Hibernian: Team Analysis

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. 

24:00 Min. vs. Greenock Morton: As Hibs look to progress, a 4-2-2-2 is formed.
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). 

9:53 vs. Falkirk

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.

The Build-Up

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.

18:31 Min. vs. Falkirk: Pivot Scott Martin has dropped between the wide split CB’s.

02:57 Min. vs. St Mirren: Marvin Bartley drops between the CB’s to receive from Laidlaw, the GK.

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. 

23:50 Min. vs. Falkirk

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.

43:23 Min. vs. Raith Rovers: A flat, well spaced front three has emerged across the last line.

 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.

12:58 Min. vs. Dundee United

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.

A couple of transitional moments vs. Dundee Utd where Hibs could’ve been exposed due to Gray’s overzealous positioning.

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.


Tactical Issues of Bayern Munich Under Carlo Ancellotti 

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. 

1:43 vs. Borussia Dortmund: Weak halfspace occupation makes connectivity with the opposite side impossible.

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.

43:11 vs. Rostov

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. 

72:57 vs. Rostov

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. 

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.

The Potential of Borussia Dortmund Under Thomas Tuchel

After a season of what some would consider relative success, Borussia Dortmund have entered the apparent annual stage where clubs with more money pinch all their best players. Die Schwarzgleben looked as strong as ever in the 2015/16 season and arguably look even stronger than Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund, who consecutively won the Bundesliga title in 2010/11 and 11/12. After what some would consider a disastrous start to the transfer window this summer, the Dortmund board seem to have rectified the situation, leaving Thomas Tuchel in a great position for the coming seasons.

The First Season – A Brief Analysis

After a period of tactical evolution in Bundesliga, with Jurgen Klopp truly turning the high press and the art of counterpressing into a trend in German and European football, the excitable Dortmund manager’s tactics begun to become predictable, stale and easier to beat than ever before. More ‘attractive’ managers such as Pep Guardiola found ways to escape this intense pressing game, such as utilising playmakers into the backline, as well creating a three chain during build-up to offer more stability, alongside other successful ideas. Klopp began to experiment with all sorts of formation, most notably 4-1-3-2 and 3-5-2, though without too much joy. Dortmund’s form worsened, they finished 7th in Bundesliga, and Klopp decided to quit. Along came Thomas Tuchel…

Tuchel, like Klopp, wasn’t afraid to fully implement his ideas, and experiment with different tactics in order to find the right team dynamics. In his opening season Tuchel primarily used a 4-2-3-1 formation, though he has also infrequently experimented with a 3-4-2-1, deploying a double 10 behind the striker. 

Most commonly used by BVB throughout the season, the 4-2-3-1, saw Dortmund play in a very fluid system with free positional play. The back five selection of Burki, Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels and Schmelzer was pretty consistent, though Ginter and Bender were sometimes in in place of Piszczek and Sokratis. The midfield duo of Weigl and either Gundogan or Castro was the strongest area of BVB last season, with the pairing dictating from deep as well as making some movements into 8 positions excellently. The starting front four remained as Mkhitaryan, Kagawa, Reus and Aubameyang all throughout.

 The 3-4-2-1 formation was a cool experiment at times, particularly the 2-2 draw with Koln on the last day of the Bundesliga calendar, where Aubameyang was tested as right wing-back. This wasn’t the normal selection though. It was as follows;

Bender came in as the right defender of the back three, while Sokratis and Hummels played in the two roles left of him. Durm took over from Piszczek usually, though this was likely down to the 3-4-2-1 being used in games where Tuchel was rotating his side, hence Piszczek getting rest. Castro normally started as 8, with Gundogan on the bench, due to Castro’s greater athleticism to make dynamic vertical movements. Mkhitaryan and Kagawa competed for the role as right 10, while Reus usually played as left false 10, primarily working from the left halfspace. His forward runs supported Aubameyang up front.

The 3-4-2-1 is actually quite similar to the build-up shape which Dortmund move into in their 4-2-3-1, meaning not too much tactical changes would need to be made in training. The fluidity and dynamic positioning Dortmund’s 3-4-2-1 offers is even greater to that of what their 4-2-3-1 does, both with and without possession. 

After a 5-1 thrashing to Bayern early in the Bundesliga season, Tuchel realised he moved need to make alterations to his team next time the sides faced off. He did so very well, by deploying a 5-2-2-1 similar to the attacking 3-4-2-1, but with more defensive solidity. By deploying shape and strongly focusing on quick transitions in their next two games with Bayern, Borussia managed two 0-0 draws, which in both games the team showed they could’ve won the game with just more clinical finishing. These changes by Tuchel, which you can check out in more depth here, highlight how good a manager he is, particularly in tactical and game management terms.

I am aware that I haven’t looked at Borussia Dortmund in the 2015/16 season in too much depth, as that isn’t the purpose of this article. To find out more, check out this team analysis by @TomPayneftbl.

Activity in the Market Leads to Whole New Level of Squad Depth

Losing arguably your two best players before the transfer window has even begun is never a good thing, never mind rumours constantly floating around that three of your other best players were set to depart too. This was Borussia Dortmund’s exact situation. With Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan leaving for Bayern Munich and Manchester City, it was clear that the summer may be a long one for Dortmund. Despite this, spirits within the camp were lifted when Marc Bartra, Sebastien Rode and Emre Mor all signed within the space of a week, as well as the knowledge that Mikel Merino and wonderkid Ousmane Dembele would be joining the squad for new season too. Star of their 15/16 campaign Henrikh Mkhitaryan left for Manchester United, but the money this generated was enough to buy Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle as replacements. 

Following these transfers, Dortmund’s window appears to be over, bar maybe one or two minor departures which shouldn’t directly affect the first team squad. The window could be considered a success by some, while a failure by others, but one thing is for sure, Dortmund’s squad depth for the upcoming season is ridiculously well covered in all positions.

As their two goalkeeping options, BVB have Roman Burki, who will likely play all league fixtures, and veteran goalie Roman Weindenfeller, who will probably play in cup ties. The options at the right-back spot are Lukasz Piszczek, Erik Durm and Felix Passlack. All offer similar qualities, especially in terms of in possession. Piszczek will remain first choice if BVB play a back four, while his position on the right will be seriously challenged by a number of players if Tuchel goes with a back three. On the right of central defence if a back four is likely to be Sokratis Papastatopoulos or Sven Bender, while in a back three Bender and Sokratis will probably both play, as RCB and CB respectively. New signing Marc Bartra should start as the other centre-back, on the left in either a back three or four. At left-back this term there will be stiff completion, although Marcel Schmelzer is one of the world’s best LB’s, Raphael Guerreiro is an excellent addition and further proved his capability at Euro 2016. An interesting battle.

One of BVB’s best players last term was Julian Weigl. The young German performed expertly in the deep-lying playmaker role, between defence and attacking midfield, and will occupy the same role again this coming season. More interesting though will be who plays in midfield alongside him. Should Tuchel go with a 2-1 or 2-2 midfield again, Gotze will play as 10, while either Castro or Rode will partner Weigl, if it is a 1-2 midfield, then it will be Weigl with Gotze and either Castro or Rode ahead of him. It is hard to predict who will take up the third spot in midfield, though if forced, I would say Castro will start the first few games with Rode making appearances here and then, with Tuchel deciding from there who will be full-time start. Mikel Merino, Moritz Leitner and Felix Passlack should not be forgotten though, and offer good rotation options for games of low significance. Meanwhile, Kagawa and Pulisic will both be working hard in an attempt to compete with Mario Gotze for the position.

As if proving himself in Ligue 1 wasn’t enough, Ousmane Dembele has excelled so far in Dortmund’s friendlies, showing Tuchel he is definitely ready to be the team’s first choice right winger. This will be the case come start of the season. If he fails to do so, there are plenty of options in Emre Mor, Andre Schurrle and Marco Reus to replace him. Jakub Blaszczykowski is currently still with squad and options a versatile option anywhere on the right, but I would expect him to leave before the end of the window. On the left will be Marco Reus. Main striker will be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whom Dortmund will be delighted to have kept a hold of this summer.

Tactical Possibilities

As already mentioned earlier in this article, Borussia Dortmund were one of 15/16’s most intriguing sides in terms of tactics. With some players leaving, and Tuchel replacing, yet not directly with a like-for-like, this will only add further dimension to BVB’s tactical game in the future.

One tactical feature which is likely to carry on from last term is the dynamic movement of the deep midfielders during build-up. During the early stages of the season, when Ilkay Gundogan partnered Weigl, there were more variations of dropping movements, though when Gundogan got injured and Castro became Weigl’s new main partner, Weigl was always the one making dropping movements. Weigl would often drop into a position slightly higher than, in the centre of the two centre-backs when a CB was in possession. As this happened, Castro would make a vertical movement away from the ball. If Weigl was blocked by a presser, Castro would then drop again to prevent the CB becoming isolated with no support. This movement pattern has been continued in pre-season friendlies against Manchester United and Manchester City, but with Weigl still on holiday after the Euros, Rode has took over his role as the dropping DM for now.

