Thursday, 27 December 2012

Stoke v Liverpool analysis

Yet another sign of inconsistency from Liverpool. The comfortable 4-0 thrashing of Fulham seems a long time ago and Wednesday night's performance goes another way to show just how far they have to go if they want to be in the Champions League. Over the last two and a half seasons, Liverpool have put in their three worst half season performances in the Premier League - 25 points from the first 19 league games of Roy Hodgson's and Brendan Rodgers' tenures and a mere 18 points in the second half of last season under Kenny Dalglish.

Stoke pressing

Since the start of the season, there has been a very obvious way to attack Liverpool. The short passing build up at the back with the centre backs opening up and the full backs moving into the midfield line has been exposed even since the pre-season game against Roma. In that game, Jay Spearing was shown to be vulnerable in the role as the pivot in front of the centre backs. Roma’s high press caused numerous problems in that area and the space between the backline was then exploited quickly. 

Since then opposition teams have gone into games realising that winning the ball in midfield can be a key defensive and attacking weapon against Liverpool. If you press high: a) Liverpool don’t have the quality on the ball to consistently retain possession under high pressure. And b) there is a large amount of space between the back four if you do win it. 

Tony Pulis came out with two main plans off the ball. The first was the high collective pressing of Liverpool’s build up from the back. 


 Here, Jones and Walters have forced the ball back to Reina in the Liverpool goal. As he plays it short to Agger, Stoke continue their press.


Liverpool continue their short passing game from the back, allowing Stoke to confine the area and make the pitch small. Each player in the passing line is marked by a Stoke player, restricting Liverpool's build up.


Shelvey comes too deep to receive possession from Agger and is immediately faced with a difficult situation. Stoke are marking each player available to Shelvey, whose options are limited because he has been forced to face his own goal. Under pressure from two Stoke players, one from behind and one from in front, he loses the ball. That regain for Stoke led to two minutes of pressuring Liverpool in their own half which resulted in them taking the lead.

A lot was made during the game of this aggressive pressing from Stoke. Without doubt it had a big impact on Liverpool's capacity to build up in the first two phases of possession. However, high pressing is not enough to defend for the whole 90 mins when you only have 42% possession. You will always have to drop off and withstand pressure in your own half. And Stoke organised this well.



 Here you can see Stoke have withdrawn to a fairly low compact block in their own half, a complete contrast to the way they pressed Liverpool high up the pitch. Here Lucas has plenty of time and space in midfield. Not a single Stoke player is trying to close him down. Instead they are trying to retain a good solid shape behind the ball and mark the players within the passing line for Lucas. In short, they are prioritising the possible players to receive the ball rather than the man on the ball.


Lucas plays a square pass to Enrique on the left. This acts as a trigger for Stoke to pressure again. Suarez comes short but is marked by a defender, as is Shelvey behind him. Enrique begins to be put under light pressure while Walters moves across to mark Lucas.

As it's played back to Lucas, he is now under pressure from Walters. Meanwhile, Stoke again are marking the players in the passing line - Enrique, Shelvey and Suarez coming short are tracked.


This marking forces Lucas into a risky forward pass to Suarez who can't control the ball under pressure from behind and Stoke regain.

Another example is shown here


Lucas (circled) has the ball under no pressure in midfield. The four players ahead of him are all individually marked. Again Stoke are prioritising the players in the passing line rather than the player on the ball.


Lucas switches it short to Gerrard, also under no pressure from the Stoke midfield. He plays it across to the left to Enrique.


As Enrique receives it, he plays it short to Suarez who is being marked by the centre back. The ball is returned to Enrique yet the centre back stays with Suarez. Notice how deep the other centre back and left back are for Stoke, despite the space left behind Suarez's marker. As Enrique receives the ball, Gerrard begins to make a run beyond Suarez.

 

As Gerrard makes the run past Suarez towards the open space, Suarez's marker backs off him to deal with Gerrard's run and Enrique is forced to play it back to Lucas who is now being closed down.


Lucas recieves it under pressure and ends up playing a loose pass out of play for a Stoke throw in.

There were a few ways for Liverpool to deal with this system. One of them was by direct running at players. If a player granted space in the middle could make a run forward under no pressure, then he could break Stoke's organisation.


Agger picks up possession at the back. Again, instead of being closed down, Stoke are concentrating on marking the possible players he could pass to. Consequently, Agger has plenty of space to run into without being put under any pressure at all from a Stoke player.


As he goes over the halfway line, this strategy is even more clearly shown. In the first shot, Walters is the natural player to go and close Agger down. Yet instead, he retreats in the middle. Suso and Suarez (circled) are being tracked individually by their markers. Not a single player is going to close the man on the ball down. Instead Stoke are prioritising the front players who could receive the ball by marking them individually. Only as Agger gets a full twenty yards into the Stoke half, does he get put under any pressure.

This concentration on individual marking has consequences. In an interview in August, Luis Suarez made an interesting point about the exploitation of space. Asked to expand on a remark he had made about teams in England being tactically poor he said:

"If I am playing centre forward here and I drop off the front into this area, both centre backs might come with me in England. And then a team-mate can go into the space and be one on one with the goalkeeper."

The chief innovator of how teams mark in open play, Arrigo Sacchi, has said on many occasions that the main focus for a defender has to be the space rather than the man. Following the man has consequences.


Lucas has the ball in the midfield. Again he is under no pressure. Stoke are concentrating on closing down the area for the forward pass to go.


Suso makes a movement towards the left, opening up space for the pass to Suarez coming between the lines.


Here is a great example of precisely the sort of move Suarez talked about in the quote earlier. As the ball is played into him coming short, he is double marked by two Stoke defenders. This leaves open space behind him to be exploited.


As Suarez returns the pass to Lucas, Shelvey makes a run behind into the space that has been created. Lucas goes for the ball over the top which Shelvey can't quite get under control. This was arguably Liverpool's best move of the half and showed the sort of movements they had to make in order to penetrate Stoke.
 

Sloppy Liverpool

However this did not happen often enough and Liverpool were too sloppy, with and without the ball. The right thing for them to do was to starve Stoke of the ball, stretch them horizontally by switching the play and take advantage of the space between the lines. Instead, Liverpool gave possession away too easily, allowing Stoke to put the centre backs under pressure with long balls. There were other tactical problems as well. Shelvey sometimes came too deep to recieve the pass, which isolated Suarez. They didn't make the best of the space created on the outside by the wingers moving inside. Nor did they use the space behind the full backs on the counter attack. In short, although Stoke were very good, Liverpool didn't exploit their weaknesses.

