Chelsea: Who is the Blues’s number 10 - Mata or Oscar?

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This has been one of the most talked about cases in Chelsea’s start to the Premier League season. Who should Jose play at number 10 and the two names that are always brought up are Juan Mata and Oscar.

However, Jose has made it as clear as possible that he wants the Brazilian Oscar as his number 10. Juan Mata, who was in the middle of everything last season and the season before is being totally blanked.

For the previous 2 seasons, Chelsea couldn’t cope without the Spaniard in the middle of the park. For his efforts, he won player of the year for both seasons.

But now, he is struggling to get into the side which is baffling Chelsea fans in their whole fan base because of his how popular he has become and an instant impact he has made since joining.


Mourinho’s requirements for this role

The bottom line in this debate is that Jose requires someone who is successful in attacking and can create and score goals, but mostly, he wants someone who can also defend with the rest of his team and track back successfully. Oscar does this brilliantly where as Mata struggles.

For example, one of the stats that came up when Chelsea played Fulham is the amount of tackles Oscar successfully performed winning more than any other Chelsea player on the night with most of them being in a defending position.

5 of the 6 tackles that Oscar performed were inside the Fulham half, something you don’t tend to see from attacking minded players and exactly what Jose Mourinho is looking for. Oscar was giving Fulham players no time on the ball and was pressuring them which resulted to them giving the ball away cheaply.

Many people wouldn’t see Mata doing this and this may be what tempted Mourinho to go with Oscar as he tends to consistently comes back and defend. Jose has said he wants his team to be ‘proactive’ thinking ahead and winning the ball no matter where on the pitch you play. Oscar is very good at this and the picture above shows this.

Mata is more of a quiet player. He doesn’t tend to chase the ball down regularly and might not be the quickest, or the most aggressive but likes to play in small gaps just behind the Striker. The main times Mata would drop deep is to collect the ball, not win it for himself.

Mourinho is full of praise for Oscar as he feels he is highly skilled and loves the way in which he pushes opponents to make mistakes.

This makes him the number 10 wants at Chelsea FC and therefore answers the question everyone is asking.


Juan Mata’s future

Since has hasn’t been playing, the press have been quick to say that Mata is favored for a move away from Stamford Bridge. But Mourinho wants Mata and Oscar to start at the same time and Mata would most probably be on the right wing but Willian is playing very well at the moment.

With Mata on the wing, he can cut in and make chances on press the wing backs. something he isn’t doing but Mourinho will make it click. When it works, it will be impossible to stop.


Written by James Spiking

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FC Barcelona: Possession Isn’t Everything

Barcelona had always battered teams. That was just how La Liga was. They had the history, the allure, they were a big-city team, they had one of the world’s best footballing academies, and they had the money. They were spurred only by their rivalry with Madrid-based rivals, and when Barcelona’s expensively-acquired superstars had conquered Real’s expensively-acquired superstars, there wasn’t much left for them to do.

It was no longer enough to win trophies, and comfortable wins were routine. Soon, scoring four or five on a weekly basis was the norm, and like a master seeking Godliness (or a junkie seeking a more severe high, depending on your perspective) they began to claim a kind of football which would affect the very nature of the game itself.

It’s difficult to pinpoint just where possession-obsession began, and where simply being a better team ended. If Guardiola foresaw Barcelona’s recent brand of side-passing, tiki-taka, end-of-the-rainbow football in 2008 then he was truly a visionary, but it’s easier to believe that he was merely following the philosophy of Cruyff’s triangles, Rijkaard’s tempo, and Barcelona’s quality to its inevitable conclusion. In his defence, the dispensation of Ronaldinho’s services indicate he may have been privy to the secret before others.

Ronaldinho was, and still is, a genius. Flitting in and out of games with his scarecrow smile, he didn’t care about the result, the defence, the 80,000 fans or the team. Genuinely unpredictable, he would stroll around flicking his straggly horsetail until inspiration took him, as if to say ‘hey, you can give me the ball now, I’ve just had an idea for a trick’ - not for him the safe option or pass completion stat.

When his nappy, ghetto-child locks were replaced by Messi’s ‘but I don’t want to cut me hair, mum sullenness Barcelona severed ties with flashy, individualist, playground-emulated football, and paved the way for a brutally psychological kind of winning.

