All posts by flyingwingback

Twitter: @flyingwingback Enquiries/Questions: Thank you for visiting my blog :)

Bayern Munich 2014/15: A full tactical profile.

Bayern Munich are one of football’s biggest clubs. They have enjoyed success after success in their one-hundred-and-fourteen year history and are currently in one of their brightest eras of that time. Pep Guardiola, now in his second season at the club is regarded as the best manager on the planet today and is in the process of taking the club to new heights. At times during reading this piece you may think I am reading too far between the lines or being over analytical, which may be the case, however just like with the Shakespeare’s of literature, the Tarantino’s of film, and the Mozart’s of music, if you find something which seems like genius-Pep probably meant it. You don’t have to read the whole thing at once, but I would invite you to try to look at some of the ways Guardiola uses his team to create space when attacking, and limit space when defending  and to give you a flavour of how one of world  football’s greatest forces play. Pep-Guardiola-Bayern Match 1: Wolfsburg at home

Nine days after a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Super Cup, Bayern faced Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena on the opening day of the Bundesliga. Bayern set up with a 3-4-1-2 formation meaning Robben, on paper, playing as a wingback but in reality stationed himself further up the pitch more of the time which was testament to Pep’s trust in Lahm who was playing on the right side of the defensive three facing De Brunye and Rodriguez, probably Wolfsburg”s two best players.

lineup vs wburg

Bayern played with a fluidity in defence to be able to maintain their pressing in every area of the field to allow Wolfsburg’s players as little time on the ball as possible. Above we see Badstuber in the blue leaving the defensive line to press De Bruyne. Alaba drops from midfield to cover his position therefore leaving no gaps in defence but having constant pressure on the ball. Bayern often had a back four in the defensive phase with Bernat tracking back to mark a zone that could be exploited by Wolfsburg’s right  winger. Contrary to popular belief, Bayern do play vertically a lot of the time as a mechanism to get the ball into the final direct overload One of Gotze’s main jobs in the team is to drift to the side where the ball is to create overloads. Above, we can see him between the LCB and LB. Rodriguez, the Wolfsburg LB will obviously see Lahm as more of an immediate danger as he is further infield so moves across to mark him, leaving space of Robben to receive Badstuber’s long ball. Bayern use this 3 vs 2 overload a lot. muller overload Above, Robben is on the ball on the right flank and Muller (blue circle)-who has a roaming role within the Bayern attack, moves into the halfspace*, causing Wolfsburg’s LCB to move over leaving Gotze in space in a dangerous area. Also, notice Lewandowski’s positioning on the RCB- meaning Gotze is left unmarked. *When I mention halfspace I’m using the direct German to English translation of Halbraum, which describes the 2nd and 4th of five vertical sectors running up the pitch. halfspace Alaba playing in deep midfield increases the fluidity of Bayern’s system. alaba covering Here, Bernat can go as high up the field as he likes to offer width and stretch the Wolfsburg defence, when Wolfsburg break, Alaba slides over to cover his natural left-back position and halt the Wolfsburg breakaway. Bayern try to commit as many men forward as possible. 4v4 in attack Here, we can see Bayern have created a 4v4 situation on the defensvie line. This means any further runners will have to be picked up by midfield players and often will be free, also it stops defenders being able to press because they will be unwilling to leave their markers. Also, a 4v4 means that a through ball can be played without a covering defender clearing it as all defenders are marking, and therefore cannot cover. To be able to commit so many men forward, Bayern obviously have to compensate with fewer men at the back. However Pep knows that most teams coming to the Allianz will put ten men behind the ball so he must resort to more innovative methods to create spaces and therefore chances. Wolfsburg did try to press Bayern and confined Bayern to only 56% possession throughout the match. Despite this, Wolfsburg never had many men in front of the ball so found the transition into attack difficult. Arjen Robben is  Bayern’s most dangerous attacking force however often finds it difficult against packed defences like in the Champions League vs Manchester United and Real Madrid last season. Robben dropping back robben dropping back 2 Above, circled in red he drops fairly deep, in between the lines during the buildup phase. Wolfsburg, who played a relatively high line throughout the match were entised forward. As the ball is played out to Lahm (blue) and Rodriguez  goes to close Lahm, Robben darts into the space left by Rodriguez. Lahm plays a ball to Robben, who finds Muller for Bayern’s opener. In the defensive phase, Bayern often took up a 4-3-3 shape with Bernat coming back as we have already seen. 433 def shape 4-3-3 is obviously the shape the Pep used at Barca, as well as the formation Rinus Michels used during the Totalvoetball period in the 1970s that Guardiola emulated at Barcelona. In Michels’ 4-3-3 a central defender stepped out to make as 3-4-3 in attack. Pep is doing the same thing here instead its a wingback, Bernat, who drops to make it a 4-3-3 in defence and who springs out to make a 3-4-3 in attack. Furthermore, Lahm often positions himself high up the pitch to create a 2-4-3-1 . Pressing has always been a large part of Guardiola’s teams. Above, we can see Robben and Muller beginning to approach the ball from either side. We can also see Alaba, in the middle of the midfield three, beginning to run towards the man with the ball. This three-way pincer movement gives the man on the ball nowhere to goal and he loses the ball. Below, we see how rapid Bayern were in transition from winning the ball. Robben on the ball already has Lewandowski ahead to his right and Muller racing up the pitch on his left. Bayern go 2-0 up. transition speed This willingness to aggressively press and counter attack quickly remains from Jupp Heynckes’ Champions League winning side of 2013. This shows the versatility of this Bayern side and that Guardiola isn’t all about recycling play and building slowly from the back-something he is sometimes criticised for. Wolfsburg made it 2-1 and Bayern looked pretty tentative late on. back 5 with alaba Above we can see that they were so desperate to hold onto their lead that they invited Wolfsburg pressure and moved Alaba back into the centre of defence to make a back five. Also, notice Robben high up the pitch, wide, ready to spring into action if Bayern win the ball and there is an opportunity to counter. Louis Van Gaal used Robben in this way frequently during the World Cup, most notably in Holland’s opening match vs Spain. This is a good plan B for Bayern. robben left up when back2wall Above is an example of when Robben was left up when Bayern had their backs to the wall and successfully managed to counter attack, producing a shot on goal.

Areas of weakness

Wolfsburg did trouble Bayern at times, scoring a goal in the process. This was due as much to the players being a bit rusty in the first league match of the season as it was to tactics. d stretched A long diagonal ball to wide areas stretched Bayern. Here, we can see Lahm going out to close down Arnold, who received the long ball has left a big gap between him and Dante. Also, Bernat is too high up the pitch and leaves a big gap between him and Badstuber, as well as being the wrong side of Adje(far blue circle). Olic has also managed to get the wrong side of Badstuber(other blue circle). Bernat is only twenty one and isn’t really a naturally defensive player, this could be a possible area to exploit for future teams. Adje bursts through the channel and should make it 2-2. A let off for Bayern. diagonal ball danger Again, we can see a long diagonal ball to Caligiuri who beats an isolated Lahm and manages to get off a shot. Again, we can see in the blue circle that Bayern are not prepared for these kind of balls with Olic the wrong side of Badstuber again.Lahms lack of height Above, we can see how Bayern can be vulnerable from crosses because of Lahm’s lack of height. Dante and Alaba are double-marking Olic whilst Lahm is being towered over by Caligiuri who wins the header. It also shows that playing a flat back five doesn’t make them harmless.

Match 2: Schalke away

Next up was a trip to the Veltins arena to face a Schalke side who had just come off the back of three consecutive 2-1 defeats in all competitions. Schalke seemed happy to sit back and allow the Bavarians 69% of possession, thirteen percent more than they had enjoyed last time. Pep decided to line up in more of a 4-2-3-1 this time with Alaba and Lahm reverting back to their natural full-back roles.  This match saw the introduction of Xabi Alonso, who goes on to become a key player for Bayern, perhaps their most important. Shaqiri replaced Robben who was ruled out with an ankle injury. schalke lineup

Schalke played a relatively high line so Bayern used long balls to create chances again. schalke high line Here, we can see Bayern playing a ball over the top of Schalke’s high defensive line to Lewandowski, circled white. This tactic is more effective this year as Lewandowski up front has more pace than their forward option last year, Mario Mandzukic. Above, he receives a long ball and sets up a Thomas Muller shot on goal. The addition of Alonso allows Bayern to play longer balls more often with greater accuracy. Schalke played extremely  narrowly to try to make sure there was no space in dangerous, central areas. narrow schalke lahm wide Above, we can see the narrow Schalke defence. The Alonso-Rode double pivot, highlighted in white, tried to spread the ball as wide as possible to the full-backs, Lahm and Alaba in an attempt to stretch Schalke’s back four and find away in behind. Soon enough, Schalke saw this  constant threat and dropped deeper-meaning Bayern had to revert to conventional Guardiola methods of finding an opening on the edge of the area with short, quick passing. Rode link up rode link up 2 In the first picture we can see Rode with the ball in the halfspace being pressed. Halfspace play is a huge part of Guardiola’s game and creating space in the halfspace is important. Notice the positioning of Lewandowski and Muller on both CBs-creating a fairly large gap between them. A Rode one-two with Muller, and then again with Lewandowski-  allows Rode to make his way into the dangerous area and receive the ball to set up a Lewandowski goal. Rode adds this extra penetration which isn’t really part of Gaudino’s game, as we saw vs Wolfsburg. Rode adds more balance to the team with Alonso also in the side as Alonso tends to sit back whilst Rode is capable of linking up play on the edge of the opposition’s area. Bayern continued to press when in deep positions whilst trying to maintain their back four shape. back 4 vs schalke press switch vs schalke Above we can see Bayern dropping as a back four as Schalke move forward. As soon as Draxler stops moving forward on the ball- the defensive line stops dropping and press to get the ball back. In the bottom image we can see Boateng leaving the defensive line to press Draxler while Alonso drops back to cover his position. Boateng’s press is triggered by Draxler cutting inside which is a lesson learnt from Wolfsburg as Wolfsburg got many shooting opportunities from cutting inside of Lahm. Alonso is deployed by Pep as a classic ‘regista’. A new type of player to Bayern, and the Bundesliga. Alonso between CBs In typical regista fashion, Alonso drops between his CBs during the first buildup phases. This can serve two purposes; firstly, It means the fullbacks are given licence to get forward as it doesn’t leave huge gaps at the back, and secondly it gives Alonso more time on the ball to turn and pick a pass without being restricted in a tight midfield area. If you read my article on types of midfielder,  it features a quote from Andrea Pirlo’s autobiography that explains this deep positioning. ” “If the sea’s deep, a fish can breathe. If you put him just under the surface, he’ll get by, but it’s not quite the same thing.”  alonso win challenge Unlike Pirlo, Alonso has more of a defensive side which was a big part of his role at Liverpool. This makes him perfect for this role as we can see above, Bayern lose the ball however Alonso uses his tackling ability to win the ball back with Schalke in a dangerous attacking position. This position in between the centre-backs isn’t exclusive to Alonso-here’s Rode taking up this position.rode in between cbs Also, notice Muller here. He moves beyond the defensive line and pushes Howedes back behind the line, leaving a big gap behind the defense where Bayern players would remain onside. Howedes drops as he would need the extra yards on Muller if a ball was played over the top to Muller. Also, notice the gap in the halfspace created with Muller fairly wide, pulling Howedes wide. Bayern obviously need to maintain a very high line to be able to squeeze opponents to the extent Pep requires. High line schalke Above, Schalke manage to wriggle out of a Bayern attempt to box them in the corner. This high press causes the line to push up accordingly with Badstuber being the furthest back of Bayern’s outfield players. No probs with neuer However, this obviously isn’t a problem with Manuel Neuer in goal. Above we can see the sweeper keeper of ‘false one’ rushing out to clear the danger. We’ve already established that getting the ball into the halfspace is an important part of Bayern’s attacking play. Wide overloads are the best way to do this. wide overload vs schalke Above we see Shaqiri hugging the touchline and an advanced Lahm in between the Schalke defensive and midfield lines. Howedes would normally be able to stay tight to a player in this zone however he has to keep an eye on both Lahm and Shaqiri so can’t get tight on either. Muller and his roaming position is key to creating this overload as he moves into a position where Matip has to mark him and cannot shuffle across to help out Howedes. Howedes not being able to go tight is important because when Lahm receives the pass, he has time to turn and run at the Schalke defence. This is one of my favourite methods of how Bayern create space in the final third. Overlaps have been an integral part of Bayern’s attacking play over the last few years and that’s no different this term. bernat to alaba overlap. Overlaps are the best way of getting the ball into the danger zone-circled white. Here, Bernat feeds Alaba’s overlapping run. When a fullback has the ball at feet in the white circle, the defense drops, leaving space in front of the defence for cutbacks to midfield runners-chances are created. Bayern moved into a 4-1-4-1 later on in the game to try to stretch the Schalke defence and give more width for crosses. This shows the flexibility of Bayern’s systems. Bayern are still a dangerous side when counter attacking with many pacy players and clever movements. schalke counter,bernat opening up space bernat to alaba overlap 2 Bernat makes an infield run taking a Schalke defender with him and opening up space on the left for Shaqiri to run into, receive a pass and get a shot on target.

