A few thoughts on Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City

Liverpool's midfield diamond overwhelmed Fernandinho and Toure early
Brendan Rodgers set out in a diamond 4-4-2 with Steven Gerrard sitting in front of the back four flanked by Jordan Henderson and Coutinho with Raheem Sterling at the top of the diamond behind Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. Manuel Pellegrini opted for a 4-2-3-1 with Fernandinho and Yaya Toure playing the holding roles behind attacking midfielders David Silva, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas.

City's three attacking midfielders and striker Edin Dzeko stayed high up the pitch defensively. Nasri and Navas marked Liverpool's fullbacks Glen Johnson and John Falanagan respectively. Dzeko and Silva would pressure Liverpool's center backs and Gerrard who would drop in between his center backs in possession. This meant that further up the pitch Toure and Fernandinho were outmanned 3 v. 2 in central areas (see graphic below). They were left to defend Coutinho, Henderson, Sterling and at times Suarez dropping off into midfield. Liverpool therefore always had a man free to receive a pass and were able to comfortably pass through the two City holding midfielders. Liverpool dominated the opening half hour and City were fortunate to be down just the two goals.

 City have been susceptible to the counter all season. Toure and Fernandinho are more powerful midfield shuttlers than truly defensive midfielders and at times have left City's back four exposed when the opposition breaks quickly. Today Liverpool produced dangerous counter after dangerous counter in the opening 30 minutes. The outstanding Sterling broke quickly from midfield to join Sturridge and Suarez on the break and Henderson arrived with late energetic runs at the edge of the box. Toure's early injury was no doubt a blow for City but the subsequent introduction of Javi Garcia, a truly defensive minded midfielder, actually provided the City back four with a bit more protection when Liverpool broke forward.

Milner's introduction changed the game for City
The introduction of James Milner for Navas in the 50th minute may not have had the feel of an inspiring attacking change to many but Milner's qualities too often go unnoticed and he changed the complexion of the game today. His clever movement from sideline to sideline and positioning was crucial in creating overloads for the Liverpool defense. Whereas Navas predictably stayed wide on the right and looked to get to the endline and cross, Milner varied his movements across the width of the pitch and put Liverpool defenders into uncomfortable decisions. He played a terrific 1-2 with Fernandinho before assisting to Silva for City's opener. He then drifted across to the left side of the pitch to create an overload with Silva and Nasri for the City equalizer.

Kompany's blunder the decider
Vincent Kompany provided one of the deciding moments in City's 2011-2012 league winning campaign when he scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford late in the season. His error for Coutinho's game winner today may well end up costing his side the title this season. At 2-2 City looked like the only side capable of producing a winner. Aguero and Silva had just combined for a narrow miss and Liverpool were on the back foot when Kompany's shanked clearance fell for Coutinho in the box. The Brazilian did brilliantly to curl his effort into the corner but it was a dreadful mistake from the City captain.

Tactical Analysis: Fulham 1-0 Norwich

Fulham scrapped their way to a 1-0 win over Norwich at Craven Cottage pulling to within 2 points of their rivals on the day in the race for survival. This was a contest fought hard in midfield with desperately little quality in the attacking third from both sides. It was therefore no surprise it was decided by a set piece.

Both managers started with interesting formations. Neil Adams opted for a diamond 4-4-2 in his first game in charge of Norwich after Chris Hughton's sacking. Bradley Johnson played in front of the back of the back four with Johnny Howson and Leroy Fer narrow to his left and right respectively. Robert Snodgrass played at the top of the diamond behind a front two of Nathan Redmond and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel.

Felix Magath set out with a 3-5-1-1 with Brede Hangeland, Fernando Amorebieta and Johnny Heitinga operating as a back three. Sasha Reither and Kieran Richardson played as wing backs. Mahamadou Diarra played at the base of midfield just in front of the three center backs with Steve Sidwell to his right and Lewis Holtby to his left. Patjim Kasami played off of Hugo Rodallega up front.

Norwich dominated the early proceedings. The midfield diamond meant they had four players in the middle of midfield versus Fulham's three and therefore had a free man to provide a passing option and were able to control possession.

One of the more interesting tactical features of the opening stages occurred down Norwich's attacking left flank. The diamond 4-4-2 vs. 3-5-1-1 match up meant both sides were playing with only one wide player on each side of the pitch. For Fulham it was the wing backs Riether and Richardson, for Norwich it was the fullbacks Steven Whittaker and Martin Olsson. With Norwich playing narrow, Reither didn't have a direct wide midfielder to mark. As a result he would tuck inside to help even up the numbers in the middle of midfield. However, this left Olsson with the space to bomb down the left wing unmarked for Norwich (see graphic below). Olsson provided several decent deliveries into the box in the first half. In the 28th minute he found himself again able to advance unmarked down the left wing and provided a low driven cross for van Wolfswinkel that forced David Stockdale into a world class save.

Fulham 3-5-2. Reither tucks inside to provide extra protection in midfield. Olsson takes advantage of space on the left wing.
Recognizing his side were on the back foot and that Olsson would continue to pose a real threat, Magath changed the home side's shape to 4-5-1. Reither dropped back to left fullback position, Amorebieta slid over to right back. Richardson played as a left midfielder while Kasami moved from his withdrawn forward position to right midfield. The change meant that Reither would have cover from Olsson late runs down the wing as Kasami was tasked with tracking the Norwich fullback when he advanced forward. Reither could tuck inside to offer defensive support in narrow areas knowing Olsson wouldn't be on his own out wide.

Fulham 4-5-1. Fulham go to 4 at back and Kasami moves to right. Provides help on Olsson but leaves Rodallega isolated
While the change may have partially mitigated the threat of Olsson it also meant Fulham had no one close to Rodallega when they won the ball back and the Colombian striker was isolated up front. They couldn't find an outlet ball to spring attacks when they regained possession and were left hitting hopeful long balls into Rodallega. Richardson's bursts with the ball down the left channel were Fulham's only means of transitioning from midfield into the attacking third. As it turned out one of these runs from Richardson would be enough for the three points. On 39 minutes he bit Whittaker for pace down the wing and forced the Fulham left back into a late challenge resulting in a free kick. Rodallega tucked in Sidwell's flicked on header at the front post.

The Cottagers stuck with the 4-5-1 formation in the second half, seemingly content to hold on to their lead. Ashkan Dejagah replaced Kasami on the right wing after Kasami switched off and allowed Olsson in behind. Norwich then made two like-for-like subs- Gary Hooper replaced the out of sorts van Wolfswinkel and Wes Hoolahan came on in midfield for Leroy Fer. Magath signaled his intent to tighten up and keep the 1-0 lead in the 69th minute when he replaced Holtby for the more defensive and tough tackling Scott Parker. The move proved to be a wise one as Parker battled in midfield and used his fresh legs to break forward and provide late runs to the edge of the area in attack.

Adams brought on the 19 year old winger Josh Murphy for the final 10 minutes, replacing Howson. They moved to a 4-4-1-1 with Murphy and Redmond playing on the wings and Snodgrass playing just off Hooper. The changes didn't provide Norwich with any more attacking impetus. Magath replaced the exhausted Diarra with William Kvist in the 85th and the home side was able to fairly comfortably see out the win.

In the end this game was predictably scrappy given both sides' struggles in the league and uncomfortable positions at the bottom of the table. Both sides were sloppy and lacking in quality in the final third. A set piece was a fitting way for this one to be decided.

Olympiakos press excellently, Manchester United lack of midfield quality exposed

Manchester United slumped to an embarrassing 2-0 Champions League defeat at Olympiakos in the first leg of their round of 16 tie. The win puts the Greek champions in a solid position to advance to their first Champions League quarterfinal since 1999- the only other time they've achieved that feat.

What will be so concerning for David Moyes's side is that the scoreline was an accurate reflection of the contest- United were dominated by a side that recently sold its leading scorer Kostas Mitroglou to Fulham and whose second leading scorer Javier Saviola was out with an injury.

United's lack of midfield creativity was exposed yet again. Juan Mata is cup tied with Chelsea and therefore ineligible so Moyes opted for two natural wingers in Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia in the wide midfield positions in his 4-2-3-1. Unlike a number of modern wide players that often tuck inside to receive passes between the lines, Young and Valencia keep wide positions and tend to receive the ball near the touch lines. This was an issue for United today because Olympiakos pressed excellently in midfield. Olympiakos also played a 4-2-3-1 so the battle was 3 v. 3 in midfield. Alejandro Dominguez and Giannis Maniatis pressed United's two holding midfielders Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley while Delvin Ndinga sat just in front of the back four and checked the runs of Wayne Rooney- who was playing the #10 off of Robin Van Persie- between the lines. With Young and Valencia maintaining wide positions, it made Ndinga's job tracking the movement of Rooney less difficult than it should have been because he only ever had Rooney to worry about in central areas. Had a player like Shinji Kagawa started on the left he'd have tucked in field towards Rooney to allow United to overload the midfield in Ndinga's central zone.

With Ndinga being allowed to closely track Rooney without having to worry about Young or Valencia tucking inside to receive possession either side of him, United had no forward passing options when they had the ball in deep positions. The pressing of Dominguez and Mantiatis on Cleverley and Carrick forced the two United holding midfielders into making hurried decisions- they could either go backwards or loft hopeful straight balls into the final third. Much has been made about the lack of quality in the middle of midfield for United and this performance will do little to silence those assertions- Carrick got on the ball plenty but wasn't able to dictate the pace of the game and Cleverley made too many poor passes and was dispossessed too frequently. Carrick completed 89 passes but only 12 of those were into the attacking third.

