Second half changes help Real Madrid retain their European title

 This was an European final that got the blood pumping in every football fans’ veins. For casual fans the clash of two European superpowers offered a spectacular game. For the tactics community the issues Zidane’s Madrid had with spacing on the pitch have been well documented. Juventus also have their structural issues when they play possession football in the opponent’s half. I was eager to see what the two sides would come up with to exploit each other’s issues.

The lineups

Real Madrid shape Real Madrid started the match in a 4312 formation, with the start of Isco supplying the big talking point before the game. He forced Bale to the bench, who went to school only a few miles from the stadium as a little boy. #narratives

Ultimately the role of Isco was crucial to the game. His diagonal dribbles attracted pressure from opponents, thus giving more space to Kroos, Casemiro and Modric. His press resistance made it possible to escape from the middle third press of Juventus in crucial moments.

Juve def. shape When the starting eleven appeared, there was some uncertainty whether Juventus will play with a back three or a back four. In the game their formation was 442 in defence, the phase of play they spent most of the game. Alex Sandro, Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli made a back four, with Dani Alves and Mandzukic playing on either side of Khedira and Pjanic. Higuain and Dybala formed the striker partnership.

The shape of Madrid’s press

 In the high press the Madrid shape resembled a 42121, with Casemiro and Modric sitting in a deep, central position. Casemiro barely left the central area in front of the central defenders, mostly marking Dybala. The role of Modric was a bit more complex. He defended between Khedira and Alex Sandro. By staying a few meters behind Khedira, he could prevent the German international getting the ball, but he could still press a long ball from Buffon to Alex Sandro. Kroos marked Pjanic closely, which was a the theme for most of the game.

Juve’s shape was asymmetrical. Chiellini and Bonucci played as two central defenders with the latter in the left half space. Barzagli stood almost next to the sideline, keeping a large distance from Isco, who started his pressing runs from the left half space.  Dani Alves pushed a lot higher on the right side, than Alex Sandro on the left side. These dynamics left Chiellini on the left side in space. However for the majority of the game Juventus decided to build up with Buffon playing the ball to Alex Sandro on the sideline, or Mandzukic, who used his aerial superiority against Carvajal to flick the ball onto the overlapping Alex Sandro.

 At other times the press looked like a 4132, where Ronaldo was more man oriented on Chiellini, Casemiro man oriented with Dybala, and Kroos marking Pjanic very closely as always. In this pressing shape Alex Sandro was the free player, with Modric having to leave Khedira to pressure the ball when it was played to the fullback.

Khedira in possession

 In general Khedira had a few chances to pick up the ball free in midfield, since Kroos was man marking Pjanic. However Khedira struggled to play through the lines in a  way that would have caused problems for Madrid. He mostly tried to connect with Mandzukic in the same vertical zone, which resulted in heavy pressure on the ball after the pass. A way to play a vertical pass with less pressure would have been to pass right after he received the ball, but instead he dribbled, thus giving time for the Real midfielders to start pressing him, and make the passing lane to Mandzukic tighter.This way of dribbling until the last second could have worked well by making more space for the wide player – Alex Sandro – by pulling Carvajal closer to the middle. However Khedira didn’t pass wide, failing to take advantage of this dynamic.

 Another issue was a team tactical one. When Khedira dribbled forward with the ball, both Mandzukic and Higuain waited for the ball in front of the Real defence, while Dybala didn’t make runs behind the defence out of possession either. The space for Khedira to play in shrinked as he dribbled forward, while the Real defenders could read the next football action easier. 

Dybala frequently moved into the space between Kroos and the left winger to ask for the ball  from Bonucci. This space was there since Kroos was very man oriented on Pjanic. Ramos always stepped out with Dybala, and applied pressure with perfect timing, forcing heavy touches, or preventing the Argentine from turning on the ball.

Juve’s defensive shape

 To disrupt the ball circulation of Real Madrid Juventus defended in a 442 shape in their own half. Dani Alves had a crucial role on the right side, pressing vertical balls in the half space, as well as moving up to press Kroos from the outside when the German international’s body position prevented him from seeing the movement of Dani Alves.
In the beginning Real Madrid had some positional issues on the left wing, which allowed Alves to access Marcelo, while Madrid didn’t have a way to play out of the pressure. 

 Due to the deep position of Marcelo, Benzema appeared on the left wing, but was tightly marked by Barzagli, with Juventus staying very compact horizontally. Isco had a key role in disrupting this structure with his dribbling followed with runs in the channel, thus making space for Benzema.

