Schalke – Dortmund: Changing Times, aka Dortmund Has No Rest Defence


Schalke - Dortmund starting 11s.pngSchalke started with a 532, while Dortmund in their regular 4231. This time Konoplyanka was picked to play alongside Burgstaller, probably due to his speed and dribbling against the slow Papasthatopoulos. Harit moved to central midfield, accompanied by Goretzka and Bentaleb behind them. For Dortmund Reus started behind Batshuayi, with Pulisic and Philipp on the two sides.








Dortmund’s Defensive Issues

Bentaleb in the middle was crucial as to opening passing lanes free to Burgstaller and Goretzka. 

The visitors often defended in a 4231 shape, without much regard to the position of the ball. However in most cases the length and the width of the team made it impossible to prevent passes played between their lines.

Bentaleb had a crucial role in the ball circulation of Schalke. He played in front the back three. Either changing the sides by staying behind the ball in one of the half spaces, or pulling Reus to himself, and thus opening the pass to Burgstaller . When Stambouli dribbled in with the ball, Goretzka – the ball side midfielder – pushed higher, onto the outside of Toprak.  Caligiuri moved back close to the ball next to the line.

With Philipp always covering the pass from Stambouli to Caligiuri, Schmelzer moved a little bit out of the back four. This was unnecessary, as in these moments Caligiuri was in a lot less dangerous position to the goal than Burgstaller, and Schmelzer was too far to press him even if he received the ball.

Stambouli pass up.pngMeanwhile Konoplyanka stayed on the far side, next to the line. This opened slightly more space for Harit between Papasthatopoulos and Piszczek.

The staggering between the Dortmund players was awful. Often defenders and midfielders were standing on the same vertical lines. As a result Papasthatopoulos was not in the correct starting position to press the pass from Stambouli to Burgstaller. 

By moving under the ball to change the sides Bentaleb often pulled Reus with him. After passing in front of Stambouli, the space was there for the French sideback to dribble in diagonally.

The lack of vertical compactness was a serious issue for Durtmund in the first half. Schmelzer would have to run too much to press Caligiuri. If Philipp pressed Caligiuri then Bentaleb could move under the ball in the half space and receive. In these moments Reus and Batshuayi were too far from the rest of the team to support Philipp in pressing.

In attack that 3133 shape sometimes became asymmetric, with Harit moving out to the left half space between the lines in case Dahoud and Sahin closed the space in front of the defence. From there they were 3 v 2 on Papa and Schmelzer.

If Dahoud and Sahin were close to each other and shielding passes to Burgstaller and Goretzka, then Harit could move freely in the left half space. Komoplyanka kept Piszczek back, and Schopf overlapped the moment Harit received the ball through the lines, creating a 3 v 2 situation against Sokratis and Piszczek.

Rest Defence and Transition Moments

Dortmundruns missing in counterattacks

All the runs Dortmund could have made…but didn’t

Even if the pass was intercepted, in the central areas Burgsteller, Harit and Goretzka always hunted for the ball, while the two wingbacks closed back to form a 2+3 structure, with the two central defenders very close to each other. Even though Schalke managed these transition moments excellently, Dortmund didn’t really make it hard for them. The visitors didn’t attempt to pull the central defenders apart with diagonal runs from Batshuayi or Reus. Pulisic and Philip didn’t make full speed vertical runs into the space between the central defender and the wingback to gain advantage of the transition moment. 

Early Schalke Counterattacks

Schopf counter.pngSchalke had two early counterattacks through Schopf on the left side. While Schopf was dribbling up, Konoplyanka pulled wide.  Harit made fast runs between the two central defenders, taking away Sahin. This created two choice for Schopf. Either pass to Konoplyanka for the cross. Or cut inside and shoot with his right.  Meanwhile Burgstaller pulled on the blind side of Toprak to open as much space in the middle as possible. Also Scmelzer had to decide to move inside to take away the space of Burgstaller or leave Caligiuri free to arrive at the second post with a late run.

Rest defence and leaving Toprak alone with Burgstaller

At the back Dortmund would control counterattacks unbelievably poorly. The space between Toprak and Papasthatopoulos was constantly too big. Schmelzer was often too far from Toprak, leaving the former to play 1 v 1 against Burgstaller at long balls. Even so, Toprak didn’t do himself any favours with his starting positions. He allowed Burgstaller to start from his inside and run behind him diagonally and race for balls played into the corner.

If Burgstaller dropped deep, Toprak didn’t follow him, and Sahin didn’t take him over. When Burgstaller moved back, Konoplyanka immediately ran diagonally between the two central defenders. These runs very very dangerous due to the large distance between Papasthatopoulos and Toprak. At the same time Goretzka ran into the space behind Schmelzer. The whole backline of Dortmund was far too wide to effectively deal with these runs, not to mention the lack of vertical compactness. When Burgstaller dropped in front of Sahin, none of the attacking midfielders were close enough to make a sandwich. After Burgstaller passed on the ball, he also attacked the space between the central defenders, but nobody tracked his run. Actually, a whole article could be dedicated to the problems of Dortmund in rest defence.

Pressing Schmelzer and Second Balls

When the ball went to Toprak, Caligiuri stepped up enough to allow a pass to Schmelzer and press it. Meanwhile Goretzka marked Dahoud on the ball side, and tracked his run from midfield. The back three was very narrow, with Bentaleb in front of them.

Burgstaller always closed the space in front of Toprak. If Scmelzer dropped too deep, Burgstaller pressed the pass to the fullback from the side. If Schmelzer was a bit far from Toprak vertically, Burgstaller always dropped back to the line of the ball to prevent passes to Shin in the six space.

Schopf was higher than the defenders, on the same line as Bentaleb. Meanwhile the far side winger was left completely free, but on the ball side they were very compact. The back three could support behind each other at long balls, with Schopf and Bentaleb a line higher to collect second balls and start counterattacks.

Schopf’s slightly higher positioning left Pulisic open on the far side. In one instance Batshuayi tried to change the sides, but this instance showed excellently why this slightly higher positioning from the far side wingback was not an issue. Due to the compactness around the ball, any attempt to play diagonals was pressed by multiple players, and Schopf had time to move back and cover if needed. With the two lines close together, Schalke could collapse on any second balls won by Dortmund between the lines.

