Tactical Analysis: Chelsea 2-0 Hull City

Chelsea managed to overcome a well organized Hull City side with second half strikes from Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres after Steve Bruce's side had frustrated the visiting Blues throughout the first half.

Bruce went with the 3-5-1-1 formation he's opted for most of the season with Ahmed Elmohamady and Maynor Figueroa operating as wing backs. George Boyd played a withdrawn forward role in behind Yannick Sagbo.Tom Huddlestone, David Meyler and Jake Livermore made up the midfield three.

Defensively, Hull's shape was almost a 4-5-1 despite the fact they lined up with three central defenders. Boyd would drop in on the left side of midfield to pick up Cesar Azpilicueta with Figueroa sitting in behind more as a traditional left back. On the other side Elmohamady defended higher up the pitch on Ashley Cole as part of the midfield bank of five. Behind him James Chester would close down the right flank from his right center back spot if any balls got in behind Elmohamady. The graphic below roughly shows Hull's shape.

Coming up against a midfield bank of five and three narrow center backs in behind them, Chelsea found it incredibly difficult to get any sort of penetration through the middle of the pitch. Mourinho played his normal 4-2-3-1 with David Luiz and Ramires as the double pivot and Oscar in the #10 role. Hulls shape was good and there weren't gaps available for Luiz and Ramires to play balls through the Hull midfield into Oscar and Hazard and Willian tucking inside from the wings. As a result, Chelsea were unable to get at the three Hull center backs. The screen shot below shows how compact Hull were and how crowded the center of the pitch was for Chelsea. All 11 Hull players are in the defensive half and the midfield five are working hard to deny Chelsea space in between the lines.

On a few occasions Luiz looked to bypass the Hull midfield with balls over the top into the channels but the three center backs were usually able to deal with them comfortably.

When Chelsea's opener finally arrived it was a result of brilliant build up play from the Blues and an excellent finish from Hazard rather than a loss of defensive shape from City. Ashley Cole got into an advanced narrow position, rare for him under Mourinho, and played a clever flick onto Hazard at the edge of the box. He was able to create enough space for himself to fire low past McGregor into the right corner of the net.

After the goal Hull ultimately shifted to a 4-4-2 but never really troubled Chelsea. With the home side forced to take a more adventurous approach, Chelsea had more opportunities to transition forward quickly on the counter. Torres sealed the win for Chelsea in the 87th from a two pass Chelsea move on the break.

Tactical Analysis: Juventus 3-0 Napoli

Juventus controlled the game in the first half and rarely looked seriously threatened in the second after dropping deep to protect their one goal advantage. The score suggests the match was more one-sided than it actually was- Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba's second half goals were the result of individual brilliance and were not indicative of any Juve dominance at that point in the game- but Juve created the much more dangerous scoring opportunities and were deserving winners.

Rafa Benitez fielded his normal 4-2-3-1 and made three changes to his side that beat Marseille 3-2 in midweek Champions League action. Behrami replaced Dzemaili alongside Inler in the second holding midfield role while Hamsik returned to his center attacking midfield role in place of Pandev. Insigne played on the left ahead of Mertens.

Juventus returned to their usual Serie A 3-5-2 formation after Antonio Conte opted for a 4-3-3 in their 2-2 Champions League draw Tuesday against Real Madrid.

Tevez's movement
With Vidal and Pogba operating as shuttlers in front of Pirlo in Juventus's center midfield triangle, both Napoli holding midfielders had a direct opponent when defending. Inler was more or less matched up directly with Pogba, Behrami with Vidal. Juventus were also playing with two forwards, meaning both Napoli center backs also had an opponent to mark. In effect, Napoli didn't have a spare man defensively in the middle of the pitch to provide cover- it was 4 v. 4 in this area.

Under Conte Juventus have been tremendous at using clever movement to pull the opposition out of position defensively. That Napoli didn't have a spare player centrally in defense to offer support when their shape broke down was always likely to give them difficulties. To compensate for that lack of cover through the middle, Benitez had his two fullbacks tuck in to narrow positions close to the center backs to offer them support.

