Wednesday, 28 March 2012

AC Milan 0-0 Barcelona: Neither team breaks through

A fascinating battle between the two sides which will make an interesting second leg at the Nou Camp.

Barcelona started in their 4-3-3 with Iniesta on the left of the front three and Keita taking up a place in midfield. AC Milan started in a 4-3-1-2 system with Bonera filling in at right back and Boateng supporting Robinho and Ibrahimovic up front.

Milan began on the front foot, pressing Barcelona high up with their first and second line and forcing Guardiola's defenders into making mistakes. Robinho had an early chance on a volley on the left but was unable to get it on target. However Allegri's men had come into the game with good defensive strategies. They pressed high up on Barca's defenders from goal kicks and when they had it deep in their own half. Then when Barcelona worked the ball around in space with Ibrahimovic and Robinho ahead of the ball, Milan retreated to the edge of their area and tried to make it compact in the middle.

Barcelona of course dominated possession as usual with mobility and interchanging in the middle creating space to penetrate with Messi in particular finding gaps between Seedorf and Ambrosini who himself had a good game. Milan's midfield didn't generally put pressure on in this area which did make them vulnerable when Barcelona switched the ball out, enticing Milan's midfield higher, and then attacked the space. However because it was so compact, Barcelona struggled to break through, unable to make their usual wall passes to penetrate behind. Iniesta played on the left when defending and in the initial phases of possession but then swapped with Keita so the Spaniard could move in and give numerical superiority between the lines and work space there.

Apart from when Iniesta took him on 1v1, Bonera at right back was rarely tested because Puyol generally stayed fairly deep on the left to give defensive balance. Barca's width came from Dani Alves moving up high on the right but he didn't have a great game, though Milan generally gave him space, preferring to concentrate on keeping the middle compact. It was noticeable that Boateng dropped deep from the front three to help defend while the other two generally remained high for quick transitions.

Still Barcelona looked threatening with their interplay in the middle with Alexis deserving a penalty after Abbiati fouled him and Messi having a goal disallowed from a quick counter after Milan pressed high up the pitch. Milan themselves generally got numbers up in attack and moved the ball quickly with Boateng often moving to the left in attack, with Robinho inside and Ibrahimovic moving more to the right between Pique and Puyol. Milan got a good chance from this when they again won the ball high up and Ibrahimovic was played in but he had his shot held by Valdes down to his left.

Second half

Neither team changed too much at the start of the second period though the Milan midfield was slightly higher up initially. Iniesta was able to cut inside early on and take a shot from just outside the area, a warning to Milan. However the home side continued to deal with the threat well. Alexis was continually making space for Alves on the right by making diagonal runs across Antonini to drag the left back inside but the Brazilian failed to have a big impact on the game.

El Sharaawy came on for Robinho six minutes into the second half and played more to the right than the Brazilian had been with Ibrahimovic moving more to the left. The Swedish striker's hold up play was good and he also looked to move behind Barcelona's defenders though was caught offside a couple of times.

After a while Guardiola made a change, taking off Iniesta for Tello on the left who provided better width and a more direct threat by running 1v1 against the right back. He created space for himself for a shot on goal which hit the side netting not long after coming on and then minutes later pulled the ball back for Messi in space to have a shot from the edge of the area.

Meanwhile Milan looked to attack with direct balls to Ibrahimovic with Emanuelson and El Sharaawy supporting him and looking for a knock on or pass behind to take advantage of the space behind Barca's defenders, who often didn't cover vertically behind the two players in the aerial duel.

Barcelona were unable to fashion clear chances late on, with Milan doing what Leverkusen failed to do in the last round; limiting quick transitions. They did this by getting numerical superiority in the centre on the edge of the area and making it hard to play through them. The closest the away side went late on was through a Xavi shot just outside the area which went wide of the goal after good movement from Barca in the middle to create space.