Brendan Rodgers brought Sterling on at half time in order to try and stretch Stoke in the wide areas. It was the right substitute to bring on (albeit possibly the wrong player to bring off in Suso) and it almost paid off immediately when he stretched Stoke within two minutes of the restart crossed it to Suarez who could have scored. Apart from that, Liverpool didn't particularly use Sterling very well. On a number of occasions he pulled wide and deep for the switch of play so he could get 1v1 with the full back. However, this pass was often neglected and he then had to move inside in order to create space for Enrique moving forward on the outside.

Could Rodgers have done more other than that? In hindsight he might have started with three centre backs in order to provide cover against Walters and Jones. However, he couldn't have foreseen Agger's poor performance nor Liverpool's general lack of intelligence. Instead this match will have proved to Brendan Rodgers that Liverpool have to have reinforcements in order to perform more consistently. Without that, they'll stay a mid-table side.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Looking at Man City's 'zonal marking'

Over the past few weeks, zonal marking has again taken a bit of battering. Only on Saturday, Jamie Redknapp was readily criticising use of the system during Man United's win over Arsenal, even though zonal marking had nothing to do with the goal he was talking about. Surprisingly he wasn't so quick to point out a set piece chance for Arsenal in the first half where a simple block from Mertesacker on a man-marker left Giroud free in space for a great chance.

Because of this, you may forgive me for being surprised it took over half an hour for Andy Townsend to have a go at zonal marking (or 'zoning' as he called it) in Man City's draw with Ajax on Tuesday night. This time it was the old 'players don't know whose job is whose', even though if you bothered to study the system, it's generally pretty clear.

There are worse cliches trotted out admittedly. 'A zone has never scored a goal' is a big favourite for many clueless pundits, completely ignoring the fact that most teams pretty much use zone defending in open play. They also ignore the fact that from free-kicks in certain positions, like out wide, teams pretty much always use one line of zonal.

And that brings about another thing. Just like in open play where teams use a mixture of man marking and zonal marking, teams who use so-called zonal marking from set pieces are often instead using a mixture of both. This varies admittedly. Some have players on the posts (another example of zonal marking which is never pointed out), some have a different amount of players defending in different positions. The most important thing however is how the players perform it.

Let's concentrate on the second goal Man City conceded against Ajax:

 
As you can see, Man City are defending with one line of man-to-man and one line of zonal - three players in front marking one player each and then four players behind marking zonally.



As the corner comes in, Toure lets De Jong run off him. Arguably he should try and slow De Jong's run down by blocking him to stop the momentum. However the biggest mistake here comes from Gareth Barry at the near post who simply fails to attack the ball.



Far from blaming the marking system, the main reason it failed was through players not doing their jobs.

Why didn't City have men on the posts then? Well this is another thing that often gets pointed out when goals are conceded from corners. There's not necessarily a right thing to do in that situation. Some teams play with men on the posts, some teams choose not to. However, there are valid reasons for both.

Admittedly you may clear three or four a season off the line if you have men on both posts. But instead of concentrating on that, why not have more players focussing on winning the first ball from the corner? Having no players on the post means that you can leave one or two players up the pitch, you can maybe have one or two on the edge of the box and you'll still be able to defend properly.

Another reason for not having men on the posts is the second ball. Many teams are not good enough at pushing out from corners. They can get trapped in their own area and inevitably make mistakes leading to a goal or penalty. If you have one or two players marking posts then it makes it difficult to play offside when the second ball comes in. Take a look at this example from Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund last year.

 
As Dortmund take a short corner, you can see Arjen Robben standing on the far post.
 

 
Bayern clear the first ball that comes into the box. Meanwhile, Robben is standing just in front of the post.
 
 
However as Dortmund win the second ball, Robben doesn't get out quick enough, playing Lewandowski onside. In this situation, it was Lewandowski who got the final touch for the goal which ended up winning the match for Borussia Dortmund.
 
 
Bear in mind this is not a piece intended to say that one way is better than the other. There are arguments for and against each system. The objective truth though is that the performance of each system is down to the players and if you're so keen to blame someone for conceding set piece goals, blame them not the system.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Man City 1-1 Dortmund - Away side dominate but don't win

Man City started with both Aguero and Dzeko up front, combined with Silva and Nasri in the wide positions. Nastasic started at the back.

Dortmund set out closer to a 4-5-1 shape with Gotze on the right, Kuba inside of him with Reus on the left.



First half

Jurgen Klopp said yesterday that his side had a plan to stop City playing and they stuck to their word. Dortmund defended as a 4-5-1, looking to stop City playing through the middle to Silva and Nasri between the lines. The away side's plan defensively was to start their press around the half way line especially the City holding players of Toure and Garcia when they had their back to the play. With Mancini's side using very slow transitions, the Germans were able to get behind the ball quickly into their shape and stop City playing penetrating passes down the middle.

This meant a number of things. The main thing was that it was almost impossible for City to play a forward pass between the lines. Two of their biggest chances in the whole match, came from two of the only times they'd manage to turn between Dortmund's defence and midfield.

The second thing it meant was that Yaya Toure was unable to make runs from holding midfield; he was pressed when he received it close to the half way line and Dortmund were so compact that it was very difficult to find space in the middle. Even when City went wide, Dortmund pressured with three players stopping penetration.

Dortmund pressing with three players in the wide areas

City therefore only really looked a threat when they went long for Dzeko (who was caught offside four times) or on quick transitions, few and far between.

Dortmund's attack was also extremely impressive. Klopp's side use of pressing triggers (waiting for loose pass, horizontal pass, one player presses then the whole whole team presses), led to some very dangerous counter attacks and it was only because of Joe Hart that it was 0-0 at half time. Dortmund had especially targeted the right hand side when attacking with Gotze, Piszcek and Kuba all drifting towards that area and the combination play on the edge of the box was superb. Add to that the factor that both full backs got high, allowing Gotze and Reus to move between the lines with Gundogan and Kuba meant they could support Lewandowski well from midfield and then press high when they lost possession.

Second half

Things didn't particularly change at the start of the second half; City were still moving the ball horizontally side to side in deep positions and generally unable to penetrate vertically, though they were looking for Dzeko more in the air.

The first main change from City came in the 57th minute, bringining on Kolarov for Nasri. It made some sense - they weren't getting any joy from their usual precise build up and having a more direct route was worth the risk. However the change to a 3-4-1-2 didn't really work. It allowed the full backs to pressure higher for Dortmund against the wing backs and defensively City looked very suspect with Dortmund able to continually test Joe Hart. In the 61st minute Reus followed the pressing trigger of Gundogan winning the ball high up the pitch and beating Joe Hart.

Mancini soon changed it back to a slightly lopsided 4-2-2-2 with Kolarov playing left wing and Zabaleta moving back to make a back four. However their transitions were still too slow, Dortmund were covering the space yet also playing with a high line to stop themselves from getting pushed too deep and ready to regain and counter attack from the middle of the field. Even when City went long, Dortmund were winning the second balls and playing out from the back well. City's only major threat was Aguero's mobility behind the Dortmund centre backs. It took a very generous penalty decision for City to break through.

