A detail that cost United the win against Arsenal, Man Utd v Arsenal match analysis

Before the match at Old Trafford, Arsene Wenger met Mourinho 14 times and failed to get a single victory against his side. Everything he thought about for the Saturday game was useless and, in the end, he was saved by a bit of luck and good intuition. Two changes gave him an assist and a first goal against Mourinho in nine long years to claim a point in a match with Man Utd.
THE CONTEXT

Arsenal came to Old Trafford without defeat since Day 1 of the Premiership wit three wins and two draws in last five matches. Wenger’s team was a clear favourite against the hosts that didn’t connect two wins in a row since August. To make it worse, United had to face Arsenal without suspended Zlatan Ibrahimović and without both starting center backs, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling. Nevertheless, Mourinho was encouraged by a win in League Cup against Guardiola’s City and two matches in Premiership without a loss. Thus, he ditched six men defence he employed to get some kind of result against Liverpool and Chelsea, and went for relatively open match against Arsenal. Well, to his standards at least.

Although he didn’t park the bus, Mourinho didn’t want to risk too much either. It was yet another difficult game for him since a defeat would settle him back after carefully nurturing his team shaky confidence level in recent games.

MANCHESTER UNITED – DEFENSIVE ORGANIZATION

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United didn’t rush mindlessly into pressing Arsenal and covered spaces in the middle

Above you can see how he, mostly successfully, closed the middle of the pitch forcing Arsenal to build up down the flanks. He was defending zonally oriented on a man while Arsenal was transitioning to the middle third.

He did press Arsenal on his half, however, he did it very selectively. There were two triggers for Man Utd to get out of their defensive shape and close down on opponent in their half.

First trigger were deliberate long balls from their own defensive line. United doesn’t dwell on the ball in their half if they can avoid it. Even less so when opposition is pressing high. Without Ibrahimović upfront, Mourinho instructed his defenders to clear the ball into specific areas. Mainly down the flanks and near the touchline. Reasoning behind this is that receiver of the pass will have less space to cleanly trap the ball. This was the trigger for whole squad to raise their defensive line. Rashford was first man to chase the ball ensuring the receiving full back/defender has also minimal possible time to turn towards United goal and pick his next pass. In meanwhile, midfielders ensured to man mark anyone who could receive that pass. Theoretically this would give Man United a chance to clear the ball on their own terms and react to it with a possibility to win the ball high up the pitch.

Another pressing trigger was largely a reaction to Arsenal actions as United players would defend from front to chase down any back pass to Peter Čeh. The point behind wasn’t really to win the ball high, but to force an opponent to hoof the ball in an uncontrolled manner and then regain the possession since Arsenal lack any strength or aerial ability in the advanced positions. Theoretically, that would allow United to win the ball deep/medium position while opening routes for a quick counter attack when they still had their attacking players in advanced positions against unbalanced defence.

ARSENAL COUNTERING UNITED ZONAL DEFENCE IN MEDIUM BLOCK

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While Arsenal managed to get into the middle third, if Sanchez couldn’t think of something to do with the ball, they were largely without an idea against quite deep and staggered UTD defence

Above you see one of solutions that Arsenal provided to avoid the marking in middle third. One of the weaknesses of man oriented zonal marking is that defender will follow the opponent in his zone. Arsenal is using this with clever off the ball movement from Mesut Ozil and Chilean Sanchez. While Ozil leaves his position in middle towards the right channel, Pogba follows him opening the space. This, in turn, is used by Chilean who drops deep from his central forward position. Depending on reaction of defence, he might have time and space to face goal side or, at least, pick a back/sideways pass.

Arsenal used reverse movement as well to the same effect. At times it was Theo Walcott who would make horizontal movement from right wing position into the centre of the pitch. This would either pull away his marker Darmian or make an overload in the middle. If Darmian followed, a space would open for right back Jenkins to exploit.

MANCHESTER UNITED – OFFENSIVE ORGANIZATION

Due to high value of points in this game (more for the confidence of the team than table position), United was quite reluctant to commit too many men to offensive. This was surely influenced by presence of Theo Walcott who can exploit the space if given. Thus, Darmian largely stayed back together with Michael Carrick to cover for counter attacks. This meant Mourinho had only two central midfielders and Juan Mata to connect their midfield and attack. Despite this, the work rate and off ball ability of Mata/Herrera proved quality more important than quantity.

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While Arsenal was quite solid on defence, the quality of Mata and Herrera provided numerous troubles for them. Above animation is an example of typical movement those two made. Herrera was able to find space and use the ability of Martial’s one trick (cut inside) to receive the pass and unbalance the defence. After Herrera got attention from defence pulling out of the line one of the centre backs there was space behind that was open for Mata to exploit.

This cooperation in the end resulted with seemingly easy finish from Mata from inside the box. However, while it looked pretty straight forward clear chance, it took great deal of composure and technique to connect with such a fast ball. You will notice it was gain a third man’s run that concluded Man United move.

