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EPL: Arsenal v Liverpool 3:4 – Analysis

No doubt Arsenal and Liverpool played a match of the season at the Emirates on Sunday. It remains to be seen how long this title will hold, however. Season opener is always a tricky affair as no one wants to lose, luckily, both teams went for a win and the match didn’t disappoint.
Arsene Wenger had some tough time deciding the starting line up as he was missing six players. Welbeck, Mertersacker and Gabriel were injured while Oezil, Giroud and Koscielny are still not in shape after EURO. In defence he had little to chose and new signing Rob Holding made a début paired with unproven Calum Chambers. Only real surprise was on left wing where another unproven player, Alex Iwobi, took place ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting line up. All in all, Wenger was forced to pick severely weakened central defender pairing while deliberately sidelineing Oxlade-Chamberlaine.

Similar problems in defence had Juergen Klopp who was missing new signing Joel Matip due to injury while Mammadou Sakho was out of squad for breaching the discipline during the pre-season. Last year’s starters James Milner and Daniel Sturridge were also missing. However, unlike Wenger, Klopp did his shopping during the summer and had new signings Ragnar Klavan, Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane to replace injured players. By the end of the match it will prove decisive as all players that made a début for Liverpool proved crucial for victory over Arsenal.

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No doubt Juergen Klopp was very angry as poor positioning from Moreno undones whole concept of controlled transition into middle third

As expected, both teams opted for high pressing game from early on. You can see above four Arsenal players locking down six Liverpool players which lead to a lot of problems for visiting team. At times Liverpool had trouble getting out of their defensive zone having to rely on long clearances more than Klopp had hoped for. This might be the reason Wenger went for Iwobi instead of Oxlade-Chamberlain as Nigerian is much harder worker thus more useful chasing down opposition defence. Whole lock down on above screenshot is down to Alberto Moreno who is way too central congesting the space and making it easier for Walcott to mark himself and Klavan. As this is not bad enough, his poor positioning clogs the midfield as Wijnaldum is directly affected by Moreno’s positioning so he is restricted to occupy more central position as well.

Wijnaldum’s role, as well as Henderson’s is to drop deeper when Liverpool is pressed high and help them establish numerical advantage to transition the ball from defensive into middle third. Whole Klopp’s idea gets destroyed by poor positioning from left back.

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When out of pressing Liverpool organized transition with four players in a square. While full backs maintain the width, wingers go central

While high pressing triggers Wijnaldum’s and Henderson’s runs deep, deeper opposition triggers forward runs from full backs as you can see above. Liverpool has a solid base of two centre backs and two midfielders who create a box to control the transition into middle half of the pitch with numerical advantage. While width is achieved by pushing the full backs high, wingers Coutinho and Mane get into central positions to occupy the centre backs. This image also tells an important role Firmino plays for Klopp. He has relatively free role to roam left and right.

As match progressed in deeper in the first half Arsenal scored after Henderson lost the ball deep into his half to Alex Iwobi who assisted Walcott. Five minutes after the goal were best football Arsenal offered in the match with crisp passing and quick runs from central players, particularly Aaron Ramsey. However, Liverpool regained their composure and put their foot on the game rather quickly. After a masterful free kick in the injury time they were back and second half looked very promising.

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If you compare this screenshot with the one above you will find a lot of similarities. It shows basic idea of free roaming central forward and overload on left side of the pitch

Although Liverpool pressed high in first half, they did it with even more energy after the second half had begun. Only four minutes into the second half comes the moment Klopp will be especially happy about. As you can see in picture above, Liverpool positioning in attacking third is very much same as in second still shot, albeit on the left side of the pitch this time. Free roaming Firmino changes places with Coutinho and passes him a ball from left into the central area. Coquelin and Elmeny fail to close him down and Chambers is forced to leave the defensive line opening space behind. Skilful pass finds Wijnaldum who exploits that space and Liverpool is through. Subsequent cross from Wijnaldum finds his partner in midfield and Lallana who scores with great finish.

