EPL: Chelsea v West Ham analysis

Last opening game of Premier League season featured two highly anticipated teams. “Chelsea Reloaded” with fresh blood, but above all, with tactical mastermind Antonio Conte. On the other side, if there was no Leicester miracle last season, Slave Bilić’s West Ham would be the story of the year. It was great tenure at Juventus where Conte was winning everything he could in Italy and exceptional run at EURO that made Conte world class tactics expert. EURO was particularly interesting as Conte missed semi finals on penalties with mediocre squad put into masterful tactical approach. Expectations and hopes are high for Chelsea and first match was highly anticipated. West Ham, on other hand, had a great season with Slaven Bilić and game against Chelsea was there to establish his foothold on new season. First quarter of an hour seemed like West Ham could play on even terms with Conte’s Chelsea, but after clock came to about 15th minute the tide turned.

Highly structured and coherent Chelsea team gave little room to West Ham who started losing balls, miss controlling passes and all the possession went over to Chelsea. In absence of Dmitri Payet, a man who can hold on to ball and look for that dangerous pass, West Ham relied more and more on long balls to their target man Andy Carroll. However, all the rebounds, second balls and challenges went Chelsea’s way and slowly they established dominance. At that point patterns started to emerge.

Conte obviously believes he has an extraordinary player in Eden Hazard. A man who is quick with the ball in his feet and can turn around any defender, winger who is equally capable of seeing a pass and executing it, a man who is able to create the difference on the pitch. To give him opportunity to have time and space on the ball in order to do what he does best, Conte ordered majority of attacks down left, Hazard’s side. To make his life easier, Chelsea manager shifted most of his players closer to him.

As with Italy, Conte leaves the middle of the pitch and focuses on flanks

You can see above how left side of the pitch is crowded by four Chelsea players ready to receive the ball from Oscar. It is the set up that was seen again and again throughout the match. Conte is deliberately vacating the middle of the pitch to opposition, a thing he successfully employed in recent Italy campaigns at EURO.

Once the ball gets to left to Hazard, he has few options. Quick combination play with team mates, solo run or splitting pass to escape two wide opposition players and get on goal. However, if this doesn’t seem likely, Chelsea often opted for retaining possession, a novelty compared to Italy style during EURO.

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Oscar has a deep lying playmaker role and in transition from defensive third he drops to RB position to pick the ball and move it into the middle third. Center of pitch is left to opposition while players overload left side to allow options for Hazard

Above is the diagram of Chelsea transition from defensive third into the middle third of the pitch. Runs from Ivanović and Willian are only a decoy while bulk of players shift to left to give support to Hazard. This move repeatedly troubled West Ham. Partly due to low work rate from Valencia who isn’t very keen on running after opposition to an extent where, by the end of first half, Bilić was forced to move more energetic Andy Carroll into his slot in order to disrupt the transition. Although it was repeated throughout the match, Chelsea didn’t hesitate to employ right side when occasion presented itself and both, Ivanović and Willian, did a great job on right.

When left side overload doesn’t work Chelsea is more concerned with keeping the ball as Ivanović goes inside to offer a passing option. However, Chelsea is already leading here and in first half right back wouldn’t hesitate to go forward aggressively

Above you can see what happens when direct route to goal on left is closed off. There are four players attracted to Hazard and another two tied to West Ham’s right side leaving Oscar completely open in center of the pitch while Willian is waiting for a pass into deeper areas on right. While Conte isn’t obsessed with possession, he is still Italian and doesn’t push his full backs high. At this moment he is one nil up and he is content to keep organized and covered in case of counter attack. With Ivanović going inside to receive the ball from Hazard or maybe Oscar allowing his team to gradually progress up the pitch, instead of hugging the line and going forward immediately.

While Chelsea merited a goal from their combination play and smart possession, it was only a reckless mistake from Antonio who gave away the penalty at start of second half that allowed Chelsea to go ahead. From then on Ivanović stopped venturing forward so aggressively as he did in first half.

On the other hand, West Ham offered little in tactical sense. They were on the back foot throughout the game and were lacking aggression, decisiveness and compactness to take the ball away from their opponents. Their offensive play was significantly disturbed as Ayew had to go off with injury early on as he seemed to be a player with licence to roam around the pitch freely and connect the midfield to attack. After he was out, Tore didn’t fill the same role and West Ham relied mostly on long balls to Carroll.

