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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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U19EURO Finals ITA v FRA: Textbook example of disadvantages of 4-4-2 against 4-3-3

This is an analysis made for and first published at outsideoftheboot.com

 

France won the EURO after all, and convincingly so, albeit it was U19 EURO. In a final match played against Italy on Sunday they completely outplayed Italian future stars winning four nil. Unlike main national team in recently finished EURO, France U19 demonstrated they knew what they wanted to do with and without the ball. “Under” tournaments are often a window into the future and France showed it has nothing to worry about in coming years. Players such as Jean-Kévin Augustin (PSG), Kylian Mbappe (Monaco), Ludovic Blas (Guingamp), Amine Harit (Nantes), Clément Michelin (Toulouse) are all the names you should expect in next two years to amass double figure transfer fees.

 
As their older counterparts, Italy did surprisingly well to reach the final beating England in semi final (fun fact, three own goals were scored in this tournament and England profited from all of them). They were underdogs but Italy didn’t go on the pitch at Rhein-Neckar-Arena in Sinsheim thinking about defence.

 
However, poorly judged pass to change the point of attack from left back Dimarco was intercepted outside French box and within five seconds ball found its way at feet of the best scorer of tournament Augustin who perfectly received it on the turn which allowed him to use his strength to get in between two center backs and proceed one on one with goalkeeper and score. A magnificent show of technique, strength and composure from PSG striker. There was little Italy could do once they were caught out of possession and out of shape.

 
Main idea of France was to stop build up play from Italy and they did it in quite an interesting way. While they were attacking in common 4-1-2-3 shape, they defended in 4-1-4-1 with defensive line set very high. However, with only one striker, Augustin, they didn’t press Italy. Instead, France tried to cover the space and block the passing lanes and did it perfectly.

 
As defensive line was very high, almost on the center line, Italy had very little space to operate. France compressed them in about 20-30 meters and covered all passing angles. This resulted in most of short passes being intercepted allowing skilful wingers Blas and Mbappe to show their one on one skills posing constant threat once Italy gave away the ball in middle third.

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France did great job in defensive phase. They raised the defensive line and congested the space not allowing Italy to pass through them. This meant a lot of interceptions and counter attack opportunities

Above is the illustration of French defending although it is not taken in perfect t moment as France was usually a bit higher. However, even if France didn’t position themselves in perfect manner, you can see all the advanced passing lanes are closed or man marked and everything that is left for Italy are three options. A back pass to defenders, a long hopeful pass to forwards or a diagonal pass to change the flank and point of attack. When Italy chose the last option they conceded on counter attack. Hopeful pass to forwards resulted in easy swept balls by the defence… All in all exactly what France head coach Ludovic Batelli wanted.

 
Italy was allowed to play passes between their center backs but not to advance the ball in the middle third. Paolo Vanoli, the Italian on the bench of their U19 team wanted to create numerical advantage in the middle with quite a strange move. In possession, Italy often transformed from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 since potent Inter left back Federico Dimarco was surging forward to play as a winger while left winger, Alberto Picchi would go forward, while Fiorentina striker Simone Minelli would drop deep to create a spare man in middle of the field.

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In possession Italy transformed into 3-5-2, however, France had numerical parity in midfield and their great defensive concentration didn’t allow Italy to fool them by frequent changes of positions

However, as you can see in above image, this didn’t really work. Even when Italy managed to enter the middle third without losing the ball they were covered and change of formation didn’t fool French defence. Intelligent positioning of defensive midfielder and France captain, Tousard prevented Minelli from being a threat and receiving the ball while concentration from right full back Michelin meant Dimarco was well tracked and Picchi was picked up by center back Onguene rendering all Italian moves futile.

 
Since all lines towards French goal were closed Italy relied on long passes from center backs to forwards or cross field balls from one wing to another. Neither were particularly successful and allowed time for France to shift the defence. Effectiveness of French defence is proved by fact that goalkeeper was forced to first save late in 80th minute.
While Italy had a plan to break France that clearly didn’t work. France, however, didn’t rely only on counter attacks, although Italy gave them plenty of opportunities since their passing was horrible due to French great defensive shape.

 
Beside counter attacks France often tried to overload one flank and then dispatch the ball to the opposite. While themselves had little trouble with similar tactic employed by Italy, their opponents struggled heavily. Main difference was that Italy didn’t play with defensive midfielder and defended in 4-4-2 shape. Lack of 5th man in midfield showed throughout the match since France was often changing sides unbalancing the Italian defence.

 
Before the half time France scored once more as right back Michelin entered space vacated by right winger Blasi who eventually headed the Michelin’s cross from point blank range. Apart from Italy trying to press higher in the early minutes of second period, the game didn’t change at all since teams came on the pitch after the half time.
Playing 4-3-3 in possession, France had a numerical advantage in the central area and main problem for Italy was lack of defensive work from their forwards who didn’t drop back to support their midfield when France was on the ball.

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Lack of defensive work from forwards meant France always had a free passing option in central areas while overlapping full backs provided width making Italian four man defence voulnerable to cross field passing

As you can see above, this meant France always had a passing options in central area. Furthermore, as they played only four in midfield when defending, marauding French full backs were able to stretch thin defence even further while, at the same time, allowing their wingers to occupy more central positions and give more work to Italian defence.
By the end of the match France scored two more goals and Italy never looked like being in the match.

To conclude, main goals of France were to obstruct Italian transition into middle third which they did with high defensive line and disciplined, packed, midfield congesting Italy in 25 to 30 meters of space. From there on they would pick up the loose balls and counter. On offence, France showed disadvantages 4-4-2 formation when defending against 4-3-3. Since Italy failed to respond and drop one striker deeper to help the midfield, France had all the options in central areas as well as wide since their full backs stretched the defence allowing quick changes of point of attack which four man didn’t manage to contain whole game. Although France is better team, feeling remains that Italy didn’t prepare well for what is coming to them.