From the outset, Juve's wing backs were able to exploit this narrow positioning from Napoli's fullbacks. Isla and Asamoah found plenty of space in advanced areas down the channels. In the first 45 seconds, with Napoli left back Armero tucking inside, Isla received the ball in space on the right wing. He had the time to pick out a pass for Pogba at the top of the box to volley. Pepe Reina made a fine save to parry Pogba's volleyed effort out of play but Juventus scored from the resulting corner.

Juventus played 15 crosses from wide areas in the opening half. With the 6'2" Pogba darting into the box alongside 6'5" Llorente it was a useful strategy. The home side nearly doubled their advantage in the 8th minute when Pirlo weighted a cross on the left wing to Pogba at the back post. The French midfielder picked out Bonucci, who had come forward for a corner, with a header across the 6 yard box but Reina denied the center back's effort with a world class save.

The central 4 v. 4 battle between Llorente, Tevez, Pogba and Vidal for Juventus and Fernandez, Albiol, Inler and Behrami for Napoli also opened up space between Napoli's defensive and midfield lines for Tevez to drop into and exploit. With Inler and Behrami directly matched up with Pogba and Vidal respectively, Napoli's center backs couldn't pass Tevez off to one of the two holding midfielders when he dropped off because Inler and Behrami were both already occupied. As a result, the center backs had to make a choice. They could leave their defensive line and track Tevez's runs into midfield. The downside of this option is that it would leave a gap in the defense for either Vidal or Pogba to burst into (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Alternatively, they could retain their defensive shape and allow Tevez to drop off into space between the lines without being tracked. The downside of this option is that if Tevez receives the ball in space between the lines and is allowed to turn and run at the back four he's incredibly dangerous (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Juventus were able to create the scenarios depicted in both Figure 1 and Figure 2 in the first half. When Fernandez tracked Tevez's runs into midfield, Pogba would sprint past Inler into the space Tevez's run had created. When the center backs didn't track Tevez's runs he was allowed to collect the ball in space between the lines and cause problems with his powerful direct running.

Pirlo asserts control high up pitch
Napoli's first half struggles also were attributable to how deep they defended in the opening 45 minutes. Their defensive shape was 4-4-2 and their two highest players, Higuain and Hamsik, positioned themselves well within their own defensive half. As a result Juventus's three center backs were able to push all the way into the attacking half. With Inler and Behrami occupied with Pogba and Vidal, Pirlo was usually the free man in midfield. Pirlo's ability to control a game and pick out dangerous penetrating passes is no secret. With Napoli defending so deep, he was able to get on the ball in advanced areas. Despite being Juventus's deepest midfielder, he played more passes in the attacking third than any other player in the match. Allowing a player of his passing ability to control the game that high up the pitch is always likely to cause problems. The graphic below shows how high up the pitch Pirlo was receiving the ball in the first half and his attacking third passes for the 90 minutes.

Second Half
Napoli defended much higher up the pitch in the second half which combined with Juve dropping in to protect their goal advantage resulted in the visitors enjoying much more of the ball in the second half. However, despite outpossessing Juve significantly Napoli were unable to create many really strong scoring chances. Juventus took on a 5-3-2 defensive shape with the wing backs dropping back level with the three centerbacks. Napoli passed the ball sideways in the attacking half but couldn't get any penetrating balls into the final third. The individual brilliance of Pirlo and Pogba ensured Juventus walked away with the three points to jump ahead of Napoli in the Serie A table.

Tactical Analysis: Juventus 1-0 Cagliari (Coppa Italia)

Giovinco pounced on a Cagliari defensive mistake to give Juventus a 1-0 win that sees them through to the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia in manager Antonio Conte's first home game since serving his match fixing suspension. Juventus were the better side but it was fitting the goal came from a mistake: apart from an early spell in which the bianconeri looked threatening this was a drab encounter.

