Bayer Leverkusen 0-1 Borussia Dortmund

 

first-half-basic-shapeFirst half basic shape

A surprising line-up by Thomas Tuchel, as he opted to bench some of his regular starters. Sven Bender played as the 6 and the extra centre back as well. When dropping deep, he filled the space between Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mats Hummels. Bender often tried to utilise long vertical passes, to the dropping-deep Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. Eric Durm filled the left back position, benching Marcel Schmelzer. Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the opposite flank tried to create attack from wide areas. In midfield, in front of Bender, Tuchel paired the natural defender, Matthias Ginter who occasionally dropped deep to the 6 with Moritz Leitner.

Roger Schmidt, as usual, fielded his 4-4-2. Admir Mehmedi started on the right wing and Karim Bellarabi shifted to the left. One of the potential reasons for such a setup was that Schmidt wanted Bellarabi to attack diagonally and hit Dortmund with his right foot. Mehmedi was a bit different, with his indenting-movement, which enabled him to fill the 8 both on half-space and central area to make sure the shape was secured in central areas. At 6, Kevin Kampl and Christoph Kramer were paired once again, and played a very important part within Schmidt’s system.

Dortmund

Basically, Dortmund shaped up in a 4-1-4-1. But this would be transpositioned into a 3-men-behind as Bender dropped deep in the first phase of attack. This created a 3v2 situation against Leverkusen’s first-line press helping them to bypass it and allow for easier progression. This numerical superiority meant Bender could move into the 8 or make a vertical pass directly to Aubameyang, the false 9 in Tuchel’s positional play.

numerical-superiority
Numerical superiority

With Kramer and Kampl oriented to Leitner and Ginter, Dortmund (Bender in this context) gained some space centrally which helped to make a direct passing lane from the back-line to Aubameyang. Again, in this phase, when Aubameyang saw the opportunity, he dropped deep and created another numerical superiority along with Leitner and Ginter against the 6-pair of Leverkusen (3v2 for Dortmund). As the numerical superiority provided positive impact to Dortmund’s first line of attack, Leverkusen needed to deal with such movement. Kramer was often the one to respond it and put pressure on Bender. This often meant that Kampl was outnumbered by three Dortmund players.

kampl-outnumbered-at-6
Kampl outnumbered

But this didn’t mean the Dortmund shape was a flawless one. In some specific situations, particularly when Leverkusen were able to establish the horizontal compactness (through the assistance of both indented-wingers) and executed it properly, it meant they defended the central area better, there would be a gap between the three-chain and midfield-line of Dortmund. Such a gap had negative impact to the connectivity of play which meant they lost the central access.

Leverkusen were very compact centrally, as ever. Tuchel asked for a more direct approach from his players. In such play, we can see Mkhitaryan (or Aubameyang if possible) as the main target of the long ball from the deeper players. Here, Dortmund relied on how Mkhitaryan could create play through his explosive movement. Such direct play also effected how the full backs played. This was partly the reason why we didn’t see very aggressive play of Eric Durm or Lukas Piszczek. The long ball directly to the furthest forward players meant the full backs were automatically relatively late to move forward.

Against the ball, the ball-oriented shifting was a standard one, as the far-side winger had to make sure he covered the far half-space or the centre. In their defensive-play, Dortmund opted to play a relatively middle-block as they start the press from the central-line. Aubameyang would determine the pressing manner as he was the first-wave of press and the most aggressive one as well. Here, Dortmund mostly shaped in a 4-5-1/4-4-1-1 and waiting for Leverkusen to come out. This allowed Leverkusen to have relatively high procentage of possession in their deep-development. The pressing-shape was adjusted as, one example, Leitner went forward to track the dropping-deep 6 of Leverkusen or even higher as he took Bernd Leno.

Leverkusen

Leverkusen, as shown on the first graphic, pressed high-up the pitch trying to force Dortmund to play a lot of long balls in uncomfortable situations. Some defensive issue can be seen in their high-block press. When Dortmund built up with a situational three at the back formation, Leverkusen needed to equal the numbers to halt the progression. This was an issue when the lines behind the forward-duo were a little bit late to move out to cover spaces in the more advanced areas.

For example, when Bender and Sokratis managed to drag the attention of the 9-duo, to the right side, and the ball was switched to the left, back to Hummels, this situation forced Mehmedi to come up and press Hummels. Mehmedi’s movement allowed huge space behind him which allowed Durm to receive any distribution form Hummels. Tin Jedvaj was tasked with covering Mehmedi’s vacated space. Mehmedi pressing-manner also provided some space for either Leitner or Ginter to stay on the ball-side half-space and get close to Durm to maintain the nearest passing-lane, keeping the connectivity alive.

hole-within-leverkusen-pressing-shape
Hole within Leverkusen’s high-block press. Mehmedi pressed Hummels (not seen in the picture). Tin Jedvaj had to make a long run to deal with Durm who received Hummels’ pass.

When Leverkusen managed to regain possession deep in their own half, for example, they would circulate the ball across the back-line trying to find good access for progression..

As Schmidt wanted Chicharito or Stefan Kiessling to get involved in this phase, he needed to make sure the passing lane was clear. It was the 6-pair, Kramer and Kampl, who took this duty. They occasionally moved wide to the half-space or even to the flank to open the central area. This made the 6 space available so any 9 was able to drop-deep to help created a vertical access.

In some other situation, Kramer stayed centrally whilst Kampl occupied the near-ball flank. such swinging-6 positioning managed to drag the opponent focus to one side and opened the space on the far ball side flank, in the middle-third, that being occupied by Chicarito and made himself available as the outlet from Dortmund first-phase press, as well as pushed Leverkusen’s full back to get further forward.