Conclusion

Dortmund got their gameplan pretty much spot on. They kept their shape, made it impossible for City to find penetrating passes down the middle and created chance after chance in attack. They probably should have made the most of their chances but they dominated City right from the start. Mancini's side will have to improve their balance and intensity if they're to get through this group stage.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Everton 2-2 Newcastle: Pardew's changes get draw

Everton as the home side started with a 4-2-3-1 shape. New signing Mirallas played on the right while Fellaini played behind Jelavic up front.

Newcastle started with Demba Ba only on the bench, with Papiss Cisse up front, Gutierrez, Cabaye and Anita making up the midfield, and Marveaux and Ben Arfa in the wide areas.



Everton dominate first half

The first half was completely dominated by Everton. They played at a higher tempo, were more aggressive, won the second balls and forced Newcastle back.

The home side dominated the first half for a couple of reasons. Firstly their direct threat in the air was always an option; if Newcastle blocked the passing options for the Everton centre backs, Fellaini and Jelavic were both available for the long ball forward and Everton supported well and aggressively enough to win the second ball. From there they could push the Newcastle backline deeper and control possession with their switches of play, especially to the left hand side.

That left hand side was where Everton's biggest offensive threat came from - Newcastle weren't compact enough when the ball was switched to that area and they never got tight enough to pressure and stop the dangerous link ups that were occuring between Baines and Pienaar and the speed at which it happened. The first goal came from exactly this situation. As Gary Neville said in his analysis at half time, Newcastle didn't move across as a compact unit and Baines had plenty of space to make a penetrating run and score.

As for Newcastle's offensive threat, they carried virtually none. They weren't able to push Everton back and take advantage of their attacking threats because of the amount of possession Everton were having and also the way the home side were pressing. Long balls to Cisse in the air were fruitless; Distin was physically strong in the air to deal with him and the Everton midfield compacted the area around him well, making it difficult for Newcastle to win the second ball and build attacks. Ben Arfa, in particular had little chance to operate between the lines because of Newcastle being pushed back, though he did almost provide an assist with a pull back but the eventual shot was cleared off the line.

Half time changes

Alan Pardew had to make a some sort of change for the second half and he did, bringing on Demba Ba for Marveaux, switching to a 4-4-2 with Perch moved into midfield, Anita at right back and Gutierrez moved to right wing.

In theory this was the correct decision. Gutierrez was clearly more suited defensively against Baines than Marveaux had been in the first half and the physical threat of Ba and Cisse would provide much more problems to Everton's centre backs.

And so it proved. Newcastle were still having problems giving the ball away in their own half, allowing Everton to keep the pressure on but their attacking threat was more evident. For the equaliser, even though the home side gave the ball away poorly in midfield, when Cabaye won it there was a straight 2v2 on the counter attack and Ba got the equaliser.

That direct threat gave David Moyes' side far more of a problem. Like Jelavic and Fellaini had been for Everton in the first half, Ba and Cisse were always an option in the air to push Everton's backline back and that also allowed Ben Arfa more space between the lines to operate.

From there on, the game became more about who could push the other back. Both teams were direct and aggressive, looking to create with their physical threat in the middle. Anichebe wasn't as big a threat in the air as Jelavic had been and Moyes swapped him and Mirallas about 20 minutes into the second period.

Refereeing decisions aside, neither team had overall control of the second period as Everton had acheived in the first. Both teams looked to pressure aggressively, chase passes back to the goalkeeper and push the opponent back to take advantage of their physical threat. The changes made by both teams showed their intent on keeping things roughly the same; Naismith replaced Mirallas for Everton, Ameobi replaced Cisse for Newcastle.

Anichebe's superb turn and goal late on looked to have sealed the win for the home side, but Ameobi and Ba were still a big problem down the centre for Everton. The home side needed to try and move their backline as far out as possible and push Newcastle back into their own half but even just before the equaliser, they struggled to deal with a long ball down the centre to Ba and then moments later the movement of the two strikers, Ameobi coming short for the header with Ba looking behind for the flick on worked superbly and got the equaliser for Alan Pardew's side.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Analysis of Spain 1-1 Italy

Italy lined up with a back three of Chiellini, Bonucci and De Rossi that converted into a back five when they were pushed back. Balotelli and Cassano started up front for Prandelli's side.

Spain started with a 4-3-3 but with no natural striker, with Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas starting as a front three, assisted by Xavi.



FIRST HALF

The tactical battle was always going to be interesting in this match and it certainly lived up to it.

Spain's shape, even without a proper striker, was a 4-3-3 with Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas as the front three with freedom to interchange in the middle. One of the problems for Spain in the first half, far from lack of reference point, was a simple lack of penetration. Italy pressed higher than expected, especially the midfield three of Pirlo, Marchisio and Motta and this made it difficult for Spain to thread passes through and combine in the middle.

It also slowed their game down and with a lack of penetration in the wide areas, Italy dealt with their threat well. Iniesta, who had a great game, was their main source of danger with his control and direct dribbling threatening to penetrate the Italy backline.

However Italy also provided a very good defence-attack balance. One of the notable things about the pressing and shape of both the sides was that Spain's intent on pressing high often meant that their front three pressed Italy's three CBs. What that meant was either the full backs had to go and pressure high on Italy's wing backs, or leave it to the midfield three who because they were playing in the middle, came late to pressure and in turn opened up the space in the midfield for Italy to exploit.

Spain pressing high on Italy's defenders and wing backs, leaving space in the channels.


Because Spain's full backs were relied upon to give width to their attacks, it left space for Italy to exploit in the channels, especially if the full backs had to go out to pressure the wing backs. Both Pirlo and De Rossi played some lovely passes for Balotelli and particularly Cassano between the centre backs and full backs which stretched Ramos and Pique. The best chance of the half came from this a minute from the end when Cassano got free behind Alba, which dragged Ramos out of the centre and the striker's cross was met by Motta in the middle whose header was well saved by Casillas.

SECOND HALF

Del Bosque clearly needed to change the gameplan or tactics for the second half and although there were no substitutions, Spain came out with more intent; there was more verticality with runs behind the Italy backline, which allowed for a quicker tempo in the passing, more space in the middle and created chances for the Spanish early on in the second period.

However Italy were still a threat on the counter attack with their strikers in the channels, with Balotelli too ponderous on the ball, wasting a great chance after Ramos had made a mistake and allowed him in.

Prandelli decided to bring on Di Natale to provide more of a threat behind the Spanish defenders and it paid off soon after. Spain were playing with Xavi very close to the front three and what that meant was when those four pressed high, it isolated the two holding players in midfield for Spain. For the goal, Italy managed to pass past the front four and then Pirlo, making a break from midfield, dribbled past Busquets and provided a good throughball behind Pique for the substitute Di Natale who finished it off well.

