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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

How Pochettino lost the battle he already won, Chelsea v Tottenham match analysis

We finally saw a glimpse of a system that might be able to stop Chelsea when Tottenham decided to flush everything down the toilet. A match between London teams at Stamford Bridge ended with yet another win for, what seems to be, unstoppable Chelsea.

 

CONTEXT

Teams went into the clash from quite different mental positions. Chelsea was on six games winning streak that started in September with heavy loss to Arsenal and change of formation to 3-4-3. High on confidence with standard line up where everyone knows what to do.

Tottenham, on the other hand, is still sore from Champions League in midweek and only one win in last five Premiership games. Unlike Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino had to replace suspended Danny Rose and opted for Kevin Wimmer who started only two games in the league.

 

TOTTENHAM GAME PLAN

Despite psychological disadvantage, Tottenham started admirably at Stamford Bridge.

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Effective high pressing disrupted Chelsea ball circulation and transition in the middle third

As you can see above, Tottenham was defending from front trying to force a misplaced pass or at least an uncontrolled clearance to regain the ball and harass the build up from Chelsea.

However, what made Tottenham look so good in the first half was movement of their players and the way they were able to exploit Chelsea’s weakness in a way nobody has done since they dithced to 3-4-3.

 

IN POSSESSION

The idea of Pochettino was to overload the left flank and exploit attacking mentality of Chelsea right wing back Moses on counter attacks. During positional attacks Tottenham would still overload Chelsea right flank and look to use quick passing between front four to get around the defence- If this wasn’t possible they would look to change the point of attack to Chelsea weak side directly passing to Walker or via a back pass.

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Overload on the left provided Tottenham local numerical advantage in attacking third

Above is the situation where Chelsea is all set in defence. However, speed and technical ability of Alli to burst by his marker from deep allows them to progress into the attacking third. Crucial is the positioning of Heung Min who is sitting on touchline while Kane also moves towards left. This ties down Moses and Azpilicueta forcing David Luiz to close down Alli. Chain reaction continues as Brazilian leaves his position in the defensive line opening space for Eriksen who cuts inside from right and scores for early lead.

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The same situation as above during the counter attack.

The same pattern is used on counter attacks as well. Above is Heung Min receiving the ball while Moses fails to track back in time. Eriksen leaves the right flank to Kyle Walker and moves into central position to create 4v3 overload.

This kind of movement and overloads created in left half spaces were creating all sorts of trouble for Conte’s team that couldn’t cope with them once first line of defence was broken.

So why was the second half so much different? Chelsea did find an equalizer through sheer magic from Pedro and that certainly lifted the team in the half time. However, it did help but doesn’t explain why Tottenham failed to produce same movement.

Match stats shed a bit of light there, though. If we look at positions where front four Tottenham players received the ball in the first half and compare it to the second period, we realized how Pochettino changed his approach after the half time. And failed.

 

CHANGES IN THE SECOND HALF

Analysing the positioning of most attacking Tottenham players, we can see that in second half they were occupying different spaces compared to first half.

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Players have shifted their positions for second half. Only Alli is present on the left in the second half while Tottenham had three players there during the first period. However, notice how Kane didn’t support attacks down right thus there was no overload on that side anymore

Above graph was created with data from positions in which each player received the ball. The emphasis on left flank from first half has obviously shifted to the opposite side in the second part of the match.

What this tells us is that Heung Min changed places with Alli while Kane adopted traditional striker role in the middle of the pitch. This meant he abandoned exploiting Moses’ attacking mentality and shifted his players to right. However, as Kane was firm in the centre of the pitch, Tottenham couldn’t create numerical advantage so consistently and failed to threaten the hosts.

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Shifting players right meant that during second half Tottenham ahas also shifted their attacking emphasis also shifted their attacks down right flank

If we take a look from which side Tottenham approached the game we can see that second half meant they have  abandoned the left flank and shifted over to the right. As we have seen in image before, without Kane drifting to right, this wasn’t creating gaps between Chelsea centre backs and Tottenham lost the edge.

It is difficult to say why would Pochettino make such a change in the half time. Maybe he was expecting Antonio Conte to react and cover his right flank better while surprising him by a hit on the other side. While Pedro was more engaged in defensive duties by helping Moses, Conte didn’t significantly change his approach during the second half.

