Posts Tagged ‘Mathieu Valbuena’

Tactics: Champions League lights up Marseille’s escape route

In the popular imagination, tactical innovations are often the product of deep rumination by battle-worn coaches desperate to reverse the fortunes of an ailing team. We are invited to imagine them pacing around their training ground offices late at night, a half-drained bottle of brandy within easy reach, or perhaps wide-eyed and manic, furiously rearranging salt and pepper mills to the bewilderment of their companions at a swanky dinner. Suddenly, the eureka moment arrives. The centre-forward needs to be withdrawn to a deeper role! The sweeper should play behind the defence! Wing-backs!

The reality, of course, is usually rather more prosaic – tactical shifts evolve by training ground experimentation, or are imposed upon a coach by injuries, suspensions or losses of form – but sometimes, a new strategy will present itself quite by accident.

With one sweep of Aaron Ramsey’s right boot, Marseille’s season lurched from desperate to tragi-comic on Wednesday night. Almost literally incapable of winning in Ligue 1 (where they have registered one victory in their opening 10 games), OM had found respite in the Champions League and were seconds from taking a valuable point from a dismal game with Arsenal when Johan Djourou’s cross drew in Marseille’s defenders like moths to a flame and left the Welsh midfielder with time and space to beat Steve Mandanda with an unflappable finish at the back post.

Defeat was cruel on Marseille, who had limited the visitors to just two clear second-half chances up to that point, although Borussia Dortmund’s unscheduled 3-1 defeat at Olympiakos means their chances of reaching the knockout phase remain in good shape. It would be unfortunate indeed for Didier Deschamps’ slide to slip from the competition at the group stage, for it is in the Champions League that their tactical escape route has been illuminated.

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The 2010-2011 Season: Five tactical observations

Despite being prefaced by a World Cup that was characterised by stodgy, unadventurous football and which produced the lowest goals-per-game ratio (2.27) since the notoriously defensive 1990 tournament (2.21), the 2010-11 European football season was generally a positive one for teams that sought to keep the ball on the deck and play an expansive game. Football Further examines some of the tactical trends that have emerged in the continent’s major leagues over the last 10 months.

1. Keepers with good feet
The recent retirement of Manchester United’s Edwin van der Sar has drawn attention to the value of goalkeepers who can set attacking moves in motion by distributing the ball in an intelligent and enterprising fashion. In a masterful piece for the Financial Times last week, David Winner explained how van der Sar’s coach at Ajax, Louis van Gaal, made a priority of developing his ability with the ball: “Van Gaal… had something more sophisticated in mind: to turn van der Sar into the first ‘sweeper-keeper’, the pivot of his new, high-speed ‘circulation football’ (which became, among other things, the precursor to the current Barcelona style).”

With teams better organised defensively than ever before and attacking players more and more adept at pressing opposition defenders, a goalkeeper who passes the ball well can be a priceless commodity. Victor Valdés provided a superb recent example in the second leg of Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. With the score 0-0 early in the second half, Valdés used a goal-kick to play a one-two with Gerard Piqué – positioned near the right-hand corner flag – that lured Real’s attacking players up the pitch. Upon receiving the return ball from Piqué, Valdés curled a risky but perfectly executed first-time pass to Dani Alves on the right flank, taking five opposition players out of the game and setting up a counter-attack. Seconds later the ball was in the net, and Barca were on the brink of the final.

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La semaine en France: Week 32

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
With an inevitably that feels like it has been building for about two months, Marseille returned to the Ligue 1 summit after a 4-2 win at Mediterranean neighbours Nice on Wednesday night.

Lille’s 1-1 draw at Lorient last Sunday – a magnificent game of football – had given the champions an opportunity to sneak to the top of the pile that they duly took, thanks to a hat-trick from André Ayew and a first league goal of the season for his younger sibling, Jordan. Four days on from their victory over Montpellier in the Coupe de la Ligue final, Marseille are exactly where they were at this stage last season – top of the table with a trophy in the bag and the finishing line in sight. Lille’s hopes of overhauling the leaders may well depend on Lyon’s ability to do them a favour when they host OM on May 8.