Only in 70th minute when Payet comes on West Ham changes its shape and goes from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 but French star changed little the fortune on the pitch, although it seems as West Ham got more confident on the ball with him on the pitch. They eventually equalised from set piece when Chelsea went desperate and shifts to 4-2-4 to get a goal minute before the fulltime.

After lucky equaliser Chelsea changed to 4-2-4 and managed to squeeze in a winner after great strike from Diego Costa who receives the flick on from Batshuayi who receives a long ball from Nemanja Matić

In conclusion, the work of Conte can already be seen on the pitch. Weeks of pre-season paid off, ironically, it was mistake from opposition and a rather desperate, individual effort from Diego Costa that got them result. West Ham has a long year to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. However, they showed little without Payet and Ayew on the pitch. Bilić can be content with his defensive shape when they are set up for zonal defending. However, they still lack the cohesion and teamwork needed to go into pressing and winning the ball from their opponents.

EURO FINALS: Apprentice Deschamps and master Santos, France v Portugal analysis

Second extra time decided the winner of EURO 2016 when Eder struck a long shot into the bottom corner to clinch it for Portugal against hosts France after a long fought battle that was tactically won by Portugal. While France made no changes going into the final they were favourites to win, Portugal was lucky to have Pépé back who recovered from injury and replaced Bruno Alves that played semi final game. William Carvalho came back from suspension and replaced Danilo Pereira in defensive midfielder role.
Despite being labelled as favourites, France changed little compared to semi final match they won against Germany. Didier Deschamps set his team to defend their own half and showed no desire to risk defensive compactness by pressing high up the pitch. Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo who are both pacey and skilled on the ball were also in favour of this decision as high pressing means high defensive line which could leave a lot of space for Portugal front two to exploit.

Going forward, France again didn’t change their approach. They were largely relying on individual skill of Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann ability to combine and create something for themselves or their team mates. Either Giroud and Sissoko, who was often coming inside, or Evra overlapping Payet. Matuidi and Pogba were very conservative and kept back most of the time making an odd forward run.

Initially Portugal was under a lot of pressure. More due to importance of the game than French involvement. They were misplacing passes and making unforced errors while Blaise Matuidi and Sissoko were reading the game really well taking the misplaced passes. Below you can see how high France was able to intercept the ball or win the tackle in the first half, and most of those turnovers Portugal made during initial 15 minutes of the match.

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Impressed Portugal lost ball high in first half, as the game progressed you can see they didn’t make similar mistakes later on


Portugal were obviously impressed and lacked their defensive cohesion as well. Below you see France attacking and Payet free on the ball. Despite Cristiano Ronaldo failed to track back and Portugal defence is pulled out of shape, Payet is lacking passing options due to France being reluctant to push Matuidi or Pogba forward.

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Despite having time and space on the ball, Payet has no passing options since France is too afraid to advance with numbers

This passive approach meant that despite numerous mistakes by Portugal players, France wasn’t able to make their domination count in the opening stage. Once Portugal managed to find the rhythm to their defensive positioning everything looked even worse for France as you see on the image below.

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Once behind the ball, Portugal closes all approaches to advanced positions

As Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo dropped behind the ball there was no passing lanes left open for France since they were often with at least four or five players minding possible counter attack more than attacking themselves. This was broken only when Sissoko or Matuidi drove forward with the ball at feet. However, Portugal always had a spare man to tackle or put attackers off balance.

French plan to create something was mainly down to movement. Payet and Sissoko often moved centrally while Evra, and less so Sagna, overlapped le Griezmann went deeper. However, Portugal stood firmly and their players didn’t let opponents drag them out of position.

As France failed to score in opening minutes when Portugal looked unable to cope with pressure, a major incident happened as Cristiano Ronaldo had to leave the field due to knee injury. This was turning point in the match as, instead of crumbling without their leader, Portugal rallied themselves in spite the trouble and kept plugging.

Once Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted with Quaresma Fernando Santos made an important change. Renato Sanches went into center of midfield letting Quaresma on right wing while Nano was left up front alone. This meant Portugal changed to 4-1-4-1 while defending meaning Joao Mario on left and Quaresma on right would track back following French full backs and letting Cèdric to man mark Payet and following him into center midfield where he was taken over by extra man Portugal had in center of the pitch.

This meant France had even tougher time getting into decent position to threaten Rui Patricio. In meanwhile, Portugal got foothold on the match and was mainly oriented to quick direct passes forward. Whenever Rui Patricio got his hand on the ball he was looking for an option of quick pass to catch France out of position. While this didn’t really allow Portugal to get into threatening position, it did put a pressure on France and made them unwilling to commit more players forward.

