venerdì 29 giugno 2012

Italians do it better

While the critics share their toughts about tiki-taka, with some people saying that the Spanish play style of retaining the ball with short passing is boring, there is another team that deserves to take a look to. Cesare Prandelli’s Italy showed that is possible to win without a clear formation or playing style. Prandelli utilised a 3-5-2 for Italy’s two initial matches against Spain and Croatia, then he switched to a 4-3-1-2 against Ireland and England. Two years ago, in the tiki-taka Era, Josè Mourinho shocked the world showing that a side can win playing reactive football. After being outplayed when he tried a different approach, Mourinho came back to his ordinary strategy to let the opponents have the ball in the way to play fast-breaks. It was the same tactics that Chelsea utilized at the Nou Camp a few months ago and they produced in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern. Coming back to Prandelli, he tried to give his team an indentity. Prandelli went to this tournament after studied both 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 formations. But the fixing scandal and bad shape of some players made him playing with a 3-5-2 pattern. He relied on counter-attacking against Spain, while played a more offensive oriented football against Ireland, Croatia and England. With both Croatia and Ireland, Italy found troubles playing this kind of football and raised questions about how they are able to succeed with attacking football. Against England, things were different: Cesare Prandelli brought in Riccardo Montolivo to play as No. 10, because of concerns over Thiago Motta and, against a reactive team like Roy Hodgson's side, Italian way produced to dominate the middle of the pitch. Prandelli's team has the tactical flexibility to switch between patterns within the match. During the match, Prandelli also brought on Alessandro Diamanti and Antonio Nocerino playing also with a 5 men-midfield. They adapt the formation to the opponents. But the key is on their philosophy: can a team be active and also reactive? Italy has done it. This is maybe the first time we have a big team relying on the opponents features with success. With English happy to let them the ball, and with no pressing there, Italy was able to built an entertaining active kind of football. Against Germany, Italy played the diamond, lining up Federico Balzaretti as right-back, a position not unsual for this player, that played this role during his stints with Torino and Juventus. Germany dominated possession, loading the centre of the pitch with four good ball carriers in Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger. But Italy wanted not sacrifice "two years' work" by coming back to a more reactive approach, such as coach Cesare Prandelli said. 
Jogi Low pick Ozil to chase Andrea Pirlo. But after few minutes, Germany's head coach changed his mind and swithced the duty to cover the Italian deep-lying playmaker to Kroos. That changed the initial pattern in a 4-4-2 with Ozil lined up as right wing. This move wasn't particularly effective: with the Germany loading the middle of the pitch, Italians found spaces on the left side. Italian strategy was clear: they tried to find a free-man in the gaps between defensive and midfield's lines of Germany and to isolate Antiono Cassano in one-to-one situations on the left, where played the unimpressive Jérôme Boateng. And the first goal came from a movement of Cassano in a 1 vs 1 situation following a forward move made by left-back Giorgio Chiellini. Mario Balotelli aside, Cassano's performance was particularly brilliant. He made a lot of runs, trying to find spaces behind rivals' midfield's line and also playing the one-to-one on the flank. Prandelli’s substitutions in the second half made the team more safe defensively, when Italians showed other issues about fitness shape. 

One of the most defensive display made by the Italians was the utilization of the so called 'coperture preventive' - maybe a good English translation could be precautionary coverage - a defensive action based on send against the ball carrier the closest player in the way to stop the counter-attack and to allow to his teammates to gain time recovering their defensive positions. This is a key part of the game: how avoid transitions and how play defensive transitions. And It's a key part of Prandelli's game plan. Another good move made by Prandelly was to keep two strikers high up the pitch without big defensive duties, in the way to have two men ready for the counter-attacks. At the end, Low and Germany was tactically outcoached by Prandelli: Germans had no idea on how contain Italian forwards and how to find spaces in the middle fo the pitch. In the second half, Prandelli replaced Riccardo Montolivo and inserted Thiago Motta then brought on Alessandro Diamanti for Cassano and Antonio Di Natale for Balotelli, switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation. 
Italy was impressive defensively, especially with the midfielders, even ready to close the gaps centrally, to help the defense and to cover the pass options around Germany's ball carriers. We have seen also Daniele De Rossi playing as a true left back, in a kind of 5-men defense, against Boateng during the second part of the game...

giovedì 28 giugno 2012

Coach Bert van Merwijk resigned

Henk Spaan - editor of Hard Gras - said after the World Cup 2010 final that Holland destroyed a 40-year tradition of Total Football. The Netherlands have a tradition of playing attacking football, while van Marwijk’s squad played a pragmatic brend of football in 2010. So the coach was under pressure to come back to the old way. But Holland's effort to come back to his well known and prideful '70s' play style failed miserably. Total Football wasn't here. And, as you know, Bert van Marwijk has stepped down as Holland's coach. van Marwijk was fighting to retain his job after this terrible Euro Cup. KNVB confirmed him, but the coach decided to step down after his team were eliminated in the first round of the tournament following three straight defeats against Denmark, Germany and Portugal. Former Feyenoord and Borussia Dortmund coach relied on the squad which lost the World Cup 2010 to Spain but it didn't pay. He stayed with his usual starting XI, and forgot on the bench young guns such as Kevin Strootman or Ron Vlaar. The problem here was also that van Marwijk lost the dressing room: his relationships with Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Rafael van der Vaart, who had publicly criticised him, were bad. There was tension there, and not a positive one. On the pitch, his team was outplayed, specially in middle, where Mark van Bommel, coach's son-in-law, and Nigel de Jong were a mess. And the decision of van Marwijk to play with two holding players was highly criticized. The defense was slow and not good enough, the attackers up top never worked - mainly against Denmark when Holland didin't score despite they had over 30 shots - and a dualism was created in a nation split about  Robin van Persie or Huntelaar as Van Marwijk's pick at centre forward. Some players underperformed: van Persie scored  43 goals in 54 appearances for both Arsenal and Holland this season but, match against Germany aside, didn't find the net. The team had not a reliable left-back in Jetro Willems, 18 years-old, too young to fill the void. But the task to sub Van Marwijk will be not easy: after all, he's the man that lead the Dutch near to be World Cup champions. The questions is: who will replace him? After the disaster of World Cup 2002, should be not easy to see Louis Van Gaal in charge of Oranje once more. Ruud Gullit too lost his appeal after unimpressive stints with Feyenoord, Los Angeles Galaxy and Terek Grozny. Frank Rijkaard has previously coached Holland and reached the semi-finals at Euro 2000 so he could deserve another chance. He's the current Saudi Arabia's head coach. Former international Frank de Boer did a great job the past two seasons leading Ajax to two Eredivisie crowns but he seems determined to stay with the club. Guus Hiddink is another former Holland boss but he got a big paycheck with Anzhi Makhachkala. Two ousiders could be Gertjan Verbeek and Will Van Hanegem. Coo Adriaanse is unemployed, and he's a guy that can satisfy KNVB's demand about tactics and philosophy. Be that as it may, with Holland criticised for a lack of fitness, the first goal should be to bring on Dutch fitness trainer Raymond Verheijen.

