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.

The Disjointed Nature of Inter’s Attack

For the first time in half a decade, Inter Milan are involved in a genuine fight to win Serie A. With Juventus’ struggles in the early parts of this season, it has opened the door to a four-team battle for the title. Napoli have been arguably the most consistent team in Serie A, Juventus has clawed their way back to contention and Inter already have victories over title contenders Roma, and Milan. Roberto Mancini overhauled their squad during the Summer transfer window, and remodeled an attack that was previously based around striker Mauro Icardi. The Argentine had tied Luca Toni for first in goal scoring in Serie A at 22 goals. Adam Ljajic and Stevan Jovetic were captured on loan deals, with big money spent on Ivan Perisic and Geoffrey Kondogbia. Mateo Kovacic was the only main departure.

On the aggregate, Inter Milan’s attack has been acceptable, especially considering the upheaval at hand. Inter rank 8th in Serie A in total shots, 6th in the % of shots coming from the central part of the penalty area and 4th in expected goals for. There’s a bunch more numbers you could pile through and it would turn out in a similar fashion, ranking Inter’s attack as a respectable team but nothing special.

The manner in which they’ve attained this is fascinating. In an era where team attacking movements have never been more intricate, Inter are an outlier with their attacking approach oriented on athletic ability. They’ve switched between multiple formations: a 4-3-2-1, 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and recently Roberto Mancini has preferred a double pivot within the 4-2-3-1 formation. The depths of which Inter’s formations have changed has reflected the constant search for a workable formula. So far it hasn’t mattered. They sit top of Serie A. But you get the feeling that the club at times is living on borrowed time with their over reliance on defense, especially in close game situations.

The most striking thing about Inter’s attack is the frantic tempo; constantly looking for passes into their attacking players. Most of the central midfielders that Inter have are broadly classified as athletic ball recyclers with the likes of Felipe Melo, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Gary Medel. As a result, teams have often gone to man marking Inter’s central midfield which has forced either the double pivot or the three man midfield to do one of two things: either make a rudimentary pass to a teammate around them or transition the ball quickly to one of the attacking players.

giphy (8)

The central midfielders are all fairly uncomfortable against the press, meaning the full-backs most remain slightly deeper to create an easier passing option should they come under any serious pressure. This makes it more difficult to release the full backs into advanced areas.

Inter Pic

Inter can still occasionally get their fullbacks into advanced areas, particularly Alex Telles. But this occurs when they play 1v2 with a wide player, or they collect the ball in a non structured situation and advance it high up the pitch.

giphy (7)

As a result, Inter have a tough time creating attacks from the back. When teams don’t pressure Inter’s backline, it can look sometimes that they’re bereft of ideas on how to build play from deep. This often leads to ponderous passing and the occasional ambitious long ball from their centerbacks. It gets even more worrisome when the opposition are pressing Inter. Udinese, and at times Fiorentina, pressured against Inter and it caused them to play on the back foot. During the initial stages of the Napoli match, even when Napoli were up 1-0 they hurried the Inter backline. Nagatomo was particularly targeted, and this forced Inter to retreat back to Samir Handanovic using him as a release valve to restart their attack.

Inter Pic

Inter’s poor build-up structure and Napoli’s poor press force Murillo into a difficult situation. He has three main options: pass it back to his GK, make a near-suicidal pass to a teammate in the midfield, or hoof it as far as possible.

Very little of the Inter attack goes through the central midfield, and when it does, it’s often forcing the attacking players to receive the ball much deeper than they would like to. It makes sense to get your best players on the ball as much as possible, but the attacking players are much less dangerous when being asked to collect the ball in the midfield with their backs to goal.

Inter Pic

When Inter deviate from playing redundant midfield players and instead use Brozovic, they trade defense structure for a bit of offensive spontaneity. Brozovic is a talented dribbler who can get himself out of tight situations with his light feet and in one smooth motion can either pick out a pass to an attacking player, or create the pass that creates an opportunity for a teammate to advance play.

giphy (10)

This suggests the best midfield going forward would be utilising Brozovic in a double pivot alongside one of the many destroyers. Geoffrey Kondogbia, for example, thrived last season at Monaco alongside creative midfielders, but has struggled this year in a midfield full of mostly redundant pieces.