By the time first half ended, Portugal was more convinced they might come out with a win and all possession and chances France created from individual efforts dwindled down into a stalemate.

While Portugal didn’t change anything, France came back from dressing room looking to press higher and finally score. However, their pressing was largely uncoordinated as they were still sitting deep. You can see below how lonely are Griezmann and Giroud as midfield doesn’t have time to arrive and press the man since their starting position is too deep for high pressing to be effective.

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While in second half France went pressing, their defence was too deep and midfield had to cover too much ground to make a coordinated effort with two strikers

Apart for (ineffective) high pressing, Didier Deschamps changed little in his approach to attack on the ball. In meanwhile, Portugal was tiring France forwards who were chasing the ball whenever it was in vicinity. Rarely in their grasp, though. Bellow you can see Portugal frustrating their opponents as creative Payet was tracked into half space by Cedric who effectively cancelled him out of the game.

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One way to stop France is to block their Playmakers. Cedric drifted centrally to prevent Payet from receiving the ball however, poor defending from Quaresma gave opportunity to France. However, Deschamps didn’t use it

However, Quaresma isn’t paying attention and Evra gets behind his back to pick a long pass from Matuidi. This forces Cedric to abandon Payet as he tracks Evra’s run and Portuguese defence collapses. This was only thing that worked really well for France and one has to ask himself if Deschamps should have exploited Quaresma’s defensive awareness more and focus attacks down right.

However, Deschamps did substitute Payet for Coman who proved to be most dangerous man in French line up during the rest of the game and Griezmann failed to convert his ideally served cross. Other opportunities he created were largely due to individual effort instead of systematic exploit of Quaresma’s defensive weakness.

Slowly through second half game changed and final move from Fernando Santos was to introduce Eder in place of Renato Sanches. He changed his shape once more and shifted to 4-3-3, although, without the ball it was old same 4-1-4-1. Also, this meant Quaresma went to left wing and Coman had to deal with Nani who’s work rate is much higher compared to Quaresma’s.

More importantly, once on the pitch, Eder was able to cope with strong and tall French midfielders Matuidi and Pogba. This gave Portugal a focal point, target man, up front who was able to hold the ball allowing his team mates to join the attack.

Once Portugal was able to get on the ball more consistently, French defensive weakness showed again. Just as Germany was able to pass through French lines, Portugal could do the same once they had ability to hold the ball.

As the match was getting ever deeper into the extra time France seemed like they stopped believing they could win and just hoped, while Portugal went the opposite way until Eder got on the ball in 109th minute to strike it into the bottom of Lloris’ net. Although he was close, Sissoko didn’t even come near to close him down and help his defenders. He was rather hoping Eder will miss instead of believing he could stop him.

To conclude, Portugal played as they did whole knock out phase. They covered the back with discipline, energy and a bit of luck while they tried to score on quick counter attack. It was really France who should have thought the plan to break them. However, beside individual efforts, that served them well together with luck, they showed little team effort to overcome determined Portugal. Deschamps had no real plan how to break them and even reacted poorly as he failed to exploit poor defending from Quaresma. On the other hand Fernando Santos seemed to pick all the right cards. He marked closely Payet and had Carvalho always near Griezmann. Once France got under the pressure he added to it even more introducing a strong striker who relieved his defence and in the end managed to score.


Better to be born without penis than luck, GERvFRA analysis

After hosts France beat Germany in second EURO semi final we are slowly coming to conlusion of what once was the toughest football tournament in the world. Prior to the game France had quite clear startng line up while Joachim Loew had to make som e hard decisions due to suspensions and injuries.

Since Mario Gomez was injured he had no striker and decided to leave on bench Goetze while Thomas Mueller took most advanced spot in 4-2-3-1 formation. Khedira was out as well and Loew opted for Emre Can instead of Weigel while Hoewedes took the place of Hummels. The biggest problem for Loew was no proper striker in the squad and Khedira’s replacement. However, with Mueller up front Loew was confident he could create chances for others or himself. Style of play was changed since Gomez is less mobile but bigger threat in the air while Can took the role of coming from deep and adding to aerial power in absence of tall striker.