martedì 26 giugno 2012

How to cover those midfielders

How to deal with teams like Germany, where there is an attacking midfielders in front of two central, mobile, midfielders? Or with teams like Spain when they play with a player such as Xavi Hernandez, able to move up in the way to make Spanish formation switching from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 during the game? Germany's strenght starts from the movement of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Ozil drifts often towards the right of the field, leaving open spaces for the upcoming Schweinsteiger or Khedira. Jogi Löw moved his midfielders in the way to have one of them always covering the others. There are two different ways to react. Some teams are structured with two hlding midfielders, like Holland was. Holland lined up Nigel de Jong alongside Mark van Bommel. They had the task to follow in a near to man-to-man coverage Ozil and Co. But when the Deutsch superstar moved on the flanks, while Wesley Sneijder stayed high up, his movement left the other holding midfielders outnumbered 1 vs 2 in the middle of the pitch. That happened in the Schweinsteiger's goal: De Jong picked the first runner, Van Bommel had to chase the second runner and no one picked Schweinsteiger. 
Other teams stayed in a strict zonal marking, like England and Greece. They opted to pack that central pitch zone. Against Germany yet, the Greeks had Grigoris Makis, Kostas Katsouranis, and Giannis Maniatis covering the middle in a zonal marking way. The second Germany's goal was coming from a Khedira's run that found the German player in the right position. But two Greeks midfielders, Katsouranis and newly insterted Georgios Fotakis, those nearest to the ball, made no mistakes, covering their zones. Makis too was covering the zone near to the penalty box, taking a look to Schweinsteiger. It was Maniatis, now moved to right full-back position, that had to cover better Khedira. This kind of central coverage allows the teams to have not players drawn out of position but can leave an attacking midfielder over the midfield's line, free to exploit spaces.

Portugal too plays in a zone mode in the middle of the pitch. The trio of Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, and Raul Meireles cover midfielders on their zones on the strong side, leaving free the weak side and leaving the attacking midfielders to their defenders when they break into. That changed a bit against Czech Republic, when Veloso tried to chase Czech's attacking midfielder Vladimir Darida. In that game, Portuguese midfielders tried to follow man-to-man the players on their zone with the ball on the strong side.

lunedì 25 giugno 2012

Cara vecchia Inghilterra

E' finita. Umiliati nel gioco, graziati nel punteggio soltanto dalla scarsa precisione degli Azzurri sotto rete. Dove sono finiti i maestri del calcio? In realtà questo titolo vale quanto un titolo nobiliare in Italia; serve per darsi prestigio, ma non è riconosciuto ufficialmente, non ha importanza pratica. Qui la questione è un'altra: dove è finita l'Inghilterra? La nazionale inglese degli anni '70 e '80 aveva un discreto tasso tecnico ed era conosciuta per la gagliardia, per l'andare in avanti sempre e comunque, anche in modo scriteriato. Per questo la FA decise nel 2001 di ingaggiare un tecnico straniero come Sven-Göran Eriksson, per dare equilibrio tattico ad una squadra talentuosa ma disordinata. Sappiamo tutti come è finita. Come un novello Attila, Eriksson è passato sui verdi campi d'Inghilterra distruggendo quanto di buono il calcio inglese aveva, senza aggiungere nulla. In pratica, via l'arrembante modo di attaccare, tipico del calcio britannico e dentro un sistema simil-catenacciaro che non ha aggiunto niente al football britannico. Eppure lo svedese doveva soltanto dare ordine tattico senza snaturare l'anima del calcio inglese. Dopo di lui, nulla è stato più come prima. Eriksson ha sprecato il talento di una generazione forse irripetibile, quella dei David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, del giovane David Gerrard. Via l'ex tecnico di Benfica, Roma, Fiorentina e Lazio e dentro un italiano come Fabio Capello. I risultati? Un mondiale 2010 sprecato. Lasciamo perdere le scusanti - che pur ci sono - della scarsa condizione fisica di Wayne Rooney, dei problemi in porta e del gol fantasma contro la Germania - ancora! Ma stavolta a parti invertite - Capello non ha prodotto i risultati attesi e la sua gestione ha soltanto aggravato la condizione economica dell casse della FA...allora dentro Roy Hodgson ed i risultati sono stati peggiori di prima, aleno fino a questo Europeo. Dietro la moda di una attenzione difensiva maniacale, introdotta prima da Carlos Queiroz come secondo al Manchester United, poi da Josè Mourinho e Rafa Benitez al Chelsea ed al Liverpool,  Hogdson ha costruito una delle più brutte nazionali inglesi degli ultimi 40 anni. Certamente, il livello qualitativo era anche questo il peggiore da molte stagioni a questa parte, ma possibile che con Theo Walcott, Andy Carroll e Ashley Young non fosse possibile costruire una macchina almeno decente? Va bene giocare in contropiede, ma questa tattica preved due fasi: la difesa e l'offesa. Se si difende e basta, non è più contropiede e nemmeno catenaccio...è soltanto difesa passiva. E che dire della tradizionale vigoria del calcio inglese? I ragazzi di Hodgson sono sembrati spompati, fisicamente in difficoltà contro una squadra come l'Italia che va al rallentatore o cala vistosamente dopo un'ora. A questo punto che fare? Certamente il problema dei giocatori stranieri influsice: le migliori squadre della Premier sono composte da un numero esorbitante di stranieri e con pochi giocatori inglesi eleggibili per la nazioanle. La FA deve fare qualcosa. E deve prendere in mano la situazione perché il talento inglese non vada distrutto. Accademie federali, raduni estesi nelle nazionali soprattuto la Federcalcio deve dare una direzione tecnico-tattica chiara, che imponga alle nazionali di non abbandonare le proprie radici, la propria scuola, ma soltanto di  aggiungervi accortezza tattica.