The game ended goalless and Milan take a 0-0 draw to the Nou Camp, becoming the first team in two and a half years, since Rubin Kazan, to stop Barcelona scoring in a Champions League game. Barcelona however will rightly still be favourites to progress through to the semi-finals.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Manchester United 1-0 Fulham tactical analysis

United managed a narrow win over Fulham to go back to the top of the table, three points ahead of City.

Ferguson's side started in a 4-4-2 shape with Carrick and Giggs fairly deep switching the play and Young and Valencia in the wide positions with Welbeck and Rooney up front. Fulham started in a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 shape with Pogrebnyak leading the line up front with Frei starting on the left and Duff on the right.

Man United's general game plan was clear from the start, dominating possession, switching from one side to the other, trying to penetrate between the lines with passes to the forwards dropping deep and use 1v1 ability in the wide areas. They played solely in Fulham's half in the opening minutes, with the away side sat deep on the edge of their area and trying to make it compact. Because of how deep their midfield line was, Jol's players often found it difficult on the transition and United were able to keep the pressure up in Fulham's half, though struggled to create chances.

For a while United looked comfortable with Fulham not protecting the centre well enough when United switched it to the wide areas and not enough pressure on the ball from the midfielders, allowing passes between the lines for Welbeck and Rooney. United were also able to press aggressively, with Fulham playing too shorter passes and with static movement making it hard to build attacks; only Frei and Duff looked to support Pogrebnyak in attack in the early stages.

After a while however, Fulham started to push up the field and they created numerical superiority in the centre very easily with Dembele and particularly Dempsey moving in between the lines. With United not compact enough in midfield, Fulham created some good situations high up though were unable to capitalise on them.

Their big problem for the whole game was stopping sustained United pressure, mainly down to limited pressing and not getting out of their box quickly enough. This was the main fault for United's goal just before half time but was a big problem throughout the game, even before the goal.

They didn't learn from this and just before half time they again failed to clear their area quickly enough with United working it back to Rooney who was not under enough pressure which allowed him to play it behind for Young who was just offside. The danger was there though.

Second half

United started the second half just as they had done the first, controlling possession with Fulham too deep to cause a threat. Valencia, who became a bigger influence at the end of the first half, had an early chance in the second, with a great run behind Fulham's slow defence, with his shot saved by Schwarzer in goal for the away side.

Fulham still did not put enough pressure on United and were particularly vulnerable between the wide areas and the centre for the whole match because of this, with the midfielders not covering the wide players well enough.

Areas where Fulham didn't protect well enough

Man United's speed of play between the lines was also a threat, as was the fact that they continually created numerical superiority in the wide areas.

Clearly Fulham needed a change in their game and Martin Jol brought Ruiz on for Frei, changing the system to a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 with Ruiz operating behind the striker and Dempsey moving to the left, though drifting between the lines.

This did improve their game, pressing higher up with Ruiz and Pogrebnyak up front and looking to play higher up the field to cause a threat for United's defence.

Meanwhile Ferguson brought Javier Hernandez on for Welbeck; a clever move, with the Mexican forward giving length to their play while Rooney got more space between the lines as he dropped deeper. United had the opportunity to go clear with a chance for Ashley Young at the far post but good goalkeeping and last ditch blocks from Fulham kept it at 1-0.

Scholes was then brought on for Rooney, presumably to slow the tempo down though it didn't prove very successful - United failed to limit the away team's transitions and Fulham were playing higher up the pitch though they were vulnerable with United's pace on the counter attack.

United were very sloppy in possession giving away a number of passes in the last 15 minutes and were often too ponderous in pressing which made them vulnerable down the centre. Fulham's penalty claim after good movement from Pogrebnyak to take the centre back away and create space for Murphy was waved away but Fulham still looked a threat with Duff, Ruiz and Dempsey between the lines and they continually won many of the second balls which maintained pressure. In the end they were possibly unfortunate not to get an equaliser.