 Isco was moving back from the space between Pjanic and Khedira, receiving the ball from Marcelo, dribbling diagonally, thus drawing several players, most notably Dani Alves to the ball and creating space for Marcelo. After laying the ball down, Isco made a full speed run into the channel between Barzagli and Bonucci, thereby creating space for Benzema to receive the ball between the lines.

 In the ball circulation phase Kroos was playing rather deep in the left halfspace, even though Marcelo was also not pushing high near the sideline. This created an overload in that deep halfspace-wing area, but if Isco couldn’t ask for the ball, Madrid struggled to advance from here due to the lack of numbers in front of the ball, and the horizontal compactness of Juventus.

 Ronaldo was either playing between the lines on the ballfar side, or coming too close to the ball on the sideline, thereby taking away the already not so good staggering of  Real Madrid on the ballnear side. Ronaldo attempted runs behind the Juventus defence in the ball near channel, but Bonucci and Chiellini covered each other well and started their movement to defend the long ball from Marcelo in time. In the first half there were no players between the lines – asking for the ball to their feet – on the ball side, hence it was easy for the Juventus defenders to read the pass in the absence of other cues. 

 After 33 minutes the spacing between Kroos, Marcelo and Isco was much better, and the run of Isco resulted in an excellent cross and a close range Ronaldo header. Marcelo received the ball just a little bit behind Dani Alves, which was enough to pick out Marcelo making a run on the blindside of Barzagli.

Real’s midfield shape

 The structure of Real’s midfield was quite peculiar, with low numbers in the middle, mainly going for control in the deep halfspaces and wide areas. Kroos was mainly asking for the ball in the deep left hafspace, Modric in the deep right halfspace, while Casemiro had a more static position in the centre. The mobility of Isco was crucial in the ball circulation of Real Madrid as he could ask for the ball in front of the Juventus team shape, dribble diagonally and turn suddenly to play to either Kroos or Modric, who asked for the ball in the space vacated by the shifting Juventus team. Just as important was his ability to receive the ball between the Juventus midfielders, invite the pressure from Dani Alves and Pjanic before laying off the ball. 

 Dybala and Higuain stayed very close to the rest of the Juventus team, defending on either side of Casemiro, preventing the ball from getting to the Brazilian from Kroos or Modric, and pressing from the blindside if the ball did get to the Brazilian. They won multiple balls this way. 

2 - Real midfield structure

 The benefit of the three Real Madrid midfielders playing behind the the ball in the circulation phase was that they could shield the passing lane to Higuain when Juventus won back the ball always falling back to a horizontally compact shape, thus severely limiting the ability of the Italians to move up from their block in their own half. At long balls into the space behind Varane proved to be quicker than Higuain, regularly beating the striker in 1 v 1 scenarios. 

Juventus press in the deep half spaces

 Kroos and Modric were not under pressure in the halfspaces during ball circulation for the most part, with the exception of when Dani Alves or Madzukic ran up to press them from the side and force them inside, sometimes even dispossessing them. The trigger for these pressing actions was their body position the moment they received the ball. When they received the ball looking diagonally to the centre of the pitch the Juventus wingers could press them with a curved run from the outside.

 However the structure of Real Madrid was not the most conducive to playing forward. There were multiple players on the ball side either on the same line vertically or horizontally. Much of Kroos’ passing entailed playing to Isco or Ronaldo moving in front of Pjanic and Khedira from between the lines, who then layed off the ball to Kroos again. These passes were good for manipulating the positions of Dani Alves and Pjanic, but Real Madrid struggled to penetrate. In the second half their ball circulation became quicker and Isco started dribbling diagonally instead of giving the ball back to Kroos, both factors  having a part to play in Real Madrid running away with the game. 

 On the left side Juventus struggled to maintain the same compactness as they did on the right side. When Modric received the ball in the right deep halfspace, Mandzukic was covering the vertical passing lane to Ronaldo in the advanced halfspace, but Mandzukic didn’t move up to press the midfielder, his defending was passive. Carvajal asked for the ball almost in one line with Modric, Alex Sandro had to move out very far from the chain of four to press Carvajal, with Chiellini struggling to keep the distance from the fullback. With the passive defending of Mandzukic, Modric moved into a position where from he could easily find Ronaldo in the space between Chiellini and Alex Sandro.

 For Juventus Mandzukic served as a target to play diagonals to, or play to him running into space, attempting to get on the inside of Carvajal. If Mandzukic received the ball on the ground, with a closed body position to the field of play, then Carvajal pressed him tightly. 