domenica 24 giugno 2012

England vs Italy

L'Inghilterra del nuovo corso di Roy Hogdson si schiera con un 4-4-2 piuttosto scolastico. Lo stile di gioco è tipicamente inglese - intendendo con questo termine non la classica idea di un calcio propositivo e arrembante ma poco accorto tatticamente, come poteva essere quello di nazionale e squadre britanniche negli anni '70 e '80, quanto piuttosto quello mostrato dalle più 'evolute' compagini d'oltre Manica nel nuovo millennio - basato su una difesa accorta, un centrocampo compatto che aiuta molto difensivamente e punte pronte a colpire in contropiede. La squadra non disdegna il 'Parking the Bus': con questa definizione si intende l'abilità di difendersi in due linee di difesa e centrocampo molto compatte, con 8 uomini nello spazio di 10 metri oltre la l'area di rigore. La squadra gioca secondo un sistema a zona 'puro', dove i difensori non seguono il giocatore nella loro zona se questi si muove incontro ai centrocampisti e se la palla è lontana, ma preferiscono coprire appunto la proria zona. Da vedere se il comportamento sarà lo stesso con avversari di calibro maggiore come Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli o Anotnio Di Natale.
Anche a centrocampo, i mediani 'basculano' scivolando con il resto dei centrocampisti e lasciando il fantasista avversario alle cure dei difensori se il giocatore in questione va oltre la linea dei centrocampisti: resta anche qui da vedere se i centrocampisti centrali si comporterebbero nello stesso modo in caso di squadra schierata con il 4-3-1-2, cioè con i difensori centrali già impegnati a controllare un avversario ciascuno. Nonostante il blocco compatto 4+4 fra linea difensiva e linea di centrocampo, ci sono momenti nei quali è possibile trovare una scarsa copertura reciproca fra i due centrocampisti centrali  da sfruttare con l'inserimento di un trequartista se Cesare Prandelli decidesse per il 4-3-1-2 o di un centrocampista se optasse per un 3-5-2. Il gioco passa dai due centrocampisti centrali: Scott Parker ha cercato 151 passaggi, mentre Steve Gerrard 149 e sono i due giocatori in cima alla lista specifica dei passaggi provati.
La squadra gioca con una linea difensiva piuttosto alta, per cercare di tenere la squadra corta. Questo accade anche in caso di palla scoperta: anche se i difensori sembrano pronti ad arretrare non appena il portatore di palla è pronto ad azionare il lancio lungo, giocatori veloci come Di Natale, Cassano e Balotelli potrebbero sfruttare questa situazione. In fase difensiva, la squadra stringe in modo tipico sul lato forte, lasciando il lato debole scoperto: questa zona potrebbe essere sfruttata da rapidi cambi di campo

In fase di transizione negativa, le due linee di difesa e centrocampo sono piuttosto abili nel ripiegamento e nel portare il raddoppio in fascia laterale: sarà quindi importante inserire interni di centrocampo in grado di aiutare gli esterni per non lasciare questi ultimi in situazione di 2 contro 1. In fase offensiva un'arma che viene utilizzata è quella dei cross: l'Inghilterra è 8° dopo la prima fase nella classifica dei cross provati con una media di 18 cross per partita. Anche la palla lunga per cercare subito gli attaccanti è un'arma tattica degli Inglesi: anche se ci sono molte squadre che ne hanno cercate di più, l'Inghilterra ne ha provate comunque 51 per partita. Nel caso in cui Hogdson dovesse schierare, dall'inizio o a partita in corso, Andy Carroll, dovranno essere presidiate le fasce laterali e coperto il pallone per evitare facili cross. In caso di palla lunga, si dovrà adottare una strategia simile a quella utilizzata da Marcello Lippi diversi anni fa contro il Chievo di Bernardo Corradi, vale a dire lasciar saltare Carroll senza ostacolarlo quando verrà a trovarsi lontano dall'area di rigore, preoccupandosi piuttosto di prendere la seconda palla. L'elemento da tenere sotto controllo sarà, oltre a Wayne Rooney, il centrocampista Steven Gerrard. Le statitische Opta ci dicono che Gerrard ha creato 7 chances e distribuito 2 assists. Gerrard è il giocatore in grado di cambiare il lato del campo sul quale viene sviluppata l'azione inglese. E' anche l'uomo dell'ultimo passaggio, avendo cercato ben 46 passaggi nell'ultimo terzo di campo, per una percentuale di realizzazione dell'80%. Ma Gerrard è anche il 4° giocatore della prima fase del torneo per precisione nei cross, con una riuscita del 47%: bisognerà quindi cercare di stare attenti quando il capitano del Liverpool deciderà di muoversi in fascia. Sui calci d'angolo difensivi sembrano un pò confusionari. Contro l'Ucraina in una occasione 5 giocatori a zona e 5 a uomo, con coperture a zona del primo palo e del centro area con Scott Parker dentro l'area piccola - angolo a rientrare -  e John Terry a zona davanti a lui. Questo contro 5 saltatori. Nella seconda occasione l'Ucraina schiera 6 saltatori e Terry ne prende uno a uomo, lasciando Daniel Welbeck nel quadrato davanti al primo palo e Parker al centro.