It was during Euro 2008, then World Cup 2010, that possession football, and with it Spain, stamped itself over European football. Excuses of TV money, unequal squads, and being a one-man-team were redundant.

Despite Germany’s burgeoning vibrancy, Brazil’s new-found toughness, Holland’s diversity of quality, and Italy’s new look, Spain’s Catalan core took the trophies with what seemed like ease.

Here they were, a team of stars not noticeably better than their opponents, but with a type of football that had not been played at this level before. Granted, their journey’s were dotted with lucky wins (Chile) and fairly unconvincing 1-0’s (Germany), but a record of three out of three in international tournaments shows it was no fluke.

Once merely a side-effect of playing better, possession became the cause. As if goals could not be scored unless your possession percentage was above your opponents, teams began to pursue possession above all else.

Newly promoted Swansea became poster boys for keep-ball football; a symbol of hope, not only that such a style could be played on the damp fields of English football, but that you could survive the Premiership’s rough-and-tumble pace by doing so.

Conveniently ignored were teams like Stoke, who had achieved arguably even greater successes with fairly sub-standard players for years by playing the most physical and direct football this side of 1978.

Likewise Manchester United, who despite being ridden with problems in the midfield and outplayed plenty of times during the 2012-2013 season won the title on the back of incisive attacking threat and the pursuit of goals above defensive solidity or midfield control.

Yet here we are, Rodgers at Liverpool amongst talk of ‘the project’ and ‘passing the ball along the ground’ as if 10 yard passes were discovered in 2011; Guardiola at Bayern Munich, themselves having reached the top of the mountain and now looking to do it all over again but this time like Barca; and all over the premiership teams delude themselves into thinking their poor results don’t matter because they had the lion’s share of possession.

What began as an interesting counterpoint to the conventional wisdom of pace, width, and dynamism is in danger of becoming staid routine, as teams press vigorously high up the pitch only to recede with the ball safely when it is in their own possession. Matches begin to get bogged down in formality and lack of creation instead of the usual to-and-froing of British 0-0s.

And always that percentage stat, flashed on screen as an indicator for who is actually ‘winning’, when it would be far more useful to see how many headers Stoke are contesting, how many runs Chelsea are making, or how many forward passes Arsenal are playing.

There’s a danger here, somewhere. In the Premiership particularly, where crowd noise rises and falls with every dangerous cross, crunching tackle, and goalmouth scramble - it will be hard to support your team when they actively try to avoid all of the above. The conflation of possession with effectiveness may prove to be a downturn for the sport.

Just as fast courts made tennis matches repetitive exercises in serving aces, two opponents whose primary concern is not losing the ball may make for the dullest football since Catenaccio was the Italian default.

Even when it works, there is something inhumane and cruel about possession football. Like bullies tossing the spotty kid’s satchel around the classroom, or an animal toying with his dead prey as an entree. It is four-parts personality to one-part purpose.

Commentators may talk of ‘tiring’ them out, but the fatigue is mental - to play keep-ball is to humiliate the opposition into submission. Likewise you must succumb to darkness yourself, as the indulgent joy of trying to go on a mazy run between defenders, or loft a 50 yard ball into a striker’s path, is not allowed - it’s too risky, and the price of possession is individual expression.

Incidentally, it was possibly Mourinho’s greatest trick to recognise all of this, and instead of succumbing to the default position of awe that many opposition managers took, turned every encounter into a pantomime of farce. His record against Barca isn’t stellar, though it is respectable, and he stole from them the things they now craved - respect, subjugation, and ultimately, a league title.

Possession football may struggle to take over completely, no matter how irresistible it may be to managers, papers, and armchair tacticians. It is an art that requires its own tools, and there just aren’t enough to go around. Look into the depths of lower-league football (which always betray a country’s innate footballing taste) and see how ill-suited most players are.

Serie B is littered with uncompromising defenders and old-fashioned strikers, Ligue 2 is a patchy mix of temperamental individual talents struggling to congeal, and our own League 1 is home to as many single-minded athletic Lampard-alikes as a country could ask for.

The only country which produces many of the kind of diminutive, close-control orientated, communal-minded characters that tiki-taka needs is Spain (and perhaps Chile, though they have taken a different path in recent years). While the rest of the world may get a Mata, Silva, or Cazorla here and there, La Liga has the personnel, and the style, sewn up.

