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A look at Chris Wilder’s tactics at Sheffield United

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It is perhaps no coincidence that the two in-form English managers were honing their craft in the Championship a year before, they now sit occupying European places in the top flight. Strikingly, both managers have favoured a similar tactical set-up to their previous year.

There are distinct differences between Chris Wilder and Frank Lampard, namely the resources at their disposal and, more tellingly, the set-up of their respective outfits. They have both however favoured a similar style to the one they were using in the Championship, even with Frank Lampard now at a different side.

As early as August there were signs of Chris Wilder’s intent. After a point away at Stamford Bridge, Wilder commented on his side’s willingness to go ‘toe to toe’ with the biggest sides. “We are not day-trippers getting autographs and collecting shirts.”[1] These words retain their seriousness as we move toward December.

Tactically Gifted

Wilder’s ambition and energy is exemplified by a side that is moulded in his image. Think of the great footballing minds that are leading sides today, and now look at the sides they lead, the calculated triangles in the opponents D, or perhaps the full-throttle efforts in ball retention. “I believe in the players more than they do sometimes,”[2] this sentiment is evident in the willingness of his players to express themselves.

Watching Wilder’s Sheffield United you are immediately struck by the 3-5-2 formation, how it contracts and seamlessly acclimatizes to the pulse of any given game. If the shape of the side was not adventurous enough, overlapping centre backs certainly show a creative willingness- tempered only by timely utilisation. An epithet of great managerial ability is being able to judge the correct moment for a tactical tweak mid-game. Chris Wilder has built a side with the tactical awareness to be able to respond to setbacks.

chris-wilder-tactics

The game against Manchester United at Bramall Lane serves to illustrate a managerial tenacity that you will be hard-fought to match.

Dominating the opening by utilising a compact midfield trio and aggressive pressing from the front line, Sheffield United gained the early advantage.

Lys Mousset didn’t give up on Oliver Norwood’s hopeful ball as he closed down a panicked Phil Jones and sent him flying. Before Jones could lodge a complaint Mousset’s squared ball had rebounded kindly in the path of a grateful John Fleck, who ambled the ball in.

If the first goal had any fortune about it, the second left no questions unanswered. Lys Mousset again regains possession from a lax Andreas Pereira before playing a fleeting one-two with Johnny Fleck. As Mousset regains the ball he charges at a scurrying backline, centres himself, and sweeps in a polished finish from outside the box against a helpless David De Gea. By this point, the Blades were firmly in control and the ‘Ole’s at the wheel’ memes were once more doing the rounds.

Wilder should note that his back three must be aware of the threat down the flanks, needing to adjust to a compact flat five effectively. An incisive Daniel James dart down the right flank shone a light on this issue. As James stands the ball up Sheffield United’s back three focus on winning the header and Basham manages a half-clearance only as far as Brandon Williams, who is on hand to rifle away a first-time volley. The space Williams finds himself in as he strikes the ball will provide food for thought for Wilder who will urge his wing-backs to be more disciplined.

Man United again exploited that right flank for their second as Marcus Rashford turned provider. The back three are once more isolated with a diagonal ball that exposes a thirty-seven year old Jagielka.

At two all, the game was edging one way. The quick-fire goals conceded cause a panic leading the Blades backline to revert to a flat five. The rigid compactness is forfeited in the panic caused by Man United’s relentless forward play. The third goal again arises predictably through exposing the space between wing-back and centre back, this time on the left flank. A quick one-two between James and Martial allows Blades keeper Henderson to be drawn in and the pullback by Daniel James ensures Rashford’s name on the score sheet.

It is at this point Chris Wilder underlines why he is a serious candidate for the best current English manager. With the game having so fleetingly escaped from Sheffield United’s grasp he shows resolve, he is not content with the fantastic performance his players have given for two-thirds of this game. With ninety minutes played the Blades midfield is still displaying impressive fitness levels. Stevens battles down the left and pulls the ball back, and ball dribbles out to McBurnie who slams in after a VAR induced hint of fortune. As the ball is turned into the box you will notice Blades centre back Jack O’Connell just outside the sixteen yard box. The centre of the back trio turns sweeper as Sheffield United bravely chase the game and are justly rewarded.

Man United will feel hard done by after the VAR decision went against them but Ole Gunner Solskjaer would have snapped your arm off for point at the seventieth.

Important Season Ahead

“I would have been really disappointed had we not got anything from this game because for the majority of the time we were right up there in terms of the performance levels.”[3] Christ Wilder’s post-match comments show recognition that this point was not a fortuitous one and that their current sixth place standing, ahead of Arsenal and Man United, is an ample reflection of their abilities.

A comparison between Frank Lampard and Chris Wilder is perhaps unfair when we consider the experience in their sides. The Blades boasted only five current internationals against Man United, all of which have represented the Republic of Ireland or Scotland. The wealth of experience Man United had on show, or that which Chelsea posses is incomparable, what is comparable is the tactical knowhow their current manages are showing.

It would be premature to suggest that Sheffield United can mount a serious challenge for Europa League places but they are quickly establishing themselves as a Premier League side. Chris Wilder will be quick in pointing out to his players that they are still some way from safety but, as he has already done, he will remind them that they do not find themselves in their current position through good fortune. They are an outfit displaying a tactical cunning and robustness in their play that they have effectively carried over into the Premier League from the Championship.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/49456552

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/49456552

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/50449170

Martin Ødegaard set to return for the game against Real Madrid

Martin Ødegaard who is currently on loan at Real Sociedad from Real Madrid has recovered from his injury troubles and looks likely to feature against his parent club on Saturday according to the Spanish outlet Marca. Ødegaard missed the last two games with injury and chose not to join the Norway team during the international break so that he can focus on his recovery. He trained with his teammates on Wednesday without any problems and it looks more than likely that he will feature against parent club.