Lyon galvanised their grip on third place with a 3-2 defeat of Montpellier. Claude Puel reacted to Souleymane Camara’s 84th-minute equaliser for Montpellier by sending on Yoann Gourcuff in place of Bafétimbi Gomis, much to the disgust of Lisandro López, but three minutes later the Argentine headed down a high ball for Gourcuff to slam home his most important goal to date in Lyon’s colours.

OL are now three points above Paris Saint-Germain in the battle for the last Champions League place after a truly wretched performance from reserve goalkeeper Apoula Edel saw PSG held to a 2-2 draw at Brest. Rennes are without a win in six matches after going down 1-0 at Monaco, who leapt up to 15th place. Marseille’s Coupe de la Ligue win means the team that finishes sixth will now qualify for next season’s Europa League and Bordeaux moved into pole position with an impressive 2-0 victory over Saint-Etienne that suggests their season might not be over just yet.

Ligue 1 results
Sunday: Auxerre 1-1 Lens, Bordeaux 2-0 Saint-Etienne, Brest 2-2 PSG, Caen 1-1 Toulouse, Monaco 1-0 Rennes, Nancy 0-0 Arles-Avignon, Valenciennes 1-1 Sochaux, Lorient 1-1 Lille; Wednesday: Lyon 3-2 Montpellier, Marseille 4-2 Nice

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Tactics: French sides flock to worship at altar of 4-2-3-1

A peculiar tactical phenomenon has been witnessed in France in recent months. In a microcosm of global trends that have shaped the game over the course of the last decade or so, Ligue 1’s top sides have all – without exception – begun to ditch their preferred formations in favour of a 4-2-3-1.

Marseille, whose title and Coupe de la Ligue successes last season were founded on a pragmatic 4-3-3 shape, were the first team to make the switch. For the crucial Champions League group game at Spartak Moscow in November, Mathieu Valbuena was moved infield from the right flank and allowed to adopt the central playmaking role that he covets. Didier Deschamps wanted to capitalise on the fact that Valbuena “is very accurate with his shooting” and the France international proved as much in the 18th minute when he put OM ahead with a precise, curling effort into the top-right corner. Marseille went on to win 3-0, in what was their most coherent performance of the season to date, and their 4-2-3-1 continues to emerge for high-pressure encounters, such as Sunday’s 2-1 defeat of Paris Saint-Germain.

Another team synonymous with the 4-3-3 in recent years has been Lyon. Towards the end of the first half in their 4-1 win at Saint-Etienne last month, however, Yoann Gourcuff was allowed to advance a little further forwards and occupy the role of the classic number 10 that was his at Bordeaux. With Jérémy Toulalan and Kim Källström retreating into deep, central positions, it meant Lyon were playing a 4-2-3-1 and Claude Puel reflected that it gave the team “a certain balance”.

The switch brought the best out of Lisandro López, moved to the left flank in support of central striker Bafétimbi Gomis, in much the same way that André-Pierre Gignac’s best form for Marseille has coincided with the times when he has played from the left in support of Brandão. Occasionally isolated when used as lone strikers, both López and Gignac appear to relish seeing more of the ball and both men are particularly adept at cutting inside and shooting at goal with their stronger right feet.

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La semaine en France: Week 21

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
A handful of surprise results saw Lyon, Rennes and champions Marseille fall off the pace in the title race, while Paris Saint-Germain tightened their grip on second place and Bordeaux ended a six-match winless run stretching back to the end of November.

Lyon’s 13-game unbeaten streak came to an abrupt halt in a 2-1 loss at Valenciennes, with Aly Cissokho the chief culprit in an error-strewn performance and Yoann Gourcuff worryingly off the pace. It followed hot on the heels of a 1-0 defeat by Nice in the Coupe de France and left Claude Puel’s side seven points off the pace in third place. Marseille are a point worse off in fifth, after a wretched goalless draw at third-bottom Monaco that Didier Deschamps branded “rubbish”. Mathieu Valbuena’s absence is already being felt at the Vélodrome.