mercoledì 20 giugno 2012

Inside Bento's thoughts

Although Paulo Bento stuck to a 4-4-2 during his stint with Sporting Lisbon, he learned the lesson. His Portugal became even more Morinhesque. Bento don't believe that Portugal must monopolise possession. His team is usual to adopt a contrasting approach. There’s no doubt that Josè Mourinho got his mark to contest Barcelona via a compact defence and strong fast-break. But his big deal was to convince the public that it was the right approach and that you have to don't try to dominate the match against better sides. Bento picks counter-attack over possesion. A team like Portugal has the individual quality to dominate but they got no results with this play style. So Bento wanted his Portugal to be disciplined, organised and ready to break. Despite many teams attacking mainly inside, Portugal tried to find space through the flanks, where are playing their best players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. There were and are concerns about Ronaldo’s defensive performances, with opposite full-backs running over him but Bento built a 3-men midfield in which the interior midfielders are set to slide laterally in the way to cover the gaps between Ronaldo and the Portuguese full-back on his flank. Moving Joao Moutinho or Raul Meireles out wide is a Mourinho's thought.
"We have three attacking players, but I don't want them chasing fullbacks and making themselves tired. That's why I have a triangle in midfield, which slides laterally to do the defensive work. So, for example, Robben might not defend when their fullback comes forward with the ball. That's OK, because Lampard will go across and challenge him and the other two midfielders will cover for him." (Josè Mourinho)
 That allows the forwards to not expend much energy defending. But leave gaps on the middle if the rivals are able to move quickly the ball from the outside to the inside and to avoid the cover coming from the other central midfielders. The most important thing in Bento's eyes is Portugal's defensive shape. If you can control possession or position, but can't do both, Portugal's head coach stayed with position control.
"We didn’t want the ball because when Barcelona press and win the ball back, we lose our position – I never want to lose position on the pitch so I didn’t want us to have the ball, we gave it away. I told my players that we could let the ball help us win and that we had to be compact, closing spaces.” (Josè Mourinho) 
In fact, Portugal had 43% of ball possesion against Germany, 40% against Denmark and 38% latest Group match. On defensive side, Bent did not load Ronaldo with special defensive duties. On this phase, Portugal switches from the 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 formation.
He didn't track his full-back and the benefit is that Portugal has two players up top during the fast-breaks. Even if every goal Portugal have conceded has come from Ronaldo's flank that's happened because Fabio Coentrão don't have specific defensive abilities and the interior midfielders on the Ronaldo's side wasn't able to cover laterally helping Madrid's full-back. On the other side, Portugese full-backs rarely went forward to help the attack: the work to help the attacking trio is allowed to the box-to-box midfielders in the middle. Things was different against Czech Republic. With the need to attack against a reactive team, Bento sent his full-backs forward: so Fábio Coentrão played 43 passes and João Pereira 40. In this case, they utilized a classic movement of the wings coming inside leaving free spaces on the flanks for the overlapping full-backs.
 About the way to control opponents' attacking midfielders Portugal played in a zone mode in the middle of the pitch. That changed a bit against Czech Republic, when Veloso tried to chase Czech's attacking midfielder Vladimir Darida with the Portuguese midfielders trying to follow man-to-man the players on their zone with the ball on the strong side. When the rival's attacking midfielders has the ball on a flank, one of Portugal's central midfielders chase him, leaving the other two covering the spaces in front of the back four. On the corner-kicks, they utilize a zonal-marking coverage. They have a man covering the first post; another covering the zone in front of the first post; a 5-men line covering the goalkeepers' area; 3-men in a zonal coverage inside the pelaty box. That was against a corner coming from the left with a right-footed player sending the ball inside. No one of their central midfielders is a true playmaker but all play simple passes. As said earlier, while this EURO Cup was played mainly in the middle of the pitch, the overall Portugal's strategy is to rely on the flanks. Despite his tactics was often criticised, Bento has defended the playing style of his team: that's the way he utilized to get out results.


Italy vs Ireland

Heading into its Group stage crucial match, the question for Italy was: how do you solve the goal scoring issue? Against Ireland, Cesare Prandelli confused the folks from the starting lineup. He made various changes, using a 4-3-1-2 pattern with Thiago Motta as attacking midfielder behind the striker duo of Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Cassano, while Daniele De Rossi was back as interior midfielder alongside Andrea Prilo e Claudio Marchisio. The change from a 3-men back line to a 4-men defense created some initial unbalances as Ireland had a scoring chance just few seconds after the game start.  Italy have been slow and found problems to gain the gaps between Ireland's defensive and midfield's lines.

Thiago Motta sat too deeper to play the attacking midfielder role. That's why Prandelli asked Marchisio to help Motta in that zones, sharing the No. 10 duties between them. The Azzurri created few scoring chances and it would have been a very different game hadn't Cassano and Balotelli scored on set-pieces. Italy relied few on Federico Balzaretti. Sometimes it was Cassano to come back and play in this dangerous - for a 4-4-2 formation - zone. But his movement wasn't follow by cutting inside runs made by the midfielders, specially when Cassano moved outside, on his usual movement, leaving free spaces in the middle. In the second half Italy had the opportunity to play on fast-breaks but they was unable to exploit those situations. During both halfs they was unable to shift quikly from defense to attack: the transitions game wasn't here. Once again, Italy had a great performance by De Rossi. But the team were particularly unimpressive and concerns about fitness shape proved founded as Italians went down after one hour of the game. Italy didn't show yet they can succeed with attacking football. The scores was coming from set plays. The good news is that Italy gained two full-backs as Balzaretti and Ignazio Abate that dominated the line. Specially Barlzaretti was good traking up and down the left side.