Areas of Weakness

They say “goals change games” and this was certainly the case in this match as, similarly to the Wolfsburg game, Bayern invited pressure and looked vulnerable after going 1-0 up-especially after half-time. This can be a problem that cost Liverpool the Premier League title last season. Schalke scored in the 62nd minute which coincided with Dante coming on for Boateng two minuted previously. Dante doesn’t have the pace of Boateng to chase long balls played over the top of Bayern’s high line. Dante is probably Bayern’s best defender in the air but in my opinion, that’s his only strength and he is not a very intelligent defender. Furthermore, they had no real ‘Plan B’ when Schalke did level. Most of their play in the last fifteen minutes was hopeful crosses into the box from Alaba. They ran out of ideas and sometimes looked panicky and desperate to score which was maybe due to the average age of the team decreasing with substitutions with Bernat, Hojberg, Rode and Shaqiri all being on the pitch at the end of the game. Bayern obviously had, and continue to have big midfield injury problems with Schweinsteiger, Martinez and Thiago all unavailable. This may be why they only managed to register 3 shots on target all match despite having 68% possession. Also, Bayern looked uneasy in the last quarter of the match when it was a lot more end-to-end which is obviously juxtaposed to Jupp Heynckes team which was all about counter attacking and beating other teams due to the speed of their transitions. Nevertheless, a draw away to last season’s third placed team isn’t a bad result whatsoever and Bayern had many positives to take from this game early on in the season.

Match 3:Stuttgart at home

Back to the Allianz to face a Stuttgart side who had only managed one point from their first two matches. Pep chose to field a full strength side despite having a challenging match coming up midweek against Manchester City. He went all totalvoetbal on us playing a 4-3-3/4-1-2-3 formation with the front three of Muller, Gotze and Lewandowski interchanging positions. Lineup stuttgart

Bayern used the same methods as they had done previously to create space from long, diagonal balls wide. same 3 vs 2 overload-stuttgart Above we can see this 3 vs 2 overload being used again with Muller and Lewandowski shuffling across to position themselves on the LB and LCB in between the lines. badstuber finds boateng-muller in space. As Badstuber’s long ball finds Boateng wide, Sakai goes to close Boateng down leaving Muller with loads of room in the halfspace. Gotze is one of Bayern’s key players used to create space. gotze makes space for muller stuttgartgotze makes space for muller stuttgart 2 Above we can see Gotze’s clever decoy run to take the Stuttgart defender out of position-leaving a gap for Muller to run through with the ball after playing a one-two with Lewandowski. The key to creating space is constant movement,short passes, one-twos which is shown here perfectly. The key to this constant movement and opening up of space is extreme fluidity throughout the system. fluidity vs stuttgart We can see how Lewandowski has dropped very deep to link up play in the buildup. Also, Alaba is pushed very far forward which also shows this fluidity and how Pep demands his players to be complete footballers and be able to play all over the pitch to fit into this fluid system. A benefit of this fluidity was shown in the 43rd minute when Badstuber went off with injury. Instead of having to bring on Benatia, Pep brought on Gaudino, moved Boateng to CB and Lahm to RB. When Bayern take the lead it gives the opposition a conundrum. Do they venture forward and try to get an equalizer or sit back and hope for a lucky break late on? Neither option is ideal, especially the former as a rapid defence to attack transition is a big part of Bayern’s game. lewandowski wide in transition When the opposition is attacking-Bayern always have a forward hugging the touchline. This is because it offers greater width in transition so the attacker has more space to run into and there is more space to play a ball through rather than the forward being in the middle of the pitch, having to hold up play and therefore decreasing the danger of the attack. Also, when the ball is played wide, it stretches a depleted defence back tracking towards their own goal which can create all sorts of havoc. Above, Alaba wins the ball and turns immediately-finding Lewandowski who has space to run into. As with trying to break down a deep defence, movement to create space is key. muller run inside stuttgart Ribery scores vs stuttgart Above we can see Muller’s run over to the side of the ball to create a huge amount of space of Ribery to run into, be found with a Lewandowski pass and make it 2-0. Game over. Bayern’ counter pressing serves two purposes:firstly, to stop the opposition from being able to build an attack directly after they have won the ball back and secondly, to win the ball back in areas of the pitch that would hurt the opposition as it is close to their goal and their defenders may be in awkward positions. alaba pressing-stuttgart A slow pass to Romeu gives the trigger for Alaba to press the ball shortly after Bayern lose it,but come from an angle to block the forward pass. alaba pressing-stuttgart 2 Romeu loses the ball which finds itself at Muller’s feet. Already, stretching the defence begins as quick transition is the key-Lewandowski moves wide. alaba pressing-stuttgart 3 The Stuttgart defender misses the tackle as the ball is played to Lewandowski. Notice how Alaba(Red circle) has chosen to stay on the last line despite not attempting to make any sort of run to receive a pass. This is to simply maintain the overload by meaning the Stuttgart RB, Klein has to mark him. alaba pressing-stuttgart 4 This means Ribery has a large area to make his late run into, and a lot of time on the ball when he receives Lewandowski’s pass. A goal scoring opportunity is created. Bayern were getting nearer to full flow in this fixture and had very little problems at the back as they didn’t concede a single shot on target. Ribery returning to form was also a big plus for Guardiola.

Match 4: Manchester City at home

A repeat of last year’s Champions League group stage fixture was going to be a challenging fixture for both sides, the most challenging so far of the season by a long way. Bayern started again with a 4-3-3. With Rafinha returning to the side as well as Medhi Benatia making his debut next to Jerome Boateng in the centre of Munich’s defence. city lineup

Bayern’s main scope of attack in the match was low crosses from wide areas. Bayern made a total of twenty five crosses throughout the match-compared to just nine against Stuttgart. This meant they needed to create space wide. muller wide vs city Above we can see Rafinha underlapping a very wide Muller and moving with the ball into the channel between Clichy and Demichelis. This causes Clichy to narrow to block the halfspace.muller wide vs city 2 This leaves Muller in lots of space and a prime crossing position when he receives the ball. Lahm’s role in his midfield position alongside Alonso doesn’t change much from his role at right-back. He still makes runs forward with the ball to create space. muller movement vs city muller movement vs city 2JPG In the first Image, Lahm is running forward with the ball in the halfspace. Toure, Demichelis and Clichy are all looking at the ball and Toure is brought out of position because of Lahm. Muller’s clever run behind Lahm and Lahm’s subsequent pass to Muller gives Muller the ball with space in front of him as Toure has vacated his zone. Bayern remained very committed in their counter pressing as they knew the dangers of Manchester City on the break with Silva, Nasri and Navas in particular. press on silva Here, Bayern have seven players in the final third of the pitch despite Man City having possession. The image shows Alonso pressing Silva from behind and restricting his ability to turn. Pep obviously acknowledged that Silva’s creativity was City’s biggest threat. Bayern try to position themselves as wide as possible to stretch the opposition.alaba dangerous position Bernat is positioned on the touchline on the left whilst Alaba is in the halfspace. This means Sagna, as shown, must focus on Bernat and therefore is not tight to Alaba when he receives the pass. This gives Alaba space and time to turn and cause a threat. muller + lewandowski overload. Above we can see how Gotze positioned himself just off Lewandoski waiting for Kompany to get sucked in to Alaba, which is what he does. This means Demichelis now has to watch Gotze and Lewandowski, leaving them both in space. As I have already mentioned, Bayerns game vs City was more crossing orientated so they were trying to create space in the 1st and 5th vertical fifths of the pitch, rather than the 2nd and 4th that they use in their usual halfspace game. narrow attack for crosses-city Here, Lewandowski, Muller and Gotze are very narrow in the centre. This is to create more confusion when the cross comes into the box and increase the chance of a Bayern player connecting with it. Also, notice how the three aforementioned players are picked up by three City defenders and Lahm is being picked up by Clichy. This gives the crosser a lot of time on the ball as Clichy cannot go to close him down, Silva has to move across the pitch to do so instead. This system wasn’t really working for Bayern as they still hadn’t scored  and it did show a bit of a lack of a plan B, despite this, Bayern could have gone one or two up if it wasn’t for some great goalkeeping by Joe Hart.

Areas of weakness

A negative of pushing as many players up as possible is obviously being caught out in the transition from attack to defence, especially as the fullbacks are very high up the pitch. rafinha out of position Here, Boateng is forced to shuffle over to the right to fill the gap Rafinha leaves when he goes forward. Man City break and Silva has a large space between Boateng and Benatia to run into. The purchase of Benatia late in the transfer window was explained as a replacement for Javi Martinez after his serious ACL injury he suffered vs BVB in the Super Cup.  However he is clearly a first-team player and is better in most departments than the defensively inept Dante. dante cant defend 1 dante cant defend 2 Above, Dante is in a good position to get in front of Aguero and shield the ball for Neuer to come and safely collect. Instead of doing this, he engages in a foot-race with Aguero, which he obviously doesn’t win as he doesn’t have the pace of Boateng, and Aguero gets a shot away. In conclusion, this was one of the better performances from Guardiola’s men at this early stage of the season, possibly the best. Despite only winningly narrowly due to a late Boateng strike, the Bavarians registered nine shots on target which is pretty formidable considering they were playing the reigning English champions.

Match 5: Hamburg Away.

Only three days after Wednesday’s Champions League clash with City, it was a trip a few hundred miles north to face Hamburg at the Imtech Arena. I’m afraid to say, the after-effects of the midweek game were showing. Bayern still managed to dominate possessionwith an exceptional 70% of the play despite playing a slightly rotated starting XI to the one that lined up in midweek. hamburg team

Lewandowski, Gotze, Alonso and Benatia were all notable absentees with Hojbjerg, Shaqiri, Pizarro and Dante all brought in to replace them. You could see Bayern’s  defensive phase 4-1-4-1 shape immediately, a shape which they take up most often when aiming to press and win the ball high up the pitch. 4-1-4-1 vs hamburg This 4-1-4-1 is an ideal pressing shape as the lone striker can close down the centre-backs on the ball, the midfield can ensure the Hamburg double pivot has no space to turn if they receive the ball, the Bayern wingers are in a position to make any pass to the full-backs risky, and Lahm is in the space between defence and midfield ensuring Bayern aren’t caught out with a ball over/through the midfield into this hole. Bayern failed to create much in the first half so they moved to more of a 4-2-3-1 shape in the second half. 4231 vs hamburg This was presumably to give less attention to pressing and winning the ball back high up the field, and more attention to allowing the double pivot more space and time on the ball to create. Having to players in this deep midfield area meant that Hamburg had to focus on stopping the supply from two players and were more stretched in that area of the field, meaning Lahm and Hojbjerg had more room to work. Bayern still used constant movement to create space. alaba decoy vs hamburg alaba decoy vs hamburg 2 In the first image we can see Alaba making a run off the ball whilst Bernat is in possession on the wide left. This run initially gives Bernat more time as Alaba pulls away the two players that would usually close Bernat down in this situation. This causes a further two players to get sucked over to the left side of the field to close down Bernat. This leaves Muller in a huge amount of space in the centre of the field, as we can see in the dark box. This is bad defending by Hamburg as four defenders are committed to only two Bayern players but it emphasises how constant movement and runs beyond can cause havoc in a defence, especially one retreating towards its own goal. Bayern always have runners hanging deep to exploit potential space on the edge of the penalty area. 2014-10-16_21-11-36 Notice the 3v3 scenario in the penalty area. This forces all defenders to be pushed back, leaving a huge space in front of them that both Muller and Alaba are left in. The ball from the cross is cleared to Muller who mishits the shot. This is yet another way in which space can be created indirectly using overloads in forward areas.

Areas of Weakness

As back-up centre-forwards go, Claudio Pizarro certainly isn’t the best in Europe. Bayern created little all match (only one shot on target) and missed Lewandowski’s and Gotze’s abilities at creating space and linking up play in the opposition’s half. This problem of being effective when rotating the squad is a fairly big one and will become more relevant towards the latter stages of the season. This one shot on target was despite achieving 70% possession. Turning possession into goal scoring chances has been a criticism  of Guardiola teams in the past-especially against teams happy to sit back and defend without venturing forward. Dante had his obligatory defensive mishap as his pace was exploited (again) by a Hamburg team whose only hope were balls over the top. dante lack of pace 1dante lack of pace 2 He has a three/four yard head start on Stieber but a ball over the top allows Stieber to run past Dante and register a shot on target. This normally wouldn’t be a problem with Neuer at sweeper keeper however Neuer isn’t alert to this situation. Playing a high line always comes with a bit of a risk attatched especially how it requires Neuer’s perfect positioning and concentration for ninety minutes.

