In the FA Cup Third Round, Manchester City clash with Huddersfield Town for a second time in two weeks. At Kirklees Stadium not so long ago, David Wagner’s Terrier’s battled with Pep Guardiola’s City side in a tough match both physically and mentally. Managing to keep out The Citizens for 90 minutes was enough to earn Huddersfield at least a replay in a game which could have went either way.
In a schedule so intense for both sides, it is difficult to predict whether or not we will see as hectic yet measured energetically a match as before. For sure, Pep’s City will look to play an intense game in all phases. Whether his counterpart, Wagner’s Huddersfield, can again match this will be a big factor in deciding the outcome of the football match.
Despite a questionable start to his City career, Bravo was trusted to start in goals. He would be protected by Zabaleta at right-back, Stones and Otamendi at CB and Clichy returning at LB. Young Aleix Garcia started as the main pivot alongside partner Fernandinho. Main man Kevin de Bruyne played in a variable role ahead of the double pivot, with Sterling and Sane on the right and left wing respectively. Aguero was up front.
Huddersfield started with a team of; Coleman. Cranie, Stankovic, Hudson and Holmes-Dennis as the defence. Dean Whitehead protected the back four as a six, whilst Phillip Billing played as a 6/8 hybrid in midfield too. Lolley, Jac Payne and Harry Bunn were behind striker Quaner.
2-4 Build-Up Shape
Against the intense central pressing orientation of Huddersfield, Man City utilised a double pivot of Spaniard Aleix Garcia and Fernandinho, with a particular focus of their positioning and movements when building.
Offering two different skillsets, Garcia more technical capabilities, whilst Fernandinho provides defensive guile, this showed why Guardiola required a pairing offering these two profiles in order to defeat the press of Huddersfield. Positioned in either halfspace, with Stones and Otamendi splitting wide, to either side of the 18-yard box, and Zabaleta and Clichy pushing up slightly, this formed a 1(Bravo)-2-4 shape in the first stage of build-up.
This double pivot was in place for a number of reasons.
One reason for this was for security. Against the intense pressure of Huddersfield, having two players was far stronger in case of a turnover. Put simply and quite generally, two men are more effective defensively than one. Other than this though, the defensive protection Fernandinho was able to provide whilst Garcia was given freedom to make variable movements from his starting position and attempt to receive and turn to progress, was important. Facing the 3-2 press of ‘Town which would look to pinch inside and squeeze Manchester City in deep, central build-up play, it was key that both pivots supported their respective centre-halves as well as each other, to prevent isolation against the quickly springing press.
As well as these defensive reasons, having two players, one in either halfspace, in the second line of building meant a lone 6 would not have to deal with such a physically demanding role in supporting either CB. Having two pivots meant the ball-near of the pairing could make horizontal or dropping movements to support the CB in possession. Being able to do this so consistently meant City avoided their common issue of playing weak and unprogressive passes from CB to near full-back, as there was usually support either in the centre or in the same halfspace. Whilst the ball-near pivot supported his near CB, the ball-far had a key structural role. He would be tasked with retaining efficient spacing to his partner, and provide connections from one side to the other flank. He must provide a nearby horizontal connection with the other side, to prevent disconnect and isolation of one side to another.
Playing too many lateral and backwards passes when progressive, usually vertical passes seemed a viable option, Garcia didn’t excel in the double pivot, perhaps showing he is similar to many players of his kind, registas, who function far better as a single pivot, having their own space in front of or in between pressing lines. The double pivot did it’s job however, and though didn’t show off the abilities of its two players, certainly protected City effectively when building against a team with great pressing ability.
Methods of Progression
When Pep Guardiola faces a tough, high press, innovation often comes to life. Different methods, usually featuring high levels of verticality, are experimented with, often to great success, as Guardiola and his players attempt to beat and exploit the high press. Things were no difficult against Huddersfield, as we saw City use a number of different progression methods in order to beat the press and build efficiently from there.
With Kevin de Bruyne having a very fluid, flexible and variable role as a false 10, he couldn’t consistently be relied on tore dive between the lines and offer a vertical outlet from build-up. His fellow midfielder’s Garcia and Fernandinho had deeper role in front of the defence, and Sane, Aguero and Sterling were very fixed in their wing and traditional 9 roles. It was clear City would have to be innovative in their vertical progression, and that they were. The inverted full-back made a return, even if not as prominent as before, with Pablo Zabaleta often drifting infield to positions in the right halfspace.
Using Zabaleta allowed City to have an extra man closer to the middle with the potential to receive. This opened up possible straight vertical passes from Stones to Zabaleta in ad advantageous position, or a degree of diagonality from Otamendi if Billing was too orientated on marking a pivot and didn’t block important lanes.
A second method City used to escape the primary pressure point of Huddersfield was as below;
Common first time 'round-the-corner' automatism Man City+KdB used to escape the Huddersfield press last night. pic.twitter.com/QU26hHwFw8
Using De Bruyne’s straight body shape facing his own goals as bait for Huddersfield’s press to pinch inside, in a situation where pressure could be applied to De Bruyne’s blind side in a dangerous area of the field, the Belgian midfielder would receive a straight pass deep in his own half. Drawing pressure, this opened space elsewhere, particularly in the nearby areas where City were looking to access. By drawing Huddersfield’s players away from these spaces, City had a greater chance of accessing them successfully. De Bruyne would as he received the pass, find an open lane to a full-back, usually right-back (Zabaleta) as he could play this technically difficult pass with his stronger right foot, and play a curled, first time pass out wide. Following Huddersfield’s central pressure, the wide areas were often left without cover situationally, allowing City’s receiver to progress with the ball.