United made it difficult for themselves late on though Martin Jol's changes made a difference to give Fulham a threat in the last few minutes. Overall United did probably deserve to win even though it was tight at the end and they now lead Man City at the top of the table by three points in a very interesting title race.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham analysis

A 0-0 draw in a game in which neither side asserted any authority over.

Chelsea started in a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 which dropped off to two lines of four when defending. Ramires was played on the right with Sturridge moved to the left and Drogba preferred to Torres up front with Mata behind. Tottenham provided a surprise in their system, with a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1, with Bale starting on the left and Van Der Vaart given the right sided position but wanting to move inside. Sandro and Modric played in front of Parker in midfield.

The first half was fairly laboured in possession from both teams. Tottenham looked to press slightly higher up than Chelsea with Sandro and Modric generally pressuring Essien and Lampard in midfield, with the two Chelsea midfielders dropping deep to pick the ball up from the centre backs. This sometimes left space between the lines for Mata and also Drogba when he came deep to link up.

Di Matteo’s players as mentioned focussed on making two lines of four when defending with Drogba and Mata both dropping deep as well and defending close to their midfielders to make it compact.

Both sides had possession in defence but often struggled to penetrate, though Chelsea looked the more likely in the first half. The home side tried to play the ball behind Tottenham’s full backs and stretch Gallas and Kaboul laterally, especially with the pace in the wide areas, most notably from Cole and Sturridge, though Ramires and Bosingwa also threatened on the right.

Both Drogba and Adebayor made similar movements up front for their sides, with both strikers moving to wide areas, allowing the midfielders to make runs down the centre. The difference was that Chelsea played slightly more direct with Drogba to use his strength and allow Lampard to run off him when they did play direct balls into him.

Both sides however were laboured on the ball and the game lacked intensity for much of the first half, with the only big chance falling in the final minute with Modric and Bale linking up to provide a chance for Van Der Vaart who was unable to finish with two shots cleared off the line.

Second half

 Clearly both teams needed to up the intensity for the second half and the game was much better to watch as a spectacle after half time.

Chelsea looked the better side early on in the second period with some dangerous sitatutions created on counter attacks where Mata often found space between the lines and Sturridge and Ramires looked to make penetrating runs behind, one of which they got a penalty claim from when Ramires went down in the box. Sturridge also did well to support Drogba quickly when Chelsea went direct and the Englishman hit a shot wide after a long ball to Drogba in the air. Their inefficiency in making the key pass was noticeable though.

 The full backs for both sides again moved high up the pitch, allowing the wingers to move inside between the lines but it was Mata who started in the centre who was the main threat for Chelsea with clever movement either side of Parker which allowed him to receive the ball and like, Drogba in the first half, act as a pivot to give Lampard the opportunity to run forward.

Tottenham came into the game more and more though with Bale moving more central and providing a chance for the energetic Walker on the right who hit the side netting. Their main threats were from set pieces with Gallas going close from a free kick while Mata hit the post from a great free kick.

 Torres came on for Essien and played towards the right like against Napoli and later on moved to the left when Sturridge went off. Meanwhile Saha came on for Van Der Vaart on the right while Livermore came on for Sandro.

 However Tottenham’s key players in attack were Adebayor and Bale. Adebayor found space behind an increasingly vulnerable Chelsea defence but his shot was blocked by Cahill with the goal gaping. From the resulting corner, Bale faked a run to the near post which lost his marker and gave him space to header the ball which struck the bar.

Both teams left more space between the lines as the game grew closer to the end, with Chelsea allowed a couple of dangerous shots from outside the area after a lack of ball pressure from Tottenham’s midfield. Modric threatened at the other end when he found space behind Lampard and Ramires.

Cech made a good save from a dipping free kick from Bale in stoppage time and the game ended in a fair draw which keeps the five point gap between the two sides.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Barcelona use quick transitions to ruthlessly exploit Leverkusen

A game in which Barcelona yet again showed their superiority to dominate and humiliate the opposition.

