads in the centre and possible interplay, often between him and Fabregas and so there was no one wide and high up on the left for Barcelona.

This meant play could also be spread there if needed to and also stretched Madrid to cause more space between the lines.

Busquets, who was moved to centre back when Alves went right wing, was also coming out of defence and Real Madrid were struggling to control the overload in the centre. Indeed Barcelona seemed to have more passing options when Madrid did press high up.

Because of the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape described in Zonal Marking's match report, Messi was also allowed more space. Real Madrid in truth actually did a very good job on him thanks to some terrific tackling, most notably from Diarra. However he did play a part in two goals, finding space in front of Madrid's midfield for the first goal and slightly to the right for Barcelona's third.

There comes the problem when facing Barcelona. If you sit deep and compact, you allow them onto you from deep, allow them to push you back and have the risk of their pressing game suffocating you. If you press high up, then there's space between the lines for players like Iniesta and Messi and their quick combinations and interchanging will open you up. Coming up with a tactical plan is very difficult and ultimately, though Madrid looked dominant early on, Guardiola managed to get the better of Mourinho.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Chelsea vs Valencia - Live tactical minute by minute report

A possible new feature to the blog. The Guardian, BBC and quite a few other football websites post minute by minute reports on games. Here on LG though there will be a tactical edge; live tactical analysis as the game progresses.

Follow along here for live analysis of Chelsea and Valencia's crucial Champions League clash, starting from 19:00.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Newcastle analysis

One of the Premier League's most surprising success stories so far this season, Alan Pardew's Newcastle side have had a terrific start to the season. Currently placed in the top four at the time of writing, the Geordies also have the joint best defensive record with only 12 goals conceded in 13 games having played Man City, Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham

When Chris Hughton was sacked to much opposition last December, few predicted any sort of rise in form. After all Hughton had guided a recently relegated Newcastle straight back into the Premier League and had achieved some good results in the first few months of the season with an in form Andy Carroll helping to fire Newcastle up the league. When Pardew took over, much initial pressure was placed on him from all angles. With steady form culminating in a 12th placed finish, steady progression was the main objective for the club at the start of the season.

Yet the superb form from the side has lead to much deserved praise for their results. Indeed the way they managed to keep United out last weekend just highlighted their remarkable run so far this season.

It will be difficult to keep up such a run with injuries, fitness and loss of form and well as teams finding new ideas to beat them all playing a part as the season goes on but they deserve a lot of credit for their start.


Newcastle have generally been focussed on a 4-4-2 formation so far this season. Their right side is generally higher up the pitch - Danny Simpson is often positioned high up on the right while Obertan on the right wing has a fairly free role when Newcastle have possession and often makes diagonal runs inside. Their left hand side is often deeper - both Ryan Taylor and Jonas Gutierrez are right footed and so don't cause as many overlaps on that side, instead playing more static roles, often turning with the ball inside and playing it down the line for the forwards or inside to retain possession. Their midfield has mainly been made up of the energetic Tiote and Cabaye and the back four has remained the same in all 13 games so far.

Notable features

Newcastle's attacking play is very dynamic and quick. It's been quite direct and like Levante, generally vertical. This is partly because of their counter attacking style but also because their attacking shape requires quick, positive passing rather than a slower, horizontal possession game.

The two forwards who have mainly been involved for Newcastle this season, Best and Ba are quite direct players and require an attacking route based around pace and strength. They are very good at threatening behind centre backs and in the air. Both are also aware of the added movement from midfield and will drop deep and wide depending on who and where the midfielders are penetrating.

Newcastle like getting the ball forward quickly, as mentioned with their mainly vertical play. The wingers, Gutierrez and Obertan have played quite different roles on the flanks. Gutierrez mainly positions himself fairly wide and deep on the left so he is able to cut inside onto his right foot
 and play vertical passes forward. Obertan's role is quite different. He generally plays higher up than Gutierrez and can get behind a full back with his pace or move further inside in a more 'free' role than Gutierrez, as he does quite often thanks to Danny Simpson's high positioning on the right.

by Guardian Chalkboards      Krul's distribution to the strikers Best and Ba

It would however be wrong to call Newcastle a long ball team. Looking at the average amount of long balls played per game Newcastle have the fourth least amount. They commit a number of players forward in attacking positions and a lot of their chances happen because of their movement.
Cabaye makes penetrating runs into attacking central areas making a diamond shape in midfield with Tiote holding his defensive midfield position. Sometimes Cabaye overlaps Ba when the striker is taking the ball deeper with his back to goal.

In fact the attacking shape is in a way similar to the traditional English attacking shape. One full back up while one covers, one centre midfielder making runs forward while the other holds, one winger higher up than the other with one of them cutting inside to make an overload and two pacy strong strikers with one able to drop deeper and one making runs behind, between the centre back and full back.

Newcastle have managed to do this but have added a fairly quick tempo and well timed overlaps which have helped them achieve these results.


The main thing they have been identified by this season is their deep compact shape in defence. That is the way they defended mainly against Man City, getting players behind the ball and confining space in front of their penalty area. However they are not limited to that and because of the amount of players they commit forward in attack, they have to press aggressively when they lose the ball high up the pitch

Newcastle's players high up so able to press

Gutierrez is a valuable asset defensively on the left, particularly with Ryan Taylor's inexperience at left backand his speed at getting back to double up on and get tight to an opponent is very good.

Because of the 4-4-2 system, they can get outnumbered in the centre of the field. When soaking up the pressure and getting players behind the ball, this isn't a problem because the objective is to allow the opposition possession but not allow them to open them up. When pressing higher up however there has to be a different system. When the opposition centre backs and full backs have the ball, Ba and Best have generally pressed the centre backs to try and stop the ball going straight to the midfielders to push them back. However when the ball goes into midfield Ba is comfortable dropping deeper and helping stop the overload there.


Space in midfield left by Cabaye and behind Simpson

Oddly enough the problems Newcastle have are defensively. One is the space left by their attacking shape. Their diamond shape in attack leaves quite a bit of space, particularly behind Cabaye. If the ball is moved quickly in that area then that space can be exploited.

Newcastle lose the ball high up. Cabaye in an advanced position goes to press, leaving space behind

Tottenham release it quickly to Parker who has to be closed down by Tiote. In this situation all of Newcastle's midfielders and strikers, bar Tiote are ahead of the ball.

Parker moves it first time to Bale who invited the pressure from Simpson. However there is now space between Newcastle's midfield and defence.
Parker has now turned to face the defence and can run at them or play it behind for Defoe. Quick play from Tottenham in midfield meant that Newcastle are now on the back foot.

With their only loss of the season, Man City, the league leaders dominated possession in the middle and then switched the ball late to the flanks to create, particularly to the right where Micah Richards played very high up and took advantage of a few mistakes on that side to seal the three points in a 3-1 victory.


It will be interesting to see any progression in Newcastle's tactics as the season progresses. With the return of Ben Arfa, a slightly higher, more precise approach may be needed to get the best out of the Frenchman. However their league form so far has been very good so far and that is credit to Alan Pardew's tactics.