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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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Bayern Munich 2-1 Real Madrid analysis; advantage Bayern

Gomez got an important second goal for Bayern to take a slim advantage to the Bernabeu.



Both teams started in 4-2-3-1s. Kroos, Robben and Ribery played behind Gomez for Bayern with Gustavo and Schweinsteiger as holding midfielders. Real started with Ozil in the middle, Di Maria on the right and Ronaldo on the left with Coentrao at left back instead of Marcelo.

First half

Real were the better team in the first 15 minutes of the game. Initally they looked to press high on Bayern's midfield and counter attack from there but their main control early on came from pushing Bayern back, giving space to their centre backs and then switching play from deep, notably looking to play Di Maria in early on the left. Kroos came very deep to receive the ball for Bayern which limited their transitions early on.

Mesut Ozil was drifting towards the left from his position and though Gustavo looked to track him, Schweinsteiger and Alaba also had to be aware of his movement there. The German created the opening chance of the game when Bayern lost it trying to move from defence to attack and he found Benzema behind the centre back who forced a good save from Neuer.

Bayern looked threatening in the wide areas though, especially on quick transitions to Robben to go 1v1 with Coentrao or the link up of Ribery and Alaba on the left. Ribery was coming deep to receive the ball to try and move Arbeloa out of position and create space behind for himself or Alaba. On 16 minutes he made a run behind Arbeloa with Pepe coming across to cover and Bayern won a corner from which Ribery got the opening goal.

Real's defending was a big problem for them. With their front four, the attacking threat was always there but defensively they did not work as a unit. The front four weren't really tracking back so they were defending the wide areas with the full backs and holding midfielders shuffling across but with Schweinsteiger and Kroos in the middle, Khedira and Alonso were stretched in their work. Arbeloa and Coentrao were disorganised and Ramos and Pepe often had to cover behind them.

Bayern on the other hand were a far better defensive unit; getting back in their own half and making it compact, with Ribery and Robben tracking back in the wide areas against the full backs. Gustavo and Schweinsteiger came deep and made it compact between the lines and if they were enticed up, both full backs covered inside well.

Mourinho swapped Ozil for Di Maria about 20 minutes in but it didn't really help, other than when Di Maria found space to run directly on the counter attack. And because Bayern were defending well as a team, Real's main threats were from winning free kicks or from long balls behind the defenders for Benzema or Ronaldo in the channels.

Meanwhile Kroos and Gomez linked up a couple of times to get in behind on the counter attack, one of which gave Gomez a chance which was saved by Casillas.

Second half

At the start of the second period, Real changed back to their positions they had started with; Ozil moving back into the centre and Di Maria out wide.

The main threats for both teams in the second half was the early switch of play to the flanks for the wide men to go 1v1 with the full back.

However Mourinho's players came out with more of a concentration on counter attacking. Benzema had a sniff on goal when he was played through from a lofted ball and then a couple of minutes later the away side broke with numerical superiority and though Neuer saved Ronaldo's shot, Bayern failed to clear  and Ozil scored from a pull back from Ronaldo.

Bayern were circulating the ball and playing at a slower tempo but didn't look as much of a threat in the final third. Gomez wasn't supported as well as he had been in the first half and Kroos was too deep which meant they weren't able to penetrate as well between the lines. Muller came on for Schweinsteiger and played behind Gomez with Kroos moving alongside Gustavo but this wasn't effective in creating space in the final third.

Where they did have space though was with the full backs moving forward on either side where they weren't tracked. Lahm found space to put a couple of crosses in on the right but Gomez was unable to put them away. Bayern also looked a danger on set pieces with Madrid failing to clear on a number of occasions and not pushing out well enough to counter.

However Real were the team with the advantage at 1-1 and they were happy to sit back and wait for the opportunity for quick transitions. Ozil made way for Marcelo, who played on the left wing, with Di Maria in the middle and Ronaldo on the right. Marcelo was coming deep to give himself space to run into while the switch of play was still giving particularly Ronaldo more space. Granero came on for Di Maria and surprisingly played the role Di Maria had been playing, ahead of Alonso and Khedira though he was slightly deeper. With a few minutes to go, Marcelo also swapped with Ronaldo.

However it was surprising how they still didn't work well as a unit and Bayern kept showing a good intent going forward for a winner. Ribery was moving inside, creating space for Alaba, who was causing danger with his runs into space on the left. Again Real's wingers failed to track back on both sides and this proved their downfall. Lahm admittedly shouldn't have been allowed to turn past Coentrao who committed himself but both full backs had been finding space and Madrid often lacked meaningful pressure in closing down in the wide areas and cover for the full back, as shown on the second goal. Again it was the Lahm/Gomez combination, though this time from a cross along the floor, highlighting the importance of wide players getting to the byline, something that isn't done often enough nowadays.