Upon transitioning into the opposition half, Inter’s attacking play is largely based on individualism. The likes of Ljajic, Perisic and Jovetic are adept at receiving the ball in somewhat unconventional areas and quickly putting pressure on the opposition with either a pass or dribble. At its best it’s an efficient way of bypassing their weaknesses in the midfield and producing good scoring chances, particularly when the attacking move involve striker Mauro Icardi. Their only goal versus Lazio symbolized that.

giphy (9)

This is Inter at their best: a quick tempo involving a defensive action -> quick pass to the attacking three -> ball into Icardi. It’s everything that Roberto Mancini wants Inter to be with the roster he’s accumulated. However, strip out those moments and you find an attack that is often stagnated. It’s the consequences of relying on individualism to paper over the cracks. When the killer passes aren’t available, Inter will still try and force them in and meekly secede possession. Inter also have a penchant for long range shots when things don’t go their way with the club ranking in Serie A’s top 6 in shots from outside the area.

And here’s the big kicker, the attacking structure that Inter have built has come at the expense of their talisman goal scorer Mauro Icardi. Icardi has been dying for service this season. He’s been receiving the ball about as little as a striker of his caliber can and it’s easy to see why. Inter have built an attack that is the antithesis of a poaching striker. Numerous Inter build up plays in the final third involve overloading on either side and a gap in the central area. When that happens, often times there’s little support for Icardi in the areas that a #10 would generally occupy. This means Inter often rely on 30/35 yard passes to create a chance for Icardi.

Inter Pic

Inter Pic

In theory, a permanent switch to the 4-2-3-1 should help rectify these type of situations going forward. There’ll be times when Icardi will communicate to those around him that he is available for a ground pass, but yet no one will provide him the ball. Even though Jovetic wears the #10 on Inter, he doesn’t play as a nominal #10. He moves around all over the place and occupies different positions playing at times; sometimes like a wide player and at times like a second striker. That type of versatility is needed considering the one dimensional nature of the central midfield, but it can come at the expense of building a consistent rapport with Icardi. He’s also quite happy to let fly outside the box shots if he doesn’t sense anything happening around him.

giphy (12)

The 4-0 victory against Frosninone in late November was arguably Inter’s best attacking performance. Three of the goals that came in the second half were created from some beautiful team passing and hinted at what Inter could be if they get their attack going. Ljajic’s role in particular was important because he did the brunt work of the creativity on that night, occupied the #10 areas that Icardi can get service from and generally stayed attached to him. He played a nice 1-2 with him which led to a tap in for Icardi.

Inter Pic

Jovetic was also more consistent when playing closer to Ljajic, and although his touches were still spread out, there was more of an emphasis on being closer to Icardi for link up opportunities.

Inter Pic

After 17 games, Inter’s attack can be best described as still a work in progress. To their credit they have been ruthless in capitalizing on defensive errors and turning them into goals. Their 4-0 victory over Udinese was a testament to that, as they scored three of their goals from defensive errors by the Udinese backline. Inter are blessed with a couple of hyperactive creative midfielders in Ljajic and Jovetic, while Icardi has still managed to score goals at an impressive rate despite being much more of a supporting player than the main focal point offensively. It’s probably fair to say that the offense still being this choppy is a bit of a concern despite having no European football to deal with, but it’s also fair to say the massive roster upheaval Inter had over the summer means this shouldn’t be a surprise.

The Frosinone performance showed a road map that Inter could head down and find attacking success, but this level of performance needs to be attained against teams with a sturdier defense. In an era where a lot of teams are zigging, Inter are zagging. If the club can find more cohesion going forward, we might be looking at the first Scudetto for Inter since the treble winning season six seasons ago.

 

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.

