Tactics recap: Manchester United 1-1 Shakhtar Donetsk

Manchester United picked up an away point in a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk. It was a game in which both sides largely cancelled each other out.

Wayne Rooney missed out with an injury he’d picked up the day before in training. Without his favored withdrawn forward to play in the hole behind Robin Van Persie, David Moyes opted for more of a 4-3-3 shape than United’s usual 4-2-3-1 (or 4-4-1-1 if you prefer). Michael Carrick played the holding role while Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini played the box-to-box shuttling roles to his left and right respectively.  Antonio Valencia was wide on the right, Danny Welbeck on the left of midfield.

Shakhtar lined up in a 4-2-3-1 so the midfield battle was 3 v. 3 and everyone had an obvious direct opponent. Cleverley and Fellaini picked up Shakhtar’s holding midfielders Fernando and Tomas Hubschman and Carrick picked up Shakhtar’s #10 Alex Teixeira. Both midfields were rather rigid and predictable in their movement and neither side was really able to dominate the midfield zone. Just 22% of Shakhtar’s attacks came through the middle third of the pitch (that is, if the pitch were cut lengthwise into thirds) and only 27% of United’s attacks came from the middle. Instead, both sides tended to build their attacks out wide with fullbacks overlapping the outside midfielders. 

Graphic via whoscored.com

Both sides scored slightly fortunate and remarkably similar goals. Welbeck opened the scoring after Fellaini received a pass on the right edge of the penalty box near the end line with his back to goal. He was able to spin off Hubschman and play a low ball across the six yard box. Center back Yaroslav Rakitskiy wasn’t able to get a clean clearance on the cross and Welbeck pounced to tuck it in from close range.

United didn’t go in search of a second after taking the lead. Instead they sat in a little deeper in their 4-1-4-1 defensive shape and looked to soak up pressure. Despite a few spells of sustained pressure from the home side, United kept their shape well and never looked terribly stretched at the back. However, they also didn’t look like creating their own opportunities on the break. The 4-1-4-1 shape meant United didn’t have anyone playing off of Van Persie to provide an outlet to spring a counter. Typically United would defend with a 4-4-1-1. Rooney would provide defensive pressure on the deepest midfielder then break into space to provide an outlet pass to quickly link play forward with Van Persie. Without him, Van Persie was isolated up front. 

Shakhtar left midfielder Taison snatched an equalizer in the 76th when Nemanja Vidic couldn’t react quickly enough to a low ball driven across the six yard box. It bounced off the defender’s legs and into the path of Taison to put away.
In the end you could maybe argue United were made to pay for their lack of attacking endeavor after they’d gone ahead but the away draw against a solid Shakhtar side at an imposing venue is hardly a terrible result. 

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.

Fluid Chelsea attack has inevitably left them vulnerable to counterattacks

Shakhtar Donetsk threatened Chelsea with swift counterattacks all evening as the Ukranian side dominated play in a 2-1 Champions League win. The win puts the Ukrainian side 3 points clear of Chelsea at the top of group E and puts a great deal of pressure on the Blues to win the return home fixture in a fortnight if they're to qualify for the knockout stages.

Both teams lined up in 4-2-3-1 formations. Frank Lampard was given the start alongside John Obi Mikel as a deep lying midfielder. Ramires shuffled to the right attacking midfield position, presumably to provide defensive help to Branislav Ivanovic on the excellent Willain, while Eden Hazard started the game on the bench. There were no surprises in Mircea Lucescu's starting 11.

Lampard picked up an injury 18 minutes in and was replaced by Hazard. Ramires dropped back to Lampard's position in the center of midfield and Hazard played on the right, the lineup Chelsea have used most of this season.

For the second consecutive game Chelsea were vulnerable on the counter. While Chelsea were fortunate that Moussa Dembele and Gareth Bale were out of Spurs' lineup in their 4-2 win at the weekend, they still at times appeared susceptible to quick counters when they lost possession in what was a rather open game. The problem was even more pronounced last night as Willian, Alex Teixeira and Henrik Mkhitaryan were able to get in space behind Mikel, Ramires and outside backs Ivanovic and Cole on the break and run at the center backs.

The space that opens up between Chelsea's two holding midfielders and center backs has been an issue all season. When Mikel is forced to push into a more advanced position to offer a passing option for the front four, the center backs have stayed rather deep creating a big pocket of empty space. When Chelsea lose possession, the opposition has been able to play quick outlet passes to teammates moving into that space, setting off dangerous counters. As they showed last season under Villas-Boas, Chelsea are not comfortable squeezing the space the opposition has to play in when possession is lost by pushing the defensive line forward and pressing (like Barcelona). Instead, their defense tends to drop deeper when they lose the ball.

This is understandable. John Terry's lack of pace makes him vulnerable to balls in behind him when he presses forward and Chelsea's experimentation with a high line last season was disastrous (the 5-3 Arsenal loss the clearest example). But because Mata, Hazard and Oscar are typically not quick to make defensive recovery runs, loads of space opens up in the middle third of the pitch for their opponents to move into- this explains why Chelsea's last two games have been so open. The issue is, effectively, that the back six and front four have been rather disjointed defensively. While this shape has given Chelsea's three advanced midfielders the freedom to focus more on creating scoring opportunities than worrying about defensive responsibilities, it has made them a less compact side defensively.

The new, more fluid attacking system has produced some breathtaking displays thus far and few Chelsea supporters will be calling for a return to the defensive tactics that won them the Champions League last season. However, they'll likely continue to look vulnerable on the break as they adjust to the new system.