domenica 17 giugno 2012

Early exit put blame on Smuda

Poland’s glory days in the 1970s and 1980s are over. And Polish are out from their own tournament. Some, as the excellent Polish Footbal Scout website did, criticized coach Franciszek Smuda for this early exit. But Smuda built the team on its strenghs: defending well and counter attacking. 1974 and 1982 World Cups' teams played that way. But Grzegorz Lato, Zbigniew Boniek, and Kazimierz Deyna are no more here. Poland entered into the Group stage with a favourite 4-2-3-1. After the first poor mtach against Greece, Smuda was able to switch to a 4-3-3. Not all the blame has to be put on Smuda's shoulders. Highly regarded full-backs Lukasz Piszczek and Sebastian Boenisch underperfomed and played often forward passes rather than overlapping; the centre-backs, considered the weak points of this team, confirmed the fears; against Czech Republic, attackers wasted a lot of chances. Obviously, some mistakes came from Smuda. The way to play fast-break was uncorrect: team never pressed strongly and preferred stay deep covering the spaces instead to press hard. That way left too much ball control to the rivals. But ball possession stats tell us also that Poland had 54% of ball control against counter-attacking Greece; 40% against Russia and 41% against Czech Republic. The match against Russia and the first half against Czech Republic, in which Polish had the opportunity to leave the ball control and play fast-break, were the best Poland's perfomances so far. That means the question  about how Polish would be good at attacking never had answer. Just Robert Lewandowski and, partially, Ludovic Obraniak, produced good football up top. On defense, as said, the centre-backs were unremarklable and the defensive line had trouble reading ball free/ball close situations as the penalty kick action allowed to the Greeks showed. 
Against Russia, it was 4-3-3/4-5-1 yet. Counter-attacks worked in the first half where Poland had some scoring chances. The problems came in the second half, when the scoring need became more urgent.  They was unbable to go through Czech's defense. At the end, slow midfield's play and a lack of attacking strategy hurted.

Greeks did their part

Who predicted the Greeks to the quarterfinals? But they did it. Russian coach Dick Advocaat resumed the game: "There was only one team going forward and the other team just defended but we didn't put away our chances," he said. But Russia didn't create much clean scoring chances. Fernando Santos pick  a more defensive approach, fielding two holding midfielders and starting with Giorgos Karagounis as attacking midfielder. It was a 4-4-1-1. The Greeks started the game focused and remained in a constant counter-attack mode. Russian had territorial advantage but their passing play style resulted only in a steril possession. Santos' plan was simple: cover the pitch and play counter-attacks. Greece frustrated Russia and nullified their counter-attacking chances. In the open plays, Greece had a lot of problems to create so they relied on their strenghts. The only offensive scheme was to play a long ball from goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis to Giorgios Samaras on the left side. Greece's goalkeeper played 16 long balls and Greece relied on the 35m-plus long ball (26%) more than Russia (10%). When the ball hit the ground, the Greeks tried to play in the opposite half. Buth they pick a direct style of football as 39% of their passes hit forwards in their build-up. Russia forced Greece back into their own half but the Greeks are suited with this play. They didn’t attempt to press the Russian centre-backs, but started the pressure on their third. This pressure wasn't a real pressing action, with the Greeks that just was covering the spaces, withouth a real high pressure on the ball. But it was enough to close Russian passing lines. As full-backs Aleksandr Anyukov and Yuri Zhirkov had license to join the attacking trio of Alan Dzagoev, Andrey Arshavin, and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Greece's wingers Dimitris Salpingidis and Samaras was able to come back helping Greeks full-backs on the flanks. Karagounis started the game by dropping onto Igor Denisov when Greece went out of possession.

But with the Russian gaining field, Karagounis stopped chasing Denisov and went to help the central midfielders. His duties went to Fanis Gekas. He didn't a good job, sometimes leaving Denisov free. But despite he became free, Russian playmaker stayed  in front of the centre-backs and failed to add support forward. Greece barely had an attack, but they was able to score in the only real chance they had at the end of the first half...In the second half, Advocaat inserted forward Roman Pavlyuchenko but Russian still was unable to go through the Greek defense. They pushed more and more Greece back into their own half but, as I said, the Greeeks was comfortable defending so low. And Russian produced no quick passes and no movementes. Neither insert Pavel Pogrebnyak helped. At the end, Greece had a 31% of ball possession but conceded just 2 shots on target. They defended parking the bus in second half but Russia didn't do enough to win.

sabato 16 giugno 2012

Something to do

It is not so long ago that Holland shocked the world coming to the WC 2010 final. That suggested their status was raised again and that  Dutch football still deserved credit. But the impact to this tournament was a mess and the expectations are falling down. Holland needs to beat Portugal by at least two goals and hope Germany defeat Denmark to advance behind the Group stage. Coach Bert van Marwijk has a lot of work to do or Holland will join...Holland (1980), West Germany (1984), Italy (1996), Germany (2004) and France (2008), in the list of World Cup runners-up eliminated in Euro group phase. The Dutch showed an unusual tactical caution under van Marwijk. They didnt' show a collective structure. Holland's pressing wasn't here: the team has been passive without the ball. They started the first two games with two holding midfielders in Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, neither was particularly able playing the ball. In addition, they left big spaces open between the defensive and midfield's lines. Neither was able to chase Bastian Schweinsteiger as Germany's midfielder led 2-0 though a pair of assists.
The first goal allowed was paradigmatic. With van Bommell and de Jong chasing Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil, Wesley Sneijder was unselfish leaving the Dutch outnumbered 3 v 2 in the middle of the pitch, while Arjen Robben didin't come back to cover centrally. Wingers Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay were so poor a showing. Robbie van Persie was ineffective. Sneijder, as said, stayed to up against Germany and didnt' help defensively. Against Denmark, Holland squared a lot of scoring chances but against Germany they was outplayed. The Netherlands showed weakness on the defensive pitch. They need to take advantage of their offensive skills. Everybody knows that the Dutch are most dangerous pushing forward. van Marwijk ran the previous two games in the same way, changing after the half time. In both games, he brought on Rafael van der Vaart for a holding midfielder, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to replace Afellay, with the Schalke forward playing up top. With van der Vaart and Huntelaar on, Holland looked a better side showing their only bright moments. But, above all, the questions is that Total Football is disappeared. There was no spaces created, no speed, no movement. Criticism of van Marwijk said that he killed Total Football and the coach himself pointed out in 2010 that Total Football days are over. The 4-2-3-1 formation is not working. So, what to do? Coming back to a 4-3-3 formation would put on place the question about Sneijder: van Marwijk coulde reshuffle players' positions and push Sneijder outside, utilize him deeper as second central midfielder or he could pick him off the starting XI. Another option could be to insert Van der Vaart and Sneijder as interior midfielders in a 3-men midfield, while van Persie could take Afellay’s position as left wing, with Robben as right flanker and Huntelaar as centre-forward. Or the coach could start with De Jong as holding midfielder alongside Van der Vaart and Kevin Strootman with van Persie and Sneijder or Robben on the flanks. With a little more of brave, van Marwijk could take the risk, playing a 1-3-3-3 formation with Sneijder behind an attacking trio of van Persie, Huntelaar, and Robben. Staying in a four-men back line, the problem is on the left, where Jetro Willems suffered a lot. But Wilfred Bouma played as centre-forward latest seasons; Stijn Schaars isn't a pure left-back; and Khalid Boulahrouzis so-so. Some changes have to be made or the Dutch will be hurt.

