Liverpool’s 5-0 Victory over Manchester United: A Lesson in How and How Not to Press

Sunday’s contest between Manchester United and Liverpool may not have been a great game, but it was a great lesson. A lesson in the importance of organized pressing. This means having an understanding from individual players on when and how to press — curving pressing runs to cut off passing lanes, forcing to a certain area. This means pressing as a unit — going together rather than one player on his own, keeping compactness as you press. This means having a plan that players are aware of and can refer to during the game — having specific pressing triggers, knowing where to force the play, knowing each player’s responsibility in the press, etc.

Manchester United look like a team without a plan. Against Liverpool on Sunday they showed little cohesion or understanding of what their teammates were going to do in pressing situations. This was Manchester United’s most obvious deficiency and the main reason Liverpool picked them apart with ease time and time again. United looked like a team of 11 individuals rather than one cohesive unit.

The contrast to Klopp’s Liverpool could not have been clearer. Liverpool have built their recent dynasty on pressing — pressing with energy but also with organization. The Liverpool players pick their moments to press and are connected as a unit when they do so. Undoubtedly, this comes down to coaching. The Liverpool players know exactly what to do in their press because they have gone over it many times and it has been tested against every different system and scenario imaginable.

This game provided an interesting look at what happens when you have one of the greatest pressing teams of all time against a team of individuals without a coherent plan of how to defend.

Let’s look at how Liverpool scored their opener. Here, Mason Greenwood is in a decent position to start the press. He is helping to cover James Milner as we can see McTominay pointing and likely telling Greenwood to be aware of Milner’s presence behind him.

However, what he does next is quite confusing. As Alisson passes out wide to Robertson, Greenwood chooses to cut off the passing lane to Van Dijk, instead of cutting off the passing lane into Milner. He also fails to provide any pressure whatsoever to Andy Robertson. This leaves Milner open in space and forces Aaron Wan-Bissaka all the way up to pressure Robertson. Greenwood looks completely lost. Robertson chooses to go long and United are able to deal with the initial threat but just seconds after, Liverpool score from a very similar buildup situation.

Liverpool play the ball back to Alisson who gives to Van Dijk, and Greenwood chooses to press. Greenwood, however, fails to angle his pressing run properly. Greenwood runs straight at Virgil Van Dijk, giving him an easy out to Robertson.

Again, AWB is forced to step up and pressure Robertson after Greenwood is easily bypassed.

This causes a domino effect that results in Manchester United’s entire backline shifting over. Luke Shaw is essentially left 1 v 3 after Maguire is played through, and Liverpool make no mistake in punishing them.

It wasn’t just Greenwood though, each of United’s front four looked as if they had no idea of when or how to press this Liverpool team. Let’s look now at how United handled Jordan Henderson, who played a fantastic game but was repeatedly given loads of time and space to play forward passes.

With Ronaldo half-heartedly pressuring the centerbacks, the responsibility of marking Henderson usually fell to Bruno Fernandes. Fernandes struggled to keep track of Henderson, repeatedly letting passes into him and allowing the Englishman to link Liverpool’s defense to attack when building up.

Here, we can see Ronaldo staying tight to Virgil Van Dijk despite the ball being over on the touchline with Alexander-Arnold. Fernandes is the player responsible for Henderson but looks as if he wants to step to Konate. That gives TAA the passing lane to Henderson who is able to turn and play a forward pass through the lines, in a situation where United could have forced the play backward.

As the play progresses, Fernandes again finds himself on the wrong side of Henderson. Henderson is then able to play forward to Salah between the lines; relieving pressure and advancing Liverpool up the pitch.

Henderson was consistently able to receive the ball and turn up-field with little to no pressure whatsoever. Part of that was good positioning by him, but more so there was a lack of effort and a lack of organization by the forward players of Manchester United.

A great example of that here. Jordan Henderson is able to receive the ball from Van Dijk and carry forward between Ronaldo and Rashford before playing a pass forward to Mo Salah. Neither Rashford nor Ronaldo provide any real challenge to Henderson.

As mentioned earlier, pressing requires energy and effort but it also requires intelligence and cohesion. The pressing from United lacked intelligence and cohesion. Often, one United forward would decide to press without any support from his nearby teammates. This made it extremely easy for Liverpool to bypass the pressing player, with United’s forwards also failing to block passing lanes with their pressing runs.

Here is one example where Fernandes decides to press without supporting players in position to help. This sequence leads to Liverpool’s third goal.

As the ball goes backward to Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fernandes chooses to press aggressively. He runs straight toward TAA. Again, however, he fails to cut off any passing lane and fails to notice that no one is pressing with him. Alexander-Arnold can easily play the ball out to Roberto Firmino and Fernandes is completely taken out of the play with one simple pass.

Fred is forced to slide all the way over to the touchline, and just like that United are outnumbered in the midfield. Liverpool work the ball forward using their numerical advantage and score to make it 3–0. Fernandes would have been much better off dropping and covering Firmino than pressing Alexander-Arnold with no support around him.

Manchester United’s forwards continued to make similarly pointless pressing runs throughout the match. This time, Marcus Rashford is the culprit. As Keita plays the ball back to Andy Robertson, (Robertson and Alexander-Arnold had momentarily switched sides) Rashford decides to press. He shoots out straight toward Robertson, again failing to cut off the passing lane.

Robertson simply touches the ball back to Naby Keita. And just like that, Rashford has completely taken himself out of the play. Fred is once again forced to slide over and cover for Rashford, who slowly walks backwards but does nothing to help defensively.

These mistakes might seem minor because they happen so far from the goal, but the knock-on effect they have is dangerous and we saw that multiple times in the match Sunday. Because of Rashford being played around so easily, Fred and McTominay are forced to slide over. Greenwood then has to slide over and support the midfield, rather than tracking back to support his right fullback. This leaves Alexander Arnold wide open at the top of the 18-yard box, and Liverpool very nearly score their fourth goal from his cross.

Ronaldo was ineffective in his pressing as well. He failed to provide any real pressure to Liverpool’s central defenders, nor did he do a good job of cutting off the supply lines into Henderson as we saw earlier. Like his fellow forwards when Ronaldo decided to press it was often in vain as he failed to do so in conjuncture with his teammates or angle his pressing runs correctly to cut off passing lanes.

Here, Ronaldo decides to press hard following a back pass from Konate to Alisson. However, he does not cut off the passing lane back into Konate nor are their teammates pressing with him to make the press effective.

Ronaldo is easily bypassed as Alisson returns the ball to Konate, who can now turn and pick out a pass with no pressure whatsoever. Ronaldo is left standing behind the play.

It’s hard to know exactly who is at fault for United’s lack of organization in the pressing department. Is it the coaching staff’s fault for not having a plan and implementing it through proper training and instruction? Is it the players fault for not executing the plan or lacking the appropriate work rate to do so? Hard to say just who is responsible and maybe the fault is spread throughout the organization. However, if Manchester United continue to play like this than quality teams will continue to pick them apart.

Liverpool, on the other hand, are a famously excellent pressing team. Let’s quickly look at how they pressed on Sunday and see why their way was so much more effective than their counterpart’s.

Manchester United go short on a goal kick here to Maguire. Salah is quick to apply pressure, but importantly he and Firmino keep Fred and McTominay in their cover shadow (blocking the passing lane). Liverpool have supporting players in the area to support the press and are ready to engage in the next line.

Maguire passes across to Lindelof, and now Firmino applies the pressure. Again, it is important to note how he angles his pressing run in a way that keeps McTominay in his cover shadow still. Keita is just out of frame but is close enough to Fred to jump in and challenge any ball into his feet.

Lindelof does in fact pass into Fred’s feet, but Keita is close enough as the supporting player to intercept the pass. Keita shows us here the importance of pressing as a unit. There has to be players in the second line supporting the pressing players in the forward line in order for the press to be effective.

Firmino is one of the most intelligent pressing forwards in the world. He is constantly checking over his shoulder and adjusting his position to make sure he is cutting off passing lanes.

Here we can see Liverpool start their high press. Firmino makes sure to deny the pass into McTominay and leaves Wan-Bissaka with only the option to play backward. Milner and Keita are alert — they recognize that the press is on and make sure to get into good positions to support the forwards. Their work rate is exceptional.

The entire team moves forward as a unit. Firmino steps up to pressure Lindelof, again keeping McTominay behind him. Milner and Keita are in good positions to make any ball into United’s double pivot a risky one. Salah provides balance on the right.

De Gea is then forced into playing a lofted ball over to Luke Shaw. Alexander-Arnold sprints forward to keep the pressure on. Salah and Firmino shift across as well to squeeze play to one side. Shaw is forced to go backward to Maguire who ends up playing the ball out of bounds. Again, Liverpool show the importance of pressing as a cohesive unit.