Although Italy were constantly providing a threat in the channels, Spain stuck to their gameplan, bringing the ball out of the back, enticing the Italian midfield to pressure high, and then taking advantage of the space left with quicker transitions and more runs behind the defenders. In short, they were much more of a threat vertically.

Fabregas's lovely diagonal run between the left wing back and centre back made it 1-1 after good play by Silva and Del Bosque immediately brought him off for Navas.

That provided more depth and penetration on the right for Spain and also allowed Arbeloa to sit in a deeper position, which made Italy less of a threat in the channel between him and Pique.

Del Bosque then brought on Torres to cause danger behind for Spain and allowed them to use quicker transitions and isolate the Italian centre backs 3v3. The Chelsea front man made some great vertical runs behind the Italian defence, though couldn't provide the finishing touch to get the winner.

Alonso also tested with a shot from just outside the area and both teams began to find more space between the lines on the counter attack, due to the impact of the substitutions or most probably tiredness from the midfields. In the end a draw was probably the fairest result to end the game.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Analysis of Germany 1-0 Portugal

Germany started in a 4-2-3-1 with Khedira and Schweinsteiger as the two midfielders. Podolski and Muller played in the wide positions with Ozil behind Gomez in the middle.

Portugal went with a 4-3-3 with Veloso, Meireles and Moutinho in midfield, Ronaldo and Nani looking to penetrate in the wide areas and Postiga playing up front.



FIRST HALF

The two sides came out with different game plans set by their managers. Germany were the side looking to dominate possession. Both of their centre backs were comfortable moving forward with the ball and with Portugal only generally pressing the centre backs with one player (Postiga), Germany were able to switch it to the spare centre back if pressure was applied. From there, the free centre back would look for the forward pass to Ozil or if not, the wingers or full backs.

Portugal were playing a medium block, reliant on the work rate of the midfield three to press and cover. This made it hard for Germany to pass through the middle, particularly with their slow, methodical transitions. Germany were trying to entice Portugal's midfield out to leave space between the lines for quick combinations but most of their threat came from wide crosses, particularly from the right, to take advantage of Gomez's ability in the air. This was evident even after a minute of the game. However, Portugal still made it difficult for them to penetrate, even when space was created from a quick switch of play or combinations.

Having said that, Portugal's attacking play was also poor. They were particularly looking to take advantage of quick transitions and allow Nani or Ronaldo the opportunity to get 1v1 against the full backs on the counter. This was shown in the 17th minute when Coentrao quickly played it down the line to Ronaldo to run at Boateng and send in a dangerous cross from the left.

However these were few and far between - Germany were pressing high after losing the ball which limited Portugal's quick transitions. When Portugal went long for Postiga, they didn't win enough in the air and Germany often won the second ball, making it difficult for Portugal to build any pressure.

It was however Portugal who had the best chance of the half when Pepe got free from a corner and shot onto the bar where the ball then bounced dead on the line and away.

SECOND HALF

Germany started the second half quickly when Muller got free from a throw in and sent in a low cross from near the byline where Portugal managed to get enough men in the way to block the German shots.

Portugal themselves started to get a bit more possession at the back and looked to take advantage of their strength in the wide areas with long switches of play from Bruno Alves to Nani which allowed them to bypass the midfield and get a 1v1 on the right or with quick transitions to allow Ronaldo to get 1v1 on the other side. The first two times they did this in the second half, two corners were won.

Germany also looked to get 1v1s, particularly on the right with Muller. They, however, did this a different way. Because Ronaldo was staying fairly high up on the left, it was often down to Portugal's midfield three to get across to that side and help Coentrao at left back. What Germany did was to stick to their possession game, enticing the Portuguese middle three higher and then playing it into the space on the right for Muller to get a 1v1 against Coentrao, often assisted by Ozil moving to link up on that side or even Khedira or Schweinsteiger coming across.

This proved to be the biggest threat for Germany, with Muller sending in seven crosses from that side, often near the byline which made it more dangerous for the Portuguese defence.

However, it was a deflected cross from Khedira which got Germany the goal, with a great header from the Gomez across the goalkeeper.

This meant Portugal had to be more aggressive in attack. The quick transitions still proved their biggest threat though. Before the Germany goal, Portugal had created one situation on the counter attack with Moutinho finding Ronaldo on the inside left channel but the right back Boateng got back just in time to make the tackle. After the goal it was still that same threat.

First Ronaldo got played in early and, 1v1 with Boateng, turned inside and had a shot which was saved. Then moments later, he again ran at Boateng and pulled it back to Coentrao whose deflected shot went over.

Germany were now being pushed back more and started playing a more deeper, compact block. Portugal's best chance came when a ball was played over the top for the substitute Oliveira, who held it up well in the area and then played it across to another substitute in Varela, whose shot was well blocked by Neuer in goal.

Their last chance came from an Alves header from a corner but it went over and Germany took the victory to get their EURO 2012 campaign underway.

Russia 4-1 Czech Republic - analysis

Russia started in a 4-3-3 formation, with Denisov playing just in front of a back four of Anyukov, Berezutski, Ignashevic and Zhirkov. Zyryanov and Shirokov, playing in midfield, supported the front three of Arshavin, Dzagoev and Kerzhakov.

The Czech Republic started in a 4-2-3-1 with Plasil and Jiracek in the holding positions to provide support to attacks, with Rosicky playing in the middle behind Milan Baros and Pilar and Rezek in the wide areas, supported by the full backs.



First Half

Czech Republic started the game the better side, mainly looking to get Plasil, Jiracek and Rosicky on the ball and use the wingers to support Baros inside. They pushed Russia back in the early stages, with Advocaat's side playing too many long balls towards the front three.

The Czech full backs were being tracked inconsistently by Arshavin and Dzagoev, meaning they often got free when they moved forward and meant the Russian midfield three had to come across and provide cover to their full backs.

Jiracek and Plasil weren't playing the usual holding midfield roles and instead were looking to aid attacks by moving forward from midfield, particularly the former who looked to capitalise on the space created by the second line.

However, the Czech control didn't result in any clear chances early on and Russia soon created some of their own. The first one came when Gebre-Selassie got too tight to Arshavin from a throw in and allowed Zhirkov to get free to provide a pull back for Kerzhakov who hit it wide.

Just a minute later, they won the ball and got around the Czech defence. Kerzhakov hit the post from a cross but the ball rebounded off and with the Czech midfield slow to react to the second ball, Dzagoev made it 1-0.

From there on, the Russians looked more composed and controlled the game, trying to make it compact down the middle and then counter in the space left behind. Rosicky dropped deep to receive the ball for Czech Republic, which meant they lost a presence between the lines and meant Baros was often isolated up front. They also had the problem that they kept giving possession away poorly and with Jiracek often leaving Plasil on his own to provide cover, Russia were able to counter attack in the space around him.