Juventus high press

 In the Juventus press Mandzukic and Dybala were man oriented on the two Real central defenders, while Higuain was on Casemiro. The ex-Real striker stood between Navas and Casemiro, attacking the ball to hurry goalkicks after Real took the lead. If Higuain moved up to the keeper, Khedira attempted to move up to Casemiro, but he was more zonally oriented, and left the Brazilian midfielder free in order to cover the pass to Isco, thus giving an option for Madrid to escape the press. Pjanic marked Kroos in a man oriented fashion on the ball side, which the German exploited by pulling Pjanic wide when Marcelo had the ball, thus opening the space to the central zone to give access to Casemiro.

Second half

 In the beginning of the second half Real Madrid created two dangerous situations from Marcelo passing to a running player into the ballside channel. The reason this worked was Real having a better structure in front of the ball, one player running into the channel, at least one asking for the ball between the lines, making it more difficult for the defenders to support each other with the long ball behind the defence. In the second situation Ronaldo asked for the ball between the lines in front of Bonucci, and the Italian defender marked the Portugese legend instead of supporting Barzagli in defending the space behind the Juventus defence. In the first instance unfortunatey the video of the game doesn’t reveal why Juventus failed to defend this ball and run, since the start of the defenders’ movement is not in the game video. However this time Benzema appears in front of Bonucci.

Real Madrid started the second half rather aggressively. Not just in the number of late challenges and tackles flying in the moment Juventus broke from the counterpress or pressure, but also Real started pressing rather high in the second half.

 Another crucial change was the quicker possession game of Real Madrid, especially in the way they changed sides with the ball. Kroos moved the ball onto Marcelo at times even with one touch, and escaped the pressing of Dani Alves by passing vertically to Isco with similar pace. The diagonal dribbling of Isco also has to be mentioned, for it was crucial in attracting the press from Dybala, therefore making Casemiro free to speed up the pace of the attack again, and play a diagonal to Carvajal, who played almost as high as the Juventus defence, unlike in the first half.

 Isco played in a higher position in the second half during circulation. If he got the ball between the lines from Kroos, he offered a route through which Real could escape the press of Dani Alves, and he could keep the ball even with his back to the goal against Bonucci thanks to his excellent press resistance. Dani Alves worked very hard in defence, pressing any vertical pass into the halfspace on his side, pressing Kroos in the deep halfspace if the triggers were there, and also trying to pressure Marcelo next to the sideline. By playing vertical passes in the left halfspace, immediately laying off the ball, and moving it on, Real could manipulate the position of Dani Alves in a way that he was always on the move, never getting into a set defensive position. Even the attack before the second goal of Real came down on his side, after he lost the ball in a counterattack and failed to track back after a long stretch of extensive defensive work.

 Kroos’ excellent sense of rhythm deserves credit. His one touch passing was crucial in speeding up the game. Also he kept the ball with purpose – short passes with Ramos – in order to attract pressure from Dybala, thus making Casemiro free in the middle. Thus the Brazilian had time to change the sides to Carvajal. This happened before the second goal, where Casemiro’s diagonal was inaccurate, but Modric won the second ball and set up Ronaldo for the third goal.

 At 3-1 Dybala and Higuain became more active in pressing the Real central defenders during the ball circulation. This left Casemiro free in the six space, as Khedira and Pjanic/Marchisio didn’t move together with the strikers, Juventus lost vertical compactness.

The red card of Cuadrado mainly sealed the faith of Juventus. This tweet from @OptaJohan tells it all:

OptaJohan.jpg

Conclusion

All in all the dominance of Real Madrid in the final can not be questioned. They over performed Juventus in expected goals thanks to a flurry of chances in the second half. It is funny for me to think about last summer, when there was a real chance of Isco leaving Madrid. Now he was a key performer in a Champion’s League final. Life works in mysterious ways.

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Braunschweig’s middle third press, and Wolfsburg’s structural issues in the first half

Wolfsburg attacking shapes.jpg The first leg of the Bundesliga relegation playoff between Wolfsburg and Eintracht Braunschweig saw the visitors restricting access to the six space, so the home team had to build up their game in other ways. The man marking of Braunschweig was played over by Wolfsburg with long balls to Ntep and Gomez, with Didavi enjoying freedom of space between the lines due to the structure of Braunschweig’s pressing. 

So how did Braunschweig’s press look?

 In the middle third Braunschweig applied an active defending that prevented access to the six space. The two strikers – Hernandez and Nyman – started from a position that covered the passing lanes to the defensive midfielders Guilavogui and Luiz Gustavo. At any pressing trigger – miscontrol, slow pass, pass behind the receiving player – the ball near striker pressed the ball while the other striker moved inside to the six space. If the defender who came under pressure first  passed on the ball, the other striker pressed the receiving defender, while a Braunschweig central midfielder moved up to mark the defensive midfielder in the six space. Out of Hernandez and Nyman especially the first one was tenacious, once even pressing Luiz Gustavo almost on the sideline.