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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Tactical Analysis: Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen

borussia-dortmund-3-0-bayer-leverkusen Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Bayern Leverkusen: lineups

Roger Schmidt opted for a pair of poachers, Stefan Kießling & Javier Hernández, as his striker duo. In the middle line, as a response to fitness issues for Lars Bender, Schmidt started Kevin Kampl to accompany Christoph Kramer shielding the back line. For Dortmund, in the absence of Marco Reus, Thomas Tuchel opted to play Jonas Hofmann. Matthias Ginter started as the right back meaning Lukas Piszczek stayed on on the bench.

Leverkusen’s Pressing

Immediately after/when Dortmund started to play out of back, Leverkusen shaped with their “normal” pressing set-play, which consisted of four pressing sequences. The first wave was generated by Kießling who pressed the ball carrying center defender (CD), sometimes depending on the ball position and game development, Hernández occasionally took the task of pressuring the ball carrying CD. When the first 9 put the pressure on the Dortmund’s CD, the other one had to make sure (1) he nullified the working space for Dortmund’s six who dropped deep in this 1st phase of build-up and (2) be ready for the second sequence when the other CD got involved in the build up.

If Dortmund’s CD insisted to play through the middle, to any central midfielder, Leverkusen’s six would come up and close him down. By taking notice on Kevin Kampl’s pressing orientation it was clear that his initial duty in this pressing-scheme was keeping close to Ilkay Gundogan.

By occupying centrally both Leverkusen’s wide-men blocked the diagonal option to the wing plus the middle press assisted by the twin 6, it was never easy Dortmund to try to overload the area across their six to overcome such pressing. All of these wide-men and six pressing manner of leverkusen can be considered as the 3rd and 4th sequence.

Dortmund reacted well as they had their own plan of dealing with this: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the outlet. He moved to the 8, in his role in this positional play, to provide the 3rd passing lane as well as receiving the pass from the ball carrying CD. His movement often gave his team the opportunity to transition quickly into offense. By using Aubameyang as the outlet, there were two main advantages gained by Dortmund. The first, Jonathan Tah had to follow him which meant the Leverkusen’s CD left his post in the back line. And second, it allowed Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jonas Hofmann to stay on the upper half-space or flank both to maintain the possibility of tight ball-circulation or stretch the opponent’s defense.

aubameyang-created-3rd-passing-lane By dropping deep, Aubameyang was able to create 3rd passing lane and a triangle shape which enabled Dortmund to launch a quick counter attack.

When Aubameyang was not able to drop-deep in his effort of creating the “3rd line scheme”, caused by his too-high-up-pitch position for example, it was Shinji Kagawa who presented himself on the left half-space at 8. The way he was able to receive the pass from Hummels was based on two major factors. First, the asymmetrical diamond-positioning of Hummels, Weigl, Schmelzer & Kagawa, which loosened Leverkusen 2nd line compactness. The second biggest support was the bad performance of Christoph Kramer. It was he and Kampl tasked with securing any through or direct pass to the central midfield, but in many occasions Kramer made individual mistakes which allowed Dortmund to keep the possession and progress more easily. In short, followed by a quick attacking transition, Dortmund often seemed to benefit from this positional play.

As mentioned in the paragraph above, the issue of Leverkusen’s press was the individual mistake which contributed to a lack of stability within the press. This was evident at 32:12 (one example of many). A good pressing shape had created a 4v2 situation in favor of Leverkusen. They managed to isolate Kagawa from others, as Leverkusen clearly got better ball access. Kagawa mis-controlled the pass from Mkhitaryan which should’ve allowed Kießling to regain possession, but this did not happen. The 9 missed the opportunity and allowed Kagawa to regain the loose ball.

When Leverkusen played this pressing-scheme properly, they managed to force Dortmund to play long ball which Leverkusen would be happier to deal with. In some occasions, Dortmund seemed to find the way through this pressing-scheme by playing to the wide. But here was issue for Tuchel to pay more attention on. It was Dortmund’s right hand-side looked to be more susceptible, possibly as the consequence of Dortmund left side focus which in turn made their left side overloading to be more stable.