Match 6: Paderborn at Home

No rest for the wicked at Bayern were at home to Paderborn on the Tuesday after the disappointing goalless draw in Hamburg at the Weekend. Bayern used a fairly conventional 4-2-3-1 with Gotze, Robben, Lewandowski, Rode and Alonso all returning to the side with the added motivation of only being allowed to celebrate Oktoberfest if they won.

vs paderbornpropa

The 4-2-3-1 was a bit of a move back to basics in a familiar with most players fairly natural position (with the exception of Rode at RB) to steady the ship slightly after their slip up vs Hamburg. 4231 vs paderborn We can see Bayern’s slightly stepped double pivot with Lahm slightly ahead of Alonso. Also, Bayern’s full backs are extremely high up with Rode at the top of the image on the halfway line and Alaba on the bottom left of the image. This creates a line of five players (the three AMs highlighted+the two fullbacks) which makes it impossible for the Paderborn defence to stay tight to them without leaving space for other players behind. This gives time for players to receive long balls and turn. When they get into the next phase of the build up, higher up the pitch, they still use this width to create space. wide lahm creates hspace In the image above we can see Rode sticking out wide whilst Robben, who’s deeper than you would expect, is on the ball. Rode’s wide position causes the opposition Left-Back to be drawn towards him. The Paderborn LCB moves over to mark the halfspace vacated by the LB. This then causes a large space between the two CBs for Muller to run into as Lewandowski is pinning the RCB into the centre of the field. Robben plays the ball through to Muller who flicks it back to Gotze to score. This is another example of a wide right overload used by Bayern in penultimate phase of the buildup to create space in the final third. Arjen Robben is on of the best players on the world on the breakaway however he occasionally becomes unstuck when faced with a deep, packed defence. He must find other methods to utilise his pace and dribbling skills. Robben picks up from deep Above, we can see how he drops deep into his own half during the early buildup stage and collects the ball from the CBs. This allows him to then have space to accelerate into and use his attribute of being able to beat players. In this particular incident, he made a 35-yard run without a Paderborn player even attempting a challenge. Bayern continue to counterpress no matter what the match situation. Here, at 2-0 up they are still trying to immediately win the ball back after losing it. high pressing vs pad, 1 Robben uses his literally frightening pace to close down the Paderborn defender which forces him to play it to his only safe option which is to his right. high pressing vs pad, 2 Heinloth is isolated and closed down by Alaba and Gotze whilst Robben blocks off the backward pass. Heinloth is forced to play long and Bayern regain the ball. It’s easy to criticise a team that plays a high line but this allows them to press in such a way and have more possession-the constant benefits of doing this outweigh the occasional costs. Bayern’s intensity of passing during periods of the second half in this match was something to behold and some of the best I’ve seen from any side. They continued to work hard despite having comfortably won the match and kept on passing and moving to create space. Rode cutting in-Robben in space. Here, Rode receives a long cross-field ball  and cuts in from a wide right area with the ball at feet whilst Robben makes a curved run in the opposite direction. Rode cutting in-Robben in space 2. This moves the Paderborn defender infield to give lots of space wide for Rode to slip a ball through to Robben who has space to run into and plays it to Gotze for an easy finish. This shows how a long ball can effectively lead to a chance being created and also how Bayern have good movement and fluidity in horizontal lines as well as vertically. Robben is superior to Shaqiri as he offers this sort of movement and also has a better delivery, which he showed when he assisted Muller’s goal to round off the scoring at 4-0.

Areas of Weakness

It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that the more players you have high up the pitch, the less you have further back. This obviously causes problems for Bayern. defence shuffled over vs paderborn When Rode is caught high up the pitch when the opposition are on the ball, the three remaining Bayern defenders go very narrow and shuffle over to the side of the ball. This opens up a huge space on the far side of the field and a switch ball causes problems. Pep is obviously keen to develop his players’ versatility for various reasons, some of which I have already discussed. This causes problems with players that are playing out of their natural positions. rode poor defending Here Rode is looking at the ball whilst Ouali makes a dangerous run behind him. This kind of situation isn’t an issue when playing in front of the defence however when on the defensive line you have to be careful of everything that gets past you. Despite this, I very much doubt Guardiola would rotate his players to this extent against a better side that has more potential to hurt them. Overall, a very polished performance from the Bavarians with 72% of the possession and twenty shots, but only five of which on target.

Match 7: Koln Away

Next up, Bayern were away to a struggling Koln side. Bayern dominated possession with a staggering 79%, their highest total of the season. They made two changes with Rafinha and Bernat finding their way back into the side with Dante and Rode being left out.

vs koln

Their basic shape was probably a 4-2-3-1 but as you probably can guess, there were many variations of this at different stages of play and at different times during the match. The first example of this was another display of Alonso dropping back into defence to create a back five in the early buildup stages. back 3-midfielders far forwards-koln. As we can see Alonso drop back here, the rest of the midfield and forwards push way up the pitch, anticipating a long ball forward. Notice three Bayern players inside the red square in between the lines with space to turn if they receive a pass. An aim of Bayern’s build up is to get the ball into this square either via a through  ball from Alonso or from one of the fullbacks, who are an easy passing option for the CBs and Alonso. We can also see two players positioned near the Koln RB. This gives more space for a long diagonal ball to Bernat who we can see as LWB and more time if he receives this ball. Alonso is absolutely essential to Bayern, especially in the earlier build up phases. In this match he made 204 touches, a Bundesliga record. A narrow packed defence is obviously difficult to break open. Bayern play with maximum width and forward numbers in attempt to do this. 4 players last line vs koln Here we see Bayern have four players on the last line with Robben slightly out of shot on the right. They also use the full width of the pitch with Bernat at the top of the image on the touchline and Robben pretty much on the line on the right. Also notice Lahm, who is the furthest right of the three players circled and is in the channel between the LCB and LB. 4 players last line vs koln2 When the ball is spread wide, the LB (Hector) approaches Robben, leaving Lahm in tonnes of space in halfspace. This is an example of width creating space in more central positions. Dante and Benatia came on in the 55th minute for Boateng and Muller. Alaba moved into midfield with Lahm and Alonso. This again shows Bayern’s flexibility in positioning and formation. Alonso also dictated the game from higher up at this point with two natural CBs on the pitch. One of the methods Bayern use to try to move from the primary buildup phases into the final phase, and get the ball into the final third, is by short passing amongst the deeper players while the forwards take turns to drop and make themselves an option. If the forward can turn and find another pass forward, they continue to move forwards, if they cannot, they just pass it back to their defensive line, possession is retained, and the process is repeated. lewandowski drop leaving space Above we can see Lewandowski dropping to receive a pass from Alonso, who is the furthest back of Bayern players in this image. He is followed tightly by Maroh, Koln’s RCB. Alaba is providing a short option for him so instead of having to pass back to Alonso, Lewandwoski can offload to Alaba and Bayern can exploit the large gap left by Maroh which was created by Lewandowski’s run. This is a way of getting the ball up the pitch and creating space at the same time. As I have previously mentioned, Bayern chop and change their formation at different times during a match and at different phases of play. Here’s an example of Bayern playing a WW or 2-3-2-3: WW I found this particularly interesting as, having read Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting The Pyramid , I have learned about the history of the WM, a formation that most people should be familiar with. This was first turned into a WW by Marton Bukovi in the 1920s however was most successfully implemented as a Metodo or “method” by Vittorio Pozzo in his 1934 Italian World Cup winning team. The Metodo was similar to Bayern’s system today as it relied on the Centromediano which was the defensive regista of the time, in the same role that Alonso plays today. The mediani or wing-backs controlled the wings with the wide forwards being inside forwards, which we can see when we have Bernat, for example, up on the opposition’s defensive line while Gotze is in the halfspace. I would say Pep’s system has more similarity to Bukovi’s system as Bukovi’s system was more of a 2-3-1-4 in attack-which is what we have seen of Bayern when they have four players on the last line. Pep also played this at his time at Barca as it is very similar to a 4-3-3 as the two full backs push up level with Busquets, and two midfielders are behind three attackers. I told you this would be worth the read, even at 6906 words in.

Areas of Weakness

As the season started to progress, mistakes were few and far between however there still were some, mostly defensively. Here, Alonso has dropped into the defensive line meaning there is no protection in front of the defense. bernat sucked in 1 bernat sucked in 2 In the first picture we can see Matuszczyk making a run into the box unmarked as all the Bayern defenders have dropped off. Alonso doesn’t have great awareness or aerial ability in these situations as it is not a part of his natural role on the pitch. He allows Bernat to be sucked in by this run whilst leaving Ujah completely open who shoots straight at Neuer. Aiming a cross at an area of the box conatining a defensive midfielder and a young wing back is always likely to cause problems. I would say that Bayern are vulnerable from aerial situations, especially crosses. Also, the turning possession into chances argument reared its ugly head once again with 78% possession but only 11 shots, 5 of which on target. Despite this, Bayern were never urgent for a goal as they took the lead in the 19th minute and Koln hardly posed a threat. Also, Koln sat so far back that 11 shots in target isn’t too bad but it just takes an exceptional performance by a goalkeeper to result in all five of the shots on target being kept out, rather than two being let in-as was the case in Bayern’s 2-0 victory here.

 Match 8-CSKA Moscow Away

Bayern resumed their Champions League campaign in front of an empty stadium in Moscow. This wasn’t an easy task whatsoever on paper, and so it proved. Pep didn’t make too many surprises with his starting lineup however I was shocked to see Boateng omitted from the XI as his pace would have saved Bayern a lot of hassle. More on that later on. Here’s the lineup:

vs moscow

Despite being away from home in the Champions League against a five-man defence, the same principles still were still adopted. 4 v 2 vs cska Above we can see yet another example of a number of Bayern players lined up horizontally in between the lines. In the square we can see a 4 vs 2 situation set up on the left side of the pitch. This is allowed to happen because of Lahm’s far forward and wide position. These overloads make it easier to get beyond the defensive line with clever link up play. Despite this, Bayern struggled to create many significant chances throughout the match. Alonso was playing as a single pivot at times as Bayern didn’t really need more than one holding midfielder as CSKA were happy to sit back. alonso single pivot Above, we can see the benefits of Alonso’s deeper position in the midfield. A CSKA midfielder is drawn out of his position to close down Alonso, leaving a large, dangerous gap in the halfspace. Said halfspace is a key area for bayern-not only in attempting to find gaps between centre-backs and full-backs (this is made more difficult facing a five-man flat defence) but to get the ball to creative midfielders in this area to turn to face the final line of defence. gotze options halfspace gotze options halfspace 2 Above, we can see two different examples, both from the same half where Gotze recieves the ball in this in-between the lines, halfspace area. Both times he has an option to his right, Robben, and to the left, Muller-with Lewandowski always occupying the CBs in the middle of the field. This obviously allows for quick options to break through the defensive line with quick, short passes. Also, notice how Gotze doesn’t position himself perpendicular to any opposition player. This is to give him extra space and time explained below using Pythagoras’ theorem.

5x5 square - use Pythagorean Theorem to solve diagonal distance (hypotenuse) Moving diagonally puts the player in between positions Above, @AdinOsmanbasic (very good tactical blogger) shows us how a player in, using his term, a ‘mixed position’ has a greater distance between him and any opposition player than he would if he was positioned in a vertical or horizontal line near a player. This extra 2.1m is key with the pace of modern football, especially in the Bundesliga. It also means that if an opposition defender were to decide to get behind the Bayern player to press them, they would be moving out of their vertical AND horizontal line, creating larger gaps, and causing more havoc. The man in the half space recieving the ball is what I’d call the third of Bayern’s four buildup stages. To be able to reach this stage they need to firstly, successfully move the ball from Neuer to the defensive line, or from the opposition losing the ball to the defensive line. Below is stage two, in between the defensive line receiving the ball, and the ball being with a playmaker in the final third. To be able to create anything in the final third, they need to get there first. wide buildup Above, we can see Bayern in a 3-2-4-1 shape as Alaba has dropped from Midfield into the 3 whilst Bernat has pushed up into the attacking midfield 4, ahead of Lahm, who has interestingly taken up a halfspace position instead of being on the outside, and Alonso. The image shows the second build up phase from Dante, to Alaba (who has dropped to create a middle man between Dante and Bernat), and then onto Bernat on the wide left high up the field. Because of CSKA’s naturally narrow midfield, Bayern have managed to get only one simple pass away from Gotze (who we can again see above in the middle of a square of red shirts in the left halfspace). Simple maths dictates that the greater amount of times the ball is played into that area to somebody like Gotze, the more chances will be created, and goals scored. The final buildup phase is getting a shooting opportunity, preferably one from close range inside the penalty area.  This is done by not only getting the ball to a creative player such as Gotze, but giving him as much space and time as possible. I have already showed how he gets space using halfspaces but below is another example of an overload, another way in which a player can find space in the final third. gotze halfspace overload Above we can see the second buildup phase once again, but higher up the pitch with Dante on the ball and Alaba between him and Bernat. Bernat is stationed wide out left on the touchline. A quick switch from one side of the pitch to the other has not allowed the CSKA defence to shuffle along which leaves Fernandez, the CSKA RB with two men to mark. The best he can do is stand somewhere in between them which leaves both of them open. Gotze is just as responsible for making space for others in this build up phase down the let hand side as others are making space for him. gotze movement gives bernat space Bernat moves into Gotze’s area of the field but as soon as the ball is played to Dante, this is the trigger for Gotze to move infield. This creates a 3 vs two overload with Lewandowski, Gotze and Bernat with only two CSKA defenders to mark them. gotze movement gives bernat space 2

Bernat has three possible forward passing channels and plenty of time to make up his mind. A (Bizarre) criticism of Pep’s Barcelona was that at times they were slow and passing for the sake of it and many people feared he would turn Bayern into a slow, monotonous, passing team and they would lose their dynamic football that won them the 2013 Champions League under Jupp Heynckes. Bayern again showed that they are not one-dimensional and have still retained that side to their play.vertical in transition Here, we see a pass missing out the midfield completely-straight from Dante to Lewandowski who is perfect for Bayern as he not only has better finishing and pace than Mandzukic but still has the hold-up and link up play that the Croatian was chosen for. vertical in transition2 Bayern are like a preying mantis as they snap into action when they can see a vulnerability. They get three men ahead of Lewandowski to create a 3v3 situation and Muller on the wide left stretches these three CSKA defenders further. I like to think of Gotze as being Bayern’s go-to guy when trying to unlock a packed defence with patient build-up play, Robben being their man for these quick transitions, and Muller as being something in between, but he’s just as important if not more than the other two.