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Change of approach from Pochettino didn’t work in offensive sense, but it failed in defense as well. Alli struggled to track his wing back who in the end scores the winner

What happened was that defensively less adept player, Alli, failed to help out hi full back leaving Moses with a lot of free space to exploit. Eventually this hurt Tottenham and completely turned the game. Quarter of an hour before the end Pochettino changed Heung Min and Alli, two players that significantly changed their positioning in the second half admitting the mistake. After bringing Jansen in last 10 minutes Tottenham went for 4-4-2 or, more 4-2-4 but couldn’t do much against disciplined defence.

To conclude, Tottenham had Chelsea on the ropes. However, Pochettino wasn’t satisfied with only one surprise and wanted to catch Chelsea on back foot again by changing his approach in second half. This, however, brought him only trouble and let the hosts off the hook. As they say, don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.

 

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.

EPL: Arsenal v Chelsea Demolition Derby

Highly anticipated London Derby between Arsenal and Chelsea turned out to be a “Demolition Derby” as hosts trash Chelsea with confidence. Although Chelsea went into the match with psychological edge as they won three of last five encounters at Emirates and didn’t lose any, recent form showed Arsenal unbeaten in last six competitive games. Chelsea, on the other hand, lost to Liverpool and needed an extra time to go through next round of League Cup against Leicester in midweek.
In terms of line ups, Arsene Wenger opted for Coquelin and Cazorla in deep midfield roles and left Granit Xhaka on the bench despite some great performances in recent weeks. Since Cazorla was dropped deeper in midfield, Alex Iwobi found his place on left wing and that was pretty much it. On Conte’s side of the pitch, Oscar lost his place and was replaced by Fabregas as center midfielder while rest of the squad was left untouched compared to previous EPL games.

From the beginning of the match Chelsea was set up to defend very deep avoiding any pressure on arsenal midfield trying to force the ball to the wings provoking the crosses to rather small forward line. Seems as Conte’s plan was to invite the opposition deep into attacking third and upon seizing the ball searching for direct balls to Hazard and Costa who would hold onto the ball until rest of the squad arrives if immediate counter attack wasn’t possible.

However, early mistake from Cahill who was caught in possession quickly disturbed greatly the away team. Before they knew it, Arsenal was already two goals up and Chelsea had a mountain to climb after only a quarter of an hour.

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Five players in midfield are nice luxury as you can give Hazard a bit of time to rest. However, if you also defend deep and put no pressure on the ball, you essentially invite the opposition to pick their passes and off ball moves. Arsenal is not a team that wouldn’t take those opportunities

Above you see the screenshot of teams few seconds before Walcott scores second goal for Arsenal and can observe all the problems Chelsea has with their defensive plan.

First, defence is sitting very deep above the box, but that wouldn’t be a problem if anyone from the midfield bothered to pressure Cazorla. He has all the time and space to pick his next pass, and above all, he is already facing Chelsea goal.

Besides deep defensive line and no pressure at all on ball carrier, there is another flaw intrinsic to Chelsea game plan. As they basically wait for Arsenal to kindly turn over the ball, Hazard is exempt from defensive duties since he is waiting to burst forward in counter attack leaving Azpilicueta 1 on 1 with Bellerin. Since Chelsea essentially plays with five in midfield Conte can afford himself to spare Hazard some of defensive duties, however, the rest of midfield has to work much harder to get to ball if Conte wants to get away with Hazard’s role.

Few passes later ball indeed comes to Bellerin on right who then assists Walcott and Hazard tries to cover the ground but is too late since his initial position is off and rest of midfield fails to apply pressure on ball carrier.

Maybe even bigger problem Chelsea had taking the ball out of their defensive third and forming their attacks in any sensible way. This was largely due to great team pressing from Arsenal, but again, Chelsea itself, assisted their rivals.

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Positioning of full backs is crucial for building the possession from the back. Ivanović should stand at least 15 yards up-field to create more space for back three. Chelsea shoots it’s own leg by letting N’Golo Kante to be a man who connects midfield and defence

If you want to play from goalkeeper and gradually move the whole team from defensive to middle third, you need to provide space for your defenders to play around the opposition pressing. However, if you look at above screenshot you see Ivanović and Cahill in 5 yards of space. This allows Iwobi and Oezil to close down three Chelsea players. Ivanović should be at least 10 to 15 yards ahead of his position which would move Iwobi away and give much needed room for Kante, Cahill and Luiz to operate.