Conclusion

Bayern deserved their victory with a better team performance than Real Madrid who were very 'broken' in their play. The gap between their full backs and wingers was a problem for Mourinho's side but even then they didn't defend the wide areas well enough, lacking pressure on the ball and often allowing Robben to cut inside and link up. An interesting second leg awaits but Real have to work better as a unit if they are to go through to the final.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Atletico Madrid 1-4 Real Madrid: Ronaldo hat trick gets Real the win in Madrid derby

Cristiano Ronaldo's three goals were enough to get the win over Atletico in a game that for a while looked like it could end up in a draw.

Atletico started in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Adrian playing just off Falcao up front, Arda Turan on the left and Diego tucked inside on the right. Real also played as a 4-2-3-1 with Coentrao coming in for Marcelo at left back, Di Maria starting on the right of the line of three and Benzema up front.

First Half

Real Madrid as usual looked to dominate possession and penetrate with their first and second line and full backs moving high. Di Maria was moving in from the left hand side and got a shot on the counter attack early on. Both Arbeloa and Coentrao were getting forward but it was on the left hand side where they particularly looked to create, with the Portuguese duo of Coentrao and Ronaldo linking up, and with Diego fairly narrow between the lines for Atletico, Gabi, the right-sided holding midfielder, often had to go across to cover and get numerical equality to defend on that side. Ronaldo looked to use his 1v1 ability to go past players and create space for other nearby players and Real also looked to stretch Perea laterally behind the forward-going Juanfran, with Benzema, Ronaldo and Kaka testing the centre back.

Atletico themselves looked to attack in the wide areas particularly with the full backs but the main threat was the link up of Diego and Falcao. Diego was playing on the right but came very narrow and between the lines and often got space because it was difficult to track him coming inside. He created a chance for Falcao when he ran at the Real defence and played a tight diagonal pass behind for the forward, whose shot was saved by Casillas.

Both teams looked dangerous on the counter attack with Ronaldo on the left for Real and Atletico attacking with variety, with Falcao providing length and able to have direct passes into him or behind, Diego moving between the lines and Adrian looking behind the defence to create space.

Real looked the most likely to score though with passes into feet of the second line to bring players out of position and the switch from right to left creating space. They might have won a penalty when Ronaldo caused problems for Juanfran and Gabi on the left and went over under a challenge from the holding midfielder. It didn't make a difference however because a few minutes later he hit a wonderful free kick from 30 yards out which beat Courtois in the home side's goal.

Real had a couple of good chances after that to make it 2-0; first a diagonal cross in from Di Maria on the right to Benzema running behind but the forward was unable to get his header on target. Then one of the few times Kaka found space to run at the defence, he played a pass into feet for Ronaldo who took on Juanfran and hit a left footed shot which was saved by Courtois at his near post.

Atletico also threatened after the goal though, with both full backs getting space for crosses into the box and Diego linking up to play wall passes to them. Juanfran got space for a low cross from the right which went all the way to Filipe on the far side but the left back hit it over. Then Diego got space in between the defence and midfield to take a shot from just outside the area but it went well wide.

Second half

Mesut Ozil came on for Kaka in a straight swap at half time. Other than that, Real again looked to attack by creating numerical superiority on the left and making space for Arbeloa to move forward on the right with Di Maria moving inside.

Atletico still looked dangerous though with Arda Turan linking up with Falcao coming deep to create space for the second line to make overlaps in the opening minutes of the second period. Then Diego again had space and time to link up with players out wide and he played a pass to Adrian on the left who put a good cross in for Falcao to header into the corner.
With Atletico's holding players coming deep defensively, Ozil wasn't getting space between the lines other than on the counter attack but he was linking up with the wide players which created a chance for Coentrao who made an overlap inside on the left but his shot got deflected wide by Perea who was getting increasingly stretched.

Atletico were lacking cover and pressure on the ball on that side though with Diego often failing to track back because of his attacking position and Ronaldo was allowed space to cut onto his right foot, though it was another great strike which put Real 2-1 ahead.

Higuian came on for Benzema and the away side started concentrating on the counter attack, with Atletico starting to have more possession and attack. The full backs were getting free high up and two crosses created chances for Falcao at the far post for headers. Koke came on for Arda Turan and Diego moved into a permanent position in the middle.
However Real's counter attacks were a constant threat, with the four players in the first and second line moving forward quickly, with Higuain providing length. However their third goal came from a bad mistake by Godin.
The ball was played into the feet of Ronaldo to bring Juanfran out of position and Coentrao was then played in behind, with Perea coming across to close down. The left back played a pass into Higuian who looked to be moving wide under pressure from Godin but the centre back made a bad error by giving away a foul in the area and Ronaldo finished it off to make it 3-1.

Real still looked threatening on the counter attack with Ronaldo forcing a good save from Courtois after an untracked run behind and a couple of minutes later he ran inside on the left and played a diagonal pass to the substitute Callejon on the right who controlled and finished well.