Munich Machine: Analyzing the Tactics Behind Bayern Munich’s 5-1 Rout of Bayer Leverkusen



Sunday’s matchup between Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen figured to be an exciting and hard-fought affair, with both sides positioned at the very top of the Bundesliga table – separated only on goal difference. Both teams have started strongly under new managers, but each new boss would have felt that they had something to prove coming into the contest. Nagelsmann already has Bayern running like a well-oiled machine but would have wanted a positive showing from his side after their first and only loss of the season, handed to them by Eintracht Frankfurt right before the international break. Gerardo Seoane has had a great start with Leverkusen as well, but after losing to Dortmund earlier in the season would have loved to get a result against Bayern and prove that his side could match up against the very best in the Bundesliga.

Bayern, however, had other ideas. They scored quickly — in just the third minute — by way of a well-worked free kick ending in a spectacular backheeled goal from Robert Lewandowski. The goals from Bayern Munich kept coming and before the 40’ mark Bayern found themselves up 5–0. After going down, Leverkusen searched for an equalizer but left themselves stretched in the process. Without a true defensive presence in the midfield — Aranguiz and Baumgartlinger were unavailable — Bayern were able to repeatedly play through the lines and create chances. Leverkusen struggled to find any rhythm of their own in possession as Bayern were relentless and efficient in their pressing.

In this analysis we will analyze the specific tactics Bayern used in the first half both in and out of possession to create chances and stifle their opponent.

Creating Overloads

Throughout the first half, Bayern were able to create numerical superiorities through the center of the pitch and between the lines. This was an important part of their success, as it allowed them to play directly through Leverkusen with regularity. On paper, both Bayern Munich and Leverkusen lined up in a 4–2–3–1, which would lead one to expect a match with straight-forward man-marking and few situations in which one team had a numerical superiority. However, in reality, Bayern attacked in a different shape. In the graphic below, we can see how Bayern moved into more of a 3–1–5–1 with Kimmich sitting deeper in front of the defense and Goretzka pushing higher just beneath Lewandowski.

Davies Pushes high and wide on the left, which gives Sane the ability to come inside. Sule tucks inside and becomes the right-sided centerback in a back three with Upamecano and Hernandez. Gnabry maintains the width on the right flank. Goretzka stays higher up and positions himself between the midfield and defensive line of Leverkusen along with Sane and Muller. You can see clearly in this image how Leverkusen were repeatedly outnumbered 3 v 4 in the central zone. This continuously caused problems for them as Demirbay and Amiri were unsure of who to mark. Wirtz as well struggled to deal with the movement of Kimmich while also providing pressure on Bayern Munich’s centerbacks.

In this instance, Upamecano executes a line-breaking pass into Goretzka that would have threatened Leverkusen if not for a poor touch. But you can see how Bayern’s positioning gives the ball carrier multiple options to progress the ball forward. Sane, Goretzka, and Muller are all positioned between the defensive and midfield lines of Leverkusen. This makes them harder to mark and allows them space to turn when they receive possession. It is also important to note the importance of Gnabry, Davies, and Lewandowski in creating space between the lines for their teammates. Gnabry and Davies stayed extremely wide during this phase of possession, which opens the field up and pins the Leverkusen fullbacks so that they are not able to step to Muller, Sane, and Goretzka between the lines. Lewandowski creates space and depth by pinning the center backs.

Bayern were repeatedly able to create similar situations and play directly through the center of Leverkusen’s midfield as you can see in the images below.

Here Kimmich loses his marker, Wirtz, and is able to find Goretzka between the lines. Sane and Muller are both central, so neither of Leverkusen’s holding midfielders can commit to just one player. Goretzka turns and carries forward before finding Tomas Muller at the top of the 18-yard box in a dangerous position.

Again Kimmich is carrying the ball forward and picks out Tomas Muller this time with a line-breaking pass. In this instance, Muller plays it square into the feet of Sane who takes a shot at the top of the 18-yard box which hits the post of the goal.  

Kimmich here is able to find Sane, who one-touches a pass to Tomas Muller who again has space in a dangerous area.

It was quite remarkable to see how easily Bayern were able to cut through the midfield of Leverkusen time and time again. Once they advanced the ball into the final third, they then used clever 1–2 passing and movement to create chances. They repeatedly had open shot opportunities from the top of the 18-yard box. If the defense collapsed inwards to adjust for the extra player in the center, then Gnabry and Davies constantly provided a wide option where they could play crosses for Muller and Lewandowski.

Bayern’s second goal, which started all the way from a goal kick, brilliantly captures how Nagelsmann and his team were able to manipulate Leverkusen and find open players in dangerous areas.

Here, it is important to note how in the first phase of build-up, Neuer is playing with the positioning of a left-sided center back in a back four. This allows Davies to stay higher and wider, which as we saw earlier, allows Sane to come inside to overload the midfield.

Goretzka checks in and finds Muller in the next line. Demirbay is forced to follow Goretzka and Wirtz is slow to recover on Kimmich. Amiri is essentially left 3 v 1 in the center of midfield, and now Baryern have a transition-like moment to attack with numbers and space.

Muller finds Sane who can then drive at the defense. Bayern take advantage of this 5 v 4 advantage. Sane plays Kimmich who quickly finds Davies. Davies has a ton of space to cut inside and eventually assist Lewandowski. A brilliant team goal that started all the way back with the goalkeeper.


Bayern were excellent in their pressing throughout the first half. They were able to deny Leverkusen from successfully building out attacks and they repeatedly created turnovers in their attacking half. Forwards Muller, Lewandowski, Gnabry, and Sane showed excellent energy and organization. The approach from Nagelsmann to press high was brave as it left Bayern more open at the back. However, Kimmich, Sule, and Upamecano were excellent in the second wave of the press. Kimmich’s astute defensive positioning helped to protect the backline and he ended the match with 4 interceptions. Behind him Upamecano and Sule were very strong as well. They were often left in 1 v 1 situations with Leverkusen’s forward players but were able to use their strength and proactive positioning to deny balls into them as Leverkusen tried to bypass the press and play more directly.

ayern pressed in a compact 4–2–2–2 shape. Lewandowski and Muller formed the front two. Their job was to cover up Leverkusen’s double pivot while also pressuring the centerbacks. Sane and Gnabry formed the next line. They stayed compact initially, covering the pivot players and inviting the pass out to the fullback. Once the pass to the fullback was made, Sane or Gnabry would pressure aggressively towards the sideline. Pressing in this way ensured compactness from Bayern and denied Leverkusen the ability to advance the ball centrally.

Above we can see the 4-2-2-2 shape with Lewandowski pressuring the centerback with the pivot player in his cover shadow. Gnabry staying compact initially but ready to pressure the fullback when the pass is made.

Nagelsmann then relied on his defenders to win longer balls played into the forwards, and on his defensive midfielders to block off the passing lanes.

Above is an example, where Bayern force the pass out to the fullback, Jeremie Frimpong. Sane is quick to pressure Frimpong who looks to play forward into the feet of Patrick Schick.

Upamecano is quick to react and steps out with Schick.

He does extremely well to cleanly win possession and knock the ball out to Kimmich who is then able to turn and launch a counterattack.

Again, Leverkusen play out to the fullback, this time it is Mitchell Bakker who receives possession. Gnabry sprints out to Bakker immediately, forcing him to play forward quickly.

This time, it is Kimmich who does well to recognize the situation and comes across to intercept the pass. Again, Bayern can look to attack quickly after winning possession in their attacking half.

One final example here. Bayern force the pass wide to the fullback Bakker, and again Gnabry provides aggressive pressure.

Bakker plays the long ball forward again and this time it is Sule who deals with the ball comfortably. In the process launching another Bayern Munich attack.

The graphic below shows the locations of Bayern Munich’s interceptions from the match.


It is clear to see from the graphic that Bayern were successful in winning possession near midfield on the right side of the pitch. This was a result of forcing the initial pass out to Bakker and relying on Sule and Kimmich to win the longer ball forward, something they exceled at. The turnovers Bayern were able to generate led to multiple chances for them in transition, and were a key part of their success in this match.

Analyzing Manchester City’s Premier League Opener: What’s New? What Went Wrong?

By: Connor Ceballos


Let me preface this by saying we probably shouldn’t judge City too harshly by their opening day performance. A few of their key players were not available or unfit, and that likely had a lot to do with their lackluster outing. It is important to note that City got off to a less than amazing start last season as well, even losing a match early on to Mourinho’s Tottenham in a very similar fashion to the one we just witnessed.

However, it is still important to examine what happened in the contest. Pep clearly has some things to consider. What new wrinkles will he implement into his system this season to keep things fresh and earn results? Let’s take a deeper look at some new tactics observed from this Sunday and see what worked and what didn’t.

Narrow Fullbacks

Against Tottenham, City’s backline remained very narrow during the build-up phases. This is something we have seen from Pep in the pre-season as well, which hints to it being a tactic the manager intends to stick with in the long-term.

Typically, as a team build-up from the back, their fullbacks will spread high and wide to provide width and allow space for the central midfielders to operate through the middle.  The CBs will remain considerably spaced out from each other as well. Take Tottenham for example.