It is difficult to understand what was Ivanović thinking, however, it wasn’t an isolated incident but a pattern that went on through whole first half. With Arsenal determined to chase down every ball, this put the defence under a lot of pressure and lost balls in their own defensive third and when Arsenal didn’t get the ball, it only produced rushed clearances that Arsenal had no problems mopping up.

One can’t think that Chelsea or Conte doesn’t know how to position themselves when building up from the back, it is speaking a lot about mental state of Chelsea players as they came on the pitch. Another thing that is completely down to Conte is that Kante was designated player to connect defence and midfield. This was the case in match against Liverpool as well and while Ngolo is great defensive minded player, at the moment, he simply doesn’t seem to be the one who can keep the ball under pressure nor the one who can control it and evade the pressing by dribbling his way out. This makes Chelsea builds up play much worse than it really should be if Oscar, Fabregas or Matić were the ones to fill the role.

In meanwhile Chelsea conceded another goal after losing possession deep in the Arsenal half and Conte finally changes the system to 3-5-2 during the second half. Highly risky endeavour but it is Conte’s preferred way he used with Juventus and Italy. As the game was effectively lost he probably wanted to test what the team has learned in the training ground and it wasn’t worse than the start of the game. However, since he couldn’t get all the players he wanted during the transfer window, there is still a lot of work before we se proper Conte’s Chelsea.

For any Blues fan it has to be hard to see their team struggling especially as they looked very good in the beginning of the season. Match against West Ham went very well and team did play “Conte football”. However, for some reason, Conte replaced Oscar as deep lying playmaker with Kante and this left consequences on the team’s ability to transition from the defensive zone into the middle third.

Although Chelsea was ridden with mistakes and wrong choices throughout the match, it doesn’t really take anything away from the great performance by Wenger’s Arsenal.

They went on aggressively and took everything Chelsea had offered. They closed down their transition and exploited all the mistakes. Iwobi was particularly good with his direct and quick short passing showing that despite tender age he can contribute massively to the Arsenal play style. Another important thing for Wenger will be the way Granit Xhaka has stepped in his role of defensive midfielder offering his passing range and long shots to Wenger and Arsenal team. If they were criticized for weak center back pairing before, it seems that with Mustafi alongside Koscielny, their defence is improving as well.

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EPL: Chelsea v West Ham analysis

Last opening game of Premier League season featured two highly anticipated teams. “Chelsea Reloaded” with fresh blood, but above all, with tactical mastermind Antonio Conte. On the other side, if there was no Leicester miracle last season, Slave Bilić’s West Ham would be the story of the year. It was great tenure at Juventus where Conte was winning everything he could in Italy and exceptional run at EURO that made Conte world class tactics expert. EURO was particularly interesting as Conte missed semi finals on penalties with mediocre squad put into masterful tactical approach. Expectations and hopes are high for Chelsea and first match was highly anticipated. West Ham, on other hand, had a great season with Slaven Bilić and game against Chelsea was there to establish his foothold on new season. First quarter of an hour seemed like West Ham could play on even terms with Conte’s Chelsea, but after clock came to about 15th minute the tide turned.

Highly structured and coherent Chelsea team gave little room to West Ham who started losing balls, miss controlling passes and all the possession went over to Chelsea. In absence of Dmitri Payet, a man who can hold on to ball and look for that dangerous pass, West Ham relied more and more on long balls to their target man Andy Carroll. However, all the rebounds, second balls and challenges went Chelsea’s way and slowly they established dominance. At that point patterns started to emerge.

Conte obviously believes he has an extraordinary player in Eden Hazard. A man who is quick with the ball in his feet and can turn around any defender, winger who is equally capable of seeing a pass and executing it, a man who is able to create the difference on the pitch. To give him opportunity to have time and space on the ball in order to do what he does best, Conte ordered majority of attacks down left, Hazard’s side. To make his life easier, Chelsea manager shifted most of his players closer to him.

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As with Italy, Conte leaves the middle of the pitch and focuses on flanks

You can see above how left side of the pitch is crowded by four Chelsea players ready to receive the ball from Oscar. It is the set up that was seen again and again throughout the match. Conte is deliberately vacating the middle of the pitch to opposition, a thing he successfully employed in recent Italy campaigns at EURO.