Conclusion

Real's ability and link ups with the high-moving full backs in the wide areas were evident throughout, though it took a couple of great strikes and a penalty from Ronaldo to get three of the goals. Falcao's direct attributes and Diego's inside movement on the right caused problems for Real but the away side were the better side overall and got the win, albeit  a win that ended up flattering them.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Arsenal 1-0 Man City analysis

Arsenal deserved the victory with a good performance in which they imposed their rhythm and passing game.

Both teams started with a 4-2-3-1; City started with Balotelli on the left, Milner on the right and Nasri behind Aguero. Arsene Wenger played Benayoun on the left, though tucking inside and linking with Rosicky who was the furthest forward midfielder, while Walcott retained his place on the right and Van Persie played up front.



The first twenty-five minutes were dominated by Arsenal who played at a good tempo and rhythm with mobility from Song, Benayoun and Rosicky creating numerical superiority between the lines, switches of play to either side where the full backs got forward in space (Balotelli often didn't track and Milner came very narrow on the right) and pushing Man City back very deep. City defended with two lines of four and retreated to the edge of their area but they were unorganised in their pressing and didn't deal with play between the lines or the 3v2 which often occured in the centre. Overall they lacked intensity in open play and from set pieces where Arsenal threatened three times in the first half.

Song was impressive in midfield and made a couple of direct runs forward and looked to release Van Persie with high diagonal balls from right to left or play wall passes behind for Walcott with Lescott too slow to cover laterally behind Clichy on a couple of occasions. Passes were also played into the feet of both Rosicky and Van Persie between the lines with both players initially moving high in the centre, then dropping off to receive the ball between the lines.

City struggled to move up the pitch in the first twenty-five minutes. Their main attacking ideas were to play direct balls into Balotelli, either behind the defence or with his back to goal while other players supported off him on the left. The away side's build up from the back generally went straight from the centre backs to the full backs or midfielders and then often down the line for Aguero behind. Milner frequently moved inside from the right.

After a while, City managed to threaten higher up the pitch, most notably from a well planned corner; Lescott used a block on Balotelli's man marker, Milner moved his marker out at the far post and Kompany moved to the near post which created space for Balotelli in the middle but his shot was blocked.

The away side did manage to halt Arsenal's dominance in the last twenty minutes with a number of changes. Firstly Nasri dropped deeper when Arsenal had the ball to try and stop the numerical superiority in the middle that Arsenal were getting.

City then changed to a 4-3-3 with Nasri on the right and Milner moving inside with Barry and the substitute Pizarro, who was effective in possession. This meant that they could could control the middle and also create space up front with Balotelli and Nasri moving inside and Aguero providing length and the option behind. Balotelli moved up front for a few minutes alongside Aguero with Clichy providing width on the left and Nasri also played on the left for a while with Barry narrow on the right. However, they ended the half in a 4-2-3-1 with Balotelli on the left, Nasri on the right and Pizarro with a free role as the link in midfield.

Walcott moved across to the centre in the last five minutes for Arsenal, with Sagna anad Arteta both putting a number of crosses in from the right.

Second half

The second period began with City dominating possession in the first minute though Arsenal counter attacking quickly from their own half. City had moved back to a 4-3-3 at half time with Balotelli and Nasri both coming narrow in attack for City, allowing space for their full backs to get forward. However their midfield three was different to previous with Barry and particularly Milner moving up on the ball which allowed Pizarro space from a deeper position to play his passes.

The pattern of the game soon changed though; Arsenal regained control of possession and built pressure up the pitch, switching play to the wide positions, particularly the right, and then playing in crosses or moving it between the lines. Van Persie had a chance from another diagonal ball behind by Song after City came late to pressure out wide and in the middle, but the Dutchman couldn't quite finish. Walcott was looking to receive passes behind Clichy and Song made a powerful run down the centre on the counter attack. City were again very deep, looking to attack on the counter but their transitions were often poor and allowed Arteta to regain the ball and switch the play while Arsenal's second line were very quick on the ball to penetrate City's backline.

Balotelli was rarely tracking back on the left and this allowed space for Sagna high on the right which created a chance when the right back played it across to Walcott in the area but ther winger hit the post and Vermaelen failed to finish at the far post.

City made a change, taking off  Nasri and moving Kolarov to the left with Balotelli going up front with Aguero, while Arsenal made a straight swap with Aaron Ramsey coming on for Benayoun on the left. Arsenal kept up the pressure high up the pitch with Arteta finding space on the ball to dominate the play and when City gave the ball again in their own half, the Spaniard was quick to react and find space in front of the City defence to hit it into Hart's left hand corner.

City failed to gather any momentum to come back, with Balotelli sent off for a second yellow and Tevez failing to have an impact on the game.

