Late August looks at Bundesliga and Serie A

Kaiserslautern 2-0 Bayern Munich, 27/08/2010

As per usual action in Germany’s top-flight commenced on the Friday, and for the second week in succession Bayern Munich got things under way. Unfortunately for Louis van Gaal, they didn’t quite gets things all their own way.

Much to the delight of a rapturous home-crowd in Kaiserslautern, the 2009/10 2. Bundesliga champions defeated the illustrious treble-winners by a comfortable two-goal margin.

There was nothing particularly brilliant or revolutionary about how Marco Kurz and his team achieved the feat – the three points were a testimony to hard-work and lethargic Bavarian visitors.

Bayern dominated possession, but met a side willing to sit back and press with gusto in their own-half. Therefore, Kaiserslautern old-boy Miroslav Klose & co. found openings difficult to come by.

Adam Nemec was cleverly stationed in Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shadow, stifling the quarterback’s space. Mark van Bommel sought territory further upfield, though this rendered Bayern susceptible to the counter-attack. Continue reading

Yuki Abe

The team and formation used in every World Cup 2010 game by coach Takeshi Okada.

Having recently tied Portuguese compatriot João Miguel (‘Moreno’) to a three-year contract, Leicester City coach Paulo Sousa is already seeking a rival for him in the defensive-midfield position.

Perhaps Sousa scored a free lunch courtesy of stadium sponsor Walkers – an afternoon spent tongue-tackling the remnants of Japanese Teriyaki crisps lodged in his gnashers then providing the idea of raiding the J-League.

The Japanese market has been neglected by Europe’s more powerful leagues, with suitors presumably deterred by the notoriously brittle East Asian physique, and a general paucity of individuality.

Yet with the worldwide tactical tenor of deploying a sitting-midfielder beginning to engulf England’s lower-league sides, homogeneity as an attribute has burgeoned in attractiveness. Continue reading

Cheick Tioté

Newcastle XI for Sunday's 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Typically British, this scene depicts one of many Steve Harper punts upfield for Andy Carroll to flick on at Kevin Nolan or Wayne Routledge. Carroll won most of his duels with Kieran Clark, creating space for Nolan's - slow - bursts. However, Hughton's bizarre insistence on playing a ridiculously high-line allowed the likes of Stephen Warnock and Stylian Petrov to play quarterback-passes over to Ashley Young or Mark Albrighton. Tioté's athleticism may help United maintain this tactic, as less loose-balls in the midfield will land at the feet of the opposition, and even if they do, the Ivorian offers a better recovery option than the one provided by Alan Smith.

Unlike the majority of their Premier League counterparts, Newcastle United’s squad seems to askew cosmopolitanism. Buttressed by an English spine, you can almost taste its Carling-flavoured depth.

This isn’t to suggest Geordies are a xenophobic bunch – rather, it’s a reflection on a monotonous birthplace-list nestling in a league where Wigan Athletic don’t include a single Englishman in their first-team.

With the signing of Cheick Tioté all but complete, Chris Hughton’s squad is gaining the seemingly-mandatory globalisation-embracing feel the 20 items in Richard Scudamore’s Premier League basket encompass.

The Ivory Coast star will line-up alongside an Argentine midfielder – both of whom will then be in front of a defence boasting a floppy-mopped chap from Córdoba, and a speedy Spaniard.

Tioté joins Alan Smith as the only man on Tyneside to have played under two England managers – Steve McClaren (FC Twente), and Sven-Göran Eriksson (Ivory Coast).

Physically, the centre-midfielder will have no problem in adjusting to the frenetic pace of Premier League life: Tioté is strong, powerful, agile, quick and possesses great balance. Continue reading

Bundesliga round one tactical analysis

1899 Hoffenheim 4-1 Werder Bremen, 21/08/10 (Frings 3', Demba Ba 20', Peniel Mlapa 37', Ibišević 40', Sejad Salihović 43')


Germany’s top-flight didn’t provide any real jaw-dropping scorelines this weekend, but then such is the competitive nature of the Bundesliga and its competitors, rarely do its matches genuinely shock.

What the division does do though is continually excite, and it’s a joy to have it back on the box in Britain. The season started on Friday evening at the Allianz Arena, with 2009/10 champions Bayern Munich hosting 2008/09 champions, Wolfsburg.

Blogs including this one spent hours writing on and pondering over the system McClaren would commence life in the Bundesliga with, so it was a relief to finally see what the former England national team coach had up his sleeve.

