Benfica 1-2 Napoli

A key encounter in Group B of the 2016/17 edition of the UEFA Champions League, Napoli’s meeting with Portuguese outfit Benfica would ultimately decide the outcome of their Champions League group, confirming who would progress to the last 16 or drop into the Europa League. Both sitting on eight points, Rui Vitoria’s Benfica would be conscious of the fact any of Sarri’s Napoli or Turkish side Beskitas could all progress depending on how the night’s results unfolded.


Eduardo was the goalkeeper at the base of Benfica’s 4-4-2. Semedo was the right-back, with Luisao and Lindelof the central defenders. Almeida left-back. Salvio, Pizzi, Fesja and Cervi were the midfielders. Gonçalo Guedes and were the two strikers.

Pepe Reina was Napoli’s goalkeeper. Albanian Hysaj was the Italian side’s right full-back, while Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly played in the middle of the backline, Ghoulam left. Young midfielder Diawara played as the 6, with Allan and Hamsik based slightly higher on either side of him. Callejon, Gabbidiani and Insigne made up the Naples side’s front three.

Exploitation of Midfield Pressing

Pressing in a mid block from a 4-5-1/4-1-4-1, Napoli’s interiors Allan and Hamsik had intense pressing roles as Benfica brought the ball into midfield spaces, whilst the young 6 Diawara behind them them, also had a relatively intense shifting role in order to prevent clean and consistent Benfica progression through the centre or halfspaces.


With Manolo Gabbidiani solely pressing Benfica’s centre-backs, not overly intensely but enough to force quicker decisions from Luisao and Lindelof, Allan and Hamsik had important roles to ensure that despite the midfield being the main area Napoli wanted to press in, there was compactness between the first and second lines of pressure and Benfica couldn’t easily receive between the lines. Particularly when the ball was in their halfspace and Benfica were beginning to progress into midfield, though also as soon as Gabbidiani was bypassed, Allan and Hamsik would press to prevent easy progression through the centre, and ideally force Benfica backwards. As one midfielder pressed, Diawara would shift over into the halfspace to cover the vacated space.


Generally, this was effective when the two non-pressing midfielders (situationally) shifted efficiently and covered the space to close vertical passing lanes through the centre or halfspaces. 

Expectedly there were some problems with a system based on such intense shifting constantly throughout the match in what is usually the most hectic area of the pitch. Due to either physical limitations, lapse in concentration or effective manipulation from Benfica, there was the recurring theme of an open diagonal lane to a Benfica man in between the lines.
 

When Benfica baited Napoli’s midfielders to press by circulating in front of the midfield line, they would often force both Allan and Hamsik to press by playing horizontal passes between either halfspace. This meant Diawara was tasked with shifting from halfspace to halfspace quicker than the ball to cover the gap momentarily, obviously an impossible task. This meant the space behind each presser was opened and Benfica’s opposite CM was able to play a diagonal pass to a teammate who was positioned in the halfspace between lines.

High Line Condenses Game

Defending very close to the halfway line on the majority of occasions, Benfica used a very high defensive line, which also pushed the two following lines up in a bid to firstly, limit the space Napoli had in their possession progression and secondly, increase the possibility of Napoli running into offside positions when using their frequent vertical movement in behind.

Allowing Benfica to maintain defensive access on the ball in Napoli build-up and early progression, as well as generally retaining compactness, Benfica pressed Napoli in a 4-4-2 relatively high up the pitch. Although this wasn’t a main objective of Benfica’s high line, it did have it’s reasons. The Portuguese side would look to disrupt Napoli’s rhythm in their well drilled yet fluid build-up in an attempt to deter consistent and clean progression. Napoli however, faced this with and generally escaped Benfica’s pressing very well, utilising small overloads and their combination ability to beat and at time even manipulate and exploit the press.



Perhaps the main reason for Benfica’s high line was an attempt at a slightly different method of defending Napoli’s runs in behind the defence. 



As shown above, Callejon receiving high diagonals in the final third is a pivotal aspect of Napoli breaking into these dangerous areas. Callejon’s diagonal runs off the right wing are excellent and have in the past caused opposition great problems. Benfica attempted to combat this by stepping up even higher, leaving more space. Although seemingly a strange method, it forced Napoli’s runners to time runs to perfection, otherwise risking offside, as such a large space is now considered offside. Callejon, though excellent at timing his runs (“Callejon can see the offside line better than the linesman”) naturally found it difficult to time his runs to perfection every single time. As well as this, Napoli’s deep distributors were forced to play higher, floated passes over Benfica’s defence, as passes with too much pace couldn’t be caught due to runs needing to be delayed. These slow passes in the air gave Benfica an imperative second or so to recover and immediately get into positions to defend the spaces surrounding the ball before it had even landed. Diawara attempted a number of chipped through balls, particularly to Gabbidiani’s vertical runs, but Luisao and Lindelof were comfortable at mopping them up in the air or as the ball reached the ground, situations the pair were both superior to the Italian striker in, due to their aerial ability and pace. This was perhaps a reason for Napoli’s lack of connectivity with their front man.

Credit to @11tegen11



In an attempt to get in behind the high line of Benfica using runners, Napoli used a specific pattern and methods of non-verbal communication (specific movements as a trigger) in order to gain access to these spaces. Napoli’s left sided attacker Lorenzo Insigne would often drift into his favoured area of the left halfspace, opening up the wing. Ghoulam now began to move forward into the vacated space. As he began to make his run, a high diagonal from deep would be shaped to play, Ghoulam would then accelerate in behind Benfica high on the left wing to receive the diagonal pass. Due to the distance of the pass being longer, and Ghoulam’s run not risking offside, more pace could be played on the pass, making it more difficult to defend against. 

Conclusion

Progressing through to the last 16 as winners of Group C, Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli will be satisfied with their performance throughout the group, even if not as comfortable as they would’ve liked. With Polish striker Arek Milik already back in rehab training despite suffering an ACL injury a couple of months ago, perhaps one of Napoli’s main issues, lack of a quality number 9, will be solved sooner than expected. Benfica’s rigid defence in their high block proved to be a difficult door for Napoli to unlock, though the introduction of Belgian forward Dries Mertens after 57 minutes added some much needed verticality and direct running through the centre and proved to be the required key to unlock Benfica. 

