Werder Bremen 3-2 Hamburg

The first half formations.

Matchday six in the Bundesliga, and the Saturday evening tie saw northern rivals Bremen and Hamburg square up.

Hamburg began the clash in seventh place on eight points, while Bremen found themselves in the division’s penultimate place on a mere three points.

Meanwhile, neither of these sides had impressed in the midweek round of fixtures, with Bremen humiliated at Hannover, and Hamburg brushed aside by Wolfsburg.

So perhaps the watching world shouldn’t have been too surprised by this match taking a while to get started. Both teams sought to give every man in the same colour shirt a touch of the ball, as each tried tempting the opposition out of position.

As patterns and pace finally emerged, the visitors looked more comfortable initially. Confident first-time passing moves were being strung together, often only thwarted at the final stage by Bremen’s snappy offside-trap.

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Cologne 1-1 Hoffenheim

Lanig and Ehret kept the width, while Jajalo and Clemens veered inside to make a three-pronged central attacking-midfield unit.

Round six of the Bundesliga began on Friday night with Hoffenheim travelling north to a ground where they’d never tasted defeat.

Both sides lost in the midweek round of fixtures, but Cologne had sealed a first victory of the season on home soil last weekend, and Hoffe had made a decent all-round start.

The first half began slowly with caution fully in charge of both sides’ operations. Eventually Hoffenheim began to test the waters, and the home side retreated; encouraging their guests to do something with the ball.

Several stabs at ‘something’ saw Cologne’s deep defence put under pressure by the last-shoulder lurking Vedad Ibišević, and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón was forced into a series of clumsy hoofs upfield.

After realising scoops over the top weren’t going to grant the Bosnian room to reach and then use the ball, Hoffenheim decided to let the home side show their hand.

Cynical batches of Hoffenheim melina drew jeers from the partisan RheinEnergieStadion crowd, and Ralf Rangnick’s side only halted it via occasional surges down the right-hand flank. Continue reading

Hannover 96 4-1 Werder Bremen

The first half formations

It’s difficult to envisage Werder Bremen turning in a performance as bad as this one throughout the rest of season. From back to front, they were absolutely shambolic from first minute to last, and it’s not going overboard to suggest that the squad forks out to refund those loyal fans who made the journey.

Although this was Bremen’s third game in as many days, and their back four was the definition of makeshift, neither excuse adequately justifies the sheer array of defensive and midfield lapses, not to mention the paucity of anything of substance from the attackers.

Bremen only managed to get on the scoreboard because of a silly foul during an innocuous floated free-kick. Unsurprisingly, Torsten Frings coolly dispatched the set-piece from the spot, briefly levelling the ‘contest’.

Proceedings began with possession shared, but patterns conspicuous by their absence. Hunger, on and off the ball, was immediately more forthcoming from the home side, but Bremen looked marginally more inventive.

However, after several one-two moves saw the return pass overhit, Hannover grew into the game and took control. The width they maintained was fantastic, and neither Mikaël Silvestre or Clemenz Fritz could halt Moritz Stoppelkamp and Konstantin Rausch respectively.

Hannover’s strikers did a great job throughout too, keeping the pressure on Bremen’s melina-trying defence and forcing mistakes, and staying close enough to the midfield to give counter-attacks cohesion. Continue reading

Anzhi Makhachkala 0-1 Rubin Kazan

The formations that started the game. 4-4-2 vs 4-4-2 = barely a shot at goal, a bitty match with players fouling persistently due to being on top of one another, and an inevitable first half stalemate.

Matchday 21 of the Russian Premier League’s 2010 season saw ninth-placed Anzhi Makhachkala meet a Rubin Kazan side on the warpath after a midweek loss in the Champions League to Copenhagen.

Russia’s 2008 and 2009 champions made four alterations to the team that lost in Denmark, with Salvatore Bocchetti, Carlos Eduardo, Lasha Salukvadze and Vitali Kaleshin either rested, injured or dropped.

Anzhi made a few changes to the side that lost at Rostov last week, though most crucially, their passionate Dagestani fans were deprived of Jan Holenda, Andrei Streltsov and Igor Strelkov.

The match started in a frenetic fashion as both sides kept the ball in the air. This theme characterised the entire game as both sides opted to send goal-kicks towards and often into the opposition’s box.

While Rubin stood their defence on the halfway line during birthday boy Sergei Rhyzhikov’s long kicks of the ball, Anzhi kept banks of ‘4’ and ‘3’ deep in narrow, eyebrow shapes. Continue reading

Spartak Moscow

Here's how Spartak lined up in the final game of the 2009 season away at Zenit (29/11, with the game ending 2-1 in Zenit's favour).

Later on this evening, Spartak Moscow do battle with Marseille at France’s largest football stadium, the Stade Vélodrome.

After finishing in 2nd place in the 2009 edition of the Russian Premier League, this season – which concludes in a matter of weeks – has been a resounding disappointment for Krasno-belye.

Coach Valeri Karpin has too regularly changed tactics and personnel, and defensive errors have been inexcusably frequent and damaging to the nation’s best supported club.

The squad has a bloated look (a recurring theme as there were 80 players on the books in 2003), although the midfield possesses balance – numerous game-changing magicians, a plethora of wingers and several hardened holding midfielder.