Cleverley managed just 8 successful passes in the final third.

While these numbers are unimpressive, they weren't helped by United's static shape. Rooney was frequently the only pass for them to aim a forward pass to in the middle of the pitch. With Rooney tightly checked ny Ndinga however, he was frequently forced to drop in deep alongside the two holding midfielders in order to get on the ball, leaving United with no one to link play into Van Persie.

Olympiakos won't get enough credit for how well they pressed in midfield but it shouldn't have been quite so easy for them. Moyes certainly needs to spend money on a deeper midfielder to pair with Carrick but he's also making questionable tactical decisions. The inclusion of Kagawa would have made United more dynamic in the final third. He's good at tucking in from the flanks and positioning himself in dagerous pockets of space and has the quality to unlock a defense with his final ball. United were simply too rigid with Young and Valencia in the squad and were made to pay.

Some thoughts on Newcastle 0-3 Sunderland

Sunderland's third consecutive Tyne-Wear derby win

Gus Poyet was without Lee Cattermole through injury so brought in new signing Leon Bridcutt to anchor the midfield in Sunderland's standard 4-3-3. Jack Colback and Ki played the shuttling box-to-box roles in the middle of midfield.

Alan Pardew played a 4-2-3-1 in Newcastle's first match since the official departure of Yohan Cababye to PSG. Vurnon Anita and Cheick Tiote played at the base of midfield with Tiote sitting deeper in midfield when Newcastle were in possession. Hatem Ben Arfa started in the #10 role off of striker Shola Ameobi. Sammy Ameobi played on the left side of the attacking midfield three, Moussa Sissoko played on the right. Steven Taylor continued to fill in at center back alongside Mike Williamson for the injured Fabricio Coloccini.

The 4-3-3 vs. 4-2-3-1 matchup meant each side's three center midfielders had an obvious direct opponent. Colback lined up with Anita, Ki with Tiote and Bridcutt with Ben Arfa. Sunderland defended with a 4-1-4-1 shape- Bridcutt sat just in front of the back four and tracked the movement of Ben Arfa between the lines. Newcastle defended with two banks of four with Ben Arfa staying high up the pitch alongside Shola Ameobi when Sunderland were in possession. In effect Sunderland defended with 5 across the midfield, Newcastle with 4. The extra defender in midfield meant Sunderland were able to crowd the center of the pitch and limit the space for Ben Arfa in the gaps. However, it also meant Altidore was isolated up front when Poyet's side won the ball back. The American therefore had an important responsibility to provide the initial outlet pass forward and to hold the ball up long enough to bring his midfielders into play. Although Altidore's hold up play hasn't always been strong enough this season, he performed the task excellently today, challenging Newcastle's center backs and winning fouls. Had he not been as strong keeping the ball and allowed Newcastle to quickly win the ball back, Sunderland would have pinned deep in their own half for large portions of the half.

The Sunderland midfield trio was excellent. Bridcutt slowed slowed counters and fouled intelligently when it was necessary while Ki and Colback pressed Tiote and Anita and midfield, denying them time to pick their heads up and find penetrating passes forward. In attack, Ki and Colback were able to sprint in behind the two deep Newcastle midfielders on the break. Colback in particular had a terrific game on both sides of the ball. He showed a tireless work rate to close down the ball in midfield then break forward to join in attacks when Sunderland recovered the ball. He sprinted in behind Anita in midfield to set up Sunderland's second goal. For the third he tackled the ball from Tiote then burst forward in front of Borini to receive a pass and finish the move on his own. He pressed high up the field in the second half to win a tackle just outside Newcastle's penalty area to set up Altidore with a 1 v. 1 with Tim Krul but the striker couldn't finish. Colback finished the game with an impressive 4 tackles and 3 interceptions.

 Newcastle introduced Luuk De Jong for Sammy Ameobi at halftime and went to 4-4-2. They played a bit more direct and looked to get on the end of Ameobi knock downs. Defensively they pressed higher up the pitch and the contest became more stretched. Sunderland looked a consistent threat on the counter, taking advantage of space in behind the two Newcastle midfielders when they broke forward.

Newcastle desperately missed the creativity Cabaye brings to midfield. The've failed to score in their first two games without the Frenchman. Newcastle's other center midfield options Sissoko, Tiote, Anita and Marveaux all rely more on their physical attributes than technique and creativity. Ben Arfa is a creative and technical player who can play as a #10 but he's less consistent than Cabaye and, for all his flair, he often fails to provide substance.

Tactical Analysis: Real Madrid 2-0 Granada

Second half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema lifted Real Madrid to a 2-0 home win over Granada and to the top of the La Liga table for at least a day.

It took some time for Carlo Ancelotti's side to get going. Granada organized themselves well defensively and Real Madrid didn't play at a quick enough pace in the opening half to find a breakthrough. Granada offered nothing going forward however and it always felt as though the home side would find a winner.

Both sides played 4-3-3. Ancelotti made no changes to the side that beat Real Betis 5-0 in their last league outing. Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric played in front of Xabi Alonso in the middle of midfield. Gareth Bale and Ronaldo took up their usual spot on the right and left wings respectively with Benzema at striker.

Lucas Alcaraz was missing Fran Rico in midfield due to yellow card accumulation. He was replaced by Mohammed Fatau on the right side of Granda's central midfield triangle (whoscored.com's lineups graphic below incorrectly shows Fatau in the center of Granada's midfield triangle- it was Iturra who played there).

Granada defended in a deep 4-1-4-1 shape. Recio and Fatau picked up Modric and Di Maria in Granada's midfield bank of four. With Real Madrid playing without a #10, Granada's holding midfielder Manuel Iturra didn't have a direct opponent to mark. He was able to sit just in front of the back four and provide defensive support when Bale and Ronaldo tucked inside from the channels or when Modric and Di Maria were able to break past their markers. Iturra was Granada's key defensive player. He had 6 tackles and 3 interceptions in the match, tops among Granada players in both categories. His tackles were in key areas just outside of his side's own penalty box.

With Granada crowding the middle of the pitch, Real Madrid tried to overload the channels in the opening half and get to the end line to cut balls back across the face of goal. Di Maria would drift toward Ronaldo on the left wing while Marcelo would make overlapping runs from his left back position, leaving Granada's right back Allan Nyom outnumbered. However the home side weren't quite able to make anything of balls hit into the box from wider areas. Benzema hit the crossbar from a Di Maria cross on the left channel but was offside. Ronaldo struck a wonderful overhead kick from a Modric cross on the right side of the penalty area but Granada goalkeeper Roberto made a world class reaction save. Despite those two decent chances, Ancelotti's side were unimpressive in the first half. The lack of space they were being afforded in the middle of the pitch was causing frustration. Each time Ronaldo dribbled inside from the left he was met quickly by Iturra before he could find the space to get at the Granada center backs. Twice the Ballon D'or winner dribbled inside only to be met by Iturra and forced into speculative shots that were well off target.

Second Half
Jese replaced Bale at right forward in a like for like halftime substitution. With Di Maria playing in left center midfield, Real Madrid's shape can be quite flexible. Di Maria is a natural wide player and can therefore slot into a position wide on the left, allowing Ronaldo to take a more central position alongside Benzema in a formation akin to 4-4-2. This is what Ancelotti's side did in the second half. Ronaldo provided another target through the middle. His movement in central zones made Real Madrid less rigid and predictable than they'd been in the first half and put La Liga's leading scorer in more dangerous positions in front of goal. The graphic below shows a comparison of Real Madrid's attacking third passes in the first and second half. In the second half they were more successfully able to offer some penetrating passes through the middle in large part because Ronaldo was giving Granada an extra body to worry about in central areas around the box. He would get Real Madrid's opener after receiving a Modric pass in a central area just inside the 18.

After Ronaldo's opener the home side were comfortable. Granada rarely got anywhere near Diego Lopez's goal. A swift 1-2 between Marcelo and Ronaldo set up Benzema for an easy tap in to put the game beyond the doubt.

Luka Modric
Modric's performance was noteworthy. His incisive passing and control in tight areas are remarkable. He completed 92% of his passes and completed 26 passes in the attacking third- level with Ronaldo for most in the game.

Tactical Analysis: West Brom 1-1 Everton

Diego Lugano headed in a second half equalizer to give Pepe Mel a 1-1 draw with Everton in his first game as West Brom manager. Lugano was an unlikely hero- he had been largely responsible for Everton's opener after his slow reaction to a Romelu Lukaku flicked header left Kevin Mirallas through on goal to finish with ease.

It was a strange contest with few clear cut scoring opportunities. Everton were a far cry from the energetic, attacking side they've become known for under Roberto Martinez and West Brom didn't have the quality in the attacking third to offer a consistent goal scoring threat.

Martinez went with his usual 4-2-3-1. Ross Barkley remains sidelined with a broken toe and Steven Pienaar missed out with a groin injury so Martinez had to do some shuffling with his three attacking midfielders. Kevin Mirallas played through the middle, Leon Osman played on the left and Brian Oviedo on the right.

Mel opted for a 4-4-2 in his first game in charge. Matej Vydra partnered Nicolas Anelka up front. James Morrison was chosen ahead of Youssuf Mulumbu to partner Claudio Yacob in the middle of midfield. They were flanked by Christ Brunt on the left and Zoltan Gera on the right. Gareth McAuley was unable to recover in time from a hamstring injury and was replaced by Lugano at center back.