Both sides rested a number of their regular first team players. Cagliari played a 4-2-3-1 while Juventus were in their usual 3-5-2. The starting lineups are in the diagram on the left.

The midfield match up was fairly straight forward- Cagliari's holding midfielders Ekdal and Erikkson matched up with Juventus's shuttling center midfielders Vidal and Padoin respectively and Cepellini, Cagliari's attacking midfielder, matched up with Juventus's holding midfielder Pogba.

In the central attacking zones, Juve's forwards matched up 2 v. 2 with the Cagliari center backs meaning the visiting team didn't have a spare center back to provide cover. At the other end, Juventus had three center backs to Cagliari's one forward.

There were three important tactical features to this game: (1) Cagliari's early decision to leave Pogba unmarked in midfield and their subsequent adjustment dropping Cepellini in to defend him, (2) the movement of Juventus's two forwards, and (3) Cagliari's inability to take advantage of their numerical advantage on the flanks.

In the opening 20-25 minutes Cagliari made the decision to leave Pogba unmarked as the deepest player in Juventus's midfield triangle rather than dropping Cepellini in to defend him. Eriksson picked up Podoin, Ekdal picked up Vidal and Pogba was left to sit in space behind on his own. Presumably Cagliari head coach Ivo Pulga did this to allow Cepellini to drift in space behind Pogba and provide an out ball for counter attacks when they regained possession. Pogba doesn't have the same passing vision as Andrea Pirlo, the man he replaced in the lineup, and therefore Pulga wasn't overly concerned about him picking apart his defense with penetrating forward passes. But while Pogba didn't provide any devastating defense-splitting pass, he was doing an excellent job of funneling passes forward and dictating the tempo of the game. Juventus created more genuine scoring chances in the opening spell when Pogba was left unmarked than they did the remainder of the game.

Pulga eventually made the decision to drop Cepellini in to defend Pogba when Juve were in possession. Juventus's midfield passing immediately become much slower. Without the option of playing the ball to their unmarked holding midfielder, the bianconeri were frequently forced to play direct balls from the back three to the two forwards.

The negative side to this switch for Cagliari was that with Cepellini dropping in deep to defend, their loan forward Mauricio Pinilli was left isolated higher up the field when they won the ball back.

Movement of Juve Forwards
Because Cagliari were in a flat back four and Juventus used two center forwards, both center backs had to mark a forward. There was no spare center back to provide defensive cover. Against teams that play a flat four, Juventus consistently use the same strategy for their forwards' movement. One will make a run back into the midfield, forcing one of the opposition center backs to track him. The other will then make a diagonal run into the space that opens up a result. In the 8th minute Bendtner made the run into midfield with Rossettini following him from his center back position. Giovinco made the diagonal run into space and was put through on goal but missed his chance. He was put through on goal in the same fashion later in the half but was flagged for offsides.

Wide Areas
Cagliari's numerical advantage came on the flanks. With Juve's two wing backs their only players positioned in a wide area, Cagliari had a 2 v. 1 advantage on each flank. However, in order to make use of that advantage they needed their fullbacks to get forward and join in the attack to overload the Juve wing backs. This never happened because they were unable to keep possession long enough for Murro and Perico to get forward from their fullbacks positions.

Defensively, Cagliari kept their wide forwards Ribeiro and Ibarbo high up the pitch, opting to use Murro and Perico to mark Isla and De Ceglie. However, Juventus began to overload Murro. Padoin (who had switched to right-sided center mid after an injury to Vidal) and Giovinco would float towards Isla on the right channel, leaving Murro to defend 1 v. 2. Juve's goal came when they were able to overload Murro. Isla received a cross field ball that forced Murro to the touchline to defend him. Padoin floated towards Isla unmarked, received a ball near the corner of the 18 and slipped it into the box for Giovinco. The pass to Giovinco was initially intercepted by Rossettini but he failed to clear it before Giovinco could win the tackle and score. It was a scrappy goal but developed because Juventus were able to overload Murro on the right.