This scheme had its own issue. In the context of clean progression, Leitner was the issue for Leverkusen. As aforementioned, Leitner played as the 8 so he was the one to keep an eye on Kramer when the midfielder dropped-deep to help creating central access for Leverkusen deep-circulation. In this situation, the central space was blocked so Leverkusen had to take the long ball option.

But it was not always a wasted one. When the structure was executed properly it would be a success zugriff planned, a German term which can also be translated as a plan to create an access by a purposely missplaced-pass then recover by claiming the second ball, or regain it by gegenpressing. This scheme was established by the extremely-narrow-shape of the midfielder-four. The gegenpressing in this scene gave some positive impact to Leverkusen transition, particularly as it managed to fail Dortmund’s counter-attack.

Second-half

line-up-in-the-second-halfLine-up in the second-half

Right after the break, Tuchel got Marco Reus in to replace Pulisic. The other (major) adjustment was the basic formation. In the second-half, Tuchel decided to play with an asymmetrical basic shape of 3-5-2/3-4-1-2. With three dedicated central defenders + double pivot in front of it, Dortmund possession game in the deeper area was strong as the central-control was well-occupied.

On their second phase of attack, Tuchel still utilized Aubameyang as the connector between the deep-circulation and more advanced area penetration. Reus as we can see always tried to exploit the half-space.

hummels-to-aubameyang
Hummels to Aubameyang

Schmidt took Kampl out and replaced him with Ramalho as the new 6. He was assigned a simpler duty compared to Kramer. From Dortmund, Julien Weigl was brought in to replace Bender. But all of these substitutions didn’t bring any significant impact, as both sides were struggling to deal with each opponent’s defensive barrier.

Despite the struggle from both sides, individually, there were some interesting note to be taken. Wendell played an inverted wing back-esque role which resulted in some positive impact on the attack and stabilized the center. A good signal as the wing back is developing into a more complete player. Moritz Leitner also played exceptionally; some of his positioning (off the ball movement) in attack actually gave potential situation for Dortmund and might have given better result if utilized properly.

So did Christoph Kramer: a world-class midfielder. His pressing resistance helped him to find space for a better passing-lane. His defensive positioning enabled him to support the need of gegenpressing and kept the shape stayed compact.

Good defensive play from both sides. Dortmund won it by the single goal from Aubameyang but Leverkusen deserved a draw.

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Analysis: N’Golo Kanté vs. Arsenal

by @EddieTrulyReds

Who is N’Golo Kanté and what has led to his meteoric rise in the English Premier League this season? Joining Leicester City from recently promoted Caen in France, Kanté joins the list of relatively unknown imports who have made immediate impact at their respective clubs.

In a riveting clash between title contenders Arsenal and Leicester City, Kanté emerged as one of the top performers. He was everywhere; plugging up holes, initiating attacks, making key interceptions and even dribbling in pressure situations. But this doesn’t fully capture the subtleties of Kanté’s game, which allow him to produce what he does.

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Manchester City 1-3 Leicester City

Manuel Pellegrini fielded a 4-2-3-1 as his Manchester City team’s basic shape. Two attacking wing backs, Aleksandar Kolarov & Pablo Zabaleta, flanked the two central defenders, Martin Demichelis and the heavily-criticized Nicolas Otamendi. Fernandinho played as the deepest midfielder, and was paired with Yaya Toure, who moved across the 8 and 10. Alons with Silva & Sterling, these three often moved into the same halfspace or flank in order to create a situational overload to support ball progression.

Claudio Ranieri utilised his narrow & compact 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 basic formation. Jamie Vardy & Shinji Okazaki were oriented to Manchester City’s two deep midfielders when Pellegrini’s team had possession. Vardy was tasked with staying close to Fernandinho, whilst Okazako was oriented to Yaya Toure. He would keep his distance to Toure, but not in a strict manner. Sometimes when Toure moved further forward (into the penalty area, for example) Okazaki held his position in a moderately advanced position.

manchester-city-and-leicester-line-up.pngManchester City basic attacking shape vs Leicester City narrow 4-4-1-1.

Ranieri’s narrow shape overcame Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1

City, as always, tried to play out from the back. In this first phase, the central defenders moved wide and Fernandinho dropped deep into the back line (salida lavolpiana). Okazaki would then press the ball-carrying central defender, and Vardy would stay central, man marking the deep-dropping Fernandinho. In the first phase of City’s build-up, the wing backs were often positioned too deep. This meant they were generally too close to the central defenders in early build-up. This provided easy pressing access for Leicester’s wide men, and allowed them to trap City at the touchline, forcing them to pass long or risk losing possession.

The danger of such a situation was that Leicester often managed to claim the second ball through the energy of N’Golo Kante and aerial prowess of their defensive line. Once this happened, they would immediately transition into attack. In these situations, there was often huge space for Leicester to attack in Man City’s midfield. This gave the ball carrier more than enough time to release a killer pass directly to Vardy, utilising his acceleration & speed.

Vardy was able to create some good chances from these situations. Riyad Mahrez’s goal also came from a similar process.

city-in-defensive-transition
City in defensive transition

Without the ball, Leicester operated with a fairly low block, and a focus on central compactness. They generally allowed City’s central defenders to have the ball, but instead tried to block any passing into the double pivot or other central players. By keeping the block narrow, this often forced City wide.

push-them-widePush them wide. The scene when City progressed to their second build-up phase.

As previously mentioned, Okazaki & Vardy oriented to City’s double pivot, but this focus was not strict. In almost every situation where Toure moved forward, Okazaki allowed him to go without following. This was okay when defending in organisation and in a settled structure, but could have been an issue if Toure were able to impact the game more so.

hole-within-leicester-structure.png
Space within Leicester’s low block.