Matthias Ginter was found in occasions to misplace his pass when he was used as the ball progression point in Dortmund’s 1st to 2nd phase of deep build-up. One such examples occurred in the 40th minute. Roman Burki played it long to the right touchline into the middle third. Ginter (the target) played a one touch header to Gundogan in a difficult position. Leverkusen’s twin CMs, wide man, and 9 could immediately overload Gundogan, regain possession, and quickly shifted the ball into the centre of the pitch. It gave good access for Leverkusen to generate the gegenpressing, retaking control of the ball, and attacking the opened space in the center.

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Leverkusen overloaded Gundogan.

Overall, Ginter missed six (more than Schmelzer did) of his ‘1st phase build-up’ passes. All this six-pass we’re talking here was received directly from the back line and was almost immediately pressed. The pressing intensity and Dortmund bad overloading around the right hand side seemed to cause a difficult situation for Ginter.

Thomas Tuchel is the one to identify the root cause. He needs to reduce such potential weakening variable, as he also makes sure that Ginter is “pressing-resistant enough” to keep his place within his juego de posicion.

map-of-ginters-miss-placed-passesThe mapping of Ginter’s misplaced passes (graphic courtesy of squawka.com)

Leverkusen’s attacking issue

When they got the pressing to work successfully, Leverkusen would make a quick counter attack (if possible) as they seemed to want to exploit the opponent’s transition phase. Their key weapons in such counter attack were their indented winger (in 4-4-2 box shape) and intelligent inverting movement by the full back.

The indented winger made sure to avoid Leverkusen from being underloaded in the central area. The wingers were also used as the transition point (wall-pass) of the diagonal play. The winger would move from a central area to the flank to play short-quick combination with the attacking full back. When the full back (Wendell for example) needed to transitition centrally, this winger would be the one to occupy the half-space, enable the wall pass, and open the space for the full back to move diagonally to the 18 yard box. The situation from 27th minute was the perfect example of this.

Leverkusen, for sure, would prefer to build patiently from their own third instead of rushing into a questionable long ball. But Dortmund never allowed Leverkusen to play this well. Every time Dortmund got the chance to press the goalkeeper, they would be more than happy to do it. Aubameyang was the first layer in this scheme and Dortmund benefited from such play as it created issue within Leverkusen early build-up phases.

One to note, such pressing needs some adjustment within the formation to avoid numerical inferiority. By pressing the opponent’s goal keeper Tuchel knew they would lose one outfield player that was needed for overloading and second-ball battles as well. This was why Dortmund always tried to overload the area of where the ball fell onto by narrowing their back line shape, to allow any of their CD to move out to the intermediate-defense area to duel with Kießling (as the prime long ball target). This intermediate-play was supported by the backward movement of the central midfielders (CM) or the indenting wide-men.

dortmund-defending-the-long-ball Dortmund defending against the long ball. They defended well against it. They won many of the second ball battles, followed by secure ball circulation, and leading to some promising attacking scenes. (05:48)

With this, Dortmund managed to nullify any potential play that might be generated from Kießling’s aerial ability (something Lazio failed to prevent from in their Champions League play-off clash). With Kießling to be considered as the main threat (and prime Leverkusen long ball target) it was crucial to eliminate all his direct involvement in any aerial duel.

Based on the aerial duel map from squawka.com, Kießling won 4 of 11 aerial duels. When we take a closer look at all of these 11 scenes, we’ll figure out that Leverkusen would struggle at ball-recovery. Dortmund made 5 straight away recoveries at the first touch of the second ball claim. 2 recoveries were made 5 seconds or less after the duel was done. And 1 other recovery was made 7 seconds after the aerial duel. While Leverkusen recovered 3 of them.

One can say Dortmund’s central midfield spatial compactness had contributed hugely to the ball-recovery action. 6 of the 8 recoveries were recorded by the 3 CMs with 2 others (of 8) made by Roman Burki and Marcel Schmelzer. The positional structure in a narrow shape had been a very big contributor in this matter.