Arjen Robben is obviously one of the finest attackers on the planet however his presence in the defensive phase is underrated.

pressing vs cska

Robben’s frightening pace makes him a good presser, here he charges at Berezoutski who receives the ball facing his own goal-a classic pressing trigger. In the image we can see the position of three Bayern players that cut off the CSKA’s player’s options.

pressing vs cska 2

Berezoutski manages to wriggle out of Robbens press to find Schenikov who is immediately met by Lahm. In the image above we can see just how tight each Bayern player is to their man. Man-to-man pressing at its finest.

The next image pretty much sums up Bayern’s attacking play, positional fluidity, width, and halfspace penetration.

Robben moving inside

Robben moves over into Centre-forward position as the ball reaches Lahm on the wide right. This leaves the halfspace empty for Muller to run into. Classic Bayern.

Areas of Weakness

This was only a narrow win for Bayern and they certainly showed some vulnerability. Firstly, an obvious negative of piling so many men forward in attack is being hurt on the counter. This was the case many times as, credit to CSKA, they did counter effectively a few times-especially through Musa. This showed how pace on the counter can hurt Bayern which is definitely one area they need to tighten up in.

Alonso is arguably Bayern’s most important player. He has been exceptional so far this season but there is a flipside of being so reliant on a 33-year-old, especially as their only real regista-type midfielder.

alonso slow

CSKA win the ball just inside their won half and play a long ball forward, which is headed back by Benatia. However, it is headed straight back to a red shirt in space as Alonso has not been able to make his way back as the CSKA players are making their way up the pitch at speed. Alonso is clearly only a medium term solution for Bayern in this role and Thiago Alcantara is Guardiola’s long-term hope for this position.

Match 9: Hannover at Home.

There were no signs of a European Hannover effect (yes, that was intentional) as Die Rote romped to a 4-0 victory. Guardiola gave Muller and Gotze a much deserved rest as Shaqiri and Rafinha came into the starting line up.

vs hannover

Bayern’s formation is pretty much a 5-2-2-1 without the ball but a 2-1-4-3 with it as the wing-backs push up and Alaba moves into midfield.

stepped double piv

Above we can see the Alonso-Lahm defensive phase stepped double pivot in action. Alonso is deep, covering space while Lahm is pressing. In this particular incident, Lahm won the ball through pressing and sets up Robben to give Bayern the lead. If his press had been unsuccessful, Alonso still would have been there to protect the defence-this shows the advantages of the double pivot over just Alonso alone.

You often hear pundits talking about players “dictating the play”  or something similar and this is exactly what Alonso does.

alonso dictating play

At this stage, Alonso is collecting the ball from the Centre-backs and feeding it back to them, occasionally passing to a full-back. This is just to draw Hannover players out and make sure Bayern are ready to take the ball up the pitch.

alonso dictating play 2

Alonso signals it’s time to go, Rafinha and Bernat push up and they move into stage two of the buildup. Everything revolves around him.

Bayern are just as well drilled without the ball as they are with it.

pressing hannover 1

The ball is with Albornoz, the Hannover left back. Rafinha rushes forward to put pressure on him to react quick while the rest move in. Lewandowski moves back, covering one option, Lahm moves across, to block them man Rafinha has left and Shaqiri comes across to create a trap on Schmiedebach, in the centre of the Bayern players.

pressing hannover 2

The ball is played to Albornoz’s only option, Schmiedebach. The trap is successful as Lahm tackles Schmiedebach, Bayern ball.

We got a rare chance to see Die Rote with two centre-forwards on the pitch as Claudio Pizarro came on to join Lewandowski up front.

robben cut inside

Here, we see Lewandowski on Marcelo, the RCB, discouraging him from shuffling across. A Pizarro decoy run beyond Robben peels away Felipe which leaves the space in the centre for Robben to cut into.

robben cut inside 2

Robben performs his infamous cut inside onto his left foot and has the whole goal to aim at. Great example of creation of space in the final third.

Bayern once again showed tactical flexibility in the second half as they went to 3-4-3 to have a numerical advantage of 3 CBs vs 2 Hannover forwards. Also, they had 3 forwards vs 3 Hannover centre-backs to create space as seen above.

Areas of Weakness

Back to pressing now and we’ve seen how effective it can be when it comes off however when it doesn’t go right it can cause big problems.

Alonso out of position1

Because of Bayern’s 5-at-the-back in this match they were overloaded in midfield and this meant Alonso on occasion had to come out of his position to press the ball. This is a very risky tactic as, like Busquets for Pep’s Barca side, Alonso constantly filling ‘the hole’ is vital to the system. Here, he presses but Hannover manage to escape the press.

Alonso out of position2

Above we can see the gap left by Alonso’s failed press. Hannover find themselves with the ball in this dangerous area and can slide in a through ball. the Bavarians are lucky not to be punished on this occasion.

Overall however this was Bayern’s most emphatic win of the season to date and they did this with only (yes,only) 68% possession which is lower than average for this side. It also demonstrated their great squad depth as they did this on the back of a win in chilly Moscow just a few days earlier.

Match 10-Werder Bremen at home

Bayern players returned from their respective international teams after the break to face Werder Bremen at the Allianz. Lewandowski was rested and Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg was given a chance against an under-performing Werder Bremen team.

vs werder

Guardiola must have rested Lewandowski with their Champions League trip to Rome coming up in the week. Despite this, he still named a very strong XI. Possibly too strong as Bayern won 6-0 with 72% of the possession.

Long balls forward are regarded as a waste of possession, especially vs a deep defence however it can be worth the risk if you have the confidence in your pressing to win it back.

advantage long balls

An attempted long ball from Alonso to Muller (they didn’t really have this long, accurate pass option last season) is cut out by Fritz and falls to Bartels who is facing his own goal. Hojbjerg and Alaba press immediately.

advantage long balls 2

Instead of tackling Bartels, Alaba goes to cut off Fritz as Gotze comes in for a secondary press and to stop a switch of play. Bartels is forced to play a ball into nowhere and Bayern win the ball in a dangerous area.

Alaba has been played in a variety of positions for Pep but I believe that he is still best in his original left-back position. This is mainly due to his attacking ability in wide areas when he overlaps.

alaba overlap cause problems.

alaba overlap cause problems 2.

Here, he has received the ball from Hojbjerg and is in lots of space due to his wide position against a fairly narrow 4-man defence. Gotze is in a tricky position for the defence as it stops Fritz from coming over to meet Alaba. Alaba has loads of time to cross to Muller.

At half-time, Alaba made way for Bayern’s first-choice left-back this season, Juan Bernat. Bernat showed he was just as effective at offering attacking threat.


The red area circled is seen as a key area for an attacking full-back to get into with the ball as it is probably the best position for a simple cross and finish. Jordi Alba is a specialist at finding himself in that position with the ball to find Messi, Suarez et al for an easy finish.

cutback 2

An obvious feature of attacking football, is getting as many men as far forward as possible. Pep uses players such as Lahm and Alaba to his advantage as they ensure defensive solidity in the midfield but also can use themselves effectively in the final third.

lahm forward run 1

Lahm plays the ball to Muller and continues his run into the halfspace which is left vacated as Garcia, Wolfsburg’s LB, goes to close down Muller.

lahm forward run 2lahm forward run 3

The ball is returned to Lahm inside the 18-yard area where he plays a one-two with Shaqiri and should score. This Vidal-esque run from Lahm shows Guardiola’s ability at looking at a player’s talents and then forming his own decision on the role in which that players should be played instead of merely playing them in their favoured position. This is a trait that shows us why Guardiola was such a successful youth coach at Barcelona B.

The key to winning games is scoring and not conceding, the way to do this is to have more of the ball. We have already seen how Bayern counterpress to win the ball back after losing it, they also use positional play to make sure they recoup the ball after any attempted clearance.

men on outside area

As Bayern venture into the Wolfsburg 18-yard area looking for an opening we can see Gotze, Rafinha, and Lahm on the edge of the area waiting for the ball if it is cleared or one of the forwards look for an option. On this occassion, the ball is cleared to Gotze who has space to shoot and score.

Overall, this was a pretty faultless performance from the Bavarians. 6-0, 72% of the ball, and not a single shot on target conceded. It couldn’t get any better for them. Or could it?

Match 11-Away at Roma.

A different sort of test. One could have argued that Bayern’s success was due to them facing Bundesliga opposition with no intent to get anything from the match, just sitting back and failing to contain Bayern’s attacking talents. A trip south to Italy to face a Roma side who were 2nd in Serie A seemed like their biggest test since facing Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League semi-final. Would Totti’s experience help him to out-think Bayern’s defence? Would the pace of Gervinho and Iturbe exploit space behind Bayern’s attacking full-backs? Would the hard-tackling De Rossi stifle the creativity of Gotze and Muller?

As you probably know,  that wasn’t the case. The difference between Guardiola and Mourinho is the messages Mourinho sends out to opposition in press conferences, Guardiola does so on the pitch.

Bayern started with what I would say is their strongest eleven players in a 3-2-3-2 while Roma continued with their 4-3-3 with Totti at false nine.

vs roma

Everything about this Bayern performance was a treat as they lined up in a 3-2-3-2 or M and M.

3232 or mm

Bayern, here playing from left to right, have two flat lines of three with a stepped double pivot of Alonso and Lahm and Lewandowski playing slightly in front of Muller up top. The back 3 seemed risky as the pace of Iturbe and Gervinho, plus the guile of Totti could hurt them in a 3 vs 3 situation. Playing eith 3 CBs allowed Bayern to get width through Bernat and Robben without them having to worry about defensive duties whilst also allowing Alonso to be able to create a bit higher up the pitch as he doesn’t have to sit between the centre-backs and risked being pressed by Totti.

Roma didn’t have any midfielders or forwards over 6ft in the team so have a tendency to try to pass it out of the back. Pep used this to his advantage.

high pressing vs roma

De Sanctis plays it out and Bayern press 4 vs 4 which completely isolates the Roma midfield. Roma have no choice to pass it back to the ‘keeper who has to launch it upfield and the ball finds its way back to a white shirt. Possession regained for Bayern.

Fußball sounds similar to Foosball and that’s what Bayern’s rigid structure in this match reminded me of.

3232 table football

The defensive and attacking midfield three stay in more-or-less the same positions whilst the two of Alonso & Lahm, and Muller & Lewandowski moves across to the side of the ball in the defensive phase in attempt to box in the Roma player and overload the area.

Bayern made sure that they allowed Totti, and Roma in general as little space as possible by being very tight and narrow at the back.

extremely narrow back 3

This narrowness forces Roma to go wide in attack, which makes it easier for Bayern to press them and win the ball back as Guardiola claims “the sideline is the best defender in the world” as it cuts out 180 degrees of a player’s possible area to play into.

When Roma got into controlled possession and their full-backs pushed up Robben and Bernat dropped to make it a back five.

robben fills in

This extra width prevents Bayern from being hurt by a quick switch crossfield. Credit to Robben as it is very unlikely as players such as Ronaldo or Messi would fill in like this if given this role.

Arjen Robben is more famed for his attacking prowess and this terrifies opposition. Pep used this to his benefit.

Robben pulls cole

Rudi Garcia chose to play Cole over the more pacy Holebas seemingly because of Cole’s fantastic record against top-class wingers in his Chelsea, Arsenal and England days-not least versus Robben in the 2012 Champions League final. He has obviously been given an instruction not to lose Robben and therefore, as seen above, he stays out of the defensive line to make sure he is a sensible distance away from Robben. Robben is clearly deliberately sitting deep on this occassion as it would pull Cole out of position to create a 2v1 situation in Bayern’s favour on Yanga-Mbiwa.

Despite the 7-1 final score, Roma did trouble Bayern a couple of times. Firstly, as predicted, their width through full-backs vs a 3-man Bayern defense caused problems.

bayern cant cope with FBs

Here we can see Bayern in a bit of a defensive mess as they are running back towards their own goal during a Roma break. Roma’s width allows them space and time on the ball. In this occassion, Bayern’s tightness and rigidity in defence pays dividends as they are not pulled all over the place by the wingers or Totti’s movement (nearest red arrow). Their compactness helps them see off the danger when an atttempted pass to Gervinho in the centre is played.

Still within the first ten minutes of the match, Bayern lacked sharpness. The pressing they experienced was unlike any they had faced so far in the Bundesliga.

cant cope roma pressing

Yanga-Mbiwa comes all the way up to stay tight to Muller, not allowing him to turn and set up a potentially lethal Bayern counter. He tackles an unsuspecting Muller and wins the ball.

cant cope roma pressing 2

This loss in possession results in Yanga-Mbiwa having the ball in what they would call a ‘triple threat’ position in Basketball. He can pass, shoot, or carry on dribbling. This is extremely dangerous as sitting off Yanga-Mbiwa would invite pressure and cause the defence to retreat into their own area whilst going to close him down would leave gaps in the back four (Alonso has slipped in between Boateng and Alaba).

cant cope roma pressing 3

This is exactly what happens as Boateng goes to Yanga-Mbiwa, and leaves a space behind him for Gervinho to run into behind a sleeping Alonso. Gervinho’s shot is saved by Neuer but a more clinical forward would have made Bayern pay for their mistake. It is clear that Bayern’s attack-to-defence transition needs working on.