Fabian Delph moved forward, and Riyad Mahrez followed. This created space for Sterling. Kante spotted this, and immediately moved to close Sterling down. This gave Toure the chance to occupy the space that Kante vacated. The play was eventually foiled by good awareness from Danny Drinkwater.

In the second phase of build-up, City were able to move the ball horizontally, with appropriate timing and speed. Combining this with Leicester’s narrow defensive shape created a ‘free player’ on the flank, deep in Leicester’s half. This may have created good opportunities for unlocking a stubborn defense. With a suitable player in this free role (not Fabian Delph), City may have been able to create more promising situations.

City did not utilise this approach much. But through Leicester’s shape, they were naturally forced wide anyway. And City had poor structure to allow for the ball to progress into the centre of the field. For example, when Sterling moved wide to receive the ball, there was little presence between the flank and halfspace in order to allow for combination play. This simply isolated the wide player and created lots of block & wasted crosses.

One attacking scheme that City have often utilised is penetrating through the halfspace. From the halfspace, City are attempting to gain access to the side areas of the penalty box. In many situations, as part of this penetration, there would be at least one player occupying the halfspace, acting as the connector for the one-two combination.

City would ideally have the inward passes in an area closer to the danger zone, in order to generate more dangerous shots. But Leicester defended this zone very well. This meant many of City’s passes from the halfspace were actually away from goal.

Unlike City, Leicester did not utilise attacking full-backs. In many ball progression situations, the ball would be played directly to the wingers or even Vardy, as Leicester attempted to attack City in transition. Their build-up play was generally focused on creating triangles, with the ball played into wide areas, before immediately passed into Okazaki or Vardy in the centre.

With this direct passing style, Leicester generally attempted to counter through Vardy. In some situations, Vardy would stay wide when the ball was in Leicester’s half, and make a quick diagonal movement towards goal.

In a quick attacking transition, Ranieri also licensed his twin 6s (Kante & Drinkwater) to roam forward. Both of these players were given license to dribble, or make off-ball movements forward in transition. But to ensure a stable base for any potential defensive transition, one of these two would stay deeper if the other moved forward.

Conclusion

The loss against Leicester was yet another weak performance from Manchester City in defensive transition. But City are generally able to counteract this weakness through outstanding attacking penetration. This was not the case against Leicester, who focused on minimising the potential damage of halfspace passes, and forcing City into wide areas.

Pellegrini may need to alter his approach in both attacking & defensive phases in the Premier League. But the continued weakness in defensive transition is a damning indictment of their hopes of reaching the latter stages of the Champions League. They have now lost three times at home; previously against Liverpool and West Ham. But their lack of compactness in transition (and also often organisation phases) has been a major reason for their lack of prior Champions League success. And it shows no sign of changing.

Match Analysis: Stoke 2 – 0 Manchester City

Manchester City took on Stoke in a windy afternoon at the Britannia Stadium in what was a prime opportunity to move away from the pack in the race for the title. Stoke’s status as the Premier League’s archetypal tricky away game has perhaps been lessened with the move from Pulis-ball to a slicker passing style of play, but they remain a difficult matchup for every team in the league. Despite Tony Pulis operating in survival mode throughout his time at Stoke, Mark Hughes has truly consolidated Stoke’s position as one of the premium mid-table clubs in the Premier League.

Both teams operated with their standard 4-2-3-1 formations, with Stoke clearly outperforming City and grabbing a deserved 2-0 win. There were a number of issues that Pellegrini’s team suffered that combined to make this a pretty comfortable day for Stoke.
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Tactical Analysis: Borussia Dortmund 4-1 VfB Stuttgart

initial-line-up-and-essential-movements

Borussia Dortmund lined up with a 4-3-3 formation, whilst Stuttgart opted for a basic 4-4-1-1 shape. Thomas Tuchel’s team utilised plenty of attacking fluidity, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcos Reus & Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang often swapping positions. Shinji Kagawa & Gonzalo Castro were also particularly vertically-oriented from central midfield.

Flexible attacking shape

A gradual and structured movement was observed in Dortmund’s deep build-up phases, with an approximate 2-3-2-3 shape. Sven Bender and Sokratis Papastathopoulos were the deepest players, with Ilkay Gundogan acting as the 6. These three were flanked by Lukas Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer.

In Dortmund’s first phase of play, Kagawa and Castro alternately dropped deep and filled the half-space right next to Gundogan position, depending on the ball position, to help creating a soft and clean progression through numerical superiority. The movement of Kagawa and Castro in this phase was important as it allowed them to form twin or sometimes three 6 across the Stuttgart first wave of resting-press. With this, Dortmund were able to avoid Gundogan being crowded out by the Stuttgart players, and ensure a passing lane was always open.

the-positional-play The positional play. On certain occasions, Castro and Kagawa were even positioned higher than the forward trio.

In later build-up phases, Aubameyang occasionally dropped deep and acted as the vertical access of Dortmund progression. Swapped with Reus and Mkhitaryan, he then moved wide to the flank to allow Castro to occupy the right halfspace. Along with Reus and Kagawa, Castro acted as the 9/10 hybrid, getting ready to move vertically into the 18-yard box when the opportunity arose. With Mkhitaryan occupying the left flank, Dortmund attacked in a 2-3-5 alike shape.

As ever, the central orientation of Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund attack is strong. There would be 3 or 4 Dortmund’s players to occupy the area between the lines within Stuttgart’s structural block. Free swapping of positions from Mkhitaryan, Reus, and Aubameyang combined with the constant, vertical movement of the 8s for effective penetration of the Stuttgart defensive block.