 Knoche was put under pressure frequently in the first twenty minutes, mainly because Wollscheid’s passes were either behind him, or too slow, which forced the right central defender to play a long ball to the same side winger. The two central defenders got too far away from each other on some occasions, which made it easier to press them since they couldn’t count on the support from the other central defender.

Wolfsburg’s way of building up without the six space

 Due to the man oriented nature of the Braunschweig midfielders, the space between them and the strikers became too large, which made it easier for Wolfsburg to collect second balls.  After moving up to mark the defensive midfielder in the six space, a large gap appeared with only Moll occupying it. This left more space for Didavi to collect second balls, after hopeful long balls from Knoche. 

On one occasion Knoche played a long ball to Gomez, the back four of Braunschweig was too large, the channels between the central defenders and the fullbacks was big due to the manmarking tendencies of both fullbacks. Didavi attacked the ball near channel after  collecting the layoff from Gomez.

Another method of building up without using the six space involved one of the Wolfsburg holding midfielders rotating out into the ballnear halfspace, out of the cover shadow of one of the strikers. On the right side when Guilavogui got the ball, he was immediately pressed. The pressing was even more successful, as the team structure in front of him was poor, namely Didavi, Malli and Trasch were all too far, the distances became too large to play forward.

 Wolfsburg could create space by Gerhardt moving up next to the sideline on the left side, Luiz Gustavo moving out to the deep left halfspace, almost as a third defender. Didavi pulled his marker – Moll – into the central zone, but moved back very deep. This opened space in central midfield for Luiz Gustavo to dribble forward, and attempt to pass through to Ntep running into the channel.

 In transitions Nyman asked for the ball in the halfspace, on the outside of Wollscheid. The other striker was either in the other halfspace, or asked for the ball in front of the defence. The midfielders immediately played the ball forward upon winning it, letting the Swedish striker drive at Wollscheid, creating the best chance of the visitors from one of these counterattacks.

Gerhardt coming inside.jpg On the left side in ball circulation Gerhardt moved inside to the advanced halfspace, with Ntep staying on the outside. Gerhardt’s movement kept the Braunschweig fullback Suer inside, with enough distance from Ntep that Wollscheid could find the French winger with the ball. After Ntep got the ball Gerhardt made a run on the blindside of the fullback into the channel.

 In the above instance Wollscheid was not pressed, due to the involvement of Luiz Gustavo. The ex-Bayern midfielder moved clos to Wollscheid in the deep halfspace, just enough to attract the press from Nyman, and free up Wollscheid. Nyman didn’t attept to press Wollscheid after he got the ball back from Gustavo.

 At other times Luiz Gustavo didn’t help the ball circulation with his off the ball positioning, sometimes coming too close to Guilavogui when the Frenchmen got under pressure in the left half space (video below). The whole team structure when the ball was in the left halfspace didn’t help retain the ball. Trasch and Malli were both too far from the ball, and horizontally on the same line. Neither of them moved into the ballfar halfspace, or the centre to ask for the ball in the space behind Moll. Spaces opened up in central midfield as a result of Braunschweig’s aggressive manmarking, but Wolfsburg couldn’t capitalise. Even if the diagonal found a wide man on the right side, the structure behind him wasn’t there to press second balls. The diagonal was immediately under pressure, and Braunschweig could have countered if it wasn’t for last ditch tackles.

The buildup of the visitors

 On the left side Reichel moved inside, when Velsvik stepped in free with the ball. They made space for Velsvik by Boland inviting the pressure with playing a wall pass to Moll. There was too much space between the lines of Wolfsburg when Velsvik stepped in, and Malli tucked inside too much – almost behind the Guilavogui – leaving the pass to Hochscheidt open.

 Reichel was playing on the last line, looking to run behind in the channel between Knoche and Trasch, while Hernandez played goalside of Knoche. This way Braunschweig created a numerical overload on the ball side.

 

Ways of penetrating Leverkusen’s asymmetric middle third press

Leverkusen’s asymmetric pressing shape

Leverkusen started defending in  a 4222 – esque shape around 35 meters from the Dortmund goal.

pressing-areas-leverkusen

The aim of this asymmetric pressing shape could easily have been to let the ball go to Guerreiro on the left side, and overwhelm the wingback and win back the ball next to the sideline. Similarly if  Bartra or Piszczek took too much time on the ball without playing it on, they could be sandwiched by one of the strikers and the inside ten – Havertz and Mehmedi or Volland and Kampl respectively -as it happened to Piszczek just after one minute.

