Exploiting space – a third man run

It is relatively easy to defend a give and go pass performed against an organized defence. However, it is far more difficult to predict a third man’s run. A first video done in collaboration with the Football Education Institute of Slovenia (Nogometno izobraževalni inštitut).

Jesus scores without touching the ball

While #Paulinho makes a great run and #Coutinho pulls off a magnificent pass, the key move is made by #Jesus. His off the ball movement stretches the defensive unit creating space for the runner from deep.  A brief video analysis focusing on individual movement from Brazil striker that allows Coutinho to show his brilliance.


Croatia Defensive Organization

For the most part of the game, Croatia was happy to control the match tactically. They didn’t do so by possessing the ball comfortably, but by facing Argentina generally without the ball and not letting any chances to be created on the opponent side thanks to their great defensive organisation.

To read more about Argentina v Croatia match and truly understand the match dynamics, head over to The Half Space. The author explains in depth how the teams stood on the pitch and their offensive/defensive organization.



About the author:

Kristóf Bakos, Football fan and analyst from Hungary. Opponent Analyst at ASR Gázgyár between 2016-17. Currently a free agent. Co-Owner of @thehalf_space.

ICELAND – Goal kick as a set piece

Since the start of World Cup Qualifications in September 2016, Iceland scored 16 goals from set pieces. That is 41% of all their goals. In defensive phase, they are hard working and compact using 4-4-2 defensive shape. On offense, they are extremely vertical, counter-attacking team.

Apart from Sigurdsson, Iceland lacks technical ability and the team plays to their other strengths. Physical strength, height, speed, teamwork and work rate. Due to lack of technical skills, Iceland is heavily oriented towards set pieces. Their long throw-ins and corner kicks have been extensively analysed. Goal kicks frequently pass under the radar as rarely they are treated as a possible threat to the opposition.

Iceland takes them seriously and looks to take the most out of them. Here’s a brief analysis of their direct play from the back.


An analysis of a pressing trap

You don’t need the ball in order to dictate the play. A clever positioning and closing down can force the opposition to play where you want them. But that is only the half of the full story.

Creating an efficient pressing trap, and training it, is one of the most difficult coaching tasks. As the game is so fluid, it is difficult to predict how exactly will it go. However, it all starts with individual roles and duties.

Here we will take a look at a pressing trap that is set to provoke a diagonal pass towards the weak flank. This difficult to execute pass is a pressing trigger for the team.

You will notice a few points on how it works in theory and how little it takes to break down and how dangerous that can be.



MATCH: Gremio (dark) v Fluminense (white)

Video capturing technology: InStat AUTOCROP

The most common mistake in the defensive phase

Just as an attacker is instinctively attracted towards the ball, a defender is attracted towards a striker. During the attacking phase, we use this to drag the defenders out of position and create space. However, coaches frequently neglect this when they coach defensive phase.

On all levels from youth to the elite, we see defenders tracking the attacker on a run into depth, behind the back line. In this video, I’ve tried to explain when this shouldn’t happen and why it is a liability for a team when it does happen.

The best players aren’t only those who can dribble at speed or those that score goals. Some players can do that, but all players have to think quickly. All other conditions being equal, the ability to make a right decision in a split second is what makes the difference between the top, and an average, player on all levels.

While offensive phase has a tendency to get more creative and free of strict rules as we progress further up the pitch, the defensive phase is its mirror picture. It gets more structured and bound with rules as the opposition gets closer to our goal.

The defender needs to be aware of his position, the ball, his teammates and the opposition. It is difficult to track all that at the same time, and communication becomes a fundamental part of the game.

Defensive organization Analysis

In Europe, Brazilian championship is rarely taken seriously. We drool watching Guardiola’s teams, the half backs, inverted full backs… Things that are present and widely spread in South America.

That being said, this time we will take a look at the defensive organization from (currently) 5th side in Brasileirao – Cruzeiro and in a rather new format of video analysis. Enjoy.



Chelsea v Arsenal match analysis reveals Wenger’s mistakes and Chelsea’s strengthes

Last time Arsenal and Chelsea met, The Blues were in middle of the table and eight points behind Manchester City at the top. The final third of that match saw Chelsea three goals down as Conte introduced 3-4-3 formation and never looked back again. That was the end of September and, after yesterday return clash with Arsenal, The Blues are running away with the title.