venerdì 15 giugno 2012

Laudrup in town

Michael Laudrup was appointed as the new manager of Swansea City. Laudrup had previous managerial stints at Brondby, Getafe, Spartak Moscow and Real Mallorca. What about him?  "He was strongly influenced by Johan Cruyff when he was at Barcelona in the late 1980s, early 90s," former Swansea manager Jan Molby told BBC Sport Wales. Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins wants managers who share his football philosophy. Laudrup follows Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers and his appointment should provide tactical stability. His Mallorca 2010/11 was a very good team. He employed a 4-4-2/4-3-1-2 with Jonathan De Guzman as central midfielder with the duty to push forward to support Pierre Webo and Gonzalo Castro while the other central midfielder, at that time the Brazilian Joao Castro, became the holding midfielder in front of the back four-line. Team played a 78% of short passes: when they tried to build from the back, the defenders usually involved the central midfielders. By the way, Mallorca defenders usually moved the ball directly from their zone to the forwards playing a direct style of football. Aftet this first pass, the goal was to accumulate players on the rival's half to play the ball. The team was 4th in the Liga with an average of 70 long balls per game. It has to be changed with the short sized Swanselona. On the defensive phase, his team was very closed in the middle, with 8-9 men behind the line. The transitions were very quick, both offensively and defensively and much players was involved on the attacking phase. On the defensive transitions, the goal was to lead behind the line as many players as possible.

Italia vs Croazia: analisi tattica

Cesare Prandelli decide di confermare l'XI che ha pareggiato e bene contro la Spagna nella prima partita, lasciando inalterato anche il 3-5-2 iniziale. La Croazia è disposta come sempre in un 4-4-2 elastico, con Luka Modric pronto ad avanzare per formare un 4-3-1-2. L'Italia parte bene, Mario Mandzukic copre Andrea Pirlo ma gli Azzurri  sono bravi ad uscire con Giorgio Chiellini o Leonardo Bonucci per impostare l'azione, come nella Juventus quando proprio Pirlo viene coperto dagli avversari.  Altra alternativa nell'impostazione è quella che vede Pirlo spostarsi dalla zona centrale per portare via il suo marcatore, lasciando spazio a De Rossi in uscita dalla difesa, ma questa soluzione è attuata senza particolare costrutto, dato che De Rossi staziona comunque molto basso ed effettua passaggi in uscita semplici e senza pericolosità. In avanti, Mario Balotelli è il riferimento avanzato con Antonio Cassano che ruota attorno: quando il barese si allarga o viene dietro, sono i centrocampisti, soprattutto Claudio Marchisio, a dover salire in area per aiutare Balotelli.
I centrocampisti croati giocano molto stretti, per annullare l'inferiorità numerica centrale 3 vs 2: gli Azzurri dovrebbero portare la palla con i difensori centrali chiamando fuori l'esterno di centrocampo avversario per poi servire o la mezzala o l'esterno di centrocampo nell'1 contro 1, cosa che però fanno raramente. Dopo pochi minuti però gli Azzurri si spengono e comincia a salire la Croazia. Soprattuto sulla destra: il piano di Slaven Bilic è chiaro, sfondare sulla sinistra dove c'è Emanuele Giaccherini, il giocatore meno abile difensivamente nel pacchetto arretrato. Nella sua zona, Ivan Rakitic e Dario Srna affondano, contando anche sul fatto che Thiago Motta non aiuta per niente. E' quindi costretto ad uscire Chiellini, con Bonucci, De Rossi e Christian Maggio, quando stringe, che restano dentro l'area contro le punte avversarie, situazione però non sfruttata a pieno dai Croati. Uno dei temi tattici della Croazia è il lancio lungo del portiere Stipe Pletikosa per le due punte, cercando di sfruttare la loro stazza contro i difensori azzurri, soprattutto contro De Rossi. Il gol di Pirlo rianima gli Azzurri che concludono in crescendo il primo tempo.
Nel secondo tempo però l'Italia è priva di energia. Bilic risistema la Croazia con un 4-2-3-1, coprendo l'inferiorità numerica a centrcampo. Pirlo viene definitivamente chiuso ed i centrocampisti non hanno nè la forza nè gli spazi per appoggiare le punte. Sale Rakitic in mezzo al campo. Per sfruttare il contropiede, Prandelli inserisce Antonio Di Natale ma toglie inspiegabilmente Balotelli, il più attivo degli avanti Azzurri. La Croazia non crea molto ma segna nell'unica vera occasione, con un cross dalla sinistra, sfruttando la stazza dei suoi attaccanti. Nell'occasione del gol doppio errore difensivo: 80% di Chiellini che si stacca senza motivo dal centravanti croato e 20% di Giaccherini che vedendo l'uomo libero alle spallle di Chiellini non stringe per coprirlo.