These were the two situations Dortmund looked to prevent. They had two ways of making it happen:

  1. Give Guerreiro more time on the ball.
  2. Leave the sidebacks and the wingback out of the ball circulation.

First option for Leverkusen to win the ball: Let Guerreiro get the ball, and overload him

volland-and-havertzEither if Bartra attempted to dribble in from a  deeper position, or if Papastathopoulos passed him the ball, Mehmedi moved up to press him. In these cases Weigl tried to move as far from the ball in the six space as possible. When Havertz moved sideways, either Volland also moved to closer to the ball, in which case Papastathopoulos got more space. Or Volland stayed closer to Papastathopoulos, and a possible passing lane opened to Weigl. Albeit this pass would have been risky and technically difficult to execute, this option to play through the press wasn’t used by the home team.

When the ball was on its way to Bartra, Henrichs was often surprisingly far from Guerreiro. Leverkusen was setting a pressing trap, by leaving the wingback seemingly open, and pouncing on the ball once he got it. By the time Guerreiro got the ball and turned forward with it, Henrichs and Mehmedi have put him in a sandwich,  with Aranguiz covering the passing options inside.

 The home team could create more space for Guerreiro with the movement of Reus. Either the German attacker was hugging the touchline, or in the half space between the lines when the Portuguese wingback got the ball. In the first case Henrichs stayed with Reus, taking him away as a passing option. The second case created more interesting options for Dortmund.

 When the ball got to Guerreiro, Aubameyang started drawing infield, Reus makes  the run behind Henrichs after the fullback moves up to close down Guerreiro on the ball. It is also crucial that as the ball is going to Bartra, Castro moves to the ball, pulling Aranguiz with him. This way the passing lane from Guerreiro to the halfspace is open longer.

Lack of pressure on Papastathopoulos

When Papastathopoulos had the ball, Volland  was focused on covering the passing lane to Weigl. He didn’t move up to press the Greek defender. Weigh took advantage of this dynamic by pulling further away from the ball, creating more space and time for Papastathopoulos without pressure.

This time with no pressure on the ball gave Dortmund the chance to get into an organisation where Aubameyang, Reus, Dembele and Durm could run behind the Leverkusen defence, with Papastathopoulos picking out the perfect moment to play the ball long, thus leaving the sidebacks and the wingbacks out of the ball circulation.

With the recent issues Dortmund had with counterpressing,  It was a ball oriented counterpress, Guerreiro and Reus both moved closer to the ball side. One player maintained pressure on the Ball carrier of Leverkusen. At the back the back three was horizontally compact, Castro and Weigl pressed forward, to put pressure on Bender or Aranguiz in case one of them received a pass in transition. Reus also moved inside, leaving Henrichs, the wing-back on the ball-far side open, Guerreiro moving inside, very close to Mehmedi.

Accessing the six space through Piszczek

To make more space for Weigl both Dembele and Durm played high in their respective spaces to give more time for Piszczek on the ball, and give him access to the six space. The advanced position of Durm kept Kampl from moving up to Piszczek. Dembele also stayed away from the ball, keeping Bender away from the sideback.

If Piszczek couldn’t play the ball forward from this process, Kampl could move close enough with Volland to press and win the ball. It was crucial that the right supporting structure was in place to play the ball forward the moment the sidebacks got the ball. Even taking an extra touch, and attempting to pass with the third touch could give enough time for the Leverkusen players to close all options.

Conclusion

Just these few situations presented interesting ideas, processes on how to go through a team who uses this particular type of middle third press.

The functional technique of Bartra, and the quality of passes he got from Papastathopoulos were magnificent. I love games where the team defending is forcing the play in certain directions, and wants to be in control of where the attacking team plays the ball. This forces the attacking team to play with precision, and the details in individual functional technique come to the surface. These are the types of games one can learn the most from.

 

 

 

 

Man City’s attacking patterns vs a five man narrow zonal midfield

This match had a pretty consistent pattern. Swansea were defending with a very narrow  midfield of five players. They were not entirely in one line, Cork was usually the deepest, with Fer and Carroll slightly higher on either side of him, Rutledge and Sigurdsson even higher. Manchester City were trying to break down this block, the same one Southampton struggled to play past. I was intrigued to see the attacking patterns Manchester City employed.

