Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich Primed For Champions League Glory

Last spring, when Bayern Munich were knocked out of the Champions League by eventual winners Barcelona, Munich-based tabloid Abendzeitung ran a rather upbeat headline — “Out with a shout!” — the following morning. Bayern were outplayed by the genius of Lionel Messi in the first leg of the semi-finals, and if you choose to see it this way, Messi’s two goals that night were the difference in a aggregate 5–3 defeat.

Pep Guardiola is in his third season at Bayern Munich. There was the “biggest press conference in the history of the club” when he arrived in Bavaria two summers ago as the coach who had won two Champions Leagues in the space of four years with Barcelona. He arrived as a phenomenon back then, but his Champions League canvas is yet to be coloured in Bayern red. It isn’t that he has ceased to be a phenomenal coach any more.

The fact Bayern haven’t won the Champions League in the two seasons following Guardiola’s advent makes a strong case for their chances of winning the competition this season. Guardiola is a serial winner; his rate of winning trophies is the best of the modern generation, and he and Bayern look game to land the big prizes this season which include the Champions League.

Guardiola’s squad has shaped up nicely this season; after countless morphs and chops in the past two seasons, Bayern finally bear close resemblance to a well-oiled machine this term. And giving credit where credit is due, Guardiola has effected certain tweaks which are mix of stealth and openness, even risking the wrath of the club’s support. And things are slowly falling into place, but not quite.

“We wanted to control the game but we allowed a lot of counters. This was not correct and we have to improve on that, definitely,” was what Guardiola said after overseeing his side’s 5–1 romp over Arsenal earlier this month, the fifth time the Germans had put in five past an opponent this season. If Guardiola’s insistence on perfection borders on the ridiculous, it is only because Bayern are due their continental just deserts that their manager was brought in to provide in the first place.

Bayern’s transfer policy this summer was barely reactive; there was no knee-jerkism to last season’s disappointments in the continent, and there was a Guardiola narrative to it as well. The Spaniard has never been shy of ringing the big name changes, and has carried his trait to Bayern as well. Bastian Schweinsteiger pops up as the obvious name, but conspiracy theories that the Germany captain and his manager weren’t on good terms are wide off the mark.

“When he does not have injury problems, I am completely convinced he will do very well at Manchester United. He is a top, top player. Unfortunately, during the last three years he was never in good condition. He is going to play really good there. I really hope that is going to happen,” said Guardiola of Schweinsteiger upon his departure to Manchester United, words with undertones of mutual respect which have been turned and twisted by publications for the mere sake of it.

That Schweinsteiger was let go of was coming; Guardiola took similar measures during his time at Barcelona to freshen the squad from time to time. Before his first Champions League winning season, he oversaw the departures of experienced and influential figures like Ronaldinho and Deco, and to a certain extent, World Cup winner Gianluca Zambrotta. Later, he also phased out Yaya Toure, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez.

It isn’t that Schweinsteiger was the only seasoned veteran in the squad who couldn’t keep up with his young and dynamic team-mates. Captain Philipp Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are all on the wrong side of 30, but Schweinsteiger is different kind, akin to a “Bavarian football god” according to German journalist Raphael Honigstein. Honigstein summed up Schweinsteiger’s transfer in one line: “He’d rather embark on a new adventure in England than be a deposed king in Bavaria.”

The next step? Completing the jigsaw puzzle. Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa were the biggest arrivals this summer, but Guardiola’s obsession with the nuances makes him what he is. Joshua Kimmich and Kingsley Coman aren’t fancy names yet, but their impact on the team this season has been pronounced. While Robben and Ribery have slogged it out in the treatment room, Coman and Costa have bedded in seamlessly.

Robben on form is one of the first names on the teamsheet, and that is what makes Coman and, to an extent, Costa’s signings strokes of genius. “Coman and Douglas Costa must eat a lot of soup if they are to reach the level of Arjen and Franck in this club,” was Guardiola’s take on the good starts to Costa and Coman’s Bayern careers. The fact both Costa and Coman aren’t established stars yet makes Guardiola’s job as a manager of people tad bit easier.

Guardiola has already put all his eggs in one basket this season. If logic defines playing with two wingers is effective, the Bayern manager has extended logic by playing all three of Robben, Costa and Coman together. Put Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller into the mix and opponents are faced with the prospect of putting up against five out-and-out attackers. Bayern have played only 124 minutes with the quintet on the pitch, scoring seven goals.

Inventive tactical morphs like the one witnessed against Bayer Leverkusen earlier in the season make Bayern one of the best-equipped teams to solve complex problems on the pitch and even off it. Last season, a loss in the Champions League to Porto prompted the departure of the club’s medical staff led by club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt.

On that occasion, Bayern were without Ribery, Robben, Schweinsteiger, David Alaba, Medhi Benatia and Javi Martinez. And Guardiola had a rather downbeat response to the injury crisis that led to the defeat in Portugal and the doctors’ exit. “When a player is injured then it is not the fault of the doctor. Injured is injured. We could have lost against Porto even if we had had the injured players available.”

The fact such sentiments are no longer around is testament to the growth of Bayern under Guardiola this season. Against Leverkusen, a game which Bayern comfortably won 3–0, problem-solver Pep was in his elements as his centre-back-less set-up comfortably saw off the threat of Stefan Keissling, a seasoned professional, and the youthful exuberance of Hakan Calhanoglu and Karim Bellarabi, two gifted and dangerous attackers.

“I have a lot of respect for my players and when they decided to become footballers, they wanted to play with the ball. It’s not only about running. It’s all about having the ball, playing and dealing with the ball. Because we have had the ball, we have scored a lot of goals and haven’t conceded a lot.” Guardiola remains true to his possession-hungry ways, but has solved another problem which was so evident last season.

There were suggestions after the Barcelona loss last season that Bayern don’t have the players Guardiola seems to like having in his teams. His waxing lyrical of Messi after the semi-finals’ defeat was the spark which lighted the flames of those suggestions, but he and Bayern have come a long way since then. Lewandowski and Muller have combined to score 36 goals this season thus far, putting the calls to make sweeping personnel changes to bed.

“People might think that I came to Bayern and knew the players immediately but no. You need time for that. It’s a lot better this year. We have improved.”

The improvements are vivid; the team has the look of a Guardiola team after all, and the identity of the team has shifted from the physically imposing treble-winning team under Jupp Heynckes. The physicality is still around, but there are subtle variations and better solutions for more variants of problematic situations. There is also an improved sense of togetherness and team spirit, exemplified by the following video as Robben runs the length of the pitch to stop Arsenal from scoring.

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Robben has never been the greatest team player around; his tendencies of a soloist have marked him out for criticism over the years, but the above footage reveals more than it suggests to. At 31 and being his team’s star player, Robben — for the player he has been perceived as throughout his career —should never track back with his side 4–0 up. Although the fact Robben had been on the pitch for barely eight minutes at that stage makes a good case for counter argument.

Change is often interpreted as player overhaul in numbers, and more strikingly, an improvement in results. Bayern have little competition to deal with domestically; they are on course to win four successive league titles for the first time in their history. They are producing similar results like in the previous years, albeit by breaking a few more records. The barometer for defining an improvement at Bayern is the Champions League.