You can see above, when Tottenham are building their attacks, fullbacks Reguillon and Tanganga, are about as close to the sideline as possible. Stretching the field and allowing the three central midfielders to operate in the center of the pitch. This is what we see from most teams that play with a back four.

However, on Sunday, City set up a bit differently.

It is easy to see the difference in positioning between the two teams in this stage of their build-up. Cancelo and Mendy are positioned much narrower than fullbacks typically would be in a back four – occupying the half-spaces. It is City’s wingers responsible for providing the width in this setup (see Mahrez at the top of the picture). Although at times Grealish and Gundogan would pull out wider to receive as well.

What this primarily did for City was allow them to play directly into their wide attackers. Often this would force Tottenham’s fullbacks to pull higher and wider to cover, which then opened up space in between Tottenham’s back four. It also created 1 v 1 opportunities for players like Sterling, Mahrez and Grealish who are elite when it comes to dribbling past defenders. City created fluid triangles up the field consisting of fullback – central midfielder – winger, with Torres in the center making runs into the space when available.

A good example here. As Cancelo carries the ball past midfield, Gundogan comes over to form a triangle with Mahrez holding the width. Mahrez staying wide forces Reguillon to do the same while Eric Dier shifts to cover Gundogan. This opens space in between Spurs’ center backs. Torres sees the opportunity and makes his run in behind. The fact that Torres starts from deeper in midfield makes his run harder to see and predict by Sanchez and Dier. Skipp as well is late to recognize the threat.

Attacking Shape and Vulnerability to the Counter-Attack

City looked vulnerable to just about every Spurs counter-attack on Sunday. There seemed to be acres of open space in the middle of the pitch for Lucas Moura and company to run into after winning possession. It was City’s biggest issue, and with how much Pep dedicates himself to positioning players to prevent counter-attacks, it is something he will be desperate to correct quickly.

Looking at the shape of the team, it confirms what was seen in the match. Fernandinho was often left isolated in the middle, and so if he lost the ball or if he was bypassed by a Spurs player there was typically no one else there to stop the counter. It was exactly what happened on the goal City conceded.

To understand why this happened I think it is most important to look at City’s attacking shape.

Credit to

Above is Manchester City’s pass map from Sunday’s match. What is important to note is Fernandinho’s isolation in the center of midfield. As I mentioned previously, it was often the Brazilian who was solely responsible for snuffing out Spurs’ counter-attacks through the center. This was a big ask of the 35-year-old especially considering that Moura, Son, and Bergwijn are players who excel at carrying the ball and counter-attacking at speed.

The shape seen above is different to what we saw from Pep’s men for most of last season. Last campaign, City often attacked in a 3-2-5 shape. Cancelo (or sometimes Zinchenko) would move inside in attack to form a double pivot with the holding midfield player, while the other fullback would shift across to become a third center back.

You can see above how that shape looked. This attacking shape provided a lot of stability for City and made them strong through the middle against counter-attacking teams. Players were in good positions to win the ball back quickly on the counter-press as well which we know is a big part of Pep’s tactics.

The image above is from the moments leading up to Spurs’ goal. In contrast to the image from last season, both fullbacks are advanced up the field and occupying wider spaces.  Grealish and Gundogan are advanced high as well. Fernandinho is bypassed by an extraordinary flick from Lucas Moura.

Bergwijn is then left with acres of space to charge into, launching the counter-attack that would lead to the only goal of the match. This situation played out numerous times throughout the day. Every Spurs’ counter-attack looked threatening.

Jack Grealish

A quick word on Grealish’s Premier League debut for City.

Grealish started and played the full 90 minutes against Tottenham. Pep deployed him as a ‘free 8’ alongside Gundogan and Fernandinho in midfield. Though he clearly had the license to move outside and interchange with Raheem Sterling in order to get on the ball and use his dribbling abilities. I personally thought Grealish had a good first performance. He maybe did not impact things in the final third as much as he would have liked, but he was positive in his play, carried the ball well, drew a number of fouls, and looked very threatening at times particularly in the first half. He certainly needs more time to fully integrate into the team and into the system as is to be expected. I think the more pressing issue is finding a way to fit him into the team while adding more protection defensively.

Euro 2020 Final: Tactical Cam Video Analysis


England could not have asked for a better start to the final. Luke Shaw rocketed home a volley in the first minute and with 65,000 English fans in Wembley Stadium, it seemed like everything would come together for The Three Lions. England rode the momentum of Shaw’s goal, with their front players causing problems for Italy’s defense early on. However, Italy grew into the game and their two midfield maestros, Jorginho and Verratti, were excellent on the day. Italy began to dominate possession and dictate the tempo of the game.  England were resilient in defense but offered next to nothing in attack after the initial 20-30 minutes of the match. Italy’s counter-press worked to keep the ball in England’s defensive half, and their backline adjusted in the second half to prevent the types of chances England were seeing in that early period.

Extra time saw Italy throw bodies forward searching for the winning goal, and England desperate to keep the score level. Italy got the better of England in the shootout, and while it was heartbreaking for the England players to lose in that fashion you would have to say the better team on the day came out victorious.

In this analysis, we will look specifically at how England’s formation and attacking players caused problems for Italy early on. Then, we will look at the adjustments made by the Italians and the reasons why England struggled offensively as the match went on.  


Italy stuck with the 4-3-3 shape that they have used throughout the tournament. No real surprises here form Mancini. Notably, Emerson got the start again for the injured Spinnazola and Chiesa was chosen ahead of Domenico Berardi at the RW position.

Southgate once again decided to go with a 3-4-3 formation, dropping Bukayo Saka for Kieran Trippier in the starting lineup. Southgate opted for three of his most trusted attackers up front in Mount, Kane, and Sterling, leaving the likes of Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka out of the chosen XI. While there is sure to be debate over whether Southgate should have gone for a more attacking lineup, it is important to understand his logic in picking 5 defenders. While Italy defend in a 4-3-3 they attack in more of a 3-2-5, with Emerson and Barella pushing high up to form that front 5. So, the decision from Southgate was probably to match the attacking formation of Italy and not allow for a 5 v 4 disadvantage at the back. Southgate used the same tactic against Germany, and it worked to great effect.

England Score Early

England got off to their dream start with Luke Shaw scoring after just 1:56’. The fastest goal ever scored in a European Championship final. The goal came after an Italian corner.

Here we can see how the goal developed. Shortly after the corner is cleared away, Shaw receives the ball on the touchline and Kane is left unmarked with plenty of time and space to turn and run at the defense. Italy, still in transition, are out of position and vulnerable. Trippier and Walker see the space and make their runs forward as soon as Kane receives the ball and turns.

A few moments later, Kane plays the ball out to Trippier. Walker gets around Trippier on the overlap, while Shaw and Sterling continue their run forward on the other side. After playing the pass, Kane drives forward into the box as well.

Walker’s overlap gives Trippier the time and space to pick out a cross to the back post. Kane’s run into the box is crucial because it draws two Italian players, Barella and Di Lorenzo. Shaw is then left unmarked at the back post and finishes beautifully. 1-0 England at Wembley.

England’s Early Attacking

As mentioned before, England continued to ask questions of Italy’s defense early on in the match. England’s formation in attack made them dangerous. Shaw and Trippier would get forward to join the front three, which created a 5 v 4 advantage against Italy’s backline. We can see in the following clips how that unfolded and the chances it created for England.

In the above example, England’s wingbacks push up and provide width, creating a front five with Mount, Kane, and Sterling. The presence of the wingbacks help to stretch the backline of Italy, and Kane and Sterling importantly occupy the two central defenders. As the ball circulates wide to Shaw, Di Lorenzo steps out to cover leaving Mount free to run in behind. Jorginho is the one to cover the run of Mount, but he would much rather be screening the backline than defending 1 v 1 outside the penalty area. Nothing really comes from the chance, but it is a perfect example of England’s attacking shape causing problems for the back four of Italy.

Another example here above actually sees Kalvin Phillips stepping up into the frontline momentarily and Kane dropping deep to facilitate play from a free kick. Again, we can see how England uses the wingbacks to create a 5 v 4 numerical advantage, which in this case leads to Trippier being free to receive the ball and cross from a dangerous area.

Another tactic from England that was successful early on was their forwards dropping deep – away from the backline of Italy – to pick up the ball in space. Kane and Sterling were particularly dangerous when doing this. Bonucci and Chiellini were hesitant to track the forwards into midfield and that often resulted in Jorginho being left in a 2 v 1 situation. Forced to mark either Kane or Sterling, unable to effectively cover both players on his own. As we saw throughout the tournament, Sterling is particularly dangerous when given time and space to run at the backline. In the following clips, note how Italy’s defenders are unwilling to step out of the backline, leaving England’s forwards to receive the ball in space. Also notice how Jorginho more often than not chooses to stay with Kane, leaving Sterling with opportunities to turn and carry the ball forward.

