giovedì 25 aprile 2013

Klopp outcoached Mourinho in the first leg

Dortmund thrashed Real Madrid thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s four goals while German side’s manager Jurgenn Klopp outcoached José Mourinho. While Klopp utilized right-winger Jakub Blaszczykowski switching Marco Reus to the left, Mourinho opted to Luka Modric instead of Angel Di Maria, moving right Mesut Ozil. Dortmund were the dominant force in the first part of both first and second half, playing a putting pressure, high-tempo, game. Mourinho's approach was clear: inserting Modric to have extra ball-control skills and a second playmaker in the middle of the pitch alongside Xabi Alonso and Sami Kedhira. It didn’t work as Modric sat deep as expected but he didn’t help Real Madrid’s ball distribution, playing not through balls. Ozil, moved on the flank, wasn’t a factor and he also left gaps on his back, leaving Sergio Ramos alone against Reus and a Mario Götze drifting in wide areas. Dortmund started this match pressing heavily, leaving Real Madrid’s centre-backs free in the build-up but they were ready to press full-backs and central midfielders in the way to gain the ball as high as possible to play quick transitions. Dortmund imposed their gameplan playing midfield pressing followed by counterattacks. With Germans pressing so hardly, Real attempting to play a much more possesion-based game was nullified. Mourinho’s side also lost the battle in the middle of the pitch, where Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender was effectively tracking  Modric and Kedhira, while Götze was chasing  Xabi Alonso, forcing Real Madrid’s play towards the wide areas. But Dortmund also maximized those zones, where Ozil and Ronaldo’s lacks of defensive skills was exploited by full-backs Lukazs Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer. Also, Piszczek played a good game containing Ronaldo. On the other hand, Pepe had a terrible night facing Lewandowski. On the Polish’s opener, when Götze , starting from the left flank, found him, Pepe had to make the decision if mark Dortmund’s centre forward or cover the zone following the ball: this is the usual dilemma for defenders facing balls coming from the outsides. Pepe opted to mark Lewandowski with the result to loose both the forward and the ball. In Lewandowski’s third score, he outplayed  Pepe once again, spinning away from him and finding the top of the net. As the game went on, after the opening goal, Dortmund drop their pressing line and Real Madrid improved a bit. With Real Madrid closing the first half 1-1 after a thrown-in action followed by a Mats Hummels mistake, Dortmund started the second half repeating the initial strategy, dominating the first minutes with fresh energy. With his team down, Mourinho made classic changes inserting Karim Benzema for Higuain, and Di Maria for Modric and swithing to an offensive 4-2-4 featuring the Argentinian winger on the flank and Ronaldo up front alongside the French forward. With Dortmund less hurried, Real Madrid enjoyed possession but doesn’t create real scoring chances. Then Kaka replaced Alonso to additionally bolster the attack. At the end,  “the best team won," as Portuguesemanager admitted. Klopp won the tactical battle playing a high energy game in the first parts of both the halves. Dotmund dominated the flanks and closed the gaps in the middle while Real Madrid lacked of Ronaldo, Khedira and Ozil support. A couple of Diego López saves and the goal scored by Ronaldo keeps Real Madrid alive for the second leg.

mercoledì 24 aprile 2013

What it means

Bayern Munich crushed Barcelona 4-0 following a tactically balanced game featuring a disciplined pressing mixing high and medium pressing levels. Bayern conceded possession to Barcelona’s centre-backs while it was extremely careful tracking the central midfielders and the flanks. Although some bad decisions counted on the final score, Bayern outscored Barcelona playing a physical and technically gifted game. Germans utilized a kind of game that we already have seen to nullify the dominant force of Barcelona. Celtic Glasgow, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid this season, AC Milan -- once again -- Arsenal and Internazionale last season, all showed how you can beat or stop Barcelona. Bayern carried the same strategy and were good counterattacking. Tactics work brilliantly, as Bayern’s manager Jupp Heynckes pointed out.
Also, Bayern took the edge of their size at set-pieces situations, where Barcelona lacks of height and where they have just Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol -- not in the game yesterday -- as able headers. But oppositely to Jose Mourinho’s sides, Bayern isn’t just a reactive team. A ball control-based team latest seasons, Bayern embraced this philosophy from Louis Van Gaal’s days and will continue running this way next campaign under new manager, Pep Guardiola. That said, it’s too early to say that this game signed the end of the tiki-taka. We can just say that this game showed the worst part of it. Barcelona were slow, lacking incisiveness, weak in attack and in defence, playing like a possession-based squad creating not scoring chances. Bayern closed every Barcelona’s passing channels: the back four of Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Dante and David Alaba nullified an unfit Lionel Messi; Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Mario Gomez was able to chase Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Sergio Busquets; Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery was both disciplined helping back on the flanks. With 2014 FIFA World Cup one year away Martinez's performance means former Athletic Bilbao can be a viable backup option to Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta for Spain next summer. For Barcelona, this game wasn’t the end of tiki-taka but a huge step back. As Jonathan Wilson anticipated the team has to look forward trying to find new blood at la Masia, because recent experiments to integrate outsiders didnt’ work as Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic showed.