The Portuguese side showed some promising aspects tactically, and deservedly also progress to the second round.

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Serie A Transfer Analysis: Emanuele Giaccherini and Miralem Pjanic

​​​​The awakening of the new football season is nearly upon us “Commuters” of the footballing society and as always, there is a sense of optimism, and scepticism regarding the widely renowned annual transfer window. Considering the wide variety of transfers already completed during the summer of 2016, a minute collection of chosen key transfer deriving from the five preeminent leagues of European football have been carefully selected to be analysed within this series of upcoming articles. The selected signings will be assessed on the following;

– How the signings attributes (talents, tactical tendencies) will benefit their new respective outfits.

– How the player will be deployed within the teams system/formation.

Part Two: Serie A

Struck by a lightning transfer window regarding the activity of current champions Juventus, the Serie A has already overseen a great sense of change following Paul Pogba’s World record transfer, resigning for Manchester United as well as Gonzalo Higuain, the revival of the traditional #9, shockingly switching Naples for Turin. 

One transfer deal though not expensive nor extravagant, yet rather intriguing however is S.S.C Napoli’s recruiting of Italian midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini. Bought from Premier League outfit Sunderland for an approximate fee of €1.5m, Giaccherini was never able to fulfill expectations on a consistent basis in England’s top flight, however his versatility will arguably prove to be very beneficial for last season’s Serie A runners up.  

Moreover, a particular quality already taken note of is the versatility immersed by Giaccherini; though a left or right sided Winger by trade, the Italian International is capable of functioning in a central midfield role. The ability to perform admirably within a secondary position was exemplified by Giaccherini during the 2016 UEFA European Championships, playing a key part in the Antonio Conte’s tactical mastermind. Even though the then Italian National team coach idolises and preaches the ways of attacking football, the newly appointed Chelsea FC manager deployed a side that maintained defensive structure and broke effectively on the counter attack, spearheaded by the work rate and continuative pressurising of the five-man midfield. 


The counter attack deployed within the Italia’s gameplay comprised of progressive buildup from defence which was exemplified by the vision and composure of Leonardo Bonucci, as well as the high press and positional play of the midfield. The combination of both aspects was effective as a result of interchanges between defence and midfield which was made possible by the productive movement of Giaccherini. Another quality displayed by Napoli’s summer signing, the movement and perfectly timed runs of Giaccherini exposed spaces between defensive lines, creating space and at times goalscoring opportunities. One crowning example of Giaccherini’s productive movement, was the winger’s only goal of the 15th European Championships coming against Dark Horses Belgium during Italy’s first group stage encounter. A well timed and executed long pass from Bonucci was met by an equally timed run made by Giaccherini, which triggered the space left exposed by the Belgium defence. The high press of the Belgium defence proved to be no match for Giaccherini’s movement. The buildup to the goal itself also exemplified the significance of Bonucci tactically; Bonucci drifted into a midfield position while maintaining possession, dominanting creative impact in the process. 


The short bursts from midfield areas offered by Giaccherini offer a direct option when deploying the counter attack, The making of runs between defensive lines could be put to good use by Napoli. For example, Napoli do have deep-lying Playmaker Jorginho at their disposal; interchanges between Jorginho and Giaccherini within midfield areas would prove effective on the break, or even during possessive buildup play. 


Returning to Emanuele Giaccherini’s sense of versatility, this specific quality means that in order to fit Giaccherini within the starting XI, Napoli do not have to change the preferred 4-3-3 formation; Giaccherini could be deployed as either a right of left sided Winger, or as the left third of a central midfield trio. What Napoli can also benefit from by deploying Emanuele Giaccherini, is the subsequent tactical variations enabled; Giaccherini is a drastic contrast in comparison with Napoli’s first choice wingers during the 2015-16 campaign. José  Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne are wide midfielders/forwards who maintain posession while grounded within Napoli’s style and are expertly adept in 1 versus 1 duels. However, Giaccherini instead is more adequate without possession, making diagonal runs, as well as creating space between and through defensive lines. The unorthodox outlook to wing-play offered by the new signing was shown in glimpses while featuring for Sunderland in the Premier League. One example of this, deriving from the 2013-14 campaign oversaw a Sunderland counter attack, in which Giaccherini, making a forward run from out wide and then evading a poor Cardiff City defensive line, before meeting a clinical pass from Fabio Borini. 


The differentiation between Giaccherini and Callejon/Insigne means that if the Italian was to be deployed ahead of either, a sense of balance would be implemented into wide areas, which offers a plausible tactical variation. 

In addition, the effectiveness regarding movement without possession of the ball may convey the ability to hassle opposition defenders directly, perhaps when pressurising from the front line. Yet would this suit the style of football already tried and tested by Napoli? The combination of Giaccherini and Napoli intertwine efficiently, in the sense that the Serie A side do play swift and exciting attacking football, with wide players involved considerably. However, Napoli’s chosen style is possession orientated which means that if Giaccherini was to play conistently, the quality of movement that was very effective for Italy may not be utilised, due to the lack of long passes and counter attacks. In sheer retrospect, Giaccherini’s passing statistics indicate otherwise. An acute passer, Emanuele Giaccherini boasts a rather high success rate during the European Championships (82% pass success), the tendancy to play short passes on Giaccherini’s behalf will be beneficial for Napoli, as the ability to play short passes is necessary for maintaining possessional structure, and allows interchanges which consequently enable the ability to control the tempo of a game. 

While on loan at Bologna from Sunderland, Giaccherini played a pivotal role in the sides survival from Relegation to Serie B, helping the “rossoblu” cement a 14th place finish. The diminutive midfielders importance to Bologna was emphasised by being their second top goalscorer, scoring on 7 occasions. Most of the goals scored by the Italian International occurred within the 18-yard box, linking to the ability to find space in dangerous areas through well timed runs. One goal to remember however was a swerving free kick. Could Giaccherini take the role of primary free kick take away from Marek Hamsik? 