Dortmund defensive strength

Dortmund’s pressing was based on their 4-5-1/4-1-4-1. In general, the variant they used was an option-oriented one which occasionally looked like it was space-oriented, particularly when their own far-side half-space/flank was not occupied by the opponent’s players. In this very specific situation, Dortmund’s 4-5-1 tried to occupy 3 horizontal spaces (near flank/half-space, and center).

But the story was different since the opponent occupied the far half-space/flank, as shown on the graphic below.

dortmund-4-5-1-pressing56:35 – a Dortmund’s 4-5-1 zonal pressing.

As the left side was not occupied, Mkhitaryan looked to squeeze the right side space. Different defensive-manner would be taken along with the forward movement by Giulio Donati. Mkhitaryan would have moved closer to the half-space or even to the far-flank to deal with any attack from Donati. The identical defensive action had also been shown by Marcel Schmelzer; he man-marked Hernández on the farthest side.

As the 3 CMs tried to block any pass through the center, some space was allowed between the middle and back line. To reduce the potential exploitation to this space, Hummels was the one to deal with any threat occurred around the intermediate-defense.

Hummels (and the other Dortmund defenders) ability of defending the intermediate area was an integral part of Dortmund’s tight defense. This was extremely important as the intermediate(-defense) is a strategically crucial area of breaking the opponent’s defensive block. A pass to this intermediate area could potentially ruin the compactness as it always invites or lures the back line to move out and press. This has been the natural occurrence of the intermediate area reaction to any pass which is played onto its territory.

if-it-happens-in-the-middle If it happens in an intermediate-middle area (the area in front of the middle-line) of middle-third (for example), you can argue it takes some distance to reach the defending team’s goal.

A pass to the intermediate middle (especially to the center or half-space) and its potential response (press from RCM or RAM) of the defending team’s midfielders, eases the potential penetration either by the LM or LCF. Any forward press by the RCM will open the space in the more centrally area. A press from the RAM might open the space on the flank.

Often during their 2nd line press, Dortmund 3 CMs pressed collectively to the same space in order to block any opposition progression. In turn, this created some space in the intermediate-defense. Here the capability of defending the intermediate-defense is crucial.

The level of direct threat towards the goal of such pass is raising as if the pass is played to the intermediate-defense, particularly in a deep area (zone 5 or penalty box). As you can see in the graphic below.

a-pass-to-intermediate-defense A pass to the intermediate-defense and the potential response from the opposition back-line.

a-scene-from-dortmund-vs-monchengladbach

A scene from the Dortmund vs Monchengladbach match. Lars Stindl managed to find the way through the center and the ball went straightly to Rafael. The striker made a one touch pass to his left which was intercepted by Mats Hummels.

Such play has two polar opposite sides. On one side, with great anticipation, decision and composure of the CD, the defense will stay stable, as they could move out at the proper timing to stop any threat. On the other hand, the potential exploitation of such huge space remains there, particularly by a needle-players whose on-ball technique and quick decision are the true strengths of them.

hummels-moved-out-to-defend Hummels moved out to defend the intermediate area. In this scene the situation was relatively quiet as no diagonal forward passing was provided.

Compact defense, offensive play, and half-space feature

Dortmund’s defense and its relation to attacking transition was also supported well by their flexible basic shape of 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1/4-5-1. The 3 CMs, Kagawa, Gundogan, and Weigl quick transition and their staggering to each other was the key. Combined with the narrow shape, Dortmund gained a lot of advantages as they reach good level of horizontal and vertical compactness.

narrow-shape-and-its-advantage55:16 – an extreme horizontal and vertical compactness in a narrow shape, half-space overloading, and its advantage on the transition.

A high-up press forced Kyriakos to play it long. As discussed earlier, Dortmund were very capable of dealing with it. The pass was intercepted by Sokratis. In his positioning of keeping the shape remained vertically-compact, Weigl was able to recover it and play it forward to Gundogan. These 3 CMs staggered in a triangle shape often found to be effective in regards to their need of tight and save ball circulation. This is evident in the above graphic. A one touch passing play between Weigl, Gundogan, and Kagawa had provided nice diagonal passing combination and provided a good attacking space for Dortmund. Aubameyang noticed the opportunity and he shifted fast to the far half-space to receive Kagawa’s diagonal through ball. Despite this situation ending up without a goal, one thing is clear; the extreme narrow defense, good level of vertical compactness, staggering positioning among the CMs which generated diagonality had achieved its purpose.

