Posts Tagged ‘Real Madrid’

Report: Ronaldo sends United out of Champions League

“MANCHESTER — Cristiano Ronaldo scored the decisive goal as Real Madrid controversially came from behind to win 2-1 at Manchester United on Tuesday and reach the Champions League quarter-finals.”

My AFP match report on Manchester United’s contentious defeat by Real Madrid can be read here. You can also read a reaction piece: Dumbstruck United get Mourinho’s sympathy.

Analysis: Benitez tiptoes onto Chelsea tightrope

“The spine of the side — Petr Čech, John Terry, Frank Lampard — remains largely intact from the team that [José] Mourinho built, and [André] Villas-Boas paid the price for his clumsy attempts to ease players like Lampard out of the picture. [Roberto] Di Matteo galvanised the old guard for one last hurrah and took them to Champions League glory, before he, too, sought to shake up an ageing squad packed with domineering figures. The young attacking triumvirate of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar thrilled as Chelsea stormed four points clear in the Premier League, but they were unable to arrest the slump that ultimately cost Di Matteo his job. The quandary facing Benitez is that the Mourinho-era core has still not been replaced.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on the challenges facing Chelsea’s new interim coach, Rafael Benitez, and you can read it here.

And here’s my match report on the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid that saw Manchester City eliminated from the Champions League: Real Madrid send Man City to another early exit.

Tactics: How the Champions League quarter-finalists line up

The eight remaining teams in this season’s Champions League are drawn from seven different countries and range in experience from quarter-final debutants APOEL to nine-time champions Real Madrid. They are nonetheless united by a number of tactical factors. All eight sides deployed four-man defences in their last-16 ties, while the majority of the teams preferred single-striker formations. Benfica and Milan were the only two teams to play with no wide midfielders.

The diagrams below depict the eight teams’ tactical line-ups from the first legs of their last-16 ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams (screenshots from the UEFA website) show average positions from the first 15 minutes of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

APOEL: 4-1-4-1

The average positions of APOEL's players in the first 15 minutes of their 1-0 defeat at Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

In the first leg of their tie at Lyon, APOEL played in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation and placed so much emphasis on defending their penalty area that they did not muster a single shot at goal until Gustavo Manduca tested Hugo Lloris with a rising drive in the 88th minute. Ivan Jovanović’s side were more proactive in the return leg, however. Esteban Solari played up front in support of Aílton, while Manduca was named in the starting line-up and scored the goal that levelled the tie in the ninth minute.

[Squad numbers: 22. Dionisis Chiotis; 7. Savvas Poursaitidis, 3. Paulo Jorge, 4. Kaká, 98. William Boaventura; 26. Nuno Morais; 10. Constantinos Charalambides, 31. Hélder Sousa, 23. Hélio Pinto, 11. Ivan Tričkovski; 8. Aílton]

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Pitchside Europe: Why do Messi and Ronaldo score so many goals?

“Last season they both scored 53 goals for their respective clubs. Since Ronaldo joined Madrid in 2009, he has scored 126 goals in 127 games. Over the same period, Messi has scored 150 goals in 151 games. The diminishing goals-per-game ratio at the World Cup — an established barometer for long-term football trends — proves that the sport is becoming more defensive, and yet Messi and Ronaldo are scoring at a faster rate by the season. So what’s the secret?”

My latest Pitchside Eurosport blog for Eurosport, on why Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are able to score goals at such a strikingly anachronistic rate, can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Ten questions for 2012

“As the major continental leagues resume following the winter break – Serie A and La Liga returned to action over the weekend, with Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga set to follow suit in the next fortnight - Pitchside Europe looks at 10 issues that will help determine the balance of power across the European mainland in the 12 months ahead.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport, which looks at Real Madrid’s quest to topple Barcelona, Juventus’ bid to prolong their unbeaten run and Borussia Dortmund’s emergence as enduring rivals to Bayern Munich, can be found here.

Pitchside Europe: Does Higuaín cramp Ronaldo’s style?