Our modern, over-reaching distaste for the long-ball - no matter if it’s a meticulously-placed intended pass or a perfectly whipped cross from deep - may have trapped us into this corner of triangular passes.

Our constant search for any extremist method by which we can slightly increase our stake in this ultra-competitive era of football means we’ve assimilated the philosophy of possession football swiftly and deeply.

In a bizarre irony, the more we see our teams struggle to play it, the more it may seem like the holy grail of footballing answers, but in our dedicated narrow-mindedness, we may lose more than we gain.


Written by Johnny Peters

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Paulinho: An important and critical part of AVB’s project

Another Brazilian midfielder is heading east to ply his trade in the Premier League, and the tactical implications of Paulinho’s North London arrival could be indicative of a stark change in Andre Villas Boas’ Tottenham Hotspur tactics.

Villas Boas’ time in England has seen him predominately switch between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3, the former utilized this season at Spurs and the latter used at Chelsea.

His premature sacking from Chelsea and his switch to a 4-2-3-1 this year at Spurs might suggest that his old 4-3-3, most effectively used during his tenure at Porto, was a striking failure. Regardless of how you interpret the reasons for that tactical change, a £17m investment in a defensive midfielder is a huge statement of intent from a team playing in Europe’s second string competition, especially when a number of Spurs fans would have unanimously agreed that Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s underwhelming performances might have warranted a substantial investment in the attacking midfield role instead.

Paulinho will now become Spurs’ third high class defensive-minded midfielder, and it seems highly unlikely that if he, Moussa Dembele and Sandro are all fit Villas Boas would omit any of them from his starting XI. With that in mind, it’s not unreasonable to think that a switch to the 4-3-3- as so effectively used at his time at Porto- could be the framework for Spurs’ 2013/14 campaign.

Rewind two years and that Porto team was quite something, full of flair and individual excellence, exceeding all expectations when it claimed 2 domestic cups, an unbeaten season (by a record breaking 20 points) and the Europa league. It would be naive to assume that Villas Boas’ Porto side was just a team of good players- there were many tactical features to that side, a credit to his managerial ability.

Attacking full backs are by no means a tactical revolution, but Alvaro Pereira and Cristian Săpunaru bombed forward relentlessly. Hulk used his sheer power to cut in from the right to support the superb Radamal Falcao, while Silvestre Varela played a more withdrawn wide role on the opposite flank.

But the tactical highlight of that team was midfield rotation, an uncommon British tactical theme. The system primarily revolved around Porto’s no.6, the excellent Fernando, who tended to bomb forward despite being a pure holding midfielder, switching places with Freddy Guarin who usually had license to get forward, but would drop deep himself if Fernando advanced.

With Joao Moutinho fulfilling an archetypal box to box role, Porto’s midfield had incredible variety, with opposition teams completely unable to track forward runs from anyone of those 3 midfield players.

Alas, midfield rotation- when it works- is hugely effective. Unfortunately, Villas Boas’ time at Chelsea proved that the Premier League was better suited with coping with such a system.

Villas Boas' starting Porto XI in the 2010/11 Europa League Final.

Villas Boas’ starting Porto XI in the 2010/11 Europa
League Final.

Villas Boas confessed his difficulties of applying that system to his unsuccessful Chelsea side:

“Our No 6 [at Porto, usually Fernando] sometimes became a more attacking midfielder and we tried to do that here [at Chelsea]. We decided it doesn’t work here, so that’s one of the things I have adapted. You lose a little bit of balance in the Premier League if you play that way. Transitions here are much more direct, making the importance of the No 6 to stay in position most decisive.”

Fast forward another 18 months and Villas Boas has yet to reinstate this tactic. But that could- could- be about to change with the signing of Paulinho. Whether Villas Boas is directly looking to reassert midfield rotation amongst his team is difficult to know, but Spurs now have the perfect players to carry out the system.

Moussa Dembele is a fantastically mobile player, and is perhaps one of the finest box-to-box midfield players in Europe- the role that Moutinho played in that Porto team. Sandro is perhaps a finer version of Fernando, an intricately intelligent player who almost certainly is able to rotate with Paulinho- should Paulinho operate the advanced Guarin role.

