Italy 2-0 Spain : A perfect system

Despite playing well in parts in the group stages, Conte’s side went into the knockout stages off the back of a loss against Ireland – one in which although inconsequential to their position, gave away weaknesses to their competitors. The job was to then rally a performance like we saw against Belgium, and for this Conte reverted to a familiar selection. Florenzi deputised for the injured Candreva on the right, and the only surprise was De Sciglio’s inclusion on the opposite flank over Darmian. Before the game, we spoke about the key role in which the pivot and central midfielders could play, considering they have been an indicator of Italy’s effectiveness in transition and cohesion on the ball. De Rossi was brought back in to this role in front of the back three, as expected, and Parolo continued with Giaccherini in the middle.

Italy vs Spain - Football tactics and formations

Ball distribution

It was evident that Italy weren’t going to shy away from playing a variety of passes from their own half. From the start, we saw De Rossi play a long searching ball out wide to Florenzi (which was inch perfect), as well as passes through midfield on the ground and the use of the wing-backs when necessary if the defenders were slow in build up or pressured. But the most effective route was often the long ball over the top to Pelle. It has to be said first of all that many of these balls were not aimless or hopeful. Like we’ve seen already on this tournament, Italy are prepared to get a lot of men forward to receive long passes from their own half – often sacrificing a big gap in midfield – and if they don’t win possession from it, they have men there to pressure high-up. Pelle was absolutely superb at winning these long balls, through knocking it on with his head to chesting it down and linking up with Eder. It was probably one of his most influential performances for the Azzurri because of this link-up he provided. Parolo is also actually quite tall as well, over 6ft, and is useful in winning headers. A large amount of Italy’s chances and good attacking moves came from this direct style and good interplay between the attackers. To put this into context, Spain actually made more long passes in the game than Italy. However, Conte’s side were set up so much better to use them and did so with a lot more purpose – making it an effective method of transition.


longballground   italyattack

Valencia 1-1 Barcelona : Makeshift Valencia steal a point

A lot of the talk going into the build-up of this match was the appointment of Gary Neville at Valencia, but they had a lot to worry about on the pitch. Mustafi was still out injured, along with first choice goalkeeper Diego Alves. Cancelo’s suspension and the absence of Barragan meant that Ruben Vezo was pushed into right-back, with a central partnership of Abdennour and Santos. Danilo continued in midfield, alongside Parejo and Perez. Alcacer was left up top on his own in the absence of Negredo and Rodrigo. The away side fielded an ominously strong starting eleven, with a midfield three of Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic.

Valencia vs Barcelona - Football tactics and formations

Barcelona started with their customary high defensive line, with Mascherano pushing up to the half-way line on the ball. It was clear that they would see a lot of the ball, as they normally do, but the outlet early on appeared to be Neymar down the left, who had the first chance to run at the Valencia defence. Valencia themselves looked to the left-hand side early on to attack, with Danilo getting forward into the box but failing to capitalise on the build-up. Barca started to show signs of their superiority from early in the first half, mainly by setting Neymar off down the wing against Valencia’s makeshift and slightly inexperienced right-back Vezo. The Brazilian appeared to have the beating of him every time and was getting to the byline with alarming ease. He delivered the ball to Messi on one occasion for the number 10 to fire just over, and had another chance himself but shot horribly high. Danilo was dropping in to try and help Vezo after they realised Neymar’s threat, and even Mina on the right wing came back to cover at times, probably even not enough. You can see with the visuals below that the left channel was the biggest danger throughout the match, and generally where Barca looked to to engineer chances.


The majority of the Barcelona opportunities at goal came in the first half, with Suarez missing a volley at the far post and also dinking a cross just beyond Neymar coming in. Valencia defended central areas well individually at times, particularly Santos who notably made a good tackle on Messi on the edge of the area and then got a vital touch on a cross the came in to deny Suarez getting a goal. The home team had occasional opportunities to break into the opposing half and Parejo controlled the ball reasonably well in midfield when he got the chance. They had a penalty shout as Perez went down after Pique had his arm on him, but it was optimistic to say the least and rightly waved away. It soon became a struggle for them to get men into the box and provide decent targets for crosses. Against a weaker side, the makeshift Valencia team might have done reasonably well. Danilo attemped to get forward and Parejo manipulated the ball effectively – and they have the potential to use the width offered by Mina and de Paul that can cause problems and stretch the play on the attack, plus Gaya overlapping.

2014/15 Season Overview



European qualification:

– West Ham gain additional Europa League qualifying spot through finishing top of the English fair play table

– Sampdoria currently take rivals’ Genoa’s Europa League qualifying spot due to financial regulations

Notable occurrences:

– All-round lower scoring season compared to previous one across all 4 leagues

– More card shown compared to previous season, around 8.5% more yellows

– Dominance of Barcelona & Real Madrid, particularly in goalscoring. Also the superiority of the champions of the other 3 (Chelsea, Bayern & Juve) over their respective leagues

– Close relegation battles in 3 out of the 4 leagues, coming down to the last day. Reasonably unified figure across all 4 leagues of around 35-38 points to stay up.

