Tactical and Analytical points of view on what’s happened in some European club football Leagues this passed weekend of 10th-11th of April 2021
With Pep Guardiola in Manchester City rather than Barcelona, both coach and Catalan club continue to make the headlines and feature in football exhibitions, even if on this occasion both were on the losing end. Not that Man City should not be too worried for a defeat in the league at this point. For Barça, El Clásico ringed more alarm bells.
Three standout games;
Manchester City 1–2 Leeds United
The duels between Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa have become an ode to football, a reminder of what the game should be about in using innovation as a means to winning matches.
El Loco wasn’t wrong when he said before the duel: “The games against teams who have the capacity to have answers or do the unexpected make the games full of surprises”. He continued: “There’s a method that unites individuality with what he proposes. This creates football full of surprises. There’s nothing nicer for a spectator than to see something they did not expect. To say the opposite is when you know what’s going to happen. It creates boredom.”
Saturday’s was possibly the most defensive version of Leeds their fans have seen under Bielsa. The circumstances brought them to that. Liam Cooper’s red card, before half-time and once they had already taken the lead, didn’t destabilize. The Whites’ block, but it pushed it deeper and Patrick Bamford being substituted out meant there was less pressure on Man City’s centre-backs to progress.
Tyler Roberts marked Fernandinho, but John Stones became the free man to carry the ball into the edge of the box and occasionally join the penalty area in crosses.
In the second half, City used up to six players in the frontline to stretch Leeds horizontally, with Stones and Fernandinho at the base of the midfield closely supported by João Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Then Leeds introduced defender Robin Koch for Roberts, which implied that the deepest City players had even less pressure while the visitors had more numbers inside the box.
Koch often came out of his zone to pressurise Fernandinho or Stones if they advanced too much, but Leeds always ensured that there were at least four men defending in the penalty spot, with Kalvin Phillips, Stuart Dallas and the full-backs aiding the centre-backs.
In the end, the incredible efforts from Leeds, their intuition and intelligence to block shots and rebounds, goalkeeper Illan Meslier’s dominance in crosses, and their sufficiency with Dallas and Raphinha in counter-attacks, surely paid off. Bielsa and Pep keep pushing each other to their, often unexplored, limits.
Stuttgart 2–3 Borussia Dortmund
Without pivotal figures and excellent prospects Silas Wamangituka, Nicolás González and Orel Mangala, Stuttgart couldn’t replicate their 5–1 victory over Borussia Dortmund from the first half of the season, but they played a part in another entertaining, goal-packed encounter. Dortmund gave continuity to the good sensations collected against City by again fielding a midfield three and low full-backs, with Raphaël Guerreiro even forming a back three at times.
2 metres tall but a dancer with the ball at his feet, striker Saša Kalajdžić dropping deep allowed Stuttgart to find comfort in possession and attract defenders while generating spaces for Borna Sosa and Tanguy Coulibaly on the flanks. Wing-back Sosa is a simple man: he controls with his left foot, raises his head and, if Kalajdžić is in the box, he crosses. That’s how their opener was produced.
But like against City, having three midfielders, this time playing alongside Mahmoud Dahoud and Thomas Delaney, gave Jude Bellingham the freedom to operate either as a left midfielder or right behind Erling Håland. Bellingham is getting more frequently into the edge of the box, and he scored Dortmund’s first before they went on to win and gain more confidence ahead of the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
Real Madrid 2–1 Barcelona
In the most anticipated, before it also became the most exciting, Clásico in years, Zinedine Zidane found in simplicity the key to uncovering Barcelona’s vulnerabilities. In a reactive mid or low block, Madrid encouraged the blaugranas to open up spaces behind their high backline.
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The inability from the back three to engage Madrid forwards, from Ousmane Dembélé and others to pull defenders out of position, and from the team in general to exploit any gaps that could be created presented the perfect plan for Zidane and the likes of Vinícius and Fede Valverde.
Barça disorganised themselves when they had the ball. Madrid, at least in the first half, never got disorganised when Barça had the ball. Only when a new structure helped the visitors make a better use of the centre-backs, wing-backs and attackers did they not only improve in possession, but out of possession too.
The individual display;
– Kai Havertz
This section is not about who was the best but who deserves a mention and, despite he maybe wasn’t even Chelsea’s best man in the 1–4 win over Crystal Palace, Kai Havertz must have captivated his coach as he was instrumental in the first half as The Blues finally broke the two-goal barrier under Thomas Tuchel. Havertz scored Chelsea’s first and had a repertoire of controls and technical actions while behaving as a false 9.
Crystal Palace defended passively in a 4–4–2, with the centre-backs not being dragged when Havertz dropped between the lines, which meant he had space to receive between or behind the opposing midfield. Against Porto and in more matches under Tuchel, Chelsea had struggled to connect the deep double pivot with the three attackers, but in this position Havertz facilitated that.
Earlier, Tuchel had said: “He is a unique player. It’s not so clear where he needs to settle, does it need to be in one position? Or is he kind of a hybrid player? Today, I would say he’s in between a nine and a 10. He’s very comfortable in the box and in high positions. He’s very good at offensive headers, he has good timing to arrive in the box, good finishing, good composure in the box, around the box — so between nine and 10”. A sign of things to come.
Some teams use a back four that transforms into a back three in build-ups. Other teams, by contrast, are using a back four in possession that transforms into a back five out of possession. Roma last week, Porto against Chelsea with Jesús Corona following Ben Chilwell, Leeds with Raphinha on Benjamin Mendy, Real Madrid with Fede Valverde on Jordi Alba, Atlético de Madrid with Yannick Carrasco on Betis’ Emerson.
We are lately seeing how a winger is tasked with tracking the most offensive full-back of the opposing team, which frequently sees them form a back five in defence. Depending on the situation and position of the ball, it allows for flexibility to switch, for example, between a 5–3–2 and a 4–4–2.
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