The Opening Goal

This was a perfect example of the effectiveness of Schalke’s defending… and at the same time of the open structure of Dortmund in ball possession. Players too far from each other, with no regard to balance whatsoever. After the ball was switched to the left side, Piszczek didn’t close back to the space next to Papasthatopoulos. The three midfielders were too far from each other. Sahin was still on the far side of the central space, Dahoud far too high on the pitch. Burgstaller pulled Toprak away from the ball. Papasthatopoulos stepped out too early, and Konoplyanka started his run off the back of Sahin. Apropo, Sahin. He attacked Caligiuri from the wrong angle, not closing the way to the goal. Not to mention that he didn’t attempt to make a tactical foul when he had the chance to make contact with Caligiuri and stop the counterattack.

The way Schalke’s attackers ran into the open spaces was a stark contrast to the lack of attacking runs made by Dortmund’s attackers in similar situations.

Other Pressing Triggers

Long distance passes from midfield back to the central defenders also served as pressing triggers. Schalke’s structure was so compact and they were pressing from such great angles that even if the first presser didn’t arrive to Papasthatopoulos in time, the Greek defender couldn’t pass through the press. Granted, he is not known for his excellent ability to build up the game…

Schalke press mid third.pngWhile the ball is going to Papasthatopoulos, Schopf moves up from Pulisic to press Pisczek for a vertical angle, meanwhile Kehrer is sliding out but steps back a bit to give depth in case Sokratis plays the ball long behind to Pulisic. The midfield trio are slides over. Bentaleb can take over the midfielder who might attempt to run behind.

The midfield trio are very close to each other so they can take runners behind. Also the free midfielder can take Pulisic if he moves inside. The smaller the distance is between Kehrer and Harit, the less space Pulisci has to receive the ball between the lines if he moves inside.

Defending overlaps

The close distance between the defenders and the midfielders prevented the Dortmund wingers from rotating inside and receiving the ball between the lines. If the winger dropped to ask for the ball  while the central defender dribbled forward, either Burgstaller or Harit took him over, while the wingback stayed in position to deal with the overlapping fullback. Anytime Schmelzer came up to cross on the overlap, Schalke had four defenders, plus Bentaleb in the box, with the Goretzka on the edge of the box ready to intercept cutbacks. 

The Next Fifteen Minutes After the Goal

After the goal Schalke continued defending the same way they did so far. They continued pressing the ball in an asymmetric 4132, with the wingback on the ball side moving up to the line of Goretzka and Harit to press the fullback. The rest defence of Dortmund continued to be a problem. Too wide backline, the holding midfielders standing on the same line vertically, and too far from the central defenders. 

In the 61th minute Harit beat Piszczek with his back to the goal. When he turned, Sokratis and Toprak were fifteen meters from him. The distance between Papasthatopoulos and Toprak was at least twenty meters. Konoplyanka immediately made a run wide, which pulled the two defenders even further apart. The route to the goal opened up for Harit.

Before Piszczek got beaten by Harit, he had to run up at least fifteen meters to meet with the young Schalke attacker. It is no wonder that he was late. Not to mention that due to a poor starting position he attacked Harit from an angle that let him turn towards the goal. Meanwhile neither Sahin nor Dahoud remained under the ball, to control the space in front of the central defenders.

Dortmund change to a 352

Dortmund 352.pngAfter 65 minutes Dortmund created chances from changing the sides from left to right, and playing in a 352 structure. Dahoud played higher and inside, Schurrle in the advanced left halfspace.

Sahin had space between the two Schalke strikers to change the sides and make Piszczek step into the game.

If Konoplyanka moved back with Piszczek, then Reus dropped on the outside of Harit to play a wall pass to Piszczek.

If the diagonal dribbling lane was open Pulisic could bring the ball inside, while Reus made a blind side run, and Dahoud a strong side run on either side of Kehrer. Dortmund created two chances from such diagonal dribbles of Pulisic.

Schalke Change to a 5221

Schalke change 5221.png With the introduction of McKennie and Pjaca Schalke changed to a 5221 which could become a 433 when the wingback ran out to press either Pulisic or Schmelzer.  If either Toprak or Schmelzer had the ball Pjaca and Harit were shielding the vertical pass in the half space. The first line of Schalke didn’t press the back three of Dortmund, they were just passively shielding forward passes, and letting passes to the side.

The two holding midfielders Bentaleb and McKennie always remained very close to each other, and also to the back three. If the wingback received the ball, one of the two midfielders always closed the diagonal pass in the halfspace, creating a 2 v 1 on either Reus or Schurrle together with the sideback Kehrer or Stambouli. If Reus or Schurrle dropped out to ask for the ball in the deep half space then the ball side holding midfielder remained with him, on the other side the midfielder closed back behind him.

If the sideback stepped out to a player, then due to the close distance from the defence and from each other one of the holding midfielders could step back into the space left open in the back five. 


This was again one of those games that showed how quickly fortunes change is football. Precise coaching with cohesive game plans can take a team with a not so strong squad a long way.

Watching Tedesco move constantly, applauding his players for attacking spaces behind the opponent even if the opponent ends up clearing the ball makes one feel real warmth towards him. Watching the body language of his players together with the tactical plan, one can understand their confidence. I am really curious to see if the coming years will be the time when Schalke build themselves up to Bundesliga powerhouses again.


Lazio 2017/18 Team Analysis

The Serie A has become one of the in-vogue leagues again. Thanks to the mouth watering football of Napoli, the strong international results of Juventus, and football of such sides as Sampdoria and Atalanta the league’s popularity among analysts and fans is on the rise again.

I recently spent an evening watching Europa League football, and the performance of Lazio caught my attention. With a blend of experience and youth, Italian internationals and previously forgotten midfielders Lazio are a special team. Thanks to the likes of Radu and Luis Felipe they are a joy to watch in the buildup. The runs of Immobile together with the positioning of Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto makes them very effective in attacking transitions.

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of their key players, how they fit together. Let’s analyse aspects of their game and some recurring patterns.

Key Players

Although there is no time to analyse the tendencies of every Lazio player, certain players really warrant their own paragraphs. Those players who don’t get mentioned in this part of the article will be featured in the group and team tactical analysis in later parts of this post.

Strakosha in back 4.png

Their goalkeeper is the young Albanian Thomas Strakosha. He is excellent with his right foot, but rarely uses his left to build up the game. Lazio often start the buildup even against a full press by playing out to the right halfback on the edge of the box, with both De Vrij and Lucas pulling to the same side, before playing back to Strakosha who can now find Milinkovic-Savic in free space. In the circulation of Lazio if the sideback attempts to dribble in, but gets pressed by the striker, Strakosha is always in a position to receive the ball back, and quickly change to the other side.

Although many goalkeepers get comfortable if they are not pressed by the opponent in similar situations, Strakosha’s passes to switch the game to the other sideback are always strong and accurate, in front of the receiving sideback to promote stepping into the game.