The usage of the halfspaces has been a prominent component in Tuchel’s strategy at Dortmund. Deploying Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a role off either the right or left of the attacking midfield three, the Armenian has been used to provide connections in the halfspace, making inverted movement from his starting position on the wing. By drifting into the often unoccupied halfspace, while Piszczek/Schmelzer occupy the wing, Aubameyang makes a run in behind to occupy the centre-back, and Shinji Kagawa moves slightly towards the ball to create an overload, this makes it very difficult for the opponent to have defensive access to Mkhitaryan, with him now able to freely connect with either the wing or the centre, the two zones on either side of him.

Above we can see Mkhitaryan and Kagawa using the halfspace to then connect with the Cohen switch to the wing to create a good situation for Hoffman.

The frequent usage of the halfspaces to create connections in advanced positions may be seen far less this season though, and we have had an indication of this in the friendlies against Man United and Man City. Due to often having two more traditional wingers on the pitch at once, this means there will be less halfspace occupation by an inverted movement, a key component in BVB’s connection high up the pitch. 

The only frequent halfspace occupation in advanced positions has been from horizontal movements by the number 10’s in either game, Kagawa and Leitner. This hasn’t be so successful though, as with both United and City using man-orientated defensive approaches, their pivots have often just followed Kagawa and Leitner, making it difficult for them to receive the ball facing the goal and create positive connections vertically. In order to progress up through the stages of possession without reliance on the now less-occupied halfspaces, we have seen more long passes from deep than before. One common pattern is for Dembele to make a vertical movement in behind to occupy the full-back, this often clears the wing and isolates Schmelzer. Rode or Sokratis will often play a high diagonal from the right halfspace. 

Moving into a very widely discussed topic is the formation and team selection which Tuchel will utilise next season. After making a barrel load of changes to the squad, the options for team selection, and for the formation they are set up in are very high. Below are two selections I believe would be ideal for Dortmund to use.

The first is a relatively similar 4-2-3-1 shape which was deployed last season. It would allow for nice midfield rotation with Rode and Götze’s dynamic positioning allowing for occupation of many different horizontal and vertical lines. There is potential to become a number of different shapes, particularly in build-up, due to the variability that their is in all four players on the wings. This is a realistic shape to which Thomas Tuchel will regularly select throughout the season.

Though appearing to be a relatively normal 3-4-3, the variation this would offer in attack would turn this into an extremely unique shape. Despite being left footed, the deployment of Raphael Guerreiro as a right wing-back alongside Ousmane Dembele on the right wing would offer very interesting variability. The double wing occupation would allow the pairing to make movement in accordance to the other, either choosing to offer support in whichever zone they are in, or while the ball is on the wing, moving into the halfspace to isolate and create a 1v1. Despite the exclusion of Reus above, he could easily be brought in to replace Götze or Dembele, as he would be more than capable of carrying out the same role as them.

What’s Next?

After a season and a summer where excellent foundations seem to have been built at Westfalenstadion, Thomas Tuchel will be looking to build on the strong base he has formed. His quick implementation of such complex ideas which not many bar Pep Guardiola can teach in just a season has been extremely impressive. His Dortmund players must, and will continue learning under their coach for as long as he is there to teach them, as what he is building seems to be something special. Despite last season’s point gap of ten, which Tuchel openly stated his disappointment at, last season somehow felt like Dortmund’s strongest season by far, since their most recent Bundesliga win. The progression both individually but most importantly collectively in the 15/16 season was remarkable and a joy to watch for outsiders. 

Though it seems to be have been taken for granted amidst all the other positives at the club in the past year, Borussia’s automatic qualification for 16/17 Champions League is hugely significant for all at the club. With arguably as strong and deep a Borussia Dortmund squad as there ever has been, Tuchel certainly won’t be taking the competition lightly, and is sure to rotate and use the full depth of his squad in a similar fashion to how he did so last term, in order to remain competitive in the prestigious European competition. In domestic terms, despite many claiming the Bundesliga is already a foregone conclusion, no one at Dortmund will be thinking this way, and they are sure to push Ancelotti’s Bayern for as long as they can. 

San Lorenzo: Team Analysis

Following previous manager Edguardo Bauza, who had enjoyed a barrel-load of success at the club, departing to join São Paulo, many San Lorenzo fans were left disappointed and worried for a downgrade of next manager. El Ciclone fans were not left bewildered though, as on 4 January 2016, ex-Palestino manager Pablo Guede was appointed as the club’s new manager. Guede was earning something of a reputation for his brand of exciting football with the Chilean club, as well as elements of Juego de Posición being apparent in their play. 

Since Guede’s appointment, Azulgrana have enjoyed a good spell with the early signs of Guede’s reign being very promising. The Argentine manager’s Juego de Posción is also no longer apparent, but instead, in full swing…


Average starting line-up from San Lorenzo

Pablo Guede formation selection has been pretty inconsistent so far this term. The Argentine gaffer seems unable to decide on a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-3-2. Despite this statement, the way the formations work in SanLo’s system are relatively similar.
Goalkeeper Sebastien Torrico has been omnipresent in net for San Lorenzo throughout the season so far, in both the Argentine Primera Division and the Copa Libertadores. The back-four selection has been consistent, need for rotation due to fatigue, being the only real factor in any of the four defenders being left out for a match. Julio Buffarini, one of South America’s best attacking full-backs, plays at right-back. The two central defenders are Marcos Angeleri and Matias Caruzzo. Angeleri may be more well known than most players in South America, as he had a brief (admittedly unsuccessful) stint at Sunderland. Emmanuel Mas plays at left-back.

Another player who European football fans may have came across previously is San Lorenzo’s pivot Franco Mussis. Mussis also a negative experience in Europe, his bouts with Copenhagen and Genoa both being cut short. Mussis has improved though and is a very intelligent 6, also capable of playing 8. When Mussis plays as 8, we often see Juan Mercier play as the 6. Perhaps SanLo’s key player is Nestor Ortigoza. The captain has adapted very well to Guede’s demands and the Paraguayan has established himself as a very good player this season. Playing as Azulgrana’s attacking midfielder is either Fernando Belluschi or Lucas Romangoli. Neither have really been able to nail down the position as their own, with being used on the wings to accommodate the other centrally sometimes.

San Lorenzo’s wingers are quite heavily rotated, though it is clear that Ezequiel Cerutti and Sebastian Blanco are the first choice wide men. Martin Cauteruccio, Hector Villaba and Pablo Barrientos as well as the two 10’s previously mentioned, have also played out wide. On the graphic above, I have named Nicolas Blandi as first choice striker, though this could be debated, Cauteruccio and Mauro Matos have also had opportunities as 9.

Pressing High, Then a Swift Transition Into a Deep Block

One of the most interesting aspects of Pablo Guede’s San Lorenzo team is their defensive approach, particularly when the opposition are in build-up. 

Initially, Guede’s men press in a formation which you would normally associate with a very high-pressing side, maybe even to the extent of a Bielsa team, as all his players position themselves very high up the pitch in a man-orientated system. The centre-backs mark the opposition striker(s), full-backs mark wingers, the central-midfielders push as far forward as necessary to mark the opposition central-midfielders, unless they move into the first line of build-up which would then be the striker’s duty, and the wide-midfielders press very high on the full-backs. In the 4-1-3-2(now a flat 4-4-2), this allows Azulgrana’s two strikers to press the opposition centre-backs very high and intensely. Due to San Lorenzo holding such a high line, marking all opposition players in central positions very tightly, this makes them most strong in the centre of the field when pressing. To make the most of the intensity Los Santos have in their initial press centrally, the strikers attempt to force opposition centre-backs to pass only into the centre of the field, by arcing their runs to block passes to the full-backs. Forcing the centre-backs to play either between themselves, or into the centre-of midfield, allows Los Santos to have the opportunity to press in the area where they are most strong when pressing high, the centre.

Hypothetical situation: San Lorenzo’s formation when pressing high

If the opposition escapes Los Santos’ central pressure by playing to a full-back, this is a trigger for them to retreat into a deeper block. As the ball travels to the full-back, the ball-near wide midfielder will engage him by pressing, this usually forces them to pass backwards, normally to the centre-back. As this happens, one striker will drop alongside the central-midfielders, while the pivot drops back to his usual 6 position. This forms a 4-1-4-1.

Hypothetical situation: Transition into 4-1-4-1

The importance of a quick transition from a high-pressing formation to a deeper block is very high. If the transition is too slow and players don’t move into their positions in the 4-1-4-1, or if the wide-midfielder doesn’t press the full-back quickly enough, this is very likely to allow the opposition to either carry the ball forward with ease, or allow them to penetrate through the gaps in midfield. 