Probably the most interesting tactical feature of the first half was West Brom's pressing in midfield. They defended in banks of four. Morrison and Yacob would immediately close down Gareth Barry and James McCarthy when they received the ball in deep positions in midfield. Behind them, Olsson and Lugano would stick tight to the backs of Lukaku and Mirallas and follow them when they tried to drop off into midfield to find space. The midfield pressing limited the amount of time Barry and McCarthy had on the ball and forced them into making backwards and sideways passes. They struggled to play penetrating passes into the front four and as a result the pace of Everton's passing moves was much slower than we're used to seeing.

That Everton's goal came from an uncharacteristically direct move was in part due to West Brom's pressing. Martinez's side had been struggling to transition from the midfield to the attacking third when Sylvain Distin bypassed the midfield altogether and clipped a long ball into Lukaku making a diagonal run. Here, West Brom's tactics hurt them. Because Morrison and Yacob were pressing Barry and McCarthy in midfield, it meant neither were available to pick up the #10 Mirallas in between the lines. As a result, one of the two West Brom center backs had to step out and stick tight to him rather than tucking in and providing cover on Lukaku. The screen shots below show the sequence leading up to the goal. Lugano steps forward to get tight on the back of Mirallas while Olsson marks Lukaku (image 1). Lukaku makes a diagonal run in behind Lugano, forcing Olsson away from his left center back position towards the right channel, leaving an ocean of space through the middle of the pitch (image 2). Lukaku flicks a header on into that space and Mirallas spins off Lugano and beats him in behind for pace. Without a spare center back to provide cover it was an easy finish for Mirallas.

Image 1: Lugano and Olsson tight to Mirallas and Lukaku
Image 2: Olsson forced to track Lukaku's run towards right channel, Mirallas sprints into space left open in behind
West Brom's primary attacking approach in the first half was through the channels. Both Everton fullbacks Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are encouraged to provide width high up the pitch when Everton are in possession, thus leaving space in behind them for the opposition to counter into. Anelka would quickly drift wide into this space when West Brom won the ball back and receive outlet passes in the channels. He'd look for Vydra or one of the midfielders breaking forward but too often West Brom's passing was sloppy on the break and they couldn't take advantage of some favorable positions in wide areas.

Mel changes to 4-2-3-1
They key to West Brom getting back in the game was Mel's change in shape to 4-2-3-1 after he introduced Mulumbu for Gera in the 60th minute. Mulumbu played in midfield alongside Yacob, allowing Morrison to move into an advanced #10 position behind Victor Anichebe who had come on at half for Vydra. Anelka moved to the right wing. The shift to three in central midfield allowed West Brom to more comfortably keep possession in attacking areas. Morrison provided the link forward that had been missing when the shape was 4-4-2. West Brom had completed 56 passes in the attacking third in the first hour of play before the change. They completed 45 attacking third passes in the 30 minutes after it, a spell that saw them get an equalizer and close out the contest looking the more likely to find a winner.

The 1-1 result was fair as neither side did enough to win this. Despite looking less than their best Everton were the better side in the first half. West Brom improved in the second half and Mel deserves credit for the impact his switch from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 had on the balance of play.

Tactical Analysis: Sunderland 2-2 Southampton

Sunderland clawed their way back to earn a 2-2 draw after falling two goals behind in a first half dominated by the visiting Saints. Mauricio Pochettino's side controlled the tempo in the opening half with nearly 70% possession and created a slew of decent chances. However, despite being far less fluid than the visitors in the final third, Sunderland fought back in the second half by pressing Southampton further up the pitch and hurrying them in possession.

Pochettino used a sort of fusion 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 with Steven Davis playing deeper and more narrow than a typical right sided attacking midfielder. Adam Lallana was in the #10 spot behind Rickie Lambert. Victor Wanyama was unable to recover from a calf injury in time so Jack Cork was given the nod alongside Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield.

Gus Poyet opted for his standard 4-3-3. Lee Cattermole sat in front of the back four with Seb Larsson and Ki on either side of him as midfield shuttlers. Jozy Altidore was given the start at striker ahead of Steven Fletcher.

From the start of the match Sunderland defended in a 4-1-4-1 shape with Cattermole sitting in between the defensive and midfield four tracking the movement of Lallana in between the lines. The key to Southampton's first half possession dominance was the positioning of Steven Davis. Although he was listed as the right sided player in Southampton's attacking midfield three, he actually took up a deep and narrow position alongside Schneiderlin and Cork. This meant that when Ki and Larsson tried to press Cork and Schneiderlin respectively, Southampton always had Davis free in midfield to receive a pass and as a result Southampton were able to keep attacking moves going without being forced into hitting long hopeful balls forward. The graphic below shows where Davis received passes in the first half and all of his first half passes. Noticed he received passes throughout the deep midfield zone as Southampton's spare midfielder, not just on the right side.

Southampton's goals were a result of their possession dominance. Sunderland were pinned in their own half and when they did win the ball back they were too deep to find an outlet ball and maintain a bit of possession of their own. With all three Sunderland midfielders and the two wide forwards forced to defend deep in their own half, the only option was to lump the ball long towards Altidore when they won possession. He was an isolated figure up front and needed to hold the ball up long enough to bring the midfield runners into play. It was always going to be a difficult and thankless task but the American didn't perform it well enough given his size and strength. Too often his first touch and passing accuracy let him down. He completed just 2 of 9 passes in the attacking third in the first half.

For the opener the Black Cats failed to clear their lines in their own penalty area as they defended frantically. The ball fell for Jay Rodriguez at the top of the box and he dispatched his effort brilliantly. Rodriguez probably should have doubled his tally moments later when Lambert played him through but Vitto Mannone saved his effort towards the back post. When the Saints eventually did get their second through an excellently taken Jose Fonte volley off a corner the lead was no more than they deserved.

Pochettino therefore would have been bitterly disappointed to have conceded so quickly after on Sunderland's only sniff of a chance in the first half (they finished the half with just two shots, the goal the only one on target). Johnson did well to spot Borini's diagonal outside to inside run. Calum Chambers appeared to have done well to recover into a good position to get a block on but Borini cut his shot back across goal into the far corner.

The goal appeared to ignite Poyet's side and the home crowd going into the second half. Although Southampton created dangerous opportunities on the break in the opening 15 minutes of the half, Sunderland offered more of a threat themselves going forward. The key to Sunderland getting back into the contest was their work rate in pressing Southampton in midfield. The visitors didn't enjoy the same time on the ball that they did in the first half and as a result lost possession deeper in midfield. By winning the ball back higher up the pitch, Sunderland had the advantage of both having more players in positions to get forward and Southampton having less time to recover into a decent defensive shape. The additions of Jack Colback and Craig Gardner in the midfield in place of Cattermole and Larsson gave Poyet's side some fresh legs and added energy. The graphics below shows Sunderland winning tackles and interceptions in much more advanced areas in the second half.

Sunderland tackles: first half (left) vs. second half (right)

Sunderland interceptions: first half (left) vs. second half (right)
Johnson's equalizer probably should have been saved by Arthur Boruc but it came at a time when Sunderland were on the ascendency thanks to their pressing.

The contest could roughly be described as one between two very different styles of play. Sunderland's focus was on organization, work rate and quick vertical moves forward while Southampton emphasized possession and patient build up from the back. The visitors were more fluid in attack- their play in the first half was highly impressive- but Poyet's side deserve credit for the commitment they showed after going behind. Whether passion and work rate will be enough to keep them in the Premier League remains to be seen.

Liverpool beat Stoke in wild contest defined by errors

Liverpool moved back into the top four with a 5-3 win over Stoke in a game that was shockingly sloppy but entertaining. Team tactics played a minor role- the defining feature of the contest was individual errors. Four of the game's goals could be blamed at least partially on individual mistakes- Liverpool's second was the result of errors from Mark Wilson and Ryan Shawcross, Stoke's second came from a poor giveaway by Jordan Henderson, Liverpool's third came from a Wilson giveaway and Stoke's third came after a poor touch from Steven Gerrard gifted Marko Arnautovic possession down the left wing. A fifth goal resulted from an unfortunate Shawcross own goal from an Aly Cissokho shot that was going well wide.

The most obvious tactical features were Stoke's pressing in midfield and their attacks down the channels that culminated in crosses into the box. In the first half Charlie Adam drifted to the right from his #10 role and Stoke looked to overload Cissokho with Adam, Jonathan Walters and Geoff Cameron overlapping from his right back spot. The graphic below shows how heavily Stoke favored attacks down the right in the opening half. The left side of the screen shows Stoke's attacking third passes, the right side shows crosses.

It was interesting then that the home side's opener came from a rare foray down the left when Arnautovic provided a well weighted cross into Peter Crouch from the left wing.

Stoke looked to press Liverpool in midfield quickly closing down Gerrard and Lucas when they got the ball in deep positions. At the beginning of the first half Liverpool seemed to be dealing comfortably with the pressure- they found spaces between the Stoke lines to play balls into Coutinho and Henderson, easily bypassing the Stoke midfield. However, as the half wore on the visitors became increasingly sloppy in possession, a fact Brendan Rodgers will likely be especially frustrated by. At 2-0 up his side had the opportunity to take control of the game and dictate the tempo. Instead they were put off by Stoke's pressing and the match became frantic. Too often Liverpool gave away possession high up the field, allowing Stoke to break forward at an underprotected defense. The graphic below shows Stoke's 17 interceptions, 7 of which occurred in Liverpool's defensive half and the bulk of which occurred in the middle third of the pitch. By comparison Liverpool's interceptions occurred in deeper areas. They had just 2 interceptions in the attacking half, one of which resulted in Sterling winning a penalty.