Although skills to pull the move off are down to players, the move itself is conceived and done by Klopp on training pitch. At that point Liverpool stole the ball from Arsenal and controlled the game completely. While Arsenal tried to get back with more pressing Klopp’s team employed more direct balls and threatened even further. Quarter of an hour later they were three goals clear of hosts and it looked like the match was over.

Despite the fact Arsenal managed to get two goals back, Liverpool wasn’t really in danger of letting points go. Well, it was, but not from well executed team play by Arsenal. In conclusion, Liverpool showed they play as a team more than Arsenal does at this early stage. Also, the quality of players Klopp brought in, compared to those Wenger could muster together, was too much for London team.

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EURO: Wales – Belgium analysis: Clueless Belgium

After England and Iceland game, we have seen yet another upset in Euro quarter finals as Wales surprisingly easily dealt with heavily favoured Belgium side. Although for different reasons, both favourites got an early lead and failed to progress against “smaller” side. While England succumbed to pressure, Belgium seemed to have no coherent plan how to beat their opponents to begin with.
While Wales came into the match knowing it will be a hard battle they prepared for it, while Belgium seemed confident their quality in attack will be enough to cover for depleted defence. However, it was their attack that really disappointed and not the defence thatconcededd three goals. At times it seemed asWilmotss was playing a match of FIFA on playstation, passing the ball to Hazard and hoping he will dribble it into the net eventually.

However, the game started rather confusing for Wales. Joe Allen lost couple of balls as he passed horizontal long balls, an action that is under “Don’t do it” section in football manual. Apart from dubious passing decisions in possession there was a lot of confusion in early minutes in Wales defensive positioning.

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Wales started off a bit unsure. Theri passing and defensive positioning was dubious at times

Davies is completely distracted leaving Carrasco on side, Bale is pushing forward instead of covering Witsel and huge space behind him with Lukaku and Meunier completely free to receive the ball. In this instance Nianggolan chose to ping a long direct ball to Carrasco. However, he is so late in his decision making that, despite the hiccup in Welsh defence, right winger ends up in off side.

Opening 15 minutes were plagued by Welsh poor defensive positioning and soon after, instead closing down Nianggolan, Ramsey decides to cover the goal. That produces one of the best goals of tournament as Nianggolan hits a thunder strike into the top corner.

At that moment psychology started to influence the game heavily. Belgium seemed as they thought that Nianggolan’s individual brilliance is just a small part of what is to come while Wales actually picked themselves up defensively. On offence they were quite dangerous already.

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After conceding, Wales picked up and controlled the game till the half time

However, above you can see how much more of the ball Wales had between 12th, when Nianggolan scored, and 30th minute when Williams got an equaliser. While Bale initially started on the left side of Robinson Kanu he slowly moved to right as somebody has reminded him there is young Lukaku Junior, Denayer (making his début at EURO) and Hazard who doesn’t track back.

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Belgium had trouble tracking runners from deep and coordinating their defensive line

Just a minute before conceding Belgium allowed one of characteristic counter attacks from Wales you can see that above. Belgium lost the ball and failed to track back into defensive position. Quick play sees Ramsey in possession and, within three touches, Bale is released behind the defensive line. Hardly any of Belgium players are in good defensive position. Hazard is notoriously released from tracking back, Lukaku is completely out of position while the worst is Denyer who can hardly deny a pass to Bale with his body orientation and positioning so close to Alderweireld.

Everything that went on for Wales went over Ramsey and Bale. Bale was crucial moving in half spaces from deeper positions while Ramsey was designated as the link between midfield and attack. This link was so effective due to clever movement by Welsh players, however, a lot of credit goes to Marc Wilmots’ side.

They were defending extremely deep, probably to deny space for Bale’s runs, however that obviously didn’t work as Bale wasn’t playing on the shoulder of the defenders. He was coming from deep to pick the through balls or for solo runs.