By starting the game to one of the sidebacks they immediately move the opponent’s press, and with Strakosha always there they always have a free player to switch the sides.

After collecting long balls Strakosha can become an extra centre back. This way they have almost a back four to start building up the game.

The three central defenders are most often Luiz Felipe, De Vrij and Radu. In certain cases  Bastos, Wallace or Caceres can can come into the team.

Luiz Felipe is the most versatile across the back three.  He can play in the middle of the three or as the left sideback too. He can dribble in and attack the space with intensity. He can build up the game with both of his legs.

Luiz Felipe is probably one of the best defenders when it comes to dribbling into the game. With an excellent ability to cut the ball a little bit across his body and change the direction of his dribbling he can manipulate the positioning of the defenders. Certain players who think the pass is not possible anymore might slightly leave their man and follow the direction of the ball. This way more space is created around the player whom they used to mark, and this player gets out of the cover shadow without moving, just by the dribbling of Luiz Felipe.

Lukaku coming inside, Luis Felipe dribbles in.pngThis ability is very valuable. The same goes for his scanning. He always looks first into depth when dribbling in with the ball, where usually the wingback rotates inside into the space behind the midfielders of the opponent, creating a diamond shape. But if the ball is not possible to him, Felipe holds out until the very last moments to invite the opponent onto him and when he notices the free man he plays very well to the midfielder left by the opponent.

With these sudden cuts from one leg to the other he can manipulate the position of the player in front of him in the midfield line. Just the moment a player steps out of the midfield line to confront him, and he puts the ball on his other leg, dribbling diagonally a new passing lane opens up. At this moment the pressing player is not covering the route to the goal anymore, and the covering player has to change directions very quickly in order to still cover a passing lane.

De Vrij is the centre back playing in the middle of the back three. He has excellent ability to defend long balls and crosses. In possession he often dribbles diagonally inside, with which he moves the defence of the opponent and changes the sides from there to the wingback moving up on the side where the ball came from. Hitting these diagonals is crucial for moving zonal defences quickly and opening up space on the other side.

Diamond w De Vrij dribbling in.pngAlso with his diagonal dribbling he can attract the forward of the opponent against a two striker system. This way he creates more space for the sideback. If the midfielder of the opponent then presses the sideways pass to the sideback then the only thing the midfielder has to do is to move out of the cover shadow of the pressing player. On the side of the sideback Lazio often make a diamond, giving the sideback three options to play forward.

Radu is excellent at escaping the press by playing accurate, strong and fast balls on the ground vertically next to the touchline. This is an excellent skill, as the pressing angle of the opponent is usually from the inside diagonally. The attacker might cover Milinkovic-Savic in the diagonal inside passing lane, but then the vertical pass is open. No matter which pass the attacker closes there is an option to play the ball forward.

The experienced Lucas Leiva is playing in front of the midfield. One of the biggest contributions to the team is his ability to play forward accurate passes forward when they win the ball. He also has an important Rome to play without the ball, closing the spaces in front of the three central defenders, or moving between them if they get too far from each other.

In possession he moves in the middle, often opening passing lanes by moving deeper, closer to the back 3 thus opening the chance to change the sides with sideways passes. Or he moves to the ballside half space when the wingback receives the ball to play a forward pass.


Sergej Milinkovic-Savic takes up good positions between the lines, as a key in breaking up opposition defences. His ability to move out of the cover shadow in the right moment, dribble diagonally and combine in tight spaces makes him an excellent attacking 8.

In attacking transitions the moment the ball is won he immediately pulls into the space in front of the opponent’s defence. This way with only one pass to him the opponent’s midfield gets taken out of the game. From there his diagonal dribbling and shots from distance pose danger.

Diamond on left side, rotation v Juventus.pngOn the left side he often becomes the top of the diamond formed in front of the sideback dribbling in. He is excellent in these positions as he can change directions quickly with his first touch, therefore he can beat his man with his back to the goal. But also he finds spaces by moving out of the cover shadow of the pressing player, thus helping the ball out of the pressure area.

Luis Alberto is another ex-Liverpool player in the squad. He plays mostly behind Immobile. In attacking transitions he starts from as high as possible, but steps back to receive the ball, while Immobile gives depth to the team. This movement is effective in creating a free player for the penetrating pass even against three central defenders if the movement of Alberto and Immobile is such that a moment of hesitation prevents a defender from stepping out with Alberto.

His skillset compliments excellently with Immobile’s. The Italian striker is a master at creating space for himself 1 v 1, or running behind the defence in even the smallest gap. Alberto on the other hand has exceptional passing, with the rare ability to disguise his passes. He has excellent set piece delivery and good shot from distance.

During ball circulation when the defender dribbles in free, Luis Alberto pulls behind his opponent. Either becoming a third man after the pass to Immobile, or creating a 2 v 1 situation with the defender in possession. Sometimes he likes to move out of the opponent’s defensive shape, and play accurate balls to players attacking the space behind the opponent.

With 24 goals in 26 league games Ciro Immobile is in the form of his life. The ex-Dortmund striker is a master at running behind opponent defences the moment a ball behind is possible. The moment a defender moves a bit closer to either Alberto or Sergej between the lines, Immobile runs into the space behind that defender with full speed. Also if a defender stays 1 v 1 with him, he likes to pull away from the position of the ball before quickly cutting inside the defender. Or if he is in a diagonally opposed position to the ball he pulls even further while running behind. This way the defender has to move out of the centre with him, or leave him in more space, free to take a first touch thus control the long pass. With such diagonal runs he creates as much space to run into and run onto the ball as he can. Also by dropping and asking for the  ball from a defender in ball ball circulation, he pulls out a defender with him. After laying off the ball to one of the midfielders he runs into the space left open by his defender with full speed.

Sidebacks and Midfield Positioning in Ball Circulation

Look what happens if a midfielder presses the sideback of Lazio. The sequence seen above is a quick change of sides through the back three after attracting pressure on Radu. De Vrij plays to Radu, before quickly changeing the sides. When the ball goes to Radu, Khedira steps out onto him. After the side change the space between Pjanic and the recovering Khedira is crucial.  This is where Lucas can pass through to the now free Luis Alberto. The latter midfielder becomes free due to staying in his zone while Pjanic shifts with the ball. When De Vrij receives the ball Luis Felipe is almost in one line with him. This opens a direct passing lane to Parolo on the other side.