Real Madrid are level on points with Barcelona currently at the top of the table in Spain. Both the teams have made a poor start to the season with both Zidane and Valverde under pressure to show an improvement in both performances and results. Sociedad are currently only 2 points behind Real having played a game more. It would be a tough ask for them to beat Real at the Santiago Bernabeu but with the Gareth Bale controversy acting as a big distraction, they certainly stand a chance. If you believe that Sociedad can pull off a win and overtake Real in the table, you should check out the odds at football betting online.

Zinedine Zidane would certainly want to put the Gareth Bale controversy to rest and with reports suggesting the Jose Mourinho would be interested to sign the Welshman at Spurs, Bale’s time at Bernabeu might be coming to an end. The Welshman certainly has had his moments of glory during his career at Real but on the whole, it has been a disappointing time.

Manchester United’s biggest transfer mistake of last summer

Manchester United’s disastrous run under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer starting after their famous victory in Paris can be explained due to a multitude of factors. Solskjaer’s inexperience, injuries, incoherent transfer strategy, etc. But the biggest difference between the initial run of games under Solskjaer which convinced Ed Woodward to give the Norwegian the full time job is the presence of Ander Herrera in United’s midfield.

A look at Man United’s results under Ole last season (All the games highlighted in red were the ones Herrera missed) Source:Reddit

Now, blaming all of United’s problems this season on the absence of Ander Herrera is certainly wrong and over-simplification of United’s current problems. But, the fact remains that United played their best football when they were set up in a 4-3-3 formation during the initial phase of Solskjaer’s reign as a caretaker manager. The midfield three of McTominay-Herrera-Poga was crucial to United’s attacks as it allowed Pogba to operate in a more advanced role where he has been the most effective.

This season, Solskjaer has majorly deployed the 4-2-3-1 formation with Paul Pogba in a deeper role as part of the midfield two. With Pogba being the only source of creativity in this dull United side, the change to 4-2-3-1 has backfired spectacularly as United have struggled to create chances in games. Injuries have exacerbated this problem, but the fact remains that Solskjaer simply doesn’t have the players to a play a midfield 3 thereby restricting United’s sole world class player in Paul Pogba to a more ineffective role. We have written extensively on Paul Pogba’s role at United previously and the problem never seems to go away.

It is understandable that Ander Herrera chose to move on, but the failure to replace such a key player in the summer is shocking and Solskjaer definetly should shoulder most of it. United’s single proven goalscorer in Romelu Lukaku was also let go but excuses can be made for his transfer by claiming that he doesn’t fit Solskjaer’s “style”. But the Norwegian’s failure to recognise that Ander Herrera was key to United’s midfield and to bring out the best out of Paul Pogba is unforgivable.

Sheffield United set to splash the cash on a new striker

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According to the English outlet, The Sun, Premier League club Sheffield United are interested in signing Brentford forward Ollie Watkins. Watkins can play anywhere across the front three but his recent form in a central role has attracted attention from Sheffield United. Another Premier League club, Crystal Palace were previously interested in Watkins but were priced out from making a deal. It remains to be seen whether Palace who have made an excellent start to the Premier League season reignite their interest in signing Watkins.

Transfer Rumour Reliability

best football transfer sources

The Sun is the source of this transfer rumour and the English outlet are a Tier 5 source in our Football Transfer Sources Reliability Guide. A Tier 5 source is highly unreliable with their reporting, so unless other sources pick up this story, Sheffield United fans should not get their hopes up too high.

 

Sheffield United have made a decent start to the season and find themselves in the 13th position at the moment. They are only 2 points above the relegation zone currently and it would be wise for them to invest in new signings in the January transfer window. But with the danger of relegation ever present for newly promoted sides, the contracts being offered to players should have relegation clauses so that club is able to retain them even if they are relegated to the Championship.

The Forgotten story of the Basque in South America

This article is sourced from a string of Twitter posts by Impedimento, translated by the author.

Exactly 80 years ago, a French steamer called SS Winnipeg arrived in Chile, bringing 2200 Spanish refugees, many of them from the Basque country. This was shortly after General Franco’s victory over the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. The man in France behind the humanitarian effort was the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who had previously worked as a diplomat in Spain and was appointed special counsel in all matters regarding Spanish emigration. The Winnipeg left Pauillac, on the French coast, and arrived in Valparaíso a month later.

I felt them between my fingers

the Spanish seeds

that I harboured myself, and later sowed

over the ocean, peace-bound,

towards the meadows

A free translation by me of an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s Misión de Amor (Mission of Love), published in his 1964 book Memorial de Isla Negra, never published in English. Neruda later mentioned the SS Winnipeg operation as “the noblest mission I have ever undertaken”.

The Basque national football team was far from Spain when Bilbao fell under Franco’s grip. Seeing themselves in a forced exile, they decided to tour the world to raise awareness about the war and the events back in their homeland. At first, they traveled around Europe but in 1937 they crossed the Atlantic to visit Mexico.

Mexico was the only country in which the “illegitimate” Basques were allowed by FIFA to play against the local clubs. When it came to the rest of South America, it wasn’t so easy. In February 1938, after a short stop in Cuba, the team sailed south to Buenos Aires, where they hoped to face the Argentinian clubs Boca Juniors and River Plate, but these matches never happened. Argentina was one of the first countries to recognize Franco’s government and side with him. The Basques, then, returned to North America. Two players from the squad remained in Argentina, resigned with the idea of never returning to their home country.