Once the ball gets to left to Hazard, he has few options. Quick combination play with team mates, solo run or splitting pass to escape two wide opposition players and get on goal. However, if this doesn’t seem likely, Chelsea often opted for retaining possession, a novelty compared to Italy style during EURO.

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Oscar has a deep lying playmaker role and in transition from defensive third he drops to RB position to pick the ball and move it into the middle third. Center of pitch is left to opposition while players overload left side to allow options for Hazard

Above is the diagram of Chelsea transition from defensive third into the middle third of the pitch. Runs from Ivanović and Willian are only a decoy while bulk of players shift to left to give support to Hazard. This move repeatedly troubled West Ham. Partly due to low work rate from Valencia who isn’t very keen on running after opposition to an extent where, by the end of first half, Bilić was forced to move more energetic Andy Carroll into his slot in order to disrupt the transition. Although it was repeated throughout the match, Chelsea didn’t hesitate to employ right side when occasion presented itself and both, Ivanović and Willian, did a great job on right.

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When left side overload doesn’t work Chelsea is more concerned with keeping the ball as Ivanović goes inside to offer a passing option. However, Chelsea is already leading here and in first half right back wouldn’t hesitate to go forward aggressively

Above you can see what happens when direct route to goal on left is closed off. There are four players attracted to Hazard and another two tied to West Ham’s right side leaving Oscar completely open in center of the pitch while Willian is waiting for a pass into deeper areas on right. While Conte isn’t obsessed with possession, he is still Italian and doesn’t push his full backs high. At this moment he is one nil up and he is content to keep organized and covered in case of counter attack. With Ivanović going inside to receive the ball from Hazard or maybe Oscar allowing his team to gradually progress up the pitch, instead of hugging the line and going forward immediately.

While Chelsea merited a goal from their combination play and smart possession, it was only a reckless mistake from Antonio who gave away the penalty at start of second half that allowed Chelsea to go ahead. From then on Ivanović stopped venturing forward so aggressively as he did in first half.

On the other hand, West Ham offered little in tactical sense. They were on the back foot throughout the game and were lacking aggression, decisiveness and compactness to take the ball away from their opponents. Their offensive play was significantly disturbed as Ayew had to go off with injury early on as he seemed to be a player with licence to roam around the pitch freely and connect the midfield to attack. After he was out, Tore didn’t fill the same role and West Ham relied mostly on long balls to Carroll.

Only in 70th minute when Payet comes on West Ham changes its shape and goes from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 but French star changed little the fortune on the pitch, although it seems as West Ham got more confident on the ball with him on the pitch. They eventually equalised from set piece when Chelsea went desperate and shifts to 4-2-4 to get a goal minute before the fulltime.

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After lucky equaliser Chelsea changed to 4-2-4 and managed to squeeze in a winner after great strike from Diego Costa who receives the flick on from Batshuayi who receives a long ball from Nemanja Matić

In conclusion, the work of Conte can already be seen on the pitch. Weeks of pre-season paid off, ironically, it was mistake from opposition and a rather desperate, individual effort from Diego Costa that got them result. West Ham has a long year to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. However, they showed little without Payet and Ayew on the pitch. Bilić can be content with his defensive shape when they are set up for zonal defending. However, they still lack the cohesion and teamwork needed to go into pressing and winning the ball from their opponents.

EURO2016: Italy – Spain 2:0, analysis: Conte makes two key moves

First big match in knock-out phase at EURO saw an extraordinary clash between Italy and Spain that, as today newspapers notice, finished an era of Spain football dominance in Europe. Both teams came in after losses in final minutes of group stage last matches, however with different attitude. As one twitter user noticed, “Italy almost considers it bad manner to push in a match that means nothing to them”. Spain, however, the reigning champions have a mentality to win every match and win it with class. No doubt loss to Ireland meant little to Italians while Spain was a bit shaken after losing first time in Euro since 2004.
While Italy has already shown they can defend in the tournament while patiently waiting for a goal by long passes to two center forwards from defensive line, Conte came up with a surprise for Spain. A surprise Furia Roja didn’t recover until about 70th minute.

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Unlike previous games, Italy  actively searched to retain the ball in own defensive third to negate possession to Spain and did so perfectly

In group stages Italy had 51 pass in defensive third, however, for match against Spain they upped the passing in front of Buffon goal by 20 per cent. More over, they had 4 misplaced passes on average in that zone during group stage. However, in the first knock out match against Spain famous for their pressing from front, they didn’t have a single misplaced pass.