Struggles with Diagonal Compactness

For the opponents their diagonal compactness can be exploited. This was what Juventus did, when Asamoah pushed higher, almost to the line of the midfield, and played diagonal balls between the lines. With the reverse movement of two players in the same vertical zone they created a free player to receive between the lines. Matuidi asked for the ball to the feet before making a forward run, while Dybala stepped back for the ball from the defence line of Lazio.

The diagonal was open, since both the midfield line and the strikers defended very narrowly. The two strikers defended narrowly on Pjanic, only stepping out to the sideback once it was close enough that the nearside striker had access.

Despite the not so fast circulation between the three central defenders of Juventus the sometimes the two strikers didn’t move quickly sideways to close down the half space vertical pass in the ball side from the Juventus sideback. This meant the side midfielder of the Lazio midfield three had to close the vertical pass option in the half space. This way his starting position made it impossible for him to immediately press Asamoah and close the diagonal inside pass the moment the Juve wingback received the ball.

These reverse runs worked especially well when the Lazio backline wasn’t as horizontally compact as possible. Radu couldn’t step back and defend the space behind De Vrij, which in turn meant that De Vrij couldn’t come even closer to create a local numerical advantage on the ball side. Would that have been the case Lulic could have pushed more out from the backline, and could have taken more chance, almost as a floating player with a compact line of four defenders behind him, he could have closed the diagonal passing lane.

Against Atalanta

Against Atalanta Lazio defended such situations by the midfield playing very close to the defence, hence the diagonal passing lane was smaller. Also their horizontal compactness was a lot better. When Felipe Luiz stepped out of the backline Lulic could support behind him and also De Vrij could provide depth. Meanwhile as the defence shifted Lucas Leiva stayed close to Parolo so when the ball got to the sideline Lucas closed the ball near halfspace.

3 v 2 on the sides.pngIn the middle third after side changes a player in the first line of the buildup received the ball wide enough that the diagonal pass was open, he could play the diagonal pass in front of the Lazio sideback.  In this moment since the space between the midfield and the defence was very close the receiver of the ball was forced to receive in front of the midfield. Milinkovic-Savic in this moment pressed backwards, and the sideback attacked the receiver. Meanwhile the nearside striker defended the nearside 8 coming into the ballside deep halfspace. This prevented Atalanta escaping to the other side through the 8.

Press from strikers at pass back to central defender.png

The strikers of Lazio play mostly passively in the middle third against the ball, although situational pressure does occur. In this instance Caicedo presses the pass back to the central defender out of the back three. He presses diagonally, preventing the defender from playing on to the sideback on his left.

Out of the strikers Caiceido is the most active in the defensive phase. He presses the sideback when he starts dribbling in and has access to him. If the wingback of the opponent drops deeper the Lazio wingback comes out with him, but not in front of the Lazio midfield. Meanwhile he is constantly checking the body position of the sideback dribbling in. When the pressure arrives from the striker, and the sideback is about to play the pass forward the wingback steps inside to close the vertical pass and still allow the pass to the outside.

The positive of this type of defensive dynamic was evident the moment the ball was won. On the ball side the attacking midfielder who was just covering the passing lane forward suddenly became free to find space between the lines during the transition. Meanwhile the striker moved wide next to the line, behind the wingback, outside of the back three. This run was crucial as it made the available space in the middle larger. Since Savic stayed behind the midfielders of Atalanta as long as possible, and dropped only when De Vrij turned on the ball, the defenders of Atalanta didn’t have access to him and neither could any of the Atalanta midfielders adjust their position.

The Role of Lucas – Defending in Their Own Third

If the wingback steps out from the backline to press, the sideback has to watch the space behind him to collect balls played behind the wingback. When the sideback moves out wide Lucas steps back to the defensive line to prevent space appearing in the middle.

The moment the ball goes into the space behind the wingback he sprints back and presses the receiver from the front, putting him in a sandwich with the sideback. Meanwhile the whole backline drops behind the line of the ball.  When the ball stops the whole backline stops. There is pressing backwards from Milinkovic-Savic and Parolo. The whole backline is moving, changing their positioning according to the place of the ball.

The really interesting feature in their defending is how passive the players between their goal and the ball are. They are shifting and dropping according to the position of the ball, always in an angle ready to push the ball away from the goal, and in certain cases creating numerical advantages around the ball. But almost all the aggressive actions against the ball come from players who are closing back and pressing the ball from a line forward.

An example of numerical advantage against the ball occurs when it goes wide in their own third. IDefending when the ball is on the side in own third.pngThe defenders and the midfielders are working together. In their own defensive third, they were very compact. Both horizontally and vertically, which gave them a chance to be diagonally compact situationally. But they were not trying to win the ball in such overloads. Their whole defensive approach around their own defensive third was optional, looking to react to the moves of the opponent.

Defensive triangle v Atalanta.pngSometimes their defensive shape in their own half resembled a 5311, as one of the strikers moved back to mark the deeper midfielder of the opponent, and thus make it harder for them to change the sides. It was crucial to prevent side changes as on the ball side Lazio created a numerical advantage. For diagonal dribbles the wingback and the nearside midfielder formed something like a canal and led the player into the path of the sideback.

The difficulty for the back three was taking up runners from midfield. Sometimes neither Sergej, nor Parolo moves back next to Lucas, when the opponent’s defenders play a long ball to the striker. This means the spaces on either side of Lucas are open, and the opponent can collect second balls there.

Sometimes while shifting from one side to the other the wingback on the ball far side stay with their man for too long . As a result the backline is wider than it could be. In some situations Lucas Leiva didn’t check if  he could let his man run behind, if a defender could take him over. If sideback on the far side din’t push more inside to the side of the ball, the distances between the defenders could allow too much space for the opponents to run into.

Strakosha and Milinkovic Savic in the First Phase of Buildup

Buildup with opening the halfspace on the other side.pngIn buildup they rely heavily on the excellent skills of Strakosha to build up the game from the back with his feet. They start the game on the ground even against heavy pressure. They start by playing the ball out to the sideback, who moves down to the height of the penalty spot next to the side of the box to receive the ball. De Vrij and Lucas stand in the middle, one closer to the goal, the other further up. The moment the ball goes out to one sideback, the other sideback comes into the half space on the ballfar side.

They create an overload on one side, then quickly switch to the other side with the sideback moving out extremely quickly the moment the ball goes back to the goalkeeper. This opens the diagonal passing lane to Lulic coming inside to the half space.

There is another positive to this buildup pattern. As the midfielder of of Atalanta shifts, he leaves Parolo open. Since the wingback pushed high to take Marusic, Parolo can make the run forward, while Lulic is already coming inside and he can take the ball with his right leg and then possibly put the ball behind with a diagonal pass. Normally Immobile would make a run behind, but in this game Caicedo was playing. He is a striker with a different characteristic than Immobile.