Most likely to be deployed in his conventional role as a Winger,  Giaccherini could be deployed however in a slightly deeper role as a result of positive performances during the European Championships. If Giaccherini is to be deployed as a central midfielder, the midfield itself will need to be compact, and cover the space left exposed between midfield and defence following the making of advancing runs. This is primarily due to the lack of defensive quality on Giaccherini’s behalf. In addition, because of the overall fee paid to secure the wingers services and the age of the respective player, it can be argued that Giaccherini is unlikely to be ahead of either José Callejon or Lorenzo Insigne in the Napoli pecking order. Both Callejon and Insigne made more assists with 13 and 11 respectively. Regardless of this possibility, Emanuele Giaccherini is an admirable squad player who boasts a excellent amount of experience having played in England, Italy and also featuring in the FIFA World Cup.

S.S.C Napoli are obviously not the only Serie A side to have acquired new talent from the coveted transfer market; reigning champions Juventus have made many an addition following the departures of both Alvaro Morata to Real Madrid, and Paul Pogba, signing for Manchester United in a World record deal worth £95.3m. One of The Old Lady’s preeminent signings was Miralem Pjanic, transfering from A.S Roma for a justifiable fee of €34m. 

Within a new look side, can Pjanic help guide Juventus to securing a 6th consecutive title? 

An excellent passer of the ball, Miralem Pjanic possesses vision of the highest regard, which enables the ability to execute accurate and productive passes, either short or long; while starring for a youthful Roma side, Pjanic was the creative cog, displaying tactical prowess through passes between defensive lines, diagonal passes allowing wide players to influence attacking build up, or long passes over the top of the opposition defence. This “knack” of creating goalscoring opportunities through undeniably superb passes was exemplified through arguably the pass of the 2014-15 Serie A season; during an encounter in which Roma faced Cesena, Pjanic though surrounded by a clog of opposition players, played a magnificent pass which seared through the defensive line into the path of Mattia Destro who was ironically unable to score. Many of the key passes made by Pjanic do result in goals however; Pjanic was the joint highest maker of assists during the 2015-16 campaign with 12. 


The ability to play passes of such magnitude theorises the arguable possibility of Juventus deploying quick, direct interchanges which would be orchestrated by Miralem Pjanic. Offering a different dimension to fellow Juventus midfielders regarding decision making and passing range, Pjanic could control the tempo and speed in which Juventus play, subsequently connoting that Juventus’s build up in general could revolve around the creativity of Pjanic. For example, one possible interchange could be a direct one-two passing interchange between Pjanic and a respective full back, allowing the raiding full back (Dani Alves or Alex Sandro) time to find space in offensive wide areas while Pjanic would be attracting large amounts of pressure. This example would function effectively within a counter attack emphasised by the impact of the exposing of wide spaces. Juventus’s playing style could become much quicker and direct under the creative influence of Pjanic and arguably even more so if Pjanic were to be deployed in a deeper central midfield role.


As a result of his superb passing range, as well as extrodinary vision, Pjanic is able to take up a variety of midfield roles. For example, playing as a “Regista”, or “6” in front of the defensive three of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chellini would enable Pjanic to control possessional build up from deeper areas, linking to the possible interchanges with respective fullbacks. Positioned in a deeper area of midfield would allow Pjanic to oversee the whole of the pitch, which would give more time for Pjanic to pick the greater pass to make. The signing of Pjanic in itself has brought comparisons between the Bosnian playmaker and Andrea Pirlo. The Italian deep-lying midfielder was instrumental to the success of Juventus, featuring in a star studded midfield alongside, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba, who Pjanic has perhaps replaced in an unorthodox fashion. The lack of defensive competence on behalf of Pjanic may become a cause for concern, yet alongside two energetic midfielders who are able to do the following; cover ground well, tackle and break down opposition play as well as make advancing runs to offer further options during chance creation, Pjanic would have licence to orchestrate from deep with ease.  


Furthermore, because Massimo Allegri typically deploys a 3-5-2 formation, Pjanic could be deployed as a left sided central midfielder, similarly to when playing with Roma. Playing further forward as an “8” could increase the amount of goals Pjanic may score, but would not allow the midfielder to dictate buildup as effectively, due to the requirement that is increase of movement without possession of the ball. 

Or could Pjanic shine brightly as a “Trequartista”/”Enganche”? Pjanic certainly possesses the credentials in terms of creating chances, admirable close control of the ball, and the decrease in overall covering of ground would suit Pjanic. If he was to play as a “10”, Pjanic would be the focal point of all counter attacks, maintaining a fixed position slightly behind the main strikers, receiving the ball convinenetly to play direct passes from midfield. Also, being fixated within the “10” space would mean further passing options in dangerous areas of the pitch, a lack of space congestion in deeper midfield areas, as well as forcing the defence to play a high press in order to close down spaces between attack and defence, which would allow passes to be played “in behind” the defensive block. It can be said that Pjanic does offer Allegri an array of tactical experimentations.

As mentioned previously, Miralem Pjanic has been credited as the replacement for Paul Pogba’s, following the French prodigy’s transfer to Manchester United. Though an unorthodox replacement, Pjanic offers qualities that arguably suit the style of Juventus more so than qualities displayed by Pogba during his four-year spell with the Italian giants; whereas Paul Pogba would drive forward, carrying the ball from midfield into attack, Pjanic is more inclined on playing a quick, direct pass, or deploying short dribbles influenced by deft touches. Though Pogba is dynamic, and complemented the like of Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Sami Khedira, Pjanic could have a greater effect on the team, through maintaining his position and  assisting teammates making valid runs rather than aiming to win the game by himself. Both Pogba and Pjanic topped the assist charts in the Serie A last season, with 12 apiece, yet Pjanic is a constant threat from set pieces and will likely be the primary free kick and corner kick taker, which may allow the midfielder to expand on the total of assists made for Roma last season. What has brought criticism towards Pogba, is that Pogba does not behold a specialised midfield role. Though versatile, it is in my opinion, very difficult to define the Frenchman’s perfect position; is Pogba tactically disciplined enough to play as a “Trequartista”? Will playing as one half of a pivot relinquish Pogba’s ability to break down opposition structure through dribbling?