These situations did not necessarily lead to any big chances but they allowed England to advance the ball into the final third, and could have led to clearer opportunities with better decision making from Sterling.

In the example above, Chiellini chooses not to step up to follow Raheem Sterling who has dropped off to receive. Jorginho is then essentially left two-against-one in the middle with Kane also in the area. Jorginho chooses to mark Kane, leaving Sterling with space to receive and run at the Italian backline. This was an excellent outlet option for England early, and allowed them to advance the ball into the attacking third.

This next example is very similar, Sterling drops off into space and Chiellini chooses not to follow him. Jorginho is occupied with Kane and therefore Sterling has the time and space to turn and run at the backline. He does not take full advantage of that opportunity, however, choosing to go sideways with his first touch.

One last example here. We see Sterling again finding that same pocket of space. Chiellini is reluctant to get tight to him and he is left with time and space to dribble. Jorginho is left 2 v 1 in the center once again.

Why England’s Attack Faltered

England’s attack looked far less threatening after the opening stages. This occurred for a couple of reasons which we will now look at.

First and foremost, England sat deeper and deeper as the game went on. Italy took control of the game, with excellent intelligence from Jorginho and Veratti in midfield. England defended for most of the game in a 5-2-3 low block, so when they did win possession, it was typically deep in their own half with few viable outlets to advance the ball forward. Italy was very good at counter-pressing to regain possession in their attacking third, but at times England made it far too easy for them by not having the options to play forward.

Here are some examples.

Here, Kyle Walker does well to win the ball back but hesitates and consequently gives possession right back to the Italians. In his moment of hesitation, you can see that only Kane and Mount are in front of the ball as outlets to progress play forward. But even then, both players are marked tightly and are still fairly deep in their own half. In reality there are no viable options to advance the ball forward and the result is a turnover in possession.

Here, Maguire reads the play well and steps in to win possession. However, after winning the ball his options to play forward are limited. Instead of trying to link with a teammate he decides to boot the ball out of play. This instance is quite a good illustration of England’s inability to get out of their own half as the match wore on. The fact that Maguire would choose, in a moment like that, to play the ball out of bounds towards no one in particular shows a lack of confidence and a lack of options going forward.

That was England’s biggest problem for a majority of the match. They defended too deep and when they won the ball, they had very few options to play forward, making it easier for Italy to counter-press and keep control of the match.

Next, in the second half Italy’s central defenders were much more willing to follow Kane and Sterling into midfield. They started to mark more aggressively and it is clear that they did not want to allow Sterling in particular the same time and space that he was given in the first half.

In the above clips you can see the adjustment made by the backline of Italy. Chiellini was given the license to mark Raheem Sterling more aggressively and follow him into midfield when he dropped off to receive. Chiellini was unsuccessful in his pressure in the second clip, but you can still clearly see the change in mindset from the defender. This small change from the backline was key to preventing England from building attacks and finding easy outlet passes to Sterling and Kane in space.

One last thing to consider when regarding England’s attack later in the match is the change that Southgate made to their shape. After Italy scored the equalizer, Bukayo Saka was subbed into the match, replacing Kieran Trippier and effectively converting England’s 3-4-3 into a 4-3-3. This change seemed to allow Italy to defend more comfortably, as they no longer had to worry about wingbacks getting forward and creating the numerical advantages that we saw early in the first half. Italy’s midfield matched up three-against-three with England’s, and Bonucci and Chiellini were able to bracket Harry Kane in the forward line.

In the above clips, you can see how this formation change made it easier for Italy to match up against England in defense. Italy’s midfield players, particularly Jorginho, looked more confident in knowing where to be positioned and who to mark. Bonucci and Chiellini were no longer having to step out into midfield, keeping things more stable in the backline.


England began the final extremely well. Not only creating the opening goal, but in the period after they created chances and looked dangerous going forward. Their attacking shape and the movement of their forwards caused problems initially for Italy.

However, as the game progressed, Italy forced England deeper into their own half and they were not able to consistently play forward and beat Italy’s counter-pressing. In the second half, Italy made adjustments to their backline to limit the effectiveness of Kane and Sterling dropping into midfield to receive and dictate play. England made a formation change as well that made it easier for Italy to defend. Italy controlled the majority of the game and ultimately deserved the trophy.

Premier League Team of the Season – From Outside of the “Big Six” Clubs

With the 2020-21 Premier League season coming to a close, I though it would be fun to put together my own team of the season – but with a twist. This XI will only feature players outside of the traditional “big six” clubs. If you aren’t familiar with the term “big six,” it is essentially a nickname given to the 6 Premier League clubs that traditionally have been the most successful, have the largest fanbases, and boast the highest payrolls in the division. These clubs are Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal. So, players from these teams are excluded from consideration.

It is important to note also that the players in this XI have been picked based solely on their performances this season in the Premier League. This is not a list of the most talented players nor have I considered how these players would function together as a real team.



Emiliano Martinez

Others Considered:

Alphonse Areola, Nick Pope


After arriving from Arsenal in September for a reported fee of $20 million, Martinez has been excellent for an Aston Villa side that struggled defensively in the previous campaign. In the 19-20 season, the Lions used 3 different goalkeepers, none of which were able to perform at a level close to what Martinez has done this season. With Martinez between the posts this campaign, Villa have gone from conceding 67 goals (2nd worst) to just 46 (7th best).

The 6’4 Argentine recorded 15 clean sheets in the Premier League this season – good for third in the division. He is 2nd in the division for both save percentage (76.8 %) and Post Shot xG + / – (+ 7.4). The stats show us just how crucial Martinez has been to Aston Villa’s success this season. He also brings an element of solidity and leadership at the back that is extremely important for any team. He may well be the goalkeeper of the season including those in the “big six,” so it was a no-brainer to include him in this team as well.



Lucas Digne

Others Considered:

Aaron Cresswell, Matt Targett


Lucas Digne has just been selected for France’s Euro 2020 squad and now he’s being selected for my team of the season, what a week it’s been for the Frenchman! Digne has been excellent again this season despite missing some time with an ankle injury. While there were some other very good options here, I have decided to go with Digne because he is both an excellent provider and defender. The graphics show just how well rounded he is.

Digne finished the season with 7 assists, second only amongst fullbacks to West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell (who played 500 more minutes than Digne). The Frenchman has been a valuable asset to Ancelotti’s side this season, able to whip crosses in from the left for the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. Digne is quite good at the defensive end as well. He ranks very highly in terms of 1 v 1 duels and is surprisingly excellent in aerial duels for someone standing at only 5’8.



James Tarkowski, Wesley Fofana

Others Considered:

Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster, Ezri Konsa, Johnny Evans


James Tarkowski

While Burnley have not been great this season it is easy to imagine that without James Tarkowski they would be looking at a drop down to the Championship. The 28 year old Englishman has been immense at the back for Burnley. Statistically, Tarkowski does not impress in terms of passing and ball progression, but he shines as a purely defensive presence consistently showing excellent decision making and positioning.

The chart below illustrates just how good Tarkowski has been this season in terms of winning the ball in the air and not allowing dribblers to get past him. He also ranks above the 90th percentile across Europe’s top 5 leagues in terms of clearances and shots blocked per 90. Tarkowski is a perfect fit for Burnley’s low bock system and deserves recognition for another fine campaign.

Wesley Fofana

Wesley Fofana is such an impressive player. At just 20 years old, Fofana has already become one of Leicester City’s most important pieces. He has been ever reliable for Brendan Rogers this season and has the flexibility to play in a 3 or 4 at the back system. Fofana moved from St. Etienne last October for a $38.5 million fee despite having only made 20 Ligue 1 appearances.

Fofana is an elegant ball carrier and a solid defender. Looking at the numbers we can see that Fofana is very well-rounded and has been crucial to Leicester both defensively and offensively in terms of building out from defense. During the 2020-21 season Fofana produced 5.85 progressive carries per 90 as well as an impressive 3.95 passes into the final third per 90. Defensively, Fofana has produced 2.36 tackles, 1.77 interceptions, and 3.28 successful pressures per 90. The future is looking very bright for the young Frenchman.



Vladimir Coufal

Others Considered:

Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling, Matty Cash


Vladimir Coufal gets the nod here for me at RB after a fantastic season with the Hammers. Coufal arrived at East London in October from Slavia Prague and has been a major part of West Ham’s surprise top 6 finish. The fullbacks in David Moyes’ system are an important part of the attack and Coufal has fit right in, providing excellent service into the box and finishing the campaign with 7 assists.

The Czech international ranks highly in Shot-Creating actions, xA, and crosses into the penalty area. Coufal is also very solid defensively both against dribblers and in the air.  



Wilfried Ndidi, Tomas Soucek, Yves Bissouma

Others Conisdered:

Declan Rice, Youri Tielemans, Matheus Periera, Jesse Lingard, Stuart Dallas, Ashley Westwood


Wilfried Ndidi

Wilfried Ndidi continues to be one of the best defensive midfielders in world football. The Nigerian had another excellent season for The Foxes, recording 4.34 tackles and 2.19 interceptions per 90. Looking at the graphic below, you can see just how incredibly effective Ndidi is as a defensive midfielder. He and Youri Tielemans have formed a delightfully balanced midfield partnership and Leicester fans will hope they can hold on to both of them this summer.