But the boat trip from Buenos Aires to Mexico was long and demanding. They had to stop in Chile, then Peru and so forth. This is how, a year before the arrival of the SS Winnipeg, the important port city of Valparaíso left its mark on the history of the Iberian refugees. When the Basques disembarked there, they received their only invitation for a friendly match in South America. In spite of the FIFA ban and the Argentinian setback, a club by the name of Santiago Wanderers decided they were gonna play the band of outcasts. It was May 9, 1938, when the Wanderers and the Basque national team faced each other, in the Playa Ancha stadium (which now is called Elías Figueroa). The match ended with a 4-2 win for the Basques.

Basque football team before their 4-2 win in Valparaíso

Back in Mexico, they were met with warmth and solidarity. And ended up writing a bizarrely unique chapter in the history of football: they went beyond friendly matches and were accepted in the Mexican Championship, season 1938/39 which was still amateur at the time. The championship was played by 7 teams, and the Basques almost went all the way: with 7 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats, they finished second to the great force of Mexican football between the decades of 1920 and 1940, a club named Asturias.

This was taken during their trip back to Mexico, in Peru – they were allowed to wear jerseys to photos, but not to touch a football

Here’s the great Basque squad – up until today, the only national team to ever compete in a domestic league… Probably forever?

After this, the Basque squad fell apart and a diaspora took place, with some of them returning to South America to play in countries they were previously forbidden to, like Isidro Lángara.

He was the top goalscorer in the Spanish Championships of 1934, 1935 and 1936 and didn’t stop after the forced exile, being the second top scorer in that crazy Mexican Championship of 38-39. After that, he went back to Argentina. Lángara played for 4 years for San Lorenzo and, in spite of not having won any silverware, was top scorer of the Argentinian Championship of 1940. Went back to Mexico in 43, where he was both champion and… you guessed it, the top goalscorer.

But football, evidently, was just a minor side of this terrible episode that united those who ran from home and the countries of the other side of the Atlantic. There are many other anonymous characters in these threads of history, like those aboard of the SS Winnipeg, the “Spanish seeds” sowed by Neruda 80 years ago, who had to start their lives over in South America.

Sir Alex wanted Man United to sign Aston Villa star in the summer transfer window

According to the English outlet The Sun, Sir Alex Ferguson wanted Manchester United to sign Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn. In a more recent report, The Sun also claims that Sir Alex will keep a close eye on McGinn’s performances before recommending him to Manchester United. The Sun base this report of Bobby Jenks’ comments who is a former Villa scout. Jenks reportedly told The Athletic that Sir Alex will push the decision-makers at Old Trafford to sign the Villa midfielder.

After Sir Alex retired, it is unclear how much involved he is with Manchester United. The last big decision he influenced was, of course, the hiring of David Moyes which in hindsight was probably Ferguson’s biggest mistake at Old Trafford. But with no sign of improvement on the pitch, Ed Woodward and the Glazers might want Sir Alex to get involved a bit more on how the club is run especially the football side of affairs.

Man United identify two forwards as January transfer targets

Manchester United who are currently struggling to find goals have identified two forwards as their primary transfer targets in the January transfer window according to the English outlet Metro. Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic and Barcelona’s talented forward Ousmane Dembele reportedly are the targets. Mandzukic was linked to United this summer as well but the move never materialised as United reportedly didn’t sign him due to his advanced age. He has not featured under Sarri so far this season and United’s interest at this moment reeks of desperation. The report in Metro also cites Independent and makes the claim that Solskjaer has met with the Manchester United chairman Ed Woodward and spoke about the upcoming transfer window.

Dembele has had a troubled time at Barcelona ever since his move from Dortmund. With Antoine Griezmann’s arrival, he will see his playing time cut down. A number of displinary breaches and even greater number of injuries have made it harder for Dembele to earn game time under Ernesto Valverde. The emergence of Ansu Fati is another reason, Dembele might be looking at other clubs to restart his career.

Manchester United have struggled to score goals this season and slowly it is becoming clearer that the sale of Romelu Lukaku which was sanctioned by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a mistake and the failure to replace him in the summer transfer window is a bigger mistake. Marcus Rashford has struggled to repay the faith his manager had on him as it is becoming evident that Rashford has long way to go before he can become United’s leading striker.

The tactical flexibility of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton:

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Hasenhuttl has certain areas of the first team’s play that he wants to improve before the Premier League kicks-off again in August. Having arrived mid-season and in the midst of a relegation battle it was a case of Hasenhuttl having to adapt as he went along. But he wants to head into a new campaign with the squad fully up to speed with the style of play he wants to employ. Hasenhuttl wants to refine the different systems the team plays and ensure that they can change formation multiple times in any given match without significant disruption – Adam Leitch, Chief Sports Writer, Southampton Daily Echo.

In just the first five Premier League games this season, Southampton have lined up in three distinctly different shapes. Against Burnley, they started in a 5-2-3 shape, with three central defenders, two wing-backs, two central midfielders, and three forward players. Against Liverpool, the switch was made to a 5-3-2, with three central midfielders chosen alongside strikers Danny Ings and Che Adams. The Brighton and Manchester United games started off in a 4-2-2-2 shape, and against Sheffield United, the team reverted to the 5-2-3, with Sofiane Boufal and James Ward-Prowse flanking Adams, playing as a lone striker. The variance in starting formations, however, is just scratching the surface when it comes to Southampton’s tactical flexibility.

In the past two away wins for Southampton (a 2-0 against Brighton and a 1-0 against Sheffield United), we have seen a manager who is not afraid to change formations within a single match. I want to write a little bit about how those changes in shape have helped us win the games, and how the player who’s proved key to their ability to make these tactical adjustments, James Ward-Prowse, is quietly proving himself invaluable for Southampton.

In each of these games, we have seen a change in shape have a positive effect on the team, eventually leading to a winning goal being scored. I’ve done a bit of analysis of each game, especially the Djenepo goal against Brighton, as that’s the most obvious case of a formation change paying dividends. Watching the flexibility, experimentalism, and risk-taking that Hasenhuttl has employed is an absolute joy. He’s so good at keeping people guessing that even broadcasters are having trouble keeping up.

