Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Michael Carrick - When a gamble is the safest option

Everyone had expected (the unexpectedly successful) pairing of Frank Lampard and captain Steven Gerrard for the crucial match against Poland, two players who have tailored their coats and tails to suit their age. But the inclusion of Carrick, already 32 years of age, for his 31st cap appears to be a little gamble considering relative success of the (not so) odd couple in the 4-1 scoreline against Montenegro. 

Gerrard has been tied into the more sedate 'holding' role, both for Liverpool and England, a role Carrick has excelled quietly in since before his transfer to Manchester United in 2006. And while Gerrard has been gradually improving in this role, to much media clamour, Carrick has mastered it - rather than attempting to dominate parts of a game through explosive running or aggressive passing, dictates the tempo and style of a match with probing passes and switches of play, winning plaudits from his club, fans, envious managers and fellow professionals. Even England coach Gary Neville alludes to Gerrard's lack of 'control' in a heated, yet articulate, argument made between Neville and fellow pundit and ex-player Jamie Carragher. It saw finely veiled dig at Gerrard - possibly being caught up in the moment.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Swansea City 2 - 2 Liverpool. Redressing the balance almost brings Swansea victory against Liverpool

It was a classic "Game of Two Halves" (groan) at the Liberty stadium as tactical roles were reversed to leave Liverpool gripping onto a point away from home. Shelvey somehow scored one and assisted for three, showing both his qualities and flaws. Coutinho demonstrated his importance both in the creativity sense and in Brenden Rodgers' system, while Laudrup showed tactical nous to rectify a strategy which didn't work. 

Swansea City (white): 1. Michael Vorm, 4, Chico, 6. Ashley Williams, 7. Leon Britton, 8. Jonjo Shelvey, 9. Michu, 10. Wilfred Bony, 12. Lloyd Dyer, 15. Wayne Routledge, 22. Angel Rangel, 33. Ben Davis.
Liverpool (red): 22 Simon Mignolet, 3, Jose Enrique, 8, Steven Gerrard, 10, Phillipe Coutinho, 12. Victor Moses, 14. Jordan Henderson, 15. Daniel Sturridge, 17. Mamadou Sakho, 21. Lucas Levia, 37. Martin Skrtel, 47. Norman Wisdom 

Swansea setup lacked balance

Swansea, although scoring the first goal through Jonjo Shelvey, toiled without and, surprisingly, with the ball. Both teams have a preference for patient ball-hogging strategies (Liverpool had the third highest ball-hoggery-ness last season - 57.2%, Swansea, fifth at 55.3%) and Liverpool dominated the first half, the offensive match statistics lighting up red. 

Swansea struggled to transfer the ball from defence to attack, they maintained their usual composure on the ball at the back but it made them more vulnerable if they lost the ball (Swansea only misplaced 3 of 90 attempted passes in their defensive third during the match). There is plenty of credit due to Rogers' Liverpool side, they ensured that they had numbers  behind the ball when out of possession and pressed intelligently when either Britton or Shelvey had the ball in deep positions. 

But the more attacking setup Laudrup used, in front of the home crowd, lacked balance and appeared against the ideals of the players on the pitch. Their front four stayed high up while Shelvey and Britton picked the ball from the defensive four, leaving almost half a pitch between defence and attack - for a team who pride themselves on the simplicity and monotony of short passes, there would be only one consequence. So strange was the tactical positioning and strategy, saw even Swansea's most composed player, Michu, frustrated with proceedings. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Moyes takes a bold step - as Champions dispatch Swansea. Swansea 1 - 4 Manchester United

The nerves of many a United fans would have been settled 35 minutes into the first match of the season - and Moyes's United tenure. The champions dispatched 'neutral's favourites', Swansea, away from home with a demonstration of ruthless, incisive football. It could have been worse for the Welsh side, United wasted a number of decent chances late in the game as they countered an advancing Swansea with rapid and vertical attacks.

Swansea City (white): 1. Michael Vorm, 4, Chico, 6. Ashley Williams, 7. Loen Britton, 8. Jonjo Shelvey, 9. Michu, 12. Lloyd Dyer, 15. Wayne Routledge, 21. Jose Canas, 22. Angel Rangel, 33. Ben Davis.
Manchester United (red): 1. David de Gea, 3. Patrice Evra, 4. Phil Jones, 5. Rio Ferdinand, 11. Ryan Giggs, 15. Nemanja Vidic, 16. Michael Carrick, 19. Danny Welbeck, 20. Robin van Persie, 23. Tom Cleveley, 25. Antonio Valencia.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Mario Gotze - The Fabregas that Pep always wanted

On the eve of probably the most hotly contested Champions League semi-finals in recent memory, involving two Bundesliga clubs, Bayern announced a victory of sorts, the signing of Mario Gotze for £31.5m (€37m). This was a mildly unexpected coup, the main gossip was Robert Lewandowski's future at the Borussians and his own possible move to the Bavarians. The current darling of German football moving to the venerable giants of German football? I'm sure Bayern would have made this purchase even if Guardiola wasn't waiting his turn at the Bavarian club. 

Gotze though, is a 'Guardiola' style player - fleet of foot, creative, positionally intelligent, technically exceptional and a player who has a good work-rate. He fits Pep's 'Barcelona' system well - bred off the high-intensity football played at rivals Borussia Dortmund, and probably would be able to fill a number of roles in his side, in particular, the 'Iniesta' free role and the 10 role  - assuming that he would retain this at Bayern.

Often labelled, incorrectly and unfairly, as the 'German Messi', Gotze has spent much of his time playing as a 'false 10' this season, picking up 10 Bundesliga goals and 9 assists in his 23 starts this season, a considerable return considering that Dortmund have struggled to reach the highs of the previous two seasons. Last season he scored 6 from 14 - there probably would have been considerably more if he had not been injured, Shinji Kagawa, now of Manchester United, helped fill the void, collecting 13 goals in much the same role.