England currently seems obsessed with the midfield variety of a holder, box-to-box player and a playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, with each midfield player playing a well defined role. The genius of midfield rotation is that it creates a far more fluid midfield, and omits having certain ‘specialists’ within the team. Villas Boas might just about be ready to play his trump card again.

On a final, more general note, the 2012/13 season seems to have accentuated the use of the 4-2-3-1. Bar Barcelona and Juventus, 6 of Europe’s 8 Champions League quarter finalists (Galatasaray, Malaga, Dortmund, Madrid, Bayern, PSG), and 5 of England’s top 7 (Arsenal, Liverpool, City, Chelsea, and Spurs) stuck to the system.

Granted, Barca (4-3-3), Juventus (3-5-2) and United (Ferguson played something like a 4-4-2 that looked like a 4-2-3-1) stuck to their own unique systems and found domestic success, but all three teams struggled in Europe.

If not playing the 4-2-3-1 is a path to domestic success by that rational, then perhaps Villas Boas’ acquisition of Paulinho could be a masterstroke in elevating to Spurs to Europe’s elite tournament. It’s still early days in this highly active transfer window, but Paulinho’s arrival could be the first major clue of changing tactical trends in the 2013/14 season.


Written by Mike Butler

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Abou Diaby: Why Arsenal Sorely Miss The Big Frenchman’s Presence

It is easy to forget that Abou Diaby is still under contract at Arsenal. The Paris born midfielder has made just 25 league appearances in the last 3 seasons, troubled by a succession of thigh, calf, ankle and knee injuries, which have always hampered any consistent run of form in the first team.

After starting Arsenal’s opening 5 matches this season he was again taken off injured in the 2-1 home defeat against Chelsea, and since then Wenger has been unable to speculate on a return date, condemning the player once again to an indefinite absence from the first team.

While it may be easy to assume that his consistent absence has long been made up for, his magnificent form at the start of the season- where Arsenal conceded just 2 goals and played excellently in a 2-0 victory at Liverpool- has served to leave a further bitter taste in the mouths of Gunners fans, who again have to contemplate what might have been had he remained fit.


Changing Europe is increasingly accommodating for  physical players

The most important factor to remember when realising the lost value of Diaby is to consider the increasing value of dynamic box-to-box midfielders in modern day football. In an era when passing, technical football is the envy of Europe, physicality is coming back into fashion in order to counter and bully more agile players.

Remember Mourinho’s astute selection of Pepe in a holding role during the El Classico’s last season? Villas-Boas’ successful deployment of Moussa Dembele against Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in Spurs’ 3-2 victory at Old Trafford earlier on in the season? Or maybe even Holland’s aggressive approach during the 2010 World Cup final?

Being a physical, aggressive side is of course by no means revolutionary. Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ were renowned for being a huge team (in fact Arsenal received a shocking 80 red cards between 1996-2010), and Claude Makelele perhaps redefined the holding role while at Chelsea in a physical manner.

The point remains however that a physical approach had become slightly outdated and unfashionable following the rise of Guardiolaism at the end of the previous decade, where Pep’s Barcelona showed Europe how a team of technically adept passers could outplay anyone.

Being physically superior is now once again turning into a European trend, and the prominence of in form physical players is proven. Yaya Toure remains perhaps the finest midfielder in England. Marouane Fellani is having the best season of his career. Victor Wanyama has been instrumental in Celtic’s impressive Champions League Run. Spurs are unbeaten when Moussa Dembele plays, yet have lost 55% of their matches without him.

I could go on- Diame at West Ham, Strootman at PSV, Bodmer at PSG. What would Arsenal do for a player of an equivalent mould?

With a majority of teams in Europe now fielding 3 midfielders there tends to be a trend. The ideal combination for complete variety is to field a deep lying midfielder coupled with a box-to-box midfielder, behind a designated attacking playmaker. The box to box player is essential in this combination, as their role is instrumental in holding up the ball, maintaining possession, and linking attack to defense.

Arsenal were a much more cohesive unit with Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla, despite the individual excellence of the returning Jack Wilshere.