Defensive Dynamics in the Game Against Inter

Inside wingers could create 1 v 1 situations against the sidebacks. At quick changes of sides through the backline if the fullback received the ball in a position where the 8 of Lazio didn’t have access to him, by making a diagonal run from the inside, coming out of the cover shadow of the wingback and receiving in the half space the winger could receive the ball and create a 1 v 1. In these situations Lucas didn’t close back into the backline to keep a central three, and the wingback also didn’t close behind the sideback who moved in. If the sideback got beaten 1 v 1 the situation ended in a clear crossing opportunity.

Halfspace defence v inside fullback.pngIf the opponent played with an inside fullback and the winger dropped back along the touchline the wingback dropped with him. The nearside 8 pressed the fullback. Lucas first followed his man who attempted a run behind the defence, but then let him go to De Vrij,  while Bastos kept his distance from De Vrij. On the far side Marusic was man oriented on Perisic instead of tucking in more and closing in to the border of the central space. On the far side Parolo was a bit far from Lucas, Icardi who moved two lines deeper from the central striker position could have made a run to the goal free.

In the middle Luis Alberto was blocking the diagonal passing lane to the central space. This type of defensive shape gave a much better chance for counter attacks. Since Alberto was standing free in space he could ask for an immediate vertical release pass when Lucas won the ball. Meanwhile Savic could drift inside diagonally, hopefully pull the inside fullback of Inter with him just a little bit to open the space for Lulic to make the run forward.

4 v 3, Lucas kilep, terulet a vissalepo Icardinak.pngDuring Inter’s ball circulation Icardi was moving back from the three central defenders. Meanwhile the winger on the far side – Perisic – was giving the team depth. His build, verticality and dribbling ability made him excellent for this role. Borja Valero was moving in front of Lucas, pulling him sideways and giving space for Icardi to move back. The moment the winger received the ball in the half space, Valero made a run diagonally, attacking the space next to the sideback on the ball side. This pulled back the wingback too, making more space for the winger in possession. Lazio defended these situations by Lucas letting Valero run behind, while Savic closed back. This created a 4 v 3 situation for Lazio. Because of the angle at which Lucas pushed Candreva to the side – diagonal, closing the angle to the space between De Vrij and Radu – the horizontal pass to Icardi moving back was open.

When Candreva received the ball De Vrij was in a position ready to step out to Icardi. This slightly made the space between him and Radu bigger. This could have been a good moment to attack this space with diagonal runners from midfield.

Vertical passes from the central defender to the winger stepping back into the halfspace were defended by collapsing on the ball in a 3 v 1 scenario. This was possible when the ball circulation of the opponent wasn’t quick enough and the Lazio midfield and defence had time to shift and wait for the pass in a set starting position.

Shots conceded analysis

Goal conceded v Bologna.pngAnalysing where they conceded shots on goal reveals their true strength and compactness at the back. Despite some of the defensive vulnerabilities mentioned above, they allow few, and low quality attempts for their opponents.

Bologna scored after a long shot came off of Strakosha. It is only natural that if the opponent plays with such a compact defence – with Lucas very close in front of them – then shooting from distance can be a viable attacking weapon.

One of the best ways that consistently created relatively good quality shots for the opponents was Lucas Leiva letting his man go, without a defender being able to take him over.

If their backline is horizontally not as compact as it could be and Lucas leaves his man to run freely into gaps, then runners from depth can be a potent tactical weapon. The backline has to be moved sideways or diagonally. Then the ball has to be played back to the middle, while this is happening players have to run behind the backline, preferably from the blind side of Lucas. The defender who could maybe take up the runner must be occupied. Maybe a player has to stand on his shoulder, or in his zone. Or better yet an attacker has to make a diagonal run into his zone, thus pulling him further away from the gap.

Sassuolo 3 v 2 in midfield by stepping back into midfield.pngLow quality chances can be created from playing the ball around the midfield, and playing the ball into the gaps, and attackers stepping back into those gaps when the space appears between two midfielders.


Sometimes in counterpressing Lazio could have better staggering. In counterpressing Lucas doesn’t always change his positioning according to the movement of the ball, and the pressing angle of the player who applies pressure on the ball. Sometimes the backline is not as close as it could be behind the wingback pressing up. This lack of vertical compactness means Lucas has more space to cover between the lines, and if a player receives there he has more time to turn on the ball.

On the ball far side Parolo was in an attacking position compared to the opponent in his zone while the counterpleas was going on. At that moment it is unclear which team will have the ball after this messy, chaotic situation, so whether to be cautious and stand in a more defensive position on the midfield or a more attacking one can depend on a whole host of factors. Such as the time in the game, the context of the game, but ultimately at the time this occurred it is safe to say a more defensively minded positioning would have sufficed.

Parolo’s positioning meant the moment the player in his zone made the run forward the defender from the far side had to come in to close the space next to the sideback. This run reduced the access of Basta, the wingback to the winger receiving the long diagonal. Basta couldn’t press the winger the moment he received the ball. Also since the sideback took over the player running into ball far half space Basta had to defend 1 v 1, there was no support behind him. This was especially a problem if the player attempted to beat him by taking the ball down to the line, since if Parolo moved out from midfield he couldn’t close behind Basta there, only way he could have done it would have been to help and support in case the winger attempts to cut inside.

Sometimes when the back three retreats to deal with a long ball, the two 8s in front of Lucas tend to stop before the team secures the possession. This opens the space in midfield and the space becomes too large for Lucas to control second balls on his own. At free kicks launched forward the wingback on the far side tends to stand very close to his man, which takes away the chance of a sudden change of sides, however further opens the space in the middle and reduces the access to second balls.


Chances to shoot may occur from rotations in midfield. Lucas is static in his positioning, by pulling away either Parolo or Sergej, and rotating into the area vacated by the attacking midfielder can create a free player just in front of the backline.

At that moment the back five takes the player dribbling forward. The chance is to run behind from the shoulder of the defender who is in front of the ball and might attempt to step up – essentially doubling up on him. Even if for a moment somebody can receive the ball in front of the defence line, the midfielders – Parolo and Sergej – are active in their pressing and will attempt to close him down immediately. This gives the attacking team very little time to create local overloads. In these moments the wingback on the ballside closes towards the centre, leaving the man wide free, but closing down the space around the player who would step up to confront the opponent dribbling forward. This takes away space even more from the attacking team, making the quick execution of on the ball actions an absolute must.