This was a very effective method of City progressing from build-up, even if quite risky. The technical quality and strong timing of De Bruyne’s movement and pass allowed him to create and make use of such situations.
Ending in what was most likely a deserved 5-1 victory for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, this FA Cup tie was one which could’ve swung either way depending on the momentum at different points in the match.
Despite tactical, most building, issues throughout the first part of the season, City seem to be significantly improving. Progressions looks cleaner and more secure, whilst further up the pitch, chance creation and general finishing has seen a great rise. This could also be put down to improved individuals performance, particularly the likes of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, without mentioning the recent ‘reemergence’ of Sergio Aguero.
Living up to expectations in terms of league position so, Neil Lennon’s Hibernian team have beaten the likes of closest title rivals Dundee United and Falkirk to surge to the top of the Scottish Championship table.
Beginning the early weeks of the season using a solidity-focused 3-5-2 formation, Hibs have shown their relative flexibility tactically throughout the campaign, varying between a number of formations, most commonly the original 3-5-2 and a 4-diamond-2. Largely depending on the opposition and what will be necessary to defeat them, yet also considering the high number of injuries Hibs have suffered this season, are the two main factors influencing Neil Lennon’s matchday selections.
Fully making use of the strong foundations previous boss Alan Stubbs set, Lennon has commonly used a 4-4-2 formation, with the midfield quarter being a diamond.
Probably Hibs most used formation this term, the 3-5-2 has provided a solid base for a combative Neil Lennon side.
Seen frequently since the arrival of Chris Humphrey in January, the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 has begun to be used by Neil Lennon. Having wingers who have quality genuinely worthy a starting place makes this formation a viable option for Hibs. Could go on to be Lennon’s standard choice of formation at the club.
The goalkeeper role at Hibs has been split between Israeli Ofir Marciano and Ross Laidlaw. Both recent signings in the summer, the pair are equally as capable with their feet as they are as traditional shot-stoppers.
Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon are undoubtedly Neil Lennon’s first choice selection at centre-half. The two lifelong Hibs fans have formed a formidable partnership at the heart of defence and are more than deserving of their spots in the XI each week. For Scottish centre-halves, these guys are very capable on the ball, whilst maintaining their ability to mix it up and combat. Back-ups Liam Fontaine and Jordon Forster have both slotted in during key games this term, performing excellently when called upon. Known by Hibs fans as ‘Sir David Gray’, the 2016 Scottish Cup hero is a nailed on starter on the right of defence. Long-term left-back Lewis Stevenson is in a similar position to Gray on the left.
The midfield is where Lennon likes to mix things up a bit more. The pivot/6 has altered between Bartley and youngster Scott Martin, whilst we have also seen McGeouch and Fyvie feature as the deepest midfielder. McGeouch has a range of qualities which could be suited to literally any midfield position. Fyvie is similar. Key man John McGinn suffered a bad knee injury early on in the campaign, but has easily regained his place following some excellent displays on return. Well-rounded MF’er. Andrew Shinnie was signed on loan from Birmingham in the summer, he has featured consistently as either an 8 or 10.
Originally, Lennon utilised Keatings or Shinnie as the team’s 10, however, Kris Commons was signed on an emergency loan from Celtic in December and went straight into the starting 11. That loan has ended now, and Keatings looks to be the man for this role at the moment. New signing Chris Humphrey has a ton of pace to burn, and will likely be given the opportunity to do so as starting right-winger.
Former-English Premier League striker Grant Holt and Scottish young talent Jason Cummings are Neil Lennon’s main strikers, though we have seen a number of players such as Boyle and Graham start here.
Verticality and Bypassing Phases
Having developed a somewhat negative reputation from some for their at-times route one approach to progressing into advanced areas, it can undoubtedly be said that Neil Lennon’s Hibernian team are a far more direct one in all phases of possession than that of previous boss Alan Stubbs.
One feature which has had a key impact on the more direct approach to Hibs’ progression is the positioning and movements of the central midfielders. Often vacating the standard centre midfield spaces, we quite often see unorthodox central midfielder movements from the likes of McGeouch, McGinn and Shinnie when playing this position. One example of these types of movements is the situational formation of a box midfield.
In the scenario above, we can see that Bartley has pushed over left from 6, Fyvie dropped from right 8 to deep in right halfspace, McGinn has pushed up slightly from his left 8 role and Shinnie has moved right from 10. This is a common rotation we will see from Hibs midfielders when a 4diamond2 is deployed. The box midfield occupies the halfspace in midfield extremely well, and can potentially stretch opposition midfield’s a lot wider than they would imagine to defend against a narrow diamond midfield. Against the commonly faced 4-4-2, this formation has great potential for successful space creation and exploitation of a free man in build-up.
Here, the opposition wide midfielders are forced to either mark the central midfielders and leave the full-backs free, or vice versa.
One problem which expectedly arises from this pattern though, is the lack of central occupation making central progression difficult. Particularly in zone 14, there lacks occupation in an area which is such a viable option for progression is possible.
Another midfield rotational pattern which allows for fluidity and generation of a free man is the situational switching of roles between the 6 and an outer 8, again carried out in the diamond midfield. Hibs 6, Marvin Bartley, who lacks brilliant technical qualities required for intricate progression will sometimes make long movements away from the 6 position, out of the build-up altogether. This opens up the 6 space, where an outer 8, who possesses ability valuable in these situations, will drop in. This can be very effective in confusing and exploiting man-orientations. The dropping 8 will look to take the ball here, unmarked, and dribble into the next phase of possession. If for whatever reason the dropping 8 cannot take the ball, there is a weakness. Due to the other 8’s pushing higher up to create more space in deep midfield, deeper player in build-up now lack a viable passing option through the centre and will become isolated. In these situations, Hibs will resort to a hopeful, relatively aimless long ball.