When in possession Stoke looked to get the ball into the channels and hit crosses into the box towards Crouch. They won 11 corners and played a remarkable 51 crosses.  

Rodgers' side was at its most dangerous on the break, particularly after the introduction of Daniel Sturridge. With Sturridge on, Liverpool had three players in Sturridge, Henderson and Raheem Sterling with the energy and pace to be dangerous on the break. For Liverpool's fourth Sturridge received an outlet pass and was able to break through the middle at pace on the counter before cleverly laying off to Suarez to tuck home. Those two players would ultimately prove the difference makers in the contest as they combined yet again for Liverpool's fifth, this time with Suarez turning provider on the break for Sturridge.

In the end this was a stereotypical English game. It was low on technical quality and poise on the ball, high on energy and commitment. The match tape won't be used by youth coaches as an example of polished, intelligent football but it did make for an entertaining spectacle for those of us that can appreciate a sloppy goalfest every now and then.

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.

Manchester United lack invention in final third; Mourinho gets subs wrong

Johan Cabaye's second half winner handed Manchester United a second successive home league defeat for the first time since 2002 and earned Newcastle their first win at Old Trafford since 1972. It is David Moyes third home defeat of the season. Manchester United have scored just 8 goals at Old Trafford, fewer home goals than both West Brom and bottom of the table Sunderland.

The problems today against Newcastle were familiar ones. Moyes' side lacked the invention and quality in the final third to break down an organized opponent.

With Wayne Rooney missing due to yellow card accumulation, Moyes opted for a 4-4-2 with a front pairing of Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez. Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones played in the middle of midfield with Nani on the left wing and Adnan Januzaj on the right.

Alan Pardew opted for a 4-2-3-1 giving Newcastle a man advantage in midfield. The visitors were able to use that advantage to control the game in the middle of the park. With Cheikh Tiote and Vurnon Anita protecting the back four, Manchester United's forays into the final third occurred in the channels and mainly throught Januzaj down the right. Newcastle's center backs Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini dealt with balls into the box from wide areas excellently and deserve a credit for their positioning.

Manchester United's inability to link play forward through the middle had plenty to do with the absence of Rooney. Van Persie lacked Rooney's energy and determination to get on the ball in the withdrawn striker role. Van Persie also lacks Rooney's directness dribbling through midfield. He attempted just one take on in the match. Playing Van Persie in the withdrawn role also meant he rarely found himself in the box where he's at his most dangerous. He didn't manage a single attempt on goal, an incredible stat for last season's Premier League leading goal scorer, and completed just 7 passes in the attacking third.

In the middle of midfield Jones and Cleverley didn't have particularly bad games. Indeed Jones was at times excellent with his defensive positioning and ability to protect the back four. However, both players are limited in what they can contribute in the attack and couldn't have been expected to provide the impetus or creativity going forward to create chances. As a result their roles in possession mainly involved funneling the ball into wide areas where the outside backs would look to overlap Nani and Januzaj tucking inside- another factor that contributed to their inability to vary their attacking approach and penetrate Newcastle through the middle of the pitch. You can see in the graphic below the number of horizontal passes into wide areas both Manchester United center midfielders made.

The extra midfielder also allowed Newcastle to control possession. They ended the contest with 54% possession, a slight but significant edge given they were an inferior team in terms of talent playing at the home of the league champions. Their goal was perhaps a bit opportunistic but Pardew's side deserves immense credit for their organization. The three center midfielders Anita, Tiote and Cabaye were all commanding in the middle of the pitch and the back four organized itself with aplomb. The performances of Debuchy and Williamson in particular deserve recognition. Debuchy was a menace getting forward from his right back position but he also had the pace and energy to make recovery runs.

Mourinho's move to 4-4-2 costly again
Stoke City shocked Chelsea with a 3-2 home win after being completely overrun for the first 40 minutes. For the third time this week Jose Mourinho's side allowed an opposition corner to bounce in the box without getting a touch on it and each time they were made to pay with a goal. John O'Shea and Phil Bardsley were able to tuck in from close range Wednesday for Sunderland, today Crouch scored in a similar fashion for Stoke. The inability to deal with set pieces will be a huge concern for Mourinho as it made the Sunderland contest more uncomfortable at the end than it should have been and shifted the momentum today against a Stoke side that was well and truly out of the game.

Not for the first time this season Mourinho was guilty of making questionable substitutions chasing a win with the game level. At 2-2 he brought on Frank Lampard for John Obi Mikel and Samuel Eto'o for Andre Schurrle and switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2. He made a similar switch to 4-4-2 at home to West Brom with the score level at 1-1. As was the case in that earlier contest, the switch was meant to be a positive one but had adverse effects. By taking a man out of midfield Chelsea lost some of the possession dominance they'd been enjoying and found it more difficult to link play into the strikers. It also left them stretched on the break when they lost possession and were hit with a sucker punch just as they were in the West Brom game. The decision to remove Schurrle was particularly strange. He'd scored twice and hit the woodwork and generally seemed to be making a nuisance of himself whereas Juan Mata had had a quiet afternoon. This time around they didn't the Blues didn't have a suspect penalty to bail them out.

Tactical Analysis: Sunderland 3-4 Chelsea

Chelsea rode a world class performance from Eden Hazard to a 4-3 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. This was a highly entertaining but strange contest. That it produced 7 goals is more a reflection of Hazard's individual class and some poor defending from both sides than of a frantic end to end game. The 7 total goals game from just 8 total shots on target.

Jose Mourinho set Chelsea out in a 4-2-3-1 with Ramires and Lampard anchoring midfield. Hazard was on the left of the attacking midfield three while Willian and Juan Mata rotated between the right side and the #10 spot. Cesar Azpilicueta was again given the nod over Ashley Cole at left back.

Gus Poyet opted for a 4-3-3. Ki sat just in front of the back four in midfield while Jack Colback and Craig Gardner played the midfield shuttling roles. Fabio Borini was on the left side of the front three, Emanuele Giaccherini was on the right and Jozy Altidore was given the nod as the lone striker.

The 4-2-3-1 vs. 4-3-3 matchup meant that each side's center midfielders had a direct opponent. Gardner was matched up against Lampard, Colback against Ramires and Ki against Mata or Willian depending on who was playing as the center attacking midfielder at the time. Both sides stuck to these matchups defensively. When Chelsea were in possession Gardner and Colback stepped out to press Lampard and Ramires respectively while Ki sat in behind picking up the attacking center midfielder, giving Sunderland a 4-1-4-1 defensive shape.

Sunderland defend 4-1-4-1
 Defensively, the triangle was flipped for Chelsea so that their shape off the ball was 4-4-1-1. Ramires and Lampard picked up the more advanced Colback and Gardner while Willian stayed tight to the deeper lying Ki.

Chelsea defend 4-4-1-1.
The formations meant neither side had a spare holding midfielder. Ki was 1 v. 1 with Willian, Lampard and Ramires were 2 v. 2 with Gardner and Colback. With both sets of holding midfielders occupied marking an opponent, this opened up space for both teams' wide attacking players to tuck inside in the space between the outside backs and the holding midfielders. The figure below shows the danger areas where Borini and Giaccherini could drift into to find space in front of Chelsea's back four. By drifting into these areas, they forced Chelsea's outside backs into a difficult decision. If Ivanovic and Azpilicueta allowed them to drift in field unmarked, they'd have space to receive the ball in an incredibly dangerous area between Chelsea's defensive lines. If instead Ivanovic and Azpilicueta followed them in to the center of the pitch, it opened up space down the flank for overlapping runs from Sunderland's own outside backs.

Space between the lines for Sunderland wide forwards.
Sunderland's goal to make it 2-2 was a great example of Azpilicueta being forced into making the latter decision. Giaccherini drifted in to a dangerous position in field between the defensive lines and Azpilicueta was dragged inside to mark him. Bardsley made an overlapping run down the wing into the now vacant space forcing Hazard into a tackle that went out of play for a corner Sunderland would subsequently score from. Below is a screen grab of the build up leading to the corner.

Build up to Sunderland's second goal.
Similarly, Sunderland's lack of a spare holding midfielder created opportunities for Chelsea's wide men to be dangerous drifting from the channels into more narrow positions. With Ki matched up directly with Willian, Hazard and Mata could drift inside to create 1 v. 3 overloads on Ki as shown in the graphic below.

Chelsea look to overload key.
The key then for Sunderland was to keep their midfield triangle and the two center backs very compact so that the space in the middle of the pitch was too congested for Chelsea to be dangerous. They did a decent job of this task. Aside from Chelsea's goal that stemmed from a corner, the visitors managed 5 other shots, none of which were on target and 4 of which were speculative efforts outside the 18.

With Sunderland doing well to keep the space compact through the middle, Hazard made a subtle change to his positioning. Rather than tucking inside to receive the ball, he stayed in wide areas and looked to take on Bardsley and dribble in field when he got the ball in the channels and shoot with his stronger right foot. This was the key tactical feature of the game. Again, the fact Sunderland did not have a spare holding midfielder was important. Because Ki had his own man marking responsibility he could not slide over to the right to offer Bardsley support when Hazard began making his move inside. Twice Hazard scored by running past Bardsley inside and getting the space to take on a shot. For the first goal he was able to beat the Sunderland right back with the dribble, for the second he performed a 1-2 with Lampard.