As the game started France came out as if they are going to tear apart Germany but five minutes were enough for Loew’s team to take controll on the pitch. They didn’t differ from their overall approach during the tournament. Plan was to get high, compress the opposition and then to create overload either by passing and movement or to switch the point of attack. Once France didn’t bother to press high, Die Mannschaft had little trouble bringing football forward and compressing France into their own half.

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Loew tried to break deep French defence by sending his center backs forward to create numerical advantage

Above you see a prototype of modern center back as Boateng is entering his midfield line to create a spare man. Advancing full backs are always creating an option on the wing, but what Loew preferes is overload in midfield which is allowed once Boateng enters the zone unopposed. He has number of options infront and Schweinsteiger with Kroos on his sides who can support him if he gets closed down. However, that isn’t preferred option. Actual plan is for Mueller to drag away Coscielny who leaves a gap for Draxler to get in and receive the ball.

France had great trouble stipping these passes through the middle and were only lucky not to get punished. You can see below how french failed to cope with their opponents roaming through their zones of responsability. Oezil is free on the ball and has an easy pass to Mueller who is coming to receive the pass. Before the move is over Die Mannschaft has created an overload on Payet and Mueller passes quick ball to flank for Kimmich who can go one on one with Patrice Evra and look for cut back, cross or recycle the possession with Oezil again.

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Despite France allowed numerous passes between lines, Germany didn’t have a man to convert chances created

Emre Can had an important role here as, while Oezil looked to drop deeper, Can was taking his position ready for run into the box replacing Gomez as an aerial threat in case his team mates chose to cross the ball. Despite numerous passes through French defensive lines, Germany failed to get anything out of their domination in the first half. One individual mistake from experienced Schweinsteiger gave Griezmann opportunity to score and he took it happily.

Germany had to be very disappointed going into the dressing room as they controlled the match and, while they didn’t create any extraordinary chances, France wasn’t any better. Start of second half was the same as the first with France pushing early on and then getting compressed in their half again.

While without the ball, Germany was, unlike France, trying to press high and disturb French transition into the middle third. It worked reasonably well but apart occasional break, French were always ready to get back and cover. Germany didn’t change their approach as they must have been fairly confident they will score with all the possession. However, another individual mistake, this time from Kimmich who carelessly lost the ball in his own area, essentially ended the game.

French kept to their feeble defending that Germany wasn’t able to break mainly due to lack of any inspiration from Mueller or Oezil and some great defending from new Barcelona star Samuel Umtiti.
As time went on Germany was ever more desperate since nothing they did went in, and France was happy to override its own midfield and ping direct long balls to Griezmann who was kind of player Germany missed to make this trully classic match.

French were happy to send long direct balls for in form Griezmann bypassing their midfield while Mueller disappointed not being able to get on the ball. If that was Gomez, it would be fine, but player as Mueller should have participated more  (diagram source: @11tegen11)

If you look above you can see Fraance mainly attacked down left without trying to involve Pogba or Matuidi in the center. Deschamps put all his faith in Griezmann – Giroud partnership and got it right. Germany will be heavily disappointed with Mueller who was completely lost between French center backs.

To conclude, what Germany was lacking was an inspired player that France had in Griezmann for whole tournament. Their defending was apalling at times but theere was no one there who was able to punish it. In the end, they were collectively punished by elimination. Was Loew able to do something to overturn result? Not really, Germany had sound plan and executed it reasonably, just as French did. They didn’t have any luck though, and as they say were I come from, it is better to be born without a dick than without luck.

EURO Quarter finals; FRAvICE analysis: A Deceiving victory

The last of quarter finals at EURO brought us a true underdog Iceland against France which, in the end, showed England how it is done. A comfortable win for home nation, however, might be a tad bit deceiving. Unlike England, everything French did seem to work. They had three shots in first 20 minutes and scored twice. Summed up, It was a very harsh game for brave Iceland that kept plugging when most teams would have just waited for a million of grasshoppers to have invaded the pitch and eat all the grass so the match is abandoned.
Front page of L’equipe, famous French football magazine, published a title “Can we be as stupid as English?” before the match as a reminder to their team. They were under pressure but hadtadd bit more confidencee than their rivals over The Channel. Iceland, on the other hand, came on the pitch ready for another surprise.

Didier Deschamps was aware of quick counters down wings that Iceland loves, not as much for the possibility of cross (although, they would take that) but as an opportunity for Aron Gunnarsson’s throw ins. France wasn’t pressing high and both full backs, Patrice Evra and Bakary Sagna, were particularly careful during the opening minutes not to surge forward too much.