“The statistics over the last two seasons add weight to the theory that Ronaldo is more inclined to adopt the role of a creator – and suppress his own goalscoring instincts – when Higuaín is in the team. Since the start of the 2009-10 campaign, Ronaldo has started 39 league games alongside Higuaín, scoring 40 goals at a rate of 1.03 per game. Over the same period, Ronaldo’s goals-per-game ratio when he starts alongside Benzema is slightly higher, at 1.125. The assist figures tell a similar story. With Benzema next to him at kick-off, Ronaldo produces an average of 0.25 assists per match. Alongside Higuaín, that figure climbs to 0.41.”

This week’s Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport can be read here.

Pitchside Europe: Valencia – running to stand still

“Improving on last year’s league placing, however, appears impossible. Valencia lost all four games against Barça and Real last season – going down 6-3 at home to the latter in April – and the big two look even stronger than they were a year ago. Valencia also face fresh competition from newly rich Málaga, while Villarreal, Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will have designs on third place as well. Llorente and Emery may have brought a sliver of optimism to a debt-laden club, and Emery may dream of “creating a great team”, but Valencia’s biggest challenge this season will be simply staying where they are.”

My latest column for Eurosport, on the multiple challenges that Valencia are having to juggle as they seek to break up the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly in La Liga, can be read here.

ESPN Soccernet: Benzema ready to flourish at Real

“The patience from which Benzema has benefited at Real may owe something to the influence of Zinedine Zidane in the corridors of power at the Bernabeu, and it is to Zidane that thoughts most readily turn when Benzema is on his game. There is a thoughtful deliberateness and a sinewy elegance to Benzema that recalls Zidane at his most beguiling, right down to the way the younger man cajoles the ball with the outside of his foot when in possession.”

My latest piece for ESPN Soccernet, on how Karim Benzema has managed to turn things around at Real Madrid, can be read here.

Tactics: How the Champions League semi-finalists line up

This season’s Champions League semi-finalists reached the last four with an average aggregate winning margin in the quarter-finals of four goals, making them the most comfortable set of semi-final qualifiers in the Champions League era (post-1992).

The diagrams below depict their tactical line-ups from the first legs of their quarter-final ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams show average positions from the first half of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

Schalke: 4-4-1-1

The average positions of Schalke's players in the first half of their 5-2 victory at Internazionale in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final; UEFA

[Squad numbers: 1. Manuel Neuer; 22. Atsuto Uchida, 4. Benedikt Höwedes, 32. Joël Matip, 2. Hans Sarpei; 17. Jefferson Farfán, 14. Kyriakos Papadopoulos, 18. José Manuel Jurado, 11. Alexander Baumjohann; 7. Raúl; 9. Edu]

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Report: Lyon old boy Benzema gives Real Madrid edge

“LYON, France — Karim Benzema scored against his former club Lyon to earn Real Madrid a 1-1 draw here on Tuesday that puts them in a strong position to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.”

My AFP match report can be read here.

What does Mourinho have on the drawing board?

In January this year, Football Further examined the first few months of Manuel Pellegrini’s stint as Real Madrid coach and discovered that he fielded 16 different midfield and attack configurations in his first 16 league matches. Pellegrini’s time at Real ended in disappointment – despite phenomenal success in the goalscoring department – and a look at how his successor, José Mourinho, has approached team selection in the early weeks of his tenure reveals a very different style.

Where Pellegrini chopped and changed (unaided, it must be said, by injuries to key players), Mourinho quickly settled on a first-choice XI and has sought to deploy it at every available opportunity. Below are the midfield/attack combinations that Mourinho has used in the league this season, in the order in which they have appeared:

1. Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra; Ángel di María, Sergio Canales, Cristiano Ronaldo; Gonzalo Higuaín (0-0 v Mallorca, a)
2. Alonso, Sami Khedira; Karim Benzema, Mesut Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (1-0 v Osasuna, h)
3. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (2-1 v Real Sociedad, a)
4. Alonso, L. Diarra; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (3-0 v Espanyol, h)
5. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (0-0 v Levante, a)
6. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (6-1 v Deportivo, h)
7. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (4-1 v Malaga, a)
8. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (6-1 v Racing Santander, h)
9. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (3-1 v Hercules, a)
10. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (2-0 v Atlético, h)
11. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (1-0 v Sporting Gijon, a)
12. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (5-1 v Athletic Bilbao, h)
13. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Benzema (0-5 v Barcelona, a)

The consistency is striking. Prior to Real’s humiliation at Barcelona on Monday night, Mourinho had aligned the same six players in midfield and attack for eight successive games, and had Higuaín not sustained a back muscle injury prior to the trip to Camp Nou, it is certain that that statistic would have been extended to nine games.