With a clear focus on early central progression due to the early stage of build-up where Hibs midfield is already focused on receiving in advanced positions, sometimes even disregarding the security of the structure simply due to the height of priority of early progression, the two strikers, though not the most important players in progression, do also have a role to play. Again deriving from the movements of the outer 8’s, the striker will make dropping movements, usually towards the halfspaces, to find an open vertical lane from deep. They hope to receive a long, flat pass here, allowing Hibs to bypass a couple of phases, going straight to the attacking phase in advanced areas. When the centre-backs are on the ball, we will very often see an outer 8 begin right in the centre of the field, leaving the halfspace open situationally, should his man follow him (often will due to tendency of Scottish teams to man-mark).
A striker here will slightly drop into this halfspace, and attempt to quickly receive the vertical pass from deep whilst the halfspace remains an open lane.
When Hibs fail to identify a clear and efficient progression route through the centre, using the midfielders as middle men, the alternative is usually a hopeful long ball. With the powerful aerial threat of Grant Holt however, we sometimes see more strategic use of long balls. Holt will move over onto the opposition full-back when the diagonally opposite Hibs CB has the ball. Long, high diagonals will be aimed towards this area for Holt to win and flick on. This can be a very effective method when there is a runner in behind. Often, the closest full-backs will position themselves close to him in anticipation of running in behind to chase the flick on. Even if Hibs cannot win the second ball, the opposition will often be in possession in an awkward position near a corner in their own half, where two or three Hibs player local to the ball can counterpress.
The methods Hibs use to make for cleaner, more spacious progression, and the alternatives to those highlight the team’s objective of moving the ball forward in a very direct fashion.
In the very first phase of possession we infrequently see some standard La Salida Volpe from Hibs, as well as some other slightly similar patterns and movements. A lot of Hibees work in this stage is focused around exploiting the opposition defensive structure’s weaknesses and disorientating their press and block to create space in deep areas.
One of Hibs more effective build-up methods is the original version of La Salida Volpe. Here we see the two central defenders split into wider positions, the full-backs push on into more advanced positions on the wing, with the pivot dropping into the vacated space in the centre, forming a three man backline.
When in this side split backline, opposition frontmen naturally have more space to cover and more distance to run when pressing, which obviously makes it more difficult. This can be very effective against horizontally compact opponent’s whose main objective is simply to ‘pack the centre’ and ‘don’t let them play through us’, as it can stretch the block and force them to defend a wider space, naturally forming larger gaps between each defensive player.
This is not always the case however, as despite Hibs looking to progress cleanly through the centre, the centre-backs either do not, or cannot split into either halfspace as they build. Often, the pivot focuses on find receiving angles in midfield spaces, so that he can take the ball and carry/pass from a slightly more advanced position. Too often for a team wanting to progress through the centre, we see the CB’s just a few metres apart, despite the team’s objective of finding and using space in the central spaces. Their positioning here not only makes them easier to press, but also lessens the potential variation of where the first pass in progression will be made from, meaning the defensive block is easier to set as they already know which area they will be defending from.
In a slight variation of La Volpe Salida, Hibs outer 8, most commonly Dylan McGeouch, will be the man dropping into the backline. Here, he will drop into the backline in the right halfspace, with the RCB moving infield to centre of the backline and LCB wide into the left halfspace.
Again, this creates a three man backline due to a dropping midfielder. This horizontal line should cover almost the full width of the field, a great distance for the opposition block to cover and consider defending and shifting to and from. As well as this, the movement is a great exploitation of the commonly used man-orientations we often see in Scottish football. The long dropping movement from the right of midfield can draw an opposition central midfielder out to follow into an alien space, McGeouch can then pass back into the centre where there should now be less defensive players. This is such an effective tool for drawing opposition defenders well out of position, giving Hibs more space to receive and progress in those key central spaces. As well as this, the movement can be confusing for opposition man-markers in the centre. They are quite often left with the important question of whether they should stray so far from their base position just to mark someone dropping into what some would consider an unthreatening space.
Movements and Patterns in Attack
Largely using a narrow 1-2 attacking trio set-up for the most part of the season, we have seen a number of strategies from Lennon’s players to create strong attacking situations for these players in and around the box.
With the front three varying in terms of one or two changes most weeks, there has arguably been a lack of continuity and telepathical connection between the three guys in the final third, who simply don’t play together enough to understand one another’s games. There are of course, tactical issues which have impacted on the at times severe lack of creativity and effective chance creation from Hibs in the last zones of the field.
A very valid point regards the lack of natural wide men we’ve seen in Hibs starting XI’s. With Commons/Keatings usually starting behind a pairing of Jason Cummings and Grant Holt, and Gray and Stevenson, two defensive minded players, as the full-backs it is difficult to imagine where the width comes from. Gray and Stevenson are placed with responsibility of providing width, but both guy’s lack of physical qualities makes consistent bombing up and down the wing difficult. With the 10 in the team being extremely centrally-orientated, rarely drifting from zone 14 unless they are moving forward to occupy the opposition’s central defenders, this can leave Holt and Cummings as the only players who will occupy the wide areas. Again, these are two players who’s skillsets and attributes simply aren’t suited to a wide drifting role. Too often from Hibs, we see the two strikers occupying the centre-backs in the middle, the 10 slightly behind them right in the centre, and the full-backs not in advanced wing positions. This allows the opposition to be very compact horizontally, as they don’t have to worry about defending the wings, as firstly, no one is occupying the, and secondly, no one is currently threatening to run into the space left out here as it would be such a large distance to cover. Against poor quality Championship sides who look to sit deep and prevent penetration, not stretching vertically or laterally makes the game a whole lot easier for the defending team as they don’t have to defend the full width/depth of the pitch.