Guardiola's men started in a very mobile shape often close to a 4-2-4/4-2-1-3, with Iniesta on the left in attack, though just as quickly swapping with Fabregas and Pedro on the right but also moving inside with Messi playing as a false striker. Busquets was often the deepest of the Barcelona midfield, often dropping into defence to make a back three allowing the full backs to move forward. Bayer Leverkusen played in a 4-4-2 system with Castro dropping in to play at right back and Kiessling and Derdiyok leading the line but both looking to drop deep in front of their midfield.           

Barcelona again looked to dominate possession with plenty of interchanging in midfield and attack, and the defence spreading wide and looking to switch play and create space with their movement inside. Bayer Leverkusen initially wanted to press high with their strikers and midfielders looking to push up with the back four playing a fairly high line. They were well organised early on, however Barca gave them a warning when Fabregas played a lovely dink over the top for Messi who forced a save from Leno after Leverkusen lacked pressure on the ball outside the area which left them vulnerable behind.

Leverkusen were trying to commit men forward in attack, often moving their strikers and wide players high for direct balls forward. However they had limited opportunities to do this and their transitions were generally poor with Barcelona pressing high with their first and second line and their defence also pushing up to stop them moving forward.

Alves was moving very high on the right and, with the clever movement of the players inside which narrowed Leverkusen's wide men, space was opened up from switches to the wide areas. On the left, Iniesta was too often allowed a 1v1 against Castro and with the centre backs often too occupied to cover behind, Leverkusen struggled all game to close this area out, especially with tight diagonal passes into the channels. 

However, Leverkusen's biggest problem all game was how vulnerable they were behind. Their offside trap was unlocked for the first goal where Messi applied a lovely dink over the goalkeeper.

From there on, the game became one-sided. Leverkusen afforded too much space for Barca in the middle and the interchanging of positions and mobility in possession meant that the German side quickly lost their shape, getting enticed too high up, allowing space between the lines and left themselves vulnerable to the quick transition. The second goal just before half time effectively killed off their chances with Barca, not for the first time, breaking with at least numerical superiority and with the movement of Pedro and Fabregas, Messi got space to turn inside and score his second on the night.

Barcelona immediately regained control in the second half, dominating possession, switching the play and still finding space behind. Leverkusen had a clear idea in attack of winning the second ball high up with two or three runners often looking behind the defence and one or two players peeling off the centre back looking for the second ball where Barca often left too much space between midfield and defence. However this did not cause too many problems with Leverkusen having five of their seven shots blocked and Messi secured his hat trick with another lob over the goalkeeper not long after the start of the second half.

Tello and Keita came on for the brilliant Iniesta and Xavi but it did not alter the result with Tello and Fabregas exposing the lack of cover for Castro on the right to get Barca's fourth.

Leverkusen continued to struggle to keep their defensive shape with their centre midfield players getting enticed high up to the ball and getting exposed with Messi's movement between the lines. Another quick transition on the counter attack briefly left Barca with a 4v3 situation and Tello found space on the left to get his second goal.

As the tempo slowed down, Barca calmed the game down well yet still had good width from Alves and Tello to create space inside as Messi got his fourth and fifth of the night.

Leverkusen got a consolation goal after good play on the left from Bellarabi with a lack of defensive cover from the home side and Schurrle's pace was also a threat to the right but Barca looked composed and in control and came home with a comfortable 7-1 victory for a 10-2 aggregate victory.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Real Madrid comfortably beat Espanyol

This article was initially meant for but wasn't put up today so I decided to put it up on here.

Another win for this strong Real Madrid side against Mauricio Pochettino's Espanyol.