This was a huge surprise for Spain and completely threw them out of their comfort zone as they are not used being unable to recover the ball, and what was even more hurting, they aren’t used not having the ball longer than it is required to take the throw in.

That was exactly what Conte was hoping for when he decided not to shy off from possession battle, a practice no manager had tried since Inesta took that number six shirt in Spain dressing room a decade ago.

This back third possession trick Conte pulled out served two goals. Firstly, Spain didn’t have the ball and couldn’t hurt Italy with their possession. Second goal of Conte’s approach came as a result of well achieved first goal. Spain was obviously shaken from unexpected situation where they couldn’t get on the ball. As a result, as time passed they became ever more nervous, de concentrated and unsure as what the match will bring while they, as champions, should win nonetheless.

To make things worse for Spain, their opponents executed perfect pressing in offensive zone. Italy wasn’t as much interested in winning the ball high up the pitch (while that would surely be a bonus), but more concerned how to disrupt the distribution into the middle third where Spain attacks get formed.

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Disruption of transition into middle third, a second key aspect of Conte’s approach and a novelty compared to group stage games

Above you can see a typical situation where Spain isn’t allowed easy transition of the ball from defence into middle third as all passing options are covered. Instead, De Gea is forced into uncharacteristical punt. Key players here are two forwards who are marking Busquets and one of the central defenders while the other is picked up by Giaccherini or Parolo, depending on which side is the ball. At the same time Italian wing backs, Florenzi and De Sciglio are positioned to get in time to cover the full backs.

How effective this pressing was are telling the statistics. While in first half Spain averaged 196 passes in middle third during the group stages, against Italy they were missing roughly a third of those passes. Another fact is striking, while their passing average in middle zone during group stage was 93 per cent, against Italy Furia Roja was red of fury as they got only 85 per cent. This might still be very high for your average team. However, combined with 30 per cent less passes made, almost 10 per cent more mistakes and almost identical possession, it had to be frustrating. Even if players on the pitch weren’t aware of the numbers they felt them in their heads, in their feet and in their conciousness.

Key points of Conte’s approach to a match against defending champions were in this two things. On the ball, retain possession in defence to minimize opposition possession and off the ball, disrupt the distribution of the ball to middle third.

Once on the ball and through the Spain pressing Italian game didn’t significantly change compared to their group matches. They still went for direct balls to one of the center forwards, usually tall and strong Pelle who could hold up the ball and pass it either to his partner Eder or to one of the wing backs who would then put the cross in. Important roles while on the ball had Giaccherini and Parolo who drifted wide to further liberate space in the middle for dropping center forwards or to overload the wide areas and make life easier for overlapping wing backs.

Little really changed deep into the second half when after 70 minutes Italy started to drop off till the point at 80th minute when Conte essentially dropped wing backs to full back position for more solidity in defence. By that time Spain was already so disrupted they couldn’t do much. If you look at @11tegen11 diagrams you can see how much different Spain approach was. More due to Italian game than their volition. There was a huge hole where once stood links between Busquets, Ramos, Iniesta and Fabregas. Essentially, the link between defence and midfield, a famous half back Busquets was outplayed from the game compared to a match against Croatia six days ago. As a result Silva, Fabregas and Iniesta have much less ball at their feet while their attacking positions are higher in the lap of Italian block.

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Spain was denyed the middle third and it shows as the link between the lines, Busquets, is completely cut off  Diagram source: 11tegen11.net

Although famous for their movement off the ball and precise short passing, Spaniards were in disbelief after game developed so different to what they are used to and Vincent Del Bosque failed to adapt. In the end once again a tactical genius of Antonio Conte prevailed and it will be interesting to see how he prepares for Germany. Since Die Manschaft plays somewhat similar to Spain, it shouldn’t look too different either. However, Germany will have a strong tall striker to battle in the middle of Azzurri defence and much more diversity in their approach to final third compared to Spain.