Gotze may well have been the player Pep had always wanted. When Francesc Fabregas returned to his childhood club, he had a reputation for picking up the ball in and around the box and finding a route to goal. His arrival at Barcelona was probably as close to a plan 'B' as they got - when Messi was marked out of the game or, inexplicably, had a poor game. In that system, Messi would lure defenders to him as a false 9 and allow space for the '10' to move in and score. A number of factors may have contributed to this relatively non-successful experiment, including Fabregas's lack of pace, speed of play and positional intelligence. Gotze has demonstrated his prowess in this position, his partnership with Robert Lewandowski should easily be replicated with Mario Mandzukic

It is likely that Gotze, and indeed Guardiola's arrival will signal the end of a number of Bayern's high profile players - the most likely candidate being Arjen Robben. In the midfield we will probably see Toni Kroos play significantly deeper than this season - a position in which with Bastien Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez battling for the pivot. Guardiola could try to resurrect the system which brought him 'limited' success, a team of playmakers including all these players and Thomas Muller.

If Gotze, or another member of the Bayern squad can get close to the level of Messi, then we can say that Guardiola is sitting on another 'cycle' of incredible players who could dominate Europe. 

But worryingly, for Borussia Dortmund, is the ease at which the club are losing its top attacking players. Jurgen Klopp has brought the title to the club with an incredible batch of players from both the youth team and inspired young signings, but the loss of Kagawa last season, Gotze and rather inevitably Lewandowski means another rebuild - particularly when arch rivals Munich are getting stronger at their expense.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Has United's number 7 finally awoken?

As United sleepwalked towards the title on Wednesday night, one player finally woke up from his season long slumber. Antonio Valencia. 

Whether he is on or off his form Valencia is usually worth his place ahead of United's other wingers purely for his defensive diligence. His versatility down the right flank, discovered during one of United's endless defensive predicaments last season, rather than his direct style of play, has become his key asset - something that even Sir Alex Ferguson didn't envisage after Valencia's blistering three previous seasons at the club.

He produced 7 assists in that first season and 14 in his third - his second season was interrupted by a horrible ankle break - and many more indirect assists from his often penetrative crosses. This year, from an attacking point of view, he has offered precious little. The odd glimpse of magic have often resulted in wayward deliveries or attacking restraint - choosing to cut back in promising positions over taking on defenders to the by-line.

The movement and passing of Antonio Valencia. Over the past season we've seen Valencia slowing the play down in some promising situations and playing into a stationary Carrick (a) or an overlapping Rafael (b). Against West Ham, we saw the Valencia of last season, bombing down the right wing, round - or through - the left-back and firing crosses into the box (c)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Borussia Dortmund 3 - 2 Malaga, Pellegrini gets his tactics right, but the Black Yellows squeeze through

Dortmund scored twice in injury-time to book their place in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Malaga had believed that they had delivered the decisive blow when substitute Eliseu put them 2-1 up after 82 minutes with a goal from an offside position. Dortmund fought back and, after Marco Reus scored the equaliser with a rebound on the 91st minute, Santana bundled home his own offside goal from a yard a minute later. All this was preceded by a Joaquin opener and a Lewandowski finish after a delicious move between Gotze, Reus and the goalscorer. 

Dortmund had what was verging on a first choice team. Jakub Blaszczykowski returned to the right wing and Sven Bender replacing Sebastien Kehl in midfield. It was otherwise unchanged from the 1st leg as Jurgen Klopp looked to reach his first Champions League semi-final with a team that has won all its European games at home and are also undefeated in Europe this season.

Suspensions meant change for the Malaga side. With Manuel Pellegrini trying to find his way to a second semi-final with a Champions League debutant side, he had to do without the services of the defender Welington and combative midfielder Manuel Iturra - Camacho and Sergio Sanchez starting in their places. Javier Saviola, who was ineffectual in the first leg, dropped out for the veteran Portuguese winger Duda.

Starting lineups for Borussia Dortmund and Malaga
Dortmund: 1. Weidenfeller, 4. Subotic, 6. Bender, 8. Gundogan, 9. Lewandowski, 10. Gotze, 11. Reus, 16. Blaszczykowski, 26. Piszczek, 27. Felipe Santana, 29. Schmelzer
Malaga: 13. Willy, 2. Games, 5. Demichelis, 6. Camacho, 7. Joaquin, 8. Toulalan, 10. Julio Baptista, 17. Duda, 21. Sergio Sanchez, 22. Isco, 25. Antules

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Lewy and Mandzo - Similar players adapted to differing tactical ideologies

Two players who are at the top of the German league striking charts are Robert Lewandowski and Mario Mandzukic. Lewandowski has 21 goals in 24 starts in the league and 5 in 8 in Europe, Mandzukic 15 in 19 in the league but only 1 in 5 in Europe. Both are classical number 9s, strong lone strikers who hold up the ball whilst enabling the rest of the team to move forward. They get on the end of crosses and through-balls in the box and are clinical in their finishing. This doesn't tell half the story of these two players, for the two teams they play for have different ideologies on how to win a match - so these two similarly styled individuals have tailored their games to work in those systems.

A comparison of Mario Mandzukic and Robert Lewandowski's lone striker's role in the Champions League quarter-final 1st leg. It's noticable that Mandzukic worked back to make challenges in his own half to help his midfield - something which is absent in Lewandowski's dashboard. Lewandowski lost most of his battles in the air, but makes up for it by making successfully taking on more player than anyone else on the field. Mandzukic rarely had to contend high balls, due to Bayern's style of play. Image from StatsZone App.