On the slightly uncommon occasion we have seen Martin Boyle deployed as one of the front two, we see far more lateral stretching movements from Hibs. The forward’s quick bursts into pockets of space in wider areas are often quite effective in occupying a wider range of zones on the last line, allowing his partner to do his work in the centre. With Holt and Cummings though, there are less quick bursts into wide areas, and more small dropping movements, remaining in the centre.
Though infrequent, wide stretching movements from Holt and Cummings are not non-existent.
We often see a nice pattern emerge in the final third, where one striker will move onto the wing, the 10 into the near halfspace, and the other striker in the centre.
This occupies one side of the field very well, and allows efficient and clean connections to be made from wing to centre and vice versa. This line can effectively occupy three of the opposition back four very intensely, opening up space for a deep midfielder runner to exploit.
Role of the Wing-Backs
With arguably even more responsibility on them in a narrow midfield diamond formation, Hibs full-backs David Gray and Lewis Stevenson have huge roles in all phases of the game.
Being alone on the flank for the majority of the time, not only do Gray and Stevenson have responsibility for this zone in all phases of the game, the pair also have huge distances to cover according to each situation. Alongside this, though uncommon in the Scottish Championship due to basic ‘old-style’ full-backs, Hibs FB’s can find themselves overloaded by an attacking full-back and a winger, both out on the wing against a sole defender.
When defending in their own half, it is Gray and Stevenson’s duty to press when the ball is on their wing. This will undoubtedly mean leaving the defensive line by a good few metres to engage the opposition ball-carrier and prevent him carrying it forward easily unchallenged or unopposed.
In possession, we see the wing-backs adopt a very direct and dynamic profile on either flank. At goal-kicks, and other situations where a long ball looks likely, Gray and Stevenson will push on quite far up the pitch, often right onto the wings on the last line.
Pushing into these advanced positions signifies at times Hibs long balls do have a target and understood objective. The full-backs may be asked to win the initial headers, or win the second balls from someone local’s header.
As well as the duties of these guys during long balls, there is also another type of direct pattern we see Gray and Stevenson involved in. Usually as the primary providers of width on either flank, we often see Gray and Stevenson high up on the wings. This however, does not mean they are restricted to the touchline. We don’t see many lateral movements into the halfspace to help with circulation or mor efficient connections, but rather direct movements towards the opposition goals. One pattern which commonly emerges is a diagonal run from the wing onto the byline to receive a through ball. As the ball-near striker occupies the ball-near CB, Hibs full-back will remain right on the touchline, to draw the full-back out, this creates a decent space between FB and CB. As Hibs midfielder shapes to pass through, Hibs FB will accelerate diagonally infield off the wing. They should have dynamic superiority here as they are already moving towards the destination of the ball, whilst their marker has to react and adjust his body shape to recover. From here, the FB is in a more advantageous position to cross, as they are closer to the goals thanks to the diagonal movement.
The Transitional Phase
Though not outstanding individually nor collectively in any phase of the game, the one which could be considered Hibs weakest is the transition. Particularly in the defensive transition, we have seen a number of issues and weaknesses in Hibernian’s model.
Relating back to the last two point, regarding the advanced positioning of the wing-backs in possession, this is one key area where Hibs have suffered in the transition. Often pushing up already within the first pass or two of a play, the wing-backs are high up the pitch before a secure structure for progression has even been established. In this case of a turnover this can potentially leave the wings extremely exposed, as Gray and Stevenson have next to no chance of recovering to defend deep.
To compensate in this situations, the outer CB’s in a 3-5-2 will make lateral shifts to defend the wing if the ball goes in behind a wing-back. In this case, the FB or ball-near (depending is closer) will cover the space the CB leaves whilst he defends out wide.
Another compensation shift we see from Hibs (playing 4-diamond-2) when in the defensive transition occurs when Marvin Bartley is the 6. As a tall, strong, commanding guy, Bartley will drop into the backline as a third CB, if in a position where this is possible to do quickly, to defend potential long balls. This is maybe seen as considering there is likely to always be the two CM’s defending the middle being enough, as most Championship teams are very direct and will look to hit their striker as early as possible on the counter-attack, hence why Bartley is more useful as a third CB defending long balls than an extra player who probably won’t be needed situationally in the centre of midfield. If however, an opposition player receives in the 10 space, Bartley has the option to leave the line and press back in his standard position, with the natural CB’s simply pinching back into their previously done narrow positions at the heart of defence.
There is no doubt that whilst Hibernian sit top of the table and still in the Scottish Cup (at the time of writing, they have a 5th round replay coming up against rivals Heart of Midlothian), the side possess a number of issues, both technical and tactical, which will need to be ironed out if Lennon strives for really great performance from his side. We have seen glimpses of what the Easter Road side are capable of (see their 3-0 home win over Dundee United), but this type of obliterating yet widely creative performance must be maintained more consistently if they are to emulate/surpass the football Hibs played under Alan Stubbs.
Complaining is one thing Hibs supporters can’t really do so much of at the moment though. Their club is currently on the verge of promotion from the Championship back to the Scottish Premier League, they have recently won the Scottish Cup for the first time in over a hundred years and behind-the-scenes, things are sweet. Hibs are a club going in the right direction.