Ndidi has simply been world class again this season and makes my XI despite missing time with injury. He even added 1 goal and 4 assists, not bad for a player that puts in the kind of defensive shift that he does.

Tomas Soucek

Speaking of scoring goals, how about Tomas Soucek. The Czech international recorded 10 goals for West Ham this season, good enough to lead the team alongside Michail Antonio. Joining from Slavia Prague last July, Soucek has become and invaluable member of David Moyes’ side – playing every minute of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

The perfect midfielder for David Moyes’ system, Soucek has the physicality to dominate both penalty boxes. He contributes nicely on the defensive end as well winning 5.90 Aerial duels, 2.30 tackles, 1.34 interceptions, and 3.58 clearances per 90.

Just look how dominant he has been in the air this season. Absolute monster.

Yves Bissouma

I was tempted to go with a more attacking central midfield option here, but I simply could not leave out Yves Bissouma. The Malian has been nothing short of sublime this season, posting 3.43 tackles and 1.73 interceptions per 90 – in fact, no player in the Premier League this season has more combined tackles and interceptions.

Along with his defensive acumen, Bissouma is a handy ball carrier and is an important cog in Graham Potter’s setup, playing in 36 matches for the Seagulls this season.



Jack Grealish

Others Considered:

Pedro Neto, Allan Saint-Maximin, Jack Harrison, Harvey Barnes


This was a fairly straightforward decision for me. While there are some other very good left wingers to choose from here, none of them can quite contribute what Jack Grealish does on a consistent level. Despite playing in only 26 matches this season due to injury, Grealish still managed to produce 6 goals and 10 assists. He has been the main man at Villa Park for some time now, and it is no surprise to see him turn in another great season. The addition of Ollie Watkins to the attack has helped Grealish as well, having assisted his fellow England international 4 times this season.

Grealish is the creative hub of the Aston Villa team – providing 3.06 key passes and 5.63 shot-creating actions per 90. Grealish has been effective this season as both a LW and a #10.  

Grealish is also a fantastic dribbler and progressive passer, with 11.73 progressive carries and 5.98 progressive passes per 90. He is also once again the most fouled player in the Premier League – a fact which points to his ball carrying and dribbling prowess. Grealish is simply what makes the Villa attack tick; he is the player able to progress the ball out of defense and also the one to provide the killer pass at the other end.  




Others Considered:

Jarrod Bowen, Matheus Pereira, Richarlison


Arriving from Rennes this past October, Raphinha has been the perfect player for Marcelo Bielsa’s attack. Playing down the right wing, Raphinha is an excellent dribbler and creator, cutting in on his favored left foot to do damage to opposing defenses. In his first Premier League season, the 24-year-old Brazilian tallied 6 goals and 9 assists in 30 matches.

Raphinha is constantly looking to be dangerous with his passing – providing 2.44 key passes, 1.56 passes into the final third, and 4.33 shot-creating actions per 90. He is a confident dribbler as well completing 2.41 dribbles per 90. Raphinha offers Leeds quality and creativity up front. Similar to Jack Grealish, he is often the player Leeds will look to in order to provide the final ball at the end of moves. Raphinha definitely deserves to be in this XI and he will be the key man for Leeds next season as they look to move into the European spots.



Patrick Bamford

Others Considered:

Ollie Watkins, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho, Chris Wood, Callum Wilson


Patrick Bamford has had a great season for Leeds, proving plenty of doubters wrong about his ability to score goals in the Premier League. He will surely feel disappointed to have not been selected for England’s Euro 2020 squad, but the fact that he is even in contention for a place speaks to how far he has come and how well he has performed during this past campaign.

Bamford notched 17 goals and 7 assists over the season and was a constant presence up front for Bielsa, who started him in all 38 Premier League contests. Bamford is a hard-working and unselfish center forward who does much more for Leeds than just score goals. He works hard defensively and completes plenty of sprints both in attack and defense to help his teammates. There were of course some other very good options here, but ultimately I feel that Bamford deserves the recognition for an excellent season as the top goal scorer in an exciting Leeds team that finished 9th in their first season back in the top flight.

Final XI


All stats via FBref / StatsBomb

Diogo Jota: The next Premier League Superstar?

Diogo Jota continues to impress with every opportunity for both club and country. The electrifying Portuguese forward netted 3 goals and 1 assist in just 2 matches over the latest international break, showcasing elite goal-scoring instincts. In a team including the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix, and Bruno Fernandes it was Diogo Jota who shined the brightest of them all. Jota followed up the international break with a 2-goal performance against Arsenal at the weekend, despite not coming on until the 61’.

Everything the young forward touches at the moment turns to gold. Since making the move to Liverpool over the summer – coming from Wolves for a fee of £45m – the 24-year-old has been an exceptional attacking option for Jurgen Klopp when healthy and despite missing almost 3 months with a knee injury looks to be one of the smartest Premier League signings of the summer.

Since returning from injury Jota has been excellent. Klopp will surely have a hard time leaving him out of the starting lineup for the upcoming Champions League tie against Real Madrid – the Portuguese star could be the perfect x-factor against the Spanish side. However, Jota needs to be in the starting 11 beyond that matchup. He gives Liverpool a spark and energy that they have often lacked this season. Much more than just a forward who happens to be hitting a good patch of form, Jota is an incredibly talented and intelligent attacker with all the tools to become a true superstar in European football. In this article we will look at what makes him such an effective goal scorer and why he is ready to step into the Liverpool starting 11 and join world football’s elite.

What Makes Jota so Dangerous?

Jota has several of the characteristics needed in a great goal scorer. His movement in and around the penalty area is exceptional; able to find space for himself and arrive at the perfect time to finish attacking moves. Jota also possesses the technique to play in tight areas. His first touch is elite and he has the ability to create a yard of space to shoot off of the dribble. Finally, Jota is an excellent finisher who consistently outperforms his xG. He has the ability to finish with either foot and has a knack for driving balls low and hard into the corner of the goal. Despite not being particularly tall at 5’10, Jota is surprisingly adept at winning headers in the box as well which we will see later on.


Jota is excellent at finding and attacking space in the final third. He uses a variety of runs and has the versatility to take up different positions in attack. His combination of quickness and awareness allows him to receive the ball in threatening positions. A common run that Jota utilizes is the out-to-in run from either half space. We can see that here in his second goal against Serbia.

When the ball is played out wide to Cedric, Jota realizes there is space to exploit between the Serbian center backs. Stefan Mitrovic of Serbia is pulled away from the area by the run of Bruno Fernandes, leaving a gap in the defense. Jota has the quickness and intelligence to exploit the space.  

Because of the intelligent run, Jota is able to score an unchallenged header from the penalty spot, finding the bottom left corner and beating keeper Marko Dmitrovic.

Next, we will look at his first of 3 goals against Atalanta in the group stage of the Champions League. Jota was fantastic in this match, stepping into the center forward position this time and showcasing his versatility in attack. In the picture below you can see Jota once again recognizing and exploiting the open space. This time he makes an inside-to-out run in behind the defense. Atalanta’s left center back Djimsiti steps out of the defensive line to mark Curtis Jones, leaving the gap in behind for Jota to run in to. With Atalanta’s left wing-back keeping him onside, Jota points to the space indicating to teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold exactly where he wants the ball delivered.

After making the run he then has the pace and power to fight off the Atalanta defender and finish with his left foot to open the scoring in Liverpool’s favor.

As you can see Jota is able to affect the game from multiple spots on the field and can exploit spaces with different types of runs – a nightmare for the defense. His intelligent movement shows up in the stat sheet as well. Since joining Liverpool, Jota averages 10.7 progressive passes received per 90 in all competitions, along with 6.5 touches in the attacking penalty area per 90 – putting him above the 80th percentile in both categories across Europe’s top 5 leagues. The numbers suggest Jota is a player who constantly looks to receive the ball in dangerous areas and make runs into space in the final third.

Ball Control

The next part of Jota’s game that we will be looking at is his ball control ability. Jota is an elite ball carrier and dribbler. With 6.41 progressive carries per 90 and 1.64 dribbles completed per 90, he is supremely comfortable with the ball at his feet. This talent carries into the penalty area where Jota uses his technical quality to evade defenders and create the space necessary to shoot.

His first touch is excellent as well, allowing him to control balls out of the air with precision despite pressure from defenders. This is one of his most important qualities and allows him to score goals that other players would not be able to. We can see a great example of his deadly first touch here in his second goal against Atalanta from their Champions League clash.

Again, we see excellent movement in behind the defense. But what makes this goal special is Jota’s ability to control and score with just 2 touches from a difficult angle. Able to shift the ball from one side to the other at speed and get on the end of it before the defender can adjust.    