What was interesting was that 26 of the 29 passes into the final third in the first half for Russia, came on the wings. This was because the initial pass generally went into the space between the midfield and defensive line and they were then able to move forward and play it to the players moving outside the defenders. Arshavin had space and freedom to dribble and take players on 1v1 and his confidence grew as the match went on, as did his influence.

The second goal came when Plasil lost the ball in midfield and then allowed Shirokov to get behind him and run at the defence. Arshavin received the ball from him and then returned the favour by finding him at the far post to make it 2-0.

Only Kerzhakov's poor finishing kept the scoreline from increasing, with Russia the better side before the break, only really troubled from set pieces and always a threat in the space on the counter attack. They also looked dangerous when they switched the play to their attacking full backs, especially as the Czech full backs were following their man inside, creating space in the wide areas.

Second Half

The Czech Republic made a substitution at half time, bringing on Hubschmann for Rezek, with Jiracek moving to the right in attack.

Hubschmann was better at providing defensive balance than Plasil had been in the first half but they still had the same problems, giving the ball away poorly. Their full backs always moved high when they had the ball which left space behind them on the counter and the centre backs were too deep, which extended the space and allowed Russia to attack with ease in the channels.

However it was the Czech Republic who got the first goal of the second half, with Plasil not picked up in midfield. Throughout the game, Russia had kept compact and limited the Czechs' forward passes down the middle but here Plasil had time and space to pass it behind for the run of Pilar, who beat the offside trap and rounded the keeper to make it 2-1.

This gave the side added confidence, and they were able to bring Baros into the game more and extend the play to provide more attacking threat.

Russia's counter attacks however were clearly more dangerous, though Kerzhakov's finishing was allowing Czech Republic to get away with it. One of the chances, Arshavin was allowed to get 1v1 with the left back and then turn inside to play a pass behind the defence for Kerzhakov who hit it wide with only Cech to beat. Moments later, he again got in the channel on the counter and again lacked precision in his finishing.

Advocaat then brought Pavlyuchenko on to try and provide more firepower up front. Meanwhile their defensive intensity dropped off, allowing Rosicky to get between the lines and have a dangerous shot  on goal.

However the penetration still wasn't really there for the Czech Republic and Russia were again allowed to turn between the lines and play a pass behind, this time for Dzagoev to make it 3-1.

Pavlyuchenko then made it 4-1 when he was allowed to turn inside and have a shot on goal and that finished the game off.

The tempo consequently slowed down with Russia looking to keep hold of the ball, even when they got promising situatitions between the lines. Meanwhile the substitute Petrzela provided more depth on the right for Czech Republic and was the main threat late on but it wasn't enough to get back into the game

Monday, 28 May 2012

Barcelona's use of spare man to expose Athletic's marking

Pep Guardiola's final game as coach of Barcelona ended in a good 3-0 win against Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic Bilbao and his fourteenth trophy in four years in charge. The intensity, the speed of passing and the quality of pressing and finishing that summed up Guardiola's time were evident for much of the first half and the way they raced into a 3-0 lead after just 25 minutes made it extremely difficult for Athletic to come back.
Something specific that was interesting about the display, apart from their speed and intensity, was their use of the centre backs to expose Athletic's man marking. One of the problems teams have faced against Athletic this season has been the intensity of their man marking and their high pressing game, most evident against Man United over two legs in the Europa League. It is a very demanding system and has been hard for Bielsa's team to consistently perform to such a high level but when at it's best, has been difficult for opposition teams to defeat. One of the first times this was evident was in the 2-2 against Barcelona in November where, for much of the game, Athletic made it very difficult for Barcelona.

However in this game, Guardiola's side intelligently used both the centre backs to expose it. One of the things about Athletic's pressing system is that they often use only one player (Llorente) to press against the two centre backs. This doesn't happen all the time and they do use their wide men to press inside on occasions but from a general perspective it is often left 2v1 in this area. This means that one of the centre backs is left free when the other invites pressure.

What Barcelona did, (and also did in the second league game in March where they won 2-0) was to allow the free centre back to move into midfield on the ball and create a situation to allow the midfielders space to get away from the man marking of Athletic.

This is an image seven minutes in.


Gerard Pique, the right-sided centre back moves forward with the ball. Meanwhile Athletic man mark these areas to stop the easy pass and to make sure the midfielders can't turn if they receive the ball.


However Pique, under late pressure, keeps going forward with the ball. In this situation the midfielder marking Xavi's movement is being run at and has a decision to make as to whether he keeps marking Xavi or goes to close down on Pique, leaving Xavi free.


In this situation, he ends up having to go and pressure Pique, leaving Xavi free as a spare man in the middle.


Though the three goals did not come from movement like this, dangerous situations were created as a result of using this to allow the midfielders to get free from the marking.

This was well highlighted by Rafa Benitez on the Sky Sports coverage, in this situation 22 minutes in:


You can again see the midfield marking from Athletic. This time it is Pique again who is moving forward with the ball into the central midfield zone.


Again, the midfielder (De Marcos) marking Xavi is left with the quandary of sticking with the marking or going to pressure Pique, which he does again, leaving Xavi free and very importantly facing the play, allowing Barcelona to dominate on the ball and to try to find the penetrating pass.

Next we see the other centre back Mascherano moving forward in possession just a few seconds after the previous situation.



 Mascherano picks up the ball and begins moving forward into the midfield area.


This time he runs at the opponent marking Iniesta. The Spaniard himself moves deeper and to the side as Mascherano gets closer, giving himself the space to be able to turn on the ball and face play ahead of him


As he receives the ball, the opponent who was marking Xavi in the original shot then goes to close him down, leaving a big amount of space between the lines.


As Iniesta beats him, Athletic now have three players (Iniesta, Xavi and Messi) free in front of the defence, not a good situation for any team. This highlights the difficulty of pressing Barcelona - you either press high and try and stop their midfielders turning to face the play, or you allow their midfielders time to face play but make space compact in the final third, making it difficult to penetrate through. The first idea is what Athletic tried to do but with the use of centre back moving forward on the ball and running at players, it allowed the midfield to get free of their marking and to get space to turn.

Here in another situation in the 31st minute of the game, Barcelona's midfield again highlight their clever use of movement to get space.


Mascherano has the ball at his feet. Busquets, the closest midfielder to the Argentine, then moves forward dragging his marker Ander Herrera away, and leaves Xavi the room to move into, marked by De Marcos.


As the ball is switched to Pique, Xavi is tracked by De Marcos tightly. Again though, Pique moves forward and commits the midfielder, allowing Xavi the space to receive the ball and then dictate possession.