In the Deep Block

As already mentioned, San Lorenzo quickly transition into a 4-1-4-1 formation on the trigger of either being penetrated centrally, or the trigger of a pass into the opposition full-back. This 4-1-4-1 formation is a deep block, where Azulgrana play in two compact blocks of four, with a single player in front of each bank, in order to limit the space the opposition get in front of each block.

10:38 vs. Gremio: Compact 4-1-4-1

 In order to maintain as compact and consistent a shape as possible, Pablo Guede has implemented a zonal marking coverage scheme when his side are defending in their own half. The reference point in the zonal marking system is the ball, where Los Santos will shift in relation to.

The 4-1-4-1 is the natural defensive shape which San Lorenzo transition into almost immediately after losing the ball, when playing a 4-3-3 rather than 4-1-3-2. This means they are usually defending in a deep, at highest- mid, block when playing in the 4-3-3. Due to the standard of the Copa Libertadores being higher than that of the Argentinian Primera Division, we have seen San Lorenzo line-up in a 4-3-3 more often than not in the Copa Libertadores as it allows them to constantly defend in a deep block, more suited to playing against teams of a higher standard. 

When San Lorenzo defend in the 4-1-4-1 it is not too dissimilar to the 4-4-2-0 that is becoming ever so common across Europe’s top divisions, Leicester City and Atletico Madrid being the two well known examples in today’s game who play in a deep, compact 4-4-2 without possession.

San Lorenzo’s 4-1-4-1 is focused around closing passing lanes, particularly through the halfspaces. This is done by maintaining strong horizontal compactness. The wide-midfielders, usually Cerutti and Blanco, play very close to the 8’s in order to maintain horizontal compactness, which makes it very difficult for the opposition to find an open passing lane which would allow them to penetrate and have access to the 10 space. Although San Lorenzo retreat into quite a deep block when the opposition progress from build-up, Los Santos still press with quite a lot of intensity in certain areas of their own half. The halfspaces and in the rare case of the opposition finding access to the 10 space, the opposition’s Zone 14, are two areas where San Lorenzo will always press. Although always pressing Zone 14 can be risky, as when a centre-back moves out of position when pressing, a large hole may form in the back four, SanLo plug this hole very effectively. Mussis is a very intelligent pivot and drops into the backline to cover his centre-backs if they move forward to press an opposition player in the 10 space. As Mussis drops, Ortigoza also drops, into the 6 position, making a very stable shape, as there are no gaps.

Hypothetical situation: Caruzzo presses an opponent in possession in Zone 14, as Mussis isn’t close enough to press. Not a problem.’


Due to San Lorenzo having very strong positional structures when in possession, largely thanks to the Juego de Posicion Pablo Guede has implemented since his arrival, SanLo are more often that not in positions which allow for a smooth transition into defence. San Lorenzo’s positional play is based on the short passing style they play, meaning players are very close together. This is a factor which makes counterpressing possible, and more importantly, increases the possibility of counterpressing being successful.

Although the main objective of counterpressing is to immediately recover the ball, there are a couple of secondary aims from it. One of San Lorenzo’s specific objectives from counterpressing is to delay an opposition attack by a couple of seconds, giving teammates time to recover into their defensive positions while the ball is in a non-dangerous area. This is done by blocking passes into the centre, usually by pressing the opponent in possession in pairs or trios, from different angles. 

02:47 vs Rosario Central: Three San Lorenzo players pressing two Central players to block them from playing centrally, while their teammates recover into shape

Distribution from the Goalkeeper

One of the key elements of San Lorenzo’s play is their positional play during distribution from their goalkeeper, Sebastien Torrico. As Torrico distributes the ball, the positioning of San Lorenzo players is key, as they must ensure that they aid in smooth progression of the ball as well as being prepared for their next movement which will be their positional play in the next stage of build-up or circulation. One important component in SanLo’s distribution from their goalkeeper is that they always avoid building-up through the full-backs. Due to Santo using Juego de Posicion, a philosophy which is focused around effective spacing, particularly in the centre and halfspaces, San Lorenzo cannot build-through through a full-back on a wing as it will then be difficult to access the opposite side of the field. Below is an excellent quote from the great Johan Cruyff about why you shouldn’t build-up through the full-backs.

“In my view you should never build up play with the full-backs. You should only use your full-back when actually attacking. Because when you play the ball to the right-back, the left part of the pitch no longer participates. Those who can’t be reached, don’t participate. But if you use that same full-back in actual attack, then he can make a dribble around the defence, and then you can get this(a cross). You don’t need the entire pitch now, because the goal is in the centre.”-Johan Cruyff

In order to avoid building through the full-backs, instead ‘saving’ their presence for a more advanced stage of possession, Buffarini and Mas push into more advanced positions than a standard full-back, close to the halfway line. As well as preventing them from receiving the ball in a very unthreatening area, it also opens up the halfspace for the centre-backs to split into. By doing so, Marcos Angeleri and Matias Caruzzo are instantly slowing down and disorientating any opposition press. This is done as simply, it is far more distance for potential opposition pressers to cover. Below is a hypothetical situation showing why it is easier to press centre-backs who are split, rather than two centre-backs with poor spacing.

In the first image, we can see that the centre-backs who have split have a number of passing options as the pressers would have to cover far larger distances to mark players out of being a viable passing option. It is also very difficult for them to press/mark/block passing lane as if they do so, they are almost always opening up another option for the opposition’s build-up. In the second image we can see that the centre-backs can’t pass between each other as it would be easily blocked and most likely intercepted. We can also see that the build-up has no real possibilities of becoming anything as passing lanes are far easier to close off in a small space, as less distance has to be covered.

With two centre-backs splitting so wide, some would claim that this isn’t a stable build-up structure as there is such a large gap in between the two central defenders. This is correct, but San Lorenzo easily combat this with the movements of the positionally dynamic Franco Mussis and Nestor Ortigoza. In order to create a structure which will not leave San Lorenzo vulnerable in the case of losing possession with the centre-back out of position, Mussis and Ortigoza must show good tactical awareness and analyse whether or not the opposition are pressing the backline with two, one or even no one. If the opposition are pressing high with two forwards, this is a trigger for Mussis or Ortigoza, whoever is better positioned, to drop into the centre of the first line. This offers a solid structure and means San Lorenzo have a suitable defensive line in the case of losing the ball. As well as offering stability, a midfielder dropping into the first line to situationally create a back-three is also very good for creating triangles.

Ideally Torrico can pass into the first line. By passing into the first line this either draws the opposition into a high press, which San Lorenzo will usually be capable of beating due to their numerical superiority in their first line compared to the usual opposition press of two. When the opposition press is escaped, San Lorenzo often now find themselves in a good position as they have forced the opposition to press the centre-backs so high that this has a negative impact on their vertical compactness. 

‘Although Caruzzo is a bit lucky with his pass, this shows the space San Lorenzo can have if they escape the opposition press’

The alternative to the opposition pressing high is obviously to remain in their defensive block. This too is positive for SanLo, as it allows their centre-backs to advance forward with the ball, unchallenged. If the backline have been effectively marked by the opposition, the secondary choice for Torrico is to play a high ball towards one of the full-backs, usually Mas, as he is better aerially than Buffarini. 

The above image illustrates the two minds an opposition full-back may get caught in. Should he challenge Mas for the header, but risk losing the aerial duel, which would allow Mas to flick the ball on to Blanco who can now exploit the gap. Or should he remain in position and allow Mas to control the ball and advance unchallenged? This tough dilemma is the exact reason San Lorenzo, more specifically Sebastien Torrico, use this kick as a secondary option.

Progressive Build-Up, Ball Circulation and Juego De Posicion

In order to destabilise and disrupt opposition defensive structures, we see San Lorenzo using concepts and tools associated with the philosophy of Juego de Posicion. With Pablo Guede’s side being just one of a handful around the world who practice true Juego de Posicion, build-up and circulation of the ball are two very key aspects of performance. 
Although there is no physical evidence of San Lorenzo using positional grids in training (footage of Azulgrana training is extremely difficult to find), it is very likely that Pablo Guede uses a similar pitch to the one which Pep Guardiola has installed at Säbener Straße, where his Bayern Munich team practice wonderful positional play.

Guardiola’s pitch at Säbener Straße

One tool which SanLo use in early build-up to destabilise opposition defensive structures is slow, horizontal passes across the backline, with no intention of penetrating or attacking for a few seconds. By doing so, this often puts opponents into a false sense of security and draws them out of position to press the ball, this is extremely useful in opening gaps in a deep block. A second positive of playing horizontal passes in the build-up is that for the few seconds where Los Santos do not attack, we see lots of movements ahead of the ball, into different zones on the pitch. Azulgrana use ball-orientated shifts. For example when the ball is being brought forward in the left halfspace, this will have different zones occupied than when the ball is deep on the wing for example. San Lorenzo’s positional play, like the one Pep Guardiola implements, particularly distinguishable at Barcelona, is not dogmatic and different players may occupy different zones. An example of dogmatic positional play is that of Louis van Gaal’s during his time at Bayern Munich, where certain players were required to occupy exact zones. Guardiola’s Juego de Posicion at Bayern Munich is slightly more strict than that of the one he implanted at Barça, but it is still very free and pragmatic. 