“This is the best team of my era here. People want to see successful football, to see attacking football with all 10 outfield players and we need some time for that. This is now our third year together, there have been a lot of matches and discussions, and we know each other much better now. I know my players better. We know what we want.” — Guardiola, after beating Arsenal 5–1.

That closing line — “We know what we want” — makes it clear where Bayern are streamlining their energy this season. Guardiola remains motivated by his hunger; he is in the final year of his current Bayern contract, and is not overly driven by a desire to secure a new one. Club CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, remains relaxed about the contract situation, so does Guardiola: “I am relaxed about it and so is the coach.”

Guardiola repeatedly brushes aside questions about his contract in press conferences. The focus is always on football, and the drive to always improve is what has set Bayern and Guardiola as serious contenders for the Champions League this season. “I am the coach, and if we do not win the treble at the end of the season it was a bad season,” said the self-flagellating Guardiola after Bayern’s 4–0 win over Stuttgart earlier this month.

With the subtle changes, Bayern have evolved into a better rounded team this season. While they possess undoubted quality in the likes of Manuel Neuer, Robben, Thiago, Muller and Lewandowski, there is also a flexible edge to the team. The likes of Lahm, Alaba, Martinez and Mario Gotze are world class players who can effortlessly fit into different roles on the pitch, and there is also the newly-added dynamism and youthfulness of Costa, Coman and Kimmich.

The Abendzeitung headline in the aftermath of the Barcelona defeat had connotations of belief after a somewhat meek submission; there seemed to be no inquest and little dissections. Guardiola’s men are primed for Champions League glory this season, it can be assumed. In isolation, without even taking into consideration the matters at their continental rivals, Bayern look finely poised to finally win the Champions League with Guardiola.

“I want to win the Champions League again — with Guardiola in charge.” — Rummenigge.

There is very little to suggest Bayern won’t win the Champions League this term, but the difference between victory and defeat in Europe’s elite club competition is also very little. Guardiola, for all his obsession of even the tiniest detail, is better placed than most to taste victory.

This post first appeared on Soccerlens

Featured image source: Web.de magazine

An Assortment

Crack Football has been striking the chord of inactivity since mid-July, but to keep it ticking over I have decided to  fill it with an assortment of insight-based articles I have written for various web-based media. Tactical pieces, statistical pieces and opinions. The same amount of effort goes into my articles published elsewhere like in Crack Football, and there is always a sincere attempt to learn and improve constantly and look for pieces of scrap wherever possible.

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a) Brendan Rodgers is a forgotten man in Liverpool now but I, like all other Liverpool optimists, started the season with a clean slate hoping for switches of fortune for one of English football’s great institutions. What started as a mission to cover all of Liverpool’s Premier League matches this season petered out when the Reds lost to West Ham at Anfield for the first time since the 1960s.

Following are the tactical analyses of Liverpool’s first two league games of the 2015/16 season. It was a time when things looked good under Rodgers; with two wins from two games, our tails were up. But things boiled over soon, and Rodgers is no longer around.

Tactical Analysis: Stoke City 0-1 Liverpool | Stoke Attack Down The Right And Liverpool’s Lack Of Defensive Cover

Tactical Analysis: Liverpool 1-0 Bournemouth | Combination Play Down The Right

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b) Napoli have had a fine start to their 2015/16 Serie A campaign and with more than 3/4ths of the season still to play, they have already registered wins over Lazio, Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina. Things are on the up for Maurizio Sarri, so much so that he has already earned a nickname of wizard Sarri Potter.

However, they weren’t too rosy for Sarri at the start of the season. A loss against Sassuolo followed by two draws against Sampdoria and ex-club Empoli were part of a poor start to the post-Rafa Benitez era. But since then, Napoli have won four of their last five league games, a run kick-started by a 5-0 shellacking of Lazio at Stadio San Paolo, a game which I tactically analysed for Outside of the Boot.

Tactical Analysis: Napoli 5-0 Lazio | Counter Pressing And Left-Sided Combinations

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c) One of Barcelona’s La Masia starlets, Rafinha, had a great start to the 2015/16 campaign. The Brazilian, who earned his place in Luis Enrique’s side as the go-to man from the bench this season after the sale of Pedro to Chelsea, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a Champions League clash against AS Roma, just a week after representing Brazil for the first time in an international match and only a day after I penned the following piece for Barcablog.

Why Rafinha Is Barcelona’s Blessing In Disguise

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d) Following Italian champions Juventus is fun, partly because of their massive global fan base, and partly because of manager Massimiliano Allegri’s tactical inventiveness. But Juventus haven’t had a great start to the season, and the Champions League has been a saving grace for their domestic predicaments.

Last season’s finalists started this campaign like a train, knocking over both Manchester City and Sevilla before contriving to drop their first points against Borussia Monchengladbach last week. The Sevilla win was a breeze for La Vecchia Signora, a typical European performance which I analysed tactically.

Tactical Analysis: Juventus 2-0 Sevilla | Allegri’s Tactical Innovation Keeps Sevilla At An Arm’s Length

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e) Have football title races gotten boring? Boring is unquantifiable in isolation, hence I fail to reach a valid conclusion in my analysis for Outside of the Boot. A four-minute read.

Analysis: Have Football Title Races Gotten Boring?

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f) Athletic Bilbao centre-back Aymeric Laporte’s burgeoning reputation has turned him into a player Barcelona fancy. The Frenchman is only the second from his country after Bixente Lizarazu to represent Athletic, who strictly adhere to their policy of meeting their ends with players of Basque origins, or in Laporte’s case, born and raised in the Basque country.

Laporte has already outperformed several Barcelona defenders this season according to the stats men. With the Catalan giants yet to fill the void left by Carles Puyol a year ago, their interest in Laporte could turn into a move to the Camp Nou for the defender. Following is a piece for Barcablog, on why Laporte could be the heir to Puyol.

Aymeric Laporte Is The Long-Term Solution To Barcelona’s Defensive Struggle

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g) England qualified for the Euro 2016 finals at a canter by winning all their ten qualifying games, albeit against lower-ranked opponents whose combined current average Fifa ranking is 91. What does it mean for Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions to head into France next summer on the back of a perfect qualification campaign?

Five teams in the history of the European Championship have managed to do what England achieved in the qualifiers, and only one emerged as the champions at the end of the finals. What does it suggest for England? Does it lay a marker on how far England can go in the finals? Is a major international tournament triumph forthcoming?

England At Euro 2016: Does Perfect Qualification Predict Success?

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h) Following are two stats-based articles on the Premier League’s hardest-working players (data updated till match day nine) and the fastest players in England’s top flight. There are quite a few surprising names in there, and all the statistics have been taken from EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the Official Player Rating Index of the Barclays Premier League.

Stats: Premier League’s 8 Hardest Working Players This Season

10 Fastest Players In The Premier League

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i) It’s been more than two years since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson retired, but have Manchester United rid themselves of their “Fergie Time” stigma? Stats from the 2014/15 Premier League reveal some interesting insights on the injury time details and how they impact the big clubs. An article for Soccerlens.