After about 10-15 minutes, Aubameyang started most of his movement from the wide area, particularly from the right side. This gave him huge space to run into and reach his blistering top speed, such as for the second goal.

As shown on the last graphic, there were three Dortmund’s players within the Stuttgart’s structural block. When Sven Bender pushed forward (in a Hummels-esque manner) Gundogan stayed central, covering the movement. Two other players in the center, Kagawa & Reus, dragged the attention of Gentner and Baumgartl, isolated them, and created the space for Castro (and Aubameyang) to move into. 2-0 to Dortmund.

dortmunds-second-goal Dortmund’s second goal

As usual, a quick progression with decisive passes from the deeper area to the more advanced areas to launch a fast penetrative was also a key ingredient of the Dortmund attack.

The first goal was a good example of this. It took only 12 seconds from Roman Burki’s initial pass to Reus’ low cross into the box. This first goal alone was also the perfect example as to why Tuchel pushed his CMs further forward. This allowed them to make late runs into the box, and finish off attacking moves, as Castro did on this occasion.

Stuttgart approach

Lining-up in 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 often saw Stuttgart to defend in two banks of four + two as their initial pressing-shape. This shape would be transformed into a 4-5-1 if Dortmund progressed deep into the Dortmund half. Dortmund’s central focus meant Stuttgart’s structural block responded by shaping more narrowly themselves. This helped Dortmund to create huge space, both on the flank and in the halfspace.

Stuttgart’s wing-backs manner on attack indicated the initial approach of Jurgen Kramny, their new Head Coach. Instead of trying to stretch from wide areas, they tended to sit deep and waited for Dortmund to come close. In their counter-attack scheme, it appeared to be a common approach from Kramny to leave Timo Werner forward in case of any potential opportunities for a quick transition.

It was not a coincidence that two Stuttgart main threat on attack were Daniel Didavi and Timo Werner. They provided the mobility and pace needed in attack. Their job is not merely to score goals, but Didavi also showed how mobile he was as he shifted from one side to the other side to create attack or help stabilize the defensive phase.

Didavi slotted the single goal as Lukas Rupp saw a vulnerable space left open caused by Sokratis, as the Greek made a positioning error and opened the right side. Rupp pass the ball to Filip Kostic was later continued by an assist from Kostic to Didavi.

Half time alterations

After the break, Dortmund adjusted. Aubameyang positioned himself more centrally than he did in the first-half. Mkhitaryan and Reus started from wider positions, flanking Aubameyang in the central area.

Dortmund maintained their compact defense as they created a lot of valuable overloads over and over. Stuttgart defensive transition, especially after losing possession in attacking set-piece, was weak. In the second-half this continued to deteriorate. Just 15 minutes into the second-half, there were 3-4 dangerous situations that illustrated the pace at which Dortmund can attack, after regaining the possession from Stuttgart’s throw in and set-piece situations.

15 minutes into the second half, Tuchel brought in Julien Weigl to replace Kagawa. Weigl took the central position at 6 which was mostly occupied by Gundogan. Sometimes Weigl moved slightly wider to the half-space formed a double-pivot along with Gundogan. Here, in their build-up, Dortmund shaped in a 4-2-1-3/2-4-1-3, with Castro acting as a 10, with a focus on drifting between the Stuttgart midfield and defense.

This structure found its maximum effect in the 64th minute. Weigl moved forward through the left half-space, in the middle-third. Reus, marked by Schwaab, was on the higher left half-space, in the final-third, and Castro was engaged with Rupp. With Schmelzer unmarked on the left touchline, Dortmund gained a quick numerical superiority, a 3v2 situation. A pass from Weigl to Schmelzer was forwarded by the left back to Reus, a low cross from Reus forced an own goal by Neidermeier.

dortmund-flank-overload Touchline overload

There was also issue within Stuttgart’s resting press; the space between the first line and the second line was huge. This was often triggered by overzealous pressing from their first pressing wave on Dortmund’s ball carrying central defender. This didn’t merely weaken the vertical coverage but also gave space for Dortmund’s pivot to receive the ball. The second issue was the spatial compactness ruined by bad positioning. Sometimes Stuttgart’s wide players positioned too wide and too close to Dortmund’s wide-man. This opened the channel and access for any Dortmund’s vertical play.
issues-within-stuttgart-resting-press

Issues within Stuttgart’s resting press

Conclusion

Thomas Tuchel played his boys with an aggressive approach of positional play. The vertical 8s and continuous interchanging between the forward trio made it extremely difficult for Stuttgart to defend.

Aubameyang added to his amazing scoring record. Aside from his goal-scoring contributions, but he also continued to carry out his duty as a false 9; a vital component of Dortmund’s build-up. He often dropped deep to the 10 and 8, moved wider, and also made late runs into the box.

Another good win for Dortmund, especially after their two consecutive losses to Hamburg and Krasnodar. This win establishes their position with 7 points clear of the Bundesliga’s third place. A serious title challenge may prove difficult, but it seems that Champions League football will return to Borussia Dortmund sooner rather than later.

by @ryantank100.

Juventus 1-0 AC Milan: Good defensive play in a drab match

line-up-juventus-vs-milan.png

Initial line-ups: Juventus vs. AC Milan

Juventus

Massimo Allegri lined his team up in a 4-3-1-2 basic shape. A salida lavolpiana in Juventus’ deep build-up means the central defensive duo, Giorgio Chiellini & Andrea Barzagli, shifted wide and let the central midfielder, either Marchisio or Pogba, collect the ball from Buffon. Stephane Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra were played as the wing backs. In the midfield, Stefano Sturaro and Hernanes played, respectively, as the right 8 and 10. Paulo Dybala was paired with Mario Mandzukic up front.

