Following an indifferent first season at Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino’s team have clicked into gear. A number of astute transfer decisions have created a deep squad with a number of potential options for Pochettino to utilise. Harry Kane has emerged as a genuine superstar, and Eric Dier has become a full-time defensive midfielder. But one of the key factors in their rise is Pochettino’s tactical system; this ruthless machine of a Spurs team is entirely different from the soft-centred teams of years past.
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.
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 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
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 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.
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.
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.
Alongside Daniel Sturridge, Coutinho’s signing in the January window of 2012/13 invigorated a previously stagnant Liverpool attack. He continued to blossom and played a pivotal role in Liverpool’s assault on the top of the table in 2013/14.
But despite signing as a tricky playmaker, Coutinho has now morphed into a shot monster. He is well in front of any Premier League player in long-range shots, and also ranks 1st in Europe’s top five leagues for 2015/16.
Basic Coutinho stats and their progression during his Liverpool career
Most of Coutinho’s basic stats exhibit a steady trend. That in itself is important to recognise, but more so is understanding why he’s grown in that way.
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.
The second round of Premier League fixtures saw the two top teams from 2014/15 face off, as Chelsea visited Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. Jose Mourinho played down the importance of the match prior to the weekend, but the game would provide an interesting analysis opportunity for gauging the capabilities of both teams for the new season.
Manchester City dominated the first half, and Chelsea were unable to control the game. Generally, Mourinho teams are able to control the game without the ball by forcing the opposition away from dangerous areas. But this time Chelsea’s midfield had several issues that created more problems elsewhere.
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This is the first 13steps scouting report, for new Liverpool signing Christian Benteke. Over the course of the Summer, we will look to create more of these for other new signings. If there are any players you would particularly like to see, then you can make a request on our Twitter account. We will also introduce a few new concepts that will be a consistent theme throughout the reports.
There has been much debate over the suitability of Christian Benteke for Liverpool’s style of play. Therefore much of this report will be detailed towards his ability to fit into Brendan Rodgers’ team.
Benteke moved to Aston Villa in 2012, for a fee of around £7 million. It has since been suggested that Liverpool had first refusal on Genk players at the time, meaning that they must have refused to match Villa’s offer. They went for £10 million Fabio Borini instead.
Saturday saw Sam Allardyce’s West Ham continue a dismal run of form, having won only once in the league in 2015. Alan Pardew’s rejuvenated Crystal Palace secured a comfortable 3-1 away win, with all of their goals coming from set pieces.
Surprisingly (or not), there was no outrage at the man marking system West Ham used. All of the media focus was on the defenders who were responsible for losing their men; Carl Jenkinson, Winston Reid, and James Tomkins. But each goal showed a specific aspect of play that could’ve been avoided with a zonal marking system.
Following a difficult start to the season and constant tinkering of tactics, Brendan Rodgers seems to have settled on a 3-4-2-1 system. The change is paying off and since the switch, his team have put in top four worthy performances each week. There were positive signs against Manchester United, but David de Gea turned a potentially embarrassing loss into a comfortable victory. Liverpool also dominated the match against Arsenal, but were only able to secure a draw.
The major difference that came in the 4-1 win against Swansea was Liverpool’s style of build-up. Against an Arsenal midfield of Flamini, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Reds were able to dominate the central zones. The Swansea match saw Rodgers gradually relinquish control of the centre of the pitch in favour of regular 3v2 superiority down each flank.
by Sam McGuire
“The problem with Chelsea is I lack a scorer” – José Mourinho, February 2014.
Goals win games. This key element is what cost Chelsea the Premier League title last season. Fast forward 8 months, Chelsea may be lacking fit forwards, but they now have scorers having addressed the issue this summer.
Three new strikers arrived in the summer of 2014; Diego Costa, Didier Drogba and Loïc Rémy. All recognised goal scorers, but it’s safe to say nobody expected this fluidity from a usually structured defensive Mourinho side. 23 goals in 8 Premier League games for the side that only scored 71 in the whole of 13/14 season. Their closest rivals in goals scored are Southampton, on 19, who have Sunderland’s shaky defense to thank for their goal tally.