Coming to Stamford Bridge Arsenal had to win the game in order to keep themselves in the title race. It was always difficult as they were on low morale after shock defeat against Watford at Emirates. Injuries to Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny away with Egypt squad made it even tougher challenge. In the end, Wenger had little to chose from. He opted for Oxlade Chamberlain alongside Coqueline and Mesut Özil in the midfield. Iwobi and Walcott were kept on wings while Sanchez kept his place as a central forward. Rather unusual pair in the center of midfield had to face the best center midfield pair in the Premier League – Kante and Matić.

On the other side, Conte had no worries regarding his first eleven. No injuries, no suspensions and only doubt was Willian or Pedro. In the end Spaniard got the place as the right sided attacker.

Chelsea doesn’t change the first eleven, and they didn’t change their approach to the match against Arsenal compared to the previous game when they faced Liverpool. Conte has full confidence in his team when the opposition has the ball and Chelsea was happy to give it to Arsenal.The host came out of the dressing room with clear idea to sit tight and get Arsenal on counter attack.

Wenger, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the nerve, desire or confidence in his team to sit out the match and play counter attacking or any kind of patient football. He is all about possession and that is what he wanted on Stamford Bridge.

When Chelsea had the ball in their defensive third Arsenal was resolute to press them tight and win the ball high up the pitch from the first whistle. Once they were in position to set up an attack, Arsenal were pushing the defensive line very high. At the beginning they started with Özil on the left and Iwobi in the center, presumably to keep physically stronger players against Kante and Matić. Shortly after they conceded they had reverted back to Özil in the middle.

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17 players in about 20 yards of depth. It is difficult to find space if there is no space even whe you face a lesser team than Chelsea

Above we see Arsenal in attacking third looking to find a way around Chelsea defence. Central midfielders are connected with red lines while attackers are blue. You can see how Walcott was cutting inside while Iwobi holds his position on the left touchline to keep five men defence stretched (full back Gabriel holds the other side). Throughout the match Özil was exchanging place with Sanchez trying to drop deep and unsettle the defence. However, the central area was covered with two disciplined defensive lines. As none of creative players or attackers on Arsenal team sheet were particularly inspired, the visitors found hard to get anywhere despite pushing numbers forward. Note also the space where almost both teams are positioned, it isn’t more than 20 yards in depth.

In circumstances where Arsenal had to meet the top team in the league after a loss, and they needed the win to keep their hopes for the title alive, they often committed eight to ten men on Chelsea’s half. After going a goal down their desire to get an equalizer pushed them even more forward. However, the pressure really got to them as none of their advanced players had shown any inspiration to threaten the hosts.

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Arsenal relentlessly pushed forward looking for an equaliser, however, they left Diego Costa and Hazard 2v2 with their two center backs. A source of constant counter attacking threat to their own goal

The image above really illustrates how Arsenal’s impatience and pressure were benefiting such an organized team Chelsea is. As whole squad pushed forward very high they really compressed the space (those 20yds from previous image) reducing themselves possibility to move around Chelsea’s defence. As Arsenal defensive line is very high up the pitch, and both full backs advanced into the attacking zones, whenever Chelsea managed to win the ball in their half (15 times), they had 2v2 opportunity in the center of the pitch. From these positions Chelsea was able to create numerous counter attacking opportunities since Koscielny and Mustafi couldn’t cope with Diego Costa and Hazard. Once Pedro, Alonso and Moses got higher up the pitch as well, Arsenal was often a man short while defending.

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The true strength of Conte’s side. Even when third of the team changed their positions within seconds, the overall organization remained uncompromised. 

If we take a look again at the same situation we can see another feature of Conte’s team. David Luiz has stepped up into the midfield to make a clearance, Moses recognized it and didn’t run forward to his “normal” position at the right wing. The same process went on with Pedro who held back his run forward in order to keep the team shape intact. This might be a small adjustment but it tells us how well organized Chelsea is. They are very fluid in their movement when situation calls for it and in few seconds a third of a team change their lines but the team overall organization remains intact.