Juventus, as often, attempted to overload the flanks. The focus on the ball-side area was strong and their horizontal shifting enabled them to have a numerical overload at all times. They often established an overloading that consisted of 6 players which managed to trouble AC Milan’s wide attacks.

juventus-shifting-and-flank-overloading.pngJuventus shifting and overloading

Despite their good shifting, there was actually an issue within this phase of play. Juventus – or maybe Hernanes himself – often defended in a 4-3-2-1/4-3-1-2 basic shape, with Hernanes staying slightly higher then the three midfielders. This potentially gave Milan better penetration if their midfielders were more vertical. However, this advantage was rarely utilised.

This issue occasionally occurred in Juventus middle-block press, for example. Their structural block exposed the vertical space between the lines which, in turn, provided some opportunity for Milan to progress by pushing the 8 forward, receiving the ‘wall pass’ from the front line. Take notice of Hernanes’ and Juventus’ central defenders’ positioning:

juventus-uncompact-press.png
An illustration of Juventus’ occasionally poorly structured press. Juventus shifting was ruined by the positioning of Milan forward trio as they engaged Juventus defenders. When Romagnoli found the space, he made a forward pass which was picked up by Niang. Hernanes’ positioning also played its own part in the lack of spatial compactness within this Juventus press.

AC Milan

AC Milan fielded a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation, with the two ‘wide’ forwards positioning themselves in central zones rather than keeping the width. The front line was filled by Carlos Bacca in the middle, flanked by Alessio Cerci on the right and M’Baye Niang on the left. Juraj Kucka, Ricardo Montolivo, and Giacomo Bonaventura occupied the midfield and in defense, there were Ignazio Abate, Luca Antonelli, Alex, and Alessio Romagnoli.

In their defensive phase, AC Milan displayed a high-block defense, trying to press Juventus’ deep build-up. In this phase, Milan were focusing on both of Juventus’ central defenders, using them as the orientation of their first wave press. If Juventus managed to bypass this initial press and progress up the pitch, Milan adapted and transformed into a 4-5-1. Here we can see that Juventus tried to exploit the space between the lines; Hernanes or Paulo Dybala occupied the area as they were expected to be the vertical access of Juventus’ progression. Alex was tasked to man-mark Dybala, so it was him to defend against the Juventus striker, meaning he had to step forward. This led to space behind him.

On some occasions, this Alex defensive movement gave Juventus some potential space to move into. One such example occurred in the first half, when Hernanes occupied the space in front of Alex and received a pass. As Milan midfielders failed to stop it and relied on their backward shifting for an intense press would never be a wise decision, Alex had to move out to deal with Hernanes. This created the opportunity for Dybala to get into the space vacated by Alex. Fortunately for Milan, Juventus didn’t capitalize on this opportunity.

On the other hand, the inverted wide forwards within Milan’s defensive formation often proved to be crucial centrally. They helped to create a 4v3 or 4v2 in the central area, stopped the attack as well as builing a more compact shape in case of any immediate counterpressing.

Half time changes

The change, Alex Sandro coming on to replace Patrice Evra, started to take effect in the early minutes of the second-half. Alex Sandro’s verticality was useful as Juventus needed to stretch Milan out wide. He often found moving forward quickly and occupied the potential area for counter-attack. This change which positively-impact on Juventus attack was actually also influenced by the formation change. Juventus now were lined-up in a three central defenders, means their both wing back were given more license to push further forward. The only goal scored by Dybala was a perfect example: a pass from Paul Pogba to the onrushing wing-back ended-up with an assist for Dybala’s goal.

In attack Juventus were more of a 3-5-2, but transformed into a 5-3-2 or even a swing 4-4-2 without the ball, as one of the wing backs was deeper to the other, depending on the position of the ball. With three dedicated central midfielders and two wide-men, Juve were able to focus to the central area which gave some good support for their counterpressing.

In the second-half, Juventus also played with a more direct style in possession.

Milan themselves didn’t seem to change their tactic drastically. Against the ball, in a settled defensive-phase, they utilised an asymmetric 4-3-3/4-3-1-2, but he elementary issue was still there: the spatial compactness. Paulo Dybala and occasionally Paul Pogba, moved into the space between the lines, acting as Juventus’ primary outlet for circulating possession into the final third.

In attacking phases, Milan found it difficult as Juventus pressed them high-up the pitch which forced them to use a lot of long passing play. The other issue here was Juventus managing to isolate the striker, the passing target, as they formed a good shape to deal with not just the long ball, but also the long ball if Bacca was able to make a positive first touch. From such scheme, Juventus created the opportunity for a counter-attack. And as aforementioned, the presence of Juventus’ wing backs had been an important factor for them throughout the second half, being a valuable outlet in counter attacks. The role of these wing backs was to ensure they were available for a pass from the central defenders immediately, and with space to move forward into, they were easily able to progress play.

As they had the lead, Juventus were more comfortable with their defensive play. The involvement of their attackers was another key factor, as has often been the case during the Allegri era. In this phase of play, Juventus were in more of a 5-3-2/5-4-1 shape, with Dybala dropping even deeper and leaving Mandzukic alone forward.

Milan needed to push the equalizer, and this had an effect on their defensive playy. With Juventus lined up in a defensive three, Milan would use a man-oriented press, with the three Milan forwards each marking a Juventus CB. This was largely unsuccessful, as Juventus’ central defenders on the pitch were all capable of playing out of an opposition press. When Juventus beat Milan’s initial press, there was always the chance for Juventus to create numerical superiority in the second-line and quickly progress play.