However, though Pjanic is an excellent buy, Pre-season fixtures have shown that Pjanic cannot lead the team on his own. With Marchisio injured, and Khedira prone to injury, Juventus need to  

Once again, venture into the transfer market, in order to secure the services of an energetic midfield dynamo. Pjanic would intertwine excellently with a physical presence in midfield. Who could the next potential acquisition be? The Old Lady had been linked with Hector Herrera of FC Porto; a Mexican international with notions of a box-to-box style, Leandro Parades who plays for A.S Roma and the experienced Luis Gustavo. 

It is possible for Pjanic to be deployed as either a “6”, “8”, or even as a “10”. But wherever he plays, Pjanic offers quality to be reckoned with, and as a result, Pjanic could become the fulcrum of a new look Juventus. 

Barcelona 1-0 Inter Milan: 28/04/2010

In what has been branded as one of the most exciting, interesting and intriguing manager duels of the past decade, Pep Guardiola vs. Jose Mourinho always promises to be an exhilarating battle. Whether it is Barca-Real, Bayern-Chelsea or in this case Barca-Inter, there should always be time for a look at the tactical side of their meetings. In this analysis I will be taking a look back to 2010, when Barcelona met Inter Milan in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final.

Barcelona went into this match 3-1 down on aggregate, with what looked to be a very tough uphill task, especially considering Inter manager Jose Mourinho’s ability to ‘park the bus’ and defend a lead. Some put Barca’s defeat at the San Siro down to the two-day bus journey they were forced upon due to a volcanic ash cloud which prevented them flying to Milan. Despite this seeming to be a valid excuse, Barça ultimately weren’t good enough on the night and Inter’s attacking prowess, not something Mou’s teams are usually renowned for, caused havoc for Barca defensively, to put themselves in a solid position to qualify.

  

In goals for Barcelona was Victor Valdes. Ahead of him a back-four of Dani Alves, Yaya Toure, Pique and Gabriel Milito. Playing as a 6 was Busquets, the two interiors were Xavi Hernandez and Keita(please ignore the error on the graphic and imagine Keita in Iniesta’s place). Barca’s front three was made up of Messi, Ibrahimovic and Pedro Rodriguez.

Playing in an extremely deep defensive block which resembled something similar to a 4-2-3-1 was Internazionale. Julie Cesar was the goalkeeper, he was protected by Maicon, Lucio, Samuel and Zanetti. As the right defensive midfielder was Esteban Cambiasso, slightly to the left of him was Thiago Motta. As a very defensive left midfielder was Cristian Chivu, who actually came into the team to replace Goran Pandev following an injury in the warm-up. As 10 was Sneijder and as right-winger Samuel Eto’o. Up front was Diego Milito.

  

Mourinho’s Defensive Masterclass

In a game which the winning side had 86% of possession, as well as completing a total of 555 passes compared to the opposition’s minuscule number of just 67, you would perhaps expect a more dominant win than just 1-0. This wasn’t the case however, as Barca struggled to penetrate, or even severely threaten, Inter’s deep defensive block.

It was clear from the off that Mourinho had set his side out to simply defend, defend and defend, perhaps with the odd counter-attack. 

In order to stifle the threats of what was probably Europe’s deadliest attack at the time, Inter defended in a very deep block. This would prevent Barcelona’s fast attackers from getting space in behind the Inter defence, as well as limiting the space players like Messi and Xavi would get in between the lines, if the vertical compactness was good.

To prevent one of Guardiola’s most used tactics, the wide overload, Inter used cover shadows in the wide areas. The graphic below shows the areas Inter players individually defended. 

  
‘Note: Green areas in between red are generally covered by the nearest player situationally’
We can see that an area that Inter have a real focus on defensively is the left halfspace, which is heavily covered, the area that Barca’s key playmaker, Messi operates in. Chivu is a hybrid between a LWB and a defensive midfielder as this allows him to block the early stages of Alves’ forward runs, as well as following Messi into the halfspace, where he is so dangerous. 

Following Motta’s questionable dismissal, Inter didn’t alter their game plan or defensive structure massively, just making a few slight tweaks here and there to make up for having the lesser number of men. Chivu moved into a more central role, primarily defending the left halfspace which further limited Messi’s influence. Milito moved out to the left, tasked with tracking Alves’ movement forward, while Sneidjer played similarly to a false 9 as Inter’s most advanced player, not seeing much of the ball though, he continued marking Busquets when Barça were in possession.

Suffocated and Stifled, Struggling to Break Down the Deep Block

As described under the previous subheading, Inter defended in a very deep and vertically compact block which stifled the creativeness of Barca’s central players, as well as preventing their fast attackers from finding space in behind the defence. This meant Barca struggled to create clear chances and often found themselves in deep possession with no vertical lanes open for an opportunity to break lines, to find Messi or any other player in a decent space.

With Barca left with no opportunity to penetrate Inter centrally, nor use the advantage of speed over Inter’s defence, or even find a way to get round Inter on the wings, this left Barça to switch to a non-familiar, far more direct style of play. This consisted of more long balls forward, to try and use to height of Ibrahimovic. This wasn’t too successful however, largely down to the aerial ability of Inter’s centre-backs Samuel and Lucio and the fact that when Ibra did manage to win the header and flick the ball on, there wasn’t enough space in behind for an onrushing attacker to make use of. These long balls were even more direct than the style Pep Guardiola’s Bayern team play in now, as well as being less purposeful, this spurred the idea that Pep’s Barca side lacked an effective ‘Plan B’. The makeshift ‘Plan B’ also consisted of more shots from a distance, again unsuccessful down to the lack of space available to get a good shot away.

Positional Play Fails to Achieve Superiority in the Right Areas

Again, this subheading comes down to the way in which Inter defended, but other factors also contribute to this. As always implemented by Pep Guardiola’s teams, Juego de Posicion was used against Inter in a bid to gain superiority over their opponents in as many areas of the field as possible. 