If we look at Lazio’s chances for the season, the following weeks can make an already decent season a great success. In Serie A their fixture list is not the hardest, although they still have games to come at home against Roma and Inter. Especially the latter game could be a season decider, as Lazio are fighting Inter for the fourth Champion’s League spot.

Lazio’s squad is probably the best in recent years. Luis Alberto is hitting his peak years, with talented players such as Luis Felipe and Milinkovic-Savic still about to hit their prime. The loss of De Vrij to Inter on a free transfer is a huge blow.

In the Europa League they will be facing analyst favourite Red Bull Salzburg. I feel that Red Bull have the perfect attacking approach to make the most of Lazio’s weaknesses. Although it will be a fixture that will test the younger, up and coming talents of Lazio. Let’s see how they will do against an aggressive approach out of possession that is currently not common in Serie A.





Brazil’s use of the half spaces against Russia

Brasil basic formation v RussiaBrasil started the game against Russia with inside fullbacks. This together with the midfielders playing close to each other created a very stable structure in ball circulation. This created two overloads, which were used in various ways by Brazil.

  • In the midfield they had a 5 v 4 overload, with the two inside fullbacks complementing the midfield three of Casemiro, Coutinho and Paulinho.
  • With quick changes of sides they could isolate a 4 v 3 with the striker, nearside winger and nearside 8 complemented by the striker.

Let’s see a few examples of how these numerical advantages played out on the field.

Space to change the sides.png

This situation at the very beginning of the game showed the importance of the winger on the ball far side playing as high and wide as possible to create space for changing the sides.

Willian is a winger who can reach maximum speed in a very short distance, his diagonal runs without the ball kept the wingback of the opponent always on alert, and marking the Chelsea attacker closely.

The movement of Casemiro was crucial in pulling the far side 8 of the Russian midfield three to the ball side when Marcelo was pressed by the other 8. Normally the ballside striker of the Russians kept the number six – Casemiro – in his cover shadow. By this striker moving back and trying to deny the space of Casemiro, Miranda suddenly had more space to change the sides.

With the wingback not moving up to press the side change, but instead the midfielder going wide Paulinho and Dani Alves can immediately double the 8 running out to press the ball.

Switching from the centre back to the opposite half space

Switches from one half space to the other are very easy. Immediately from the centre back a passing lane can be opened to the opposite half space just by the 8 moving a little bit to the side.

If Coutinho receives such a pass, Marcelo can come up without the ball and they can immediately make a 2 v 1 against the 8 of the Russians. If the sideback decides to step up just a little bit, to have better access to Marcelo, Gabriel Jesus immediately makes the run behind into the space left open in the back five. If the sideback doesn’t step out, then Gabriel Jesus can beat his opponent with a dummy run forward and a step back to receive between the lines.

The diamond of Marcelo, Coutinho, Douglas Costa and Gabriel Jesus

On the left side Coutinho makes excellent diagonal runs to move out of the cover shadow of the midfielder . Against the back five of Russia when the wingback moved out to press Marcelo, Douglas Costa moved deeper and wide to pull out the sideback. As Marcelo received the ball Coutinho sprinted into the space between the sideback and the centreback. The latter was kept inside by Gabriel Jesus.

Inside FB triggering the movement of the cm.pngThe inside fullback on the ball far side can pull the 8 of the opponent a little bit closer to him, which means the sideback might be a bit closer to the attacking midfielder – Paulinho – of the opponent.  This means the sideback can’t create a 2 v 1 against Gabriel Jesus, the back five of Russia gets too wide. Also Russia doesn’t have an extra man to potentially receive runners from midfield, which becomes important in case Coutinho attacks the space between the sideback and the central defender.

If Coutinho’s run is covered by a midfielder, then by pulling his marker with him he opens the diagonal dribbling lane for Douglas Costa.  In this instance Costa drops towards the ball starting from the inside of the sideback. This way if receiving the ball to his inside leg (left), he already beats the sideback just by receiving the ball to the inside and can advance unopposed diagonally.

Sideback steps out, Willian attacks the space behind.png

Casemiro’s task was to stay behind the ball stays behind the ball, always in a position to change the sides with one pass to the opposite halfspace.

At the change of sides the 8 stepped out to Dani Alves. Either Paulinho could stay free, or the sideback stepped out to mark him. In the latter case Willian only has his man to beat with a well timed diagonal run, and Dani Alves only has to put the ball into the space behind.

Change of sides from diamond.pngIf the centre back dribbled in unopposed, then sooner or later the midfielder of the three stepped out to stop him. This was the perfect moment to double up on this midfielder. With this defensive dynamic – trying to man mark all the players on the ball side, with no regard to compactness behind the player stepping out to press the ball – Russia allowed Brazil to escape the pressure and play to the other side, which they have left open. Again to fullback provided the link to receive the switching pass from Willian.

The movement of Coutinho was crucial in creating space for Marcelo. When Willian rotated back, Coutinho moved up a little bit, taking his marker with him. He moved just enough so that a defender couldn’t take him over, but his marker couldn’t step out and press to Marcelo either.

Ball loss

The greatest positive of this type of narrow backline and three central midfielders close to each other is that if during circulation you loose the ball, you have at least three players very close to each other, behind the ball who can defend the way to the goal. Even if there is no pressure on the opponent dribbling towards the goal these three players can decrease the distance between them while retreating. Since the midfielders are very close to the central defenders in circulation, even if the defence has to retreat the midfielders have only a small space to cover in order to press the opponent who receives between the lines and starts to dribble.

The close midfielders, small distances lead to many possible combinations, but also the lines are close to each other, so at a ball loss the team can close behind the ball into a defensively solid shape very quickly. Not to mention that passes to the opponent’s striker can be pressed immediately both from the front and the back.

Counterpressing v Russia.pngWhen counterpressing in the opponent’s half, they do it by putting pressure on the first player who wins the ball from the opponent, and continuing to hunt sideways and back passes. The player hunting is the one who pressure the first player. He pays attention to keep the man he left in his cover shadow. The rest of the players are standing between two players, closer to the one who is more likely to receive the ball. This way they can either win the ball, or keep pressing the receiver of the next pass.

The back four closes back very narrow. While on the other side Willian stays high for an immediate change of sides in case the ball is won. The back four stands there with perfect staggering, with maximum number of lines created.



Tottenham Hotspur – Real Madrid: Situations from before the substitution of Alderweireld

Real’s Issues in Ball Circulation

Narrow midfield for Real Madrid.png

Here the midfield of Madrid looks very narrow. This allows Spurs to defend the ball near halfspace and the ball side of the centre very narrowly. Trippier attacks Isco  first running straight to the ball, at the end slightly bending his run to keep the wide space in his cover shadow. His starting position is also crucial. Trippier starts not from the line of the back five, but from a little bit higher position to have a better access to the ball.