One common pattern we see emerging from San Lorenzo’s Juego de Posicion is again focused around diagonality. The back four often play horizontal passes between themselves in a very flat line, with seemingly no sense of conviction. As the opponent begin to take up more compact positions, to press the ball, SanLo begin to move the ball to one particular side, usually into a centre-back in the halfspace. As the opposition take up horizontally compact positions, this opens up the opposite halfspace and wing. The centre-back in position then looks to switch the ball to the waiting wide in the halfspace. 

Hypothetical situation: Blanco waits in the halfspace rather than the wing, as it means the ball doesn’t have to travel so far, giving the opposition less time to support their full-back in defending Blanco.

Above we can see how Sebastian Blanco will instantly be in a 1v1 with the full-back when he receives the ball. By waiting in the halfspace, the ball doesn’t have to travel that far a distance, meaning no opposition players have time to sift over and support their full-back. This situation has huge potential if Blanco has qualitative superiority over the full-back. We can see how Bayern Munich use a similar tactic with Douglas Costa, http://spielverlagerung.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/08/creating-1v1-with-costa.png?044bfb. Switching the ball from right halfspace to left halfspace is one of San Lorenzo’s best opportunities for some good wing play for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Marcos Angeleri is capable of playing long, flat passes, which are extremely effective for switching the play to an unloaded wing. This is because they are the fastest travelling type of pass, giving the opposition as small a time as possible to recover defensively. As second reason for the strength of this pass from Angeleri to Blanco is the pace of Blanco is extremely effective in exploiting open space. Blanco’s pace too, gives the opposition less time to recover.

Although San Lorenzo’s positional play is generally very good, as well as their effectiveness at opening vertical passing lanes, there are also issues with Los Santo’s build-up at times, particularly in the 4-1-3-2 formation. With the pivot, Franco Mussis, being very focused on opening vertical passing lanes, sometimes the midfielder can find himself too far away from the ball at the wrong times. 

11:57 vs. Velez Sarsfield: Mussis isn’t close enough to provide support for Angeleri, who is in possession. This briefly denies SanLo any access to the midfield

Above we can see that Mussis isn’t in a suitable position to receive the ball. This leaves Angeleri isolated and in a situation where he will be forced to play a useless long ball.

If Mussis isn’t in an intelligent position to receive the ball in the 4-1-3-2, this makes San Lorenzo very easy to defend as the lone central midfielder can be marked. This means SanLo have no possible access to the midfield which denies them valuable control of the most important area of the field.

During ball circulation, San Lorenzo use Mussis and Ortiogoza’s resistance to pressure in order to free up the halfspaces for centre-backs to use to allow the build-up to progress. This is similar to PSG’s integration of their centre-backs in circulation, as analysed by @TomPayneftbl. This works particularly well when Nestor Ortigoza makes dropping movements alongside Mussis in a halfspace. The pair are joined by the ball-near centre-back. This creates strong structures and connections in a nice triangle, around the ball in a small space. Usually attracting pressure from the opposition, the trio drag a presser or two towards them before switching the ball to the other centre-back in the opposite, now open halfspace. This tactic works especially well against a lone striker, though if a two man strikeforce can be dragged towards the trio in a halfspace, it can be just as successful. By giving the centre-back the ball in an open halfspace, this allows him to advance into the midfield with ball and hopefully progress to the next stage of possession.

One method we see San Lorenzo using against high-pressing sides in order to progress to the next phase of possession is by a midfielder dropping into the first line to create a back line. 

02:49 vs. Huracan: Mussis has dropped into the backline in line with Angeleri(in possession), while Caruzzo has dropped deeper. This creates a strong triangle, giving SanLo access to either halfspace by simply using Caruzzo as a ‘middle man’ to switch the ball to the opposite halfspace.

This is a very strong possession structure as all zones are occupied well, and the pitch is effectively covered in case of a turnover in possession. Another benefit from the structure is the number of triangles the 3-3-2-2 creates.

Diagonality, Verticality and Overloads, Finding Space Between the Lines

One aspect of San Lorenzo’s play which looks to have been well coached and organised by Pablo Guede is their ability to find space in between the lines. Finding ways to gain access to the 10 space can often be difficult but once methods of gaining access are found, they can be some of the most valuable tactical tools to possess. San Lorenzo’s diagonal orientation as well as their Juego de Posicion which sees overloads created, combined with the verticality of Angeleri and Caruzzo’s passes means SanLo are a team who have plenty of tools in their locker to find, create and exploit space between the lines.

San Lorenzo’s diagonality in the bid to exploit space between the lines is a fundamental aspect of their game. Although their verticality is also important, the diagonality in their passing is most imperative. Although a vertical pass is able to penetrate lines, which is key in advancing forward down the field, it doesn’t alter the opponent’s basic defensive shape as the attack is still from the same angle, meaning the opponent are usually still controlling the area the pass is into. A diagonal pass however, forces the opponent to shift laterally as well as dropping their line, as the pass both changes the angle of of attack as well as increasing the pressure on the opponent’s goal.

One of the key players in San Lorenzo’s diagonality is centre-back Marcos Angeleri. The Argentinian is one of the strongest defenders in the Primera Division but one aspect of his game which stands out is his ability on the ball. The ability of a modern centre-back to be productive in possession in of the ball is becoming ever more important. Although the big centre-half had a pretty dreadful time in England with Sunderland, he has really impressed since his return to Argentina, first returning to Estudiantes, then a few years in Spain with Malaga, now back to Argentina with San Lorenzo. In order to make full use of Angeleri’s qualities in build-up, pivot Franco Mussis makes intelligent movements to manipulate opponent’s which ideally opens diagonal passing lanes.

08:28 vs. LDU Quito: Mussis has moved away from the ball to open a diagonal passing lane to Belluschi, who from there may get access to the 10 space

In the linked video below we see the diagonal passing ability of Angeleri and intelligent movement by Ortigoza and Romangoli to overload the centre then split out into the halfspaces to find space in between the lines. This movement, two central midfielders overloading the centre right beside each other, then splitting into either halfspace is one we see very often. It is very useful against a single pivot as he has to try and guess which one player to mark/block.


As we see from every team looks to exploit space in between the lines, San Lorenzo often use vertical passes to penetrate lines. When in the 4-1-3-2 formation, then is when we see SanLo play a high number of vertical passes through opposition lines. One common movement pattern we see in the 4-1-3-2 is as follows; the wide-midfielder’s move close to the touchline, particularly the ball-near wide midfielder who will be right on the touchline. The central of the attacking midfielders moves slightly away from the ball, this should open a passing lane from the player in possession to striker. The striker will drop from the last line in between the lines. The centre-back or pivot should now be able to play a flat pass into the striker’s feet. Below is an example of this in practice.

11:42 vs. Velez Sarsfield: Movement by the three midfielders ahead of Mussis has opened up a passing lane from him to a dropping strike

Although playing a vertical pass to a dropping striker means San Lorenzo are often in possession of the ball in Zone 14, having no angle on the pass (i.e-not a horizontal or diagonal pass) means it will be very difficult for the recipient to take the ball on the half-turn, meaning he usually has to make a full turn and can’t make instant use of the space in between the lines, giving the opposition a second or so to react.

A third tool San Lorenzo use to get their players in the ball in Zone 14 is by overloading the space. When San Lorenzo begin to advance forward in a comfortable build-up, Ezequiel Cerutti, capable of playing the role of an inverted winger, often moves into the right halfspace alongside Fernando Belluschi, the 10. 

This forces not just one but two defenders to leave their position, this is a decision most defenders will hesitate to make, giving the recipient a second to take the ball in between lines. Having two of SanLo’s most creative players, Cerutti and Belluschi in such a small space, creates a very good opportunity for quick combinations between the two.

The Underrated Method of Dribble Penetration

Due to the number of strong dribblers San Lorenzo possess within their ranks it is natural that teammates make movements to open space for the strong dribblers to exploit. 

Due to the 4-1-3-2 making control of the centre spaces difficult at times, ball-carrying from deep can be very effective compared to passes into areas which don’t have much support, in a bid to advance forward. Nestor Ortigoza is one player who teammates often open space for as the Paraguayan midfielder is a strong ball-carrier. Franco Mussis, San Lorenzo’s intelligent pivot often moves into either halfspace during circulation to open a space for Ortigoza to receive the ball in, to then carry forward.