Continue reading

Spartak Moscow 4-2 Tom Tomsk

Spartak Moscow 4-2 Tom Tomsk, Round 18 (21/08/2010). Tom sought to congest the centre, and by ensuring their banks were kept close together, Alex had to drop away from Welliton in order to get a look-in. Thanks to Spartak's never-say-die momentum, the flanks became a lethal outlet.

This was an enthralling game that promised goals from the off, before literally slapping viewers around the face with them via Welliton’s six-minute hat-trick!

Overall, Spartak deserved the three points, though it’s a shame the away side’s club-captaining goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko was at fault for 75 percent of their strikes.

His side were 4-1 down until Sergei Pasyakov’s harsh injury-time red card allowed another Sergei, Kornilenko, to reduce the deficit from the spot: a task rendered unproblematic as Martin Stranzl was forced to don the gloves.

Referee Eduard Maliy perhaps felt he needed to make amends by awarding the Siberians a penalty – at 0-0, he awarded then subtracted a dot-shot to the visitors, bemusing all by replacing it with a drop-ball!

Spartak started in a manner suggesting they were still buoyed by last week’s 3-2 *away* win over Loko at the Luznikhi stadium – the same venue used to contest this game.

They made one change from that successful XI, incorporating newbie Dmitri Kombarov after his signing from Dynamo. Aidan McGeady, on the other hand, wasn’t even deemed fit enough for the bench. Continue reading

Peter Odemwingie

Chelsea 6-0 West Bromwich Albion, 14/08/2010

West Brom today completed the signing of Lokomotiv Moscow attacker, Peter Odemwingie. The fiery Nigerian follows in the footsteps of compatriots Nwankwo Kanu, Sam Sodje and Ifeanyi Udeze in representing the Baggies.

As a fan of the Russian Premier League, I’ve grown accustomed to watching the 29-year-old in action. His versatility and volatility always make for entertaining viewing, and he’ll offer Roberto Di Matteo fresh attacking impetus.

Recently, Odemwingie has found no luck at club or international level. At World Cup 2010, Nigeria floundered, while Loko’s recent form domestically has been laughable.

In Russia, the Uzbekistan-born forward has spent 2010 positioned in various points of Yuri Semin’s 4-2-3-1. However, he’s at his best on the right flank as this favours his right foot. Continue reading

Tactically naive Borussia Dortmund?

Dortmund beat Man City 3-1 in a recent friendly - a great trial for the swashbuckling 4-2-3-1.

Jurgen Klopp’s side officially began their season on Thursday evening in the Europa League. They met Azeri side Qarabağ, triumphing comfortably in the home leg. A 5th-placed finish in the Bundesliga earned Dortmund the right to compete in continental competition, and they begin the latest edition of German top-flight football on Sunday against Leverkusen.

The Signal Iduna Park outfit have a testing set of fixtures to commence the season with -after Leverkusen, it’s Stuttgart, before Wolfsburg and Schalke respectively. Dortmund were neither consistently great or woeful last season. Yet in light of their testing entry to the new campaign, it’s worth noting that a poor start in 2009/10 ultimately cost them a Champions League berth.

Such a shoddy start wasn’t the sole deciding factor, however, as coach Jurgen Klopp’s tactics must take a hefty chunk of the blame. The negative, cynical tactics his side were exponents of were overly-relied on, and amendments aimed at constructing a formation capable of taking the game to the opposition proved disastrous.

Continue reading

Sibir Novosibirsk-PSV

Sibir vs PSV could be a tactically intriguing contest. Akin to Diego Forlán at the recent World Cup, Ola Toivonen has been pivotal in the oppositions's corridor between midfield and defence so far this season. In the space of four days, both De Graafschap and Scotland have fallen foul of his charms, and his impeccably timed ghosts to the edge of box resulted in a hat-trick on the weekend. Yet with Balázs Dzsudzsák's absence denying PSV the crucial left-footed wideman option, two right-footers on the channels could play into the home side's hands. Cramping the centre would nullify the left winger's cuts inside, and land-mine Toivonen's hunting ground.

PSV Eindhoven sit atop the Eredivisie table after two rounds of the 2010/11 season, but continental competition-wise, must contend UEFAs second-class competition after a disappointing campaign last season.

Fans of the Philips-owned giants are accustomed to Champions League football, and resultantly, the prospect of a tie 5,000 miles away on a Thursday evening must be difficult to muster up enthusiasm for.