Barca’s positional play on the night looked to be executed exactly the way Pep wanted to, just not managing to create exactly the product Pep wanted at the end, a goal. It was clear that Pep wanted Barca to build down the right as often as possible, for obvious reason; the technical abilities of Yaya Toure, Dani Alves, Xavi and Messi. This was often the case, which would be pleasing for Pep, but Inter found a way to nullify this threat, with Chivu occupying a role on the left. 
  

Above we can that Barca are in the perfect 4-3-3, with every single player in almost perfect positions relating to the ball, yet this doesn’t mean it is a successful positional play. Successful positional play means gaining superiority in the right areas. On the night Barca wish to gain superiority in the final third, where Messi, Ibra and Pedro can work their magic and score goals for Barca, ultimately putting them in the Champions League Final. Instead Barca found themselves without overloads in the final third but instead, in their own half where possession is purposeless and harmful to the opposition.

The image above shows that although Yaya Toure is in stable possession of the ball, he is unable to play a pass which would threaten Inter, due to the numbers Inter have defending deep.

Conclusion

On a night where there was always bound to be controversy, it certainly delivered the expected parcel: controversy. The less said about the Busquets-Motta incident the better but strangely, it shaped the game positively for Inter rather than Barça. The changes Mourinho was forced to make following the sending-off were even more defensive-minded than Inter already were, which didn’t seem possible. The changes allowed Inter to waste less energy attacking which meant more for defending, which was the key of Inter’s game plan, to defend. 

Although Gerard Pique did score a lovely goal for Barca, the decision of Pep Guardiola to substitute Ibrahimovic to then put Pique up front was strange and perhaps was an underrated factor in the shaping of the final stages game. 

Mourinho’s Inter (probably deservedly) went on to win the Champions League that year after beating Louis van Gaal’s Bayern Munich in final but it seems that what will be remembered will be Jose Mourinho’s defensive masterclass in the second leg, to defeat Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate.

A Closer Look at Juve’s Midfield Trio

As Juventus enter their richest vein in form in years, soon after escaping their poorest run of form in years, many have been left wondering what changes have been made that has seen such a significant increase in The Old Lady’s form. One of the key reasons has been a much needed change of tactics. For a while now, Juve have deployed a 4-4-2 diamond formation, meaning the majority of their attacks are focused on attacking the central and halfspaces. With players such as Pirlo, Pogba, Vidal and Tevez, this has been totally understandable and probably the correct decision, as it allows the manager to utilise the full strength in depth of his squad. However, after losing key core players such as Pirlo, Vidal and Tevez, as well as manager Massimillano Allegri seeing the need for evolution in the modern game, Juve have made the switch to a 3-5-2 formation in recent months. 

Despite having done a couple of team analysis'(Southampton and Leicester), I will not be analysing Juventus as a team but instead a specific part of their newly found 3-5-2, the central-midfield trio.
  

As we can see above, Allegri uses a pretty standard 3-5-2 system at Juve, a flat back-three, two wing-backs, a relatively flat midfield trio and two different types of strikers up front. There are obviously a few tweaks here and there which differ Juve’s 3-5-2 to other team’s but I will discuss this later in the piece.

In goals for Juve is legendary shot stopper Gianluigi Buffon. The back-three reads Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini from right to left. As the right wing-back is usually Stephan Lichensteiner, however Juan Cuadrado sometimes plays here too. LWB is Evra, although Alex Sandro occasionally occupies this role.

Coming next is the area we will be taking a closer look at, the centre-midfielders. As the deepest of the three, and most like a 6, is Claudio Marchisio. The right centre-mid is now Sami Khedira. Khedira is now a regular starter and key player for Juve but was ruled out of the opening period of the season, and is only just recently back in action. The left interior is French starlet Paul Pogba, who often drifts into the left halfspace, he is the most advanced of the midfield trio.

The two strikers are Mario Mandzukic and Paolo Dybala. Mandzukic plays as a traditional number 9, often with his back to goal, holding the ball up for others to make runs into the final third, Mandzukic also makes lots of runs in behind and into the opposition box. Dybala plays a different role, he drops slightly deeper around Zone 14, to link build-up play into the final third.

Putting in a Shift in the Defensive Phase

In order to understand how the Juve central-midfield works defensively, you must have at least brief knowledge on how the overall defensive structure works. First of all, it must be noted that Juve played a more intense game without the ball this season, than they did last season under Antonio Conte. Despite defending in a higher and more aggressive block now, one trait when defending which remains from last season is the focus on horizontal compactness and lateral shifting. 

One key feature of Juve’s defensive system is the positioning of the wing-backs when defending in their own half. Depending on the position of the ball, a wing-back will drop into a full-back position, to form a back-four rather than three. This makes a formation not too dissimilar to the horizontally compact 4-4-2 Juve played last season. The wing-back which drops into a deeper position is that furthest from the ball, while closest to the ball presses near the touchline. In the image below we can see that as the ball is being circulated onto Alex Sandro, the LWB’s, flank, he is springing into press, leaving the back four to join the midfield, while Lichensteiner, the RWB, is moving back to the back four.

The reason this feature is so significant to the Juve midfield is that it means despite playing a in high intensity system, the trio in the centre do not actually cover a massive amount of ground and actually don’t do too much work defensively. 

The stats below compare another high-pressing European giant, Bayern Munich, to Juve’s midfield. Despite Juve playing at a similar intensity without the ball, and pressing in a similar manner, the two teams have different priorities in different areas of the pitch. 
  
  
  
  
  
  

Above is the defensive actions by Bayern midfielders in their last game(vs. Hannover) and Juventus’ midfielders in their last game(vs. Roma). We can see that despite playing in similar systems without the ball, Bayern midfielders complete more defensive actions their Juventus counterparts. This is largely down to the fact that Bayern midfielders are a key component in their press, while Juve midfielders don’t press the ball directly as often, rather retaining solid positions to restrict space centrally.

Movement in the Build-Up

Despite being relatively high(15th)in Europe’s top five leagues possession table, Juventus are certainly not a possession orientated side. With players such as Khedira, Pogba and Dybala occupying central zones on the pitch for Juve, it’s clear that their intentions are to have a quick and direct style of play. 