This kind of concentration in defence gives confidence to two forward players who can then be fully creative and free to play to their instincts. In the end, Hazard scores a wonder goal few moments later.

To conclude, Chelsea wins again due to their impeccable team performance while Arsenal crushes under the pressure unable to create anything substantial while the game was still in their reach. Without the patience to shift Chelsea around and organize slowly they pushed forward in numbers disregarding the counter attack threat. This in the end only helped Chelsea to achieve one of the easiest wins this year.

While the difference in individual quality between two London teams isn’t so great, the difference in team organization, ideas of how to break the opposition and concentration to stick to the plan shows who is really the team and who is much less so at the moment.

Liverpool v Chelsea match analysis: Bastard free kick not enough for Chelsea

The “bastard” free kick and amazing penalty save from Mignolet put a stamp on the most interesting Premier League clash of the week which ended the nightmare Liverpool was experiencing this month.
Chelsea came to Anfield at the worst moment for the hosts who barely won against a fourth division team this year. Even for that they needed second leg replay. Liverpool had lost three consecutive games, dropped out of two cups in three days and had to face the best team in country.

However, Liverpool had already beaten Chelsea this season and the good news was that Sadio Mané finally returned from the African Cup of Nations and the whole squad was fit to play. Chelsea, on the other hand, had few problems before the match. All players fit, excellent form this year with only a loss against Tottenham. While Liverpool had a lot to lose in this match, Chelsea could take it calmly, keep tight at the back and wait for their chance and that is exactly what they did.

Chelsea sitting tight at the back letting the hosts keep the ball

They sat back leaving Liverpool with the ball and little idea how to break down the defense.

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Liverpool game plan involves a lot of movement of midfield and forward lines in order to create the right sequence of passes and movement to get into a scoring chance. A difficult task against so well organized opposition

If we look at the same image from the Liverpool perspective we see the general idea Liverpool uses in their attacking third. Forwards (red lines) constantly change places. Coutinho is dropping back while Firmino and Lallana are more flexible and take turns in dropping deeper and making forward runs. In this instance it is Lallana who starts from deeper position and makes a run behind the defense.
Midfielders (blue lines) operate under broadly similar principle. Henderson plays as a holding midfielder while Wijnaldum and Can are making turns in forward runs from deep. In this instance, it is Can who breaks behind the Chelsea midfield line.

Liverpool went down the left side in order to reach the middle third which they did very effectively. However, Chelsea was as effective at limiting their passing lanes in the attacking third (source: @11tegen11)

Above we see the Liverpool positions and a passing map that reveals James Milner as a link between the defense and the midfield. If you keep in mind the Chelsea formation that is quite a reasonable choice as down the flanks Liverpool has natural man advantage. However, once the ball gets to the central area, to Coutinho and Jordan Henderson, links between players perish.

In first half Lierpool persisted at trying to break the defense via movement in central area

If you get back to the second image, you see why as well. Eight Chelsea players are behind the ball and three most advanced Liverpool players are cut off between them. The only space Liverpool has is in wide areas and Chelsea is happy to concede in order to keep the middle of the pitch sealed off.

Note also the positioning of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard who are both high up the pitch not participating effectively in the defensive phase at the moment.

While Liverpool did well without the ball, closing Chelsea down and forcing mistakes and clearances, they had a lot of trouble getting in the goal scoring position.

However, after conceding that free kick, Liverpool was playing quicker, with more will and desire but didn’t substantialy change their approach. They were always looking to get into scoring position by outplaying packed middle.

The second half didn’t see a significant change from Chelsea but Liverpool made an important addition to their attempts to penetrate the defense.

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A shift in fortunes happened as Liverpool added a new way to get into the box. A diagonal ball to the left side after overloading the right flank finally unlocked Chelsea

Liverpool recognized a weak spot in the zone defended by Moses and Azpilicueta. There was not only a potential height advantage when Can made his forward runs in the area, but also a weak link when Liverpool would overload the right flank and quickly shift the ball to the other side – behind the back of Moses.

This move was performed four or five times and each time it was more dangerous than anything Liverpool did in the first half.