A rare right back/left winger substitution and Moussa Djenepo’s instant Brighton impact.

Against Brighton, Moussa Djenepo scored within two minutes of making his debut with a wonderful strike. What went rather unnoticed was that his introduction had come with a change in formation for the Saints, one Brighton hadn’t had time to adjust to by the time it was 1-0. Djenepo, a player who’s traditionally been a left-sided winger, came on for Yan Valery, a right back. It was certainly an eyebrow-raising substitution.

At the time, Southampton had been playing in a 4-2-2-2 shape, seen here with Kevin Danso debuting out of position as a left-back, and a front door including Che Adams and Danny Ings as strikers and Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse in the attacking midfield “2”.

The Djenepo/Valery substitution coincided with a switch in formation, Hasenhuttl abandoned the 4-2-2-2 for a three at the back formation that’s best described as a 5-2-3 with extremely high wing-backs.

As Brighton was down a man, Southampton had reason to make an attacking-minded change, and that’s what happened here. Moussa Djenepo slotted in as a left wing-back, Kevin Danso shifted over towards playing as a left-sided central defender, and James Ward-Prowse moved to right wing-back. The double-pivot of Hojbjerg/Romeu stayed the same, and Redmond, Ings, and Adams functioned as a narrow attacking three, with Ings on the right and Redmond on the left. The shape itself can be seen fairly well (after the goal) here, where you can see both the back five in line as a single unit, and the other five outfielder players forming a box shape which allows them to press together as one unit.

As for the goal itself, it starts with Ward-Prowse clearing the ball after Ings lays it back to escape a four-person pressing box, as seen here.

Ralph Hasenhuttl tactics

This ‘box’ includes Lewis Dunk and Dan Burn, who’s pressed extremely high up the pitch. Ings breaks forward from the right side, and wins the ball against Shane Duffy, the right-sided CB in the three.

Ralph Hasenhuttl tactics

At the time Ings makes the pass,

Ralph Hasenhuttl tactics

Che Adams is running into the channel between the two center backs involved in the play, occupying Dunk who’s had to make a long run just to get back involved in the play. Nathan Redmond (the left-sided attacking player for the whole game until now) is making a run forward to the left-most side of Brighton’s right wing-back, Martin Montoya . For the first 55 minutes of the game, those players were the basis of the attack, but the switch to a back five has added the threat of a true wide attacker in Djenepo, something Brighton haven’t had to really consider, particularly with Danso offering little going forward.

Before Djenepo takes the shot, Redmond makes a run behind Montoya, forcing him to decide which man to pick up immediately, which gives Djenepo the time and space to open up his body and shoot uncontested. It was a moment of great quality, and deserving of plaudits, but Ralph Hasenhuttl deserves credit as well for giving Brighton a new threat to deal with in a left wing-back who came on the pitch to play in an extremely advanced role.

vs. Sheffield United – Calculated risks & Changing positions without changing personell

Against Sheffield United, Hasenhuttl took a risk in starting Djenepo at that same left wing-back position, reverting to the 5-2-3 with Sofiane Boufal and James Ward-Prowse on either side of Che Adams. The idea behind it was to push him extremely high up the pitch, such as moments like these where when Saints have the ball, he’s nearly in line with the highest players up the pitch.

Nobody seemed to enjoy this decision more than George Baldock, who was able to exploit Djenepo’s poor positional sense and run into the space behind him over and over again. He consistently found himself isolated and vulnerable, or made errors with regards to his positioning here are some examples:

In the sixth minute

Ralph Hasenhuttl tactics

In the seventeenth minute, where he gets caught in a one-two and allows a ball to be crossed into Fleck for a decent chance

In the 20th minute, where he lets Baldock run freely in behind him

After about 35 minutes where Saints looked vulnerable down that flank, Hasenhuttl decided he’d seen enough, and moved some things around. Cedric Soares moved to the left wing-back position, Djenepo moved to the right wing, and once again, James Ward-Prowse moved to the right wing-back role. The adjusted formation can be seen clearly here, in a moment where Djenepo ends up being off screen as the furthest man forward; United continue to attack the left side of the Southampton defense, but Cedric, a natural fullback, is able to cut out the danger in this play

From then on, Southampton looked more defensively solid, and Djenepo found plenty of joy in the attacking phase of play, putting Boufal clean through on goal at the end of the first half before eventually winning the match with a brilliant solo goal.

Hasenhuttl addressed the decision, and the switch, after the match, saying:

“I tried to have a right footer on the left side to come inside and create and go into the red zone. Moussa showed against Liverpool in the last ten minutes that he can play this position [left wing-back] in an offensive way but it was sure a risk but I wanted to take this risk. When you have a few players who are flexible and you can change without taking a substitution then this is a team you can work with. Cedric went on the other side and Prowsey on the right and I knew before I could change this and if it doesn’t work we can do it like this.

While some Saints fans (myself included) weren’t too happy with the decision to play Djenepo as a wing-back, hearing a quote like this seems to have appeased a lot of the fanbase, as it indicates that he knowingly took a risk with the knowledge that should it not work out, he has the belief and the ability in his squad to change the players around and add defensive nous without needing to make a substitution.

The Key Cog In The Machine: James Ward-Prowse

The lynchpin for this flexibility is James Ward-Prowse, a player who’s having a season that’s very much flying under the radar, but who’s been instrumental to Southampton’s recent uptick in form.