IREvsITA passion and tactics win over tactics

“It is stuff dreams are made off”, said Robbie Brady after the match Ireland had, and did, win against sturdy Italy’s Conte side that reinvented “catenaccio”. Sides played a match in very different circumstances in Lille. While Ireland had to win or die trying, Italy already knew it was through, it was first in the group and no matter what, will play Spain in next round. The few doubts were only in the head of Antonio Conte who still wasn’t sure who is his first team left wing back and how to make Bernardeschi, a natural wide striker, play as a right wing back. That was the context that shaped the game.
Conte sent eight new players on the pitch searching for answers about his reserves and made little changes to his overall tactical approach to the match. He knew Ireland will have to come onto him and he was more than happy to let them do it. After all, it is the same scenario from the beginning and great win against Belgium that imposed Italy as a formidable opponent in the tournament.
Martin O’Neill, though, had everything to play for. It is rarely so evident when the players in the team occupy relatively different positions in offensive and defensive phase of the game.

 

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Majority  of Ireland went down left flank in the first half. You can see that by the ammount of work Italy had to do in that part of the field

 

Above is the defensive diagram for Italy in the first half. You can see all the work that had to be done on the side where Bernardeschi, Sturaro and Barzagli were operating. It is doubtful O’Neill was targeting especially Fiorentina striker who has been playing out of position. I’d guess it was just lucky coincidence as Ireland has Ward, McClean and Brady who are all left footed with prolific cross. What wasn’t a lucky coincidence was that O’Neill picked all three of them to overload the Italian right side and it was working well from the first whistle.

 

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Ireland attacking shape trying to overload left flank with three left footed players well adept at crossing

 

Although primarily a winger or left full back, Robbie Brady had a very distinguished role in the team once O’Neill set him to play as a central midfielder. He was constantly overloading the left flank allowing McClean to push further forward and occupy Barzagli. Depending on Brady’s movement, he would either drag away Sturaro or let Ward ping his deep crosses into the box. McCarthy played an important covering role for him, but also for Hendricks who was always surging in the centre midfield from the left wing leaving space for Coleman to widen the pitch and keep De Sciglio occupied on the far flank.

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Ireland passing and positional diagram shows important role Brady and Ward had in supporting each other and McClean

 

Lovely diagram from 11tegen11 (twitter @11tegen11) above shows the Irish game plan clearly. Players who have seen the ball the most have the biggest circle and you clearly see that Brady and Ward were the players looked for by their team mates. This overload created a lot of pressure on Italian right flank and produced numerous crosses into the box.

 

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Result of left flank overload is 14 crosses in first half that didn’t connect too often but kept Italy under constant pressure

 

Despite crosses weren’t connecting it still kept Italians on their toes. This pressure didn’t subside even when Ireland didn’t have the ball. They would press high up the pitch, once again compromising their “default” 4-4-2 shape. Long and Murphy were instructed to close down Ogbonna and Bonucci while McClean piled off his nominal left midfielder position and went closing Barzagli. Thiago Motta, Italian player designated for connecting the defence with midfield was kept in check by Hendrick while Brady was allowed to drop off and conserve the energy for other tasks.

 

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High pressing employed by Ireland to prevent long precise passing from deep and obstruct circulation to main link between defence and offense – Thiago Motta

 

The pressing forced some errors in possession for Italy but Ireland wasn’t able to use them to any significant effect. The same happened when Ireland had the ball in their defensive zone. Technical weakness of their defensive line showed every time they had to circulate it behind but Italians were more worried about their own shape so that went by just well for Ireland. In fact, everything went well for them as they had everything they wanted and planned except the goal.

Paradox is, Conte felt absolutely the same. Above all he was interested to see his reserve players in the game and how would Bernardeschi fare as right wing back. They were more than content to keep Ireland pinging the crosses into packed defence and concentrated on direct long passes to their centre forwards. The pattern from the first two games reappeared whenever Italy got the ball. It was either direct long ball to one of the strikers that went to flank just to be crossed back again, or long pass directly to one of the wing backs to the same effect.

 

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Whole tournament Italy played pattient game with direct passing from deep to forwards or wings. This was no different

 

As Conte had Thiago Motta instead of De Rossi in the line up he was happy Motta did the distribution alongside Bonucci. However, all these balls (39) failed to connect but Conte was perfectly happy with it. As in all previous matches he was patiently waiting for that right one. Except changing the personnel he really didn’t change anything in his overall approach and that continued in the second half.

Conte was aware Ireland has to open up more as the time comes and he was confident the team can weather the crosses and overload on his right flank. To up his chances in 60th minute he subbed Daniele Bernardeschi with Darmian who is more adept in playing defensively and that was his last defensive move.