An element of Juve’s play which allows them to move the ball forward quickly and smoothly is the freedom of movement for the midfield trio, particularly Khedira and Pogba. The freedom is movement is very intriguing and exciting to watch, as Khedira and Pogba are unpredictable and can cause the opposition serious problems, disrupting their shape a lot. Touching on the unpredictability of the pair’s movement, Khedira specifically, varies the areas he moves into during Juve’s build-up. In some games, Khedira has moved from typical 8 positions to deep in the right halfspace, to support Claudio Marchisio in the build-up. This was seen in the game against Hellas Verona, were he was almost a second 6, playing to the right of Marchisio the majority of the time. 
 

Situation in minute 23 vs. Hellas Verona
 

Above we see Juve in a 3-2-4-1/3-4-2-1 shape, a structure seen used by Pep Guardiola’s Bayern. This structure is very effective and in Juve’s case, the central overloads caused disruption in Verona’s defensive structure, particularly in central midfield. The movement of Khedira deep into the right halfspace and Pogba high in the left halfspace opened passing lanes from the centre-backs to Morata and Dybala, this too, caused Verona’s man-marking system large problems. As well as frequently dropping deep into the right halfspace during build-up, we have also seen another movement by the German. He often pushes forward, in line with Pogba and a dropping striker(usually Dybala). This provides Marchisio with plenty of space to dictate the play from deep in the manner he’d like. Moving into typical 10 positions is not something with is not something many would associate Khedira with, as he is usually seen as a typical 6 who can’t play any further up the pitch. This is far from the truth however. Khedira is actually a very good technical footballer who has good ability with the ball at his feet, he is a good fit as an 8. This makes him an ideal choice of footballer to move from 8 to 10 positions, as he can also use his excellent intelligence which he shows at 6.

The role of Marchisio in Juve’s build-up is obviously very important, as is usually the case with any 6. The Italian has an important role as he is relied upon to help move the ball forward quickly, whether that is by passing it himself, or opening a lane from a CB. One piece of movement which we have commonly seen in games against high-pressing opponents, is Marchisio peeling away from the centre, to deep in whichever halfspace is unoccupied. The reason for moving into the halfspace is as if he remained centrally he would probably be overrun and caught in possession right beside the central defender, in the halfspace however, he can drop in between two CB’s, finding space in a relatively safe area. This also opens a passing lane forward.

Now, moving onto the most-spoken-about of the three, Paul Pogba. During the build-up phase, Pogba takes up very advanced positions in the left halfspace. This is done for a number of reasons. One reason is to create space for Marchisio to dictate play freely, in tons of space. The second is simply because Pogba’s qualities are far better suited high up the pitch, rather than deep. Despite Pogba having the ability to be a ball carrier from deep, possessing power running with the ball at his feet, the Frenchman can make a far larger impact closer to the opposition’s net. His powerful and accurate long-range shooting, quick, skillful feet and direct running with the ball are very well suited to an advanced 8 moving into 10 positions.

As we can gather from the above points, Marchisio is Juve’s key player in the build-up phase. He must move the ball forward quickly and effectively, to allow Juve to have a successful transition into a dangerous attack. The movements of Khedira and Pogba in the build-up phase are also important as they create the necessary space and lanes for Juve’s deep players to start attacks. The variation of Khedira’s movements are a great tool for Juve as it offers different kinds of impact, depending on the opposition. Pogba’s movement in the build-up doesn’t have an obvious big impact to the untrained eye, but his positioning beyond the opposition’s midfield line causes chaos and disruption to opposition defensive structure’s. 


Creating the End Product- Into the Final Third

An element of Juve’s play which has carried through from the 2014/15 season is the use of cutbacks. Cutbacks are an extremely useful and successful method of creation if carried out by a team with correct players for the job. Juve are a side which benefit hugely from cutbacks due to the intelligence and timing of Dybala’s movement, the power in the late runs into the box from Khedira and Pogba, not too mention the stamina of Lichensteiner/Cuadrado and Evra/Alex Sandro which allows them to burst into the box at the last second.

 Obviously Marchisio doesn’t have a huge impact on Juve’s play in the final third, however, he can have some sort of input. Marchisio will sit in deep positions, usually in the ball-near halfspace and offer an outlet to recycle the ball, restarting any attacks which break down or need to restart from a different angle. He is well suited to this role due to his ability to circulate the ball quickly and intelligently, as well as being able to play high passes over the opposition defence if necessary. 
Khedira and Pogba, as already mentioned, have duties to get into the box and get onto the end of cutbacks. Khedira in particular has benefitted from this, as Allegri putting the German’s engine to good use, Khedira has had his best goalscoring season(4 goals so far beats his record of 3 in total in one season)so far, even after making just 11 appearances. Although Pogba hasn’t scored from a cutback this season, three of his four goals this term have come inside the box, a change from his usual long-shot beauties from 25 yards. 

In terms of chance creation rather than direct goalscoring, Pogba has a bigger impact than Khedira on this front. As already mentioned, the Frenchman spends a lot of time in the left halfspace and this is no different in the final third. Similarly to Thiago Alcantara of Bayern, one of his favourite moves is to cut back inside from the left halfspace onto his stronger right foot to either cross or shoot. We have seen this with great success this season, thanks to runs into the box from the RWB, Lichensteiner or Cuadrado. 

 

Theoretical situation which demonstrates the possibilities from Pogba on the ball in the left halfspace
 
Another benefit from Pogba drifting into the left halfspace commonly is the creation of a wide overload. With Chiellini given some freedom to maraud forward into pretty advanced positions for a centre-back, and Dybala in a free roaming role, this often means Juve find themselves with four players occupying the left wing and halfspace. With Pogba on the ball in the left halfspace, this drags an opposition defender(often the RB) out of position to press the ball. This opens a space for Evra or Dybala to run into, giving them an oppurtunity to cut the ball back to an onrushing attacker. Another theoretical situation below shows the wide overload.

  

This situation shows that even if Pogba isn’t able to play a dangerous pass forward, Marchisio or Chiellini should be free and available to restart the attack from, thanks to the overload.
One of the many positives of this Juve midfield trio is the variation of types of players, giving a balanced and well-rounded combination.