Paulo Dybala

Once again the forward exhibited his capability of playing at a high level. Dybala dropped deep, picked up the ball, created play, and pressed the opponent with proper gesture and positioning. On some occasions, some of his decision making could have been improved, as he often chose to pass the ball into a less strategically advantageous zone. But, of course, he has shown us how important he is within Juventus’ tactic. More playing minutes, more experience, and Dybala arguably becomes the prime protagonista for Juventus.

Conclusion

michael-caley-expected-goal-map.pngBoth teams had difficulty creating valuable chances, and this created a drab match.

With this win, Juventus moved up to 6th place and 9 points behind the league leader, Inter Milan. This Wednesday, Juventus will host their important Champions League clash against Manchester City. They have already shown the defensive ability to trouble Man City, but without better final-third penetration it will be hard for Juventus to collect all three points from Manuel Pellegrini’s team.

by @ryantank100

PSG 4-1 Saint Etienne: When pressing goes wrong

PSG and Saint Etienne at the Parc De Princes was an intriguing matchup between the huge Ligue 1 favorites and a team that some believe could challenge for a Champions League spot. PSG are a juggernaut but Saint Etienne are also an interesting team. They have taken the mantle from Marseille as perhaps the most aggressive pressing team in France. Of course, their pressing isn’t as frenetic as the Marseille side under Marcelo Bielsa, but it’s quite intense in its own right. With the attacking talent at hand for PSG, utilising that style of play was audacious from Saint Etienne manager Christophe Galtier.
ASSE

It was the same standard 4-3-3 for PSG but with minor alterations. Layvin Kurzawa and Gregory Van Der Wiel came in at full backs and provided a lot of speed at their position compared to the likes of Maxwell that usually starts for PSG. Adrien Rabiot played instead of Blaise Matuidi for squad rotation purposes. Saint Etienne this season have shifted back to a 4-2-3-1 formation after playing primarily in a 4-3-3 formation to make up for a natural #10 on last season’s team and basing their attack on their wingers.

Saint Etienne’s offensive woes

In many ways, Saint Etienne utilised a very similar gameplan against PSG to the one Marseille used a few weeks ago. ASSE tried to play primarily through the counter and press either when they lost the ball or just got tired of PSG passing between their centerbacks. In comparison to Marseille who mixed their use of pressing, Saint Etienne were more gung-ho about it. In rare instances, Saint Etienne would choose to play a conservative 4-4-2 defensively.

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Saint Etienne were appalling going forward, creating very little offensively. 12 of their 14 shots were outside the penalty area and PSG suffocated any attempts of Saint Etienne creating any half decent chances. Just like with Michy Batshuayi, Robert Beric was isolated very often and used as an outlet for Saint Etienne when they wanted to establish possession.

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The problem was that when Marseille did similar things with Batshuayi, they would follow it up with actions that were quicker tempo; whether it would be Batshuayi trying to run in behind the centerbacks of PSG or Marseille’s wingers trying 1v1 in an attempt to create quick offense. Saint Etienne did very little of this. Saint Etienne’s passing was non existent and the one time they had a quick combination passing sequence, it netted them their best chance which was an effort from Valentine Eysseric in the 14th minute outside the box that nearly curled in past Kevin Trapp.

PSG deserve credit for Saint Etienne’s attacking woes. PSG gave little to no room for Saint Etienne to work with, and without the individual talent to create something out of nothing, it left Saint Etienne grasping at straws. When PSG weren’t pressuring Saint Etienne after losing the ball, they were willing to drop back slightly and suffocate the space in their own third.

And when Saint Etienne tried to hit PSG on the counter, PSG tracked back and snuffed out any danger.

Angel Di Maria’s centrality

When Real Madrid won its 10th CL title two seasons ago, one of the biggest reasons for their success was that they converted Angel Di Maria into an inside midfielder who would make lambasting runs through the middle. It created a welcome dimension for that Madrid side and it paid dividends in the CL final where Di Maria played a huge role in the Gareth Bale game winner in extra time.

PSG haven’t completely gone the same way with Di Maria, and they may never do what Real Madrid did with Di Maria, but Sunday hinted at the type of damage he could do if allowed to roam in centrally more consistently. We saw signs of it when PSG destroyed Monaco two months ago on Di Maria’s debut for the club including an audacious long ball onto Lavezzi for the third goal in their 3-0 victory. Outside of that, Di Maria has played more or less as your average inverted winger who gets to cut inside with his stronger left foot.

Against Saint Etienne though, it was more the Real Madrid Di Maria that we saw. Though he did play quite a fair bit out wide, he also was allowed to drift inside and almost make it a four man midfield with Cavani as a left forward and Ibrahimovic as a #10/ST. Van Der Wiel’s bombing up and down the right side allowed Di Maria to come in centrally. The third goal in particular was Di Maria at his best, a wonderful throughball to Cavani that led to a tap in for Ibrahimovic.

Performances like this from Di Maria may lead to PSG playing a three man midfield featuring Marco Verratti/Blaise Matuidi/Di Maria, which would arguably be the most dynamic midfield in Europe. Matuidi could make up for Di Maria when he doesn’t fully track back, and it could take advantage of both Verratti and Di Maria’s outstanding ability to create throughball opportunities and PSG have Lucas on the bench so a 4-3-3 formation would still be possible. At the very least, it’s a lineup that could be used domestically without too many repercussions considering the talent at hand.

Bad Pressing: starring Saint Etienne

Pressing against a team as ball dominant as PSG has been attempted before in Ligue 1 recently. Lyon last season in their two 1-1 draws against PSG pressed with the front three of Nabil Fekir, Clinton N’Jie and Alexandre Lacazette. Marseille famously tried an intense man-marking version of pressing against PSG last season and in the second Le Classique last April, it got them a 2-1 lead after 45 minutes in perhaps the biggest game of Ligue 1 last season. With a team like Saint Etienne who don’t have well-renowned offensive talent, using it as a way to create opportunities was a logical idea and if executed properly could lead to maybe 1-2 big chances in open play.