The other key feature of the contest was Chelsea's surprising inability to clear their lines from set pieces. All three of Sunderland's goals stemmed from dead ball scenarios. Altidore's opener came when the Blues failed to clear a Dossena free kick. More troubling, the Black Cats second and third goals resulted when Chelsea allowed cornersto bounce inside of 12 yards.

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.

Organized United beat Arsenal in cagey contest

Robin Van Persie's first half header from a Wayne Rooney corner consigned Arsenal to their first league defeat since their opening day home loss to Aston Villa and closed the gap between the two sides to 5 points.

It was a contest with plenty of passion and organization from both sides but one that produced few genuine goal scoring opportunities or instances of stylish football. That the match ended with more yellow cards (5) than attempts on target (4) is indicative of the hard fought battles happening in midfield and lack of ideas in the final third. In truth the quality in possession was poor from both sides and it wasn't an especially entertaining contest.

Both sides opted for two central midfielders used to sitting just in front of the back four and defended in their own halves with compact banks of four. Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini played the holding midfield positions in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1 while Michael Carrick and Phil Jones played deep in midfield in United's 4-4-1-1. It was a sign both sides were concerned with the threat the opposition's attacking players posed in the seams between midfield and the back four. Both Arsene Wenger and David Moyes had the option of playing more of a box-to-box shuttler alongside a holder for a more attacking, proactive approach but chose the more cautious option. In Wenger's case he could have played Aaron Ramsey alongside either Arteta or Flamini. Moyes could have opted for Tom Cleverley alongside Carrick.

Manchester United looked slightly more dangerous in the opening exchanges enjoying more possession higher up the field than Arsenal. They advanced the ball into the attacking third mainly down the channels with both Rooney and Van Persie drifting into wide areas to create overloads for Arsenal's fullbacks and looked to get crosses in the box from these wide areas. They played 17 first half crosses to Arsenal's 8.

In this sense it was very much like a classic Alex Ferguson vs. Wenger contest from recent seasons. Manchester United used the width of the pitch while Arsenal looked to crowd the middle of midfield. Manchester United's goal came when Rooney drifted to the left flank and whipped in an excellent cross towards Van Persie that Vermaelen did well to clear for a corner. The two United forwards then of course combined for the opener on the ensuing corner.

Wenger's midfield trio of Ramsey, Ozil and Santi Cazorla was quite fluid. Both Ramsey and Cazorla tuck inside from their wide starting positions and the three frequently interchange positions. Usually this allows Arsenal to overload the opposition holding midfielders and control the game with possession. However, today the Gunners were unusually sloppy in possession and struggled to retain the ball. The positional interchanging of the three attacking midfielders is fine when Arsenal are bossing possession high up the pitch but can create big problems defensively when they're struggling to keep hold of the ball. It meant that when Arsenal turned the ball over, Cazorla, Ozil and Ramsey were frequently not in areas of the pitch where they could quickly recover into their proper defensive shape. Patrice Evra in particular was able to take advantage of Ramsey's narrow attacking position when United won the ball back, bombing down the left sideline into space.

Moyes was always a cautious manager when he had limited resources at Everton and has maintained that cautious approach at Manchester United in big games. After taking the lead United were careful not to get stretched, committing fewer bodies forward and maintaining a solid defensive shape. They defended in deep banks of four in the second half and despite three attacking substitutions from Arsenal, United's impressive defensive organization limited the away side's ability to find the space in the attacking third to create meaningful chances. United completed just 30 passes in the final third in the second half, illustrating that Moyes is more confident holding on to a one goal lead with an organized defensive approach than he is seeking out a second goal to kill the game off.

In the end that approach made for a less exciting encounter than many neutrals would have hoped but United will be unconcerned. Their third straight league win means that despite a rocky start to the campaign, they're now just 5 points off their league leading opponents today and are starting to find form.

Mourinho gets tactical decisions wrong in fortunate West Brom draw

Jose Mourinho escaped with his Premier League home unbeaten record in tact thanks to a controversial penalty deep in the final seconds of stoppage time that gave Chelsea a 2-2 draw with West Brom. Ramires went to ground after minimal contact from Steven Reid but referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot for a Chelsea penalty to the dismay of West Brom's players. Eden Hazard coolly slotted the ensuing spot kick to earn Chelsea the point.

Following last weekend's 2-0 defeat at Newcastle, Mourinho expressed frustration with his players saying he "made 11 mistakes" in selecting the squad. The players deserve their share of criticism for a flat performance this afternoon but Mourinho should also come under scrutiny for a questionable squad selection and a second half change to 4-4-2 that left Chelsea stretched in midfield and was largely responsible for West Brom's go ahead goal.

Steve Clarke's side were incredibly well organized, defending in compact, narrow banks of four. Claudio Yakob and Youssouf Mulumbu did an excellent job shielding the back four in their defensive midfield roles and Chelsea's attacking midfield trio of Hazard, Oscar and Willian found little space between the lines to receive passes.

With West Brom defending narrow to limit the ability of Chelsea's attacking midfielders to play quick passing combinations through the middle, the space for Chelsea was on the wings. Hazard and Willian tucked inside from their outside attacking midfield roles, opening space for the fullbacks to advance down the touchline. Cesar Azpilicueta retained a deep position at left back but right back Branislav Ivanovic was encouraged to push forward and was always free on the right wing in the attacking half. Chelsea needed a right back capable of playing dangerous balls into the penalty area. Time and again Ivanovic got the ball in advanced areas on the right only to hit weak crosses into the penalty area that failed to get past the first defender. Mourinho's insistence on using Ivanovic at right back in league games seems curious. He's no doubt a solid defensive full back and his aerial ability is useful on both attacking and defensive set pieces but he's poor going forward. Azpilicueta is a more mobile right back with a better delivery from wide areas. This was a contest built for a solid attacking full back and Ivanovic simply didn't offer enough going forward. Perhaps Mourinho consistently selects Ivanovic so he can easily transition to a three center back formation if Chelsea go behind (which he did today) but Azpilicueta would have been the better right back choice today.

Mourinho's decision to once again leave Juan Mata on the bench was a curious one as well. It's no secret that under Clarke West Brom defend deep and are compact and very well organized. It requires creativity and clever movement into little pockets of space to break them down, two areas where Mata is excellent. Hazard and Willian are both fine players but they are at their best when they have open space to run into. Mata is built for games when space in the attacking third is at a premium and a special final ball is required to unlock the opposition defense.

Mourinho was most disappointing in his ill-advised decision to replace Frank Lampard with Demba Ba with the score even at 1-1 and move from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2. The change was meant to be a proactive one to get Chelsea a game winner but ultimately cost them a goal. Lampard had been poor and needed to come off but the formation change left Chelsea far too stretched in the middle of midfield. Oscar dropped in alongside Ramires in the middle of the pitch and both players moved forward in possession to help in the attacking third. This meant that when Chelsea gave away possession there was no one sitting deep in midfield to protect the center backs and West Brom had plenty of space to break into quickly. For West Brom's second, Ivanovic gave the ball away too cheaply. Oscar and Ramires were in advanced positions at the time and were forced to make recovery runs. West Brom broke forward quickly. Oscar was forced wide to the left to pick up Shane Long. Ramires was unable to recover in the middle which left Sessegnon unmarked 22 yards from goal. Petr Cech should have parried away Sessegnon's rather tame effort but the goal likely would never have happened had Chelsea still had three center midfielders on the pitch.

For me, Oscar and Ramires are too fluid a midfield pairing in a 4-4-2 system and can therefore cause Chelsea to get too stretched. I think if you're going to move to that formation you have to choose one of them to do the box to box running and be paired alongside John Obi Mikel, a true holding midfielder that will protect the back four.

Down 2-1 Mourinho was forced into moving into an attacking 3-5-2, bringing on Mikel for Azpilicueta and replacing Oscar with Mata. Chelsea would ultimately get their equalizer but had Mourinho made better tactical decisions they'd have never been in a position where they needed the fortuitous penalty to salvage a point.

Tactical Analysis: Juventus 2-2 Real Madrid

Juventus and Real Madrid played to a 2-2 draw in Turin this evening in Champions League Group B action.

Both sides had phases of dominance- Juventus controlled the tempo in the first half, earning slightly more possession and creating the much more dangerous scoring opportunities. In the second half Madrid controlled the play.

Both sides opted for 4-3-3 formations (whoscored.com refers to Juve’s formation as a 4-1-4-1 in the graphic below- I’d call it 4-3-3). Xabi Alonso played in front of the back four for Carlo Ancelotti’s side having returned to the Real Madrid lineup Saturday after a lengthy groin injury. Khedira and Modric played the two shuttling roles. Sergio Ramos was given a rare start at right back ahead of Arbeloa with Pepe and Varane playing the center half spots. Iker Casillas was given the start in goal.

The only changes Antonio Conte made to the side that were beaten 2-1 by Real Madrid in match week three were to the left side of his defense. Bonucci replaced the red carded Chiellini at left center back while Asamoah was preferred to Ogbona at left back.

 First Half
 Juventus were dangerous down the left wing in the first half. Ronaldo started the game on the right flank but stayed high up the pitch with Benzema when Juventus were in possession. Xabi Alonso, Modric and Khedira kept a tight, narrow defensive shape in the middle and Bale dropped in to defend Juventus’s right flank. With Ronaldo keeping an advanced central position on defense, Juventus were left with space on the left touchline to drift into.