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First rule from Deschamps to prevent an upset; don’t overcommit your fullbacks and leave flanks open

You can see above that Sagna had a tad bit more attacking role on the right in first half but generally both fullbacks, despite their attacking ability, played quite a conservative game. Their role, when France had the ball, was to widen the pitch and spread Iceland defence so offensive players Payet, Griezmann and Sissoko had more space. Only occasionally Sagna would cross from advanced positions (twice) while Evra was more concerned about passing the ball to advanced wide play maker Dmitri Payet or Blaise Matuidi.

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Second rule of Deschamps to prevent upset; keep your defence clean and tidy. Don’t press high allowing them easy counters

Apart not overcommitting fullbacks when on the ball, France was obviously defending without it. Above you see they employed fairly high line at about 10 meters behind the half line. However, they didn’t press relentlessly at all even if Icelandic defenders aren’t exactly comfortable on the ball. Pressing the ball carrier would allow them to get the ball much higher but at risk of giving Iceland opportunity to slingshot long balls for their tall strikers up front and fast transition they are good at.

Instead, Deschamps opted much more patient and controlled approach, as with his full backs when on the ball, letting Iceland find their way through his defensive lines. You can see effect of that bellow. Not having particularly creative players in midfield Iceland had tough time arriving in the middle third and even tougher getting into attacking third. They were left with long balls onto set up French defence that marked their forwards.

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The result of Deschamps’ rules; long balls towards marked forwards

Neutralizing counter attacks with conservative full backs and zonal defending without the ball to prevent confusion in defence were main aims for Deschamps ensuring Iceland is kept at bay. Going forward, however, France had to offer a lot. Basically they did what Belgium wanted to do whole tournament but were unable.

Deschamps played with two defensive midfielders, although Pogba was very keen to go forward, and Payet as a wide play maker on left. While Griezmann was allowed to move freely and Giroud often backtracked to make room for him and Sissoko cutting inside from right. These movements were often confusing for Iceland and created quite a few opportunities. Mainly due to Iceland defending.

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Arrigho Sacchi wouldn’t approve: If you play high defensive line, make sure ball carrier is not able to ping long direct balls to forwards. Or practice off side trap!

Above you can see how high is the Iceland defensive line. They are tight and compact and that is all well and good. However, Arrigho Sacchi wouldn’t approve the behaviour of Forwards Bodvarsson and Sigthorsson. If you are playing high line as Iceland, even if it is as nice and compact as theirs, you leave a lot of space behind the defence, around 40 meters in this particular case. To make this effective your strikers can not simply look at the player with the ball, especially if it is Paul Pogba who has really good and precise long pass.

These passes repeated through the first half and created a goal and a few chances. Combined with cut ins from Payet and intelligent off ball movement from Griezmann and Giroud, these was the offensive plan from Deschamp to supply his strikers. It worked so well it was unfair to Iceland who failed to adapt their pressing game to disrupt it. However, goals came so fast and in quick succession that game was virtually taken away from the opposition team. Not for Iceland, mind you.

They had to be frustrated at half time and wanted to prove it was not what they are capable of. Laagerbaek Substituted Arnasson who had a torrid game with Ingasson and more mobile Finnbogasson came in for fairly static Bodvarsson. They also changed the formation when on the ball. Captain Gunnarsson dropped between two center backs while full backs went higher and Bjarnasson together with Gudmundsson went central to form 3-5-2 which often transformed into 3-4-3 as Bjarnasson and Gudmundsson surged forward in possession.

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Iceland changed their approach in second half and transformed into 3-4-3/3-5-2 while attacking. Good choice, too bad France was merciless in front of goal

More offensive stance from the beginning of second half paid off after 10 minutes but French efficiency was really ruthless and Giroud scores yet again from another set piece. This didn’t dishearten Iceland as they continued with their approach looking for crosses and set pieces and they managed to score six minutes before the end.

France was largely content to preserve energy for semi final with Germany throughout the second half and wrapped the game looking for counter attacks. As Iceland was wide open at times they could have scored more.

To conclude, France had sound plan with direct balls for offensive players as well as quick combination play mainly down left where Dmitri Payet operated. Iceland helped them with inadequate closing down of ball carrier allowing time and space for French to pick their passes into attacking third. France got luck on their side as well since they scored two goals from their first three shots and then added another two goals from next three tries.

Strange game that didn’t give moment of breath to Iceland and might be quite deceiving for France going into the match with Germany.