The problem was that it didn’t work for Saint Etienne on two levels. Firstly, their attempt to create a high tempo defensively didn’t frustrate PSG and it didn’t even create chances for themselves in attack. The warning signs were there early on for Saint Etienne. An 10th minute long ball into Ibrahimovic bypassed the Saint Etienne backline with ease and nearly put him on a breakaway. A younger Ibrahimovic would’ve gotten to this ball and had a key opportunity at goal.

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Saint Etienne’s backline were consistently trying to play the offside trap and PSG’s attacking trio all had their attempts at getting behind their defense. Two or three more times before the first goal, PSG played direct longballs from their own half, that on another day, could’ve ended up as grade A chances.

The first goal for PSG was a combination of great passing and half-hearted pressing on Saint Etienne’s part.

When Motta receives the ball, Saint Etienne could try and double team him and gamble they could dislodge the ball. Or alternatively they could’ve sat back a little and give Motta some room but try and take out his passing options. Instead, it was a faux-pressing action between the two players closest to Motta that allowed him to pass it to Rabiot and it eventually ended up in a Verratti throughball onto Kurzawa. It also didn’t help that Monnet-Paquet didn’t smell out the danger and track Kurzawa’s run and then Francois Clerc gave a poor attempt at tackling Kurzawa just before he got 1v1 with Ruffier. Again, it was great bit of passing from PSG and it was the type of movement and tempo that they can do on a consistent basis against any defense in France. But it was helped by Saint Etienne’s indecision.

More of this happened in the second half when Saint Etienne continued to play a high line against PSG and repeatedly got burned. Di Maria was played in via a lovely back heel by Ibrahimovic and could’ve made it 2-0.

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For a team that has been known for its solidarity defensively over the past few seasons, Sunday night was one of Saint Etienne’s worst defensive performances under Galtier.

Conclusion

Saint Etienne were awful against PSG on both facets. Defensively, they surrendered eight big chances against PSG and gave up an expected goal tally of 4.03, by far their worst number in a single game this season. Going forward they only had two shots in the penalty area and one big chance created. It was a case of having the right idea but a very low bar in terms of the execution at play. PSG picked apart Saint Etienne’s press and suffocated their attack when Saint Etienne tried to create. It was a poor display for a supposed CL contender in Saint Etienne and it showed just how limited they can be against top opposition, which they haven’t had too much of with their easy schedule so far this season.

For PSG it was another further statement as to how far above they are talent wise over the rest of Ligue 1 which was already very well known, and it showed us a window into how PSG could incorporate Angel Di Maria centrally. His movement was excellent and his performance overall was reminiscent of his heyday at Real Madrid and even his first few performances with Manchester United. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had arguably his best game in months and it was a throwback performance, with his willingness to run in behind defenders along with his tendency to drop deep and play as a faux #10. It’s probably too much to ask of him to play like this a lot, but PSG don’t need him to.

It was a very thorough demolition by PSG; the type of performance that shows why some people think of them as one of the top five teams in European football this season.

Tactical Analysis: Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich

Arsenal overcame Bayern Munich in a match few expected them to win. In a calculated tactical display, Arsene Wenger’s team sat deep and used impressive counter-attacks to cause Guardiola’s team a number of problems.

There cannot be any doubts about the quality of Arsenal’s general co-ordination in the attacking organisation phase. But these are not skills that would be needed often against Bayern; this would be a completely new challenge. When Arsene Wenger’s team have been presented with these challenges previously, they have generally faltered. He has been accused of naivety, but his approach to the game against Bayern proved that Wenger is capable of altering his tactical approach should the situation demand.

Bayern’s main threat, much like Arsenal, comes in the attacking organisation phase. And as a result, Arsenal would spend much of the game without possession. Their approach to dealing with this changed throughout the game.

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Tactical Analysis: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool vs. Tottenham

Jurgen Klopp’s arrival in England was met with much fanfare, with supporters eager to see whether his Liverpool team would play at a higher intensity than the one Brendan Rodgers finished with. Initial reports suggested Liverpool would operate with a 4-2-3-1, but the roles of James Milner & Emre Can created an interesting shape with & without the ball.

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PSG 2-1 Marseille: Contrasting 4-3-3’s Take Center Stage in Le Classique

It’s been interesting to see the tactical change Marseille have undergone since the departure of Marcelo Bielsa. Last year Marseille played in multiple fluid formations in an ultra aggressive pressing system, whether in a 3-4-3 or a spread out 4-2-3-1. This year has been considerably different as Michel has Marseille playing under a much more conservative (relative to Bielsa) 4-3-3 formation. The use of Abdelaziz Barrada as a left sided central midfielder has been interesting as well, with his presence at times creating at times a 4-2-2-2

PSG countered Marseille’s 4-3-3 with their own similar formation that unlike for Marseille, has been a staple for PSG for quite a long time. Le Classique was home to dueling 4-3-3s, a fascinating encounter between by far the best team in France, in PSG, and a mercurial Marseille club that have been much better than their 16th place showing.

OM PSG

Marseille’s Conservatism

Under Marcelo Bielsa, Marseille were one of the most aggressive pressing sides in Europe last year. The intense man-marking system had its flaws (both short- and long-term), but it also had its considerable positive effects. Marseille were one of the best at establishing a chaotic tempo and getting out to early leads, very similar to the 2013-14 Liverpool side. The pressing system also suited certain members of last season’s Marseille squad.

This year has been different. Marseille still press but not to the degree they did last season.