Switch of sides, nobody in the middle.pngIt was curious how few players Real Madrid had between the lines, or in the Spurs defensive when their fullback could dribble in with the ball in the halfspace. The way to penetrate a back five is to have players step back from it, and by pulling out players from the back five opening channels for others to run into, or to pass through. With nobody in the defence line of Spurs, this was not possible, the back five could remain intact. Spurs attempted to press Madrid high, and always pushed their defence as high as possible. When pressing with a back five, by switching the ball quickly from one side to the other the attacking team can carry the ball close to the defence line on the sides and the half spaces, and play accurate balls behind to the running players.

Real Madrid no triangles.png

In other moments all the Real Madrid attackers would be on the same line, with a lack of central presence. So the movements on the left side for Madrid were predictable, too high starting positions and a lack of players in the central zone resulted in the ball being kept in front of the Spurs team shape.

This lack of central presence is normal when a 442-ish shape plays against a back five. The two strikers often position themselves on the outsides of the two sidebacks, and the team attempts to break through in the space between the side backs and the wingback. But even then the positioning, the timing of the football actions of the players in connection to one another and the ball speed has to be good enough. In the situation shown next to the previous paragraph Marcelo and Benzema start from the same horizontal line. Kroos doesn’t have any passing options diagonally to his right. Also no options diagonally to his left, Marcelo is too high and the pass would get intercepted immediately. The touch Benzema takes gets too far from him, which allows Sanches to come closer and close the space. Also Marcelo is too late to step back, away from Trippier, so he would not be available for a quick pass from Benzema.

Benzema starting from the blind side of Sanchez.pngIt was great to see how high Spurs pushed their defensive line, a strategic decision few teams can pull off with a back five. What Real did well was the attackers starting often from an offside position, from the blindside of the defenders, and coming back into an onside position, but already on a full speed run to going behind. Ronaldo often started from two-three meters offside. This was a nice tactical trick, as if a defender followed the run of Benzema behind the offside line, suddenly he put Ronaldo onside too, and Ronaldo could start from 2-3 meters of advantage from his nearest defender. Benzema pulled out to the wide left, or started from behind Sanchez, who in some moments struggled to keep the back five. Either dropping too late, which opened a small space in the middle of the five chain, or running behind even when he could have put Benzema offside.

The back five of Spurs was very narrow. When Trippier pressed next to the sideline, the wingback on the other side tucked in to the border of the central lane. The narrow back five of Spurs allowed them to double mark and sandwich Ronaldo and Benzema if they tried to start from the same line as the defence.

Trippier defended forward to collect a slow and too short opening after a throw-in on the right side. This was a crucial example of the roles of the wingbacks in the Spurs backline. Since the back five was very narrow – when the ball was pressed by one wingback on the sideline, the other wingback tucked inside to the border of the ball far halfspace and central space. The ball far wingback had to read when an opening diagonal pass could come, and adjust his body position, even start a little bit earlier to be able to press the moment the receiver of the pass took his first touch, or intercept.

The moment the advancing fullback receives the ball is a crucial moment in situations of dynamic advantage. If the defender can pressure the ball in the moment of the first touch, and can control this moment with his pressure – showing the receiver down a direction, or forcing him into a touch that slows him down – the whole dynamic advantage can be negated.

The aggressive pressing of the Spurs wingbacks prevented Madrid from switching the sides, and getting the fullbacks running onto the ball, and possibly using a dynamic advantage against the narrow back five.

It was key that Winks, Dier and Eriksen shifted quickly from side to side to press the ball in the advanced half spaces. After these switches to the halfspace the Real player receiving the ball often didn’t play the ball behind the defence at the first instance, but started to keep the ball with short passing combinations. This gave time for the Spurs midfield to shift and press the ball. With pressure on the ball it became easier for the Spurs defence to keep their line, as they could anticipate better when the ball behind the defence will come.

Real High Press

Long goalkick.png

In the buildup phase Spurs used Kane to head balls behind the defence for Eriksen and Alli.

In the high press Real put Benzema on Sanchez and Ronaldo on Vertonghen, leaving Alderweireld open. If Real left a player free like this in the first line of the Spurs buildup, the home team brought the ball out from the back.  When Lloris threw the ball out to the free Alderweireld, Trippier moved closer to the ball next to the sideline, pulling Marcelo with him. Eriksen moved wide higher up the pitch, he was left in space alone. Alli and Kane pushed up to the last line, Casemiro moved between Ramos and Nacho. With this spacing they lost the staggering in front of the defence, Eriksen was free in a large space to collect second balls.

Eriksen pulls Casemiro wide.pngIn their middle third press defence Real lost vertical compactness. The ball near 8 attacked the sideback in possession, with the other 8 pressing the ballnear holding midfielder. However the ballnear 8 started his press from a too high position, and could press the sideback from the side, allowing a pass through the lines. Meanwhile Madrid failed to cover the player between the lines on the ball side. Marcelo moved up to Trippier, who moved very close to the ball. This opened space for Eriksen to move to, at which point Casemiro had to choose to follow Eriksen, or stay in the halfspace to prevent a pass to Alli.

After 15 minutes Isco moved to the left side, now he was pressing Alderweireld. The extreme man orientation when Dier and Winks dropped closer to the back three pulled the Madrid midfielders further away from the defenders. Casemiro found himself in a large space between the lines, Eriksen had an easy job moving away from him and receiving the ball in the halfspace.










Schalke – Wolfsburg: Moments and thoughts

This post is a collection of thoughts I had on some situations from the first half of the Schalke-Wolfsburg match. It is not a match analysis, or even aspect analysis. Even though the first half featured two dominant tactical aspects:

  • Schalke’s pressing in their own half.
  • Schalke’s ball circulation against a team sitting back in their own half and manmarking Meyer.

Ball circulation

Here are some examples of Schalke’s ball circulation. Overall the too deep positioning of Bentaleb on the left side as well as the lack of support from depth for the strikers prevented the home team from creating more chances.

The ball circulation of Schalke was very slow. There were only a few moments where they moved the ball quickly from one side to the other, causing problems to Wolfsburg by forcing them to shift with speed from one side to the other.