The most unexpected result of the weekend, however, was Rennes’ 5-1 capitulation at Sochaux. Having previously conceded just 12 goals all season, the Breton side went into the game with the best defensive record in the league but were torn apart by a Sochaux side boasting Marvin Martin, Brown Ideye and Modibo Maïga on top form. Rennes had goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez sent off (forcing midfielder Alexander Tettey to do a turn between the sticks) and finished the game with nine men following injuries to Kader Mangane and Stéphane Dalmat.

A neat finish from Brazilian striker Túlio de Melo saw Lille maintain their momentum – and their four-point lead – with a 1-0 win at home to neighbours Lens. Mevlut Erding was on target twice as PSG won 2-1 at Arles-Avignon, while Bordeaux coach Jean Tigana said his side’s 2-0 victory over Nice was the first time they had managed “two full halves” all season. The 2009 champions are now four points outside the Champions League places in eighth.

Ligue 1 results
Saturday: Arles-Avignon 1-2 PSG, Caen 2-0 Auxerre, Lorient 2-0 Brest, Saint-Etienne 2-1 Toulouse, Sochaux 5-1 Rennes, Valenciennes 2-1 Lyon, Lille 1-0 Lens; Sunday: Bordeaux 2-0 Nice, Nancy 1-2 Montpellier, Monaco 0-0 Marseille

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La semaine en France: Week 14

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
The big guns moved into position in Week 14, with no less than five teams leap-frogging former leaders Brest, while Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon closed to within two points of top spot.

Brest were beaten 2-1 at Rennes in the Brittany derby thanks to goals of real quality from Jires Kembo Ekoko and Jérôme Leroy, and it is difficult to envisage Alex Dupont’s men making a renewed assault on the upper echelons of the table now that their momentum has been checked.

Rennes sit fourth, level on points with third-placed Paris Saint-Germain, who briefly topped the pile after strikes from Guillaume Hoarau and Mevlüt Erding saw them to a 2-1 win over Caen at Parc des Princes. Montpellier went top after Olivier Giroud’s late goal earned them a 1-0 win at Nice on Saturday night, but Lille ended the weekend atop the standings after Eden Hazard inspired them to a 2-1 defeat of Monaco on Sunday.

Marseille and Lyon continue to improve, albeit slowly. It took an 88th-minute header from substitute André Ayew to snatch victory for OM at Toulouse, while Lyon were absolutely wretched at second-bottom Lens until Yoann Gourcuff and Lisandro López were summoned from the bench and a second-half brace by Bafétimbi Gomis turned a 0-1 half-time deficit into a 3-1 win.

Bordeaux also had to came from behind to win, but  they found life slightly easier against the 10 men of Arles-Avignon as Anthony Modeste’s hat-trick set them up for a 4-2 success. Marseille, Brest, Bordeaux and Lyon are now all on 22 points, but Marseille still have a game in hand at home to Rennes on December 1.

The fixture list has thrown up some particularly appetising encounters in Week 15, with OM hosting second-placed Montpellier, new leaders Lille travelling to Bordeaux and Lyon tackling PSG in Sunday’s late game.

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La semaine en France: Week 13

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Great play has been made of the French top flight’s competitiveness since Lyon’s dominance came to an end in 2008, but that competitiveness reached slightly preposterous proportions in Week 13, with just four points now separating the top 12 clubs.

Brest remain top, by a point, after Nolan Roux’s first-half equaliser earned Alex Dupont’s side a 1-1 draw at home to Sochaux. Lille flew up the standings to second as Moussa Sow’s first career hat-trick set them up for a 5-2 shellacking of Caen, while Montpellier are behind Les Dogues on goal difference after winning 1-0 at home to Toulouse.

Paris Saint-Germain are fourth, a point back, thanks to Nenê’s last-minute equaliser in their 1-1 draw at Lorient. Rennes dropped to fifth, behind Paris on goal difference, after Julien Quercia’s 86th-minute winner consigned the Brittany outfit to defeat at in-form Auxerre.