Tactical Analysis: Juventus 1-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Juventus emerged with a surprisingly comfortable 1-0 win in Ukraine over Shakhtar Donetsk to overtake their opponents for first place in group E and send Chelsea crashing out of the competition despite their 6-1 win over Nordsjealland.

There were no big surprises in the formation or starters for either side. Massimo Carrera (Antonio Conte) selected Giovinco over Quagliarelli to partner Vucinic up top. Eduardo started in place of the suspended Luiz Adriano at forward for Shakhtar. Juventus played their usual 3-5-2; Shakhtar played their usual 4-2-3-1.

Wide Play
One of the biggest tactical surprises was just how high up the pitch Juventus's wing backs were willing to move when in possession, particularly Lichtensteiner on the right. In my preview to this game I said I expected Lichtensteiner and Asamoah to stay a bit deeper in more of a defensive 5-3-2 since Juventus only needed a point to qualify. My thinking was that by having the two wing backs sit deeper, Juventus wouldn't open up space down the wings for Willian and Teixeira to counter into. But their more adventurous positioning turned out to be a great move from Conte. It forced Willian and Teixeira to drop deep into their own half alongside Shakhtar's holding midfielders, forming a second bank of four, and left Eduardo isolated against the three Juventus center backs when Shakhtar won possession back.

The positioning of Shakhtar's holding midfielders Fernandinho and Stepanenko played an important role in allowing Juventus to create overloads down the right flank. Fernandinho was positioned in his normal spot towards the right side in the center of midfield. Defensively he was responsible for tracking Pogba. Stepanenko sat in front of the back four and tracked the runs of Vucinic and Giovinco back into midfield. I noted in my preview to the game Juventus like Vucinic to make runs back into midfield, pulling one center back along with him and opening up space for Giovinco to make runs in behind. You can therefore understand what Shakhtar were thinking placing Stepanenko just in front of the center backs- he could track Vucinic's runs into midfield, allowing Kutcher and Rakitskiy to retain their shape in the center of defense. However, this also left Vidal unmarked for Juventus at right center midfield. He was able to freely push forward, forcing left back Rat to pick him up when he got the ball. This opened up space for Lichtensteiner to make overlapping runs around the outside (see diagram above). For Juventus's goal it was Vucinic and not Vidal who had shuffled right forcing Rat to close down on him but the idea was the same. It allowed Lichtensteiner the space to get around the outside and cross for Giovinco to finish. 

Juve's 3 v. 1 Advantage at the Back
The fact Juventus's three center backs were only occupied with one Shakhtar center forward played a key role in the game. It meant Eduardo was always going to struggle to get on the ball and that there were no gaps in the center of the Juventus defense to play balls in behind. Having two spare center backs also proved crucial in dealing with Willian and Fernandinho when they were able to dribble past Juventus's three central midfielders. When the two talented Brazilians were able to break behind the Juventus midfield, one of the two spare center backs was able to close them down. This still left Juventus with one center back to man mark Eduardo and another spare center back to provide cover. The box was simply too crowded for Shakhtar to create much down the middle.

Giovinco and Vucinic Movement
Because Juventus were playing with two forwards in Vucinic and Giovinco, it was 2 v. 2 at the back for Shakhtar's center backs Rakitskiy and Kutcher. When Shakhtar lost possession, one of the two Juventus forwards would float to space in the channels left open when Rat and Srna pushed forward to join in the attack. Juventus would hit long balls into this space on the counter, forcing one of Shakhtar's center backs into a wide area to close down the ball. This created huge gaps between the Shakhtar center backs for either the other forward or Vidal and Pogba to run into. In the first half Vucinic collected a long ball in space on the right, forcing Rakitskiy wide to close him down. This left Giovinco in space at the edge of the box but he put his excellent chance wide.