Against PSG, it was more of the same. Marseille set up at times in a 4-4-2, very happy to allow PSG to pass from the back.

It’s a considerable change from last season’s Marseille squad but it was also a welcome change in some ways. It displayed a sort of pragmatism that Marseille lacked at certain times last year. What made the new found conservatism even more profound is Marseille found ways to mix and match this with the intense man marking system. Even though Remy Cabella was listed as a LW, he drifted inside with and without the ball.

Marseille PSG

Motta is dispossessed, which creates a counter attacking opportunity leading to a handball infraction just outside the penalty area.

When Marseille got it right, PSG had stretches where they clearly struggled to create a passing tempo from the defense onto their attack. It showed more variety in Marseille’s off the ball structure than was present with Bielsa as their manager. It also allowed for OM to soak up pressure and play on the counter primarily, something that they didn’t do much last season. Roman Alessadrini took charge of the right hand side and was very direct while Michy Batshuayi presented himself as a credible target man when Marseille needed to play long balls to him to relive the pressure from PSG’s pressing of the OM backline.

However there were consequences to the 4-4-2 set up that OM played defensively, and PSG exploited it when the opportunity presented itself, especially when Marseille became quite narrow.

Serge Aurier’s Positioning

The use of Remy Cabella as a LW this season has come with mediocre results for Marseille and against PSG that didn’t change; though this time, Cabella was also a hindrance defensively. In the modified 4-4-2 system defensively, Cabella’s positioning was all over the place as he drifted inside many times. Sometimes he & Barrada would alternate who would play as the nominal left sided midfielder in defensive phases.

Occasionally it ended in good results, like the instances where Marseille would try and create transition opportunities. Other times, it left acres of space for PSG to punish when given the opportunity. Serge Aurier is perhaps the most forward-venturing fullback in Ligue 1 and he was a constant nuisance for Marseille with his positioning, putting a huge strain on Paulo De Cegile and the OM backline to cover up.

Marseille PSG

This was a constant theme for Aurier. What made this particularly tough was that Di Maria and Aurier would often times alternate positions. Di Maria would come deeper despite being the RW and Aurier would go forward. Combine that with the brilliant movement of Marco Verratti and It resulted in PSG’s first big chance of the match.

Marseille PSG

The constant switching between Di Maria and Aurier was a powerful weapon for PSG, and it also displayed the damage Di Maria could inflict from deeper areas. Aurier when going forward is very comfortable on the ball and it proved too much for Marseille to handle. De Cegile isn’t lacking mobility but there was no chance he could cover the entire right hand side by himself, as Cabella was slow to shift. No LB in the world could, nor should, be faced with 1v2’s against the likes of Di Maria and Aurier. Marseille had no counter to this whilst both Cabella and Barrada were on the pitch and it brings into question why Michel is continually playing both Barrada and Cabella on the left side.

It was a masterclass showing from one of the best RBs in Europe. Aurier wasn’t flawless (he gave up a penalty that could’ve equalized for OM in the 2nd half) but his overall performance displayed both the endless stamina and skillful talent he possesses.

Multifaceted Michy Batshuayi

With Michel setting up Marseille to play primarily on the counter attack versus PSG, Batshuayi was tasked to play multiple different roles. At times he was asked to play as a point of reference of some sorts, other times he tried to give width to compensate for Cabella’s continued escapades into the central area. There were even multiple occasions where Batshuayi would collect the ball from inside his own half, another sign into both how committed Marseille were to playing on the counter and how big a stranglehold PSG had in terms of raw possession.

When Marseille wanted Batshuayi to run through the channels, he had the mobility to do so.

Marseille PSG

Against a lesser type of opponent, these kind of instances could’ve resulted in breakaway caliber of chances. It didn’t against PSG because they have the type of mobility at CB to sniff it out and turn possible quality chances into run of the mill stuff.

The goal by Marseille though exemplified the all -around capabilities that Batshuayi possesses. He collected the ball around midfield to keep hold of possession for the team.

Marseille PSG

And then made a typical center forward run and got on the head of Barrada’s cross.

There were also moments where Batshuayi would try and create offense for himself, one of those instances occurring two minutes after the 55th minute penalty save from Kevin Trapp, resulting in a half chance that was parried away. Performances like this are a strong indicator into the caliber of player Michy Batshuayi could become. Against lesser opponents, Marseille’s half chances could’ve been B+ caliber of chances, and most of Marseille’s chances have Michy Batshuayi’s fingerprints all over them.

Conclusion

The performance produced by Marseille was a indicator that they are certainly not the caliber of a 16th place team, which is also backed up by the data. It wasn’t a perfect performance, as PSG did create three clear cut chances from open play, but that’s usually a given when PSG play anyone in Ligue 1. PSG at times looked genuinely troubled with Marseille’s change of pace defensively and were hit on the counter multiple times including the opening goal. Bordeaux did similar things against PSG earlier in the season and it’s the clear tactic to use against a possession dominant side like PSG.

But it was also a reminder as to the massive gap between PSG and the rest of the field in Ligue 1. On an off day, PSG were still able to get in behind Marseille’s defense. In a battle of 4-3-3s, PSG’s version looked more compact defensively even with Marseille doing a number of things right.

The use of Remy Cabella at times effectively gifted PSG the right hand side and both Di Maria and Serge Aurier took great advantage of it. It looks increasingly unlikely that Marseille’s best lineup shouldn’t include both Barrada and Cabella, and it’ll be up to Michel to play a traditional winger if he wants to keep his version of the 4-3-3.

There are clear signs that Marseille will right the ship and move up the table. The problem is just how quickly can they climb up and salvage a possible shot at a Champions League birth for next season.