Again, Cole’s  positioning is affected. This time by Muller.

lahm between lines 2

Muller pins Cole wide whilst Lahm runs into the open halfspace that is created. Nothing new here. Notice how Gotze and Robben are unmarked at the top of the picture. This is to potentially create an overload if the ball is switched.

Bayern continued to press Roma, and it continued to work.

4v4 press vs roma.  As soon as the ball is played to Yanga-Mbiwa, Muller goes to close him down, blocking off passes to De Rossi and Manolas whilst other Bayern players offer secondary pressure on Roma players.

4v4 press vs roma 2.

As the ball is played to Nainggolan, Lahm and Muller use a pincer pressing movement to strip him of the ball. This is actually a rare type of pressing for this area of the pitch as it is used employed on players on the sidelines by teams such as Simeone’s Atletico Madrid and Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen.

4v4 press vs roma 3.

The ball is taken from Nainggolan and Bayern are in a great position and should capitalise on this well orchestrated recoupment of the ball.

Bayern’s second goal started a flurry of goals that made 1-0, 5-0 within just twelve minutes. Gotze showed he isn’t just about passing as he scored whilst running at the defence.

gotze goal vs roma

Gotze runs at the Roma defence. As soon as Manolas and De Rossi step up to meet him, Muller makes a diagonal run in behind them whilst remaining onside.

gotze goal vs roma 2

He plays a one-two with Muller and then carries the ball into the space Muller has created before shooting and scoring. One could describe this as liquid football.

Then the flood gates opened. The quick succession of four goals in thirteen minutes reminded me of the last time a German team won 7-1 vs the home side.

Roma’s biggest mistake was giving Alonso as much space as they did.

alonso in space roma

Alonso is shown here in oceans of space and can slide a ball through to Bernat who plays a simple cross for Lewandowski to make it three. He is completely open as Roma’s 4-3-3 doesn’t accommodate a man to stay tight to deep lying midfielders. Roma should have played a trequartista not only to limit Alonso’s space but also to act as a hook between defence and attack in transition as Roma were often sloppy in initiating attacks.

The key to getting the ball from short passing between the back three and Alonso, to the final third of the pitch is clever movement by the attacking players.

clever depth movement

Here, Alaba has the ball and is looking for options. Gotze actually runs away from the ball and swaps places with Lewandowski, leaving both players in space to receive the ball.

clever depth movement 2

Lewandowski is totally unmarked and is free to turn and run.

clever depth movement 3

As Lewandowski makes his run infield, Nainggolan is in totally the wrong position, Roma have given up. Lewandowski plays a ball straight through where Nainggolan should be to Robben who isn’t picked up by any Roma player. 4-0 to the German champions.

Roma still haven’t done anything to solve their problems as Alonso is still allowed as much time and space as he wishes.

bayern fifth

There is more clever movement as Alaba takes Torisidis deep to make space for Bernat.

bayern fifth 2

As Bernat receives the ball from Alonso he has loads of space. This causes Torisidis to turn his attention towards Bernat whilst Alaba makes a run behind Torisidis or is now otherwise occupied. Bernat plays a simple ball through to Alaba who crosses only for the cross to be handled by a Roma defender and a penalty awarded to Bayern. Thomas Muller converts the spot kick with ease to send Bayern into halftime five goals to the good.

 Areas of Weakness

Playing such a good team will inevitably mean that you are tested. Bayern were hardly tested at all when they were trying to score however Roma did cause Bayern’s defence a few problems. This section, along with the analysis of the Borussia Monchengladbach fixture coming up next, shows that Bayern can be vulnerable and have some flaws.

Firstly, as predicted, their width through full-backs vs a 3-man Bayern defense caused problems.

bayern cant cope with FBs

Here we can see Bayern in a bit of a defensive mess as they are running back towards their own goal during a Roma break. Roma’s width allows them space and time on the ball. In this occassion, Bayern’s tightness and rigidity in defence pays dividends as they are not pulled all over the place by the wingers or Totti’s movement (nearest red arrow). Their compactness helps them see off the danger when an atttempted pass to Gervinho in the centre is played.

Still within the first ten minutes of the match, Bayern lacked sharpness. The pressing they experienced was unlike any they had faced so far in the Bundesliga.

cant cope roma pressing

Yanga-Mbiwa comes all the way up to stay tight to Muller, not allowing him to turn and set up a potentially lethal Bayern counter. He tackles an unsuspecting Muller and wins the ball.

cant cope roma pressing 2

This loss in possession results in Yanga-Mbiwa having the ball in what they would call a ‘triple threat’ position in Basketball. He can pass, shoot, or carry on dribbling. This is extremely dangerous as sitting off Yanga-Mbiwa would invite pressure and cause the defence to retreat into their own area whilst going to close him down would leave gaps in the back four (Alonso has slipped in between Boateng and Alaba).

cant cope roma pressing 3

This is exactly what happens as Boateng goes to Yanga-Mbiwa, and leaves a space behind him for Gervinho to run into behind a sleeping Alonso. Gervinho’s shot is saved by Neuer but a more clinical forward would have made Bayern pay for their mistake. It is clear that Bayern’s attack-to-defence transition needs working on.

Bayern’s three-man defence continued to give Roma space in wide areas as Pep decided to stick with it despite being 5-0 up at half time.

space left cause narrow d

In this instance Bayern manage to shuffle across quickly and win the ball back because of a slow Pjanic pass. Teams that like to switch play from side to side at pace could definitely exploit this vulnerability.

Bayern’s biggest problem previously has been dealing with pace and this was no different against Roma.

cant handle pace

Boateng is sleeping and a long ball gives Gervinho space to run into and use his pace. Bayern haven’t learnt their lessons from the CSKA match when Musa hurt them in this way. Pep doesn’t seem as keen on Neuer rushing out to clear the ball as much as Lowe asked him to in the World Cup. Boateng does a fantastic job to get back on terms with Gervinho and put him off enough to force him to hit the post. If this was any other defender that Gervinho had gotten the other side of, it would surely have been a goal. This is definitely an area that Bayern need to address as they were ripped apart by Real Madrid’s pace last season and even Danny Welbeck caused them a few issues in their quarter-final tie against Manchester United.

Another long diagonal ball is played by Roma, and it continues to trouble Bayern.

long ball cause problem

This time the ball is played to Florenzi over Bernat, whose lack of height and susceptibility to switch off can make him a target for opposition attackers. He is still young and has a lot to learn and the better he can tighten up his defensive game the better as his being a full-back in this day and age is as hard as it has ever been with not only the expectation of being able to attack, but with wingers such as Ronaldo, Neymar, Robben, Messi (sometimes) and Gareth Bale at the top of their game. Anyway, this Pjanic ball to Florenzi shouldn’t really be able to be played in the first place as Bayern’s normal pressing wouldn’t allow this. They’ve cleared slacked off on the pressing a bit which could cause problems but they’re 5-0 up so who can really blame them?

Bayern continued to take it easy and even lost their ball in their own half, something that would later prove costly against Manchester City.

bayern vulnerable in counter

Alonso doesn’t have the pace to keep up with Gervinho as Iturbe and Nainggolan create a 2 vs 1 vs Benatia. Nainggolan crosses for Gervinho who heads in for a consolation goal.

Overall, this was pretty much as good as it gets. 7-1 away to one of Europe’s best sides is formidable. Surely this would set the precedent for the rest of the season and Bayern would continue to sweep through Bundesliga opponents with ease?

Match 12-Borussia Monchengladbach away.

Bayern couldn’t get complacent as they has to travel to play a Gladbach side that had won three on the bounce (this is good form for normal teams).  This turned out to be a masterclass on how to stop this mighty Bayern team. Bayern’s future opponents take note.

Despite having already played Roma in the week, Guardiola only made two changes in personnel as Dante and Rafinha replaced Boateng and Robben.

vs gladbach

It was alos back to Bayern’s old system with two centre-backs, Alonso dropping in between them, Alaba moving from a third CB at times in the defensive phase to an attacking midfielder in Bayern possession, and Muller and Gotze creating space around Lewandowski.

Monchengladbach sit back against Bayern using a simple two banks of four.

BM deep block

As well as the two banks of four we can see Xhaka always blocking the halfspace, restricting any potential Lahm runs into this area. Gladbach have seen this danger and stopped it.  Xhaka covering this halfspace also means that Alvaro doesn’t have to stay too tight to his LB, Wendt. This means they can cover the danger area in the middle of the 18-yard box effectively and prevent any Muller diagonal runs to the near post. Also, notice Raffael’s positioning just ahead of the midfield that will allow his to initiate a counter attack by acting as a hook between defence and attack.

Gladbach used a long ball forward effectively. Not necessarily over the top of the defence but long enough for the defence to head back, hopefully to a Gladbach player.

BM long ball cause problems

Gladbach fill the area of the pitch the ball has fallen into which causes Bayern’s lack of defenders problems. Also notice the Borussia forward at the top of the picture who is preventting Bayern’s defence to be as narrow as they were vs Roma. BM long ball cause problems 2

Alonso and Bernat are sucked into the little triangle shown in the first picture but having so many close options allows Gladbach to wriggle out of the press, leaving Kruse and Hahn in huge amounts of space in between the lines. BM long ball cause problems 3

Kruse plays the ball wide to Hahn who then puts in a dangerous cross that Bayern manage to clear.

Gladbach had obviously studied Bayern in great detail as they had a solution for almost everything the Bavarians did. We have seen how effective Bayern’s halfspace overloads can be, but again Xhaka shuts the opportunity down.

xhaka stops overload

Xhaka drops to stop the overload whilst Raffael moves back to Xhaka’s position in the midfield four and Kruse drops back to Raffael’s enganche (hook) position. Blocking the channel in this way made Bayern a lot less productive.

xhaka block halfspace on other side

Here’s Xhaka doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the pitch. In Kramer and Xhaka, Borussia Monchengladbach have one of the strongest and most underrated double pivots in Europe.

Bayern continued to be susceptible to the odd counter attack.

hurt on counter

Kruse drops deep into his own half to pick it up and lay it off to Hahn.

bayern vulnerable in counter2

Bernat and Benatia are the only players who can keep up with the BM attack and a 3 vs 2 situation is caused. This is an obvious negative of playing Dante over Boateng as Bayern missed Boateng’s pace here.

Monchengladbach stopped Bayern breaking into their penalty area by putting extreme pressure on anything on the edge of their area. bm pressure on edge

When the ball is played to Gotze, Bayern’s main advanced playmaker, three players surround him. This includes Korb who moves out of his RB zone to press Gotze. Xhaka notices this and covers Korb immediately. This shows great defensive organisation.

Even Bayern’s pressing didn’t go very well for them.

alonso bad press

Alonso takes part in some counterpressing quite high up the pitch on Kramer but unfortunately for Bayern, Kramer manages to wriggle out of the press and play a ball forward. Notice the huge gap that has been vacated as Alonso leaves his position.

alonso bad press 2

The veteran midfielder does not have the pace to make it back and a Bayern are 3 versus 3 at the back. BM manage to register a shot on target through Herrman as a result of this.

Bayern persisted and did manage to find a few gaps and create some chances due to clever movement.

finding space between lines

Bayern try to find space in between the lines but guess what? Xhaka’s there, circled white above, he is tracking Gotze closely. Gotze uses this to his advantage, dragging Xhaka onto the defensive line to create space in a central area.

finding space between lines 2

Muller drops into this large space to pick up the ball. This showed how as soon as Bayern neutralised Xhaka, they found some joy. With so many men on the last line, it is difficult for BM to press Muller now without leaving gaps.

Monchengladbach remained very narrow in defence throughout the match which is a key feature of any highly defensive performance in football.

BM narrow

This extremely narrow block is unaffected by the width of Ribery and Bernat on each wing. This is to make sure no players can get into the channel between fullback and centre-back as we have previously seen how devastating this can be.

BM narrow 2

As the ball is played to Ribery, Wendt goes to close him down and BM midfielders go to close the halfspace that Wendt leaves deserted.

One thing which is vital when playing with three centre-backs is a solid defensive midfielder in front of them. Bayern are lucky to have this in Alonso but any lapse of concentration on his part could prove costly.

alonso out of position BM

He is caught out of position again and the same gap in front of the defence is left unmanned. Once again BM get a shot on goal after Alonso being caught out of position.

Another thing Bayern need to be careful of is playing players outside of their natural position. Although the versatility and flexibility of their squad is to be admired, sometimes players being subject to things unfamiliar to them can cause problems.

alaba poor cb

Alaba is in  the middle of the back three here and Benatia has to push wide to mark Raffael. Alaba fails to recognise this and shuffle across therefore allowing a long ball to find the unmarked man that has run in between him and Benatia.