O’Neill on the other hand had to do more as the time passed and ordered his right back Seamus Coleman to go more offensive. Attacks down the overloaded left died off and his approach was more balanced as Coleman also provided an option up the pitch.
Chasing the game O’Neil made several changes and shifts as the end was getting closer going all out attack in last 15 minutes when he brought Hoolahan. As soon as Conte sensed this he came out of his nutshell. Not that he changed his game plan but he first subbed Insignie for Immobile and after Hoolahan entered on pitch Conte ordered EL Shaarawy to substitute De Sciglio on left wing back.

He was right thinking those pacey offensive players will have more time and space once Ireland open and he was gambling theirs skill, and one on one ability, will give him opportunity to finish off Ireland that went gung-ho. However, despite sound approach it all went the other way as often does in football. The man with very special task Robbie Brady connected with Hoolahan cross.

What we can conclude in the end is that Conte anticipated exactly the game and played it very well. He was confident his defence could wait and soak the pressure. He anticipated once that happens Ireland will open up and then he swung his daggers with Insigne and El Shaarawy to finish them off. However, sheer passion and will from Ireland prevailed over cunning plan of Italian master tactician and rightfully so.

EURO 2016: Italy – Sweden post match analysis on Italy

After great display against Belgium, there was a lot of expectation on Italy to confirm the first win with another good performance. On the other side, Sweden failed to win the “easiest” game against Ireland and was under pressure to get at least some result before the last game with one of the tournament favorites Belgium.

However, Italian manager Antonio Conte didn’t succumb to hype and didn’t feel he needs to prove anything. His sole aim was in line with Italian tradition and that was to get the result and result he got. His counterpart on Sweden bench, Erik Hamren almost got what he wanted in what was labeled the most boring game of EURO so far.

I can understand that feeling, but games at this level often aren’t played for fans but for result and literally, in the end, Italy got it. Apart swapping Darmian with Florenzi Conte didn’t change anything in his game. If there was any significant change it was playing even more cautious than against Belgium when in possession.

While Bonucci often surged upfield with ball in first match, this time Conte ordered him to be more disciplined. After all, Sweden got only Ekdal and Kallstrom in central zone of midfield and Italian manager was satisfied with numbers advantage there. There was really no need to risk with Chiellini pushing forward when in possession as it was the case in match against Belgium who fielded three classy players in center field.

The other change in gameplan Conte employed was more pressing on opposition defensive line. While against Belgium he was satisfied to wait for a counter or a good long ball, Italy accepted the role of favorite in match against Sweden and pushed the defensive line a tad bit more. Not enough to compromise whole defensive shape, though.

In all other parts, the gameplan was identical to first match. It was all about long balls from De Rossi, Bonucci and Chiellini. They went either diagonally to wide players pushing high up the pitch or to Pelle and Eder. The idea was always the same. Once the diagonal ball went to flank it would be crossed in front of goal.

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However, those long passes largely missed the target as Pelle failed to cope with Swedish centerbacks which led to his substitution in the end. As shown in the diagram above. Italians had a bit more luck with diagonal long balls, but subsequent crosses were again out of reach for Pelle. In fact, only four out of 16 reached the target and two of them came after corners.

Italian game with the ball really wasn’t working as intended by the end of the half, but that was the same as it was in the match against Belgium until it actually worked and opened up the game. However, Antonio Conte was more interested in not losing the game than winning and he knew Sweden needs the points more. As he was sound in defense and Sweden was as much as impotent in attack as Italy, he decided to wait and play the game as he played against Belgium waiting for that long ball or that cross to finally connect.

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This is typical Italian attack after the long ball has been played either, directly to wide backs Candreva or Florenzi, or passed to them from centerfield. Arrow shows where could Italian midfielder move if they were really interested to keep the ball. However, that would mean compromising defensive shape and open up to possible counter-attack. A thing Conte really wanted to avoid even if that meant way less chance to threaten the Swedes.

It was a game where both teams weren’t really prepared to lose. Italy covered space and made futile any attempt from Sweden to effectively cross or pass vertically, while Italy felt secure they won’t let any goals in and happy to wait for their chance. That came very late and proved Conte was right while Sweden might have regret the points lost they really didn’t do enough to endanger opponents.