Following Pep Guardiola’s spectacularly exciting reign of tactical innovation and evolution of Juego de Posición, Bayern Munich decided to appoint Italian manager Carlo Ancellotti as the boss. Perceived as a manager focused more solely on the priority of winning, rather than his predecessor Guardiola, who many claim at times overexperimented and even complicated things. So far under Ancellotti, Bayern have begun to get the job done and no more, more often than they did so under Guardiola. In the pursuit of perfect, Guardiola made a few costly mistakes, whilst his successor Ancellotti is often more sensible and won’t experiment overly, rather allowing his focus to remain on winning, no matter how narrow or ugly it may be.
As expected, Manuel Neuer is Ancellotti’s goalkeeper. Lahm is usually the right-back for Bayern this season, though Rafinha has also played there at times, as well as Kimmich, usually when Lahm is playing in midfield. Boateng and Hummels are most likely Ancellotti’s first choice central defenders, though Javi Martinez has mostly partnered Hummels due to Boateng’s injury. Alaba has featured at CB, though is definitely seen primarily as a LB by Carlo. Juan Bernat has made a number of appearance as left back.
Xabi Alonso seems to still be seen as a starter for Bayern as 6 despite his noticeable drop over the last year or two. Kimmich, Vidal and Thiago have also featured as Ancellotti’s main pivot, though the three of them, alongside Renato Sanches and Thomas Muller, usually take up the other two midfield roles.
Frank Ribery has most often been the starting left winger, with Brazilian Douglas Costa the right. Arjen Robben seems to be beginning to take a starting spot on the right wing following his return from injury. Lewandowski is the main striker. Poor Halfspace Occupation
As arguably the best area of the pitch in terms of proving efficient connections with other zones, the halfspaces have become somewhat neglected by Bayern this season.
In what Bayern hope to consider progressive possession, the halfspaces are initially used in slightly deeper areas of the field, as they are quite often easiest to access, both in terms of length/distance of movement required and frequently seen weak spots of opposition pressing. More frequently the left halfspace but also the right, is an area where Bayern often look to start their possession from. Frequently Thiago will drop from his left interior position into a deep left halfspace position. The reasons for halfspace usage in deep build-up are clear and have been spoken about in detail on Spielverlagerung, as well as being briefly explained a few times on my site here. Despite the benefits of the halfspace however, Bayern’s players other than Thiago don’t make use of them as much as they perhaps should. Alaba is often horizontal, or even behind Thiago when he receives here, meaning a pass to the wing is usually useless. Alonso doesn’t make many movements away from deep in the centre, and in these situations usually can’t do much more than Thiago could in terms of passing. Vidal, Renato and Kimmich are more defensive focused 8’s and remain deep in the other halfspace rather than offering an option within or between the opposition block. The wingers don’t make many movements to receive from Thiago here and stick close to the touchline as an out-and-out singer rather than drifting into a receiving position between lines, and Lewandowski remains on the last line. None of the above mentioned provide viable support to the halfspace here, especially in terms of vertical progression.
From here, we see pretty heavy reliance on individual actions in order to allow Bayern to progress. Thiago will use his press-resistance to beat the initial press, and then attempt to penetrate the block by using a diagonal dribble. This is an unclean and inconsistent build-up method, though one Thiago is often forced to take upon himself due to Bayern lacking a capable receiver between the lines. The alternative, which is used if Thiago is in a bad situation, is for the Spaniard to play a simple pass to the full-back, who will then adopt the individual responsibility of making an inwards diagonal dribble. Though it varies depending on the opposition’s touchline pressing, this second approach is generally a more efficient approach to progression.
By dribbling inward diagonally, Alaba forces a horizontal shift from the opposition who prepare to defend the area Alaba is headed towards. As this shift is made, the focus moves away from defending the wing, where Alaba previously was, to defending the other, seemingly more realistically accessible areas of the pitch. This means Bayern’s left winger doesn’t have heavy defensive focus on him situationally. He will from here attempt to find an open receiving lane from Alaba, within the spaces the opposition shift is momentarily neglecting. Alaba will attempt a line breaking pass into the anger who will likely have made an inverted movement. Using ‘against the grain’ is actually one of the few, slightly unique features of Bayern’s game this season. Despite this, their reliance on using it and Thiago’s dribbling to progress from good halfspace positions is inconsistent to rely on.
Another phase where Bayern often fail to occupy the halfspaces efficiently is in the final third at almost the very last stage of an attack.
When the opposite winger is in a strong crossing position, Bayern will quickly load the box in numbers and prepare fully for firstly the cross itself, then a potential press if the cross is unsuccessful.
With such a focus on the preparation of a potential press, this leaves Bayern neglecting other possibilities than a cross. From a wide-halfspace position, connecting with the underloaded side is a commonly used attacking option in order to generate qualitative or spatial superiority to create in the final third. By lacking anyone in the opposite halfspace, connections with other areas of the field are difficult, meaning around only half of the pitch can be used situationally.
Risky Structure of Backline in Possession
As many high-possession-rate teams around Europe do, Bayern Munich’s centre-backs split into wider positions, usually in either halfspace early phases of possession. As well as having the benefits it is implemented for, the structure and it’s surroundings has also cost Bayern.
Before looking at the issues of Bayern’s structuring here, we must firstly understand why they use it.
Seen as the strongest team in Bundesliga, Bayern often face pessimistic opponent’s with a damage limitation mentality, defending in a deep, narrow block, willing to let Bayern have possession in unthreatening areas. By placing the centre-backs in wider positions, and usually the guys ahead of them occupying more zones, this forces the opposition block to defend a wider space, becoming more stretched. Ultimately, this should open up spaces which are too large to be covered by shifts and make the previously compact block penetrable.