Ball circulation w back 5 v 4411The winger of Wolfsburg pressed the sideback of Schalke, preventing a forward pass in the halfspace. Schalke played out of the pressure by the wingback moving deep to be accessible with a pass next to the sideline, Meyer running to the near side of the centre lane, and Harit asking for the ball in the halfspace.


circulation w 4411Upon getting the ball the wingback dribbled diagonally inside, the striker moved back and asked for the ball between the lines, while Harit made the reverse run and attacked the space between the centreback and the fullback. Neither Di Santo or Burgstaller made runs on the ball side of the central defender in moments when the fullback stepped up closer to the wingback. Both strikers preferred moving to the ball and asking it to their feet.

Schalke - Bentaleb starting positionNaldo is slowly dribbling to the right side. Then stops, pulls the ball to his left. This is the trigger for the left wingback – Oczipka – to make a forward run full speed. In ball possession the two wingbacks started from a higher position than the six, but deeper than the ballnear 8. He starts from behind the midfield line of Wolfsburg, but still Bentaleb is in a higher position than him. This pass is riskier than having the side backs dribble in against a midfield four. The distance between the Schalke defenders and Wolfsburg midfielders is too big to defend forward if the midfielders win the pass of Naldo.

This is why the sideways movement of Meyer and Harit was crucial when Naldo stopped dribbling to the right with the ball. Meyer pulled away Malli – the player tasked with manmarking him, thus creating more space for playing through the midfield on the left.

The other disadvantage of this pass is the structure after Bentaleb gets the ball. There are no players to continue the play to while he is with his back to the goal.

Kehrer dribbling in, Bentaleb too deepSometimes when Kehrer had the ball Bentaleb dropped out of the opponent’s shape.  Because of this deep position nobody could make the run behind Wolfsburg in the space between the fullback and the centreback. Also Bentaleb limited the space for Meyer to move into.  

If Bentaleb received the ball in a deep position, he had nobody to pass to in the halfspace in front of him. Burgstaller was between the two centrebacks, didn’t step back to the ball or move out of the cover shadow of the midfielder pressing Bentaleb. If Bentaleb took up a position between the lines, Guilavogui followed him. This created more space in front of Keherer. If Blaszczykowski covered the pass to Oczipka, even more space opened up in front of the sideback. This opened the chance for Kehrer to dribble diagonally to the goal. However the strikers didn’t give him any options by running behind, everybody was asking for the ball to their feet. Eventually the lack of options forced Kehrer into taking a speculative long range shot.

Bentaleb runs in the halfspaceThis situation on the left side illustrates the possibilities when the ballside 8 starts from between the lines instead of dropping out of the opponent’s defensive shape. Bentaleb attempted a run in the halfspace while Oczipka stepped back to ask for the ball deeper. The winger on the near side pressed  Kehrer with closing the vertical ball in the halfspace. Menwhile Guilavogui covered the run of Bentaleb. There was little space between the two lines so even with the fullback stepping out to press Oczipka, Bentaleb had very little space to make his run behind the defence. Meanwhile as Bentaleb pulled Guilavogui away Burgstaller dropped to the halfspace. All this while Malli manmarked Meyer, so Burgstaller didn’t have anybody to drop the ball to after receiving it.

If Oczipka couldn’t continue the play forward he passed to Kehrer, Harit asked for the ball in front of the Wolfsburg midfield in the central space. From there Harit used his dribbling ability from deep positions to get past the opponent stepping out from the midfield four to press. Harit had exceptional 1 v 1 ability where he would take the ball and knock it past the pressing midfielder who failed to stop his run in time and rushed into the 1 v 1. While dribbling at the Wolfsburg defence the runs of Di Santo and Burgstaller pulled the Wolfsburg back four closer to each other – Di Santo running behind the defender who stepped up, pulling with him the fullback – while the ballnear wingback arrived in the second wave.

Pass through and layoff when Stambouli steps inIn the 27th minute after a change of side to Stambouli Schalke could finally penetrate. This was one of the first instances of Schalke moving the ball from one side to the other with speed. The Frenchman’s dribble attracted pressure from Malli, leaving Meyer alone, while the outside positioning of the left winger – to cover Caligiuri – opened space for a diagonal pass up through midfield.

Schalke defence

Defending in own half, pressing the ball when it goes wideWhile defending in the middle third the ballnear 8 pressed the fullback, with the wingback marking the ballnear winger. Meyer left Malli and drifted towards the ball, giving diagonal compactness to the side when pressing the ball next to the touchline. Meyer was in the halfspace, the ballfar 8 moved into the same line with him, into the centre. On the ball side both the winger stepping towards the ball and the striker were marked aggressively.

When the ball went to the fullback from the centreback Harit made a pressing run from the side, a little bit bending his run almost to force the fullback to take the ball forward and not attempt to pass inside. During his run he covered the pass into the centre, keeping the central midfielder in his cover shadow. When he finished his run the nearside striker stepped back to mark this midfielder.

It was interesting to see that even when Wolfsburg moved the ball out of this pressure and attempted to play it to the other side through the centrebacks both Di Santo and Burgstaller pressed with such speed and intensity in their runs that they left no time for the midfielders to move out of their cover shadows. They also gave enough time for the ball far 8 to move to the other side and press the fullback once the ball arrived there.

In the 12th minute Schalke pressed Wolfsburg the same way, but the visiting team penetrated again due to the space between the defence and the midfield. Gerhardt received the ball on the inside of Caligiuri. This is to be expected with the dynamics of this pressing move, but since Stambouli was too far from Gerhardt on the ball, he couldn’t attempt a tackle when Gerhardt turned forward. A better way to defend in such situation would be for the ballside sideback to move up, and increase the diagonal compactness – be closer to Gerhardt and take him over – allowing Caligiuri to move up and put more pressure on the ball.

It is crucial to not press the fullback too early and too high. That way the defending team can be compact, with little space for Wolfsburg to run behind. Also with the correct timing of the press the defending team are less likely to loose their vertical compactness, and can create diagonal compactness when pressing the ball.

Maximilain Arnold would ask the ball on the left from the centreback and attempt to play long balls behind the defence to find the attempted runs of Gomes. This made it even easier for Schalke to put pressure on the ball, as Caligiuri took up the fullback moving higher and the 8 on the ball side – Harit – had to run less to press the ball. A possible solution would have been for Gerhardt to run behind the wingback, thus attacking the space behind him, or pinging him back, thus decreasing the pressure on the fullback. Also he could have been found with third man combinations through the wingback.

Buildup through GuilavoguiWolfsburg could bring out the ball mainly through Guilavogui on their right side. Here the defensive line of Schalke was too far from the first line. Had the whole defence been closer, the pass to Guilavogui and the space around him could have been congested even more.





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:



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.

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.