Next, we will look at an example of how Jota uses his technical quality to navigate a crowded penalty area.  

Here, Jota finds a pocket of space in the defense just above the penalty area but still has plenty to do as there are 5 Brighton defenders in the area ready to converge on the ball.

In the clip below you can see how Jota first identifies and moves into the pocket of space to receive the ball from Salah. His first touch is superb, taking the ball away from the first tackler and in between 2 defenders. He then has the quality and composure to evade the next defender and wait for the opening to goal, finding the bottom left corner and splitting the Seagulls last line of defense.

This ability to keep the ball close in the penalty area makes Jota extremely dangerous, even more so in today’s game with VAR making defenders hesitant to put tackles in.


Of all the qualities of Jota’s game maybe the most impressive is his finishing ability. The former Wolves star is extremely clinical in the final third. What makes him so special in the finishing department is the ability to use both feet to deadly effect. Despite being listed as a right-footed player, Jota scores at very nearly the same rate with his left and is one of the true two footed players in world football. This ambidextrous quality gives him the ability to play anywhere along Liverpool’s front 3 without limiting his goalscoring potential.

As you can see in the graphic below, Jota is more than comfortable with either foot. Since 2018-19 he has actually attempted more shots with his left foot which is quite incredible for a right-footed player.

The xG numbers indicate that Jota is slightly more proficient with his right but not by much. As an inverted left-forward, (Jota’s most-used position) he has the ability to cut in and shoot with his right or stay outside and finish with his left. The xG shot map below helps to paint a better picture. Jota attempts the majority of his left-footed shots from the left-hand side, using the left-footed shot as a counter-option to cutting inside. This ability to go either way puts defenders in a tough spot and makes him that much harder to defend.

Jota also scores quite often from right in front of goal, particularly with his right foot. This points to a player who knows how to time his runs into the box and get on the end of crosses.

Credit: Squawka

Let’s look at Jota’s shot placement next. He has a talent for driving the ball hard and low into the bottom left corner of the goal. Utilizing the bottom corners is something we see in many of the great goal scorers. These shots are extremely difficult for a goalkeeper and Jota knows how to exploit this area with either foot.

Credit: twenty3

Here we can see two great examples from Jota’s time at Wolves. These clips demonstrate the ability to finish from the left channel with either foot. This ability puts defenders in a predicament – Jota is more than happy to finish with whichever foot that he is given space to shoot with.

Against Manchester United the defender is left in a 1v1 situation and chooses to cut off the inside, not allowing Jota to shift the ball over onto his right foot. However, Jota is happy to drive forward and finish with his left. Still able to pick out his favorite bottom left corner.

Against Espanyol, Jota is given the space to cut inside instead and is able to finish just as clinically with his right foot into the same corner.

Lastly, although not a dominant aerial presence at just 5’10, Jota is still a threat to score with his head. In fact, 3 of his last 4 goals have come from headers – showing great improvement in this area of his game. He has fantastic awareness in the penalty area as we have seen, which allows him to settle into open spaces before a cross, giving him free heading opportunities.

In the images above you can see how Jota is proactive in his positioning before crosses come in – finding space in between defenders. Here, in both of his recent headed goals for Portugal, Jota settles into the space between defenders when he sees the opportunity for the ball to come into the box. This is key as it allows Jota to get free headers in the box where he otherwise would have contend with much taller central defenders.  


Diogo Jota has been in fantastic goal scoring form when healthy this season, but it is not by luck or by chance. He combines extraordinary talent with excellent awareness and intelligence – consistently putting himself in positions to score goals. He is a true triple threat in the penalty area able to score with his left foot, right foot, and from headers.

With rumors surrounding Mohammed Salah’s future at Anfield, Liverpool may soon turn to the young Portuguese attacker to fill his shoes. If that is case, Jota can be the perfect replacement, equipped with all the tools necessary to step into Salah’s role as the side’s primary goal scoring threat. But those transfer rumors may never materialize and even if Salah stays put Klopp would be wise to feature Jota more regularly moving forward. He is proving his ability and his consistency each time he steps on the pitch and could be a key figure in The Red’s attack for years to come.    

Atletico Madrid v. Chelsea: How The Blues Scored a Crucial Away Goal Despite Simeone’s 6-Man Defense

Atletico Madrid and Chelsea faced off on Tuesday night in Bucharest in what figured to be an interesting matchup between serious Champions League contenders. Atletico currently sit atop La Liga but have seen their form take a slight dip in recent weeks; having won just 1 of their previous 4 games leading up to this contest. Injuries are a problem for Atletico at the moment as well, and they would be without key figures Kieran Trippier and Yannick Carrasco in this match. Chelsea, on the other hand, have yet to lose a game under Thomas Tuchel. The new boss has transformed the style and shape in which Chelsea play and has given new life to players like Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta, and Callum Hudson-Odoi – players who struggled for minutes under Frank Lampard. As a result, Chelsea may have entered the contest as the more confident side, but any team that faces off against Atletico knows they are in for a tough battle.

It became clear early on in the contest that Simeone and his men did not want to concede an all-important away goal to Chelsea (Atletico were technically the home side despite the game being played on a neutral ground). Atletico set up their low block with a 6-3-1 formation and put the onus on the Blues to break them down. Chelsea went to work doing just that and eventually they got their away goal in the form of an extraordinary overhead kick from the ever-reliable Olivier Giroud.

Starting Lineups

In possesion, Atletico lined up in a back 3, which turned into a back 6 when defending deep. Oblak covered the goal, with Hermoso, Felipe, and Savic in front of him in defense. With Carrasco and Trippier unavailable for this match, Simeone surprised many by using Lemar and

Llorente as wingbacks. Both of whom are usually deployed higher up the pitch. In the center of midfield Simeone opted to for the experienced Koke and Saul Niguez. In front of them were Correa (who was tasked with coming back to the wingback position when defending), Joao Felix, and Luis Suarez.

Tuchel and Chelsea stuck with their 3-4-1-2 / 3-4-2-1 shape. Tuchel has used this system consistently since taking charge of the team. Tuchel opted for Mendy in goal, with Azpilicueta, Christensen, and Rudiger in front of him forming the back 3. Hudson-Odoi and Marcos Alonso played in the wingback positions. Jorginho and Kovacic formed the central midfield pairing with Mason Mount, Timo Werner, and Olivier Giroud up front.

Atletico’s Defensive Tactics

Atletico’s defensive strategy became clear early on in the game; in their own half they would set up in a 6-3-1 and be tremendously difficult to break down, but higher up the pitch they looked to press aggressively and force turnovers and mistakes. Early on in the game this pressing was quite effective and led to a couple of quality chances for the Spanish side.  

Just 1:50 into the match, Atletico show their pressing intensity and force Mendy into a dangerous mistake. Here, Lemar is quick to pressure the back pass to Azpilicueta with Saul and Koke joining in. The two central midfielders were integral to Atletico’s press throughout the night and caused Chelsea problems with their work rate. Atleti’s attackers cut off the right side of the field forcing the ball back to the middle. 

The team shifts over as the ball is played, and Saul continues his run to pressure the keeper. Mendy’s touch is poor, and Saul is able to win the ball. Unfortunately for Atletico, Saul’s touch takes him away from goal and he is not able to capitalize on the error. Chelsea were lucky not to be down 1-0 early. Mendy made a few mistakes throughout the night and looked susceptible to the press.

Another effective tactic deployed by Simeone was encouraging his outside CBs to step out of the backline to follow Chelsea’s attacking midfielders, Mount and Werner. They did this when set up in their low block but also at times when pressing higher up the pitch. Since Tuchel has taken over, Chelsea have found success creating overloads in midfield and Atletico was determined to deny that advantage.

Here, we again see intense pressing from Atletico; triggered when the ball gets played backward from Kovacic.

Suarez and Felix have stepped up to pressure Chelsea’s backline. Saul and Koke pressure Jorginho from either side when he receives the ball. Typically, this would leave Mount open in space as he makes a run to the right side of the pitch, however Hermoso smartly steps up and out of the backline and is able to intercept when the ball is played there.

Because of Atletico’s shape, Hermoso is able to step up out of defense without leaving the backline exposed. There are still 3 Atleti defenders deep behind Hermoso able to deal with the threat of Giroud and Werner. Meanwhile, Atletico are able to create an overload in midfield and cause the turnover with Hermoso joining in and denying the outlet ball to Mount. This interception leads directly to a cross by Felix and a chance for Correa at the back post.

So, we have seen how Atletico defended higher up the pitch with their pressing game. Now let us look at how they defended in their own half.

Atletico used this 6-3-1 shape when defending deeper in their own half. On the right side, Correa dropped back to the wing-back position, with Llorente tucking inside of him. Lemar came back similarly on the left side to form the back 6. Saul, Koke, and Felix shielded the backline in front of them, shifting from side to side with the ball. Suarez was at the head of the midfield trio forming a diamond shape. He would look to apply pressure to the Chelsea’s CBs and also deny the ball into Jorginho at the pivot spot. 