Swansea started defending in the middle third, forming a block of five players with the three central midfielders close to each other, Cork the deepest in the middle, the two wingers a little bit higher vertically, but horizontally the whole midfield organisation was very  narrow.

This compact midfield made it impossible for Toure or Stones to pass directly to Silva, Gabriel Jesus, De Bruyne or Sterling between the lines. So how exactly did City find players in the hole, or behind the Swansea defence?

manchester-city-fernandinho-dribbling-in-from-width-in-ball-ciculation-jpgFernandinho

The most interesting choice concerning the second phase of the buildup was the role of Fernandinho, who was indicated as a left-back on the teamsheet. He started out wide, and dribbled diagonally inside, or he already stood in the halfspace before getting the ball.

When Fernandinho dribbled diagonally inside, Silva made a run to the goal in the channel, which prevented Naughton from getting out and putting pressure on Sane immediately after the German international received a diagonal pass from Fernandinho.

After the diagonal he stayed in the central space, which put him in an excellent position to control the runs of Sigurdsson during the attacking transitions of Swansea from their own third.

Fernandinho appeared frequently in the right half space when the ball was coming back from the left side of the pitch, and Stones played a hard pass to either De Bruyne or Sterling on the wing. This way he was not only closer to the Swansea midfield line, and able to counterpress in case the ball was lost, but he could also provide a free passing option to recycle the ball if the penetration didn’t happen on the right side.

Gabriel Jesus movement in front of the Swansea midfield

 When Kolarov had the ball with free space in front of him,  Jesus moved in front of the midfield, in front of Jack Cork’s zone. The Swansea midfielder pressured him when Jesus received the ball, this was the perfect moment for Sterling to move into the space between the lines behind Cork.

 

What was also needed for this space to open is a player – in this case Sterling – playing between the lines in the right half space while the ball was recycled from the right side to the left – to Kolarov. Tom Carroll was marking the right half space zone, and made sure that the ball could not be played to Sterling standing behind him. Covering this passing option made him get too far away from Cork while shifting over, which left his colleague with too much space to defend. (You can see Fernandinho in the right halfspace in the video)

The same movement was made by Jesus again in the 14th minute, but he made the step back from the space behind Cork too early, before the ball got to Stones. This way he got into the visual field of Cork, who tracked his run, by the time Stones got into possession Jesus was marked.

The dangerous runs of Silva starting from the half space

manchester-city-incision-on-the-leftSince the Swansea midfield line was so tight that a direct pass from Toure to the players between the lines would have been impossible, a recurring passing pattern involved Toure playing out to Clichy, who played a hard ball on the floor to Silva. The Spaniard made a run to get out of the cover shadow of Routledge, and receive behind the winger running out to press Clichy.

On the right side De Bruyne and Sterling combined, with Fernandinho always a free option if penetration into the box wasn’t an option.

Stones dribbling into the game

The first line of the Swansea block in the middle third consisted of only Llorente, who followed Toure if the Ivorian stepped wide to ask for the ball when Clichy had it. With such movement Toure could make space for Stones to dribble into the game. Carroll stepped out to pressure the centre-back, with Sigurdsson and Cork closing the vertical passing options. At this moment Silva made a run into the channel, pulling Naughton inside,creating space wide for Stones to open up, and giving time for Sane to receive the ball without pressure.

Llorente marked either Kolarov, Stones or Toure whoever was closest to Clichy in the central space. This way the central trio of Manchester City could pull Llorente to one side, or play around in front of him by forming a flat three and Fernandinho pushing higher vertically. After a while Llorente stopped moving with the ball, and somebody could dribble into the game without pressure.

2-v-1-on-the-right-side-w-sterling-and-de-bruyneOn the right side either De Bruyne or Sterling was in the wide space, but not so wide that their boots were getting messy from the paint of the sideline. The player wide always made sure to be closer to the Swansea goal than Sigurdsson was vertically.

With a hard pass on the ground Stones could play to De Bruyne, and due to the originally narrow positioning of Sigurdsson, the two City attackers could create a 2 v 1 against Olsson. Also the wide player received the ball higher on the pitch than Sigurdsson’s position. If the penetration didn’t happen, Fernandinho would come in the second wave, giving a free option to play out from the area now closed down by the defending team.

Silva uses the occasional manmarking tendencies of the Swansea back four

silva-run-into-the-channelIn the 19th minute Swansea struggled to defend  the channel on their left side between Olsson and Mawson. This was due to the lack of shifting over when Stones passed to the player wide. In these cases Olsson attacked the wide player if he didn’t have a player in his zone – like Sterling in a previous example. However Mawson stayed in the centre, too occupied with Gabriel Jesus.