Are Manchester United Still The Kings Of Injury Time?

 

Thanks for reading.

Is the specialist defensive midfielder a dying breed in England?

This article first appeared on Outside of the Boot, a website obsessed with the beautiful game (read it here).

When Southampton boss Ronald Koeman started with center-half Toby Alderweireld as a second pivot alongside Morgan Schnederlin in a center-heavy 4-2-3-1 against Tottenham, he must’ve felt the sheer absurdity of letting go former Chelsea man Jack Cork to Swansea City in January.

Cork is essentially a defensive central midfielder, far less of the archetypal English mold but more of the fleet-footed passer from the back. Koeman prefers two holding midfielders to one; this is basically an approach to mitigate Southampton’s limitations of personnel. Should they play with two center forwards, which they currently don’t have and which will mean making lesser use of an in-form Graziano Pelle up front, it would usually imply sacrificing a midfield body. Against Spurs in that 2-2 draw though, Koeman was forced to use Alderweireld in the suspended Victor Wanyama’s absence. He could’ve easily called upon Cork had he not been sold.

Cork at Swansea is the long-term like-for-like replacement for the ageing Leon Britton. Like Britton, Cork’s role in a midfield triumvirate at Swansea is recycling the ball quickly and intelligently. Their presence….(Read the rest of the article at OutsideoftheBoot.com or by clicking here).

Liverpool FC: The Law of Averages

Liverpool are back in the Champions League. It’s been 1727 days since they last played a Champions League minute, and the European nights are back this season at Anfield. This piece is an attempt to use pure statistical analysis and extrapolation to predict Liverpool’s season in Europe’s top-flight, how and why the fans should be a little less optimistic when it comes to the Champions League.

The metrics are based on Liverpool’s current squad of players (excluding the reserve team players who could still feature heavily in the competition) and their career data in the Champions League. How the team shapes up against the yardsticks (stated below), how the metrics are extrapolated with scales (user-defined) and where Liverpool FC as a team finds itself in the pecking order. The team average of the metrics is calculated and the team is given a specific rating in different categories and finally, the outcomes and expectations are predicted.

Measurement yardsticks

The categories taken into consideration are the players’ appearances in the Champions League (both proper and qualification), goals scored and goal involvements (assists), and appearances in the second tier of European football (Europa League) are also taken into consideration. Note that data from the UEFA Cup (which got rebranded as the Europa League in 09/10) are also taken into account under Europa League.

YARDSTICKS

YARDSTICKS

The individual player data are compared with the players who hold the all-time records in the Champions League and Europa League, and then they are normalized with a user-defined coefficient and the sum total is then added and the team average is calculated. The team average is then compared with the upper limit of the coefficients and the team is awarded a specific rating. The picture above shows the player benchmarks.

Coefficients

Coefficients are user-defined, as stated earlier. Appearances in the Champions League are assigned a coefficient of 10, goals scored are assigned a coefficient of 20, assists are allocated 15, and Europa League appearances are allocated 8. This is a purely user-defined set of allocations; it has been done after much consideration and readers are free to express their discontent.

Analyzing Liverpool

Liverpool’s first team squad as of 17th August 2014 comprises of fringe players like Oussama Assaidi, Tiago Ilori, Sebastian Coates and Kolo Toure; players who are likely to be offloaded sooner or later. But they still feature in the Liverpool squad and contribute to the overall calculations. Shown below is the data collected from various sources (notably from transfermarkt.com).

 

PLAYER DATA: ALL EUROPEAN COMPETITIONS

PLAYER DATA: ALL EUROPEAN COMPETITIONS

The parameters are weighed up against the yardsticks and multiplied with their respective coefficients to give a relative score of the above data. Irregularities are obviously present, and given Liverpool’s prolonged absence from the Champions League, the scores are always bound to be on the lighter side. Steven Gerrard skews most of the calculations due to his superlative career in the red of Liverpool, while the goalkeepers’ non-involvement in the attacking areas of the pitch also contributes to the irregularities.

 

SQUAD METRICS: NORMALIZATION WITH THE COEFFICIENTS AND YARDSTICKS

SQUAD METRICS: NORMALIZATION WITH THE COEFFICIENTS AND YARDSTICKS

An area of note is the fact that two of Liverpool’s new signings, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, have zero (0) experience of European football. This raises questions as to how shrewd those signings were (more in the case of Lallana, who cost an estimated £25m) as they contribute nothing in the team metrics. Liverpool being a young squad of players (average age of 25), a lot couldn’t be made based on these statistics only.

Based on the chosen coefficients, the Liverpool players weigh up pretty poorly. Steven Gerrard, as expected, stands out. His Champions League appearances coefficient is a good enough 5.4 out of the 10, goals scored stands up at a fairly impressive 7.8 out of 20, assists rating is 5.52/15 while his Europa League appearances rack up 3.496 of 8. He leads the way in all the parameters, and points to the fact that Liverpool desperately lack top-quality players who’ve made a name at the top table of European football.

While many of Liverpool’s core players will make their Champions League debuts this season (Sterling, Henderson, Mignolet), the new signings’ sum total of 40 Champions League appearances and only 2 goals between them highlight the fact that Brendan Rodgers and his scouts haven’t invested in proven Champions League quality. The jury is out on whether the Liverpool players can come off age in Europe this season, and fans and pundits will be watching with glued interest as the season unfolds.

A Case Study

If observed closely, the players and the records chosen as the yardsticks are more or less likely to be broken in the immediate future. The active crop of players who are closer to the aforementioned records are shown below. Xavi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dimitris Salpingidis are the active torchbearers. The fact that Liverpool’s team average is far, far below those four points to the fact that Liverpool are still someway off the best. Xavi’s score is a cool 9.7/10, Ronaldo scores 19.15/20, Ibrahimovic does a 9.5/15 while Salpingidis’s score is 5.08/8. All four are way better than Liverpool’s closest bet, Steven Gerrard. The lack of experience in Europe could mean Liverpool shouldn’t dwell on any failure in this season’s Champions League.

ACTIVE PLAYERS

ACTIVE PLAYERS

Conclusion

The parameter coefficients are proportionately divided into five distinct blocks. These five blocks help in assigning the rating out of five to the Liverpool team (average scores). For example, for goals scored in the Champions League the coefficient point chosen was 20. So five blocks of 4 decide the rating of the team. If a team has an average score of 10/20, a rating of 2.5 is awarded.

FINAL RATINGS

FINAL RATINGS

Liverpool’s average score over the four chosen parameters amounts to a combined rating of 2.75. If we choose 2.5 to be the mean for the scale of 5, Liverpool’s squad (in European terms) is just above average. General prediction and common sense would mean that the club should be very very satisfied with a progression from the group stages, but failure to do so shouldn’t raise eyebrows either. Football is a strange game; who would have expected someone like Djimi Traore to lift the Champions League in 2005 ahead of the more illustrious Andrea Pirlo and co? Liverpool have invested heavily in their squad over the summer, and should they do fairly well in the continent, it would be more of the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” thing.

Disclaimer: This is an analytical piece using only a few parameters and extrapolating to a much larger scale. This piece doesn’t in any way provide any fool-proof method to predict how a team will perform in the future. 