In many ways this isn't necessarily the fault of a man marking system in midfield; even with zonal systems, tracking and man marking plays a part in several areas. But here Barcelona demonstrated, with use of the spare centre back, that it is very hard to stop talented midfielders turning to face the play and also that centre backs who are comfortable in possession are very important assets of a proactive passing side.




Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Brief analysis of Atletico Madrid 3-0 Athletic Bilbao

Falcao and Diego took their chances brilliantly to win the Atletico Madrid's second Europa League in three years.

Atletico Madrid started with a 4-2-3-1 that dropped deep into a 4-5-1/4-1-4-1 shape defensively. Falcao led the line, Turan started on the left, Adrian on the right and Mario Suarez and Gabi played in midfield with Diego dropping in deep to help them.

Athletic started in their usual 4-3-3. Munain started on the left, Susaeta on the right and Llorente up front with De Marcos and Herrera supporting from midfield.



It was always going to be an entertaining game to watch with plenty of attacking talent on display from both teams, although with two different strategies. At. Madrid pressed high and compact initially but then moved back to the edge of the box with Diego dropping into the left central midfield position to make it difficult for Athletic to create space. The early goal from Falcao, after he moved into the channels and exploited the lack of mobility of Amorebieta before a great curling strike, allowed At.Madrid to be able to drop off and protect their lead and then use the space left on the counter attack.

Athletic on the other hand started slowly and were unable to penetrate through the middle because their opponents kept a reasonably small distance between each other and between the lines. Munain wasn't getting much space there and they found it difficult to play passes into Llorente. In the wide areas, the full backs marked tightly when vertical passes were played into that area and Athletic were unable to turn and get to the byline. Llorente had a couple of opportunities in the area and Munain threatened with a long range strike but they couldn't find an equaliser

Meanwhile, Falcao was threatening on the counter attack and was clearly targeting Amorebieta. 34 minutes in, the centre back was too slow on the ball just outside his area and At.Madrid won it and got quickly to the byline before pulling it back for Falcao who was composed and again showed a great change of direction against the Athletic centre backs before making it 2-0.

Bielsa's men were struggling to penetrate and Munain started to drop deep to try and receive the ball and influence the play. However they couldn't create any good chances and it ended 2-0 at half time.

Athletic made two changes at the break, bringing on Inigo Perez and Ibai Gomez for Iturraspe and Aurtenetxe. This meant Munain moved into a central position while Ibai Gomez moved to the left. Indeed they started the second half on the attack, playing with a good tempo with Munain getting behind the defenders between the centre and full back.

At.Madrid however had kept the same strategy as the first half dropping deep to make it compact, working hard to close the gaps down the centre and making it difficult for Athletic to penetrate. The threat on the counter attack with Falcao, Diego and the two wide players was always there, with Athletic pushing players forward, they were vulnerable to quick transitions.

They were also playing the ball too quickly down the middle which made it easier for Simeone's players and they weren't getting to the byline out wide either.

As the game went on, tiredness started to play a part for At.Madrid and more space started to open up between the lines and between defenders for Athletic to create chances, first for Ibai Gomez, then Susaeta but they failed to take them with Courtois looking very strong in goal.

Falcao up front was still giving the centre backs a torrid time and had a chance to get his hat trick, cutting inside onto his right foot and just hitting the post. However a few minutes later, Diego found space to run at the Athletic defence and, after he tricked Amorebieta with a stepover, he placed a lovely finish into the bottom right hand corner to seal the trophy for Atletico Madrid.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Man City 1-0 Man United analysis: City get crucial win

Vincent Kompany's free header from a corner just before half time got Man City the win, proving once again how important the small details in a game are.

Mancini started with the same team that beat Wolves 2-0 last week, with Zabaleta selected ahead of Micah Richards at right back, Toure and Barry playing as the deepest midfielders and Silva, Nasri, Tevez and Aguero starting in an offensive-looking team for City.

Meanwhile Ferguson started with Smalling at centre back, Carrick and Scholes playing in the centre, with Giggs and Nani in the wide areas and Park looking to support Rooney through the middle.



First half

United started the game pressing high and compact, trying to stop City from passing through midfield and hoping to regain and counter attack. Park, playing in the middle, was helping Carrick and Scholes when City had possession and then pushed high when United regained the ball. Both Giggs and Nani were moving inside which created space for both the full backs to get forward in the wide areas while Rooney dropped deep.

This intensity from United didn't last though and after a while, they began to drop off while City dominated possession. After 22 minutes they had had 61% of the ball.

David Silva was moving inside from the left, trying to receive passes between the lines from Toure and Barry and also looking for the second ball when City went long for Aguero. However they were having problems to penetrate because of United's bodies in the middle, the first chance for City being created after Nasri went past two United players outside the area and played Tevez in, aside from the centre back.

One of the things City were looking to do was to stop Scholes and Carrick dominating the play when United got possession, so they initially looked to press high with their front four, full backs and Toure and Barry in the middle, while they left Park to the centre backs. This helped limit United's transitions; the away side were trying to counter attack from deep with the first pass to Rooney and then looking to move the ball to the wide areas but they were either too slow or too quick and they didn't create any clear chances on the counter attack.

In the last twenty minutes of the half, City began to look more threatening. Zabaleta and Clichy moved high, allowing them to switch the play to stretch United laterally, and they were then able to find spaces with passes from out-to-in, helped by good speed in possession. Giggs was tucked in narrow on the left which allowed Zabaleta more space and time on the ball to play a pass on the right. With United dropping deeper, the home side created a couple of good situations when they got high in the wide areas and then sent low crosses into the area for lay offs or pull-backs.

However it was a corner, something with which City had had problems themselves in the first half, where they got their goal. Kompany, man-marked by Smalling, managed to find space, losing the United defender and heading in to make it 1-0 at half time.

Second half

City came out with a different game plan in the second half, with more concentration on defending their lead, with their midfield dropping off more and looking to counter. Both teams were slightly more open, even though there were not many clear chances. United were getting more of the possession but were unable to penetrate City, with Mancini's men defending well down the middle and Ferguson's men too slow to penetrate out wide, allowing City to double up if they needed to. United's biggest threat was from set pieces but even then they couldn't create a clear chance.

Ferguson brought Welbeck on for Park in the 58th minute, changing the system to two strikers, though with Rooney dropping deeper and United looking to threaten more down the middle with passes to both him and Welbeck between the lines. However City's centre backs' anticipation and strength made it difficult for United to turn and face Joe Hart's goal and their two lines of four were very organised and compact. Carlos Tevez, still playing high up, was also closing down so as to slow United down in possession and make it easier for City to press.

Mancini's substitution of De Jong for Tevez helped City's defence down the middle which in turn allowed Yaya Toure to play higher up and use his pace and physical power between United's midfield and defence. The Ivorian had two chances to make it 2-0 with two shots from just outside the area that went wide after he had found space on the counter attack

In fact, though United were losing, it was still City who looked the most like scoring. Valencia and Young came on for United to try and provide more penetration in the wide areas but there were very few 1v1 situations and when there was, it was for Jones, the right back, who badly overhit his cross.