Once Liverpool equalized the match went into the realm of will and work rate and both teams were on brink of scoring. Chelsea kept the pressure on counter attack with great help from Kante who managed 16 successful tackles (of total 29) in a match that sprung quick counter attacks. Liverpool, on the other hand found confidence after scoring and kept pushing.

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Expected goals (xG) tekk us that, on normal day, Chelsea would need three matches to score a goal from chances they had created against Liverpool (source: @11tegen11)

Image above expresses the expected goals from created chances. You can see that, despite everything, the hosts created much more than Chelsea with 1.44 goals against 0.3 (penalty not included). Numbers tell us that, on average game, Liverpool would certainly score a goal from created chances while Chelsea would need three matches to get lucky enough and convert one of their chances into a goal.

However, football isn’t statistics only and the situation on the pitch is heavily affected by the result. In the end, Chelsea got what they wanted while Liverpool will be happy to have avoided the fourth defeat in a row.


This analysis was first published at soccerspecific, a coaching education platform with the mission of creating and sharing the highest quality of coaching information in order to positively impact player development around the world.

BUNDESLIGA – RB Leipzig v Eintracht analysis: RB Leipzig recognizes their mistakes despite high win

While Bayern Munich has been undisputed champion of Bundesliga winning six titles in last ten years, German championship has seen raise of many clubs this season. With Hertha, Eintracht, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig chasing the Munich giants we turned to RB Leipzig match against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Both teams had a great autumn behind them. It is difficult to say if seeing Eintracht in fourth spot was more surprising or RB Leipzig just three points behind Bayern in second. Leipzig Had a difficult end of December when they lost two out of three games (including 3:0 defeat away at Bayern) and they had to continue the chase with a good start on opening match after the winter break.

On the other hand, the visitors needed to keep up the surprising form they had from October till December when they went two months without defeat.

While Emil Forsberg was out of the match due to suspension, Ralph Hasenhüttl had to reshape his team. As Keita was deemed fit he took the left wing spot while Stefan Ilsanker got into the central midfield with Demme in 4-4-2 formation.

Even more problems had Eintracht coach Niko Kovač who was missing Szabolcs Huszti in the center of midfield and Marco Fabián in attack. In the end Kovač opted for Hrgota as the central forward while Hasebe was moved into central midfield to cover for Szabolcs Huszti. This opened space for Hector who got the spot in the defence in a variation of 3-4-3.

However, all hard work preparing the match against RB Leipzig was gone out of the window after only three minutes when Hradecky left his goal and inexplicably handled the ball outside of the box. Kovač took out his striker Branimir Hrgota to make room for 26 years old goalkeeper Heinz Lindner who got his Bundesliga début. Unfortunately for Austrian goalkeeper, his first touch of the ball fell on the foot of Marvin Compper and Eintracht was trailing after just four minutes and with only 10 men on the field. An uphill battle from the beginning.

After Hrgota went off Gačinović dropped back into midfield while Rebić was left as a lone striker in 5-3-1 formation

Above we see the changes Eintracht made as Ante Rebić remained the lone striker while Mijat Gaćinović dropped into the central midfield. What is also noticeable is how well organized are Eintracht defensive banks. RB Leipzig had space in all the areas that don’t matter while Eintracht covered all the dangerous spaces.

Throughout the first half Eintracht remained disciplined in defence and largely contained the hosts despite they were a man down. Due to mobility and work rate from Rebić, they even managed to threaten RB Leipzig and create the best chance of the half. One that Rebić squandered, though.

RB Leipzig closed off the center of the pitch forcing the opposition to go wide where they had 2v1 advantage

Hosts had a lead and a man advantage so they didn’t do much to adapt to the new circumstances carrying on the plan they had from the beginning. As you can see on the image above, when Eintracht tried to build up from deep, RBL tried to channel them to play wide. Possibly due to difference in formations. Even from the start when both teams had 11 players on the field RB had an advantage down the flanks since visitors play only with wing backs. Thus, they man marked central trio while Poulsen, Werner and Sabitzer chased down the three man defence.