Chelsea struggled to break down Atletico’s low-block all night. In fact, they never really did with their lone goal coming from transition play. Typically, when Chelsea’s wingbacks join the attack, they are able to create a 5 v 4 overload with their front line when facing opponents who play with a back 4. But against Atletico they were actually facing an overload themselves – 6 v 5. I believe that is the main reason why Simeone went with this system, and it worked to frustrate the Blues, particularly in the first half. Now let’s look at what made it effective.

It was clear that Atletico wanted to limit the threat of Werner and Mount. Understandably so, the two of them are some of Chelsea’s most dangerous players; Mount in particular has been in

great form lately and is often the engine of the Chelsea attack. Like we saw earlier, Atleti’s outside CBs followed these players further up the pitch when pressing. Similarly, they tracked these players in their low-block setup as well, following them if they dropped off looking to pick up the ball in space.

Here, Hermoso is once again stepping out of the backline to cover Mount who has shown to be very dangerous when given space to turn and run at defenders.

And in this case it is Llorente on the near side stepping out to cover Werner. Again, denying a dangerous dribbler the space to turn and run at the backline.

Using a back 6 and giving the CBs freedom to step up was a clever way Simeone denied Chelsea their midfield overloads and slowed down Chelsea’s most dangerous attackers.

Suarez and Atletico’s midfield trio were also integral to Simeone’s defensive tactics. Koke and Felix marked the attacking midfielders at times as well, with Saul blocking the passing lanes to Giroud in the center. Koke, in particular showed a fantastic work rate – closing players down in his own half and pressing intensely in the opposing half; he led the team with 4 successful tackles in the game. In this example the diamond has shifted to the far side of the field. Felix is able to deny the pass to Mount while Saul cuts off the option to play the ball into Giroud’s feet.

Chelsea Against Atletico’s Low Block

Chelsea struggled to break through the Atleti wall but eventually took the lead in the second half through a Giroud bicycle kick. In this next section we will look at how the Blues tried to break through Atletico’s low block.

Atletico were content to let Chelsea have possession. The match ended with the Blues having completed 701 passes to Atletico’s 410 with 63.1% of possession going to the London side. Atletico did well, however, to limit the involvement of Chelsea’s attacking players for much of the match. The CBs therefore were often the ones afforded time and space in Atleti’s half. Azpilicueta in particular played a key role, finishing the game with more touches and more completed passes than any player on the pitch. Jorginho and Kovacic as well had opportunities to orchestrate attacks from midfield but were hesitant to play risky passes and were mostly content to pass sideways and retain possession. Chelsea attacked pretty evenly as you can see in the chart below.

The wide areas are key to Chelsea’s play and they made use of both flanks in this game. Werner and Alonso occupied the left side with Mount and Hudson-Odoi down the right. As we can see in the positional map below both sides attacked differently.

Werner on the left often pushed higher and narrower. He looked to run in behind, taking advantage of his speed and creating space for Alonso in the wide areas. While Mount, given more of a free role on the right, was more likely to drop off and swap sides looking for space.

Hudson-Odoi played more like a traditional winger on the right side looking to run at defenders and cross or combine with Mount around the edge of the penalty area. Alonso on the left was not as inclined to run at defenders, rather he preferred to cross from a deeper position. He also looked at times to get into the penalty area to provide an aerial threat on crosses and run in behind off the shoulder of Correa in the space created by Werner moving inside.

Here is an example of an early Chelsea attack down the right side. Mount moves to the touchline to find space, realizing that he needs to move wider to escape the pressure of Hermoso and Felix. Here, free from his marker, he can turn and look to orchestrate an attack down the right. Notice that Hudson-Odoi is the furthest forward on the right side, playing more like a traditional winger than a wing-back, and he will look to come wide to give Mount the passing angle.

Mount plays the ball to Hudson-Odoi wide and makes the underlapping run looking for the return ball in the space vacated by Hermoso. This was a good idea by Mount, but his run is not found and Hudson-Odoi plays back to Jorginho. But this illustrates pretty well how Chelsea looked to attack down the right; Mount dropping off to find space and Hudson-Odoi occupying the high and wide areas.

Here is a look at how the left side tried to attack. Werner loves to make these type of runs in behind from the left-side half-space. Naturally, this run drags Llorente to the center and creates space for Alonso to potentially receive the ball and cross. Correa at times in this game was caught out of position, not knowing whether to stay deep and wide or move up to mark Kovacic. Jorginho has the opportunity to play the ball into the space here, but instead opts for the safer ball sideways to Kovacic and nothing comes from it.

Despite the best efforts of their attacking players, Chelsea really never could break down Atletico once they were set up in their low block. The game remained scoreless until the 67th minute despite the Blues dominating possession. What we will see in the next section is that Chelsea found success with quick transitions, attacking before Atletico were able to set up their defense.  

Chelsea Break Through With Quicker Attacks From Deep

Chelsea were dangerous in transition, when they were able to break through Atletico’s initial press and attack quickly they were effective. Mount was instrumental to this success, the few times that he was able to escape his marker and run with the ball he created chances. We saw earlier how Hermoso and Felix teamed up to defend him and now we will look at how Mount responded.

Here is a very similar attack to the one we saw earlier. Only this time Mount starts the attack from a deeper position where there is more space between the lines to attack. Again, Mount goes wide to escape the marking of Hermoso and Felix. He then has space to dribble and attack the 2 v 1 opportunity against Tomas Lemar.

Mount plays Hudson-Odoi who holds the ball up before returning the ball to Mount who once again makes an underlapping run. This time, with more space available, he is found and has the opportunity to cross. Werner and Alonso look to attack the ball in the center.

Here, Chelsea are able to execute a quick counter attack leading to a Marcos Alonso cross. Like we saw earlier, Atletico press high after turning the ball over, but this time Chelsea are able to play out through Christensen. Christensen does really well to protect the ball and play a pass out of pressure to Werner. As you can see in the image below, Atletico are in a dangerous position with Correa, Koke, and Saul pushed high up.  

After the pass out to Werner, Atletico are in a very vulnerable position with their entire midfield in front of the ball and on the same side of the pitch. Kovacic, therefore, has a lot of space to run into when gets the ball from Giroud.

Kovacic is able to carry the ball forward before finding Marcos Alonso who has the space to cross. Mount gets on the end of it in a good position but is unable to get it on target.

Atletico’s press almost paid dividends for them early on in the contest, but as you are seeing it became a dangerous tactic when Chelsea grew more comfortable in the game and started to execute their attacks faster. Chelsea’s goal came from another instance where they were able to get passed Atleti’s initial press. This time they bypassed the press completely with a long ball to Giroud.

Here is the start of the move leading to Chelsea’s lone goal. Correa and Koke once again push up higher to press Rudiger and Jorginho, respectively. This time Llorente is pressed higher up as well. Alonso receives the ball from Rudiger and chooses to play long to the head of Olivier Giroud, bypassing the press and leaving Atletico vulnerable once again.

Giroud heads it down to Kovacic who once again has space to drive forward with Koke pushed up the field. Alonso makes the overlapping run and Llorente is caught on the wrong side of him after the unsuccessful press. Giroud, Mount, and Werner drive towards the box anticipating the ball in.

Giroud proves that he’s still got it with a fantastic overhead kick to give Chelsea the lead.


Chelsea were unable to break down Atletico’s 6-3-1 low block, but credit has to be given to them for finding another way through. Tuchel’s men found success executing quick attacks from deep and using Atletico’s aggressive press against them. Atletico’s high press led to their best chances of the game early on, but ultimately cost them a goal at the other end. Tuchel will surely be pleased with the result, and the Blues should feel confident in their chances of advancing to the next round. Simeone on the other hand will be frustrated to have conceded a goal at home, and Atletico will now have to display much better attacking football in the next fixture.  

Master vs. Student: How Pep’s City got the better of Arteta’s Arsenal in an intriguing matchup between former colleagues

It was always going to be a tough task for the Gunners as they faced off against Manchester City on Sunday at the Emirates Stadium. Guardiola’s men came into the contest in red hot form having won their previous 17 games. City were strengthened even further by the return of Kevin De Bruyne, who has been eased back into the fold after a hamstring injury.

Matchups between Arteta and Guadiola always promise to be interesting from a tactical perspective. With each coach knowing the other well and trying to throw in wrinkles to surprise the opponent and gain an advantage.

In this game, however, it was Guardiola who got the better of his friend Arteta. City took the lead within the first 2 minutes of the match. After that, while they did not score another goal, they never really let Arsenal back into the game.

Once again, we saw that defensive solidity is the key for Manchester City this year. In Sunday’s contest, they kept their 15th clean sheet of the season – the highest total in the league. Stones and Dias again proved a formidable partnership, but the intelligent pressing from the frontline and an outstanding display from Fernandinho in the midfield made them very difficult to play through.

