Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Napoli vs Dortmund - Rafa knows

Napoli 2 - 1 Dortmund
September 18th 2013
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The two sides lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, however each side has it's own way of using the shape and style of play. Dortmund will always press high whilst holding a high defensive line and try and force errors further up the field, as they did last season. Napoli, now under the guidance of Benitez, have this season shifted from 3 at the back to playing 4-2-3-1 and look to sit deeper, and would look to hit Dortmund on the counter.

The high line of Dortmund is perhaps why Benitez chose to drop Pandev from his starting 11 and replace him with the more mobile Insigne. In an attempt to exploit the space in behind Dortmund, Insigne offered more movement and potential to break through the lines running from deep.

Dortmund's high line actually suited Higuain. His excellent movement and killer instinct really troubled the Dortmund defence. Whenever Napoli regained possession they would look quickly forward for a ball in behind to Higuain or for one of their attacking three to run directly at Dortmund's defence. It was a very different story at the other end of the field for Lewandowski, who despite one good attempt on goal in the first half, was mostly a spectator during the first 45 minutes. With Napoli retreating deep into their half, allowing Dortmund possession up to the half way line, Lewandowski found his supply line crowded out by the hard work of the Napoli midfield.
Napoli look to smother space in their third

Over 90 minutes the Napoli midfield managed to achieve 12 interceptions compared to the 5 of Dortmund. Though Dortmund's midfield won more tackles, these did not always lead to actually regaining possession and often just temporarily broke up Napoli's passing. It was a combination of one of these interceptions and the space behind Dortmund's defence that led to the turning point on the game.
Higuain quickly exploits the space behind Dortmund

Already 1-0 down from a Higuain header, Napoli sat back and allowed Dortmund's back line to progress forward. Once they entered the Napoli half the midfield began to press and intercepted a sloppy pass from Grobkreutz. They immediately looked for a ball over the top as Higuain made a run through the defence. Higuain was closed down by Weidenfeller who was forced to handle outside of the area and was rightly dismissed.

It's important to note that both the 1st goal and the sending off came whilst Hummels was off the field. (CORRECTION: the goal came while Subotic was off the field) The goal was conceded whilst he was delayed returning to the pitch after treatment. which led to Klopp being sent to the stands for screaming at the fourth official, and the red card came once Hummels had been substituted due to injury. Dortmund's defending on both occasions was very sloppy, though Higuain had broken through on other occasions.

Another difference between the sides was their set piece delivery. On 3 occasions in the first half Reus delivered poor set pieces, wasting good opportunities in promising positions. However Napoli's first goal came from a  set piece, and in the second half Insigne extended his teams lead with a wonderful freekick from quite a distance outside the box

6 vs 1 Napoli see the game out
Later in the game, Napoli scored a bizarre own goal when Zuniga attempted a back heel volley in his own box and Reus finally put a freekick on target only to be denied by Reina, though Dortmund didn't deserve a point. Predictably, and understandably, Dortmund offered little in the second half as Benitez instructed his team to see the game out and withdrew key players. Dortmund's high tempo high pressing game can not really be done when the opposition aren't required to take risks and Dortmund are a man down.


If Dortmund are to repeat lasts years wonderful achievements they may have to find alternate plans and be more flexible. Rafa Benitez is a master of European competitions and his Napoli side were well prepared to both stifle Dortmund and exploit their weaknesses. It's telling that in the first half Higuain had 16 touches to Lewandowski's 11, completed 2 dribbles to the Poles 0, and and 3 shots to his opponents 1. Albiol and Britos did well marshalling Lewandowski but it was the work of the whole team that cut out Dortmund's supply line, and Napoli's use of Higuain to exploit the space that saw Napoli deserved winners.

Man of the match: Lorenzo Insigne

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Monday, 16 September 2013

Real Betis vs Valencia - Different ways to use a No. 10

Real Betis 3 - 1 Valencia
September 15th 2013
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An interesting match up that on paper sees the 2 sides play with the same shape. However, the way they decided to use their 5th midfielder (Sevilla vs Banega) differed and ultimately decided the outcome of the game.

Betis seemed to actually take a more attacking shape when not in possession. Sevilla would play as the 5th man in midfield when they had possession but as soon as they lost the ball he would join Molina up front and Betis would actually defend in a  4-4-2. Valencia would stick to a more orthodox 4-5-1 with wide players tracking back and trying to overload the centre of the park

To stop Valencia over running them in the middle of the park Betis held a very high line and condensed the field. Juanfran or Vadillo would tuck inside when the ball was on the opposite flank, leaving Valencia's opposite full back open, but meaning that there was no room in the middle for Romeu, Parejo and Banega to exploit.

It's important to note that Pereira had a very poor game for Valencia at right back. He often found he had time and space on the ball, having 91 touches during the game, but his passing was poor, only completing 77% of his passes. Betis may not be able to do this against better sides

Betis defend as a 4-4-2 pressing Valencia's defence
The high defensive line allowed Molina and Sevilla to press as a pair without leaving too much space behind them. Valencia's defence often found themselves struggling under pressure when in possession. With the middle of the park crowded, Valencia looked for long inaccurate balls. This is what Betis would have hoped for, with Postiga winning 0 aerial duels all game and being caught offside 4 times, with Valencia's front 3 were caught offside a total of 8 times.

Another long ball trying to get over the compact Betis team
In comparison, the front 3 of Betis were only caught offside twice. The Betis wide men seemed to be attacking from deeper positions, where as Valencia's wide men were forced higher up the field and couldn't receive the ball to feet  due to the defensive shape of Betis

1st goal: 9th minute

The high pressing of Betis cuts out the defenders passing options, and as the passing becomes more predictable Betis increase the pressure, leading to a  sloppy pass which is intercepted and leads directly to the opening goal.

Sevilla drops of defence and exploits static Valencia
2nd goal: 22nd minute

Sevilla actually plays deeper when Betis have the ball and plays higher up when they do not have possession. Betis gain possession and he drops deep to find space, then passes through the Valencia midfield and runs past 5 defenders to receive the ball back in on goal.

3rd goal: 34th Minute

Betis have a great defensive shape again, they are compact and as soon as they win the ball they play forward early. They break down left and as Sevilla was already pressing high up Betis already have 2 options in front of them against Valencia's back line

Key points:
During the game Valencia had more possession and a better pass completion than Betis, but were not able to get into dangerous areas due to the hard work of Betis. Valencia failed to use the space they had out wide well enough, and Betis were decisive and clinical with more attempts on goal. Valencia's consolation goal came in the second half, a header from a set piece.

The hard work and pressing of Sevilla and Molina combined with the high defensive line allowed Betis to stifle Valencia. Rather than sit and wait fearing a 3 vs 2 in the middle Betis took stepped higher up to squeeze space and pressed the ball before it could get to Valencia's central 3. Adding to this, the defenders of Betis would quickly start attacks taking minimal touches before looking for a forward pass when regaining possession to try and exploit how high Sevilla and Molina already were

Man of the Match: Salva Sevilla

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