Marseille disappointed again in a 1-1 draw at home to Lens, but although they slipped to sixth, they still have a game in hand. Lyon weren’t much better at home to Nice on Sunday night, but Jeremy Pied’s first-half volley was enough to secure a 1-0 victory that moved them to within just three points of Brest in eighth place.

Sandwiched between OM and OL are Bordeaux, after a 2-1 win at home to Nancy decided by the talking point of the weekend. With the score 1-1 in the 90th minute, Jaroslav Plašil slung a free-kick into the Nancy box and although Wendel used his hand to divert the ball towards goal and succeeded only in pushing it against the post, the linesman flagged for a goal and referee Bartolomeu Varela – to the horror of the Nancy players – agreed with him. The result dropped Nancy to second-bottom, but – incredibly – they are as close to leaders Brest (eight points) as they are to rock-bottom Arles-Avignon.

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Tactics: What should England expect from France?

The press pack accompanying the France squad to England may have been slightly miffed at the lack of attention given to Les Bleus in Fabio Capello’s pre-match press conference, but Laurent Blanc’s side will have plenty of opportunities to make themselves headline news when tonight’s match at Wembley kicks off.

France lost 2-1 to Norway in Blanc’s first game in charge and were then stunned 1-0 by Belarus in their opening Euro 2012 qualifier at the Stade de France, but have since recorded consecutive 2-0 victories against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and Luxembourg. Upon taking the reins following the World Cup debacle, Blanc spoke of his desire to create a France team “that opposes its style upon its opponents”, and although we are still in the early days of his tenure, his vision for the national team is beginning to emerge.

In France’s last game, a rather laboured 2-0 defeat of Luxembourg in Metz, Blanc set France out in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield supporting Karim Benzema and Guillaume Hoarau in attack. He occasionally used a similar system during his time at Bordeaux, but against strong opposition his preference is for a midfield configuration that makes sure France cannot be outnumbered in the centre of the pitch.

“Playing with two strikers does not allow us to have numerical superiority in midfield,” Blanc explained in September. “You can use it against weaker teams. Against strong teams it’s vital to win the midfield battle. You have more options with two strikers but you can only play with one holding midfielder. That can weaken your team.”

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La semaine en France: Week 5

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
It was a case of plus ça change for the big clubs as Ligue 1 resumed after the international break, with Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux all failing to win again. Leaders Toulouse lost their 100 percent record when they fell 1-0 at home to Saint-Etienne and Rennes are now a point off the lead after beating Sochaux 2-1.

Lyon were much improved against Valenciennes at Stade Gerland on Saturday and took the lead in the 26th minute when young midfielder Jérémy Pied nodded in his first Ligue 1 goal. Lyon handed home debuts to Yoann Gourcuff and Pape Diakhaté but were pegged back 21 minutes from time when Gaëtan Bong climbed above Maxime Gonalons to equalise. With five points from five games, it’s Lyon’s worst start to a league season since 1995.

Things are no better for Marseille, although they, too, played some good stuff in a 2-2 draw at home to Monaco. The hosts twice went behind, only for Mathieu Valbuena to dig them out of a hole on both occasions. He cancelled out Daniel Niculae’s opener with a superb rising shot into the top-right corner and then produced OM’s second equaliser with a low cross that Adriano turned into his own net. Park Chu-Young had put Monaco 2-1 up by capitalising on a mistake from Stéphane Mbia, who looked less than assured on his return to action following a month out through injury.

Bordeaux remain in the bottom three after they went down 2-1 at Nice. Arles-Avignon continue to prop up the table following a 4-0 thrashing at Paris Saint-Germain – pushing coach Michel Estevan towards the exit – while Lens are second-bottom after losing 4-1 to Lille in an extremely spiky Derby du Nord. Former Toulouse man Laurent Batlles ended TFC’s winning streak with the winner for Saint-Etienne, who are now up to third.

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