“No more Mr. Nice Guy” is perhaps the best way to describe how the “academy golden boy” has transformed under Ralph Hasenhuttl. Often thought about in years previously as a tidy, technical player with great dead ball ability but perhaps lacking the physicality to deal with the rigors of the Premier League every week, Prowsey is proving week in and week out that it’s not the case anymore. It was mentioned in the United match that he’s covered the most distance of any player in the Premier League this season, and last year he went on a streak of 7 games where he covered the most distance of any player in the league on a particular match week.

Additionally, he’s shown proficiency anywhere along the right side of the pitch, whether that’s as a wing back, central midfielder, or attacking midfielder. He’s lacked the free kick goals that will steal the headlines, and hasn’t got off the mark in terms of goals or assists, but has played a key role in keeping two straight clean sheets from a wing back position, improving in a role which he’s been challenged to learn under Hasenhuttl.

Ironically, one of the biggest knocks against Ward-Prowse in years past which has prevented him from truly breaking out was that managers couldn’t seem to figure out his best position. Was he a central midfielder? a right midfielder? and attacking midfielder? It turns out that the answer is yes, and more, and instead of being an issue, his versatility is something that has led him to be a key man in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton. In the stretch of a year, he went from barely featuring in the team to being a player whose manager was openly admitting a bit of surprise that no top six teams were interested in him.

This post first appeared on r/soccer by TheRalphExpress

Pep Guardiola explains how to receive the ball [Video]

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Many consider Pep Guardiola to be one of the greatest football coaches of the modern game. His Barcelona team between 2009 and 2011 certainly are the best football team we have seen in the past two decades. Although his Bayern Munich tenure will be considered as a “failure” by many due to their inability to win the Champions League, Guardiola’s current City team have the time and the talent to stake claim to being one of the greatest ever English teams.
As a player, Guardiola was part of the famous Barcelona “Dream Team” coached by Johan Cruyff. Four La Liga titles in a row (1991-94) and a European Cup triumph helped to make Cruyff, Barcelona’s most successful ever manager until he was overtaken by Pep Guardiola.
barcelona dream team formation
Barcelona Dream Team formation
Guardiola’s role in the team as the deep-lying playmaker certainly had Cruyff’s stamp all over it. And many years later, Xavi’s role for Barcelona was similar to how Guardiola played under Cryuff. In the below video, shot when Guardiola was still playing, the Catalan explains how to receive a pass. This is particularly important for central midfielders who play in the most congested areas of the pitch. Watch and Learn!

Football Tactics for Beginners: The Low Block

What is the low block?

The low block is generally referred to a football team’s defensive shape without the ball. Generally the low block consists of two banks of 4(Sometimes all ten players form the low block), who sit deep in their area to restrict the space available for the team with the ball. Different managers have different interpretations of the low block, especially on how narrow the low block should be. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid favour a narrow block as they are comfortable in leaving space out wide but crowd out the center.

Most inferior teams adopt the low block approach while defending against superior teams. But managers like Jose Mourinho have shown that the low block combined with counter attacking is an effective tactic to deliver trophies. Following United’s 4-0 opening weekend win against Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, Mourinho said,”

“(Chelsea) were not compact defensively, too much space to play, not enough aggression on the ball, the defensive line, the midfield, the attack, they were not compact,” he said.

“(Forward) Tammy Abraham was staying up, (Ross) Barkley was staying up, (Mason) Mount was staying up, Pedro was staying up.

“Nowadays you look to the good teams and all the good teams defend compact. Higher block or lower block, the lower block is more defensive, the higher block more offensive, more aggressive, but always in the block.

“It’s just a basic principle, you have to defend compact, and Chelsea were never that, so it was too easy for Man United,” 

Mourinho on this occasion was talking about the concept of “the block” which essentially is a team’s compact defensive structure. A “high block” will not necessarily mean a compact shape as maintaining an effective high block will need aggressive pressing which would break a compact structure.

Whether or not other Premier League coaches and managers listen to Mourinho, United’s opponents in the following games used the low block to stifle United’s attackers. For a one dimensional attacking side like United are under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with their counter-attacking style, the low block is highly effective in defending against them. As opposition teams try different approaches and keep pushing players forward in a bid to break the low block, the defending team then get plenty of space and time on their counters. Just like Tiki-Taka is an excellent defending tactic, the low block when combined with counter attacks can be an attacking tactic too.

 

Pressing

For a team looking to win games using the low block, they need an coherent pressing strategy which doesn’t disturb or disrupt their defensive structure. Generally teams utilize the second striker, a central midfielder and a wide midfielder as a pressing unit depending on which areas of the pitch the ball is in. Also, important is to know when and whom to press. Teams can target a specific opposition player or a specific area on the pitch to start pressing.

How to break down the low block

Width probably is the single most important factor in breaking down the low block. As the low block’s primary focus is on staying compact and structured, there is often space on the opposite side of the pitch to where the ball is. Against a defensively strong team with tall center backs, going wide and pumping in crosses into the center isn’t going to work. Occupying the half-spaces, overlapping full backs, cutbacks from wide areas, quick interchanges by creating triangles are all some of the effective attacking moves against the low block.

The single most potent weapon against the low block is the attacking fullback. Fullbacks in the modern game have become an important attacking outlet. It’s not longer enough for a fullback to be a good crosser, he needs to be a good passer, make intelligent runs, combine with midfield players, move into midfield when required, etc. All successful teams currently have fullbacks who are in general better going forward than defending.

Manchester United set to move for unsettled Premier League star in January

According to the English newspaper, The Sun, Manchester United are set to make an offer for the unsettled Spurs midfielder Christian Eriksen in the January transfer window. Eriksen had expressed his desire to move to Spain, specifically Real Madrid in the summer but was not able to get his desired move. There were also reports that Eriksen had already rejected Manchester United’s advances this summer but he might have a change of mind now seeing how his Real Madrid aspirations have collapsed.