As the centre-backs drop into wide positions, the centre in the last near to their goals is temporarily vacated. A pivot, from a midfield position, should drop into this central position for two reasons; 1)provide strong connections with both sides from the centre 2)provide stability and defensive cover in a key offensive space for the opposition. The first reason is one Bayern have generally managed to avoid getting by without it being a great issue. Their use of diagonal passes to the switch sides despite bypassing the centre in phases where it is not occupied is effective, though if the diagonal lane is cut, Bayern do have some trouble in making switches. The second reason has troubled Bayern more so out of the two however. Using Thiago and Vidal as the two deeper midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 is a significant reason why there hasn’t been consistent occupation of the central space in the backline when the CB’s split. Thiago works best in between lines or opposition blocks, from the left halfspace and his dropping movements don’t occur so often and can’t be relied upon. Vidal is primarily a box-to-box player and prefers to offer only some movements from within midfield positions, rather than adopting a key central role in build-up. This has seen Bayern’s centre-backs split, only to leave a great space in the centre of the backline which no-one moves into.
In the case of a turnover, Bayern can be extremely exposed in what most would consider the key position to defend. Any quick and efficient counter-attack which focused on central play would most likely make it through this central space as Bayern’s wide CB’s simply wouldn’t be able to recover such a big distance in time to defend. This was evident in Rostov’s first goal in Russia, when Bayern lost 3-2.
Chance Creation…Or Not?
The final third is one area where Pep Guardiola’s team’s have not had issues in creating good situations for themselves, which result in clear chances and lots of goals. Since the Catalan boss’ departure, Bayern’s chance creation has hindered.
The wide areas are ones where Guardiola place heavy focus on chance creation, as he seen wingers Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery as Bayern’s “unstoppable guys”, alongside bringing in Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman to aid with the quality on either wing. These wingers were often paired with full-backs in situations of numerical superiority, though the wingers were also often given their chance to remain 1v1 on the wing in situations of qualitative superiority. Ancellotti, though at times placing heavy chance creation responsibility on the wingers, seemingly does not trust his wingers in creating good situations for themselves, particularly 1v1, as he often places another player in close support of them in the offensive phase.
In the above scenario it is clear that Juan Bernat has been instructed to support Ribery high up on the left wing, creating either a 2v1 or 2v2 situation. Ancellotti’s lack of trust in Bayern’s wingers in 1v1’s often leads to slow, predictable situations on the wing, due to the structure and circulation strategy requiring the wingers to be supported, usually by full-backs, before moving onto the wing. These extra seconds spent waiting for a second, or even third, player moving over to support the winger, give the opposition valuable time to shift and prevent an overload, or prepare to defend behind the first defender. Conclusion
Conceding only nine goals in sixteen games, an average of less than a goal conceded per game, it is clear that Bayern’s issues do not lie defensively, but instead in the cleanliness and efficiency of their use of the ball. The flaws in their possession game have a knock-on effect on the final third, which also in itself has major decencies, despite possessing such quality individually. Against the deep blocks of a few teams, notably Atletico Madrid and Rostov in the Champions League, Bayern’s attacking game has really been exposed. Goals have frequently came from counter-attacks, which seems to be the only phase where Bayern’s attackers get the freedom of a quick attack without being slowed down by weak tactical instructions.
Going into the the second half of the season, where Bayern are likely to defend more, with tougher games in these five months than the previous, perhaps Ancellotti’s side will appear stronger, even if not always in full control, as their conceding of space and poor progression is masked by defensive strength and efficient counter-attacks.
One thing for sure though; Bayern miss Pep and dare we say it, Pep perhaps misses Bavaria.
A key encounter in Group B of the 2016/17 edition of the UEFA Champions League, Napoli’s meeting with Portuguese outfit Benfica would ultimately decide the outcome of their Champions League group, confirming who would progress to the last 16 or drop into the Europa League. Both sitting on eight points, Rui Vitoria’s Benfica would be conscious of the fact any of Sarri’s Napoli or Turkish side Beskitas could all progress depending on how the night’s results unfolded.
Eduardo was the goalkeeper at the base of Benfica’s 4-4-2. Semedo was the right-back, with Luisao and Lindelof the central defenders. Almeida left-back. Salvio, Pizzi, Fesja and Cervi were the midfielders. Gonçalo Guedes and were the two strikers.
Pepe Reina was Napoli’s goalkeeper. Albanian Hysaj was the Italian side’s right full-back, while Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly played in the middle of the backline, Ghoulam left. Young midfielder Diawara played as the 6, with Allan and Hamsik based slightly higher on either side of him. Callejon, Gabbidiani and Insigne made up the Naples side’s front three.
Exploitation of Midfield Pressing
Pressing in a mid block from a 4-5-1/4-1-4-1, Napoli’s interiors Allan and Hamsik had intense pressing roles as Benfica brought the ball into midfield spaces, whilst the young 6 Diawara behind them them, also had a relatively intense shifting role in order to prevent clean and consistent Benfica progression through the centre or halfspaces.
With Manolo Gabbidiani solely pressing Benfica’s centre-backs, not overly intensely but enough to force quicker decisions from Luisao and Lindelof, Allan and Hamsik had important roles to ensure that despite the midfield being the main area Napoli wanted to press in, there was compactness between the first and second lines of pressure and Benfica couldn’t easily receive between the lines. Particularly when the ball was in their halfspace and Benfica were beginning to progress into midfield, though also as soon as Gabbidiani was bypassed, Allan and Hamsik would press to prevent easy progression through the centre, and ideally force Benfica backwards. As one midfielder pressed, Diawara would shift over into the halfspace to cover the vacated space.