Silva had an excellent starting position. He was in front of the channel, but closer to the defence than Cork, so as the midfielder moved sideways during Stones’ pass to De Bruyne, Silva was out of Cork’s visual field.

Silva made his run with a direction and speed not to get into the visual field of Olsson. The fullback stepped up to press De Bruyne and left the space behind him open. Mawson was not shifting over, he was too man oriented on Gabriel Jesus.

Runs behind the defence 

A few times the players occupying the wide attacking positions tried runs behind the defence diagonally, with the central defender free on the ball playing a long ball behind the visitor’s defence. On City’s left side such a ball lead to an aerial duel between Sane and Naughton, with Silva picking up the second ball between the lines. On the right Sterling’s run behind Olsson was met with an accurate long pass from Stones, with the attacker  taking a heavy touch in front of Fabianski rushing out of his goal, and receiving a yellow card for what the referee deemed to be diving.

 

Dortmund v Bayern: Patterns in the home team’s attack

Borussia Dortmund hosted Bayern Munchen for the meeting that was definitely the highlight of my Saturday. Some might consider this a testament to the lack of social activities in my life. Others, who know me well are aware that I love nothing more than exciting possession game, excellent movement off the ball, and Mario Gotze  picking up the ball between the lines dribbling at horrified defenders at a mad pace. This game had all of these on display in abundance.

Entertainment aside, what did I take away from this game? I loved the way Dortmund worked in possession during the second and third phase of their buildup play. They moved the ball around well in front of the lines of Bayern with the aid of a solid base formed by Bartra, Papastathopoulos, Ginter and Weigl. Schmelzer and Piszczek gave width to their possession game, which contained a few recognisable movements that happened again and again.

This article is a highlight of these patterns.

Why was the possession game of Dortmund successful?

  • They could move around the ball quickly without Bayern ever putting real pressure on the ball.
  • There was a good balance of attacking players running into the space behind the defending team, and asking for the ball between the lines.

This is a nightmare scenario fro any team defending zonally. They are forced to run for extended periods without ever putting pressure on the ball, thus having a realistic chance at winning it.

Let’s see how this manifested on the pitch.

The Goal

The attack before the goal was a perfect example of Bayern failing to apply pressure at Dortmund during the defence phase. First Dortmund attempted to create something on the left side, but when it didn’t happen they changed the sides easily finding Ginter with no pressure on him.

The movement leading to Dortmund penetrating the lines:

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Piszczek moved a bit deeper to ask for the ball, and draw Alaba out of the back four, creating space for Gotze.
The starting position of Gotze is brilliant, he is just behind Ribery, who runs up to put pressure on Ginter. He starts from a central position, so he keeps the channel big, he has more space to run into. While the ball is moving to Piszcek, Gotze is first just moving sideways. He attacks the space when Alaba decides to step up to Piszczek. This way the Austrian fullback cannot change his mind to turn back and close the space in front of the German attacker.

A central defender at the sideline

 

Ginter moves wide. When he gets the ball Ribery has to move up and apply pressure. In the video I identify some problems with the way he does this, but after Dortmund escape from the pressure the No 6 of Bayern (Xabi Alonso) has to decide where to move. Does he drop deeper and and try to close the passing lane to the middle? Does he stay close to Wiegl?

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Dortmund can escape either way. Either through the great run of Gotze, who recognises the positioning of Thiago and Alonso, or through Weigl (No 8). If Weigl gets the ball he can open up to the other side, where the No 2 (Schmelzer) is free and No 7 (Schurrle) can take on the his man 1 v 1.

A striker occupies the attention of the fullback on the side of the ball

I just love the starting position of Aubameyang (No 9). Lahm is anticipating that he might have to defend the pass to the fullback, thus he positions his body to turn easily. When Aubameyang steps back Lahm notices him and follows. In this moment the connection between him and Muller is not sufficient. Muller is not aware of the player running behind him.352-v-4231-3rd-phase-of-the-buildup-the-striker-moves-wide-to-occupy-the-fullback

There is no pressure on Bartra, if he decides that penetration is not possible on his side he can quickly change the sides to Piszczek (No 3). We can see Gotze in the same position where he was  in the first situation we looked at. The field occupation on the other side is very much the same, after a change of sides the same attempt at penetration could follow.

Finally…below you can watch a situation which has elements of multiple situations we looked at above.

  • A striker occupying the attention of the fullback. (Aubameyang and Lahm again).
  • Gotze finding space behind Ribery.