Seeing how Spurs have struggled to unlock defences without Eriksen, Pochettino would prefer to keep the central midfielder at least till his contract expires in next summer. Spurs have not made a good start to the season, Pochettino has been very vocal with his displeasure of some of his players’ attitude.

Manchester United also have made a very poor start to the season with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer already under pressure. Their midfield especially looks very one dimensional and they desperately need a playmaker. Eriksen would be wonderful signing for them but purely from a winning trophies point of view, Eriksen will not favour a move to Old Trafford.

Barcelona prodigy’s first coach claims he has never seen anybody like him

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New signing, Antoine Griezmann lit up the Camp Nou with his 2 goals last weekend against Real Betis and grabbed all the headlines. But another side story which has a lot of Barcelona fans excited was the debut of teenager Ansu Fati. With his debut he became the youngest player to play for Barcelona since 1941, 78 years ago. Fati’s first coach, Jose Luiz Perez Mena speaking to agency EFE(English Source-AS), said that in his fifty years of coaching career, he had never seen anybody like him.

“I’ve been in the football game for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like him” said the director. “He’s got huge personality, he doesn’t fear anyone and you only need to see him on the pitch to see that”,

Although in recent times, La Masia has not produced any graduates rivaling the golden generation of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and others, it is still one of the most prestigious youth setups in the world. The perceived lack of first team opportunities at Barcelona has meant that La Masia has lost some of their highest rated prospects in recent years to rival academies like they lost Xavi Simons to PSG. In fact, this trend started much earlier with likes of Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin moving to Arsenal.

Ansu Fati’s rise and the fact that Valverde and Barcelona are ready to trust youngsters from La Masia might just be the catalyst for the next golden generation to emerge. Barcelona’s transfer strategy hasn’t been coherent and they haven’t been very successful in planning for the post-Messi phase as of yet. Along with Messi, Barcelona has to replace the likes of club stalwarts like Pique and Busquets and they will hope that one more golden generation from La Masia helps the club in making the transition smooth.

Goal Analysis: Manchester United 1: 2 Crystal Palace- van Aanholt (90’+3 minutes)

Manchester United suffered a home defeat to Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday after conceding a late Patrick van Aanholt goal. United can point to a missed penalty and several refereeing decisions not going there way but overall it was a disjointed performance and there are simply no excuses when a club the size of United lose at home to Palace. This article takes a specific look at how United conceded Palace’s 2nd goal. Although De Gea has to take primary responsibility in the end, there were several factors before the goal itself which led ultimately to van Aanholt’s winner.

Mata In, McTominay Out

In the 85th minute, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided to add some fresh legs and bring in Mata. Stepping into the field, Mata was supposed to provide some quick passes and creativity in the final which United were missing.

In the 88th minute United equalized with a superbly taken goal by Daniel James who was the lone bright spot for United fans.

Mata at this point was playing in McTominay’s role (deep without really moving forward) with the intention of providing long passes forward or creating through passes to the attackers.

Fast forward, 90th minute- Throw-In by Young.

Video Evidence

Ball goes out of play and Young steps up to throw the ball in. At this point of the game crystal palace have stacked their men towards the left hand side as shown by this graphic below.

Throw in positions

Young throws the ball to Pogba and this is where things start to go wrong. Lets break this move down and analyze the specifics.

Losing Possession

1) The trio of Mata, Young and Pogba are relatively isolated. If we discount the defenders (Lindelof and Maguire), Crystal Palace was doing an excellent job isolating the United players nearest to the ball. Young, especially is covered by almost 3 CP players left to him. This means:

  • The option to Daniel James is completely negated.
  • At this point, without throwing the ball backwards, Pogba is the best option. He is almost lateral to Young and has a bit of space to turn and pass forward to either Mata or a long pass to Rashford.

2) Young takes the best option and that option is Pogba. A couple of important events take place, so lets dive a little deeper:

  • Young throws the ball towards the left of Pogba forcing the Frenchman to try and control it with his back towards the opponent’s goal.
  • At this point the Crystal Palace playerwho was marking Mata and Benteke double up on Pogba, which Palace did very well right throughout the match.

The positions change to this:

3) Pogba has a couple of options when he receives the ball- Maguire and Bissaka. However, he decides to cut back and turn which immediately shows that Mata is completely wide open. A couple of important notes:

  • Benteke has already started accelerating.
  • In order for Pogba to make the cut back, he lost pace. If you look at the gif and slow it down, you notice that there is a split second where Pogba’s cut slows him down and the ball is extremely close to him.

4) Pogba takes a touch too many and Benteke with his fresh legs catches up easily. Had Pogba done a one-touch pass to Mata after his cut back, Mata would have had options with Greenwood, Rashford and a riskier one with Martial (injured).

5) Benteke tackles Pogba. Causing the other midfielder to get the ball who passes it to Benteke, who crosses it to Van Aanholt and the counter begins.

Crystal Palace Counter.

This is where Ole’s decision to sub McTominay comes back to haunt him.

Video Evidence

Mata, does not drop fast enough to cover the hole left by Pogba and himself, when he moved forward. By trade, he is not a defensive midfielder and that is showcased by the cavalier run he makes to defend.

Look at Rashford’s tracking back in comparison to Mata here:

Rashford vs Mata- Picture 1

and here: Rashford vs Mata- Picture 2

Lindelof’s positioning in the second Image is really damning as he should be lined up with Maguire supporting Bissakka.

In this phase of play, Bissakka and Rashford and the only people who seem to recognize the threat or at least the only ones who respond fast enough to the incoming threat. Mata on the other hand should have at least tried to pick up Van Aanholt as they were side by side and in fact that would be what his role is here.

Goal goes in: Manchester United 1 – Crystal Palace 2.

Talking Points

1) Pogba needs to really work on better decision making especially when it comes to holding the ball. He takes too many touches and even the goal that United scored started with him losing possession (and regaining it back) due to poor decision making.