With both teams set out in 4-2-3-1 shapes, the overall strategies and tactics were very clear. The away side were keen to play short passes and threaten in behind Madrid's centre backs, with Verdu also moving into good spaces between the lines. However the thing that was most obvious from them early on was their high defensive line to try and catch particularly Higuain offside. This worked well early on in the game, although they had a couple of problems with the secondary runners running in behind from onside positions.

Madrid, starting with Ozil on the right and Kaka playing off Higuain, looked to play high up the field, looking in behind and also positioning themselves high up to press, even from goal kicks when Espanyol tried to move it out from the back. When Espanyol played it out from goal kicks, the centre backs were generally split to allow the full backs to move up. Therefore, Madrid's wide men tried to place themselves between the centre backs and full backs from goal kicks, with their full backs willing to press high and the holding players able to come across the width of the field if the ball was played over the top to the Espanyol wingers or full backs so that Madrid didn't get outnumbered in the wide areas.

Their high pressing brought them their first goal. Espanyol made the mistake of trying to play too short in a very compact area which invited pressure. Raul Rodriguez lost the ball to Kaka with Madrid using high sectorial pressing, which meant Ozil was very close to that side and he had space to play it into Higuain who himself combined quickly with Ronaldo to put Madrid ahead.

Madrid's quick transitions and interchanging between the attacking band of three, behind Higuain, and the full backs caused problems for Espanyol defensively, with Ozil moving in from the right to take up difficult spaces between the lines and Kaka drifting to the left to allow Ronaldo to move into better central positions.

For the second goal, Madrid used good passing mechanisms to take up good positions high up the field. With Arbeloa on the ball, high up on the right, Romaric, one of the Espanyol holding players made a mistake in assuming the pass was going backwards so he moved up to press, which meant he wasn't blocking the passing line to Khedira.

Forlin, the other holding midfielder, therefore had to go out and pressure Khedira. This left space between the lines and with Ozil and Ronaldo inside, meant they had to be tracked by the centre backs.

The German managed to turn on the ball and with the passing line to Ronaldo not blocked, it allowed Khedira to play it into the feet of the Portuguese play who combined quickly with Ozil.

Khedira managed to take advantage of the space behind made by Ozil and Ronaldo with a vertical run and with the right back, Javi Lopez, failing to adjust his covering, the German midfielder found enough space to receive the first time pass from Ozil and to make it 2-0.

Espanyol created very little threat in the first half though Madrid's backline did look vulnerable especially Ricardo Carvalho. Meanwhile Ronaldo threatened in behind Lopez and created a chance for Higuain whose shot was saved by the goalkeeper.

In the second half, Madrid continued to dominate in attack, creating a third goal straight after the break. Marcelo played a quick one two with Ronaldo on the left to drag Lopez out of position and feed Kaka. Raul Rodriguez's slip made things worse for Espanyol and Kaka took on Hector Moreno and then played Higuain in behind with a perfectly weighted pass for the Argentinian's diagonal run and he finished it off with Didac, the left back, too slow to cover laterally.

Madrid continued to dominate in the second half, with Kaka often moving to the left in attacks so he could face goal when he received the ball and use his 1v1 ability against the full back while Ronaldo often moved inside from there. Kaka got a deserved goal after Madrid found space behind Espanyol yet again and Ronaldo's square pass to Higuain and Kaka's movement to create an overload on the far side with a 2v1 against the left back allowed him to finish well.

Kaka's positioning on the left then allowed him to get around the full back and play another lovely pass to Higuain in the middle who made it 5-0 with another good finish.

Madrid continued to threaten in behind with their power and pace a constant threat against Espanyol's centre backs. Espanyol themselves continued to create very little threat, a shot from Verdu after Khedira didn't pressure well enough outside the area, the only thing of note.

Morata came on for Higuain towards the end and the teenager showed promise with a good change of direction allowing him to get a shot away which was well saved from Casilla.

In the end,  Madrid eased to victory to cement their place at the top of La Liga, ten points ahead of Barcelona.