In Comparison to Conte’s Quartet
Despite having one of the best midfield’s in Europe this season, it is still debatable whether or not this trio is able to top last season’s quartet of Pirlo, Marchisio, Vidal and Pogba. 

  

Last season’s midfield too, provided Juventus with a nice balance of types of players. Marchisio and Pogba still remain, however Pirlo left to go to America while Arturo Vidal transferred to Bayern. Khedira replaced Vidal as the runner in the midfield, Marchisio changed from an 8 to do Pirlo’s duties at 6 while a player was lost in the change from a midfield four to three. 

In a tactical look at the two, we could perhaps say the 14/15 midfield offered more going forward while the 15/16 crew rely too heavily on Pogba and Dybala to create chances. This season’s midfield seems to be more dynamic defensively as the ageing legs of Andrea Pirlo have left the side, to allow Marchisio to accommodate the 6 role he looks so suited to. Khedira is very sound defensively, while Pogba looks to have improved into a more all-rounded player this season.

There are arguments for both the 14/15 midfield and 15/16 midfield and ultimately, neither has proven to be the best of the two. Only time will tell which midfield is better…

Champions League Final 2015-FC Barcelona vs. Juventus

Tonight is the night we have been waiting for. The Champions League Final is the most highly anticipated club match each and every season. This year it will be contested by FC Barcelona and Juventus,the champions of Spain and Italy. Barça won their championship by just two points over rivals Real Madrid after a very successful domestic season under new manager Luis Enrique. Juve on the other hand secured the Serie A with a month to go,17 points ahead of second placed Roma. 

Barcelona qualified following a 5-3 aggregate win over German giants Bayern Munich. Lionel Messi’s magic shone through in the first leg, two goals from the little Argentinian almost killing off Bayern’s hopes.Juve had a slightly tougher task,facing Barça’s rivals Real Madrid. Juve had a brilliant first leg,beating Madrid 2-1 and possibly even a better performance in the second leg,although the Italians never won,a 1-1 draw was enough to qualify for the final stage of the competition.
  
Barcelona went with the line-up everyone expected. Their club’s traditonal 4-3-3 was deployed by manager Luis Enrique. Marc Andre ter-Stegen was in net. In front of him was a back four of Alves,Pique,Mascherano and Alba. The back four was protected by Sergio Busquets. Just in front of him was Ivan Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta. Up front for the Catalan’s was the lethal combination of Lionel Messi,Luis Suarez and Neymar.

Massimilano Allegri’s men were half expected to line-up in a 5-3-2 formation but the injury to Chiellini forced Allegri to stick with the usual midfield diamond formation. In goals was Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon. Lichtensteiner,Barzaghli,Bonucci and Evra made up the back four. Andrea Pirlo would look to dictate the tempo in his usual ‘regista’ role,infront of him were a trio of Marchisio,Vidal and Pogba,Vidal at the tip of the diamond. Juventus’ forwards were Morata and Tevez.

Juventus Defensive Set-Up

When defending,Arturo Vidal moved alongside Pirlo to defend centrally,Marchisio and Pogba defende the halfspaces and supported their full-backs out wide. This formed a very horizontally compact,flat 4-4-2 formation. Morata and Tevez’s jobs were to limit Sergio Busquets influence in circulation,they stayed either side of him to prevent him receiving passes. However,this approach wasn’t successful for Juve,instead of playing through Busquets,Barça simply passed through the centre-backs who were free due to Morata and Tevez defending Busquets rather than them. Due to both of Juve’s strikers being very centrally,this meant there was clear passing lanes from Barca’s centre-backs to Rakitic and Iniesta. 

 

Barça Vertical Movements Create Space in Between Lines

Messi,Suarez and Neymar,particularly the latter pair,made vertical movements in a bid to stetch Juve’s defensive line,this affected Juventus’ compactness between defence and midfield and created huge space between the lines,Lionel Messi exploited this as did Andrés Iniesta at times. 


At this point,we would often see a common pattern of play from Barça. As Messi dribbled into the right halfspace Neymar would make a perfectly timed diagonal forward run which Lichtsteiner had to follow, this would then open up huge space for Jordi Alba on the wing,Messi would then attempt to play a high diagonal pass out to Alba. 

 

Above we can see a similar pattern,this was in the build-up to Rakitic’s goal.

Overload in Midfield and Juve’s Pressing Problems

In Juventus’ second line,they were being clearly overrun in both numbers and skill. With Lionel Messi,Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez overloading the right halfspace and Dani Alves rushing into the space left by Messi on the wing,Barça had a clear overload on the right against Evra and Pogba. Another problem for Juve in their second line was the decisions they had to make. If a Juve midfielder was to leave the second line,this would leave a gap for Rakitic or Iniesta in a halfspace or even Suarez centrally. The last problem for Juve was the wider midfielders of Marchisio and Pogba,if either was to press centrally or in the halfspace,this would leave their full-back in a very dangerous 2v1 situation agains the winger and on-rushing full-back.

Conclusion:

A huge miss for Juve was hard man Giorgio Chiellini. Their ability to play a 5-3-2 was quickly killed off when he was deemed unable to play. A 5-3-2 would have Juve to double up on Messi and Neymar,two of Barca’s key players. However,the 4-4-2 left Juve vulnerable on the flanks and in been lines when compactness was lost. Barça were agin terrific,their 3-1 win though thouroughly deserved partly due to a good tactical performance from Luis Enrique but once again mostly down to technical brilliance from the players themselves.Messi,Suarez,Neymar again the key players throughout the match.

Juve compact midfield boss Real in Turin

JUVENTUS 2 – 1 REAL MADRID

  
A superb performance from Serie A champions Juventus overcame Italy’s recent trend of woeful Champions League exits.


Massimilano Allegri’s troops went into battle against Spanish giants Real Madrid as underdogs.The Old Lady,who were recently crowned Serie A champions for the fourth time in a row,would certainly need a terrific performance and their manager to have his tactical brain at the ready if they were to stand any chance in the tie.Real Madrid,who have picked up form since their El Classico loss,would certainly consider a draw,a good result in the first leg of this tie.