Juventus's movement was clever all over the field. 3-5-2 can be quite an effective formation to play against 4-2-3-1 and today's game demonstrated this perfectly. Shakhtar had no spare center back to provide cover and their center forward was outnumbered around the penalty box 1 to 3. Shakhtar's advantage should have been their unmarked fullbacks but neither Srna nor Rat were particularly effective moving forward. When they were able to get the ball in space on the wings, there were too many Juventus bodies in the box to provide a decisive delivery. Juventus were deserving winners.

Tactical Preview: Juventus vs. Shakhtar

Juventus's Champions League fate will be decided tonight as they head to Donetsk needing only a draw with Shakhtar to secure qualification into the knockout stage. A Juventus loss and a Chelsea win over Nordsjaelland in group E's other fixture will put the Blues through. Shakhtar have already wrapped up qualification.

Starting Lineups
Shakhtar will likely set out in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Juventus will be in their normal 3-5-2.

Antonio Conte's side will be aided by the suspension of Shakhtar center forward Luiz Adriano after he was suspended by UEFA for an unsporting goal he scored against Nordsjaelland. Former Arsenal striker Eduardo is expected to replace him. Tomas Hubschman is a doubt with a hamstring injury and will likely be replaced by Taras Stepanenko.

Paul Pogba is expected to fill in for the suspended Claudio Marchisio for Juventus and Conte will have to select two of Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarelli or Sebastian Giovinco to fill the two forward positions.

Shakhtar Fullbacks Unmarked
Needing only a draw in a difficult away environment Conte will likely ask his wing backs Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtensteiner to be conservative with their positioning, staying fairly close to the back three in more of a 5-3-2 than a 3-5-2. The two will drop in to pick up Willian and Teixeira on the flanks, leaving Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli compact centrally to defend runs into the box. This means Shakhtar's outside backs Srna and Rat should be unmarked when they advance forward. Juventus will allow them to receive the ball on the flanks and focus their attention on crowding the box and winning balls played into the penalty area. Rat and Srna are both decent going forward but it will be interesting to see how adventurous they are with their positioning going forward- when they advance high up the field it will open space for Quagliarelli or Giovinco to float into and spring counters.

3 v.1 Advantage for Juventus at the Back
Juventus will have three center backs to deal with Shakhtar's loan center forward Eduardo. They had the same numerical advantage at the back against Chelsea, who like Shaktar play a 4-2-3-1, and it worked to their advantage. With three center backs Fernando Torres didn't have space to move laterally and collect the ball in the channels. Instead he had to check back into the midfield, taking him away from goal. Three central defenders will also make it difficult for Shakhtar to press. Shakhtar's three forwards can press the three center backs but they run the risk of leaving Asamoah and Lichtensteiner in space on the wings. To effectively press Shakhtar will need to stay quite compact and hold a very high line, leaving them vulnerable to balls played over the top from the back.

If instead Willian and Teixeira drop back and defend Lichtensteiner and Asamoah, as Chelsea did, this leaves Eduardo to defend the three center backs. In this case Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini will be able to comfortably play out from the back.

No Spare Center Back for Shakhtar
Juventus's use of two forwards means Shakhtar will not have a spare center back to provide cover. Against Chelsea, Juventus tried to draw one center back out of position by having Vucinic make runs into midfield. Giovinco (and later in the game Quaglierelli) would then make a diagonal run into space left open by the center back stepping out. Quaglierelli ultimately got the equalizer in this manner. The lack of a spare center back also means that Shakhtar's midfielders Fernandinho and Stepanenko will have to diligently track the forward runs of Pogba and Vital. If they allow Pogba or Vidal to get on the ball in behind them, one of their center backs will be forced to leave a forward unmarked and step to ball.

Expect Juventus to defend deep in a more of a 5-3-2 and try to escape with the point they need. They'll concede the wings to Shakhtar's fullbacks and look to crowd the penalty area to prevent any good chances in the box. Offensively, they'll look to spring counters through Quagliarelli or Giovinco floating to the flanks into space left open by the advancing Shakhtar fullbacks.