Another brilliant scene was the sequence of play within the 55’s minute. Started by a Sokratis forward pass to the right hand-side, Dortmund began their attack. A compact press of Leverkusen halted the progression. Dortmund needed a square or backwards pass. A good movement by Weigl to the upper-right half-space provided a back-diagonal passing lane for Mkhitaryan. It then allowed the ball to be shifted from the ball-side half-space to the far half-space of where Kagawa and Hummels alternately occupied on. This suddenly opened a strategic progression as Hummels played it forward to Mkhitaryan, who also occupied the half-space in the final-third. From his position, Mkhitaryan gained a diagonal passing chance. He straightly played it diagonally to Aubameyang who in a very good view to the goal as the 9 had its face towards the goal.

mkhitaryan-diagonal-pass-from-half-space Mkhitaryan diagonal pass from half-space to Aubameyang in the center. Good for Leverkusen as Mkhitaryan missed it and the ball was claimed by Bernd Leno.

For additional information, below is the graphic of passing comparison. The graphic is taken from the 5-serial analysis on half-space (in Indonesian) from September 2015, at fandom.id. If you want to read another recommended analysis on half-space you can go to Rene Maric’s.

flank-half-space-central-passing Flank, half-space, central passing, and its advantages toward the target

With the graphic above as the benchmark, we gain :

comparison-table-of-passing Comparison table of passing characteristic and the target

Another perfect example? The second goal. It was Mats Hummels with his 26 meter visionary diagonal pass to Aubameyang in the central circle of the upper middle-third. Leverkusen regained possession but in no more than 5 seconds Hofmann’s gegenpressing regained it. Ginter recovered it and made a forward pass to Hofmann. With a quick turn-around, Hofmann briliantly took on Kyriakos on the right byline. A cut back from the right winger was made to Gundogan, who occupied the near-ball half-space. Gundogan made a simple pass, from half-space to the center, to Mkhitaryan. The Armenian couldn’t miss it anymore, as his diagonal pass rightly reached Kagawa who slotted the second goal. Diagonality, positional structure, and gegenpressing played their part to the max.

Half-space and triangle shape had been a lot discussed in various tactical pieces as the key of Dortmund’s switch play. Achieving the right-timing of the combination of near-ball half-space and near-ball flank occupation created the triangle allowing to switch. Dortmund applied this very well. The other nice and interesting set-play in Dortmund’s switch-play is their occasional far-flank overloading, as shown in this match.

There were several moments to see that Leverkusen were not prepared well for such a situation. But we take these two moments as the example. 1. the 9th minute. Before Mkhitaryan switched diagonally from ball-side half-space to the far half-space, Jonas Hofmann filled the far half-space. Then he moved to the center when the diagonal ball was released to reach Matthias Ginter who moved gradually from deeper to final third flank. Leverkusen’s left side defense had been broken by the right-timing movement by Hofmann and the late-arriving Ginter. 2. In the 22nd minute, Dortmund moved and overloaded even more intelligently, as both Ginter and Hofmann overloaded the far flank and created 2v1 situation.

switch-play-and-overloading-the-far-flank32:17 – switch play from half-space and far-flank overloading. Life was never easy for Wendell. This in turn led to a cross by Ginter to the center.

The white arrows with straight line indicate the man-orientation on Leverkusen zonal marking. Special case applies to Wendell. The far-flank overloading had given him an additional task which split his focus, either to stay with Ginter or to follow Hofmann. The behaviour of Calhanoglu was a sign that his movement was not a planned one, which would also suggest Leverkusen were not well prepared for this situation.