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Even when they were in defensive shape, Belgium did a poor job on positioning leaving n umerous opposition to receive a pass

Above you can see how poor Belgium positioning is. Taylor on the ball isn’t pressed by anyone, he has his head high and calculating his options with time. He has Allen, Leadley, Bale and Gunter(on the right touchline out of view) to pick from. Intensity, or lack of, the Belgium defence was appalling. They half bothered to pick up players in their zones of responsibility, defended too deep and let all the time on the ball for Wales to pick their options during whole first half.

At half time it was evident Wales was targeting right flank where Lukaku and Denyer failed to cope with runs of their opponents. They didn’t try at all to disturb Wales’ entering the middle third and allowed easy avenues for Wales to go down right flank.

After initial 15 minutes when they scored, they failed to create anything apart crosses for Lukaku who was lost between three defenders. Only visible attempt to create space was Lukaku dropping deep to open up the space for De Bruyne who was advancing from CAM position. However, that ended in the lap of three center backs. Anything else was up to individual decisions and qualities of their offensive players.

With second half kick off Wilmots made few changes in personnel and their approach to the game. Belgium finally showed intention to close down Wales in their defensive zone in attempt to win the possession a bit higher.

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With second half Belgium started to press high. However, it was again un coordinated and always left a free man

However, this was usually poorly coordinated between Lukaku and rest of offensive trio De Bruyne, Nianggolan and Hazard. Wilmots also substituted Carrasco with Fellaini who was supposed to help Lukaku with those high balls. This brought changes in their shape as well. De Bruyne was moved wide while Fellaini came closer to goal exchanging his place with Nianggolan on CAM position. However, general idea of play didn’t change at all.

As time passed it seemed as intention was to give the ball to Hazard and hope he will do something with it other than get clogged in eight men Welsh wall. Other part of Wilmots’ plan with Fellaini’s presence was to rise the number of Crosses. From 15 in the first half Belgium got to 19 during the second. Only three of total 34 crosses connected. Sadly, there was nothing else to their game. They took away the possession from Wales but failed to do anything with it. Below is still shot of their typical attack.

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With the ball Belgium was as clueless as without it. Crowding the central area and congesting much needed space

Hazard who was playing on the left wing is bunching up with Nianggolan at CAM position while at the same time De Bruyne cuts in from right wing and Lukaku dropping deep. Even Witsel is coming to the party from his covering position. Although Welsh defensive positioning is far from perfect in this instance, they have taken half of Belgium squad out of the game.

In meanwhile, on the other side of the pitch…

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Poor defending and ineffective pressing led to second goal as Bale passes a direct long ball to unmarked Ramsey

Belgium was poor at defending in first half, but with beginning of second, when they started to press higher up the pitch, lack of defensive cohesion became apparent. As Bale makes a long direct pass for Ramsey’s run, Denayer and Fellaini fail to track while Lukaku is occupied with Gunter. Ramsey is free to run into space left behind the defensive line and another poor defensive display lets Robson Kanu to free himself from three Belgians and score.

As time went on Wilmots and his player were ever more nervous and, as they didn’t have sound plan to attack Wales, things got only worse. Changed to sort of 3-4-3 and then 3-3-4 in dying minutes meant only more confusion as players tripped on each other in front of Welsh goal and in the end another break down the right finished off the game.

To conclude, we can point few crucial moments. Above all it was Belgium that went on the field expecting an easy win after they trashed Hungary. However, Wales defended much better and Belgium ran out of luck and space for their star offence to shine. Furthermore, they were appalling in defence which was, kind of, expected, but offensive class should make up for that. If Wilmots had any idea how to attack.

Wales on other hand didn’t have the hardest job defensively as Belgium worked against itself for the most part of the match. With the ball, however, they did amazing job first half as opposition failed to cope with deep forward runs from Bale and Ramsey. Again, Belgium had their part in it as it was defending very deep and didn’t make an attempt to close higher and prevent Wales from getting to middle third. However, we have seen why in the second half. They are just too disjointed when pressing high to be effective leaving even more space for runners from deep.

If anything, as Belgium commited in attack, they left more space for Ramsey and Bale to run behind disjointed defensive lines.