Mancini brought on Micah Richards for David Silva with eight minutes of normal time to go, which meant City reverted to a five-man defence, with Barry and De Jong in front, allowing Toure, Nasri and Aguero the freedom on the counter attack and Nasri probably should have finished it off with a chance just into stoppage time.

United's transitions were still too slow and with at least seven men to get through at all times they found it very hard to penetrate, even though City were often dropping very deep. And with not a single shot on target for the whole game, United clearly didn't do enough to get anything.

Conclusion

City were definitely the better side for most of the game. United's transitions were poor throughout and they were unable to force Joe Hart to make a save. A game not so much about systems but more about the carrying out of the systems and City were in control for most of the game. The title race now gets even more interesting with two games to go.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea analysis: Chelsea through to the final

Chelsea's players acheived an incredible result to book their place in the final.

Pep Guardiola decided against starting Dani Alves, instead playing a back three of Puyol, Pique and Mascherano. Cuenca started on the right of the frontline, Iniesta on the left with Alexis in the middle and Messi just behind in a 3-4-3 formation, with a diamond in midfield.

Chelsea started as predicted in the preview of the game, with a 4-5-1 shape defensively. Mata and Ramires played on either side but dropped in to make it compact in the middle and Drogba played up front.



First Half

Barcelona, as usual, dominated possession and moved the ball from side to side, looking to penetrate either with Iniesta or Cuenca in the wide areas or with rapid link up play between the lines. Chelsea were dropping very deep to defend but lacked pressure on the ball at times which allowed Barcelona to play passes between the lines to either Fabregas, Messi or Alexis dropping off from the centre. The later created the first chance of the game for Messi with a first time pass into space in the area but the Argentine hit it into the side netting.

With Chelsea so deep, it was up to Barcelona to stretch them laterally. Iniesta had quite a bit of success individually with his ball control and skill, first against Ivanovic then when Cahill went off injured, Bosingwa. Cuenca however on the other side had less success because of some poor touches and Ashley Cole was winning the battle on that side.

Chelsea's attack

When Chelsea did win the ball, they looked to counter attack quickly with Drogba, Ramires and Mata moving forward though Barcelona's aggressive pressing with three or four players at the front was limiting the away side's transitions. Ramires had much less success on the left than in the first leg, largely because Mascherano was sat deeper than Alves had done and was also able to match him for pace

Other than that Chelsea generally looked for long balls to Drogba and then looking behind for Ramires or Mata from the second ball.

Barcelona however were the ones dominating the play, looking for wall passes behind the full backs and quick one-twos in front of the defenders to get in behind. The first goal came after Chelsea didn't get out of their area from a corner quickly enough and left space on the left for Cuenca, who played it across to Busquets for an easy finish

John Terry's sending off soon after the goal brought a slight reshuffle for Di Matteo, who moved Ramires across to the right back and Bosingwa to centre back. Strangely when they went down to ten men, Chelsea suddenly pressed higher for a few minutes which left gaps in midfield and Barcelona's second came from a quick transition, where Messi found space to run into and play Iniesta in.

However poor defending from Mascherano (coming out to close down) and Busquets (failing to cover quickly enough) allowed Ramires the space behind on a well executed counter attack, though it was a great chipped finish over Valdes.

Second half

Chelsea were going through at half time but Barcelona were still massive favourites because of their numerical superiority. Guardiola moved Cuenca across to the left and Iniesta towards the right for the second period while Di Matteo put Drogba on the left of midfield to try and stave off the Barca attacks.

At this stage, Chelsea's sole aim was to defend their goal. Barcelona moved the ball around quickly at the start of the second period, with good lay offs in the middle and created overloads out wide. Two minutes in they won a penalty but Messi surprisingly hit the bar from the spot.

Barcelona were stretching the play fairly well laterally, with Dani Alves moving very high on the right and one cross created a chance for Alexis, who had got between defenders, but he headed wide.

Di Matteo then switched Drogba and Mata, with the Spaniard on the left and the Ivorian on the right. Kalou came on for Mata a few minutes later and Drogba switched back to the left.

Still Barcelona were having success in the wide areas and an overload on the left created a chance for Cuenca who's shot was saved by Cech.

What was interesting at this stage was that while Didier Drogba was solely tracking Alves on Chelsea's left, Kalou's responsibilities were different on the right. Instead of tracking Cuenca he was often having to defend inside and this meant that if he got caught out of position, which he did notably on three occasions, Iniesta and Cuenca were able to link up and stretch Ramires by bringing him out of the middle, even though on the left, Cole was able to tuck in because Drogba was tracking Alves.

However, around 65 minutes in, Di Matteo made a crucial change, just after Cristian Tello came on for Cuenca. Knowing that Barcelona were having success on Chelsea's right and that Ramires was being stretched, he gave Kalou the full responsibility of tracking whoever played wide left for Barcelona - initially Iniesta, then Tello.

What this meant was that the back four could concentrate on keeping it compact in the middle with the three midfielders ahead of them, while Kalou and Drogba (and later on Torres on the left) could track Alves and Tello.

Defensive responsibilities in the final 25 minutes

Barcelona suddenly looked short of ideas. They couldn't play it through the middle because they were faced with seven bodies in the way with little gap between them and Alves and Tello were being tracked well out wide by Kalou and Drogba. Guardiola brought on Keita for Fabregas, presumably for an extra physical threat and for his ability to hold the ball up for quick lay offs, but even when Iniesta ran off him, Chelsea managed to halt this link up.

What this led to was Barcelona passing it from side to side without any real threat. The only time they created situations was either from second balls, or when they looked to create numerical superiority to play in Alves or Tello out wide. Alexis had a goal ruled out when precisely this happened - Alves getting behind the substitute Torres on the right and pulling it back for the forward but the linesman ruled that the Brazilian had been in an offside position when he had initially been played through.

It was surprising that Barcelona didn't try to link up more in these wide areas and stretch the back four better laterally. Instead, with only one player moving on each flank, Tello on the left and Alves on the right, Chelsea found it easier to defend against. Even with 1v1 out wide, it was surprising that very few chances were created for lay offs to shoot from outside the area either.

The only point they looked like they might score in the last twenty minutes, other than the disallowed goal, was when Messi hit the post after he found space for a left foot shot from outside the area. But Chelsea were clearly stopping Barcelona and the home side were losing momentum, slow on the ball and starting to lose possession poorly which slowed attacks down even more.

Torres, playing an unfamiliar position on the left had a couple of problems tracking Alves on that side, notably for the disallowed goal, but like Drogba earlier on, he was able to relieve pressure, even for a few moments, when he ran out of defence with the ball.