 

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Netherlands 2-1 Mexico: Game-changer Robben

Netherlands produced a comeback for the ages as they overcame Mexico in steamy hot Fortaleza. Mexico deservedly took the lead only to be denied by two late Dutch goals, a penalty included, to come away with a heartbreaking defeat. The game was slow and ponderous, with both teams intent on preserving energy in the heat. Mexico were the better side before they scored, and it was all Netherlands after the first goal.

STARTING LINEUPS

STARTING LINEUPS

Louis Van Gaal persisted with his now-preferred 3-5-2 with intentions of providing more room for attackers Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben and handed veteran Dirk Kuyt his 100th international cap. Paul Verhaegh was a new face, and Georginio Wijnaldum was preferred over Jonathan de Guzman in the midfield. Mexico’s Miguel Hererra made a first change in the tournament as the suspended holding midfielder Juan Vazquez was replaced by the experienced Carlos Salcido. Mexico lined up in their preferred 3-5-2 with emphasis on attacking through the wider areas.

Fresh impressions and game plans on tackling the heat

Both teams have been revelations in the tournament so far, and had clear tactical impressions about them. The Dutch preferred defensive cover over control as evident by their fixations with a three-man defence. While Mexico had been more proactive with intelligent pressing and defending from the front being a key aspect of their play. But both Van Gaal and Hererra had to abandon their favored approaches in light of the baking conditions as well as being a bit more pragmatic given the enormity of the occasion.

The Dutch were surprisingly on the lookout for a more controlled, possession-based game. The early removal of Nigel de Jong wasn’t helpful, as the Dutch had to readjust tactically with one of their key players out. Daley Blind started as a left-sided center-back beside left wing-back Kuyt; he was moved back primarily to help sweep and start attacks from the back, given his range of passing. But the De Jong-induced tactical rethink moved Blind to a more central area, just behind Wijnaldum and Sneijder.

BLIND PASSING: VERY ONE-DIMENSIONAL

BLIND PASSING: VERY ONE-DIMENSIONAL

Blind is a kind of player who relishes space and has an eye for the defence-splitting pass. His central holding role handicapped him, and given Mexico’s movement in between the lines, he struggled off the ball and had little time on it. Whatever he did was only passing sideways to Wijnaldum or Sneijder. The early tactical rethink virtually took Netherlands’ attacking outlet from the back off the game.

Mexico had more time on the ball and space behind the Dutch midfield. They curbed their aggressive pressing instincts, probably in a bid to save energy and perhaps more so because the Dutch weren’t particularly effective with the ball. Mexico had no problems dealing with the isolated threats of Van Persie and Robben, and had more incision going forward. Left wing-back Miguel Layun was particularly lively; this shows how Mexico played around the Dutch with relative ease.

Dirk Kuyt and his unconventional role

Dirk Kuyt was deployed as a wing-back, a move that made sense given his work-rate and attacking instincts. But Kuyt offered little as an attacking outlet. He summed up Netherlands’ difficulties in creating meaningful opportunities. Kuyt played on the left to start with, and was shifted to the right after Van Gaal looked to push forward at 0-1 down. Kuyt put in a solid shift, but he offered little to nothing as a full-back with his clumsy touches and one-dimensional play. Although he pegged back Mexico’s wing-backs, his advanced positioning meant that Giovani dos Santos and the impressive Hector Hererra always found space behind him. It was all before the Mexico goal, a point up to which Kuyt was pretty ordinary.

KUYT FULL MATCH: ALL OVER THE PITCH

KUYT FULL MATCH: ALL OVER THE PITCH

He was full of running as his action areas show, but offered surprisingly little end product. On the left, Kuyt was almost always looking to cut back and shift inside, a move that played well into Mexico’s hands. His 1 out of 5 successful crosses meant that he was virtually ineffective. His passing into key areas was poor too; Kuyt only completed 1 of his attempted 8 passes into the final third.

Mexico sitting back after scoring

DUTCH MIDFIELD (LEFT) V MEXICO MIDFIELD (RIGHT) BEFORE THE MEXICO GOAL: MEXICO IN POCKETS OF SPACE BETWEEN THE LINES. 6 SHOTS AND 4 CHANCES CREATED.

DUTCH MIDFIELD (LEFT) V MEXICO MIDFIELD (RIGHT) BEFORE THE MEXICO GOAL: MEXICO IN POCKETS OF SPACE BETWEEN THE LINES. 6 SHOTS AND 4 CHANCES CREATED.

Mexico dominated before scoring. Their three midfielders, Hererra, Guardado and Dos Santos played intelligently off the technically weak Dutch defence and in the pockets of space behind Netherlands’ midfield. Netherlands didn’t have a destroyer in De Jong’s mold, and the trio of Sneijder, Wijnaldum and Blind left spaces behind whenever they forayed forward. Rafael Marquez also had too much control as he picked up the advanced midfielders with ease behind the Dutch trio.

MEXICO ACTION AREAS: BEFORE 1-0 (LEFT) AND AFTER 1-0 (RIGHT)

MEXICO ACTION AREAS: BEFORE 1-0 (LEFT) AND AFTER 1-0 (RIGHT)

Mexico scored with the run of play early in the second half and immediately resorted to sitting back. The propensity to defend in numbers was understandable given how the Dutch have managed to rip up open defences in the past, but it was a case of being too much cautious and abandoning control. They made 4 defensive clearances before their goal, and 22 after. Mexico were fairly open before their goal, and the difference in the approaches before and after the Mexican goal is vivid in the following heat maps.

Special Arjen Robben

Netherlands quickly changed shape after conceding, a change which moved Robben to a more right-sided role, with substitute Memphis Depay on the right. This rejig from Van Gaal was almost game-changing; Robben had the tasty prospect of debutant Diego Reyes on Mexico’s left, and he had the better of him throughout the rest of the match. Kuyt, who was shifted to the right, occupied Paul Aguilar and was always on the lookout for Robben on his side whenever he received the ball.

It was widely expected that moments of individual brilliance could decide the result in the searing heat, and Robben aptly provided them. Robben was all-action in the last half hour; he won 5 out of 6 take-ons, had 11 crosses into the box out of which 2 were key passes, created 4 scoring chances and had a shot saved by Gullermo Ochoa. He even won the penalty that decided the match. Robben’s genius is undeniable, and he once again proved to be the big difference.

Conclusion

Netherlands were pretty average for most parts of the game; they only came to their elements after falling behind. As for Mexico, little bit more positivity after taking the lead could’ve been the difference in a game decided by the fine margins of a penalty kick winner in stoppage time. The Dutch were flexible enough to tactically reorganize twice, and were good value for their win.

 

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Brazil 1-1 Chile (3-2 PSO): Chile’s masterclass ends in tears

Brazil sneaked past Chile on penalties in a highly entertaining and intense game in the heat of Belo Horizonte. It was a tactical feast with both teams canceling each other out and penalties were needed to determine the winner.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari persisted with his preferred 4-2-3-1, only Fernandinho replacing Paulinho in the starting XI. Top-scorer Neymar was expected to play in his free role ahead of the midfield in between the lines, while the more workmanlike Hulk and the less-flashy Oscar flanked him. Their was an air of strangeness to the Brazilian setup, a theme of the tournament so far with the attack and defence looking like strangers on occasions.