mercoledì 17 aprile 2013

Cardiff City to do list

After years of spending and crying, beaten in the play-offs for last three seasons, a goalless draw at home to Charlton Athletic guaranteed Cardiff a promotion to the Premier League and a spot alongside Swansea City next campaign. Give credit to manager Malky Mackay that built a solid team around a good defence that relied on David Marshall as keeper and Mark Hudson, Leon Barnett, Ben Turner in front of him. Midfielders Peter Whittingham, Jordon Mutch, and Aron Gunnarsson were other key players such as Kim Bo-Kyung. Kim signed a three-year deal with Cardiff City last July and got the skills to become the next gifted South Korean footballer to show them. Now it's time to look forward to strengthen the squad with consistent performers. Next season will be about survival. Mackay will need to bolster his team up front, finding a goalscorer to pair Heidar Helguson, Fraizer Campbell or Nicky Maynard, or someone able to play the lone forward role in the manager's favourite 4-5-1 formation. Aslo, a good idea could be to bring on some caps in a back line that have only Andrew Taylor with previous experience in the promised land. Then, there is Craig Bellamy. The Homtown Hero could be the first backup midfield next season or the old classy player able to run the team into though situations. Team's ownership told there are £25m to spend on players as the Bluebirds head to the Premier League. It would be enough to repeat Swansea's EPL run and avoid Reading or Blackpool's fate?

lunedì 15 aprile 2013

Paolo Di Canio get his first victory

It was a tough day for Alan Pardew and Newcastle. Sunderland secured their biggest victory at St James' Park since 1979 and Paolo Di Canio showed he can coach at EPL level.

Pardew lined up two holding midfielders in Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tioté and stuck with Papiss Cisse up front whileYoan Gouffran on the left and Sylvain Marveaux on the right had the freedom to push up and to turn inside supporting the lone forward. Di Canio started Stephane Sessegnon like an attacking midfielder behind forward Danny Graham with Sebastian Larsson and Alfred N’Diaye in the middle. This was a clash between two vertically oriented teams with both squads that tried to send the ball up front quickly. That made Newcastle unable to try to exploit Moussa Sissoko's spot in the middle of Sunderland's defensive and midfield lines. Also, Pardew dind't take the edge from Newcastle’s numerical advantage in midfield where Larsson and N’Diaye sat very deep to close gaps around Sissoko giving Cabaye and Tioté enough freedom to start the attack.

The Black Cats was playing a counter-attacking 4-4-1-1 -- and it worked like Sessegnon's opening goal showed -- but they started the game taking the initiative and didn't stay passive, pressing high up to disturb Newcatle's build up. Because Gouffran doesn't have defensive skills, Tioté had the duty to slide on the left to help left-back Jonas Gutierrez against Di Canio's right wing Adam Johnson. Like Sunderland's first goal suggested, Newcastle had trouble chasing Sessegnon which acted like a mobile attacking midfielder moving everywhere into opponents' half and having an impact on the game. Pardew'side was slow moving the ball in attack and seemed to have no other plane that send balls up the flanks in the way to exploit 1 vs. 1 and to provide balls to the penalty box. It didn't work because Sunderland lines were very tight and compact.