Tevez would drop into this space, forcing Ramos to move into a wide area to close him down and creating a gap between Ramos and his center back Varane. Pogba, who was excellent for Juventus in the first half, continually sprinted in behind Khedira and Real’s midfield line and into the gap between Ramos and Varane. Juventus’s opener came when Juve quickly switched the point of attack from right to left and took advantage of Pogba’s lung-bursting runs into that gap. Llorente received the ball in the middle and played it wide to Tevez. Ramos was forced to close him down towards the touchline. Pogba sprinted in behind the Real Madrid midfield and received a dangerous pass in the penalty area. In his effort to recover Varane dives in and commits a penalty. The screen shot below shows Llorente’s pass in flight to Tevez down the left channel. Notice Ramos being forced to close Tevez down in a wide position and Pogba bursting forward into the open space.

Pogba’s ability to find space behind Khedira to sprint into with the ball was dangerous throughout the half. On 28 minutes he was able to collect a crossfield pass from Vidal behind Khedira inside Juventus’s half. He drove forward toward Ramos who was left to defend Pogba and Tevez 1 v. 2 and slotted the ball wide to Tevez. With time and space, the Argentinian was able to stand up a beautiful ball to the back post for Marchisio who was denied by a world class save from Casillas.

Much of Juve’s dominance in the first half also had to do with the ease with which Pirlo was receiving the ball. Neither Khedira nor Modric stepped forward from their midfield line to press him and Benezema and Ronaldo didn’t drop in to deny passes into him. As a result, Pirlo was able to dictate the tempo and pick out dangerous penetrating passes forward. Pirlo completed 89 passes in the match- more than any other player.

Offensively in the first half, Real Madrid were at their most dangerous on the break. When they recovered possession, they looked to play quick outlet passes to Benzema checking back into midfield. Khedira did well on a number of occasions to quickly break forward and provide Benzema with an option to lay the ball off too. They would then look for Bale and Ronaldo breaking forward in behind the Juventus back four.

 Second Half
Whereas Ronaldo started the game on the right and move around freely in the opening 45 minutes, in the second half he maintained a position wide on the left. Presumably this was because Ancelotti wanted him to exploit the space behind Juventus’s right back Caceres. Throughout the game Caceres had been playing high up the pitch to provide width in attack and therefore leaving space in behind him. In the second half Real Madrid took advantage of that space. Ronaldo’s leveler was the result of a poor back pass from Caceres and not any tactical change. However, Real’s second was indeed a result of the tactical decision to have Ronaldo move into the space behind the right back. With Marcelo receiving the ball on the left wing, Ronaldo made a diagonal run into the left channel behind Caceres. He was spotted by Marcelo, collecting the ball on the flank and finding Bale making a run to the edge of the penalty area. Bale still had plenty to do and his finish was excellent but goal was the result of Real bypassing the Juve midfield by finding Ronaldo free in the left channel.

The big tactical weakness Ronaldo creates for Real Madrid when he’s employed on the left is his reluctance to track the opposition fullback. For Juventus’s equalizer, Caceres was able to receive the ball on the wing with Ronaldo nowhere near him. He had the time to have a look in the box and pick out a cross and found Llorente with a delicious outswinging cross. Varane probably deserves the bulk of the blame for the goal- his defending on Llorente was poor- but Cacares was given too much time and space and the wing to play the ball in. 

The 2-2 scoreline was probably a fair result though Iker Casillas was the busier of the two keepers. Real Madrid still don't look an entirely fluid side. In a 4-3-3 without a #10, their front three and midfield three at times looks disjointed. 

Juventus's drop off between the first half, when they were much the better side, and the early stages of the second half was surprising. They seemed shell shocked by Ronaldo's leveler and never really regained they form they showed in the first half. Copenhagen's win over Galatasaray in Group B's other game meant the draw wasn't a bad result in the end. Juve sit a point behind Copenhagen and Galatasaray in the battle for second and will play both of those sides in the final two fixtures. 

Tactical Analysis: Manchester City 3-1 Everton

Manchester City avoided a third consecutive defeat with a fairly comfortable 3-1 win over Everton at the Etihad. Everton were in the normal 4-2-3-1 we've seen under Roberto Martinez. He made just one change to the side that beat Newcastle 3-2 on Monday. Gareth Barry was inelligible to play against his parent club so Leon Osman dropped from left midfield into Barry's holding role alongside James McCarthy. Steven Naismith was brought in on the left wing.

Manuel Pellegrini opted for a similar 4-4-2 shape to the one they used in the heavy midweek Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich though he made several personnel changes. Pablo Zabaleta and Alexander Kolarov replaced Micah Richards and Gael Clichy at the fullback positions. Joleon Lescott replaced Matija Nastasic in the center of defense though the Serbian center back had to replace an injured Vincent Kompany in the 34th minute. David Silva was fit enough to be given the start on the left and replaced Samir Nasri. James Milner replaced Jesus Navas on the right wing. Alvaro Negredo was given the start up front alongside Aguero over Edin Dzeko.

There were essentially four key tactical features in this contest.

1. Game stretched early
With Manchester City once again using two forwards, Everton had a 3 v. 2 advantage in midfield. City had been made to pay by Bayern Wednesday evening for opting to play a two forward system and leaving themselves a man down in the middle of the pitch. However, in that game the two forwards Aguero and Dzeko did very little tracking back to deny passes to Bayern's deepest midfielder Philip Lahm. As a result, Bayern always had a man free in midfield to offer a passing option and were able to boss possession.

Pelligrini looked to combat the inferior numbers in midfield today by having Aguero drop off when Everton were in possession and pick up their deepest midfielder, usually McCarthy. This enabled City to match up evenly in midfield on the defensive side. Although Everton enjoyed some decent early spells of possession, City weren't being made to chase shadows in the manner they were Wednesday.

The game's dangerous opportunities early on came mainly as a result of the game being stretched. As they have done all season, Everton had Coleman and Baines bomb forward from their outside back positions. While this gave them opportunities to overlap and receive the ball in wide areas high up the pitch, it also meant there was space for Manchester City to break into the channels when they won the ball back. Aguero would sprint in behind the Everton fullbacks when City recovered possession and collect long balls into the channels.

At the other end, Everton also had plenty of space to break into on the counter. When City were in possession, Yaya Toure was playing much higher up than Fernandinho to provide a link forward. City's fullbacks were also pushing up the pitch to provide width. As a result, there wasn't much defensive cover in front of Kompany and Lescott when Everton won the ball back. Lukaku would drop off the City center backs into the big spaces in midfield then use his strength to hold the ball up while Barkley, Naismith and Mirallas broke forward. With both teams looking to be proactive and getting plenty of bodies forward, there was loads of space for both on the break.

Everton's opener however was not the result of play being stretched but rather a really clever piece of movement from Lukaku. The Belgian striker was on Lescott's back shoulder and took a few quick steps back towards midfield like he was checking in between the lines to receive a pass with his back to goal. Lescott bit on the movement and took a step forward to follow him- Lukaku then spun off of him and made a run in behind. Jagielka found him with a ball over the top for the goal.

2. Silva tucks inside
As he always does, David Silva tucked in field from his starting left position, looking to find space in between the Everton defensive and midfield lines to link up play into the strikers. He did so excellently for City's equalizer, drifting away from Coleman on the left just between Everton's holding midfielders and center backs 30 yards from goal. Fernandinho picked him out where he cushioned a touch for Toure. Toure found Negredo peeling off around the right shoulder of Coleman for the goal.

Silva tucks in between the lines on Manchester City's equalizer
Silva completed an incredible 41 passes in the attacking third, 29 more than Everton's leader in attacking third passes Ross Barkley.

Silva also provided an outlet to spring counter attacks. He didn't track Coleman deep into City's defensive half when the Everton right back made runs forward and instead drifted into space so that when City won the ball back they had a quick passing option forward. For City's second he was behind the play that was developing with Everton in possession. Mirallas gave the ball away cheaply to Milner who was able to find Silva drifting in the center of midfield. Silva made a bursting run forward then played a ball through for Aguero to tuck home.

City forwards deny balls into McCarthy and Osman
Whereas in the Champions League defeat Wednesday City's forwards did little work tracking back defensively, Aguero and Negredo quietly performed their defensive duties well here today. Their work won't show up in tackle or interception statistics but was nonetheless important.

What the forward duo did well was drop in the space between Everton's center backs and holding midfielders to deny entry passes into McCarthy and Osman. City were content to let Distin and Jagielka have the ball at center back in the second half. They dropped their defensive lines deeper and put ten men behind the ball. It was the job of Negredo and Aguero to cut off the passing lanes into Everton's deep lying midfielders who seek to control the tempo of the game. They performed the job excellently- Osman and McCarthy received just 66 passes combined. By comparison, City's two holding midfielders received 95.

Keeping the ball away from Osman and McCarthy forced Barkley to drop deep into midfield to provide an extra passing option where he was far less dangerous and not close enough to Lukaku to link play forward. Only 12 of Barkley's 41 passes were in the attacking third because he was consistently forced to drop back to provide a passing option for the center backs.

Barkley's dropping deep would have been less of an issue had Gareth Barry been available for selection, allowing Osman to start on the left. When Osman plays wide he can tuck inside to provide that link with the striker. However, Everton in Mirallas and Naismith, Everton were playing with two outside midfielders that stay in wider areas and aren't particularly clever with movement in field.

City were good value for their win. After Everton's opener they controlled the midfield and the movement of Negredo and Aguero caused problems running in behind Everton's back four.