This was a disappointing result for Bayern and it was a surprising one as Bayern had only failed to score once previously in all competitions all season. Bayern addressed the issues they faced and went back to winning ways however I chose this as the last match that I included in this tactical profile as it showed the Bayern machine can occasionally get jammed.

Set Pieces

I couldn’t properly call this a full look at Bayern’s play without including some of their set pieces-the root of over a third of goals in football.

Firstly, Gotze hangs back on the edge of the area at a Bayern free-kick as he does not have the height to challenge aerially.

set pieces 1-gotze hangs back.

set pieces gotze 2

Gotze pounces on the ball when it falls to him and strikes to give Bayern the lead. An example of how Pep uses shorter players effectively at set pieces-something he was forced to learn to do at Barca.

Secondly, an attacking corner for Bayern against Manchester City.

dante free kick

Dante, the furthest left of the Bayern players shown is being picked up by Sagna.

dante free kick 2

As the free kick is about to be taken, he takes four or five steps backwards and is free. Sagna is ball watching. A better ball and Bayern could have used this to their advantage.

Thirdly, Bayern defending a corner.

5-3 form. def. corners

In almost every opposition corner I’ve seen, Bayern line up in a 5-3 zonal formation. The back five are much more zonal however and the front three pick up the three attacking players pretty much man for man. This reaps the benefits of both zonal and man marking from set pieces. Also, notice Gotze on the edge of the Area whose job it is to pick up any extra runners into the box. Robben, slightly wide of centre on the edge of the area is not only watching the short option and preventing the man on the edge of the box from getting a potential shooting opportunity if the ball is cleared to him, but is also an outlet for if Bayern plan to attack quickly if they win the ball. This corner set up has worked pretty effectively for Bayern this season and they haven’t experienced any trouble defending corners from what I have seen.

Finally, a classic free-kick scenario where there is a group of players surrounding the ball in a dangerous shooting area.

bremen free kick

bremen free kick 2

Alaba and Muller both run over the ball. This has the desired effect as the wall is broken and jumping by the time Alonso can roll it under the wall and score.


This story of twelve Bayern matches showed the magnificent things they can do when all the hours of preparation on the training ground and in team talks come together in a match situation. My only hope is that no matter how much of it you read, you take away from this what a fantastic coach Pep Guardiola is, what a bunch of talented individuals he has at his disposal, each individual step on the pitch towards achieving greatness, and maybe even what things can be done to have a hope of containing them. My favourite Pep Guardiola quote is “Changing the answer is evolution, but changing the question is revolution”. I truly believe that Pep Guardiola is changing all the questions and revolutionising modern football.

Embedded image permalink


Thank you very much for reading! If you enjoyed it don’t forget to share! I would really like to know what you thought of this article so please put any comments, questions or points for discussion below. Don’t forget to follow the blog on twitter- @flyingwingback. Once again, Thank you.







European Teams to Watch 2014/15: Olympique Marseille.

Olympique Marseille are the first of my “Teams to Watch” in the European Leagues this season. Marseille have a fairly youthful squad but with some vital experience throughout with the likes of Steve Mandanda and Mathieu Valbuena. They have a superb following, probably the best fans in France, who will be desperate for their team to improve on their 6th place finish last time out. Les Phocéens will be playing in front of 67,000 fans at the newly renovated Stade Velodrome (if negotiations over rent with the authorities are successful).  Let’s not kid ourselves however, the real reason for any success at Marseille will be because of the appointment of Marcelo Bielsa.

Bielsa, the son of a fairly well-off Argentine family of politicians and lawyers, he applied his families principles of hard-work and study to football. As a teenager he used to subscribe to football magazines that came with video copies of football matches that he analysed for hours and stored. You could say he is the most influential “student of the game” still working today, the Stephen Hawking of football. His obsessive, unorthodox nature has earned him the nickname El Loco and once claimed that over he Christmas to New Year break he planned to undertake two hours of phyisical activity and fourteen hours of watching football videos per day, presumably leaving the remaining eight hours to the more trivial and unimportant tasks of eating and sleeping. His aggressive, high-intensity, high pressing style of football has been copied by many coaches, including some of the best in the world, known as Bielsistas. The coaches that follow Bielsa’s ways most closely and successfully include Jorge Sampaoli of Chile, Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham (who played under Bielsa during El Loco‘s time as Argentina manager) and not least Pep Guardiola, who described Bielsa as “the best coach in the world” in a press conference when Bielsa was in charge at Athletic Bilbao.


Bielsa’s tactics are what earn him his nickname of El Loco. He first caught the eye of European football fans during the 2010 World Cup, setting up Chile in a 3-3-1-3 formation. This paired with aggressive pressing and high intensity passing captured the imagination of football fans worldwide. So far in pre-season with Marseille he has been using something not so dissimilar, employing a 5-1-3-1-cum-3-3-3-1 formation in three of Marseille’s four pre-season friendlies so far. He did use a more common 4-2-3-1 in their 5-0 thrashing of Holland’s Willem II however this offers a similarly shaped front four in terms of the first two pressing lines and I think was only used as Willem are the only team they faced to field only one centre forward. Having three central defenders marking one striker is regarded as a waste of resources that could be used higher up the pitch so I expect L’OM to use four-at-the-back this season when facing teams playing one striker. Andre-Pierre Gignac has been his first-choice centre-forward so far and Mario Lemina was interestingly being used as a ball playing centre back before Nicolas Nkoulou returned from his holiday after his World Cup campaign with Cameroon. Below is what I expect Marseille’s starting XI to be this season with the current players they have:


This squad on paper is nowhere near some of the elite European sides, and behind that of PSG, Monaco and maybe even Lyon and Lille. However if they follow Bielsa’s style and work at the intensity he demands, this team can be successful. They have already shown this in their four pre-season friendlies. Impressive wins 4-1 versus Bayer Leverkusen, 2-1 versus Benfica, and 5-0 versus Willem II followed by a slightly disappointing 1-1 draw against Bari has stood them in good stead for the season opener away at Bastia on 9th August. The equalising goal in that Bari game was quintessentially Bielsa:

om11)As the ball starts to reach the CB, the OM payers realise he is somewhat isolated and one man runs towards the man on the ball, whilst deeper players push up.


om22)The centre forward, Batshuayi then takes up a strategic position blocking off the pass across goal, whilst also being close enough to the GK and DM to make the man on the ball unsure who to pass to.


om33)The ball is played to the deep midfielder who is immediately under pressure, and is forced to make a dodgy pass to the GK which is picked up by Batshuayi who scores.


So, What can they achieve this season?

Their overall success this season will depend on two periods of the season:

Firstly, the adaptation time. It took Athletic Bilbao some time to adapt to Bielsa’s ways and only received two points from their first five matches in his first season there, 2011/12. After this initial teething period they went on a sensational run losing only one match from September 24th 2011 to January 22nd  2012.

The second key point of the season will be when the players inevitably become exhausted from the high intensity style of football and injuries occur, having a negative impact on results. In the 2011/12 season this came in March, where from March 11th to March 31st Athletic picked up only one point from a possible fifteen. Reducing the time and severity of these two periods of the season will be vital. Athletic finished 10th that season but if they, for example, took eight points from their first fifteen, and a further eight from fifteen in the period from 11th March to 31st March, they would have finished in third position.

Marseille will definitely be helped by the fact that they do not have to play in any form of European competition this season as the way the Bilbao players tired late of that season was definitely due to them reaching the Europa League and Copa Del Rey finals. Also, only three Marseille players played at the World Cup compared to ten from their bitter rivals PSG. This helps as the players have had more time to recover and more players have had more pre-season time to get back into full fitness and adapt to the new system they will be playing.

Will they topple PSG and Monaco?  Probably not PSG with their deep squad and Qatari financial backing. However, I do think a James Rodriguez-less AS Monaco, with Falcao’s future still in doubt could be a team that Marseille will be setting their sights on finishing above. I think L’OM’s target will be the top 3 UEFA Champions League qualifying spots however getting into the top 2 to get automatic Champions League football could be achievable. No matter what their results are, Marseille will be one of the teams I will be sure to watch as often as possible, and they should be one of yours too.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post please share and be sure to keep up-to-date with this blog to see any further posts. You can also follow the blog’s twitter account @flyingwingback.

If you have any questions or points for discussion please comment below.



Brazil: Where did it all go wrong? -A breakdown of their defensive errors.

There were many factors that contributed to Germany’s drubbing of Brazil on 8th July 2014, a date that will live long in the memory of any Brazilian, German and many football fans Worldwide. There is never one sole reason for any defeat or victory in football and this was the case in this particular match that shocked football. Many people will see Neymar’s absence due to a back injury as key. This is true to an extent as he is such an important player for Brazil scoring four of the ten goals Brazil had scored before a high knee in the back by Colombian Juan Zuniga ruled him out of the tournament. Neymar Jr. is a key player for Brazil however I don’t think he would have done much about the seven goals that Brazil conceded even if he was on the pitch. I would argue that the absence of Thiago Silva was much more significant. As well as the fantastic defender that he is, probably the World’s best, he is their captain, the embodiment of Scolari on the field of play, the only man in that back line with any defensive capacity or discipline. Silva is the one that tells Luiz to pull tighter in or tells the full-backs how far to push up. Without him it was clear to see that Brazil were a defensive headless chickens ready to be devoured by the quick, strong, ruthless German foxes. As this match was Alan Hansen’s penultimate in his career as a football pundit on the BBC I will do a Hansen-like breakdown of each of the seven German goals to emphasise just how disorganised Brazil were at the back and how individual mistakes compounded to create a collective mess.


Goal One of Seven

A corner. Corners are a great leveler in football. No matter whether it’s at a Sunday League match at a local park or in a World Cup Semi-Final in front of nearly sixty-thousand people at the Estadio Mineirao and umpteen million watching Worldwide. You could maybe excuse Brazil if it was a header from a 6’6″Per Mertesacker (who wasn’t on the field at the time) however at no level is it acceptable for a man to be in about 5 yards of space in the middle of the box with the ball falling at his feet.1...


Above is the perfect example of the negatives of man-to-man marking at set pieces. Luiz is clearly supposed to be marking Muller and firstly, isn’t tight enough to him. The whole of the German contingent inside the area run to the near post while Muller makes a diagonal run far-post which causes Luiz to be confused and blocked off. The ball is perfectly floated onto Muller’s feet where he puts it past Cesar to put Germany one up.

Goal Two of Seven

If you thought the last goal was amateur to concede, you’ll be appalled by this one. Firstly, as shown below, the ball is played back to Muller and the Brazil line pushes up. Apart from Marcelo, circled in red.


Below, out of picture, Klose pushes Dante and Luiz back onto the line of Marcelo. This is the point where Silva would be shouting at his defenders to push up but this deep defence, means Fernandinho in midfield is forced to sit deep which leaves a totally unmarked Kroos (red circle). Fernandinho tries to intercept Muller’s pass (black line) to Kroos but fails which leaves Kroos a massive amount of space to run into.


More errors to come as the Brazil line finally steps up, apart from guess who? Marcelo (circled red). This is a classic example of the ‘ballwatching’ which most defenders learn to stamp out of their game by the age of eleven or twelve. Next, in blue we can see Gustavo (blue circle) making a dog’s dinner(I apologise if any of my British Clichés are lost in translation) of tracking Muller, who Kroos slides a ball to in between Brazil’s centre-backs. This should simply never happen. This is made possible by Dante finding himself in no-man’s land as he starts to close down Kroos, but decides against this so all he really does is basically vacate his man, Ozil. (Can I also apologise for not using Umlauts and accents where I should as I don’t have a keyboard to facilitate this). This causes Luiz to vacate Klose to mark Ozil which means Luiz doesn’t know where Klose is. It is now effectively Maicon’s job to mark Klose which he doesn’t do which means he is free for Muller to pass to and score to become the World Cup’s all-time leading goalscorer.


Goal Three of Seven

The danger of conceding two early goals in such an important game is that it’s probably just the start. There first twenty-five minutes of Liverpool-Arsenal at Anfield in the 2013/14 season comes to mind. The more you go down, the higher your full-backs push up, the more midfielders you commit higher up the field, and the lower the tendency for the forwards to track back. The correct thing to do in these circumstances is probably to slow down the game, stifle the opposition, and try to launch a comeback in the second half after a passionate half-time team talk before it is too late. Brazil didn’t do this. This caused them to concede a staggering four goals from the twenty-third to the twenty-ninth minute.

Below, we see Hulk (red circle) completely avoiding his defensive responsibilities by failing to track Lahm and instead just holding his position and waving a half-hearted finger at Marcelo to tell him to mark Lahm. We also see Muller in the vast space between Brazil’s midfield and defence. 3a

Below, Fernandinho (red) finally realises that it might be a good idea to pick up Muller and makes a measly effort of doing so. This causes Kroos to be unmarked at the back post where he fires home after Muller fails to make contact with Lahm’s cross. In the image, notice how ever Brazilian player is looking at the ball and has no awareness whatsoever for Toni Kroos( blue run).


Goal Four of Seven

At this point the game was pretty much lost so it’s pointless analysing anything. But I will anyway as there is a bucket load of mistakes to get through.