As well as ball-carrying from deep, we also see nice dribbling in the final third by Santo players. Lucas Romangoli and Fernando Belluschi both have good skillsets for dribble penetration in the final third. The two attacking midfielders have good Physcial attributes but are also excellent technically, making them good dribblers. One movement we commonly see from SanLo attackers is the two central forwards splitting wider, usually into either halfspace. This often opens a gap centrally, even for just a couple of seconds, which SanLo’s 10 will often drive into and exploit. This can be very effective in penetrating a now disjointed back four.

Set Pieces

Although SanLo aren’t a team with the most aerial ability, the strategies they use to defend and attack set pieces are designed to make up for their lack of height. 

Firstly we will look at Los Santos attacking set piece routines. One routine is shown below.

In this routine, we see Marcos Angeleri attacking the front post area, where the corner take will whip the ball in with pace. This gives Angeleri an opportunity to flick the ball on to a runner behind him. Angeleri attacks the front post as he is seen as SanLo’s best aerial player, directly behind him, where he will look to flick the ball onto, is Caruzzo, SanLo’s second best aerial player. The reason for a powerful, whipped corner rather than a floated cross is that a powerful cross means Angeleri doesn’t have to do too much to flick the ball behind him. Below are the four ideal stages the routine would take.

A second routine we see from San Lorenzo when attacking on corners is very similar to the first. Again, there are four runners running away from a strong aerial player, except this time the strong header of the ball is attacking the back post rather than the front.

Ideally, this routine will isolate Blandi near the back post, where he will hopefully get a free header.

Defending set pieces is a potential weakness with San Lorenzo’s lack of height but they haven’t been exposed in this department too much this season. The only match where SanLo looked really troubled on set pieces was against title rivals Godoy Cruz, who use an unorthodox yet very effective corner tactic.

06:49 vs. Godoy Cruz: Godoy pile all players attacking the corner on the line. The taker then whips the ball into the crowded area and hopes for some luck. This caused SanLo some problems.
This obviously isn’t how Los Santos defend every set piece though. Los Santos defend in a man-marking style with one player, usually Angeleri, around the first post around, with one on the edge of the box directly in front of the corner take, probably just to distract him a little.

One-Two’s, Lay-Offs and Third Man Runners

Important components in San Lorenzo’s quick attacking play in the final third are one-two’s and lay-offs and also the generation of a free man in combinations. By playing quick combinations in pairs in a small space with press resistant players, this draws pressure towards the ball, dragging opposition players out of position. This can be very effective in generating a free third man running off the ball as the opposition are unaware of the run. The third man’s run will often be on the blind side of an opponent as this makes it very difficult to turn and react quickly enough to defend the ball when it reaches it’s intended target.

One common pattern we see from San Lorenzo which revolves around lay-offs and generating a third man running off the ball is as follows; a centre-back will dwell on the ball for a few seconds to attract pressure, as the opposition striker presses the San Lorenzo midfield will move towards the ball to invite the opposition midfield forward a few yards, as this happens the centre-back will play a long ball towards the striker and two midfielders will rush forward. The striker will then ideally lay the ball of to a central midfielder rushing forward who can then play pass out wide to another midfield runner. See below.

A second pattern we often see from San Lorenzo’s collective play is agains focused around quick accelerations which manipulate opponent’s thinking a millisecond. This millisecond where the opponent is moving/thinking in the wrong direction is a millisecond which can open the space you need. 

When SanLo’s wide midfielder/winger and full-back are on the wing together against two opposition defenders, the wide midfielder will make a movement inside which his marker will follow, seemingly creating a 1v1 on the touchline with full-back against full-back. As the Santo midfielder moves inside he will accelerate back onto the wing, creating a 2v1 in their favour for a valuable second or two. This creates an opportunity for a quick one-two which makes the full-backs job very difficult.

Attacking Patterns and Chance Creation 

In the attacking phase we see far less collective actions by San Lorenzo, with more of a reliance on individuality creating chances. Blanco, Cerutti and the two attack minded full-backs have the ability to create chances for whoever plays up front, though all three options are primarily penalty box players, meaning good service is essential for them.

We see a high number of needle passes through the opposition defence to a runner through the last line, usually a winger. Key component in good synergy in SanLo’s attacking patterns are as follows; a straight pass must never be played for a straight run, as it is very easy to defend. A straight pass must be played for a diagonal run infield by a winger. Or a diagonal pass must be made to a straight run. Another important aspect is the striker’s movement. In order to open a lane which allows a penetrative pass through the last line, the striker must make a movement away from the ball. This allows a 1v1 on the wing, which has potential to provide excellent service to the striker.

Another common attacking pattern we see emerging from San Lorenzo in the last phase is a diagonal pass from winger to opposite full-back. Similarly to the one Barcelona use, players make diagonal movements to open up the wing for a diagonal pass to be played to a straight runner (ie-the full-back).

Seconds prior to Barca’s first goal vs. Juventus in the 2015 Champions League Final. Neymar’s inverted movement has opened up space for Messi’s trademark diagonal pass to Alba.

This method has proved to be particularly useful for Santo, especially with the advanced positioning of the attack-minded Julio Buffarini and Emmanuel Mas who are more than capable when in the final third. As the full-back controls the ball, the now ball-near winger makes a slight movement towards the ball, this ideally opens up some space for a cutback to the striker who remains in the centre, lurking around the penalty spot.


To date this season, San Lorenzo have fulfilled and perhaps exceeded expectations for this point in the campaign. Although Los Santos have been knocked out of the Copa Libertadores earlier than they’d have liked, it was always going to be tough ask to qualify with two heavyweights, Gremio and LDU Quito both in their group. Azulgrana have arguably made up for this with their strong league form though. Click the link below to check the current league table. 


The style in which Pablo Guede’s men have played is truly intriguing, particularly the full-blown practice of Juego de Posición which is rare and so difficult to master. The squad the Argentine manager has at his disposal seems to be very nicely balanced, with all of his average starting 11 being capable of implementing good positional play. The squad has good potential as well as a good amount of experience, with the likes of Hector Villaba, Luis Avila and Paolo Diaz being guided by the experience of Angerleri, Ortigoza etc. This proves that Pablo Guede’s side aren’t just well equipped short term but long term too. 

The work of Pablo Guede has been admired all across South America for a couple of years, with it beginning to peak around now. This suggests that interest from Europe may not be too far away, and perhaps, another apprentice of Juego de Posición may be on his way too Europe…

Southampton: Team Analysis

Ronald Koeman’s Southampton have had a pretty average first 14 games(at the time off writing)of the season in truth. After managing just one win in their first four games, as well as being dumped out of the Europa League in the last qualifying round, it looked as if Southampton weren’t as good a side as they have been in previous overachieving seasons. However, a 3-0 win over Norwich was enough to spark a turn and Saints begin to see improved results, even going a run in which saw them lose just once in 10 following this. The unstable defence which we saw in the early stages began to look for more steady after the arrival of Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk, from Celtic, while the attack which seemed to lack much penetration improved parallel to the form of striker Graziano Pelle and fellow attackers Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic, with a helping hand from a new pattern of play which improved penetration.

In order to take a closer look at Southampton this season, I analysed a number of games, some privately, while two were published online for others to read. 

Liverpool 1-1 Southampton

Southampton 2-0 Bournemouth

Despite pressing in a 4-4-2 at times, the standard formation which has remained consistent throughout all games this season for Southampton is a 4-2-3-1. There have been slight variations of the positioning of the three more advanced midfielders as well as changes in personnel, however, 4-2-3-1 has been ever-present for Southampton.

In goals for Southampton has been on loan goalkeeper Martin Stekelenburg, due to first-choice Fraser Forster picking up a serious knee injury in the latter stages of last season. Third choice Kelvin Davis has made one appearance however, due to a small injury to Stekelenburg.

At right-back for Saints has been new signing Cedric Soares. Soares has been pretty impressive for Southampton and is actually a similar type of full-back to Marcelo, obviously on the opposite flank though. Maya Yoshida has at times filled in for Soares when injury occurs, and Southampton look far more vulnerable in this situation. Captain Jose Fonte occupies the right centre-back spot, with new signing Virgil van Dijk in the left centre-back position. Favoured at left-back is the attacking Ryan Bertrand, however, injury meant he missed a number of games in the opening weeks, young Matt Targett replaced him.

Vice captain Victor Wanyama has featured consistently on the right of a double-pivot, with Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu both playing as the left deep midfielder, depending on the match. When Clasie plays, he is more involved in circulation than Romeu would be, as well as leaving his position to press more than Romeu who rarely deviates from his holding positon. 

One the right of the attacking midfield trio is often Sadio Mane, the centre Steven Davis and on the left Dusan Tadic. This trio can change both in personnel as well as positioning, Davis sometimes plays in an outer role and Mane can also be seen playing behind the striker. Tadic less frequently plays anywhere other than the left wing.