2) Lack of movement from United players. This has been an issue ever since the David Moyes days at United. Every player in possession should have passing options always open. When the opposing side closes on to the player in possession, it is the other players’ duty to make runs to the distract the opposition or support the player in possession by offering up passing options.

3) Ole’s in-game tactical management leaves a lot to be desired. He waited too long to bring in Mata and when he did it was in the wrong position. A midfield of Pogba & Mata even when United are chasing the game is simply not effective.

4) Honestly, De Gea did the best he could. The work of a keeper is hard enough and with the proximity of where Van Aanholt was, mistakes were bound to happen. But United need to decide whether they are happy to offer De Gea a massive new contract. There has been some signs of decline ever since the World Cup in Russia and by offering a massive contract to a declining player, they might end up with another Alexis Sanchez situation.

Written by basalamader

Man United’s predicted lineup against Crystal Palace- Ole to choose to pass over pace

Manchester United face Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday in the English Premier League. United can’t afford to drop more points so early in the season after their disappointing draw against Wolves. Although at times, United dominated Wolves and should have won the game with Pogba missing a penalty, there were moments in the game when Wolves were clearly dominating possession and threatening United’s backline. Crystal Palace will certainly adopt a similar approach to Wolves as they will look to sit back and defend in a low block and hope to score on the counter.

Against sides which defend deep, United’s pace upfront will be negated as their forwards will not find any space to run into. So Solskjaer might opt for some minor changes to the team lineup and also some minor tactical tweaks.

Manchester United Predicted Starting Lineup against Crystal Palace

Juan Mata vs Jesse Lingard

It is clear that Solskjaer prefers to have pacy players who work hard, up front and Lingard suits that role perfectly. But his performances in the first two games have been mediocre and he has drifted in and out of games contributing barely to United’s attacks. Mata on the other hand is a much slower player who will not be expected to contribute much defensively but against a side like Palace, it makes perfect sense to play the Spaniard as United’s number 10. Mata has declined considerably since his days at Chelsea but he still is one of the few players in United’s squad who has the eye for a defense-splitting pass. If you think Mata’s reintroduction might help United acheive their top 4 ambitions, then do wager a bet with Premier League betting with Betway .

Pogba’s Role

Paul Pogba has played a much deeper role than usual in his first two games for United this season. Although he still tries to do too much at times and gives away possession, his passing range has been effective for United’s counter attacks. Expect him to step forward much more against Palace with McTominay sitting in front of the defence. Playing Pogba deep leaves the United defence vulnerable to counter but also helps United’s counter-attacking forward player as Pogba can ping those long balls over the top. So this deep role for Pogba is an indicator of United not being involved in many 0-0 games sone can place a no-clean sheet bet on Betway for United games.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s attacking runs

Wan-Bissaka has had an excellent start to his United career with two reliable performances against Chelsea and Wolves. But one aspect of his game he needs to improve is his supporting runs forward and his delivery into the box. If Daniel James plays ahead of him, opposing teams will sit back to counter James’ pace and Wan-Bissaka will have a of space and time ahead of him. He needs to contribute more to United’s attacks as fullbacks have become one of the most important attacking outlets in the modern game.

How will Coutinho fit in at Bayern? A look at Niko Kovac’s 4-3-3 formation

Bayern Munich has signed Philippe Coutinho in a loan deal from Barcelona for an €8.5 million fee for the duration of the loan. The deal does include an option to buy, but Barca’s inability to sell the Brazilian midfielder outright clearly shows how far his reputation as a premier player has fallen. Coutinho is one of the many players in the modern game who need specific systems and style of play to thrive, just like Mesut Ozil, Isco and many others. At Liverpool under Klopp, the Brazilian was at the top of his game. His best performances came when he was played on the left as part of the front three. Although, Valverde did try playing him on the left at Barca, Coutinho’s role was not the same.

Coutinho struggled initially when he was played as part of the midfield three in a 4-3-3 formation and was eventually pushed out of the team by Arthur. Coutinho perhaps could have thrived in a midfield three when Barcelona had heavy midfield domination during the days of Xavi, Iniesta and a younger Busquets. But Barca’s traditional midfield domination had considerably declined under the likes of Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde and Coutinho struggled in the center when he was starved of the ball. He was later tried as left sided attacker as part of the front three, which on paper was Coutinho’s best position. But he struggled to replicate his Liverpool performances as a combination of poor form and the need to shoe-horn Barcelona’s other big signing Ousmane Dembele into the team left him on the bench more often than not. Also the fact that Barcelona had better finishers than him occupying the central areas in Messi and Suarez gave less options for Coutinho to pull of his usual cutting in from the left and going for goal move.

Niko Kovac’s formation at Bayern Munich

Playing as a left forward in a traditional 4-3-3 with the right winger providing the width and Lewandowski primarily occupying the center halves will possibly give Coutinho the ideal platform to get back to his best at Bayern Munich. Also, if Kovac wants to play both Coman and Gnabry, he could very well switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Coutinho as the number 10.

niko kovac formation bayern munich

Niko Kovac’s possible 4-3-3 formation at Bayern Munich with Coutinho

Although Dortmund have done some excellent business in the summer and have started the season strongly, Bayern have the resources even without Coutinho to win the Bundesliga. But the Champions League is where Bayern fans will expect to see an improvement and that’s where Kovac has his work cut out. In the knockout stages, against a strong opposition, Coutinho will be a liability. A 4-2-3-1 formation with him as the number 10 might not work as well with number 10s expected to work hard defensively against the opposing deep lying playmakers. A counter-attacking 4-3-3 is best suited for Coutinho, but only time will tell whether Kovac can drill Bayern and Coutinho to be able to sit deep and break with speed.