Below, Dante plays a slow, lazy ball to Fernandinho who has his back to goal. This makes it easy to apply pressure and win the ball, which is what Toni Kroos, having put the ball in the net about forty-five seconds previously did. Notice how, with the ball and they did this throughout the whole match, Brazil opted a 3-4-3 shape with the full backs pushing on to be wide midfielders and Gustavo dropping back. Normally, the holding midfielder drops back between the centre-backs however here, Gustavo is to the left of the three which is strange. When building out from the back in a 3-4-3, the CCB, Dante has to be deep like a sweeper to make a diamond to increase passing options, here isn’t deep enough here. Also, they need to use a goalkeeper who can pass it comfortably, I wouldn’t put Cesar into this category. It is also vital that you use aggressive pressing when using a 3-4-3 because of the three men on the front line, so one short pass can take these three men out of the game. It is fair to say that this particular building from the back system didn’t work. After Fernandinho loses the ball, Dante’s efforts are comical as he doesn’t know where to run or who to close down. *Cue images of small Brazilian children in tears*


Goal Five of Seven

When Mats Hummels picks the ball up where he does in the image below, what do you think he does? Makes a short pass wide? A long, hopeful ball up top? Get’s put under pressure and plays it back to Neuer? No. He is somehow allowed to dribble with the ball thirty or thirty five yards without even being tackled.The second image shows a heavy touch that causes two Brazilians to attempt to win the ball (one of which is Luiz who leaves his position to leave the space for Khedira, Klose and Ozil to overload Dante and Maicon 3v2) but he manages to scramble it to Khedira.  This means Mats Hummels effectively beat five players and made an important pass to Khedira who played a one-two with Ozil to make it five. In the second image below just look at Marcelo (circled red), again.




Goal Six of Seven

The biggest mystery of this match is probably how on earth Brazil managed to go forty minutes without conceding a goal in the period between the fifth and sixth goals. Brazil actually had some positive spells at the start of the second half when the game was already lost and somehow had more shots, and shots on target than Germany. Seven goals from fourteen shots and twelve on target from Germany shows their ruthlessness and quality in finishing compared to Brazil who scored only one goals from eighteen shots, with thirteen on target. Despite this short period of dominance, the Germans soon put them well in their place with Andre Schurrle adding the sixth in the sixty-ninth minute.  Here, Brazil lose a challenge on their left-hand side, which causes a two vs one, Khedira and Lahm vs Oscar. Khedira slides it to Lahm, who finds a totally unmarked Schurrle who shows the sort of clever movement that you would never see from Fred as he pulls back to give him space to receive the pass and shoot. Just look at the space in the middle of the penalty area.



Goal Seven of Seven

This is the only German goal where you could actually put it down to great individual skill over a defensive error. It was almost fitting that such a fantastic finish topped off probably the most remarkable football match in history. Was there still amateur defending in the lead up to the goal? Of course there was. Was it Luiz losing focus in the later stages of a match? You guessed it. Below we see Luiz slowly jogging towards Schurrle who is obviously in a dangerous position and Luiz (red) only starts sprinting when the ball reaches Schurrle’s feet. At this point, it was too late.




Seven-one. This result was an accumulation of a team who have underperformed since their win over Portugal in their first match finally reaching the heights, and more of that first performance. A team at the very top of it’s game who have worked with this generation for years with Ozil winning man of the match in the final and Khedira captaining the German U21 side that won the 2009 European Championship. And a team that showed how far behind Brazil (and most certainly Scolari) is behind Europe in terms of tactical knowledge, defensive discipline and how this generation wouldn’t really be worthy of going down in the record books with the Brazilian sides of ’58, ’62, ’70, ’94 ’02 and go one further than the great 1982 team. As well as a victory for Germany it was a victory for football as we can truly say, if Germany win the tournament, that the winners of the 2014 World Cup deserved it.




Thanks for reading, please share with your friends if you liked it which you can do below. You can also ‘like’ the post, follow the blog and comment to ask any questions or offer suggest any topics I could write about. Follow the blog on twitter @flyingwingback or even me personally @tristanthomas22. Cheers.


Chile vs Netherlands : A tactical preview.

I don’t want to get too carried away or build up your expectations but this has the potential to be one of the best matches in World Cup history.  Two nations, both alike in tactical philosophy, in fair Sao Paulo where we lay our scene. This match is of the utmost importance to both sides with the winner avoiding the tournament favourites Brazil in the round of sixteen (A draw will be enough for Holland to top the group). They have been arguably the two best sides of the tournament so far, both recording memorable victories over the reigning champions Spain along the way.  This promises to be a fascinating clash.


The reason why it could be such a good match is the exciting styles of both teams. Both teams (Chile moreso) aim to press aggressively, winning the ball as high up the field as possible to launch counter attacks and catch out the opponent in the transitional phase between having the ball and not. This is why there is a possibility that the game will be attack, press, turnover, attack, press, turnover; certainly for some stages of the match if not almost all of it. Realistically, I don’t think it will be like this for all of the ninety minutes. Jorge Sampaoli and Louis Van Gaal don’t belong in the same sentence as the word “pragmatic” however they are not afraid to sit deep and defend for periods when it is necessary, certainly to a greater extent than Marcelo Bielsa, for example. Chile showed this discipline when they let Spain have the ball in their own half for periods of the second half when they were already 2-0 up.

We have established that both of these sides are probably best when they don’t have the greater share of possession as their attacking threat relies on the opponents losing the ball in vulnerable areas. This begs the question: If nobody wants the ball, who will have it?

The answer to this is probably Chile. Despite only having 37% possession against Spain, they dominated the ball against Australia with a 66% share of possession (All my stats are from OPTA despite their possession calculation methods being fairly dubious Holland achieved a similar 36% possession vs Spain however only had 50% of the possession vs Australia showing that they’re not keen to dominate the ball even against the weaker sides. Possession is also a crucial part of Chile’s game as they are effective at quick circulation amongst defence and deep midfield to create space further up the field.

The lineups:

Unlike England (sigh), it isn’t predictable how these teams will line up as Chile have used two different systems in their two matches so far whereas Holland have an injury to Bruno Martins Indi and a suspension for Robin Van Persie for picking up a yellow card in two consecutive matches. My best guess is that Chile will stick with their 3-4-1-2 formation they used successfully against Spain however I think Arturo Vidal will drop into a deeper midfield role to replace the injured Charles Aranguiz however Vidal himself missed training along with Aranguiz on Friday so it is in the balance as to who they will start with. Vidal dropping to a deeper midfield role vacates the number 10 role which will most likely be filled by Jorge Valdivia who started in that position vs Australia in Match 1.Chile may revert to the 4-3-1-2 system they used against Australia as this provides more width when the full backs push up the field. I think it’s most likely that Chile will use the 3-4-1-2 and I think they only used 4 at the back vs Australia because it is commonly accepted that 3 centre-backs vs only 1 striker is a waste of resources. Also the 4 at the back allowed more men to be up field when they won the ball so they could move it up the pitch more effectively.

Holland, meanwhile is even more difficult to predict. A 4-3-3 is fairly likely as centre-back Bruno Martins Indi is unlikely to start after suffering concussion against  Australia. Also an absent Van Persie will mean an out-and-out striker such as Huntelaar may be required. Depite this, dutch football tweeter @MFPowerhouse expects Veltman to replace Martins Indi and Depay to replace RVP so Holland stick with their 3-5-2/5-3-2 system. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf this morning has reported that they will go for a more experimental side with Kuyt at left wing-back, Blind at centre-back and Lens to play up front with Robben. I’m not 100% sure of the validity of this so I’ll show I think they will line up, either way they are still retaining the 3-5-2 shape they’ve been using in this World Cup.

chile holland lineup

The key for Holland as always will be moving the ball up the field as quickly as possible, most effectively at the feet of Arjen Robben. His breakaway goals vs Spain and Australia shows how dangerous losing the ball to Holland can be. The Chile defenders will need to be focused and stay in shape at all times and I expect Marcelo Diaz to sit even deeper than usual when Chile have the ball high up the field. This pace on the breakaway will be even more a threat if Memphis Depay starts up top with Robben. Chile struggled against quick counter attacks against Australia and only thrived vs Spain because Spain have lost their pace in circulation in midfield and therefore the Chilean defence could drop and pressure could be applied to the Spanish midfielders.Chile also sometimes have a tendency to be fairly sloppy in passing and lost the ball several times in their own half against Spain, this simply cannot be done on this occasion with the pace of Holland’s forwards. Holland also have the advantage from crosses and set pieces as they are much taller than Chile. Danny Blind showed us how he can put a ball on a sixpence when he assisted THAT Van Persie goal vs Spain. Chile are the shortest team at the tournament with an average height of only 167cm and this could be further exploited if 6’1″ Klaas Jan Huntelaar makes an appearance at some point in the match. Their vulnerability in the air was shown when they conceded their only goal of the tournament to date from a Tim Cahill header.


Despite maybe having more of the ball over the ninety minutes, the key for Chile will be winning the ball as high up the field as possible. Their main two methods of doing this are pressing the man on the ball and cutting off his options when 1) they have their back to goal, 2) when a player receives the ball in an isolated position. The only real way to avoid this onslaught is very quick circulation in central midfield to not give the Chileans a real chance to press each player. This quick circulation is something I fear Holland don’t have the ability to you with Nigel De Jong being more of a break-up midfielder than a passer, Jonathan De Guzman does belong to a possession-based Swansea side but may not be able to move it at the intensity they require. Below, it shows Xabi Alonso being pressed facing his own goal, forcing a mistake which leads to Chile’s first goal.

pressing from behind

This constant obsession to press the man on the ball sometimes leaves gaps in Chile’s defence which will definitely be exploited with two Holland forwards present, and with Wesley Sneijder always capable of providing killer through balls. Below it shows how so many players going towards the ball can create space in behind for forwards to make diagonal runs into.

press bad 1


press bad 2

Valdivia will also advance in between Vargas and Sanchez to occupy all of Hollands back 3 which could make them susceptible to runs from midfield, especially from Arturo Vidal. Nigel De Jong and Jonathan De Guzman will definitely have a torrid time tracking these runs if the Juventus midfielder starts. Despite this, Chile will not have the man advantage they had vs Spain’s defence when their front 5 pushed up onto Spain’s back 4 which gave them more width and allowed them to play diagonal cross-field balls. Holland will certainly be more equipped to deal with Chile than Spain were. Chile will also be tougher to break down the Australia were as I expect Jara to mark Robben with Medel sweeping behind to add protection. Australia struggled to deal with him with only two centre-backs.


Key areas of the match: Vidal’s fitness, Dutch CMs speed of circulation, Holland’s pace on breakaway.

Prediction: Score draw- sending Netherlands through in 1st place to play probably Mexico or Croatia and Chile through in 2nd to play Brazil.



Thank you very much for reading. If you enjoyed this please share with your friends and on social media. Comment below to suggest a topic that I could write on, ask a question,  or to give your comments on this post. You can follow the Blog’s twitter account @flyingwingback or my personal account @tristanthomas22. Thanks.


World Cup 2014: Who’ll win the Golden Boot/Shoe?

The Golden Boot (or Golden Shoe as it is officially known, presumably to cater for U.S. audiences) in the World Cup is probably the second most prestigious individual award in football, second to the Ballon D’or. It’s the award for the top scorer  and this year I expect it to be as highly contested as ever with the obvious contenders of Messi, Neymar etc. but also maybe some surprises. Here, I will take you through what it takes to win the Golden Boot and who has the best chance of doing so. I apologise for this not being thoroughly tactical however I hope it is still interesting.



How to pick the winner of the award.

Who will get far?

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the more games a player plays, the higher the chance of scoring more overall goals. Therefore, you need to look out for players that play for teams that will get far in the competition. For me, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany will be the semi-finalists so a player from one of those countries to claim the golden boot award is likely. Bosnia & Herzogovina have a proven goal poacher in Edin Dzeko but the best they can hope for is 2nd place behind Argentina in group F which would lead them to a probably exit against France in the last 16. Therefore, it is imperative that your choice for Golden Boot winner plays in a decent side as (at least one in event of a tie) every Golden Boot winner apart from one has been from a team that finished in the top four(the only one where this wasn’t the case was, you guessed it, English… Gary Lineker in 1986).


What sides score lots of goals?

If a team scores lots of goals, the law of averages suggests that one player in that team will end up with a significant amount himself. From Europe, the nations that scored most goals in qualifying were Germany (36) the Netherlands (34) . In South America, Argentina finished with the most goals (35 but from 16 games a opposed to 10 in Europe). From North+Central America, Costa Rica topped the charts with 27 from 16 games, from Asia, Japan averaged 2 per match at 16 goals from 8 and Algeria matched this from Africa with the same record. Therefore, Islam Slimani , Joel Campbell and the like, might be better bets than you may have first thought.

The least prolific sides in Europe were Greece and Croatia, both with 12 goals from 10 games. This isn’t a surprise from Greece who are famous for their dogged, defensive style most famously winning Euro 2004 with a re-birth of a Catenaccio-type system with a Libero (Sweeper). It is more of a surprise that Croatia with their superb creative midfield trio of Modric, Rakitic and Kranjcar, Bayern Munich forward Mandzukic and attacking full-back Srna scored so little goals. This could be because weaker teams feel threatened by them so sit back but i’m not 100% sure on this and would like anyone with any suggestions as to why this could be to comment. Ecuador scored the least of the South American sides with 20 from 16 games but this is fairly good compared to Mexico, who had the worst goalscoring record in the final qualifying phase with only 7 from 10 matches in a very poor Concacaf qualifying zone. I don’t think Javier Hernandez will repeat his performance from for years ago with two goals and top performances that earned him a move to Manchester United.