Just look at Spurs and Dembele- without him Villas Boas fields Huddlestone and Sandro alongside each other- two out and out defensive players offering little support to the stuttering Clint Dempsey. Ray Wilkins stated earlier on Sky Sports News earlier this week that Dembele should have been worth at least £20m+, a clear sign of the huge effectiveness of these players at the moment.


Arsenal’s problem

The sale of Alex Song was Wenger’s expulsion of any true physicality from his current midfield. That was not necessarily a bad thing at the time- an Arteta- Wilshere- Cazorla midfield is still dynamic- and Wilshere is good enough to play a box to box role. But the thing is, Wilshere’s inclusion complicates things.

When Wilshere and Cazorla start, Wilshere has a much greater license to get forward than Diaby did, which subsequently means Cazorla has to resume a deeper role to maintain some defensive cover in midfield. This is detrimental to the team as Cazorla is at his brilliant best when he is given a free- ‘central winger’- role, where he can drift out to the flanks to cause overloads, safe in the knowledge that Diaby would be covering.

Top: With Diaby- Arteta protected, Cazorla free to roam.Bottom: Cazorla and Wilshere both get forward: Arteta vulnerable, Cazorla restricted.

Top: With Diaby- Arteta protected,
Cazorla free to roam.
Bottom: Cazorla and Wilshere both get forward:
Arteta vulnerable, Cazorla restricted.

Lets not forget about Arteta- he is not a destroyer and he isn’t particularly dynamic. In reality he is a deep lying playmaker, similar to Xabi Alonso, who incidentally Mourinho partners with Sami Khediera, an archetypal physical box-to-box player. Arteta has never played as a holding player before- Everton always deployed him in an advanced role. Leaving him alone to cover Arsenal defensively is risky, and its no surprise that since Diaby’s injury when Wilshere has partnered Cazorla Arsenal have conceded 10 goals in 3 matches.

Finally- lets not forget about Diaby’s increased significance at defending set pieces, which went onto immediately cost Arsenal against Chelsea. Height at the set piece- both attacking and defending- can be vital, and Diaby’s loss here can again not be understated.

Arsenal’s best performance of the season? No, not the fortunate thrashing of Spurs following Adebayor’s clumsy red card. The 2-0 victory at Anfield- Rodger’s attempted replication of Pep’s Barca was embarrassed . Diaby was incredible (and man of the match); Joe Allen was devastated and had no control over his passing, and Cazorla scored a cracker from drifting out wide.

Perhaps it is more the type of player that Diaby epitomises that is the loss for Arsenal at the moment- dynamic physical players are clearly invaluable to any team at the moment. Add to that the balance, clarity and variety that he added to Arsenal’s fine midfield at the start of the season, and it is clear that his loss has been hugely felt.

With a ‘considerable’ budget for January it will be interesting to see if Wenger chooses to compensate for his loss.


Written by Mike Butler

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Tactical Analysis: A Look At The 3-5-2 Formation

Beckenbauer… One of the innovators of the 3-5-2 formation.

In 1986, Carlos Bilardo of Argentina and Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany came up with a new formation, namely 3-5-2, which was quickly accepted by many experts all around the world. Using the advantages of the system, they led their teams to the final matches of WC 86 and WC 90 respectively. The idea of fighting in the midfield made football what it is now. It made football a more physical game than an artistic one compared to before.

There’s been a lot of talk about this formation, we can all agree that the formation of the 90’s and early Millennium was 4-4-2 and the formation of the last decade up to now is the 4-3-3 (4-5-1), I feel like the formation for the next decade will be 3-5-2 (3-2-3-2).


The Defense

The formation include three central defenders, a right defender, left defender and centre defender who’s more like a sweeper, when defending the two full backs must join the back and form a 5 side defense full backs should stop crosses and central defenders should watch for strikers running behind the full backs. This will give the defense more stability and less holes to exploit by the opposing team.

Central defenders must be able to predict the opposing striker’s next move. Physically they must be strong with good pace. As far as skills, they must be able to pass long and short balls precisely, master ball blocking, tackling and headers.


The Midfield

There are many variations for the midfield in this formation, depending on the players available. Managers can play with 3 central midfielders if the manager wants to control the midfield, or a defensive midfielder and two central midfielders if they want more protection for the defense. Managers can also play with two central midfielders and an attacking midfielder to add more flair to the attack.