Up front for Southamton has been Italian striker Graziano Pelle.
Saints Switch to More Conservative Approach
The departure of previous manager Mauricio Pochettino for Tottenham saw Dutch manager Ronald Koeman come into the Southampton manager’s job. Pochettino’s sides, Southampton included, are known to play a high intensity pressing game. This left many wondering if Koeman could either, keep up the same quality and tempo of pressing as his predecessor or change the defensive approach of Southampton.

Above is a scenario in minute 04:24 of Southampton 1-1 Manchester City, 2013. In this match Southampton are being managed by Pochettino. The image shows Southampton pressing high in a man-orientated system.

Under Pochettino, it was clear that Southampton would more stay true to their manager’s philosophy, even against stronger opposition who could exploit the space left by Saints high press.

 In the above image City have relatively good positional play- both halfspaces are occupied as well as their full-backs taking up positions on the way which they could potentially use to their advantage if space opens up- however, Saints have managed to block, or make certain passing lanes risky with a man-orientated pressing strategy. The only minor concern for Saints in this situation is if Milner receives the ball in the halfspace but begins to dribble onto the wing and create a 2v1 with Zabaleta against Shaw, unless Lovren takes the huge risk of leaving Aguero unmarked centrally. This situation would be unlikely to cause a clear goalscoring opportunity though, as 1- Steven Davis could move to his left slightly to simply block, or tighten the passing lane, making the pass almost impossible and 2- Jack Cork’s positioning means if Lovren was to move wider to defend Milner, Cork could easily cover for Lovren and mark Aguero till Lovren moved back into position.

In Koeman’s first few matches in charge of Southampton it was clear that the Dutchman would look to move his team into less of an open side as the previous manager’s. Particularly against Liverpool, but still evident at times in other early matches, Southampton showed their spatially-orientated defensive approach. Despite this, Saints still counterpressed at times and even showed glimpses of high pressing, this perhaps showed that Koeman didn’t want to make a change as dramatic as totally eradicating Southampton’s weapon of pressing. 

Above is the standard defensive structures used by Koeman in his two seasons in charge at Southampton. (RED=Press) (BLUE=Light Press) (YELLOW=Block Passes Through and Man Mark in this Area)

2014/15 Image

In this image we can see that there are a significantly higher number of red arrows than blue. This is just a slight indication of how Koeman has attempted to make the transition for his side in terms of pressing as smooth as possible. In his first season, Koeman used the intelligent positional sense of captain Morgan Schneiderlin to cover for Wanyama, his midfield partner, who could then press. Wanyama would press players moving with the ball towards the double-pivot, or move wider to force players towards the touchline where Clyne or Mane could press intensely. We can see that Steven Davis covers a fairly large amount of ground in his pressing, allowing Mane and Tadic to remain in position to press intensely nearer the touchline.

2015/16 Image

Following the sale of Schneiderlin to Manchester United, Koeman bought Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu as his replacements. Despite both having good qualities to play as a 6, neither quite has the positional sense of Schneiderlin, admittedly not many do. This means that Wanyama will have to balance his positioning and his pressing more, rather than being able to charge out of position to press as often. Another change is the job of Davis. Rather than pressing the centre and the majority both halfspaces, Davis is now tasked with blocking any passing lanes through the circled area, as well as man marking players who are in this area during opposition build-up. This means Mane and Tadic now have to press a little more ground, now having to press lightly in the halfspaces. Graziano Pelle barely presses the opposition centre-back, rather just laterally shifting to sometimes block a passing lane.

These images show how Koeman has integrated a more spatially-orientated defensive approach to Southampton compared to the scenario under Pochettino. Due to Pochettino favouring man-orientated systems, down to the fact that Bielsa was a large part of his development, I wouldn’t even have been able to use an image with no opposition to demonstrate Pochettino’s pressing.

Pattern of Play

The 2-2 draw with Newcastle on the opening day of the season wouldn’t suggest that Southampton lacked firepower or penetration in their play, however, if you watched the game, it was pretty clear that Saints didn’t the best of positional structures in attack. 

This is a theoretical situation from the Newcastle-Southampton match. The U shape is evident here, Fonte is left with no choice but to either circulate with no end product, or play a pointless long ball forward.

Saints often formed the dreaded ‘U’ shape, which Pep Guardiola has spoke to critically of, during circulation which limited the options for penetration as well as making it an easy shape to defend against for the opposition. The U was perhaps formed due to Southampton lacking a set positional structure in possession, or any patterns of play which would help penetrate. 
In order to combat the lack of penetration, Southampton worked on a pattern of play which significantly aided the team on this front. The pattern of play is primarily based in central areas of the pitch, however it can vary, depending on the opposition towards the left wing. Below is an image of the standard pattern of play in against Liverpool, this is played being centrally.

In the above image we are seeing Davis receive a lay-off from Pelle, with Mane preparing to run in behind the Liverpool defence. 

The pattern of play begins with a player, usually a centre-back, coming forward with the ball near the centre circle. As the centre-back shapes his body to play a pass, Pelle slightly to the right or left onto a particular centre-back, usually the quicker of the pairing. As Pelle makes his movement, Davis(or any other player behind in the role behind Pelle)makes a movement away from Pelle in order to drag his marker out of position. The centre-back then clips a high pass into Pelle who will look to lay the ball off to Davis who has now moved into the open space in front of the centre-backs. As the ball is layed off, either an onrushing midfielder or a winger coming inside will make a penetrating run in behind the opposition defence(as Mane is doing in the image above), Davis will then attempt to slip the ball through to them.

This season Sadio Mane has benefitted massively from being able to play in any of the three roles behind the striker. In each of the three roles Mane has demonstrated his wide skill set. On the right of the three, Mane can use his pace to attack the outside of the opposition full-back, and links up well with new signing Cedric Soares who likes to move into the halfspaces, allowing Mane to take advantage of his isolation on the wing. In the central role, the timing of his runs penetrating the opposition defence when latching onto a through ball is very useful, as is his powerful shot. On the left, again Mane likes to make use of his powerful shot, by cutting inside onto hi stronger right foot. His pace can also can used on the outside of the full-back on the left, he often then cuts the ball back, an ability he developed during his time with Roger Schmidt at Red Bull Salzburg.

Some argue that having a pattern of play frequently used can make you predictable, therefore more easy to defend. Koeman defeats this idea however, as he has devised a system which allows Southampton to shift this pattern of play to the wings.

As we can see in the image, Bertrand and Mane are clear providers of width on either flank. In the standard system which focuses on central play, there isn’t too much width as the wingers often make runs inside. In this system however, there are two providers of width. On the the left, Ryan Bertrand will make tons of overlapping runs, making use of the space left by the drifting Steven Davis. During the pattern of play involving him, the build-up movements are the same as the other system, however, rather than Pelle laying the ball off, he will play a ’round-the-corner’ ball to the overlapping Bertrand onto the wing or just inside the halfspace. We can see this below.

Despite picking up an in injury over the summer which ruled him out of the first part of the season, Bertrand has been very good since returning to the side. Despite being known as an attacking full-back, we have seen a large improvement in the defensive side of Bertrand’s game this season. 


Goalimpact chart of Ryan Bertrand.
The second pattern of play, this also involving width, uses width on the right rather than left. This build-up is the same as the first pattern, with Pelle laying the ball off to the player behind him. This player however, will look to pass the ball out to Mane, as quickly as possible, ideally with just one touch. This player will look to play a driven, flat pass out to Mane as this travels quickest to him compared to a high pass, which would give the opposition full-back more time get out to press Mane.
As we have read, Pelle is a key component in all Saints patterns of play in attack. His strength and ability hold the ball up, as well as bringing others into play is something we have seen him significantly improve upon this season. The ‘Italian dancer’ has 6 goals and 5 assists in 14 games this season, putting him 10th in the Premier League scoring charts, ahead of players such as Alexis Sanchez and Christian Benteke. Pelle’s performance against Bournemouth was a particular standout.

Goalimpact chart of Graziano Pelle.

Saints Pendulum Midfield

As well as having a plan for preventing the opposition building from the back, and defending higher up the pitch, every team also needs a structure for defending deeper, ie in their own half. Some teams go with a man-orientated system in their own half, as this can limit the individual quality of the opposition, however, Koeman is very much a spatially-orientated defender and sets his side up this way. 

Southampton’s midfield works as a sort of pendulum, it relies highly on lateral shifting and good concentration. 

When Davis is bypassed, he retreats into a position alongside Wanyama and Clasie/Romeu, forming an almost flat midfield three. An image of this is below.

The way this midfield structure works is as follows: When the opposition have the ball in the centre, the three remains flat and no-one should leave the line to press unless the player begins advancing dangerously. If the ball is moved to a halfspace, or the wing, the ball-near outer centre-mid will spring into a press, as this happens, the other two midfielders shift laterally to cover the space left by the presser. For example, I’m the image above, if Ramires passed the ball to Willian(wide right), Romeu would leave his position to press Willian, Wanyama would move closer to the touchline to cover space, while Davis would also shift a few yards left. Davis though, has to be aware of a possible switch of play in this situation, and mustn’t get dragged too far over or Azpilicueta(out of the picture, near left touchline)would be alone and have lots of space to exploit.