Conclusion

Arsenal deserved the win because of the great balance they had in attack and the intensity they played with on the ball. City were not good enough and failed to deal with Wenger's side and now need a miraculous come back to win the title off of United.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan analysis: Good performance sees Barca through


A very good performance from Guardiola's men to see them through to the semi-finals.

The home side started in what seemed like a 3-4-3 but in practice (particularly considering their ball possession) ended up being a 3-3-4 in attack. Cuenca started wide on the left, Messi and Fabregas operated as false strikers between the lines and Alves was high up on the right. Their back three was Mascherano, Pique and Puyol.

Milan started as a 4-3-1-2 with Abate at right back the only difference from the first leg.


First half

Barcelona controlled the start of the game with good possession and width. Their width was a key difference from the first leg, with Cuenca and Alves providing it on both sides which made it easier to switch play and stretch Milan's players wide. Barcelona's mobility allowed them to dominate in the middle and Alves and Cuenca's 1v1 ability meant that they could run at the full backs and then move behind or play passes behind or in between the lines to penetrate for Messi, Fabregas or even Xavi on a couple of occasions.

However their goal came from a mistake in possession from Milan and Messi's pace took him into the penalty area. He probably should have shot on goal instead of pulling it back for Xavi but Milan couldn't clear and Messi was fouled in the area. He stepped up and took a good accurate penalty into the left hand corner.

Milan's ideas in attack were to find Robinho or Ibrahimovic with direct passes and both managed to find space well to receive. From there, they could either pass it back to one of the supporting midfielders or play it behind for Boateng or from Ibrahimovic to Robinho.

For their goal, Ibrahimovic was allowed to turn with his back to goal and find a pass to Nocerino behind the defence in space, with Mascherano playing him onside, and the midfielder finished pass Valdes. It was a notable tactic throughout the game for the wide players of their midfield three, Seedorf and Nocerino and later on Aquilani, to move high and on the outside of Barcelona's defence. Playing with a back three for most of the first half, the home side had difficulties in covering this space particularly when numerical superiority was created for the away side in these areas.

Barcelona continued to play with good intensity though even if they had problems with players moving behind their high defensive line. The second penalty after a shirt pull was converted by Messi again and Guardiola immediately changed their shape around - Cuenca moved to the right, Iniesta moved to the left and Alves moved deeper into a back four for Barca, which created a mobile 4-2-4/4-2-2-2 shape.

Second half

Milan started the second period slightly higher up the pitch and again looking to take advantage of Ibrahimovic's movement between the centre back and full back and his strength and height to take the ball down and lay off. Abate was also moving higher from the right and looking to make vertical runs from deep where he wasn't tracked.

However, Barcelona started creating more space between the lines, on one occasion with Messi, Xavi and Busquets coming deep, enticing Milan's midfield higher and then allowing Xavi to make a run between the midfield and defence. More opportunities and situations were now able to be created through quick transitions for the Catalans and they soon took advantage of it.

Their third goal came from one of their most prominent counter attacking moves and one that had been tried in the first half but with no such success. With Milan high up, Barca countered at pace. Messi dribbled with the ball from the right towards the left, Fabregas moved inside high up towards the right, taking the centre back with him and making space for Messi to either shoot or play a wall pass to Iniesta who had moved behind Abate. Messi's shot was blocked but Iniesta reacted well and made it 3-1.

Fabregas moving to the right ceating space in the channel for a pass or a shot. Iniesta moving behind right back.

Both sides made a couple of changes and Barcelona reverted to their traditional 4-3-3 with Fabregas dropping deeper into midfield with Busquets and the substitute Thiago. Thiago himself had a good chance, making a run behind the midfield and linking up with Messi after Nesta had left space behind him at the back.

Milan made a couple of changes with Aquilani coming on for Seedorf and Pato coming on for Boateng and joining Ibrahimovic up front with Robinho using his mobility between the lines and supporting the front two by moving high. Milan's midfielders also continued to move high and outside Barcelona's defenders to support their front men but there were few clear chances created, though a couple of balls behind for Ibrahimovic and then Robinho as a secondary runner caused a problem for the home side.

However Barcelona controlled possession with good width to create space and passing triangles making it difficult for Milan to get the ball and the away side made a number of fouls through tiredness and frustration late on.

The substitute Adriano had a chance towards the end after Mascherano brought the ball out towards the left and enticed Abate to come out of position, creating space for Adriano behind but the left back hit his shot wide.

Barcelona looked threatening on the counter attack with Messi's pace in the middle and supporting players moving forward on both sides. No goals were added late on but neither were they conceded and Barcelona progressed to the semi-finals.

Conclusion

Barcelona showed good control and intensity during the game and their width allowed them to find space in the middle and later on in quick transitions. Milan gave a good account of themselves but couldn't beat Barcelona over the two legs.