mercoledì 13 giugno 2012

Croatia secret files

Croatia is one of the most interesting team in this tournament. Slaven Bilic showed his flexiblility switching easily from a 4‑4‑2 to 4‑2‑3‑1, or 4‑3‑3 or 4‑3-1‑2. This switch often happened on the same game, because Croatia's scheme is very fluid. Few managers utilizes five or six attack-minded players as they did. Against Ireland, Bilic lined up a 4-4-2 pattern. The key man to change the system is Luka Modric. Pushing forward, he can transform the system in a 4-3-1-2, also forcing rivals' central midfields to play deep, while the full backs bomb forward. Specially the move on the right is interesting: here is Dario Srna which pushes forward down the flank, exploiting the right wing Ivan Rakitic's cutting inside movement. On the left side played Dortmund’s Ivan Perisic, an attacking winger. It's a very demanding pattern, as Bilic likes to employ two attacking full-backs, though that can leave his centre-backs exposed. Against Ireland, Ognjen Vukojevic was the only true holding midfielder in the pitch.
By the way, on the defensive phase, team is lined up in a classic 4-4-2, sometimes leaving gaps between defense and midfield's line. Vedran Corluka and Gordon Schidenfeld could have troubles dealing with Italian attackers. Also, Croatia's defense suffers strong headers. Up top, Mario Mandzukic could cause the Italian back some problems, such as Fernando Torres did. Cesare Prandelli has to pick between the brave 3-5-2 formation he employed against Spain, with midfielder Daniele De Rossi as centre-back, or to switch back to a 4-4-2/4-3-3 formation. One of the crucial battle will be on the middle, with Azzurri's midfield that will have to contain Modric. Prandelli could lined up Antonio Nocerino instead of Thiago Motta in the way to have better defensive coverage around Andrea Pirlo. On the offense, the first goal for Croatia is to get the forwards. If the spaces are closed, they come on the flanks for a crossing action. But the big Bilic's dilemma will be if to play active or reactive. Croatia is not suited to defend, having so much offensive minded players but when they are deep, the whole team work on the defensive phase. Srna and Rakitic too are able to come back and help on the flanks. The other question will be how cover Pirlo: if Bilic will pick a forward, either Mario Mandzukic or  Nikica Jelavic - or Eduardo da Silva - will drop off on him; if Bilic will go with a midfielder, one of the central players will have the duty to do it.

Good play by the home side

Poland come into this Euro 2012 as the weakest side of the 16 teams. Against Russia, they showed to be no so weak. “We can only accomplish something as a team,” coach Franciszek Smuda said and they did it. Smuda played a more defensive approach going with three central midfielders - Dariusz Dudka, Eugen Polanski and Rafael Murawski - in the way to contain Russian midfield's trio of Igor Denisov, Konstantin Zyryanov, and Roman Shirokov. The goal was to cover the spaces in the middle. Ludovic Obraniak and Jakub Blaszczykowski was not the needed treats in the first half so Robert Lewandowski was often isolted as centre forward having no support by the midfielders.
On the defensive phase, Polish work was excellent. Russia wasn't able to move the ball quickly, and Poland set the goal to close rivals down in the middle of the pitch. When Russia moved the ball on the flanks, Poland's flankers made a great job covering the spaces.
The couple of Poland's wings and half-backs provided the needed coverage against Russian counterpart.

When Russia looked to upcoming half-backs, with the wingers cutting inside, Lukasz Piszczek and Sebastian Boenisch was able to get forward covering the rivals, with the other defenders that stayed in in a three-man defence.

But the whole team defended with bravery. Lewandowski chased Denisov. That left Russia's centre-back free to start the attacks but allowed Borussia's striker to support Dudka, Polanski and Murawski's work in the middle.

With the ball on the flanks in a crossing zone, Poland covered well the penalty box with three men in front of the goalkeeper.


With the team so organized defensively, and with the defensive line very close to the midfield, Poland nullified a more technical side as Russia and made them unable to exploit the speed's qualities of their attackers. In second half, Poland was more versed in the fast-break situations, providing more support to Lewandowski. At the end, Smuda's thought to keep the men behind the ball and to start the pressure on the halfway line, in the way to launch quick breaks, was good. With a so compact team, Poland showed one of their best quality, i.e. the defensive strength. In the final 15 minutes of the game, Smuda  withdrawn Dudka, replcing him with Adrian Mierzejewski and coming back to the original 4-2-3-1. 

martedì 12 giugno 2012

Two thoughts on Ukraine's victory

So, you can run fast and play vertically. Ukraine's showed that, in '2000's football, you can play in a different way from Tiki-Taka. Ukraine lined up in the expected system – basically a 4-2-3-1 with Andriy Voronin behind Andriy Shevchenko. It worked. Erik Hamren's idea to line up Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a good one. But, with the team on defensive phase, Ibrahimovic never was a real defending No. 10 as he left a lot of freedom to Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. On the other half of the pitch, Andriy Voronin was the key on Ukraine’s formation: he was involved many times behind the Sweden's midfield line. The goal of Oleg Blokhin's team was to play vertically when it was possible or to go on the flanks when the spaces was closed in the middle. Ukraine was able not just on the fast breaks. When they had the ball, they was good to broke Sweden's defensive system going through the flanks with quickly changes from the strong to the weak side. Shevchenko's goals was amazing - in the second, he made a movement that beat an Ibrahimovic in a zone marking coverage over the first post and exploited Mikael Lustig's mistake on leaving the first post duties, in a corner kick situation, before the penalty box was cleaned - but his overall performance was the plus to a strong tactical effort. Yep, Sweden would have deserved the tie in the second half, when they wasted a lot of scoring changes. But Ukraine showed he can play other way that simly sit deep and play the counter-attack.