With Sunderland 1-0 up, Pardew started the second half with a change inserting Shola Ameobi with Gouffran removed and switching to a pure 4-4-2 formation moving Sissoko on the left. Immediately, Newcastle took control of the play with Sunderland defending with two blocks of four just inside their half. After Pardew's team got a goal nullified by an offside, Newcastle's manager reshuffled his line up once again, inserting Hatem Ben Arfa at left wing, taking off Cabaye and moving Sissoko to a central midfielder spot, free to push up. Newcastle kept Sunderland inside their half and pushed on the left flank but wasn't able to open the box playing just aerial balls from the outside. Johnson's goal sealed their fate.

At the end, the Black Cats brought away three deserved points because Newcastle didn't do anything to capture this match. Sunderland simply were significantly better.

martedì 9 aprile 2013

Lazio and Roma draw 1-1

It was a  phsycological more then tactical battle between two sides that both had chances to win. Vladimir Petkovic lined up his classic 4-1-4-1 featuring Alvaro Gonzalez as right back with Stefan Radu on the opposite side while Senad Lulic was operating up as left winger.

Roma were surprisingly using a 4-3-1-2 formation when they was suited to utilize a 3-5-2/3-4-3 shape under new manager Aurelio Andreazzoli. Roma was without Pablo Osvaldo so Andreazzoli utilized Erik Lamela up front paired with a Francesco Totti playing his usual 'false nine' role while Miralem Pjanic was acting as attacking midfielder.

Lazio's attitude in the first half was clearly to take control of the game as they sat deep looking for counter-attacks. Petkovic's key of the match was how to control Daniele De Rossi, Roma's deep-lying playmaker. It was unusual to see Petkovic opt to use Miroslav Klose chasing De Rossi. But with this move Lazio's midfielders didn't press high up the pitch so neither Cristian Ledesma neither the 'mezzeali' was jumping high up to stop De Rossi so Petkovic's midfield was able to stay close. On the other hand, with Klose dropped onto De Rossi, Roma's flat four defence was given more freedom, but it didn't produce good passes as Giallorossi settled down the game into a slow tempo. By the way, Roma was attacking while Lazio was playing a counter-attacking match. Andreazzoli's left-sided players, midfielder Alessandro Florenzi and left back Marquinho, pushed up while the right-sided players, Vasilis Torosidis and Michael Bradley, stayed in a more defensive spot. It meant Roma was a bit unbalanced as its' focus was playing down the left flank, playing a sort of 4-2-2-2 with Bradley and De Rossi as central midfielders. Despite an active game, Roma didn't create scoring chances lacking ideas in the final third, with Lazio comfortable defending and packing the midfield with Brazilian Hernanes and Ogenyi Onazi playing as interior midifelders. Also, width wasn't here and Lazio easily shut out Roma's attacks.

Things changed in the 16th minute, when Hernanes set the 0-1 finding the net in an open play following a Roma's corner kick. From that point, Roma litterally disappeared and looked unlikely to score. De Rossi distribution was disappointing, even when given time on the ball -- due to the fact that Klose pressure on him was far from effective -- while Pjanic was unable to find gaps in front of the opposite's defence. Totti was the only effective of his team’s attacking package, dropping deep to open gaps up front for the upcoming teammates.

Four minutes into the second half and things went worse for Giallorossi as Lazio was awarded a penalty kick. But Hernanes missed and it turned a disastrous -- for Rome --  game into a nice one. Andreazzoli took De Rossi off, inserting forward Mattia Destro and switching his shape to a 4-3-3 with Pjanic in the holding spot, while Destro was acting as centre forward paired with Totti, as left forward, and Lamela, as right forward. Few minutes after Hernanes missing his penalty kick and Brazilian gave away a penalty that Totti converted to draw. Into its new 4-3-3 shape, Roma dominated the residual of the match specially after Lazio's defender Giuseppe Biava was sent off. Also, Lazio was playing too much long, not tight, vulnerable against Rome' penetrations. With the game on their hand, Giallorossi was unable to score again, as Florenzi and Lamela wasted two good scoring opportunities while goalkeeper Federico Marchetti made a tremendous job.

At the end, there were a penalty factor here: Lazio missed it while Roma converted. Andreazzoli's side started attacking but they was uneffective while Petkovic's narrow defence, already significantly tested, played a solid game. Hernanes' missed penalty shifted the momentum. But Andreazzoli's thought to change the overall pattern looking for the whidt had some effects too.

sabato 6 aprile 2013

Can Sunderland jump out of the relegation zone under new manager Paolo Di Canio?