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Tactics: Fluid Real dance to Mesut Özil’s rhythm

As the latest batch of world-class international players joined the assembly line at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu over the summer, speculation quickly turned to how José Mourinho would attempt to shape his talent-packed Real Madrid squad into a cohesive team. Two games into the La Liga campaign, his strategy is gradually beginning to emerge.

The diagram below, a screenshot from ESPN Soccernet, shows the average positions of Real’s players during the 1-0 victory at home to Osasuna on Saturday*:

The average positions of Real Madrid's players in their 1-0 win at home to Osasuna on September 11 (starting players circled); ESPN Soccernet

[Squad numbers: 1. Iker Casillas; 4. Sergio Ramos, 3. Pepe, 2. Ricardo Carvalho, 12. Marcelo; 24. Sami Khedira, 14. Xabi Alonso; 9. Karim Benzema, 23. Mesut Özil, 20. Gonzalo Higuaín, 7. Cristiano Ronaldo; Substitutes: 11. Esteban Granero, 21. Pedro León]

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Tactics: Van der Vaart gives Pellegrini food for thought

The first-choice starting XI may have become an outmoded concept in 21st-century football, where squad rotation is now the accepted norm, but Manuel Pellegrini’s tinkering at Real Madrid this season has been enthusiastic even by modern standards.

The Chilean has fielded no less than 16 different combinations in midfield and attack since the start of the La Liga campaign and is yet to name the same team for two league games in succession. Below are the midfield/attack combinations Pellegrini has deployed in the league in 2009-10, in the order in which they have appeared:

1. Lassana Diarra, Xabi Alonso; Kaká, Raúl; Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema (3-2 v Deportivo, h)
2. Alonso, Guti; Kaka, Esteban Granero; Gonzalo Higuaín, Benzema (3-0 v Espanyol, a)
3. L. Diarra, Fernando Gago; Kaká, Raúl; Ronaldo, Benzema (5-0 v Xerez, h)
4. Gago, Guti; Kaká, Granero; Ronaldo, Higuaín (2-0 v Villarreal, a)
5. L. Diarra, Alonso; Granero, Raúl; Ronaldo, Benzema (3-0 v Tenerife, h)
6. Mahamadou Diarra, Alonso; Kaká, Guti; Raúl, Benzema (1-2 v Sevilla, a)
7. L. Diarra, Alonso; Granero, Rafael van der Vaart; Raúl, Benzema (4-2 v Valladolid, h)
8. M. Diarra, Alonso; Granero, Kaká, Royston Drenthe; Raúl (0-0 v Gijon, a)
9. L. Diarra, Alonso; Kaká, Marcelo; Higuaín, Benzema (2-0 v Getafe, h; 3-2 v Atlético, a)
10. Alonso, Granero; Kaká, Drenthe; Higuaín, Benzema (1-0 v Racing, h)
11. L. Diarra, Alonso; Kaká, Marcelo; Ronaldo, Higuaín (0-1 v Barcelona, a)
12. Alonso, van der Vaart; Granero, Marcelo; Ronaldo, Higuaín (4-2 v Almería, h)
13. L. Diarra, Alonso; van der Vaart, Marcelo; Higuaín, Benzema (3-2 v Valencia, a)
14. L. Diarra, M. Diarra; van der Vaart, Marcelo; Ronaldo, Higuaín (6-0 v Zaragoza, h)
15. L. Diarra, Alonso; van der Vaart, Marcelo; Ronaldo, Higuaín (0-0 v Osasuna, a)
16. Gago, Alonso; van der Vaart, Kaká; Ronaldo, Higuaín (2-0 v Mallorca, h)

Pellegrini’s preferred formation, as he outlines in this video from the UEFA Training Ground website, is a 4-2-2-2. The team’s attack is founded upon a two-man defensive midfield pairing, with two multi-faceted attacking midfielders operating behind two forwards (Brazil lined up in similar fashion at the 2006 World Cup, but with less than spectacular results).

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