Unlike Mourinho, Wenger was trying to unsettle United defence with number of players in the offensive third. While Sanchez was very effective in a deep lying striker role coming deep to pick a pass, he had no support Mata provided to his team mates. Whenever Sanchez went deep Ozil and Walcott went infield often joined by Ramsey. Unlike United, that failed to give an advantage to Arsenal as their runs were predictable and United defence always had an answer due to deeper stance.

To conclude, United did very well to both, limit Arsenal and create in front of their goal. Visitors were saved by a bit of luck and hunch from Wenger who, midway through the second half, introduced Olivier Giroud and changed the fruitless approach. In the end, Mourinho might be held accountable on the fact he left Rashford on the left flank when Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced. It was young forward who was supposed to mark Arsenal winger in right back position when fatal cross to Giroud was swung in. Either way, Murinho didn’t get what he wanted despite a solid performance and his team is still looking for confidence although this game seemed a step in right direction. Arsenal on other hand, had a poor performance, especially in the second half and lost the opportunity to challenge the very top of the table. Yet, it is a long season.

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Change that turned the game, Sevilla v Barcelona match analysis

Rarely you see such a different two halves of football match as it was in La Liga match between Sevilla and Barcelona on Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium. The way Sevilla was playing the first half was indeed impressive as Barcelona struggled to get on the ball and establish authority they are used to. A small but significant change made in half time turned the game around. Before we get to that we should respect Jorge Sampaoli’s side and see how they managed to minimize the Barcelona’s threat and go ahead.

Lot of teams try but rarely one can succeed pressing highly skill full defensive line of Catalan club. Sevilla employed very high pressing, and although Barcelona managed to escape it at times, they couldn’t do it consistently enough to get into their rhyth

DENYING BARCELONA POSSESSION

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Asa result of great pressing Barcelona saw only 47 per cent of ball during the first half

In the first half Barcelona had only 47 per cent of the ball. Above you can see why. While Sevilla was largely defending in 4-4-2 shape, with Vazquez stepping up from midfield to join Vietto, the whole team was very high preventing the goal keeper distribution. Sevilla made sure to close down the centre of the pitch as you can see above where Vietto, Vazquez, N’Zonzi, Nasri and Sarabia guarded the three central players. Additionally, Vietto was keeping an eye on central defender while Sarabia took care of his full back.

As central trio Busquets, Rakitić and Denis Suarez were locked out, Barcelona was forced to play down the flanks. As hosts kept defensive line very high, Barcelona found it difficult to transition to middle and offensive third in an organized manner.

Where Sevilla really excelled wasn’t the defensive phase of the match but once they were in possession. Sampaoli took a deliberate gamble attacking with his left back who was most of the time very high up the pitch.

 

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Escudero was very high up the pitch which tied down two wide Barcelona players and created overloads in the central areas

This allowed Vitolo to occupy rather central position during most of the match and play in line with attacking midfielder Vazquez and more advanced Vietto. Alongside Sarabia, those three were most dangerous players during the first half. The key for their space and time on the ball was, however, Escudero. He occupied Sergio Roberto and Rakitić leaving Vitolo, Vietto, Nasri and Vazquez to deal only with Busquets, Daniel Suarez and center backs. This often created overloads in small spaces and deeper in the Barcelona half it was even more dangerous due to lack of defensive work from Messi and Suarez. Sampaoli took a gamble there as advanced positioning of his left full back meant opposition right winger was allowed more space in case of quick counter attack.

While Sevilla looked really good in first half and managed to get into the box almost at will, all of that changed during the period and essentially made it possible for Barcelona to win the game.

Catalans came into the match with an idea to exploit left side and overloaded the central area together with left half space.

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During the first half Messi was pushed into the central area to create an overload on the left wing and left half spaces. However, this didn’t really work as Barcelona couldn’t find possession and threat they are used to

Above you can see typical Barcelona during the first half. Luis Enrique decides to keep Lionel Messi in an attacking midfielder slot while in possession which overloads the left side of the offensive third. He was probably counting on exploiting Mariano’s attacking mentality but we have seen before that it was actually Escudero who was higher up the pitch mostly. Additionally, when pushed back deeper into their half, Sevilla would transform into 4-1-4-1 shape and there were always N’Zonzi or Nasri available to close down Messi who was in central area. Whatever the reasons behind Enrique’s thinking, overloading the left side wasn’t really producing the performance he was hoping for. It was even unfortunate choice as it meant that Escudero could venture forward even more without a threat of leaving Messi in the space behind him.

THE CHANGE IN SECOND HALF

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Most important change Luis Enrique made was moving Messi closer to the right touchline. He could find more space and time to dictate the game from there

Above you see the comparison of Messi’s positioning during the first (left) and second (right) half. Enrique abandoned his approach from first half and brought Messi back to right flank for the rest of the match and this made all the difference in the end. Although he scored in first half, Messi and Barcelona played much better after the half time.