The full backs must join the midfield when in possession, therefore you will have 4 or 5 players in midfield, and they must keen an eye on the wingers to not get exposed. This will add plenty of solidity to the centre and protection of the defense.


The Attack

Formation includes two central strikers, preferably one striker and the other used as a target man. The full backs should join in attack and provide crosses and through balls, therefore in attack you will also have 4 or 5 players. Formation can be changed to two wingers and a target man if you have natural wingers to stretch other teams as shown below.

It is very important for these players to be fast and agile. It is also important that these two players are in fairly good shape and have good understanding with each other.


The formation totally depends on the full backs as they have to be in defense, midfield and attack so they have to be very fit and read the game perfectly but modern full backs can provide all that these days with Dani Alves and Rafael perfect fits for the right wing back position and Ashley Cole and Kolarov on the left.

The formation allows you to have an extra man in every position which helps you to control the game. This formation can be used with variant styles and tempos, making it incredibly accessible to most squad types and tactical ideologies.

The biggest worry for a 3-5-2 is when one of the defenders is dragged infield, or gets lost. The success of a back three lies in its rigidity, so when the line is destroyed, the outside two will squeeze in to try and compensate. This leaves massive holes, as there are no full-backs whatsoever. But the formation is flexible, accessible and refreshingly different, allowing modern day full-backs to unleash their attacking potential and reduce the strain on their defensive duties.

The formation recently used by teams like Juventus, Manchester City, Napoli and Wigan, and contemplated by the likes of AC Milan and Arsenal. I have no doubt that more teams are going to implement this formation in the near future.


Written by Marwan Mahdi

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Shinji Kagawa’s Start at United: Unfulfilled Expectations?

5th June 2012, Manchester United secured the signing of Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa from Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund for an estimated £12 million (rising to £17 million).

Upon his signing, football analysts agreed that the Kagawa’s arrival was a signal of a change in approach for Manchester United; Kagawa is a prominent attacking midfielder who operates behind the striker in the space between the opposition’s midfield and defence.

His style is reminiscent of “Number 10s” of old where positioning, flair and the ability to create in and around the box was the key attributes. The expectations placed upon him were heavy, but fair at the same time due to his natural ability, but the question needs to be asked, has he fulfilled those expectations so far?


What was expected of him?

United were a team that played with a lot of width last season, and in certain aspects became far too predictable towards the latter end of the season. Sir Alex Ferguson saw this is a sign to change his approach play in order to make his team a more potent attacking force; Kagawa’s arrival gave United the ability to play through the central zones more effectively.

United lacked a player to link up with Wayne Rooney last season which placed more pressure on him to operate in deeper roles to get involved in the build-up phases, but with Kagawa, United have the opportunity to add variety to their attack.

On his Premier League debut against Everton at Goodison Park, Kagawa was involved in most of United’s attack whether it be directly on the ball or indirectly with his positioning opening space for others. He often received the ball outside the box and played the ball into tight areas, if the pass was not on then looked for United’s wide players in order to keep possession high up the pitch, something he was used to doing when playing for Dortmund.

In total he created 4 chances for United.


Against Fulham however, United struggled in periods to get a foothold in the game, therefore Kagawa was forced to drop deeper in order to build through the middle of the pitch. This was a problem for United and Kagawa, by dropping deep; it isolates the United striker and decreases the options available as an outlet to counter attack.

However in the attacking third this is a common problem for Kagawa as the season continues.


Safety First

The problem Kagawa has had during his beginning spell as a United player is that too often; Kagawa has played too safe when in possession and this taken away the penetrative aspects on his normal game. This in turn decreases the chances that United have to create chances against stern defences and puts more pressure on others to make up for Kagawa’s shortcomings.

Although Kagawa’s stats show his effectiveness at keeping possession, upon further analysis it shows that he often plays with his back to goal and lacks the penetration that is expected for a player of his ilk.

Kagawa averages 90.1% successful passes per game, however has only made 7 key passes so far this season (1.2 per game). For a player that is expected to increase the penetrative aspects of the team through the middle, it doesn’t make for good reading compared to Santi Cazorla who operates in a similar position. Cazorla has a 90.8% pass success rate but has already made 26 key passes this season (3.7 per game).