Everton missed Gareth Barry whose positional awareness would likely have denied David Silva some of the space between the lines he enjoyed.

Tactics recap: Bayern Munich 3-1 Manchester City

For 80 minutes Wednesday evening Manchester City were so thoroughly outclassed by Bayern Munich it was difficult to believe they had a squad of European football’s most expensive and indeed most talented players. 

So comprehensive was the German side’s dominance that the home crowd applauded Bayern right winger Arjen Robben when he was substituted in the 78th minute.
After suffering a shocking 3-2 defeat to Aston Villa at the weekend in which a series of mistakes cost City a game they had controlled with ease, Wednesday evening’s contest was an entirely different story. Bayern hardly gave City a whiff of the ball, let alone any meaningful goal scoring chances. Although Alvaro Negredo struck late for City and David Silva nearly made it 3-2 with a free kick off the bar, the final 3-1 scoreline did not accurately reflect Bayern’s superiority.

Early this week Michael Cox wrote a piece for Soccernet stressing that City’s two league defeats to Cardiff and Villa were largely a product of lapses in concentration and avoidable mistakes. 

Silly individual errors certainly played their part last night. Joe Hart should have kept out Franck Ribery’s opener, Gael Clichy fell asleep and allowed Thomas Muller to get in behind the back four for the second and Fernandinho gave away possession in midfield far too easily for Bayern’s third. But equally as crucial as City’s individual errors was the way Manuel Pellegrini set his side out to play.

It’s no secret that Pep Guardiola-coached sides generally play a 4-3-3 with three talented passing center midfielders and look to dominate possession. Yesterday Guardiola used Philipp Lahm in front of the back four with Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger higher up the pitch to Lahm’s left and right respectively. To compete in midfield and not allow Bayern to comfortably retain the ball, City needed to match Bayern’s three center midfielders with three of their own. Instead, Pellegrini opted for more of a 4-4-2 shape. Defensively, Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero stayed high up the pitch closer to the Bayern center backs and did little tracking back. This left their two center midfielders Yaya Toure and Fernandinho outnumbered 3 v. 2 in the central midfield zone. They generally picked up the two more advanced Bayern center midfielders, meaning one was always spare to drop off and collect passes without being closed down. This enabled Bayern to comfortably keep the ball and dictate the tempo. As a result City spent the bulk of the contest chasing Bayern in their defensive half without getting anywhere near the ball.  When they were able to win it back, Aguero and Dzeko were too high up the pitch to provide an outlet to spring counters. Bayern pressed quickly and relentlessly and forced City into knocking desperate long balls out of the back that simply gave possession right back to the visitors.

Aguero was substituted for David Silva in the 70th minute and City switched to a 4-2-3-1.  The change to three center midfielders coincided with City’s strongest spell of the game. Silva worked the space between the Bayern lines and provided a link to Negredo (who had come on to replace Dzeko) that City had lacked when they were in a 4-4-2. In Aguero’s 70 minutes on the pitch he had just 8 passes. In Silva’s 20 minutes he had 18. 

David Silva passes versus Bayern Munich via FourFourTwo (red= unsuccessful pass, blue= successful, light blue= chance created, yellow= assist)

Sergio Aguero passes versus Bayern Munich
Silva provided the pass for Negredo’s goal and also provided the ball through for Toure that led to Jerome Boateng making a cynical last ditch tackle and being sent off.  That’s not to say Aguero was to blame for the defeat and shouldn’t have been involved. In fact his pace could have been the biggest threat in behind the high line Bayern were playing. But he needed to playing alongside a creative midfielder with the positional awareness to drift into pockets of space and play through balls for him in behind the defense rather than alongside a #9. Had City gone with a 4-2-3-1 from the outside they’d have been better able to compete in the center midfield zone and we may have seen a much closer affair.

Match commentator Gary Neville went as far as saying that if Pellegrini were an English manager he’d have been called naïve for sticking with the 4-4-2 for so long. A stinging indictment, but one that’s difficult to argue with on the basis of last night’s performance.

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. 

Both Arsenal and Chelsea exploit oppositon outside back in Champions League wins

Both Arsenal and Chelsea played some sparkling football on their way to comfortable Champions League wins Tuesday evening.

Arsenal dominated a Napoli side that currently sits second in Serie A and came into the evening unbeaten in all competitions this season. Goals from Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud in the opening quarter of an hour shell shocked the Italians who appeared at a loss for how to deal with the blistering tempo with which Arsenal started the contest. Up 2-0, Arsenal never looked like losing the control they'd asserted from the opening whistle. Their second half was professional and efficient- they sat deeper to ensure the game didn't become stretched and cautiously chose when to break forward on the counter. As a result, Napoli saw more of the ball than they had in the first half but never really looked like troubling Arsenal in the final third.

While Chelsea certainly had the easier of the two fixtures, their 4-0 away win to Steaua Bucharest was nevertheless impressive. The Romanian side's organization was extremely poor- when they got forward they left huge gaps in front of the back four that Chelsea were easily able to transition into when they won the ball back. Ramires netted twice from runs deep in midfield either side of a Steau own goal and Frank Lampard closed out the scoring with a vintage Lampard goal from just outside the 18.

The most interesting tactical feature of both contests was the rather peculiar use of width seen from both Arsenal and Chelsea. These are two sides known for frequently having both wide midfielders tuck into central areas and looking to break through the opposition defense by overloading the middle of the pitch.

At Chelsea, Jose Mourinho tends to use right footed players on the left wing and left footed players on the right wing so they can tuck into central areas and shoot on their stronger foot. In Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Willian, Andre Schurrle, Kevin De Bruyne and Willian, Chelsea have a slew of these inverted wingers that prefer to tuck inside from wide areas rather than take the ball to the end line and whip in crosses. As a result, Chelsea's play often tends to be quite narrow.

Similarly, Arsenal tend to use players on the left of their midfield that drift in field to offer an extra body in the middle of the pitch. The clearest example of this style is their 1-0 win over Tottenham earlier this season when Santi Cazorla drifted inside from the left to overload Spurs' holding midfielder Etienne Capoue. Cazorla has been out with an ankle injury since the Tottenham fixture and has been replaced by Jack Wilshere who also plays very narrow on the left. Theo Walcott is typically used on the right side of midfield. Although his blistering pace and the fact he's a right footed player used on the right wing are typical attributes of a more traditional winger, he often tucks inside high up the pitch to get on the shoulder of the last defender and make runs in behind the defense. In this role he's more of a second striker than an out and out wide player.

Walcott was also unavailable for the Napoli game due to injury as were wide midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski who both have long term injuries. As a result, Arsene Wenger's only natural wide player available was Serge Gnabry, an 18 year-old whose only Champions League experience is a cameo off the bench last season against Schalke. While Gnabry has played well in recent weeks in both the Premier League and League Cup, Wenger opted not to risk playing an inexperienced teenager in such a big match up. As a result, he was forced to field five different players whose main positions are in the center of midfield.

Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta played the holding roles. Mesut Ozil played centrally behind the striker. Aaron Ramsey played to the right of midfield, Tomas Rosicky on the left. Without any natural wide midfielders on the pitch, it was fair to expect Arsenal would look to overload the middle of the pitch in the attacking third and try to unlock Napoli with tight passing combinations near the top of the box. Napoli certainly looked as though this is what they expected- they defended in two very narrow banks of four and conceded the channels. Surprisingly, Arsenal were more than happy to take advantage of the space they were given out wide and continually looked to overload Napoli left back Juan Zuniga.

Ozil and Giroud both drifted towards Ramsey into Zuniga's zone on the right flank, forcing the Napoli left back into 1 v. 2 situations which created easy opportunities to play 1-2's around him. Sagna overlapped Ramsey intelligently meaning Arsenal consistently had a spare man open on the right channel. The Gunner's opening goal highlighted their intelligent movement down the right. Sagna received the ball on the flank. Ramsey checked back towards him on the touchline, forcing Zuniga into a wide position high up the pitch and thereby opening up space for Giroud in behind Zuniga in the channel. Giroud's wide run forced Napoli center back Miguel Britos into a wide position. He controlled Sagna's floated pass excellently with his chest. Ramsey burst in behind Zuniga with an overlapping run around the outside, dribbled towards the front post then cut it back for an unmarked Ozil to slam home at the top of the box.

For Arsenal's second, they managed to pin Napoli in on a throw in deep in the visiting side's left defensive corner of the pitch. Flamini won the ball and it fell for Giroud on the right channel. This time it was Ozil making the overlapping run past Zuniga. Giroud laid it off for Ozil then spun off his defender towards the six yard box. Ozil dribbled to the end line then cut the ball back for Giroud to finish easily at the front post.

By the final whistle, fifty percent of Arsenal's attacking moves came down the right third of the pitch. In comparison, 41% of their attacks have occurred down the right third in the Premier League this season.

Similarly, Chelsea's goals came from exploiting one of the wings. Their attacks however came down the left channel. Schurrle was given the start on the left and was instructed to keep a wide position near the touch line. Mata mostly played centrally in the #10 role with Oscar just to the right of him in a very narrow position though the two interchanged frequently. Chelsea's strategy was clear from the off- get the ball wide into Schurrle so that he could exploit the defensive weakness of Steaua's right back Daniel Georgievski. Georgievski's 1 v. 1 defending was woeful and time and again Schurrle was able to blow past him off the dribble, forcing Steaua center back Lukasz Szukala away from the Chelsea penalty area where the Blues were making dangerous runs from midfield.