Lukaku vs Carrick: Winning a header against a physically superior opponent

In the fifth minute of the FA Cup semi-final Lukaku almost scored a goal after Carrick and Fosu-Mensa failed to deal with a  long ball. The two United players made a mistake by letting the ball bounce. This is a classic mistake made by defenders, it leads to a loss of control over the situation. What is to be learned from this situation? What is the exact reason for Carrick’s failure to head the ball?  How can defenders solve these situations against physically superior opponents?

 In the video you can see that Carrick is watching the ball while it is in the air. Of course he knows where it will fall on the ground, he is backing into a good position to head the ball. The body position of Carrick is also good. He has a low centre of gravity. He has his hands out in the air.  He is facing the ball sideways, he can attack it with force and adjust his position easily. Well, at least this would be the case if Lukaku wasn’t there.

Carrick is clearly outmuscled in this duel. He is 188 cm tall with 74 kgs, while Lukaku is 191 cm tall and weights 94 kgs. If Carrick tries to compete with his strength body to body, he will loose.

Lukaku comes in from the side and goes shoulder to shoulder with Carrick, applying consistent force on his opponent. When Carrick has only one foot on the ground the push causes him to loose his stable body position, his upper body gets slightly behind his legs.   From this starting position he can not jump straight up, or forward to attack the ball in the air.

What could Carrick do differently?

One option for Carrick is to work together with Fosu-Mensah behind him. Instead of backing to head the ball Carrick has to stay high and position himself between Lukaku and the ball. His aim would be to make physical contact with the striker just for a brief moment, which would block the movement of Lukaku for just enough time that he can’t challenge for the ball, thus giving Fosu-Mensah enough time to have a clear header.

If Carrick plans to head the ball himself he should back off  in order to have a clear run forward and head the ball after a run up to the header. This way he doesn’t have physical contact with the attacker while adjusting his position, Lukaku can’t use his body against the body of Carrick. Carrick has to run towards the ball, and jump up vertically, jump earlier than Lukaku and put out his hands. This way if the attacker also jumps, his force carries Carrick higher in the air.

The third option is for Carrick to foul Lukaku when he sees that he won’t be able to head the ball away. In this case Fosu-Mensah can help his teammate by shouting to him to foul the attacker once  it is apparent that Carrick has lost his balance, and the ball will bounce on the ground. This is a last resort, and could result in a yellow card for the United player.  However it is still much better than giving Lukaku a chance to run towards the goal with the ball bouncing on the ground with only one defender and the keeper standing between him and the goal.

 

Groningen vs Ajax: Ball circulation in 433 with narrow wingers against a 4141

I was watching Groningen vs Ajax from the Dutch Championship, and the way  Groningen were bringing the ball forward against the mid block of Ajax caught my eye. Both wingers were creating an overload in midfield when the ball was with the central defenders or the holding midfielders, while the three midfielders were constantly changing positions in the central zone.

The whole move happened between 6:41 and 6:51 in the game. Here is a video of the movement of the players:

One of the Groningen holding midfielders moves a little bit deeper than the striker of Ajax, who is following the movement of the ball.

Starting position of the midfielders: The No 8 is on the same side as the defender with the ball, the No 10 is on the same side as the No 6.

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None of the 3 midfielders are on the same vertical line. The No 10 is the most central, the No 8 is a bit more outside than he is. The two central defenders are in the widest positions.

This is a great way to position themselves, it guarantees the most passing options for the central defender and the No 6.
When the No 6 gets the ball the No 8 stays in position, closer to the ball than his opponent. The No 10 moves on the other side of his opponent. This way if the No 8 gets the ball, he has two passing options, No 10 and No. 11.

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When the central defender gets the ball Ajax start pressuring. This is the moment the players nearest to the ball must help. The No 6 and No 8 move deeper, closer to the ball.

The full-back on the strong side also moves deeper along the sideline. Otherwise both full-backs are positioned even higher than the second holding midfielder.

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If the ball is with either of the central defenders or with one of the holding midfielders facing the Ajax goal, the winger on the ball side is positioning himself in a free passing lane. If the ball is with either central defender, the wingers never enter the central zone. The winger on the weak side comes only until the edge of the central zone.

 

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All this time the No 9 is high up the pitch. This provides depth for Groningen, which is essential in order for the wingers to have space between the lines for free movement.

When the No 11 sees that the ball goes to the No 6, he immediately runs wide. When the No 8 can turn towards the Ajax goal, he immediately looks for the winger on the sideline. By the time the No 8 is put under pressure by the recovering No 8 of Ajax, the Groningen winger has to be as high and wide as possible, facing the Ajax goal.

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