Generally, this was effective when the two non-pressing midfielders (situationally) shifted efficiently and covered the space to close vertical passing lanes through the centre or halfspaces.
Expectedly there were some problems with a system based on such intense shifting constantly throughout the match in what is usually the most hectic area of the pitch. Due to either physical limitations, lapse in concentration or effective manipulation from Benfica, there was the recurring theme of an open diagonal lane to a Benfica man in between the lines.
When Benfica baited Napoli’s midfielders to press by circulating in front of the midfield line, they would often force both Allan and Hamsik to press by playing horizontal passes between either halfspace. This meant Diawara was tasked with shifting from halfspace to halfspace quicker than the ball to cover the gap momentarily, obviously an impossible task. This meant the space behind each presser was opened and Benfica’s opposite CM was able to play a diagonal pass to a teammate who was positioned in the halfspace between lines.
High Line Condenses Game
Defending very close to the halfway line on the majority of occasions, Benfica used a very high defensive line, which also pushed the two following lines up in a bid to firstly, limit the space Napoli had in their possession progression and secondly, increase the possibility of Napoli running into offside positions when using their frequent vertical movement in behind.
Allowing Benfica to maintain defensive access on the ball in Napoli build-up and early progression, as well as generally retaining compactness, Benfica pressed Napoli in a 4-4-2 relatively high up the pitch. Although this wasn’t a main objective of Benfica’s high line, it did have it’s reasons. The Portuguese side would look to disrupt Napoli’s rhythm in their well drilled yet fluid build-up in an attempt to deter consistent and clean progression. Napoli however, faced this with and generally escaped Benfica’s pressing very well, utilising small overloads and their combination ability to beat and at time even manipulate and exploit the press.
Perhaps the main reason for Benfica’s high line was an attempt at a slightly different method of defending Napoli’s runs in behind the defence.
A number of typical Sarri's Napoli characteristics evident so far. Diagonal passes -> far post and MF blind side movement 2 examples. pic.twitter.com/VEo0dsKqBK
As shown above, Callejon receiving high diagonals in the final third is a pivotal aspect of Napoli breaking into these dangerous areas. Callejon’s diagonal runs off the right wing are excellent and have in the past caused opposition great problems. Benfica attempted to combat this by stepping up even higher, leaving more space. Although seemingly a strange method, it forced Napoli’s runners to time runs to perfection, otherwise risking offside, as such a large space is now considered offside. Callejon, though excellent at timing his runs (“Callejon can see the offside line better than the linesman”) naturally found it difficult to time his runs to perfection every single time. As well as this, Napoli’s deep distributors were forced to play higher, floated passes over Benfica’s defence, as passes with too much pace couldn’t be caught due to runs needing to be delayed. These slow passes in the air gave Benfica an imperative second or so to recover and immediately get into positions to defend the spaces surrounding the ball before it had even landed. Diawara attempted a number of chipped through balls, particularly to Gabbidiani’s vertical runs, but Luisao and Lindelof were comfortable at mopping them up in the air or as the ball reached the ground, situations the pair were both superior to the Italian striker in, due to their aerial ability and pace. This was perhaps a reason for Napoli’s lack of connectivity with their front man.
In an attempt to get in behind the high line of Benfica using runners, Napoli used a specific pattern and methods of non-verbal communication (specific movements as a trigger) in order to gain access to these spaces. Napoli’s left sided attacker Lorenzo Insigne would often drift into his favoured area of the left halfspace, opening up the wing. Ghoulam now began to move forward into the vacated space. As he began to make his run, a high diagonal from deep would be shaped to play, Ghoulam would then accelerate in behind Benfica high on the left wing to receive the diagonal pass. Due to the distance of the pass being longer, and Ghoulam’s run not risking offside, more pace could be played on the pass, making it more difficult to defend against.
Progressing through to the last 16 as winners of Group C, Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli will be satisfied with their performance throughout the group, even if not as comfortable as they would’ve liked. With Polish striker Arek Milik already back in rehab training despite suffering an ACL injury a couple of months ago, perhaps one of Napoli’s main issues, lack of a quality number 9, will be solved sooner than expected. Benfica’s rigid defence in their high block proved to be a difficult door for Napoli to unlock, though the introduction of Belgian forward Dries Mertens after 57 minutes added some much needed verticality and direct running through the centre and proved to be the required key to unlock Benfica.
The Portuguese side showed some promising aspects tactically, and deservedly also progress to the second round.
Jose vs Pep. Red vs Blue. United vs City. On the third gameweek of the English Premier League season, the first Manchester derby of the campaign, of Jose and Pep’s reign’s, has arrived.
United have enjoyed three wins out of three in the Premier League under ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho, with the added bonus of winning the community shield prior to the beginning of the Premier League fixtures. Guardiola’s Man City team have dominated the vast majority of all of their games to date, also winning everyone of their Premier League games so far, alongside gaining Champions League qualification. In one of the most highly anticipated Manchester derbys of recent years, both sides will be looking to continue their 100% records. Only one can.
Jose Mourinho started his first Manchester derby with a couple of surprising inclusions, as well as familiar faces dropping to the bench. De Gea started in goals behind a back-four of Valencia, Bailly, Blind and Shaw. Fellaini played as defensive-midfielder, with Paul Pogba in a slightly more advanced position to the left of him. Mkhitaryan surprinsgly made his full debut, seeing the in-form Mata demoted to the bench. Rooney started behind Ibrahimovic whilst Jese Lingard played on the left, seeing Martial leave the starting 11.