When Kagawa played against Southampton at St. Mary’s stadium, he showed he can be an outlet for his team. The areas where he received the ball was within the width of the box but in spaces where he could turn and run at the heart of the opposition. By receiving the ball in this area, it caused Southampton problems because they didn’t know whether to press him on his first touch, or to drop deep and allow him to turn and keep their shape.

This was the influence on the team that United and their fans expected on a regular basis.

However a problem has persisted when Kagawa has played, and this was shown in United’s home defeat to Tottenham. Often when Kagawa has received the ball in dangerous areas, he looks to play backwards rather then turning or spreading the play either side of him.

Although this allows the likes of Scholes and Carrick to face the play, it stops United moving forward and playing in dangerous areas. The lack of forward passes from Kagawa stops him combining with United’s strikers.


Relationship with Strikers

Kagawa had a brilliant relationship with Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski and Lucas Barrios prior to him. The quality of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie was a mouth-watering prospect for United fans, and the thought of Kagawa being given the opportunity to operate behind one or both was a major fear factor for opposing teams.

However Kagawa’s cohesion with each striker has contrasted massively, when playing alongside Rooney, Kagawa and looked far more involved and dangerous; however when operating behind Van Persie, Kagawa has looked isolated and has often lacked involvement in the attacking third.


Kagawa and Rooney

Kagawa hasn’t had the chance to play alongside Rooney often this season due to Van Persie’s involvement and Rooney’s injury. However when Rooney was playing as the lead striker with Kagawa as the “Number 10”, both interchanged and combined very well, although they found it difficult to break down a resilient Everton side, both Rooney and Kagawa were at the forefront of every United attack and showed signings of developing a promising relationship.


Kagawa and Van Persie

A big reason for Kagawa and Rooney’s successful cohesion was due to them operating in similar spaces, thus allowing them to find themselves much easier. The difference with Van Persie is that often Kagawa goes towards the ball and at the same time Van Persie is looking for the penetrative run away from the ball.

As the distance between the two players increased, the likeliness of them finding each other becomes less. This was shown against Fulham when Van Persie and Kagawa only found each other 8 times in total the whole match.


What Must United Do to Get the Best out Of Kagawa?

In order for Kagawa to improve, United must start being more effective in possession in the middle third. Players such as Carrick and Scholes are good at ball retention and circulation but have failed to find Kagawa in dangerous positions so far this season.

When the ball is in wider positions on the left hand side, too many times this season passes have been forced into the box when Kagawa has been free on the edge of the area. In general United haven’t looked effective in possession, and Kagawa is partly to blame for this.


What Must Kagawa do to Improve?

Kagawa firstly must become available in more dangerous areas and accommodate himself to United’s midfield. Too many times this season he has left himself isolated and unable to pick the ball in the transitional phases of United’s counter attacks.

Kagawa has to be more risky in his play when on the ball, the lack of takes ons so far this season has also been a cause for concern, and he has only had 3 dribbles successful so far. His ability to take on a player is a major asset to his game due to being able to commit defenders and play into the space left behind.

When in possession, Kagawa must look to turn on the ball and play into space, and more importantly operate closer to Van Persie when playing. Kagawa’s own adaptability will decide whether he becomes a success at United. What will be more interesting is how Ferguson will accommodate Kagawa, Rooney and Van Persie due to Kagawa not being the most versatile of players.

However expect Kagawa to continue to improve and become a major success for United this season and the coming years.


*Thanks to FourFourTwo Stats Zone and for the data and images provided.


Written by Zaheer Shah

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Tactical Analysis: New Swansea - Possession with Penetration

Swansea against West Ham

Last season Brendan Rodgers was given high praise for the style of play Swansea was playing. A high possession percentages and an aggressive pressing style caught the eye of those across the country and were given the nickname “Swansealona” for their similar “tiki-taka” style to the Catalan giants.

However upon further inspection, it could be criticised that Swansea played too safe and played easy possession in safe areas of the field, statistics show that Swansea were the 3rd worst team in Europe’s top 5 leagues in terms of possessions-to-shots ratio, averaging only 12 shots per game with their 56% average possession.

Swansea finished the season with only 22% of their attacking play taking place in the opposition half, the worst in the league and 31% of their play occurring in their own half, the second highest beaten by Blackburn. These statistics show that possession stats can be deceiving, but rather territorial possession tells a more detailed, accurate story to how a team plays.