STARTING LINEUPS

STARTING LINEUPS

Chile’s excellent World Cup campaign so far had much to thank coach Jorge Sampaoli for; the Argentine’s tactical tweaks meant that he had another bagful ready for the hosts. Chile lined up in their usual 3-4-3, with the half-fit Gary Medel forming the defensive rock along with Gato Silva and Gonzalo Jara. Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas were expected to play their wide forward roles, with the returning Arturo Vidal expected to link the back with the front.

The intensity

BRAZIL'S LEFT FLANK UP UNTIL THE GOAL: HIGH DENSITY RESULTING FROM THE INITIAL PRESSURE AND INTENSITY IN THEIR TARGET AREA

BRAZIL’S LEFT FLANK UP UNTIL THE GOAL: HIGH DENSITY RESULTING FROM THE INITIAL PRESSURE AND INTENSITY IN THEIR TARGET AREA

Brazil knew what they were up against; Chile’s tactical blueprint in the World Cup revolved around their aggressive pressing and reacting immediately to opposition errors. Brazil started flat out, and were all over Chile right from the start. Chile’s success in the tournament so far owed much to their right flank, and Brazil did excellently to target that zone right from kick-off.

Hulk, Neymar, Luiz Gustavo and Marcelo were all over the Chilean right-sided trio of Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla and right-sided center-back Gato Silva. Hulk and Neymar were particularly menacing; they closed down space, pressed aggressively off the ball and attacked relentlessly with it. Luiz Gustavo often found himself quite wide owing to Hulk doing the dirty work on Sanchez; the winger often doubling up on Sanchez with Marcelo.

Brazil’s fluid shape and Chile’s readjustments

VIDAL ACTION AREAS TILL THE 18th MINUTE: DROPPING DEEP BEFORE THE BRAZIL GOAL AND HELPING OUT THE OVERRUN BACKLINE

VIDAL ACTION AREAS TILL THE 18th MINUTE: DROPPING DEEP BEFORE THE BRAZIL GOAL AND HELPING OUT THE OVERRUN BACKLINE

Chile’s ploy of using three center-backs to deal with Brazil’s lone striker Fred came as a surprise, but it was actually to have a spare man against the deep runs of Neymar. Scolari had the tactical nous to brilliantly take advantage of this Chilean predictability. Fred dropped deep, taking with him his shadow center-back Gary Medel, which freed up space for Neymar to make runs behind the Chile defence. Neymar was often the most advanced Brazilian attacker, and Chile had to make quite a few readjustments after surviving the initial onslaught.

FRED ACTION AREAS BEFORE THE BRAZIL GOAL: VERY DEEP FOR A TARGET MAN

FRED ACTION AREAS BEFORE THE BRAZIL GOAL: VERY DEEP FOR A TARGET MAN

Arturo Vidal was assigned to play link up with the two forwards, Sanchez and Vargas, but had to quickly shift to a deeper role to cover for a lack of bodies at the back. Vidal got involved in breaking play, and intelligently tried slowing the game up with a more cynical approach (drawing simple fouls and tactically felling opponents). This was all before the Brazilian goal, after which Brazil reverted to type and sat off inviting the Chileans on.

Chile follow suit

As Brazil sat back after scoring their first goal, Chile had the time to force their game on the Brazilians. Chile’s hallmark has been their defending from the front and pressing, and their goal arrived just the same way. Brazil sat back after their goal, and the unexpected Sanchez goal meant that they failed to recover much in its wake. Chile continued their intensity, and had quite a few chances to take the lead.

Chile’s high pressing meant that they were on tight ropes at the back; they afforded Brazil spaces at the back only to be saved by goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Though they were tactically astute, Chile made basic mistakes at the back and were lucky to get out of jail quite a few times.

The goals

Although Brazil’s highly purposeful and intense start merited a goal, their goal came via a set-piece. Chile’s lack of height was exposed, so too was a pitfall of man marking at set-pieces. Man marking is considered to be safer in many quarters due to the markers affording little room for their attackers. Chile with shorter players got stuck in between, and the age-old problem of defenders switching off to the second balls came back to haunt the them. Thiago Silva was more proactive in getting a nod to the first ball, and Gonzalo Jara, marking David Luiz, failed to react quickly to avert the danger. Another mistake by Jara was letting Luiz stay goalside while marking.

Chile’s goal came via their much-preferred right flank, and through their favored high pressing. Chile were growing into the game as Brazil slowed down, and a mistake from a Marcelo throw-in opened up Eduardo Vargas who squared for Sanchez to poke home. A classic Chile goal, even though Brazil had much say about it.

Substitutions

Brazil’s substitutions were like-for-like, and had more to do with personnel rather than altering the overall shape. Their game revolved around the individual abilities of the forwards, and the changes were basically made to bring on fresher legs. Fred’s ineptitude as the lone striker prompted his removal, but Jo was no good either. While Ramires for Fernandinho was expected given Fernandinho’s little contribution, the Willian for Oscar move provided a more energetic approach in the dying embers of  the game. Brazil’s lack of tactical flexibility was evident, as they searched for the winner without any alternative plan.

DAVID LUIZ'S HIGHLY INACCURATE LONG PASSING: BRAZIL RESORTED TO ROUTE ONE AS THE TANKS EMPTIED

DAVID LUIZ’S HIGHLY INACCURATE LONG PASSING: BRAZIL RESORTED TO ROUTE ONE AS THE TANKS EMPTIED

Chile’s substitutions were bold, and Jorge Sampaoli showed his tactical flexibility by not being afraid to take off his trump cards as the game headed for extra-time. The first big change was bringing on Felipe Gutierrez for Vargas, a change that allowed Chile to have more presence in the middle. This stretched Brazil and they resorted to sweeping long balls with the big void between attack and defence.

Chile’s other change was bringing on Mauricio Pinilla for Vidal, a change that almost won the game for them. Sanchez dropped deep and Pinilla played on the shoulders of the Brazilian defence as target man, a change in approach which was understandable given the tiredness of the players and the propensity to play long balls.

Conclusion

Penalty shootouts are harsh for the losing team, but Chile showed immense tactical adaptability even after falling behind early on. Brazil’s plan remained the same: start quickly off the blocks and pressurize the opponent into making mistakes, and score early. But a lack of plan B for the home side could cost them dear in the latter stages. A very entertaining, open match but one that petered out as invention gave way to tired legs.

 

*Stats and maps via Squawka and FourFourTwo StatsZone

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: USA 0-1 Germany: Defensive Americans

USA suffered their first loss of the World Cup as Germany handed them a 1-0 reverse in rain-soaked Recife. There was nothing intriguing about the match tactically, with Thomas Mueller’s only goal resulting from the USA momentarily switching off at a set-piece.

STARTING LINEUPS

STARTING LINEUPS

United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann ditched his adventurous and much-favored diamond midfield and went for a defensive 4-1-4-1 with emphasis on congesting the central areas and attacking with width. Germany meanwhile had room to maneuver but coach Joachim Loew persisted with the same 4-3-3 with almost similar personnel. Loew went with Lukas Podolski as an alternate, more direct approach to his false nine approach to stifle the USA’s wide threat.