Therefore, fans of the Lowland outfit, so recently semi-finalists in UEFAs primary tournament, don’t really know how to respond to their side’s participation.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Dutch club’s latest opponents, Sibir Novosibirsk. Rock bottom in Russia during a season 15 rounds older than its Dutch counterpart, the Europa League offers welcome respite. Continue reading

Emilio Izaguirre

Celtic's XI for the opening day victory at Inverness.

Celtic are about to complete a £600,000 deal for 24-year-old left-back Emilio Izaguirre. The Honduran represented his country for two of their three World Cup 2010 games, thankless losses to Chile and Spain.

Superficially, the signing looks a bit pointless – Charlie Mulgrew recently completed his return to Parkhead on a free transfer, and started for Celtic at left-back in the opening day win at Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

However, Neil Lennon seems to be aligning with supporter opinion that the freebie from Aberdeen isn’t of the calibre required for first-team duties at the Glasgow club.

Left-back has proved a troublesome role to fill and perform over the past year at Celtic. 2009/10 saw six different players take on the mantle, and now, better late than never, chairman John Reid & co. are finally reacting – a deal with Izaguirre’s club C.D. Motagua is now imminent.

Continue reading

Ajax 4-2 Vitesse

Ajax 4-2 Vitesse, 14/08/2010. Two vastly different interpretations of 4-2-3-1.

Vitesse’s euphoria at an opening day victory over ADO Den Haag was short-lived, Ajax – admittedly uncomfortably – returning to winning ways.

Despite Luis Suárez’s suspension and cover in the midfield conspicuous by its absence, Martin Jol was still able to construct a strong ‘2-3’ as he restored his side to 4-2-3-1.

The 4-3-2-1 deployed against Groningen was shelved because another negative mob of wave-breakers lay in wait for this clash. Yet it wasn’t the formation that cost Ajax in Round One – rather, defensive lapses at set-pieces proved their undoing.

Fortunately for the Fulham-lusting tactician, his rearguard was at full-strength; Jan Vertonghen returning in place of Oleguer. Their opponents from Arnhem were also virile in the personnel department. Well, sort of….

Theo Bos has a minuscule squad, and this *strong* XI had a midfield with an average of <20. Stalwarts Piet Velthuizen (GK) and Dalibor Stevanovič (left-sided attacking midfielder) were excluded, both on the verge of book-balancing departures. Continue reading

Schalke and Magath back for more

How Bayern Munich and Schalke lined-up in the former's 2-0 Super Cup victory recently. Schalke's reticence and aversion to the ball was as rigidly operated as you'd expect from a Magath team. Schalke's walls narrowed the angles, the forwards and Joel Matip penned Bastian Schweinsteiger in a triangular prison.

Schalke’s tactics of score few, concede fewer have led to third and second place domestic finishes in two of the last three seasons, with current coach Felix Magath achieving the latter.

The ruthless disciplinarian is impossible to second-guess, as he’ll relentlessly tinkers tactics and personnel between or during matches, and last season, even removed poor Christoph Moritz 22 minutes after bringing him on in the derby!

Money issues dog the club, affecting transfer policy, budgets, wage payments and the general aura. The club’s Champions League participation this season will bolster the kitty, especially if Schalke progress beyond the group stage.

Balancing Bundesliga and European battles will be tough for the Gelsenkirchen side, regardless of their hefty, youthful squad which has been endowed by the quite astounding acquisition of Raúl.

Save for the ageing Real Madrid legend, strikers are only conspicuous by their absence at the club right now. With Kevin Kurányi lured to Russia, Edu Gonçalves is as senior as the back-up comes. Nevertheless, expect that situation to be remedied imminently. Continue reading

Cologne 2010/11 preview

North on this pitch is Cologne's XI for the 3-2 home loss to Dortmund in January. The lack of width was detrimental, while the position of Maniche was never fully solved. The formation shown in the southern part of this image is the team Soldo sent out for the round 24 clash at local rivals Leverkusen. The lack of width still rendered attacking problematic, but the creation of more banks ensured that Cologne's team linked up more effectively when they did have the ball.

Is Zvonimir Soldo the new Claudio Ranieri? Cologne’s Croatian manager loves to tinker, amending his side’s personnel and tactical layout each week.

Such excess is in part borne from necessity – clubs of Cologne’s middling, relegation-flirting size have to adopt straitjackets when Bayern & co. come to town.