Playing Out from the Back

Using the aforementioned pattern of play every single time Southampton attack is obviously not the case. Clipping the ball into Pelle’s feet would become predictable, easy to defend and most of all, make Southampton lack almost any threat whatsoever. As well as using the presence of Pelle up front, Saints make full use of the technical ability new signing Virgin van Dijk has in his locker. The Dutchman, who recently joined from Celtic for a fee of around £11.5 million is extremely skilful, something which is becoming increasingly common in the modern game. Van Dijk is more than willing to drive into midfield when the opportunity opens up, as well as using his passing ability to start attacks from deep.

In order to make full use of Van Dijk’s ability, Southampton’s double-pivot must make movements which open up space and passing lanes for Van Dijk to use.This is a situation from the match against Swansea. The black line shows where Van Dijk could dribble into, while the dotted white line shows the open lane to Tadic.

This is a situation from the match against Swansea. The black line shows where Van Dijk could dribble into, while the dotted white line shows the open lane to Tadic.

In the above image, we can see that Van Dijk has a wonderful opportunity to start a dangerous attack for his team. If he was to dribble into the open space, this would force a Swansea player to leave this position to press him, therefore leaving a space free for another Southampton player to move into. As well as having space to dribble into, Van Dijk also has an open passing lane to winger Dusan Tadic, who would then be in a 1-on-1 situation against Naughton, a situation where he has qualitative superiority. 
Tadic is one of the best in one-on-one situations in the Premier League, his pace and dribbling skills are an absolute handful for any player. His defensive contribution is where he lacks slightly, but in Koeman’s slightly passive defensive system this isn’t too much of a problem for Tadic.


Goalimpact chart of Dusan Tadic.
The cause of this space being opened up for Van Dijk is because of the pivot’s movements. Ward-Prowse has moved almost in between the centre-backs, giving Van Dijk an option to receive a one-two if there is no vertical passing options. Wanyama has began to move away from the left halfspace and into the centre, to create this space in the left halfspace for Van Dijk. Steven Davis movement is also key, he however, makes this movement frequently due to it being a part of Saints pattern of play.

Intelligent movement from Davis is something we have seen frequently over the last few months. Rather than being used a pivot, he is now playing in a more advanced role, where he has more freedom to make movements which have a bigger impact on his team’s attacking side of the game.


Goalimpact chart of Steven Davis.


Southampton’s shaky start is beginning to show signs of disappearing and consistency even seems to be on the cards for Saints. After going on a nice run of just one loss in 10, the benefits of Ronald Koeman’s organised system are beginning to show. The rise in form from Mane, Tadic and Pelle has been a large factor in Southampton’s improvement, however, it is no coincidence that after the intelligent pattern of play was introduced, the attackers form began to rise. 


Koeman’s men, are unlikely to break the top six of Arsenal, Chelsea(likely Leicester in place of Chelsea this season), Liverpool, Man City, Man United and Spurs for a number of years, so will again aim for a finish as high as possible below sixth. Ideally, Saints would finish seventh again this season and scrape their way into the Europa League group stages this time around, rather than crashing out at the last qualifying hurdle, in order to get that chance though, they must overcome the strength of outsiders Crystal Palace and Stoke who both look deserving of the seventh place spot this season.

Everton-Team Analysis


  Following Everton’s terrific 2013/14 season,an 11th place in 2014/15 was rather disappointing for not just Evertonians but football fans all around,after seeing Roberto Martinez instil some very attractive football at the club. Although there were times when we saw glimpses of last season’s form,Everton just lacked something this season. In this article,I will look to find out what was missing this season,but I won’t just be focusing on the negatives,Everton’s all round game will be analysed by myself.
One of Everton’s main problems this season was arguably the lack of depth in certain areas. When key players such as John Stones,Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas suffered injuries or became unavailable for other reason,Everton struggled in these particular areas. Due to Everton’s Europa League run,this meant they had to keep players fit throughout the whole season to play in two games a week usually,this wasn’t something Everton managed and the team definitely suffered at times because of this. Players that have become rusty and have next to no match experience in the last year were forced to be brought back into the side. Antolin Alcaraz,Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman became regulars in the team for a good number of weeks due to not just injuries but also fatigue,due to the high number of fixtures played by the Blues in short periods of time. Everton were certainly far from having consistent first eleven throughout the season and forced rotation was high throughout the campaign,I will look at this next.

Tim Howard was in goals for the majority of the season,other than the short stint he spent on the sidelines due to injury. While he was injured,Joel took his place in net,the Spaniard really impressing Everton fans with not just his goalkeeping skills but also his passion. Many Everton fans would have preferred Joel to remain in goal for the rest of the season.

Everton’s back four would have likely been the only consistent area of the team throughout the season if it weren’t for injuries. Seamus Coleman picked up an injury early in the season meaning Tony Hibbert had to fill in for a number of games,most notably the Merseyside Derby in which Hibbert performed surprisingly well against Raheem Sterling. Coleman’s main job on the right flank is to support Mirallas(Lennon later on in the season),he must get crosses into the box and provide width for the team when Mirallas goes infield. Coleman’s goalscoring record for a full-back isn’t too bad either,he often gets to the back post when the ball is on the left wing and often,Coleman will get himself a goal. The teams centre-backs are an English pairing. Phil Jagielka,as captain,played all but one game. Jagielka is the more limited defender of the two. John Stones on the other hand,is more of a ball-playing defender,he will often drive out of defence when space opens up and play long diagonal passes to either flank,due to Stones often playing passes out wide,he plays on the right,on his stronger foot to enhance his ability to play these passes. Leighton Baines,is a key player in Everton’s team. He is often the main source of width on the left,relied upon heavily to give Lukaku the service he would like from the left flank. Baines movement is more varied than Coleman’s,he will go inside on the underlap more often than Coleman,who relies more on his pace on the overlap than skill on the underlap,as Baines does.

Everton’s double pivot is made up of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. However,Muhamed Besic has often played alongside Barry in the pivot,allowing McCarthy to play further forward,this would be in a 4-3-3 formation,like the one played in the 1-1 draw at Anfield. Barry rarely supports attack,far more often remaining behind the ball to protect the defence when the opposition are in transition to attack or to help circulation if an opening doesn’t arise. McCarthy is the main ball-winner in the pivot,often being dragged out of position to press,however this is fine as Barry will cover for him. Everton’s wide midfielders varied throughout the season.Mirallas,Barkley,Pienaar,Lennon,Oviedo and Atsu all played as wingers in the 4-2-3-1 throughout the campaign. When Mirallas played out on the right,his varied movements were a very good tool to have on the wing. On the left wing however,this was at times a problem for Everton. Ross Barkley is certainly not a natural left winger and this could be seen at times. His movements were almost always based on cutting inside,this made him very predictable and easy to defend. In the ’10’ role was often Steven Naismith,however he played more as a second striker rather than a typical number 10. He was often forced to drift out to the left and swap positions with Barkley,this limited his influence as Naismith is another player who isn’t a natural winger.

Up front for the Blues was often Romelu Lukaku,however,Samuel Eto’o,Naismith and Kone were also used as striker. When Eto’o or Naismith played up front,this often forced Lukaku out to the right wing,somewhere he expressed his discomfort at playing. 


When pressing,Everton adopt a 4-4-2 formation. Naismith and Lukaku being the two up top. This pair’s main job is simply to block simple passing lanes from CB’s to CM’s,if Lukaku or Naismith doesn’t manage to block the pass,the winger move into the halfspaces and attempt to suffocate space in central midfield.Lukaku and Naismith are not physically demanded of until they are defending in their own half,at this point,Everton take up their usual 4-2-3-1,Lukaku pressing the CB’s intensely,Naismith man-marking the DM to limit his influence and prevent simple circulation. Everton’s whole team bar Lukaku and Howard at this point,take up man-marking duties. They all track the player they are marking and press them quickly when they receive the ball. 


Defending Deep

When Everton are defending their first third,the oppositions final third,Barry and McCarthy do not press such large areas of the pitch,they are more limited in their pressing and remain central mostly. When the opposition moves the ball onto either wing and a cross looks likely,Barry will drop alongside Stones and Jagielka to form a back five. This allows Everton to defend their own box in larger numbers than opposition have in the box. 


Possession and Build-Up

In the first stage of possession,when Howard has the ball,both CB’s split to the edge of the 18 yard box and the FB’s take up positions high up the to create more space for the CB’s,Howard then distributes the ball to a CB.  

 When the CB receives the ball from Howard,the CM’s then look to open up a lane for them to dribble or pass into. They do this by moving into the opposite halfspace,dragging players away from the lane. Circulation will continue until there is an opportunity for a player to drive into space or there is a good chance to play a through ball for Lukaku,Mirallas or Baines. Barkley will always come inside to play as a second ’10’ alongside Naismith,this gives Baines lots of space on the overlap. 