Full-backs

One big tactical aspect of the game was the utilization of the full-backs by both teams. While USA packed their midfield, even Clint Dempsey had more touches in the midfield than in the final third, their only outlet to break was the flanks. DaMarcus Beasley on the left had a tough job containing the interchanging Mesut Oezil and Thomas Mueller, and thus had little say going forward. While right-back Fabian Johnson had more adventure on his flank owing to Germany’s makeshift left-back Benedict Howedes’s frailties as a full-back and Podolski’s rigid positioning.

HOWEDES V FABIAN: HOW THE GERMAN PLAYED ALL ACROSS GERMANY'S LEFT FLANK

FABIAN (LEFT) V HOWEDES (RIGHT): HOW THE GERMAN PLAYED ALL ACROSS GERMANY’S LEFT FLANK, WITH MORE TOUCHES IN THE USA HALF

Howedes is a case in point as to why makeshift full-backs provide little security while going forward. He had more touches in the USA half, and carelessly moved infield with Podolski holding his wider position. Fabian Johnson had quite a few chances to break but his distribution and passing in transitions did not help.

On the other flank, Jerome Boateng turned in a solid shift, with the calming assurance of captain Philipp Lahm covering him. USA were a lesser threat down the left, a testament to Boateng’s performance.

USA conservative

USA DEFENSIVE DASHBOARD: HOW EASILY THEY REPELLED GERMAN ATTACKS (GREEN COLORED SYMBOLS INDICATE SUCCESS)

USA DEFENSIVE DASHBOARD: HOW EASILY THEY REPELLED GERMAN ATTACKS (GREEN COLORED SYMBOLS INDICATE SUCCESS)

Whenever teams line up in a 4-1-4-1 packed with midfield runners, the intent is always to shut shop. Germany had lots of possession, but they seemed to always play ahead of the USA midfield. A few occasions when they had clear scoring opportunities were when either the full-backs were caught making mistakes or when Germany played off the last line of the American defence.

USA 2ND HALF FINAL THIRD PASSES: VERY LITTLE SUCCESS; SHOWED HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS TO CHANGE APPROACH

USA 2ND HALF FINAL THIRD PASSES: VERY LITTLE SUCCESS; SHOWED HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS TO CHANGE APPROACH

Kyle Beckerman played almost as the third center-back, often shadowing Mueller and covering the red zone just ahead of the penalty box. Jermain Jones and Michael Bradley put in decent shifts, although both were quite lucky to not get booked for reckless defensive fouls. This conservative approach and an auxiliary defender in Beckerman meant that USA were fairly comfortable in repelling German attacks. But it was to prove detrimental as they had almost the entire second half to chase the game, and failed without much effort.

USA TEAM SHAPE THROUGHOUT: VERY DEEP AND CROWDED

USA TEAM SHAPE THROUGHOUT: VERY DEEP AND CROWDED

The following team shape shows how the USA played deep in midfield to congest space. Only the concession of the goal made them show some intent, as the advanced positioning of the substitutes Yedlin and Bedoya shows. A lack of intent was evident throughout, and it became all the more vivid when they chased the game in the second half with little incision in the final third.

Neuer sweeping

NEUER ACTION AREAS: TOO HIGH FOR A GOALKEEPER?

NEUER ACTION AREAS: TOO HIGH FOR A GOALKEEPER?

Manuel Neuer provided perhaps the best example of sweeper-keepers being an extra man in the defence. Neuer had a fairly quiet game, having had to make no saves. His action areas show how far he sweeped to help out in US breaks from long balls. Both center-backs, Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker, played an unusually high defensive line, a show of trust in their goalkeeper.

NEUER PASSING: LOTS OF SHORT PASSES, VERY UNPRODUCTIVE WHEN LONG

NEUER PASSING: LOTS OF SHORT PASSES, VERY UNPRODUCTIVE WHEN LONG

Neuer’s decision-making was immense, and his composure showed signs of maturity. A year under Pep Guardiola has improved his passing, although he needs to work more on his hoofs.

Germany experimenting

The Recife rain meant that the game turned out to be slower than usual, but it provided Loew with quite a few pointers. The Podolski gamble was a small one, albeit unsuccessful. Miroslav Klose was brought on in the second half, a move which somewhat changed the dynamics. Germany had a aerial threat with Klose, and it was normal that all of Germany’s crossed key passes were in the second half, after Klose came in. Bastian Schweinsteiger, too, started his first game. His midfield interchanges with Toni Kroos looks a fine prospect, but it’s a shame that it has been affected so late into the competition.

Conclusion

A boring game by the standards of the competition so far, the conditions didn’t help either. Germany played in front of the USA all day long, with the little Mueller-Oezil combinations yielding no fruit. USA needed a draw to progress, and stacked up pretty defensively although they lost the game. It was a game where set-pieces were surprisingly poor given they were the possible routes to goal in the heavy rain, although the winner eventually arrived via a set-piece.

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica: The perfect plan executed

Costa Rica defeated South American champions Uruguay 3-1 in Fortaleza in one of the big upsets at the 2014 World Cup. The North Americans’ counter-attacks at pace and Uruguay’s ineffective supply line made for an engrossing match, as the game was marked by quite a few mistakes.

URUGUAY XI

URUGUAY XI

Oscar Tabarez had to make do without the injured Luis Suarez as Uruguay lined up in their familiar 4-3-3. Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan formed a fearsome attack on paper, one that expected to be supplied well by the two Christians, Stuani and Rodriguez, from the flanks. The experienced center-back pairing of captain Diego Lugano and Diego Godin formed the backbone of a four-man defense with the full-backs, Maxi Pereira and Martin Caceres, expected to overlap and contribute more on the offensive.

COSTA RICA XI

COSTA RICA XI

Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto had a clear idea with his Costa Rican XI; he went for a heavily manned 5-4-1 with Joel Campbell providing a mobile outlet on the counter. The experienced duo of Christian Bolanos and Bryan Ruiz was expected to provide the spark in an otherwise very basic Costa Rica side.

Costa Rica’s initial waiting game and reactive strategy

URUGUAY INITIAL ATTACKING INTENT, WITH LITTLE SUCCESS. IT WAS A THEME OF THE MATCH.

URUGUAY INITIAL ATTACKING INTENT, WITH LITTLE SUCCESS. IT WAS A THEME OF THE MATCH.

Costa Rica setup in a reactive 5-4-1 formation, and were true to the books initially. They played a waiting game, and stuck close to the Uruguayan forwards without ever letting them an opening. Most of Uruguay’s forays came from the left, where Cavani drifted and looked to combine with full-back Caceres and left-sided midfielder Christian Rodriguez. Rodriguez was moving infield all the time, but Costa Rica’s discipline made sure that Uruguay did not play past them.