How will goals be spread out over a team?

Many people are backing Lionel Messi to stake his claim on being the best player ever with a fantastic performance in this world cup, probably picking up the golden boot along the way. I would be a fool to argue against this happening however it is important to recognise Argentina are a lot more than just a one man team. Say Argentina go all the way to the final (therefore playing 7 matches) and match their qualifying average of around 2.2 goals per game. This will mean they score 16 goals in the tournament. With other talented forwards such as Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain starting alongside Messi as well as other attacking talents such as Angel Di Maria, Ezequeil Lavezzi and Pablo Zabaleta bombing forward from right back, it is unlikely Messi will even get a third of these 16 goals. If Messi achieves a third, around 5 goals, this would only be enough to achieve the Golden Boot outright in 1 of the 19 World Cups to date, 5 has been enough for the golden boot on three occasions. Despite this, two of the three world cups where the Golden Boot winner has scored 5 goals have been the most recent two World Cups. This idea could also be argued with Neymar and the other goalscoring influences in the Brazil team such as Fred, Hulk and Oscar. I would say this is less relevant with Neymar and Brazil however as Neymar has scored 30 Brazil goals since the last World Cup , second on the list is Fred with only twelve. Also, it is unlikely a Spanish player will win the Golden Boot. Since the last World Cup, David Villa is Spain’s top scorer with 14 but he is closely followed by Pedro with 13 (who scores so many by taking advantage of space created by a false 9, normally Fabregas), David Silva with 13 and Fernando Torres with 12. The best place to put your money on this front is probably Cristiano Ronaldo who carries Portugal to a greater extent than any other player with any other team at this World Cup.  Their only other goalscoring option is Helder Postiga but he has suffered a very poor season with only 3 goals in 20 games (3 in 15 for Valencia before going on loan to Lazio where he scored 0 from 5).



Does it even have to be a Striker?

You could argue that a lot of the contenders for the golden boot aren’t even out-and-out strikers. Probably the three biggest contenders; Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, will all be playing on either the left (Neymar and Ronaldo) or the right (Messi) of a front three. Here, they are expected to score many goals cutting in and shooting from distance, finding the halfspace between the centre-back and the full back, and arriving at the back post to slot in. At the last world cup, Thomas Muller won the award with 5 goals predominantly playing at right wing in a 4-2-3-1. Wesley Sneijder  matched his 5 goals for Holland playing behind the Striker in a 4-2-3-1.  Yaya Toure scored an incredible amount of goals this season for Manchester City however I find it unlikely that any midfield player will replicate this in the World Cup as international football is played at a slower pace than the Premier League and the heat(and humidity in equatorial regions) will compound to this to slow the game further. Also, with 4-2-3-1 very likely to be the most frequently used formation at the World Cup, the two holding midfielders in this system (if they are disciplined) make it difficult for central midfielders to shoot from the edge of the 18-yard area. It’s more than likely the Golden Boot winner will be a player from a front 1,2 or 3, not midfield.


I have already briefly mentioned that conditions could play a part in determining what type of player thrives in the tournament. Temperatures will reach up to 26 degrees celsius (79F) in Rio, and will be slightly higher the further north you go. My English readers will also know (as it has been drummed into our ears since the draw was announced in December) that in Manaus as well as other northerly regions such as Fortazela, Natal and Recife, humidity will be a big factor and quarterly drinks breaks will have to be taken. This means player’s energy is soaked up so the game loses it’s pace. In the Brazilian league in the 2013 season, the top three scorers were Ederson, Dinei and Gilberto who notched up 58 goals between them. None of these forwards are particularly pacy and don’t really rely on quick acceleration to get in behind the opposition defence to score goals. This means that players such as Fred, Lukaku and Giroud could benefit as crossing may become a big factor when defences drop off as it was in the first match between Brazil and Croatia where these types of strikers can use their physical presence to score headers, poach a goal from a loose ball, or drop into the midfield to try to play one-twos. There were 45 crosses in the opening match and 47 in the second match between Mexico and Cameroon. The conditions could also suit sides with a short passing game (you know who) as opposed to a dynamic, counter-attacking game like Germany used so effectively at the last world cup. Diego Costa plays for a side that suit the conditions and also has that physical presence which may prove vital in around the 6 yard area. The conditions certainly benefits Costa’s chances of winning the award. Despite this, in 4 South American World Cups, no European has been top scorer outright.


The ratings

Here, I took the bookies’ top 20 favourites for the Golden Boot and rated their chances on several categories, including the ones I have mentioned above. I based the ‘Form’ category on the whole of the 2013/14 season. ‘How Far Will Their Team Go?’  is scored according to the round they will finish in, with 5 being the Final, 4 being the Semis and so on. Here are the results:

golden boot


So, Neymar (already with two goals), and Cristiano Ronaldo topped the charts. This is due to Neymar being in a great side, in his home conditions as well as his natural goalscoring flair. Cristiano Ronaldo is up there because of his sensational form this season, probably his best yet, in which he won the Ballon D’or, Copa Del Rey and Champions League. Also, Portugal’s reliance on him means he will score maybe more than 2/3 of their goals. Diego Costa finished high, also because of his form this season. Sturridge and Dzeko scored highly which was surprising but Sturridge is certainly England’s most in-form play this season and Dzeko’s excellent last few months of the season for City along with his vital role in the Bosnia team meant he did so well.

Lower than expected is last tournament’s top scorer Thomas Muller, who is unlikely to repeat his exploits from four years ago. Also, Cavani isn’t very high despite being a top striker. This is largely due to it being unlikely that Uruguay will get far in the competition, they may not even qualify from the very tough group D where they will face Italy, England and Costa Rica.

The Verdict: Neymar for me. It’s his year. 33 Goals in 50 games is an incredible international record and I expect Brazil to win the tournament, so he is the obvious choice. The dark horse for the award could be Alexis Sanchez who scored 19 in 27 in the season just gone for Barcelona, has already scored one in the tournament, and Chile could actually finish above Spain to qualify for the knockout stages.


 If you enjoyed this post please share with your friends on social media using the buttons below. You can comment below if there are any topics you would like me to write on. Follow the account on twitter @flyingwingback or me personally @tristanthomas22. Cheers.

Basics: The Types of Central Midfielder.

The central midfielder. They all occupy the same space on the field- in between the defenders and the forwards, in the middle longitudinal third of the pitch- however they come in many different shapes, sizes and styles. In recent years the position has been categorised and widely accepted as three denominations: CDM, CM and CAM. However, it is slightly more sophisticated than this.

The Regista

“Regista”, the Italian word for ‘director’, is used to describe deep-lying playmakers. These players stay extremely deep, just in front of their defence, and use their superb vision and exquisite passing abilities to open up the opposition’s defence and create goals. The most famous regista of today is Andrea Pirlo, with Luka Modric and Steven Gerrard taking up this role in recent seasons. Pirlo himself explained his tendency to stay well away from the opponents 18-yard area by stating “If the sea’s deep, a fish can breathe. If you put him just under the surface, he’ll get by, but it’s not quite the same thing.”  

Although Andrea Pirlo also has a sumptuous free-kick in his repertoire, registas are in the team for the assists and key passes. Steven Gerrard was the premier league’s top assist maker with 13 in the 2013/14 season and Andrea Pirlo averaging the joint-highest “key pass” maker in Serie A with an average of 3 per game in the 2012/13 season.  The reason why registas score so highly in these kinds of statistics is that when the opposition defence drops off, they  are left with enormous amounts of space in front of them to perform in. Juventus utilise this to the maximum by having up to six players ahead of Andrea Pirlo at a time  looking to receive the ball and make penetrating runs in behind the opposition defence, this can be shown in the diagram below.

Another advantage of having a player stay deep is that if the ball is lost, they are in a position to track back to avoid becoming outnumbered and look for tackles and interceptions.

The Makélélé role

What has become known as the “Makélélé role” is a player in the number 6 position in front of the centre backs that is tasked with destroying or gobbling up any loose balls or promising attack. Javier Mascherano is often referred to as “pacman” in his home country of Argentina because of the way he ‘gobbles up’ anything that comes near him when he plays in this role for La Albiceleste. The role is named after former Chelsea and France midfielder Claude Makélélé who made this role his own during his time under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea from 2004-07. He is a symbol of the negativity in style that Mourinho is often criticised for as most sides would have settled for a central midfield partnership of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien, which is what Chelsea had at the time, however Mourinho chose to add a defensive influence behind or in between these two players in a pragmatic 4-5-1 in the defensive phase becoming 4-1-4-1 in the attacking phase. Makélélé helped Chelsea to only concede 15 goals in the 38 matches of the 2004/05 Premier League season, the fewest ever conceded in a PL season. The assurance of having a sitting midfielder of this nature allows the full backs to attack or a ball-playing centre back to step out from the back while the number 6 covers. Today,  break-up midfielders include Nigel De Jong for Holland and AC Milan and Daniele De Rossi for Italy and AS Roma.

The Powerhouse

I’m not sure about you but when the words “midfield powerhouse” are mentioned one name comes to mind, Patrick Vieira. The midfield powerhouse is synonymous with the idea of the centre of midfield being the ‘engine room’. These players are arguably the biggest all-rounders of the centre midfielders with their main task being shuttling runs on and off the ball to assert their physical presence on the opposition. If this is supplemented with hard tackling and a good passing ability then these midfielders can be the most valuable player to the team. This can be shown through Patrick Vieira’s 6 PFA team of the year inclusions, joint 2nd in the all-time list. “Powerhouses” of today include Yaya Touré and Paul Pogba.  Both these midfielders terrorise opponents with their physical presence (at 6’3″ and 6’1″ respectively) which results in goals, 20 in 35 matches for Touré last season. Paul Pogba scored a 7.64 overall ‘’ rating in the 2013/14 season, second in Serie A. Pogba himself says that he aims to be better than Vieira and this is far from impossible considering his form in the past two seasons. He is certainly a top outside bet to be ‘Player of the Tournament’ this summer in the World Cup.



The box-to-box midfielder

This position is what it says on the tin. These are midfielders designed to make an impact at both ends of the pitch. The requirements for this role are stamina, speed, good tackling/defensive ability, and good final third creativity. The task of this midfielder overlaps to some extent with the powerhouse but it isn’t exclusive to 6ft+ monsters. Jordan Henderson has fulfilled this role superbly for Liverpool in recent times. His mobility is necessary in the defensive phase next to an aging Steven Gerrard who is not as dynamic as he once was. He is just as important when Liverpool have the ball with  accurate passing and runs from deep into the final third. At Juventus, Arturo Vidal provides this cover for Andrea Pirlo. With the third most tackles of any player in Serie A in 2013/14 he does most of Pirlo’s dirty work but his darting runs forward pose opposing defences a different type of threat and overloads the opposition defence as shown in the diagram near the top of this article. Vidal’s all-round football ability has been best shown for Chile, where he has featured in almost every position for them in the last few years.



The Trequartista

Also known as a No. 10, the advanced playmaker, the man in the ‘hole’ or the ‘enganche’ as it is known in Argentina, this position is the one behind the striker and ahead of the midfield directly translating as ‘third-quarter specialist’ from Italian. They are the hook between midfield and the forwards (‘enganche’ is the Spanish for “hook”). The key to their success in a side is staying in between the lines to be able to run at the defenders with the ball in a central area (more dangerous as defenders cannot send them one way as full backs do) or making it awkward for the opposition as to who is going to pick him up if the opposition are employing a man-to-man marking system. Originally the Trequartista was the only player in his ‘line’, for example Juan Roman Riquelme in the succesful Villareal side of 2005/06- the last of the slow but exceptionally skillful enganches. In more recent times, with the rise of the 4-2-3-1 the playmaker has been playing in an attacking midfield 3 however with only one striker to find instead of two.  Today, Germany and Spain are well ahead of the rest in producing world-class playmakers with Mesut Özil + Mario Götze being two of many from Germany and Juan Mata + David Silva being the most comfortable Spaniards in that position.  With the pace of European club football, No. 10s need to be quick both with their feet and with their head, nimble and more well rounded as a player as perfectly executing one specific role is no longer good enough for a player in the top European leagues. This need for versatility has been proven by players such as Luka Modric and Steven Gerrard dropping into a deeper passing role in midfield in recent years.



As I have already referred to, a small set of specific attributes in the modern game is rarely good enough and there have become many overlaps in the roles of players. Some players will play various different midfield roles over their career or even game-to-game for example Yaya Touré being used in a more attacking, enganche-like role in the second leg of Manchester City’s champions league tie vs Barcelona in the 2013/14 season as he was seen as too much of a defensive liability. Also, more types of midfielders are evolving with Andrés Iniesta and Jack Wilshere often being described as ‘dribbling midfielders’ and Wayne Rooney regularly playing what has become known as a ‘false 10’ where his base position is one of a number 10 but he drifts wide on the ball to support wingers. This is another product that has been supported by the rise of the 4-2-3-1.


I hope you enjoyed this post. Please, please recommend to a friend on twitter, facebook etc. or using good old-fashioned verbal dialogue. Follow the blog’s twitter@flyingwingback or my personal twitter @tristanthomas22. Thank you.