Final 3rd Chance Creation

For a team with a striker with the physical presence of Lukaku,Everton certainly don’t put a lot of croses into the oppositions box,Everton ranked 17th in the Premier League in terms of crosses. Everton far more often hold the ball up out wide and wait for a late runner on the edge of the box,they then often work the ball out to the edge of the box for a shot. When an Everton player is driving at the defence centrally,Lukaku and Naismith will often split to either side of the 18 yard box to open up space for a shot or for themselves to be slipped through on goal.

Areas of Weakness

An area in which Everton particularly struggled in was their weakness in the defence to attack transition. This meant Everton rarely made the most of counter-attacks,these often being slowed down by players being weak in this transition. Everton’s strongest player in the defence to attack transition is Ross Barkley,however his ability in this transition couldn’t be used as much as Everton would have liked due to him being on the left-wing,this meant he saw less of the ball and when he did receive it,he was forced to cut inside onto his right foot if he wanted to take a shot,this slowing the counter-attack down. Below we can see how Barkley’s options are limited and how Everton lack strength on the counter. 


This issue was eventually addressed by Roberto Martinez,in late January. Aaron Lennon was signed on loan from Tottenham,his raw pace really helped Everton in this transition as it meant counter-attacks were mor soften successful in creating chances. Everton based the majority of counter-attacks on the right wing following Lennon’s arrival. Everton often overloaded the right wing and right halfspace due to them having four very strong players in the transition on their right side.   


Another weakness in Everton’s game was their lack of a ‘needle player'(a player who can pinpoint passes through short spaces and operate we’ll in very tight areas). This meant the Blues struggled when teams played a low,compact defensive block and were limited space. Leon Osman slightly improved this when he began to play more games later in the season.


Everton certainly didn’t have their best season of recent times,especially compared to their terrific 2013/14 performance. Some would blame it on the Europa League’s draining schedule but I believe it was down to the poor addressing of issues. Next season,Everton will be looking to get top six and over the summer,Roberto Martinez is most definitely expected to spend some cash. A winger will probably be his main priority,the return of Aaron Lennon or Gerard Deulofeu may be a possibility. With Tom Cleverley already added to squad,this bulks up Everton’s central midfield and at no cost,Cleverley joining on a free transfer from Manchester United. Martinez must address his tactical and personnel issues over the summer if Everton are to reach the heights of 13/14 again.

Thiago Alcantara-Position Analysis

Thiago Alacantara is a recently turned 24 year-old Spaniard.Alacantara is the son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho and the older brother of Barcelona youngster Rafinha.Thiago mainly plays as a central-midfielder for Bayer München in Germany.On Saturday he made his first professional start in over a year,following a knee ligament tear,on Saturday against Eintracht Frankfurt.Thiago showed glimpses of his talent and at times dictated the play.This article isn’t to dwell on Thiago’s superb talent,although I do concede how enjoyable that would be.This article is in fact to attempt to determine Thiago’s best position. 

Thiago progressed nicely through Barcelona’s famed La Masia as an attacking midfielder,however,on his breakthrough into the first team,Pep Guardiola found what a position which looked like it could compliment Thiago’s footballing abilities to the maximum.Thiago played in the ‘Number 8’ position,slotting in nicely when the legendary Xavi needed a rest or was injured.The more Thiago played,the more composed and comfortable he looked in his new role.As the season wore on and fantastic Thiago performances became more frequent,football fans around the world realised the talent this kid had.Next season,the 2011/12,began with a bang for Thiago,he started the Spanish Supercopa match against Real Madrid,putting in a brilliant performance in a 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu.After two more solid seasons with the Catalan club,a few European giants,including Manchester United and Bayern Munich came calling.

After a long summer of negotiating and decision making for Thiago,he finally decided to sign for Bayer München.His previous manager Pep Guardiola was now manager there and with possibly tutors such as Philip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger,Thiago’s reasons for the transfer were certainly understandable.Thiago made his debut for the club in a 4-2 loss to Borussia Dortmund in the DFL Supercup.Thiago quickly became a regular in the Bavarian’s starting line-ups,forming a brilliant midfield of Alacantara,Kroos and Lahm.Bastian Schweinsteiger’s place in the team was under serious threat due to the midfield’s outstanding performances.Schweinsteiger’s constant want to play vertical passes was limiting his playing time,Guardiola preferring a patient build-up,something Thiago excelled at.After solidifying his place in Bayern’s starting 11,Thiago began to impress football fans around the globe with his performances.He began to develop into one of the best young centre-midfielders in Europe,but sadly,his season was ended by a knee ligament tear.After suffering rehab for over a year.Thiafo returned to action against Dortmund,he came on as a substitute to help Bayern keep hold of their 1-0 lead.This was a real turning point in the game,Thiago calmed the game down and helped Bayern regain control of possession,his patience in build-ups really impacted negatively on Dortmund’s gegenpressing.


Below is a brilliant video by @AdinOsmanbasic,it is of Thiago’s wonderful performance,topped of with a beautiful scissor-kick,against Stuttgart.He is playing in the ‘Number 8’ role in the clip.

The clip below shows Thiago in all the positions mentioned below.

During his time at Bayern,Thiago has mostly played alongside Xabi Alonso or Phillip Lahm in a double-pivot.When playing Alonso,Thiago is often given more licence to go forward.With Lahm however,Thiago can often be seen operating as a deep-lying playmaker,him and Lahm taking turns to go forwards.Lahm often talks Thiago through the game,acting as an on-pitch mentor,this can only be positive in Thiago’s development.On his return from injury,Thiago has slotted straight into the Bayern line-up.He has again played in the ‘Number 8’ position,with Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger taking up deep-lying playmaker and box-to-box roles. When Xabi Alonso is back in the Bayern team,he will take Schweinsteiger’s place,allowing Lahm to move further forward,Alonso operating as deep-lying playmaker.Alonso is the short-term replacement for Toni Kroos,while Thiago is hotly tipped to be the long-term solution.During his time at Bayern,Thiago has mostly played alongside Xabi Alonso or Phillip Lahm in a double-pivot.

Now to the main topic,Thiago’s best position.Obviously,the area Thiago operates best in is the centre of the pitch but the options of positions in that area are almost endless.The main options for Thiago’s positions would be the following:
Defensive Midfielder/Recycler

Deep-Lying Playmaker

Number 8

Attacking Midfielder/Number 10

I will look at these in order from most defensive to attacking.

Under Tito Villanova at Barcelona,Thiago began to improve his defensive skills.He often supported Sergio Busquets in the defensive phase,something which he previously hadn’t done.So far during his time at Bayern,Thiago’s improved defensive and tactical skills have really shown,Pep Guardiola’s deployment of him in a deeper role has forced Thiago to be the one protecting Bayern’s defence.He has done well in this role but this doesn’t seem to be the right position for Thiago right now,however,with master tactician Pep Guardiola as mentor,his tactical brain will most certainly improve,an extremely useful attribute in the ‘Number 6’ role. 

This role is certainly one of the favourites for Thiago’s strongest position.His terrific range of passing could be taken advantage of in this role,the thought of Thiago spreading a wonderful pass to Bayern’s rapid wingers is enough to excite any Bayern fan.Playing in this role at a young age could limit Thiago’s development though.If he isn’t given an opportunity to showcase his attacking talents and skills then this could hinder his all round game.

The ‘Number 8’ role is the position Thiago has the most experience in.He mostly operated here during his time at Barça and has played here a number of times for Bayern.This position would give him freedom to roam forward or even dictate the play from deep if he wanted,this role would best be deployed in a midfield three,something Bayern currently use,meaning he it would be a perfect fit.The ‘Number 8’ role is arguably the best position for Thiago to play in just,as this would allow him to be a well-rounded player.

Thiago’s position as a youngster.This is the position that Thiago honed his skills in during his time in Barcelona’s youth academy.His eye of the needle skills served him well in this position,often making the final pass and crafting out a chance for a forward.The ‘Number 10’ role is often one taken by younger midfield players,this is because it is a good position to develop attacking attributes,there is time later on to develop physical attributes.

Thiago Alacantara is a very well-rounded central midfielder.He has terrific technical attributes as well as being tactically sound.The main area of his game that he needs to work on is his physicality.These two factors would point to the deep-lying playmaker role.However,playing in such a deep role at such an early age would limit Thiago’s use of certain attributes,his flair being the main one.A role Thiago is already comfortable in is the ‘Number 8’ role.The ‘Number 8’ role is in my opinion Thiago’s best position just now,it allows him to develop all the needed attributes to become a very well-rounded midfielder as well as being a terrific asset to whatever team he plays for.Later in his career,Thiago could possibly mature into a deep-lying playmaker when he has all the necessary attributes.