Juve’ lined-up in a 4-4-2,with a midfield diamond,Pirlo and Vidal being the pivot and the #10,flanked by Claudio Marchisio and surprise starter Stefano Struaro.Up front,hit man Carlos Tevez was partnered by ex-Madrid boy Álvaro Morata. 


Carlo Ancelotti lined his players up in a flat 4-4-2 formation.Madrid legend Iker Casillas was protected by a back-four of Dani Carvajal,Pepe,Varane and Marcelo.The midfield was a fairly defensive one,perhaps signalling Madrid’s goals for this tie.Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos were flanked by James Rodriguez and Isco.Up front was the world’s most expensive player,Gareth Bale and partnered by who else but Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

Juve Target Real Left Flank

Massimilano Allegri had clearly instructed his side to focus their attacks on Madrid’s left side.Lichensteiner,Marchisio and Morata often created overloads on their right flank(Madrid’s left),when Juventus noticed how vulnerable Varane and Marcelo were,Juve often almost ignored their own left side and focused all attacks on the right. In the image below,we can see Juve have created a 3v2 overload.There are many things wrong with Madrid’s defensive positioning in this image.

1.Huge gap between Varane and Marcelo

2.Marcelo should be pressing Lichensteiner,Isco should press Marchisio,this would prevent the overload

3.Ronaldo’s work-rate,Ronaldo should be AT LEAST within 10 yards of Marchisio here,he is about 20 yards off him


Real Vulnerable to Juve Runners Off-the-Ball

Constantly, Morata and Tevez made clever off-the-ball movements in an attempt to drag Pepe and Varane out of position.Morata was far more successful in this,although Tevez’ failure to drag Pepe out of position was through no way fault of his own.Due to Ramos’ main job in midfield being to stop Pepe being dragged out of the back line,this meant Tevez was restricted to the space in between Pepe and Ramos,he actually found success in this area,as it meant either Pepe was slightly out the back line,or Ramos was on top of the back-four.A common piece of movement seen by Morata was for him to drift wider than normal,in between Varane and Marcelo,this forced Varane slightly wider and  opened up some space centrally,this was Vidal’s trigger to make a bursting run into this space.This was a pattern of play seen in the first minute,Vidal was put through on goal.

Real Forced Wide Due to Compact Midfield

Jude’s midfield diamond was a huge factor in their win,they forced Real continue ball circulation due to there being hardly any options centrally.Real were very poor in their ball circulation,largely due to Ramos being in central-midfield rather Modric.Ramos had a very low passing accuracy of 81%.At points in the game,Real were forced into a ‘bowl’ shape,the shape Pep Guardiola thinks is the least efficient for quick attacks and rapid ball circulation. 

Pirlo Man-Marked Out the Game 

Gareth Bale’s main job defensively was to limit Andrea Pirlo’s influence on the game.He left the pressing of Bonucci and Chiellini to his strike partner Ronaldo.Throughout this season,Pirlo has dictated the play just infront of the centre-backs,in a very deep role.Bale did a good job on the night of limiting Pirlo.Pirlo has even admitted himself that he does not like being pressed and is not as effective when this happens.Players such as Sergio Busquets and Marco Verratti excel in these situations,however,they are masters with the ball the same way Pirlo is.
Changes of Formation

Due to substitutions both teams changed their formation.When Real Madrid introduced Javier Hernandez to the fray,they changed to a 4-3-3.Shortly after,Juve responded,Struaro was changed for centre-back Andrea Barzaghli and Juve went with a 3-5-2 until around the 75th minute,for the last 15 minutes of the match Juve pressed far less and attached with less men,however the most significant change was the 3-5-2 had changed into a flat back five.This meant Vidal and Marchisio had to cover a lot of ground,12k and 11.6k.

CONCLUSION

Juve will go into the second leg of the tie with a 2-1 lead.Goals from Álvaro Morata and Carlos Tevez gave Juve an excellent chance to progress into the final.Juve were brilliant on the night,unlike Madrid,who lacked a real creative player in the centre of the pitch following Toni Kroos’ poor performance and Sergio Ramos having to prioritise defensive duties.Massimilano Allegri’s side were very adaptable and most impressively,worked extremely hard,Arturo Vidal’s physical performance being the best seen in Europe by any player for a while.

  

Inter salvage a point against ten-man Napoli.

NAPOLI 2-2 INTER

Hamsik 51

Higuain 63

Palacio 71

Icardi 86(pen)

NAPOLI KEY PLAYER(S):

Marek Hamsik

Gokhan Inler
INTER KEY PLAYER(S):

Gary Medel

POSSESSION:37%-63%

SHOTS(on target):17(7)-13(5)

CLEAR CUT CHANCES:2-2
NAPOLI
•Napoli lined-up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
•Napoli varied from a 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 when defending,if Inter were playing centrally(often due to the diamond)Hamsik would drop into alongside Inler and Lopez to form a 4-5-1,this helped prevent Inter gain midfield dominance,however,if Inter played wide,Hamsik would support Higuain in pressing.
•Napoli played in a medium block,not wanting to commit to pressing nor allowing Inter to keep possession due to the constant chane of shape according to Inter’s play.
•The main area Napoli used as scope of attack was on the an area between the halfspace and the wing.This gave the player on the ball the option to cut the ball back to a midfield runner,commonly Hamsik.


•Napoli played a lot of high,long passes over the Inter defence,Callejon and Mertens often moved infield as the long pass came over the top.

INTER
•Inter Milan played in a 4-3-1-2 diamond formation.

•Inter played in a very high defensive block which caused them some problems.Higuain constantly looked to exploit the large space in behind the Inter defence and with success a few times.
•The reason for Inter’s high block was due to their instense pressing high up the pitch.Inter’s use of layered pressing was very effective,the closest man would obviously press the ball,the second pressure layer was tight marking,if the main presser was beaten then one of the two would move into the main pressing role,the third and last layer was a lot looser,these players would attempt to prevent two players getting or the ball or having time if they received it.


•Shaqiri was Inter’s focal point in attack,he was given licence to roam and the attack almost revolved round his movement.If Shaqiri drifted wide,the strikers would remain central,trying to open up space for him.