DEFENSIVE CLEARANCES: COSTA RICA WERE HAPPY TO SIT BACK AND DEFEND THE TOOTHLESS URUGUAYANS

DEFENSIVE CLEARANCES: COSTA RICA WERE HAPPY TO SIT BACK AND DEFEND THE TOOTHLESS URUGUAYANS

This accounted for a lot of unsuccessful passes in the final third from Uruguay, a feature of the play throughout the match. Uruguay were on paper the better team, and received due respect from Costa Rica who were content to sit back and look for openings on the break. A comparison of defensive clearances shows which of the two teams had more attacking intent, and which team was happy to repel away attacks. In an alternative view, Uruguay had a whopping 113 attacking third passes compared to Costa Rica’s 63, which somewhat underlined the minnows’ intent.

The lackluster Uruguay midfield

Uruguay’s lack of a proper ball-playing midfielder was evident as none of their four midfielders (two wide midfielders included) failed to penetrate the massed Costa Rican ranks. Egidio Arevalo Rios and Walter Gargano had to mostly cover space behind as the full-backs overlapped, while the right-sided Christian Stuani offered little going forward. Stuani’s heat map for a wide midfielder shows his ineffectiveness, and his passing efficiency of only 65% was one of the main reasons for Uruguay’s lack of creativity going forward.

URUGUAY MIDFIELD PASSING: LITTLE PENETRATION AND VERTICAL PASSES

URUGUAY MIDFIELD PASSING: LITTLE PENETRATION AND VERTICAL PASSES

STUANI OFFERED LITTLE GOING FORWARD

STUANI OFFERED LITTLE GOING FORWARD

The forwards Cavani and Forlan had to conjure things up on their own, without much success either. On the other flank, Christian Rodriguez tried too hard to link up with Caceres and Cavani; his passing combinations with Caceres were the game’s highest in the final third. Rodriguez’s passing was abysmal, and his attempts at dribbling past his direct opponents were highly unsuccessful.

Joel Campbell

CAMPBELL'S SHOOTING FROM UNPREDICTABLE RANGES

CAMPBELL’S SHOOTING FROM UNPREDICTABLE RANGES

The outstanding player of the match was Joel Campbell. The quick-footed Campbell played all around Costa Rica’s attacking third in a free role-dropping deep when Costa Rica were absorbing the initial Uruguay pressure and moving directly with the ball towards the goal whenever he received the ball in transitions. 3 of his 4 attempts at goal had the air of unpredictability and caught the Uruguay center-backs off-guard. His other attempt resulted in a well-taken goal, and he also assisted the late clincher as Uruguay were caught when attacking in numbers.

ACTION AREA COMPARISON: CAMPBELL WAS MUCH MORE INVOLVED THAN FORLAN

ACTION AREA COMPARISON: CAMPBELL WAS MUCH MORE INVOLVED THAN FORLAN

An interesting comparison could be done with Uruguay’s Forlan who played a similar role but had support around him. Forlan covered less ground (expected because of Cavani’s presence and Costa Rica’s defensive tactics) and made little decisive contribution to Uruguay’s attack. While Campbell was at the heart of Costa Rica’s every foray forward, and was very mobile in the opposition half. A comparison of both players’ passing shows how Campbell was more penetrative and decisive with his passing, as Forlan had the added responsibility of engineering chances with the poor Uruguay midfield.

PASSING COMPARISON BETWEEN CAMPBELL AND FORLAN: CAMPBELL MORE EFFECTIVE AND PENETRATIVE, AND HAD AN ASSIST

PASSING COMPARISON BETWEEN CAMPBELL AND FORLAN: CAMPBELL MORE EFFECTIVE AND PENETRATIVE, AND HAD AN ASSIST

The goals and Martin Caceres’ positioning

Two of Costa Rica’s goals beautifully illustrated how a weaker team could overcome a stronger team with effective counter-attacking. Joel Campbell’s coming off age wasn’t only responsible for Costa Rica’s stunning comeback. Martin Caceres was usually Uruguay’s most advanced defender; he played almost as a winger as he tried to combine with Cavani and Rodriguez in Uruguay’s more effective left flank. He was caught up field in the first goal, as right-back Christian Gamboa made good use of the space on the right wing to cross for Campbell. Caceres is a center-back by trade, and is right-footed, and Costa Rica took good advantage of the weak link.

MARTIN CACERES: HAD TOO MANY ILL-ADVISED FORWARD FORAYS, WHICH HELPED IN COSTA RICA'S COMEBACK

MARTIN CACERES: HAD TOO MANY ILL-ADVISED FORWARD FORAYS, WHICH HELPED IN COSTA RICA’S COMEBACK

The second Costa Rica goal came from a set-piece routine; a deep far post delivery from Christian Bolanos, with center-back Oscar Duarte converting from close range. It was an intelligent tactic by the North Americans as they took full advantage of the lack of height in the Uruguay ranks. Three tallest players in Cavani, Lugano and Godin marked the near post and the central zones, leaving an obvious threat in Duarte with the physically-slight Stuani at the far post.

Caceres reverted to his deep starting position after Uruguay fell behind, as Uruguay looked to throw everything forward in search of an equalizer. Caceres was again culpable as he allowed Campbell time to find the fresh Marco Urena behind the defense for the third goal.

Conclusion

Costa Rica eventually executed their plan to perfection, which was to soak the Uruguayan pressure and hit them on the break. Initial naivety saw them concede a silly penalty which was expertly converted by Cavani, but the North Americans surprisingly had more to offer as they produced a stunning second half performance led by the impressive Joel Campbell. Uruguay had no creativity across the pitch, and the absence of Luis Suarez was keenly felt.

 

* Starting XIs made using Tactical Pad

*Tactical maps and stats courtesy of FourFourTwo Stats Zone and Squawka

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Mexico 1-0 Cameroon: Unimaginative Cameroon

Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 in the Arena da Dunas in Natal to go second in group A. Under torrential rains, the match was more than a damp squib with the result never out of doubt until the final whistle. Mexico were direct and quick, while Cameroon sat off and lacked edge.

MEXICO XI

MEXICO XI

Miguel Herrera’s attack-minded instincts meant that Mexico went for a unconventional 5-4-1 which, in reality, was more top-heavy than bottom. Captain Rafael Marquez was the Libero, the sweeper who controlled the game from the back with added assurance from the holding midfielder Jose Juan Vazquez. Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar were the wing-backs, an area from where most of Mexico’s attacks started. Oribe Peralta’s physicality and lesser mobility gave him the nod ahead of Javier Hernandez. Hector Herrera, Giovani dos Santos and Andres Guardado formed an fluid looking attacking midfield behind Peralta. Francisco Javier and Hector Moreno formed a symmetrical right foot-left foot center back pairing ahead of Guillermo Ochoa in goal.

CAMEROON XI

CAMEROON XI

Cameroon coach Volker Finke had no choice but to go for a flat midfield in an more traditional 4-3-2-1. Benjamin Moukandjo and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting are strikers by trade, but were employed on either side of captain Samuel Eto’o on the wings. In one of the flattest midfield combinations ever, Cameroon went for the unfashionable trio of Stephen Mbia, Eyong Enoh and Alex Song as they basically looked to contain the Mexicans and hit on the counter. 21-year-old Cedric Djeugoue started on Cameroon’s right, beside the N’Koulou-Chedjou duo and former Tottenham defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto was the left-back.