While off the ball phase worked well for hosts, they had a lot of trouble creating chances despite the advantage in numbers. Ilsanker was the man who connected the defence and midfield while Demme and Keita were supposed to be the creative spark to outplay the visitors. However, Keita was cutting inside from his left flank and found himself too often in the lap of the opposition defence and couldn’t contribute as much. RB Leipzig had more luck with combinations down the flanks but lacked the precision to finish them off.

RB Leipzig looking for through pass.jpg
While RB Leipzig overloaded the right flank they were trying to use the space in the opposite channel throughout the game

In the image above you see another trademark move from RB. They were overloading the right side where they had two options. A pass to Keita to work his one on one ability and find a team mate with a thorough ball or a long diagonal into the space. In this instance Eintracht did very well to close off the central passing lanes and Keita found himself in the lap of defence unable to receive. Yet, four players in tight space got the attention of whole defence. Combined with lack of attention from Rebić who fails to press the ball carrier, Ilsanker has a lot of time and space to pick the run from Halstenberg who is sneaking behind the back of wing back. Since the defence has shifted to cover four opposition players, RB full back remains one on one with Chandler. However, Demme doesn’t possess the ability to pick those passes consistently and the ball is cleared.

Whole first half went by in futile attempts from RB to break down Eintracht. It seemed the visitors did exceptionally well to get to break with only one goal down while threatening themselves, a bit of luck from set piece meant RB Leipzig got the second goal just before the break.

Kovač didn’t change anything in the second half and by the 60th minute his team was getting tired failing to close all the gaps. However, the biggest change to the game was made by Ralph Hasenhüttl. Keita obviously got different instructions in the second half and his presence in the central midfield changed the game.

Significant changes were made by RB Leipzig as Keita dropped deeper which allowed him to control the match

Above you see RB in the second half and there are few things that changed compared to the first half. Most obvious is that Keita is now dropping much more into deeper position in order to help the transition into the attacking third. Both full backs are higher keeping the width of the pitch and stretching the five man defensive line. While in first half RB consistently attacked with Sabitzer, Poulsen, Werner and Keita high up the pitch, the ball distribution was left to Ilsanker and Demme. However, when Ralph Hasenhüttl dropped Keita into the center he might have lost a body up the pitch but he gained much more.

Although they kept the same basic idea of through balls to men running behind the defence, dropping Keita deeper meant RB have better quality player on the ball in the attacking third who could either execute those through balls or go for a run from deep himself

Above is RB about to reach the attacking third and we can observe how the shape changes as well as what the hosts gained. Two forwards still remain quite narrow and on shoulder with defenders. As Keita isn’t so aggressive in his positioning both full backs can go forward and keep the defensive line pinned back in 5v4 situation.

While Sabitzer is searching space between the lines he provides another one v one option from the deep and Ilsanker is just a decoy to further occupy one of the Eintracht midfielders thus liberating the space for Keita. His deeper position allowed RB to control the second half as his clever off the ball movement allowed him to find space and time on the ball. Unlike Ilsanker in the previous example, he has ability to consistently see and execute a long pass and was a constant threat for the visitors. Well timed runs behind the defence and good passing from Keita opened up Eintracht few times during the second half.

In this position and with a man more on the pitch he could efficiently use his close control and acceleration to run on defence from deep. While RB’s main idea remained the same (find a runner behind the defence) execution in the second half was much better. That is completely due to changes Hasenhüttl did in half time when he placed Keita in more space and time on the ball.

While Eintracht did extremely well in first half and were unlucky to concede the second goal, they failed to adapt to Keita in the second period. Kovač made double substitution in the 72nd minute changing worn out Rebić and Gaćinović. While he lost mobility in the attack Rebić provided, he gained ability to hold on the ball with Seferović. However, with a man and three nil down, midfield found it difficult to get into more advanced position and help out the lone striker who didn’t really have any effect on the game in the end.

To conclude, the game was always an uphill battle for Eintracht as they went man short and a goal down. However, they responded well in the first half and another unlucky goal finished them off. Once Hasenhüttl dropped Keita deeper midfielder ran the show for the hosts and completely ruined the day for Eintracht.

This analysis was first published at soccerspecific, a coaching education platform with the mission of creating and sharing the highest quality of coaching information in order to positively impact player development around the world.