But regardless of this, Rodgers and his team can be more than proud of their achievements in their first ever appearance in the Premier League. They were an inspiration and a model to other promoted teams that survival can be attained without having to sacrifice pass and move based football, the common theme with promoted teams is that defence and a safety first approach is the most effective way of competing when fighting for survival, Swansea can be proud that they broke this mould emphatically.


Manager Switch, Player’s Roles Switched

In the summer of the 2012/2013 season, Rodgers was appointment the new Liverpool manager with the view of him being able to impose his style with the Merseyside team, Swansea made a greater appointment with Danish legend Michael Laudrup taking the helm.

Laudrup’s view on football is similar to those of the Guardiola’s, Wenger’s and Rodger’s of football, possession football, high pressing, fluid movement and emphasis on attacking through the middle.

As soon as he took charge of his first match, the influence of Laudrup was clear to see. Under previous managers, the wingers at Swansea were asked to provide width for the team, and the fullbacks were used predominantly in the build-up.

This time the roles are reversed, the wingers are asked to come inside and create overloads in areas outside the box and provide support for Danny Graham, the space that they vacate are then taken by advancing fullbacks who provide width and penetration in areas that are usually afforded to them by teams defending the width of their box.
By committing them forward, Swansea ensured there was always a safe pass available if the central areas became too congested to play into; this is a common theme that occurs in teams who wish to play possession football.


Midfield Adaptation

Another aspect that Laudrup changed was the role of the midfielders, under Rodger’s, Sigurdsson was the focal point of the attack and Joe Allen was the metronome of which possession was played through in order to advance further up the pitch.

However under Laudrup Michu and De Guzman were brought in to replace the departed duo and in doing so, Swansea have become more effective in their possession play.

Sigurdsson use to receive the ball much higher up the field and link directly with the striker, this was effective when Swansea were playing a team who didn’t play a structured defence and used a pressing system instead, but was less effective when teams sat deep and squashed the space he wanted to operate in.

In contrast, Michu is more adept and picking the ball deeper, this providing more avenues to pass into. His positioning is a key feature of his game and consistently encourages the ball to be fed to him for him to half turn into space ahead of him.

Michu is a forward thinking player but has special qualities when it comes to ball retention, as you can see from the image, he operates in the same sort of areas as De Guzman, which allows better ball circulation and combination play between the midfielder.

With the wingers coming inside and linking with Graham further up the field, there is no need for a sacrifice in numbers in the central attacking zones.

When Joe Allen was plying his trade with Swansea, his role in the team was to be the link between Leon Britton and Sigurdsson. His style of play offers safe and accurate passing and a good tempo setting ability. The disadvantage of his style is a lack of penetration and also combination play too deep to have an effect on the attacking part of the play.

Laudrup, by bringing in De Guzman, solved this issue. De Guzman predominantly starts as a deep midfielder playing next to Britton but once Swansea are playing further up the field, he follows his passes and begins to affect the play in the upper midfield third.

His passing may not always be as safe as Joe Allen, but is far more penetrative and incisive, Leon Britton continues to be the metronome of the team and supplying passes to the more creative members of the team.


If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

Although every manager makes changes to a team they manage, Laudrup provided continuity in terms of the defence style and shape, the passing philosophy that was imprinted into the club through Martinez and Rodgers and also the behaviour and movement of the striker.

By doing this, it quickens the transition between managers and allows the team to play the way they are used to.

Swansea didn’t have many flaws in their team last season, and anything they did need fixing, Laudrup has attended to it swiftly, only time will tell whether he made the right decisions.


New Swansea

This new Swansea combines possession with penetration, the football they have played so far this season has been a joy to watch and should get better once Laudrup truly makes his mark on the team.

Critics of Swansea last year had justification, but can say little about the new Swansea.

Laudrup has ensured that the team plays a brand of football that he was known to play during his playing career, and has realised quickly that the players he manages may not be the best in the world, but are brilliant at what he wants them to do: “You can’t ask players to do things that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are doing, but you can ask the easy things. Sometimes the easiest things in football, a simple pass five or eight yards, can be the most effective. That, everybody can learn.”


Written by Zaheer Shah

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