City Dominates Early, Finding Overloads and Dragging Defenders

The first 10 minutes were dominated by City. Their positional play and fluidity caused all kinds of problems for Arsenal.

Here is their general shape in possession. Cancelo moves inside to form the double pivot with Fernandinho. Leaving a back three of Zinchenko, Dias, and Laporte. The outside center back on the ball side (in this case Zinchenko) is allowed to move further out towards the wing. As we see often with City, Sterling and Mahrez stay very wide to the touchline to provide the width while Gundogan and De Bruyne occupy the half-spaces. Bernardo in this case is the free man; able to move across the pitch to create overloads and find spaces (this job is done by De Bruyne at times as well). The heatmaps below are a good indicator of how City’s attackers play. Mahrez and Sterling maintain the width while De Bruyne and Bernardo are constantly moving throughout the pitch.

As I have highlighted in the image above, City are content to completely vacate the space occupied by a traditional Center Forward during this phase of build-up. City look to drag Arenal’s Central Defenders out of position before making runs into this space. City’s attack is very fluid with players interchanging and making runs to exploit spaces and create numerical advantages.

City find success early and often in 1v1 situations down the right side with Mahrez. This is what leads to the goal in just the 2nd minute of the contest. City are able to create these 1v1 situations for Mahrez by creating an overload on one side of the pitch – dragging defenders with them – before quickly switching the play. ‘Overload to Isolate,’ this has been a staple of Guardiola teams over the years and it was effective in the early stages of the match against Arsenal. These situations are made possible by the intelligent movement of Bernardo and De Bruyne who are key in creating overloads.

In this play, Bernardo and Cancelo come across to create the overload on the left side of the pitch, dragging their defenders (Xhaka and Saka) with them. This leads to a 2v1 scenario on the right side, after Fernandinho finds Mahrez on the switch. De Bruyne then overlaps Mahrez before crossing.

We see the same principle at work again just a few minutes later, however this time its De Bruyne who comes over to create the overload. Once again Mahrez keeps the width on the far side.  

This time the overload-to-isolate concept leads to Mahrez in a 1v1 situation against Pablo Mari after the ball is played across. This nearly leads to a 2nd Manchester City goal.

Arsenal’s Risky Response

As the xG indicator shows, Arsenal where able to slow City down after the first 10 minutes of the game; keeping them relatively quiet for the rest of the half. Part of this is due to Manchester City not being clinical in the final third, but also because of the changes Arteta made to the defense.

In response to the positional fluidity of City, Arsenal opted for an aggressive and fluid defensive structure of their own. The two holding midfielders (Elneny and Xhaka) frequently dropped into the backline to cover for the two central defenders (Mari and Holding). Mari and Holding would often push high up into the midfield to track their man. This, of course, is a bit of a risky tactic, and without proper communication could leave Arsenal open and exposed. There were a few occasions early on where the communication between CBs and CMs was not sufficient, and gaps were left open in the backline.

Here, Arsenal are still working out how to play in this system. Xhaka pushes high to cover Bernardo and Holding steps out of the backline to cover De Bruyne.

Later in the same play Gundogan pulls Pablo Mari out of position and higher up the field as well. This spells danger for Arsenal, because neither Elneny nor Xhaka are in position to cover the space left by the CBs. De Bruyne realizes this and intelligently makes the run in behind off the shoulder of Holding.

Fortunately for Arsenal, Dias is not able to find the run of De Bruyne, but the warning signs are there. If the ball is played to De Bruyne he has a good chance of scoring himself or crossing to Sterling for the 2nd goal.

Here is another case where the aggressive positioning of the CBs causes trouble for the Gunners. Mari is in a very advanced position in order to mark Bernardo. Xhaka is initially marking De Bruyne.

But as Dias carries the ball forward Xhaka makes the mistake of leaving De Bruyne to pressure the ball. De Bruyne is then the free man and is found by Fernandinho with plenty of space to advance the ball into.

The backline is exposed after this run from De Bruyne. As you can see, Mari and Xhaka are high up the field still, while Elneny has failed to cover the space vacated by Mari and is now on the wrong side of Gundogan. This leads to another 1v1 for Mahrez and an attempt on goal that, luckily for Arsenal, was blocked.

Using this aggressive man-for-man defense is a risk; one small mistake or momentary lack of focus by a player can lead to a chance for the opponent.

However, as Arsenal’s CBs and CMs became more comfortable in this system, the tactic began to work by denying City the numerical overloads in midfield that they had early on. In this example, Holding follows Bernardo into the space and doesn’t allow the ball to be played in to him. Zinchenko is forced to play backward and recycle the ball. Elneny this time is goal side of Gundogan and able to cover the space vacated by Holding.

Similarly, here Holding steps out to prevent ball progression to De Bruyne and Elneny is in the right position to cover Gundogan’s run.

When De Bruyne receives the ball a few seconds later, Holding is close enough to deny the turn and De Bruyne is not able to progress the ball forward.

Guardiola said post-match that, “Arsenal were so clever, they were almost man to man in the build up and left you with just the keeper.” He also stated, “after [the first 15-20 minutes] they were better than us.” While I think Pep is being a bit too humble here in his comments, it does go to show that Arteta’s formula made it tough for City to play their usual game. The problem for Arsenal then was that they were not able to create anything going forward.

Arteta should be given some credit for sorting out his players and giving Arsenal the platform to get back into the game. However, with such a heavy focus on defending, Arsenal did not offer much of a spark going forward. We will see in the next section how City were able to suffocate Arsenal and effectively kill the game.

City’s Defensive Tactics and Arsenal’s Lackluster Attack

Manchester City defended superbly throughout the match, limiting Arsenal to very few chances. When City pressed high, they used a staggered 4-2-4 shape. Early on, they found success pressing high and aggressively. This high press forced Arsenal to go long out of the back and the Gunners never really could establish a rhythm in possession as a result. As the game wore on City were more content to sit further back and not press so aggressively; they finished the game with a PPDA of 16.53 (on the higher side for City). Here is a look at how City setup defensively in the first phase and how Arsenal responded.

Arsenal struggled to find their midfielders between the lines as the front four were adept at covering; they were therefore able to effectively eliminate Saka and Elneny from the first phase of Arsenal possession. Fernandinho behind them had a great game as well. He was able to cover multiple players in his zone effectively. He started deep enough that he could help with long balls into Tierney and Aubameyang but was also able to step to Saka at the inverted LM position and prevent him from turning on the rare occasion that the ball was played through the first line. The 35-year-old Brazilian led City in tackles won, aerial duels won, and interceptions.

Here is an example of Arsenal attempting to play out of the press via Bellerin down the right. As you can see, City’s front four are pressing high and do not allow the ball to be advanced through the middle. Fernandinho maintains good distance to Saka making any pass into him a risky one. Bellerin is the Arsenal player with the most space.

However, once the ball is played out to him, City are extremely quick to shift their positions. De Bruyne moves off of Elneny to pressure, while Gundogan steps up to do the same. Fernandinho also shifts closer to the middle to provide the cover. Bellerin then turns the ball over, unable to handle the pressure.

Unable to play through City’s press effectively, Arsenal typically looked to play long. They primarily played down the left-hand side as you can see in the chart below.

This makes sense for the Gunners as Saka and Tierney have regularly been their most effective attacking players this season. Tierney would push very high up the field on the left touchline, while Saka would move infield to become an auxiliary Central Midfielder looking to win the second ball in support of Tierney or receive the ball through the lines. Aubameyang moved near the left-side half space to support the ball forward as well. While Arsenal were able to break through using this left-hand side on occasion, the final delivery from Tierney was lacking and nothing ever materialized.

On this instance, Xhaka’s pass beats City’s front four and Saka is able to receive in space between the lines. Fernandinho this time is not close enough to prevent the turn.

This breaking of the lines leads to a 2v1 situation with Tierney and Saka down the left side. But the final product from Tierney was not good enough to threaten City’s defense. Saka was Arsenal’s most dangerous attacking threat, but he was not able to get on the ball enough and this was one of the few cases where he had a chance to run at City’s backline.

City stuck with the 4-2-4 shape until they were deep inside their own half, at which point they would move to a 4-5-1 shape, looking to eliminate spaces between the lines and keep solidity in the middle zone. This became more important in the second half as Arsenal started to have more of the ball in search of the equalizer. City were able to control the latter stages of the game with great defensive solidity and ball possesion.


While Arsenal made some interesting and effective adjustments to get back into the game, they never really looked threatening in the attack. This is a testament to City’s solidity at the back and the effectiveness of their pressing game. Maybe other teams around the league will look at Arteta’s formula as a potential option to slow down Guardiola’s men moving forward this season. But City’s dominance in the first part of the game and their 1-0 advantage was enough for 3 points in this case.

As City have shown repeatedly throughout this season, defense will be the key to their title run. Guardiola may have been quick to heap praise on his former protégé after the game, but he too deserves credit for fixing some of the issues City faced early on in the season. They now look all but certain to finish as champions once again.