A controversial character, Paolo Di Canio became the Sunderland owner Ellis Short's choice to replace the sacked Martin O'Neill. He parted ways with the team despite a 29 per cent success rate. Only Peter Reid was better among previous Sunderland’s EPL managers. But this wasn’t enough to safe O’Neill.

O’Neill paid a recruitment campaign that brought on Steven Fletcher from Wolverhampton Wanderers for £12m and added other £10m to buy former Manchester City’s Adam Johnson. While Fletcher experiment worked until an ankle injury  ended his season prematurely, Johnson has been a mess into O'Neill's 4-4-1-1, while two further summer signings, Louis Saha and James McFadden, was quickly released. Despite that and despite the fact he spent a large amount of cash since he bought the club, owner Ellis Short let O’Neill spend other £14m in January, adding Turkey's Bursaspor  21-year-old defensive midfielder  Alfred N'Diaye, and Swansea City forward Danny Graham. New faces in but O'Neill’s  gameplan was the same on the field: it was designated around to sit deep and play on the break concept but Sunderland never produced following this tactics, with the team that failed to get points and produce shots on target, dropping to a point out the bottom three. A former popular appointment, at a certain point it seemed that former Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa manager had lost his touch. Also, O'Neill declaration that his squad lacks "true quality" doesn’t help him. So, Sunderland turned to Paolo Di Canio. Well known for his political thoughts, the 44-year-old former Swindon Town manager was appointed on a two-and-a-half-year deal. Di Canio’s mission is tough with Sunderland one point above the relegation zone and with no win in the last eight matches in which they landed only three points. Can Di Canio avoid relegation? Hard to predict. At Swindon, Paolo Di Canio kept to a 4-4-2 looking for for short passes. They faced some troubles when opponents pressured up top. For sure, this appointment is above tactics. With few games at the end of the season, is hard to fix things quickly. Di Canio’s first point on his to-do list will be to distill enthusiasm and hope to a downhearted team that also lost its captain Lee Cattermole for the remainder of the season. He needs that everyone sticks together. The remaining schedule doesn’t help as Sunderland will face Everton, Stoke City and Southampton at home while will be host by Chelsea, Newcastle, Aston Villa, and Tottenham. Di Canio hasn’t EPL managerial experience but came from an impressive stint with Swindon Town. Appointed in May 2011, he lead the team up into the third flight the following season and put them in contention to a second consecutive promotion before to quit due to clashes with the team’s ownership. At Sunderland, Di Canio will face a big amount of problems as the team’s defence is weak and the attack never flourished. He’s a tough guy: this season, he fixed a hard training regime at Swindon, built around big fitness work, and weight training sessions. Now, he will have to deal with EPL players and will have to do it soon quickly: are seven games enough to do it? We will see…

martedì 2 aprile 2013

Rapids 4-4-2 switch

When the head coach Oscar Pareja came in Colorado, after eight seasons as player in Dallas and a gig as an assistant coach to Wilmer Cabrera with US U-17 national team, he had some thoughts. The first one was to play an attacking-oriented, ball-control based 4-3-3, although it was more a 4-2-3-1, with Martín Rivero placed just behind the centre forward. But it didn't work. Now, with holding midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and wing forward Kevin Harbottle out, Pareja switched to a more traditional 4-4-2. It’s a permanent move? The Rapids opened their 2013 MLS season following the same 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 concept, but the team failed to adjust to the new operating principles designed to install this formation. So Pareja came back to a classic  4-4-2 formation with a four man back line, overlapping fullbacks operating behind spread flankers and two target men up top. It’s essentially the same path ran by former manager Gary Smith. The move allowed  rookie Deshorn Brown to pair Edson Buddle up top, while former wide forward Tony Cascio was moved down as left winger. Albeit it’s a transition, the reversion to a well known pattern wasn’t the same required for a move toward some of unfamiliar. The absence of holding midfielder Mastroeni left Nick LaBrocca and Dillon Powers as central midfielders just in front of the back four. Build two blocks of four men give Rapids more defensive protection and the central duo of center-backs Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne,

which lacks of height, could take an edge from a thightest line up. Harbottle on the left and Danny Mwanga up top give Pareja another couple of options. While Rapids’ starting shape were a 4-2-3-1,  Pareja could stick with the 4-4-2 until it pays.