New boy Claudio Bravo made his City debut in goals. There was a back-four of Sagna, Stones, Otamendi and Kolarov, which saw Zabaleta and Clichy both lose their starting berths. Fernandinho started as the 6, with David Silva to the left of him as an 8. As the right central-midfielder was Kevin de Bruyne, who played a more advanced role than he has been so far this term. Sterling and Nolito played as the wingers, centred by young Nigerian Kelechi Iheanacho, who took over from the suspended Sergio Aguero.
Mourinho’s Initial Man-Orientation
Knowing the potential of Manchester City when cleanly progressing through their build-up phases, Jose Mourinho instructed his Manchester United team to adopt a man-marking approach in phase one of City’s build-up, which was most significant at City goal-kicks.
City chose to build in a (1)-3-3-3-1, this was a relatively adaptable shape for United to man-mark from their 4-2-3-1. Stones and Otamendi would drop very deep on either side of the 18-yard box, moving into the vacated space centrally was Fernandinho. Kolarov and Sagna pushed up the wing slightly, while David Silva frequently dropped into a deep 8 position within the left halfspace, to support and offer a vertical escape from the press from here.
Ibrahimovic and Lingard positioned themselves close enough to Otamendi and Stones to deter Bravo from passing to them, whilst remaining compact enough with the centre to prevent Bravo from penetrating the first line easily. Rooney marked Fernandinho whilst also attempting to block any passes through the halfspaces. Fellaini and Pogba stuck tight with Silva and De Bruyne, following them as deep or high as the City midfielders went. Mkhitaryan stayed tight with Kolarov on the wing, whilst Shaw pushed up a few metres on his wing, putting him within pressing distance of Sagna. From goal-kicks, when Bravo couldn’t move with the ball, this made it almost impossible City to play out through their first line, as well as it being extremely difficult for Bravo play into the second line without lobbing the ball. Realising they weren’t going to be able to play out from the back, City used vertical movements both towards and away from their own goal in order to stretch United’s vertical compactness and create space behind United’s first line of pressure. David Silva often dropped very deep into the left halfspace, sometimes even just a few yards ahead of Fernandinho, which dragged Fellaini a lot higher than he would have liked to have been. De Bruyne would move onto the last line alongside Iheanacho, where the pair would gamble off of one another’s flick-on headers, where City’s goal actually came from. By moving onto the last line, Pogba was pulled extremely deep, which often created huge spaces in between the first line of pressure and the defensive block. Bravo’s superb technical skills allowed him to drop chipped passes into the halfspaces for Sagna and Kolarov to attack, in battles against Shaw and Mkhitaryan, which they were likely to win.
In a game, particularly first half, of Manchester City dominance, one of the only areas United looked to have any sort of focus on controlling was their defence to attack transition. With Guardiola’s positional play being attack-orientated during his tenure at City so far, he decided alterations would need to be made, in order to nullify the counter-attacking threat of a Mourinho team. With Zabaleta and Clichy dropped for Sagna and Kolarov, this suggested before the game that the movement of the full-backs would perhaps be something to do with the his.
In early games of the season, we seen inverted movements from City’s full-backs primarily in a bid to improve connectivity and create dangerous situations on either wing. Today, we saw IFB’s again, though not for the same purpose. As the ball moved out to either Sterling or Nolito, rather than making a supporting movement towards the ball, Sagna and Kolarov pinched inside into their respective halfspaces.
Creating a narrow 2-3 defensive block, this prevented United from countering through the halfspaces, the areas where Mkhitaryan and Rooney are so good at counter-attacking through. Dominance Through Juego de Posición
Though they had some difficulties in progressing cleanly from phase one, Guardiola’s Man City had no problems in dominating the match in the following phases of possession through strong use of positional play.
The dynamics through the centre from City were excellent and very effective in manipulating the low-mid block of United. The rotation of John Stones and Fernandinho made it difficult for Rooney and Ibrahimovic to effectively block or mark the pair as the movements were quick and difficult to track. Stones movements into the 6 position allowed for Fernandinho to drop even deeper than usual and Otamendi to split even wider, creating more space centrally.
Spanish midfield magician David Silva excelled throughout the match, his dropping movements allowing him to dictate from deep momentarily, in a role he has never taken so much responsibility in before. His midfield partner Kevin de Bruyne often made alternate movements with Iheanacho, with one of them making a stretching vertical movement, whilst the other searched for an open passing lane from deep.
The positional play during ball circulation was excellent. Rather than horizontally circulating, increasing the possibility a non-penetrative U shape, City often used the dropping movements and overloads in behind United’s first line to recycle centrally and open play up through the opposite centre-back. From here, the receiver was usually the free-man and with the help of some movement from the ball-near interior, a dribbling lane was often opened up for them to drive forward into midfield. As this occurred, central players around the ball would make supporting movements to prevent isolation in the centre of the field, which was often successful and allowed them to combine in an area now of numerical superiority and escape the press into a now underloaded area of the field. Conclusion
Coming out on top as deserved 2-1 winners, despite a nervy ending, Guardiola’s side’s dominance against such strong opposition pleasantly surprised many. Though City have been performing at a very high level so far this season, perhaps none have topped such a dominant performance against truly challenging opposition in Manchester United. Mourinho will be disappointed not just his side’s relatively poor performance, both in terms of dynamics with the ball and lack of intensity in a City’s later phases, but also with the result, which he will no doubt see as three points dropped in the title race.