And then with the minutes slowly fading away for Barca, he found massive space behind Barcelona's defence after a long clearance and calmly went past Valdes and passed it into the net to make sure Chelsea were through to the final.

Conclusion

For the first 60 minutes, Barcelona looked the more likely to go through to the final and at 2-0 up, it could quite easily have ended up a rout. However Di Matteo's small change in defensive organisation and the fantastic work from the ten men of Chelsea to keep it compact andstop Barcelona scoring meant that they are the ones who will go through to the final. Barcelona will be desperately disappointed with the way they went out, in part down to the defensive work of the away side and in part down to the lack of tempo and penetration in the last half an hour from Guardiola's men, and they will finish the season without either of the two major honours they crave.

Barcelona vs Chelsea: second leg preview

After Chelsea’s largely unpredicted first leg victory over the current Spanish, European and World Champions last week at Stamford Bridge, the tie hinges on the game at the Nou Camp. Barcelona’s loss against Real Madrid at the weekend has all but ruled out La Liga for them this season which gives the remaining competitions they are still involved in, the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League, an extra importance for them to have a successful end of season.
Line ups

Barcelona
Guardiola’s side is very hard to call this season. The El Clasico on Saturday produced two more surprises in the line up, with Thiago Alcantara appearing in midfield and Cristian Tello on the left of a front three.
The first important decision for Guardiola will be whether Pique returns into defence. Playing him alongside Mascherano will certainly help them for pace against Chelsea’s counter attacks and their ability to cover behind the full backs will be useful if they lose the ball high up. If they play with a back four, the left back slot will either be taken by Adriano or Puyol. If it’s the later, it could pave the way for Pique to start at the back.
Further up the pitch we may see a fairly similar line up to the one in the first leg. Busquets and Xavi usually start in midfield and will probably start again here. The front line is where Guardiola will look to impose his strategy. Cuenca and/or Pedro may start to provide width and stretch Chelsea laterally to create space in the middle. Whether this happens or whether Iniesta starts again on the left and Alexis on the right, it will be interesting to see how he sets out. As will whether Fabregas starts, and if so, what role he will play. The signing from last summer has played a number of different roles since joining, mainly as either a false striker or a midfielder with the allowance to move forward, generally towards the left.
If Guardiola decides for more penetration out wide, the chances are that only one of Pedro or Cuenca will start – if both were to start then that would probably mean no place in the line up for both Fabregas and Alexis and with the two of them only starting on the bench against Real Madrid, the chances are that one, if not both will start here.
Chelsea
Both sides had tough weekend games, against Real Madrid and Arsenal respectively but Chelsea changed eight of the starting eleven that beat Barcelona last Wednesday. The idea that they will start with the same line up as the first leg is most definitely possible.

Though Sturridge has generally been preferred on the right this season with his pace, Mata’s ability to go between the lines behind midfielders and tendency to defend better inside than out (Barcelona’s full backs move higher on the right than on the left) to make it compact inside will probably give him the edge, as will his selflessness on the ball and ability to play the right pass, something very important if Chelsea are to use counter attacks. Ramires had a very good game on the left in the first leg, with his energy and vertical runs behind Alves very useful in causing problems for Barcelona. The three of Meireles, Mikel and Lampard defended the middle well and stayed compact for most of the game to make it difficult for Barca to pass through the midfield and break their lines. With Luiz injured, Cahill and Terry will probably be preferred at the back and Cole and Ivanovic also played well in the first leg, though the later had some problems with Iniesta’s control and low centre of gravity on that side.
The question of who will take up the forward role will probably be the most interesting for Chelsea. Drogba caused Barcelona a number of problems on occasions behind the defenders and with his direct strength against the centre backs. With Barcelona’s lack of height an issue in defending set pieces, he could play an important role for that as well. However Torres’s skill at creating space for himself moving deep or behind defenders, his direct running 1v1 as well as his work rate and his improved team work could be an important factor if Di Matteo were to use him from the start. Drogba is the favourite to play though.
Tactics

The first thing will be whether Guardiola will play three or four at the back. Against Real Madrid he played three but with Busquets able to drop in to make a four defensively. If Pique were to start, it may well be that Puyol is moved to left back with Mascherano staying with Pique in the middle.
Particularly with the back three, it is very important to have runners from midfield to create space. Barcelona haven’t done this well enough generally in the last two matches and as such have struggled to create space for Messi in the middle. Whether they actually change tactics too much from the first leg will be interesting. Though Chelsea defended well, the Catalan side still created four or five very good opportunities. At home, with a slightly bigger pitch and playing in front of their home fans, the approach may well be fairly similar.

They will as usual dominate possession and use frequent switches of play with quick link ups to change the angle of approach. Whether they try and stretch the pitch a bit better, laterally and vertically, remains to be seen. Michael Laudrup and Rafa Benitez spoke in the Sky Sports studio on Saturday about the lack of runners, both behind and then taking advantage of the space from midfield. It was only when Alexis came on that Barcelona looked like they could penetrate the space:

Alexis stretching length, allowing Messi space to run into

Messi has space to run into and is not challenged till just outside the area. Meanwhile Iniesta moves forward to penetrate in the space created.
This creation of space will be vital to Barcelona's attack and if they can stretch the play, it allows space for players like Iniesta and Xavi to take advantage of, as seen by Xavi's goal against Santos in December:
Alves takes the ball out wide, Messi (circled) makes a run into the area.Behind him, Xavi makes a run untracked from midfield.

As Dani Alves takes on the full back, Messi has provided length, pushing the centre back deep, while Xavi moves into the space.

Xavi now has plenty of space just outside the area for a pass and it forces the right back to move inside to close down which leaves Thiago free on the left.

Meanwhile Chelsea will have to decide how offensive they will be. 1-0 going into an away game gives a difficult quandary for a manager. Do you defend for the draw, or try and give yourself the opportunity to get a goal? Chelsea will probably have to get a goal and their plan may well be similar to that of the first leg, looking for opportunities to regain the ball and counter attack quickly in the wide areas and use set pieces to take advantage of their height.
In the first leg they reverted back to a 4-3-3 that defended as a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-5-1, with little space for Barca to penetrate between the lines, leaving Messi to drop deep to receive the ball. Here, they will most probably go with the same shape with all five midfielders defending and the forward defending just in front of them. It will be very important for Chelsea not to defend too deep which would allow Barcelona to keep the pressure up and make it difficult to counter attack. With Mata moving between the lines, and Ramires making quick runs into the space on the left, they have the ability to counter attack well if they want but they will have to concentrate on not giving the home side space to penetrate in the final third.

Concluding point

Barcelona are probably still favourites despite Chelsea's one-goal advantage. The away side will most probably have to score to go through and will have to make sure their attack is always a threat. Barcelona will create chances and it is up to Chelsea to limit them and give themselves a good chance of going through.


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