Inevitably, such variety equates leads to vastly contrasting results. Despite corking Bayern and at-the-time table-topping Bayer Leverkusen, the North Rhine-Westphalian side were hammered by both Stuttgart and Hoffenheim last season.

Such thrashings were odd given that Cologne’s inability to score was matched by an ability to render opponents equally impotent. However, the aforecited defeats were at RheinEnergieStadion – their unhappy home hunting-ground.

With more holes to exploit in away games, Soldo’s counter-attack-constructed side were fluid and rampant on their travels. But as hosts, Die Geißböcke couldn’t adjust accordingly.

Embarking on a third successive top-flight campaign, Soldo’s soldiers must achieve mid-table anonymity at a far earlier stage – the 62-year-old club only survived *comfortably* last time out due to the failings of others. Continue reading

Groningen 2-2 Ajax

Emanuelson was Ajax's most potent weapon, forcing Luciano to cover his runs onto scooped passes. The Ajax flyer was aided by Kieftenbeld's roaming. While the Belgian's indiscipline proved costly, Fredrik Stenman's overlaps were coherent and punishing. Like Ajax, Groningen's threat came from the left, but in a different sense tactically - winger/full-back one-twos rather than hit-and-run football.

Ajax squandered a two-goal cushion in their first game of the 2010/11 league season, inexcusably dropping two points. The Amsterdammers can’t even cite the absence of a suspended Luis Suárez as a defining factor – if anyone, it was Jan Vertonghen whom they missed most.

A point apiece was by no means an inaccurate reflection of what was an enjoyable contest for the neutral spectator, one that pitted débutante coach Pieter Huistra against the club whose backroom he departed to join Groningen.

Huistra wasn’t alone in taking a welcoming bow at the Euroborg; Maikel Kieftenbeld, Jonas Ivens and Dušan Tadić shared their manager’s first-game nerves, while Mounir El Hamdaoui made his debut for the visitors.

The Moroccan led the Ajax line well, justifying his selection by burying two awkward-looking right-foot pokes that gave his new employers a 2-0 cushion.

Given the amount of play Vurnon Anita and Urby Emanuelson saw down the left-flank, it increasingly become inevitable at 0-0 that all El Hamdaoui had to do to open his account was time a slide into the six-yard-box. Continue reading

Roda JC 0-0 FC Twente

The systems deployed. Only one out-and-out winger apiece, both intriguingly deployed on the same side. Eric Addo was often caught by the more direct Emir Bajrami, whereas Laurent Delorge had too many defensive duties to really test Luke Carney on the other side.

This early-round scoreless draw was a bitty, bitey affair that failed to reflect the enjoyable attack-friendly mantra of Holland’s highest-tier.

Roda’s minuscule Limburg Stadion hosted this Eredivisie 2010/11 curtain-raiser in a Friday evening kick-off, but if followers of the two clubs or casual fan anticipated goals, they went hungry.

Under Michel Preud’homme, Twente look to be continuing in the same unspectacular vein ingrained by the Belgian’s predecessor, Steve McClaren.

2009/10s champions showed their superiority in spells, but Roda’s dogged determination and impatience at the away side’s cynical melina succeeded in its discomfort-inducing mission.

Both sides were guilty of littering this contest with fouls, and although Twente’s midfield trio all invaded the ref’s book, they brutally impeded any swashbuckling counters from the hosts. Continue reading

Five lesser known Hungarians

The formations and line-ups for the famous 1953 meeting at Wembley

Following May’s 3-0 defeat to Germany, Hungary terminated the contract of coach Erwin Koeman. The new man, Sándor Egervári, begans his tenure next week with an not particularly highly anticipated fixture against England at Wembley.

For next Wednesday’s fixture, the Dutchman’s successor has picked a squad containing stellar names, newbies and trusted veterans.

Akin to the lack of enthusiasm England’s media, public and managers are giving this tie in the build-up, Egervári has named a suitably unspectacular squad.

Fabio Capello’s players have one eye lingering on the imminent Premier League campaign, while Egervári picked his squad knowing that his nation’s U21 game against Bosnia is of greater importance.

Nevertheless, Football League fans will recognise the likes of Zoltán Gera, Ákos Buzsáky, Gábor Király, Márton Fülöp and Tamás Priskin, all of whom will feature at Wembley.

In order to bolster the casual fan’s knowledge of what other players lie in store for England,  allow me to introduce five players likely to cause problems to the 1966 world champions on Wembley’s woeful turf. Continue reading