Horizontal and vertical compactness, intermediate-defense play, and half-space occupation had given Dortmund a secure defense as well as a flexible & quick transition between their defensive and offensive play. This meant the stable gegenpressing was ready to be generated whenever Dortmund needed to.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

If there is a striker to be considered as an underrated one, it is Aubameyang. Last season, a piece by Colin Trainor of statsbomb.com on Dortmund’s flop shows us despite Dortmund’s flop, it could be suggested that Aubameyang still performed decently as he maintained the level of his statistic performance.

Many people recognize Aubameyang as a speed-merchant. The one with light-speed run who is versatile enough to play both on as a wide forward and central striker. This season, under Tuchel’s guidance, Aubameyang seems to be becoming better than ever. In his role as a false 9, his involvement in preventing his team from being isolated (particularly in Dortmund’s 1st phase of build-up) was fascinating. His contribution to build-up is fantastic.

aubameyang-heat-map Aubameyang’s heat map against Leverkusen (by whoscored.com). Moving across the middle and final third.

brillian-3rd-line-pass-from-hummelsA brilliant 3rd line pass from Hummels reached Aubameyang and preventing Dortmund back-line from being isolated. (16:47)

In the above graphic, Dortmund’s back line (particularly Hummels as the ball carrier) was isolated and might be forced to play it back to Burki, Dortmund’s goalkeeper. But his composure allowed him to be patient and calm to observe any potential open space. Aubameyang understood this and dropped off to the 8 zone to create a potential passing lane. The false 9 accommodated the play away from pressure and isolation whilst quickly followed by a promising offensive action against the lacks stability of the press as he lured the press and managed to play the ball to Kagawa.

The initial movement by Aubameyang had in turn ended up with this (promising) attacking scene.

chance-creation-from-16-54-minute Chance creation from 16:54

Dortmund’s second goal was also a nice example of how crucial Aubameyang’s role was, both in preventing the deep build up from being isolated as well as the check-point of Dortmund’s ball progression.

aubameyang-involvement Aubameyang’s involvement in the second goal

Again, by dropping off to the 8 zone, Aubameyang provided a “new” passing lane for Hummels. This movement was not directly connected to the Dortmund’s 2nd goal, as Leverkusen briefly regained possession for 5 seconds before Dortmund managed to retake it and scored. But it was clear, without Aubameyang intelligent movement, Dortmund might not be able to easily progress the ball, which means Kagawa may never have scored the second goal.

Aubameyang mobility throughout the match had been a huge positive factor contributing to Dortmund’s progression. He dropped deep, got himself involved in a duel, made recoveries, moved from flank to flank, opened the space either by a pass from various strategical areas or his off the ball movement. Along with Shinji Kagawa, Aubameyang deserves the man of the match award.

Conclusion

Anything else to say but ‘brilliant’ for Tuchel’s team? Dortmund played their football to the maximum level. They stopped Leverkusen from playing out of the back, they squeezed the central area, and their chances creation in the penalty box is simply top level. For a brief look you can see an xG graphic created by Michael Caley.

michael-caleys-dortmund-leverkusen-xg Michael Caley’s Dortmund-Leverkusen xG map

Separated by next two matches, FC Bayern will play Dortmund at Allianz in the match day 8th of Bundesliga. A potentially to be the match of the season. A classic clash of the highest level of German clubs competition.

For deeper understanding of Dortmund’s Tuchel, you should check out spielverlagerung’s works. You can find a lot of worth reading Dortmund-related pieces there. And, for sure, Pep’s Confidential or any juego de posicion articles (with Adin Osmanbasic’s as a highly-recommended one). Cheers.

Match Analysis: Manchester City vs. Chelsea

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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Scout Report: Memphis Depay

Welcome to the second 13steps’ Scout Report. Much like the first piece on Christian Benteke, we’re always looking for feedback & constructive criticism. If you have an opinion on the piece, then leave a comment below or let us know on Twitter.

The focus for this report is Dutch wonderkid Memphis Depay. Emerging on the scene in 2011, he was immediately a hit. Starting as a tricky dribbler who was a handful to deal with on the counter, he has blossomed into a genuine goalscoring threat. On the left of PSV’s 4-3-3 in 2014-15, Depay was vital in engineering their first league title since 2008.
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