The modern football sweeper

"The fishing fleet lies dark against the sun-washed sea. Along the Tyrrhenian waterfront, a stressed football manager, unable to sleep, takes an early-morning walk. Oblivious to the shrieking of the gulls and the haggling of the dockside mongers, he strides on, asking himself again and again how he can get the best out of his side, ponders how he can strengthen a defence that, for all his best efforts, remains damagingly porous. As he paces the harbour, churning the problem over and over in his head, a boat catches his eye. The fishermen haul in one net, swollen with fish, and then behind it, another: the reserve net. This is his eureka moment. Some fish inevitably slip the first net, but they are caught by the second; he realises that what his side needs is a reserve defender operating behind the main defense to catch those forwards who slip through. That manager was Gipo Viani, his team was Salernitana, and his invention was catenaccio."
-Excerpt from Jonathan Wilson's Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics on the development of catenaccio, the system made famous by Helenio Herrera at Inter Milan in the 1960s. The system employed a libero, or sweeper, who sat in behind a line of man marking defenders to provide cover and focused on counter attacking with long balls out of the back. In Herrera's version, the libero played behind four man marking defenders (in other versions the libero sat behind three defenders), creating a five man defense in a 5-3-2 formation. Inter would win three Italian league titles, two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups under Herrera.

Herrera's version of catenaccio ultimately fell out of favor after Inter were beaten 2-0 by Ajax in the final of the 1972 European Cup. Inter's rigid four man markers were drug all over the field by the fluid movement of Ajax's total football and, subsequently, zonal defending became the norm in professional football.

While man marking is a thing of the past and no top level teams use a traditional libero, certain teams have employed systems that, if not directly influenced by catenaccio, have stemmed from the need to address the same concerns catenaccio was attempting to address: particularly the need to have a free man at the back to provide cover. Juventus's current 3-5-2 system is quite similar to Hererra's 1-4-3-2 catennacio. Both used three central defenders. Although Juventus's three central defenders are more fluid and there is no designated libero to sit deep, the idea is to allow two to pick up attackers moving into their zone while one can drop slightly deeper and provide cover, the same philosophy behind Herrera's system (although Herrera's two center backs marked men rather than zones). Three central defenders allow Juventus's full backs to push higher up the field into attacking positions when in possession, operating as what we call wing backs. Again, this is something Hererra was doing in the 1960s. With ample cover in the center of defense, he would allow left back Giacinto Facchetti license to push on and join in the attack.

Michael Cox has written in his Zonal Marking blog of teams using a more modern version of a sweeper whose positioning is different to that of the traditional deep lying sweeper. He suggests the modern version of a sweeper is a defensive center midfielder that plays in front of a four man defense with attacking outside backs. When his team is in possession, this holding midfielder drops into the center of defense while the two center backs move wide on either side of him, forming a back three. This gives the two outside backs the freedom to push into the attacking third without leaving only two center backs to defend any counters that may spring. Barcelona have used this system to great effect with Sergio Busquets dropping between center backs Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, allowing Dani Alves and Erica Abidal (now Jordi Alba) to get into very attacking positions. I highly recommend this article from Cox if you want a more detailed explanation on the use of this more modern sweeper system. Jonathan Wilson also wrote a fascinating piece on this subject for the Guardian back in 2010 that you can see here. 

Although both Barcelona and Juventus's systems represent modern day versions of sweeper systems, they're quite different in style and philosophy. The defense in Juventus's 3-5-2 sits deeps, invites the opposition to get forward, then looks to spring quick counters. Barcelona's defense makes the field compact by holding a very high line while the 6 attacking players press the ball. Their attack is focused on ball retention and dominating possession. Both employ three at the back with fullbacks providing width high up the field when in possession, but they differ in where on the field they like to do their defending and the importance placed on keeping the ball. These two teams offer a stark example of how systems fairly similar in defensive shape can be quite different in practice.