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Comparison between first and second half reveals that Barcelona had abandoned left side after the break and attacked evenly down both flanks once Messi went from center to the right wing

To complete the picture, you can see another diagram above representing Barcelona attacking lanes during the game. It is obvious Barcelona spent the same amount of time in the central area during both halves. However, their wing play changed significantly. In first half they almost abandoned the right wing leaving it exclusively to Suarez and Sergio Roberto. Displacing Messi wide in second half meant more time on that part of the pitch and even more time on the ball for Messi. While he had only 25 touches in the first part of the match, the shift to right wing meant also he touched the ball 42 times, almost doubling his time on the ball.

In conclusion, Sevilla played great half and a lot of credit goes to them. However, by placing Messi centrally Enrique played into their hands allowing Escudero to create more space for Vitolo. At the same time, having a strong defensive midfielder in N’Zonzi made it difficult for Argentinian to find space in well placed Sevilla defence. Credit goes to Luis Enrique for realizing the problem and solving it as well.

Guardiola finaly abandons possession game; Man City v Barcelona match analysis

Despite stubbornly defending his way, Guardiola finally seemed to take a step back from his possession game and went for more pragmatic approach which was instantly rewarded with a win over his former club. Although City employed different approach against Barcelona, compared to the match played last week at Camp Nou, the match flow was quite similar. Barcelona went one up from the first shot on goal despite City being quite successful at closing them down.

GUARDIOLA’S GAME PLAN

1. ABANDONING POSSESSION AND PLAY OUT OF THE BACK MANTRA

Without his sweeper keeper, Claudio Bravo, Pep maybe didn’t want but simply had to abandon his desire to control the possession. That was the first step towards the change of strategy compared to match at Camp Nou. Playing with less skill full goalkeeper meant City can not keep the ball at the back against Barcelona pressing and led to much simpler game plan. The way Guardiola wanted to play at home, compared to the away match, is maybe best seen in clearances department. While City was reluctant to clear the ball at Camp Nou (only 15 clearances), at home ground they went for a long punt 25 times. Not allowing easy goals seemed to be the goal for Guardiola.

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Most important decision Guardiola made prior to the match was to abandon the possession game. Compared to Bravo in first match against Barcelona, Caballero had completely different ball distribution

Above you see the passing map for both City goalkeepers in the first and second match. While Claudio Bravo was able to get to 70 per cent pass completion rate, Willy Caballero had only 37 per cent. No doubt Bravo helped City keep the possession and control the match as Guardiola wants, it also meant that a red card Bravo received was a direct consequence of game plan.

With Caballero between the sticks City opted to clear the ball much more frequently giving the possession away but keeping nice and tidy at the back avoiding crucial mistakes close to his own goal.

As a consequence of this shift in approach, City had only 35 per cent of the ball at home ground while at Camp Nou they were only three per cent behind the best passing team in the world.

2. ZABALETA ROLE

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Tucking inside from left back position, Zabaleta brought Neymar with himself. This meant less players attacking back three and easier build up

Above you see a characteristic movement from Zabaleta who cuts inside from right back position. This forces his marker Neymar make decision. Does he go and track Zabaleta inside? In this instance he does and leaves Messi alone to cover Stones and Otamendi.

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However, when Fernandinho managed to break the pressing and if Neymar wasn’t paying attention, Zabaleta would find himself in acres of space to ping the ball behind the defensive line

Although Barcelona generally does well when pressing in numbers on the small space, above you see importance of Zabaleta’s positioning whenever the ball is on the left side of the pitch during the transition into the middle third. As Fernandinho manages to break the pressing Neymar remains in no man’s land and Zabaleta is alone with enough time and space to go for a direct ball behind high defensive line.

3. HIGH PRESSING

Although Zabaleta was important in breaking down Barcelona pressing and an option if Neymar wasn’t careful, City didn’t make much of it. They were most dangerous when they didn’t have the ball. Their positioning without the ball was formidable throughout the match. City managed 21 interceptions compared to only 10 of their opposition. However, it is even more important when they made the bulk of them. Two thirds of those balls City managed to get in middle third of the match between 30th and 75th minute. During the same period of the game Barcelona managed to intercept only four balls. To remind you, they had scored in 39th, 51st and 74th minute of the match while the first goal was direct product of work without the ball.

To conclude, it could be safely said that Guardiola went very pragmatic with his approach to the match. He kept what went well in the first game (pressing) and abandoned what wasn’t good. Once Claudio Bravo was banned for the match Guardiola had no possibility to go and win the possession game against his former team. He opted for direct game mostly over the right wing while waiting for runs from deep by De Bruyne and Silva once he managed to catch Barcelona on counter attack. Barcelona played same as they did at home and couldn’t produce much. Once City cut down on their own mistakes they went and won the game pretty much the same way they lost it last time around.