Manchester City and the art of tactical fouling

Manchester City beat West Ham United 5-0 in their first game of the new season as the champions showed no signs of letting their grip on the Premier League title loose. But a familiar accusation against Guardiola’s side came up once again as West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini accused them of tactical fouling. Pellegrini said,“Every time we tried to arrive in their box they committed fouls. We were innocent in that regard, if you review the game that is why we didn’t create too many chances in the first half. All our offensive moments of attacking ended in a foul. You can look at the statistics. They committed 13 fouls, we committed five. But that wasn’t the reason why we lost.”

What is tactical fouling?

Tactical fouling is generally referred to the act of cynically fouling(no attempt to get the ball) an opposition player, generally in the midfield zone in order to prevent counter-attacks. Teams like Manchester City who like to dominate the ball and overload the final third with a lot of players employ tactical fouling in order for their defensive players to get back into shape before the opposition can attack them.

tactical fouling
Fouls committed in the West Ham vs Man City Game (Source: whoscored.com)

It is clear that City’s fouls are more in West Ham’s half where as West Ham’s 5 fouls are all over the place. It’s really hard to point out the teams which consistently use tactical fouling from the data because teams like City tend to dominate possession thereby on average commit less number of fouls than usual.

How do we stop tactical fouling?

Because tactical fouling is generally utilized by the stronger team, the laws of the game have to be changed in order to make the game more equal. If a team like City commit more players in their final third, they will have a higher chance to score more goals but at the same time they are negating the risk of leaving themselves exposed to counter-attacks via tactical fouling. Generally, referees do give out yellow cards for cynical fouls where the player committing the foul has absolutely no intention to get the ball. But even yellow cards are not an adequate punishment as the attacking team looses the positional superiority they had gained earlier.

How will Liverpool lineup in 2019/20 season

Jurgen Klopp will be looking to build on last year’s bitter disappointment and win the Premier League title which his club craves for desperately. Liverpool have not made a significant signing but their manager has made it clear that he expects Lallana and Chamberlain, both of whom suffered severe injuries last year, to  add a spark this year.

Overview 

It is fair to say that Liverpool will suffer the most as a result of the international commitment of their stars. Most notably, their fearsome frontline will not be fully sharp by the time the season starts. Brewster and Origi are the only recognized strikers available and the onus will be on them the lead the lines till Mane and co return. The rest of the squad is pretty much the same and any success this year will require their best performers from last year to produce the same level of football which brought them success last year.

Liverpool expected formation

Klopp has rotated players during their pre-season tour and they are yet to win a game. Origi has played as the number in most of the matches and that is how they are likely to start their season. Klopp might be forced to rush his stars back but that will have consequences as the season goes on. Trent Alexander seems to have more of a voice on the field and has been the designated set piece taker on their tour. Once he has his full complement of players, Klopp will employ his usual 4-3-3 cum 4-2-3-1 variation with the same intensity and defensive solidity. And of course, Klopp’s preferred front three would be Mane, Firmino and Salah once they return to full fitness. Origi has limited time to make a claim for the striker spot before Firmino returns. Despite his Champions League heroics last season, it’s hard to see becoming a regular starter.

Players

Sadio Mane last time out had a very strong season and became an important part of the Liverpool attack. His speed and direct play makes him a nightmare for defenders. Salah and Firminho had a quiet year for their own high standards and will hope to improve once again. Van Dijk’s importance cannot be overemphasized but the problem will be to find a center back partner who can stay fit and consistent through the season. Trent and Robertson provide the basis for Liverpool’s style of play and the club doing well will depend on them. Liverpool’s central midfield did lack creativity and flair at times and Klopp will expect players like The Ox and Naby Keita to step up this season.

How will Manchester City lineup in the 2019/20 season

Pep Guardiola will be looking to repeat on last year’s success and win the Premier League title for a third straight year. The Manchester City board fully trust him and have given him the funds to strengthen. So far, Rodri has been the most significant addition to an already strong squad but the manager hopes to add at least one more signing. 

Overview 

City have perhaps the strongest squad in the Premier League. Fernandinho’s age and injuries will have a considerable impact on the number of games he’ll play this year but Rodri should ease into that role with minimum fuss. Perhaps the biggest problem they will have will be at the back. Club legend Vincent Kompany departed at the end of last season. Though he was reduced to a bit part role last year, his influence was the reason why City had such a strong title run in. It will be interesting to see who steps up to fill his void in defense.

Manchester City Formation

Manchester City formation

City will start their title defense without Sergio Aguero. The Argentine’s season ended in July due to the Copa America. It’s the same story for fellow striker Gabriel Jesus who won the tournament with his native Brazil. So far in pre-season, Pep has improvised and now fields Raheem Sterling down the middle in his conventional 4-3-3 formation as a false 9. Sterling has responded well and has thrived in his new role. He drifts in and out of the between the defensive block and the midfield block. His movements allow the two most advanced central midfielders in the system to push up into the pockets of space in between the lines and wreak havoc. Sterling also goes wide and allows his wingers to come infield. 

This new approach will no doubt be very effective since most defenders prefer a striker the can pin against in a physical battle. A false 9, as Sterling is in this case will give them lots to think about.

Players

Last season Bernardo Silva burst into life and made sure the absence of De Bruyne was not felt. The Belgian playmaker has a point to prove after an injury ravaged season. David Silva will also want to leave on a good note so expect a great season from ‘Merlin’. Phil Foden will have more opportunities this year to stake his claim as a first team player in a very competitive squad.

If John Stones rises to the occasion, the absence of Kompany will not be felt keenly but if there is a weak point other teams can exploit, it would be City’s defenders. City are clear favourites to win the title but they are over reliant on a few key players like Sterling and Fernandinho to stay fit for the majority of the season.