MEXICO PRESSING

Mexico pressed aggressively from the midfield and beyond and unsettled the Cameroonians right from kick-off. The full-backs, Layun and Aguilar, afforded little space to the likes of Choupo-Moting while Samuel Eto’o got doubled up from behind whenever he had the ball. The hard-working Hector Herrera led Mexico’s offensive pressing along with striker Peralta, forcing the Africans into mistakes in their own half. Mexico’s high-pressing meant more mistakes from Cameroon in their own half, which resulted in half-chances for the Americans. Mexico’s intensity and early impetus saw them hit the target 3 times inside the first half itself, with a further 2 shots off-target. Mexico’s quick recycling of the ball was evident too; they were a bit wasteful as Peralta and co strayed offside 5 times in the first half. This clearly showed Mexico’s intent and Cameroon’s slumber, but wastefulness and lack of intelligent movement meant that it remained scoreless for long.

CAMEROON’S DEEP DEFENSE

SONG'S PASSING

SONG’S PASSING

Cameroon counted on their strong-looking midfield to cover the last line of defense as they sat pretty deep almost throughout the whole game. Even after conceding the goal, Cameroon’s shape changed little giving them little to no chance of a comeback. Even though the Africans played with two banks (a four-man defense and a three-man midfield) and sat back inviting the Mexicans, the trio of Song, Mbia and Enoh were caught in two minds as neither had pure  attacking intent and hence left acres of space behind the lines for the Mexican playmakers to exploit. Enoh, Mbia and Song took turns to foray forward, often leaving them undecided when not in possession. A direct result of the Cameroon midfield leaving behind space was Mexico’s goal. Hector Herrera was afforded space, and he caused maximum damage.

CAMEROON FOULS IN MIDFIELD

CAMEROON FOULS IN MIDFIELD

Cameroon looked to sit back and play the physical game, and hit Mexico on the counter. A spate of initial cynical fouls from the deeper-lying Enoh underlined their physical gameplan, while Song was particularly ineffective in finding players ahead of him, something which can also be attributed to the aforementioned Mexican pressing. Song played only 2 of his 29 passes forward, showing how difficult it became to play around the harrying Mexicans. Such a poor showing from star player Song meant that Cameroon were bound for defeat, and it was only a matter of time before they conceded.

MIGUEL LAYUN AND MEXICO’S ALTERNATE PLAN

LAYUN'S CROSSING: SHOWS HOW DEEP HIS RUNS WERE

LAYUN’S CROSSING: SHOWS HOW FAR HE MADE RUNS INTO

One major threat from Mexico as stated pre-match was the motoring left-back Layun. He was supposed to be Mexico’s more obvious attacking outlet, and he did not disappoint. Layun’s runs up and down Mexico’s left meant that the likes of Marquez and Herrera always had a spare man out wide to pass. Layun made some excellent runs in behind the Cameroon midfield and caused troubles for the young Djeugoue, so much so that the hapless Djeugoue was substituted off at half-time. Not only in an attacking sense, Layun was immense at the back too. Whenever Mexico lost the ball, he would sprint back to his starting position, and allowed no breathing space for Moukandjo with help from the left-sided center-back Moreno.

MEXICO DIAGONAL EARLY CROSSES: LED BY HECTOR HERRERA

MEXICO DIAGONAL EARLY CROSSES: LED BY HECTOR HERRERA

Mexico were also seen trying diagonal balls into the Cameroon box, something which wasn’t dealt with pretty well by the Africans. Herrera in particular tried too much of those early crosses into the box, without much effect though. One similar chance was converted by Dos Santos, but was ruled offside.

CONCLUSION

Mexico had no real trouble holding onto the lead, and with center-back Francisco Javier in fine form, Cameroon’s chances were at best, limited. Francisco made 11 clearances, the most in the match, and was impressive in keeping the lid on Eto’o. It was a classic case of the ‘goals changing games’ adage; Mexico who were so proactive before the goal, started slowing the game down with substitutions and simulations. While Cameroon simply didn’t have enough firepower to trouble the Mexican defense.

 

*The starting XIs were made using Tactical Pad

*All the maps were borrowed from Squawka

Germany’s false nine

German football is going through a sea-change. Or so it seems. To a many casual observer, things of late aren’t being stereotypically German. The scenes vividly reflect and the sounds loudly echo, that from within the country there is a diversion from the roots, an anomaly to the eye. Not entirely though; there are no news of culture shocks, but there always remains that possessive corner in the German heads and hearts that yearns for more of the same. The ‘same’ of yore, of the good days, the German days.

Joachim Loew’s final choice of the German squad has been done. Loew is one of the bravest coaches around, and put up a 23-man contingent with only one forward included: Miroslav Klose. It is true that Klose’s record at FIFA World Cups is borderline phenomenal (he needs one more goal to equal ‘O Fenomeno’ Ronaldo’s 15 goals), but does it make enough sense to let a 35-year-old shoulder an entire nation’s goalscoring burden?

What has Loew done instead is selecting a raft of ‘false nines’. Andre Schuerrle, Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze and Julian Draxler can all play that role, but will they be effective goal threats? All four of them aren’t even half of what Klose was when he scored that hat-trick of headers against Saudi Arabia in Sapporo 12 years ago. Critics would suggest Loew has lost it before it has even started, but Brazil is no Europe and the case for Loew’s defense gets weaker with time.

Mario Goetze started up front in Germany’s last friendly against Cameroon at the tip of a 4-2-3-1. Apart from a plucky opening, Goetze provided little in the way of attacking threat. This is somewhat worrisome as Germany are thought of as contenders and potential champions. Mueller can play anywhere across the final third, but his best position as a second striker seems to be hampered by Mesut Oezil’s role on the pitch. Oezil plays in the hole, and his nonchalant approach to the game means that there is no other better position available for him. That means putting Mueller’s versatility to effect, stationing him on the right.

Loew’s options are surprisingly limited. He could either persist with the 4-2-3-1 or go for the 4-4-1-1. An alternative in the latter could be the ageless Lukas Podolski-Klose combination that has served the nation well for the past decade. But Podolski isn’t the most polished of finishers, and has regressed of late, making his selection ahead of a Schuerrle or a Goetze somewhat unfair.

Klose remains Loew’s most valuable card, the trump card, evident by his heels-cooling on the bench against Cameroon. Should he get injured, it would mean a disaster for Germany. So much rests on Klose, and Loew knows he could ill-afford to lose him. But he surely has alternatives in case of a Klose-calamity, and that for now seems to be the aptly named ‘false nine’.

The likes of Goetze and Schuerrle aren’t goalscorers by trade, and represent a significant gamble. There is a severe lack of goals if one cares to look beyond Klose and Podolski, and eking out goals from the other no9s would be equally important as cotton-wooling Klose. Joachim Loew’s chance at becoming the genius since Franz Beckenbauer of 1990 hinges on his false nines. Miroslav Klose is the vital cog, but the square pegs selected to fill his round hole are vital even. We would love Loew ‘the genius’, but only time is the matter before it all turns Loew ‘the crazy’, and we surely wouldn’t love it then.