It’s in defence though where Spartak lack real quality and depth, as the centre backs, for starters, are far too gung-ho; easily lured into leaving gaps, and shorn of that canny aggression required to fight at the highest level of club football. Continue reading

Tactical titbits

Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Wolfsburg, 11/09/10. Starting XIs.

Another pulsating weekend of football action in EU member states has been and gone, and all we can do is reflect and hope next Saturday and Sunday are just as action-packed.

I began my weekend with two successive 2-0 triumphs – Hoffenheim’s conquest of Schalke on Friday evening, followed by Zenit’s cruise to victory over the downwardly-hurtling Tom Tomsk.

Subsequent to that interjection of Russian action, I found myself back in the realms of the Bundesliga as Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund sought to inflict a third successive defeat on Wolfsburg.

After an embarrassingly lacklustre first-half against Bayern Munich on the season’s opening day (during which Wolfsburg were allergic to the ball or their opponent’s half), positive tactics in the second half at last gave Wolfsburg some identity. Continue reading

Zenit 2-0 Tom Tomsk

The starting systems. Yuri Zhevnov in the Zenit goal had absolutely nothing to do, though was called upon during three occasions in the second half.

Two red cards, a goal disallowed just as play was about to be restarted, tons of show-boating, and a delay caused by excessive flare-smoke: all this, yet Zenit’s round 20 victory was still boringly routine.

In fairness to the visitors, Sergei Kornilenko’s recent departure and Artem Dzyuba’s absence was bound to prove blunting, and despite dropping points and positions by the week, Tom are probably content to write this match off.

Zenit didn’t exactly ooze class, but showed and used it at the right moments. Their two goals owed more to defensive mishaps, but as both came in the first half, they were able to play the second period in lesser gears.

Luciano Spalletti’s side boast an enviable quality of appearing to park the bus, only to dupe us all and illustrate their stranglehold on the game by launching unstoppable counter-attacks.

Both sides started with what were effectively 4-4-1-1 formations. However, Zenit’s was more potent in attack, fluid, and sharper on the break. Continue reading

Hoffenheim 2-0 Schalke

The first half formations

Just like they were during their maiden top-flight season in 2008/09, Hoffenheim are the division’s early pace-setters. After overcoming last year’s runners-up by a two-goal margin in this game, Ralf Rangnick’s team maintained Schalke’s point-free start.

Initially, Die Knappen tore up the form book by dominating the early stages – oozing confidence, urgency and energy, but unable to penetrate a clumsy, panic-infected Hoffenheim rearguard.

Through a combination of luck and the away side’s profligacy, Hoffenheim rode a storm that lasted for the opening quarter of the match, before finally making some vicious weather of their own.

They were aided by the fact Schalke’s defence was as clumsy as their own. Christoph Metzelder had a wretched evening, lacking stamina, fight, awareness and speed.

Magath deployed him as a right-back in a bid to curtail the constantly side-switching direct wing threats of Peniel Mlapa and Demba Ba, but neither found it particularly troubling to evade the former Real Madrid defender. Continue reading

Bundesliga round three preview

Tobias Weis - an inspiration and whirlwind from RCM this season.

Hoffenheim vs Schalke

The league leaders host a side whose bid for the title is already looking splintered. Hoffenheim‘s 4-1-4-1, complete with rampaging right back Andreas Beck, blends defensive muscle, imagination, clever movement, and powerful dribblers. Decisive then narrow wins against Werder Bremen and St. Pauli respectively mark Hoffe as a team capable of clinching three points regardless of circumstance and adversary.

A Friday evening kick-off benefits Schalke as they begin their Champions League campaign against Lyon the following Tuesday. Nevertheless, recent form suggests they needn’t bother turning up to either game. The purchase of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – he and Raul making a Real Madrid benchwarming Old Boys Club – won’t solve the creative paucity in midfield, or deficiencies in defence. Continue reading

Turkey 3-2 Belgium

Turkey 3-2 Belgium, 07/09/10. Belgium's 4-2-3-1 was a very negative take on the system. Facing inside-out wingers, both Vertonghen and Simons could do little bar support the full-backs when Altintop or Turan stepped inside. Lukaku gave Belgium some presence on the right, and Fellaini flitted between centre-forward and centre-back.

A fiery, frenetic affair saw the Turkish national team prevail from yet another of the epic matches they habitually partake in. With two wins from two games, Turkey will push Germany all the way in the EURO 2012 qualification race.

Initially, I was left stunned by the Belgium line-up, as Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Daniel van Buyten and Thomas Vermaelen – all of whom play centre-back at club level – started.

Add to that list Timmy Simons, who can also play in defence, Anderlecht right-back Guillaume Gillet, plus Everton’s defensive screen Marouane Fellaini, and I was convinced coach Georges Leekens had lost his marbles.

However, his players amalgamated into a hybrid of 4-2-3-1 – one winger, a very high-standing forward, a stupendously mobile central attacker, a right-sided midfielder who acted as a third defensive-midfielder, and a deep and flat back-four.

Guus Hiddink was taking charge of his first competitive game on Turkish soil, and rightfully appeased a vociferous crowd by sending his team out to attack with infectious gusto. Continue reading