Answering: Tiki-Taka and defending deep as England did

Welcome to the new England playing style era. Roy Hodgson was 'Parking the bus' against a France that dominated possession (65%) and had a lot more of shots. As usual, Hodgson lined up two banks of four, with two deep holding midfielders in Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker, and with two guys up top, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck, waiting for support from the two wide players. In the first half, this system had troubles against a France very fluid. Laurent Blanc's side started in a 4-3-3 shape but while Franck Ribery generally played on the left, Samir Nasri was coming inside to play as an attacking midfielder behind lone forward Karim Benzema. Blanc asked Yohan Cabaye and Florent Malouda to support the ball circulation and Mathieu Debuchy to go forward supporting the offensive phase on the right, while Patrice Evra became the third central back alongside Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami. It worked a little in the first half, with France that was the better side and England that had troubles. In the second half, despite that Frence had Evra going forward, England showed improvement, defending deep in compact lines but more organized and playing a better defensive football. They restricted France centrally - but allowed long shots. Hodgson called it a platform. His approach against France was similar to Chelsea's successful display showed when they met Barcelona in the Champions League. After the loss against Chelsea, Pep Guardiola too questioned whether high pressing and all-out attack was the best way to win matches. Is this the only way to defend against a Tiki-Taka side? Not every defensive effort made a team "playing like Chelsea" because not all the teams defend deep in compact lines. Italy defended differently, parking the bus in the middle of the pitch in the first half against Spain. In the second half Azzurri were dangerous playing some good counter-attacks. The problem with other teams such as Greece or Denmark is that they defended too deep, with too much distance to cover when the ball was won. Chelsea's victory - and Inter victory under Josè Mourinho too -  gave other teams the hope that, with an inferior side, absorbing the pressure, building two banks very deep and counting on counter-attacks or set-pieces to score is enough to win. But this can't guarantee reactive football. What has been seen over the past months, is a way to contain Tiki-Taka with a team sitting down and waiting for the moment to exploit fast-breaks. It can work because it's hard, for an attacking team, to find spaces against a compact side with nine players behind the ball. But when a team can't score and the other can't hit on the break, we can see a steril, controlling the ball, playing style against a defending squad with 9-men in front of the box. Real Madrid under José Mourinho tried to contain Tiki-Taka pressing high, but you can't do it longly if you are not in a perfect fitness shape. So, it seems that a team just can pick its philosophy between be active or be reactive. It don't mean to be a Tiki-Taka team or a Parking the Bus side. You can play going vertically or you can play looking for fast-breaks but pressuring in the middle of the field, not so deep, as Italy did against Spain. England can't do it. The transitions game was absent because they had troubles to find Young and Welbeck. Next games they have to be much strong vertically.

lunedì 11 giugno 2012

The best in the East

Cesare Prandelli is a tactician, much more than Marcello Lippi or Giovanni Trapattoni. He likes attacking football over specific patterns, and his teams even had an identity. Prandelli came to lead Azzurri in a particular moment: the generation of Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and Gennaro Gattuso has gone. Italy still have good, but no great, players. Prandelli tried to give his team an indentity: he started playing a 4-3-3 before to switch to a 4-3-1-2. But the fixing scandal, that left him without the starting left-back Domenico Criscito and bad shape of some players made Prandelli playing with other than a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-1-2. He lined up his team in a 3-5-2 pattern, with Daneiel De Rossi dropped from the midfield in middle of the back line, alongside Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, with Emanuele Giaccherini and Christian Maggio as wing-backs. Italy's display was amazing in the first hour and Spain suffered the outstanding performance made by Italian midfield. It was not a Chelsea vs Barcelona game as Italy had not the plan of 'Parking the bus'. For Spain, the only way to win the battle on the middle was to bring back Cesc Fabregas or to create numerical superiority moving one wing inside. When Andres Iniesta did it, Spain was able to find superiority in the middle and gaps between the lines.
But Spain didn't it much so Italy  had an easy job covering the middle with a block 3+3. Italy also was rarely unbalanced and Spain didin't exploit well those situations playing fast-breaks. Some criticized the idea to play in the middle, saying that Spain could have outnumbered Italy on the flanks. This is a commun option to exploit when you have two players on the flanks against a 3-5-2.

But Spain usually plays in the middle and they had some good moments moving the ball inside when they outnumbered Italy moving Iniesta in the middle to create a 4 vs 3 centrally. One problem was they do it no so much and not quickly. At this point, create superiority centrally would have lead Spain to open the play on the flanks when it needed: this is the way to occupy the middle to open the flanks. But the full-backs, Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa, was unable to provide attacking width.

But the real problem for Spain - one of the reasons that made hard for Spanish to have the edge numerically in the middle of the pitch - was the job done by Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli. Both Italian forwards - specially Balotelli - deserve credit to have helped defensively in the middle. They put in shadow Spain's lines of pass in the middle of the pitch. To beat them, Spain would have to pass the ball quickly on the flank but, to stay with his philosophy, they would have to play quickly the ball between the Italian forwards, with Iniesta moving inside and Fabregas coming back. Then, they would have to play the ball on the flanks to the upcoming Arbeloa o Alba or to David Silva, keeping him in 1 vs 1 situation against Giaccherini. But Spain played without much needed quick passing and movement. The first half ended scoreless, with Spain happy with the ball and Italy happy with the score. Spain improved in the second half when Del Bosque introduced some width, with Jesus Navas. In that way, Del Bosque utilized Navas as real weapon on the flanks, playing against the less pure italian defender, Giaccherini. On this moment, Spain moved the ball in the middle to open on the flank when necessery. But Prandelli made two calls, and two good ones. First and foremost, he selected Antonio Di Natale to play up top. Then, he put in Sebastian Giovinco. Prandelli played the second half to win as both strikers looked dangerous running over the centre-backs of an unbalanced Spain. Del Bosque was good calling a real forward in Fernando Torres, with Italian defense that had issues to deal with him, but is wasn't enough to win, neither with Italy on their knees the final 25 minutes, after 65 minutes of high intensity. At the end, Jose Mourinho criticized Spain 'sterile' striker-less formation but the idea to play a 4-6-0 with Fabregas running in behind to unlock Italian defense, was a good one. Simply, they have not execute well. Spain lacked penetration and was unable to move quickly the ball from the middle to the flanks or inside after created numerical superiority. Also, Del Bosque made a mistake not introducing Fernando Llorente instead Torres.