For their opener, Chelsea broke quickly down the left through Schurrle who was able to easily skip around Georgievski's laughably feeble attempt at a tackle before playing the ball into the box for Eto'o. Eto'o mishit his shot but it fell kindly for Ramires who was making one of his usual lung bursting runs from deep in midfield. Chelsea's second was the result of a quick counter off a Steaua free kick. Mata provided a quick outlet pass for Ashley Cole and then played Eto'o in behind the Steau defense. His effort was saved but Georgievski put it into his own net as he was sprinting back to cover. The own goal would certainly have been embarrassing but was one rare example of the Steaua right back being unlucky rather than just bad.

In the 55th Chelsea again attacked down the left through Schurrle and again exposed Georgievski. This time he tried to close down Schurrle on the touchline near midfield. The German midfielder easily turned him and once again was free down the left channel. Schurrle played Oscar at the top of the box where he spotted Ramires making an overlapping run to his right. Ramires finished the move off with a powerful strike over the goalkeeper's arms.

Whereas Arsenal's strategy was to constantly move bodies in to the one of the channels to overload the opposition outside back and play quick 1-2's around him, Chelsea's was to clear out one of the channels to leave Schurrle with plenty of space to run at a fullback he could consistently beat with ease. In the end both strategies achieved what they were supposed to and resulted in a positive day for English clubs in the Champion's League.

Tactical Analysis: Everton 3-2 Newcastle

After producing a dominant first half display, Everton held off a second half Newcastle comeback to run out 3-2 winners at Goodison Park. Romelu Lukaku put in the type of shift that will have Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho questioning why he loaned out the young Belgian striker, scoring twice and assisting Ross Barkley in the opening 45 minutes to give Everton a 3-0 going into the break. Half time substitute Johan Cabaye drew one back for the visitors with a fine strike in the 51st minute. Loic Remy tacked on a second in the 89th to make for a tense finish but the home side were able to hold on.

Roberto Martinez made several changes to the side that earned a dramatic 3-2 win over West Ham the last time out in the league. Lukaku replaced Nikica Jelavic up front. James McCarthy won his first start alongside Gareth Barry in the double pivot. Leon Osman was used further up the pitch in a left attacking midfield role meaning Steven Naismith was relegated to a spot on the bench.

Alan Pardew tends to use either 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formations but today it was more of a 4-2-3-1. Vernon Anita and Cheik Tiote played deep in midfield with Moussa Sissoko operating behind striker Loic Remy in a central attacking midfield role. Hatem Ben Arfa usually starts on the right side of midfield but was used on the left. Yoan Gouffran played on the right. Pardew presumably used Gouffran on the right because he thought he’d do a better job tracking Leighton Baines’ runs forward. The back four was unchanged from the side that lost 3-2 to Hull last weekend.

Newcastle fail to deal with Howard long balls
There were a number of interesting tactical features that impacted this match but both of Lukaku’s goals had more to do with poor defending from Newcastle than any overarching tactical feature. Lukaku’s goals were however quite interesting because they were uncharacteristic of a Roberto Martinez coached side. Martinez encourages his sides to build attacks patiently from the back and therefore prefers his goalkeepers role the ball out to ensure possession is kept rather than launching hopeful long balls forward. But both of Lukaku’s goals stemmed from balls played long by Howard. For Lukaku’s opener, Coloccini failed to adequately deal with Howard’s long clearance- the Newcastle center back headed it directly into the path of Mirallas who dribbled down the right wing before cutting back for Lukaku to finish.  Coloccini was again partially at fault for Lukaku’s second. The Argentine allowed Howard’s long ball forward to run past him and into the path of Lukaku. Krul should have been closer to the edge of his box to collect the ball before Lukaku could get on the end of it but failed to do so. Lukaku’s second goal in particular isn’t one you’d expect Everton to score many more of this season but shows what a direct threat the powerful Belgian can be in the rare occasions Everton do play long out of the back.

Baines and Coleman overload Newcastle fullbacks
Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman operated more as wing backs (as has consistently been the case under Martinez) and pushed high up the pitch in possession. They looked to overlap Osman and Mirallas tucking inside from their wide midfield positions. The effects of this advanced positioning were twofold.  When Gouffran and Ben Arfa failed to track their forays forward, it left the Newcastle fullbacks to defend 1 v. 2 down the flanks. Everton combined well down the flanks all evening, particularly on the left where Baines and Osman combined for 23 passes. When Gouffran and Ben Arfa did track the runs of Baines and Coleman, it pushed the two Newcastle wide men deep into their own defensive half. When Newcastle won the ball back they couldn’t get back into the attacking third of the pitch quickly enough to provide support for Sissoko and Remy.

Newcastle could have exploited the space in behind Everton’s advanced fullbacks on the counter. However, they couldn’t find a quick outlet pass forward on which to spring those counters.

Osman and Barkley overload Anita
Another key element of the first half that ties in to Everton’s wide play was Osman’s tendency to tuck inside to a narrow position on the left. Not only did this provide space for Baines to overlap on the outside, it also gave Everton a man advantage in central areas. For the most part the matchup in the middle of the pitch was Sissoko on Barry, Tiote on McCarthy and Anita slightly deeper checking the movement of Barkley. Osman’s movement into the middle gave Everton a 4 v. 3 advantage. He tucked inside towards Barkley to create overloads on Anita. This opened up dangerous space for Barkley between the seams because Anita had to leave him and step to ball when Osman was in possession. Osman played 17 passes to Barkley, Everton’s highest pass combination.

Newcaste lack creativity through the middle
The most obvious tactical feature of the opening half was Newcastle’s lack of creativity in the middle of midfield. Anita, Tiote and Sissoko are known more for their physical attributes and energy than their expansive passing. Anita and Tiote played almost completely level with one another when Newcastle were in possession, hitting passes side to side without threatening to penetrate Everton’s midfield bank of four with vertical balls. Everton were content to let them have possession deep in midfield, confident they didn’t have the ability to play forward passes that would split their compact banks of four. Because both Anita and Tiote were sitting deep and not threatening to move into advanced positions themselves, Barry and McCarthy only had to worry about defending Sissoko between the lines. With a 2 v. 1 advantage in Newcastle’s more advanced area of midfield, it was easy for Everton to cope comfortably. Sissoko received 22 passes in the first half. Almost none of them were in dangerous areas in the center of the pitch. He was able to complete just 4 passes in the attacking third in the first half.

Newcastle’s three center midfielders combined for just 15 passes in the attacking third in the first half, a reflection of both how poor their vertical passing was and how impotent the entire squad was moving off the ball. 

Pardew's subs 
Pardew’s second half changes made a big difference and Newcastle nearly ended up getting something out of a game that looked a lost cause at halftime. While he deserves credit for the way his substitutions altered the contest, questions still must be asked of how he got the starting 11 so wrong in the first place. He replaced Ben Arfa with Cabaye at halftime and brought on Michael Williamson for Yanga-Mbiwa. Cabaye played centrally in the #10 role, Sissoko moved wide to the right and Gouffran switched sides to the left. Cabaye’s movement between the lines was better than Sissoko had shown in the first half and he provided a quality on the ball Newcastle had lacked. Within three minutes of his introduction Cabaye bisected Everton’s midfield line with a clever pass through to Sissoko. Sissoko dummied the pass intelligently for the overlapping Debuchy but the right back’s delivery into the box was poor. Moments later Cabaye would have Newcastle on the score sheet. He moved towards the left channel to collect a pass from Gouffran and dispatched a terrific strike into the top far corner from 25 yards out.

Pardew replaced Anita with Papiss Cisse in the 69th and moved to a 4-4-2. Cisse went up top alongside Remy and Cabaye dropped to more of a box-to-box role with Tiote. Newcastle became much more direct, looking to either get the ball wide and cross towards the two forwards or play it long early into the forwards and try to get on the end of second balls. The more physical, direct style made Everton uncomfortable but they managed to keep the away side from getting a second until the 89th minute. Cabaye played a ball from the left flank towards the back post. Debuchy rose well and provided a knock down for Remy to tuck home. Remy nearly equalized with a 20 yard volley moments later when Everton again struggled to deal with a series of hopeful balls hit into the box but the home side were just able to hold on for the 3 points.  

Martinez may be unhappy with his side’s inability to keep the ball in the second half when Newcastle switched to 4-4-2. The change meant Everton had a 3 v. 2 advantage in midfield so they should have been able to boss possession. With the score at 3-1, too often they looked to break quickly on the counter in search of a fourth goal, making the game more stretched than was necessary. The counter was often on because Newcastle were pushing numbers forward but at that stage of the game, with a two goal advantage, they should have looked to slow the pace of the game down in possession from time to time.

Everton were good value for their lead in the first half. They worked the channels excellently through the overlapping runs of Baines and Coleman. Lukaku and Barkley were a constant threat around the penalty box. Both are very direct players that are sure to make life difficult for Premier League defenses. Perhaps had they done a better job slowing the tempo of the match in the second half they'd have won more comfortably. Still, this was another positive performance for Martinez. Three wins from three have his side sitting fourth in the table.

Newcastle will feel all three goals they conceded were avoidable. Two came from Coloccini mistakes, the third from an aimless pass forward from Yanga-Mbiwa. With Cabaye on the bench n the first half, they were avoid of ideas in the attacking third. They tried to take on a more direct approach in switching to 4-4-2 in the second half to make up for the shortage of midfield creativity. It nearly ended up getting them a draw on the evening but they'll have to improve their link up play in the attacking third moving forward.