– Augsburg making Europa League football finishing 5th, despite losing 15/34 games. Dortmund also making the Europa League qualifiers, despite being bottom at one stage around Christmas. The resurgence of Wolfsburg, and contrasting fortunes of Hamburg who managed to stay up through a dramatic late goal and extra-time winner against Karlsruher.

– Lazio’s second half of the season, challenging Roma for 2nd place, only to lose out in the Derby. The poor display from both Milan clubs, Inzaghi’s side in particular, both missing out on European places. The financial struggles and effective collapse of Parma, under the mismanagement and neglect of their owner.

– The form of Valencia and Sevilla, pushing Atletico for 3rd, with the former gaining the 4th Champions League spot.

– Chelsea’s dominance of the Premier League. Manchester United’s return to the top 4 at the expense of Liverpool. Newcastle’s incredible poor run of form, almost resulting in their relegation. Aston Villa’s inability to score goals for extended periods of time. Harry Kane hype.

24th September midweek picks

Malaga vs Barcelona : Barcelona -1 @1.85

Barca are yet to concede a goal after winning their opening 4 games, and come into this match off the back of a 5-0 win away from home. Malaga on the other hand have struggled somewhat, and will not see this as a good time to be playing the league leaders, 3 games without a win. It is difficult to see the home side conceding, especially not more than 1 goal, and you’d expect them to score at least 2 themselves with the likes of Messi and Neymar ready to start in attack.

Dortmund vs Stuttgart : Dortmund -1 @2.00

Stuttgart have been really poor this season so far, with only 1 point. They come to the Signal Iduna at a time when the home side will want to bounce back from their loss to Mainz and will probably field a slightly stronger team, with Immobile & Kagawa looking for starts. I think evens is a good price for a Dortmund team who is very capable of scoring goals against the side who are bottom of the table and lost the last 3 by 2 goals.

Parma vs Roma : Roma @2.05

Roma are yet to concede a goal in their opening three games, winning them all, although maybe not in supremely confident fashion. They will be slightly light at the back with a couple of injury doubts, however they have strength in depth now – more so than last season – and should cope. Parma have been hit and miss so far, gaining their first win against Chievo last time out, but conceding 5 against Milan and losing to newly promoted Cesena. Their main attacking threat is Cassano, and the pace of Biabiany (who is missing tonight). Paletta will also miss out, and the home side may struggle to contain Roma as Garcia’s men could dominate the ball. Parma always have the potential for an upset, but evens seems good value for Roma here.

Tottenham vs Nottingham Forest : Forest @6.00

Spurs have been poor recently, without a win in 4 games, and suffering an embarrassing 1-0 home defeat to West Brom on the weekend, with only 1 shot on target. They will likely field a weaker side tonight, and will not go into the game with any momentum. Forest, on the other hand, will probably put out a strong team and look to cause an upset here. Despite their 0-0 draw with fellow Championship high flyers Millwall on the weekend, the away side are unbeaten this season and have shown their goalscoring prowess. With forest @6.00 here, it seems like great value for a team who despite being a division below, are playing good football and will be more than up for the fight here this evening.


La Liga Review 2013/14



Title Winners: Atletico Madrid (90 points)
Top Scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (31 goals)
Champions League qualification: Atletico M, Real M, Barcelona, A Bilbao
Europa League qualification: Sevilla, Villarreal, Real Sociedad
Relegation: Betis, Valladolid, Osasuna

Pre-season odds in August 2013:
Title winners – Barcelona @3/4, Real Madrid @11/8, Atletico @66/1
Top four finish – Atletico @1/3, Athletic Bilbao @6/1
Top goalscorer – Messi @8/13, Ronaldo @11/8, Neymar @16/1, Benzema @40/1
Relegation – Elche @5/6, Villarreal @7/2, Almeria @5/6, Osasuna @9/4, Valladolid @3/1, Betis @12/1

The big theme of La Liga this season was the emergence of Atletico Madrid as a force, not just in Spain, but in Europe. I remember being very close to putting a bet on Atletico to win the Champions League towards the end of the group stages when they were 16/1. Even then it was hard to see them losing games. Their consistency was incredible, and this was proven not just on paper but in their performances on the pitch. The tactical and motivational abilities of Simeone were second to none, their shape and awareness on the field of play was fantastic throughout the season and the work-rate and straight-up desire to win matches ultimately won them the league title. You can argue that Real and Barca were dropping points and ‘gifting’ the league to Atleti, which in some ways was true towards the end, but its hard for anyone to argue that Simeone’s side didn’t deserve the crown after the improvement they’ve shown. Only last year people were talking about the dominance of the top two in Spain and the insurmountable task of breaking that Real/Barca stranglehold on the division.

This season was arguably less about individual performances for the top sides, and more about consistency and cohesion. Messi and Ronaldo, although still obviously hugely influential, didn’t quite have the same impact as the previous record breaking seasons. To mention a few notable individuals, I would pick out Alexis Sanchez who improved on a rather mediocre season the year before, to chip in with valuable goals and assists. Bale had an impressive first season in Spain, one in which many (harshly) thought could easily turn into a flop. I think that Modric had a fantastic campaign and was perhaps the one that had a stand out season. Diego Costa was the main man for Atletico Madrid in terms of attacking threat and goalscoring prowess, although it was largely the work of Miranda and Godin, along with the leadership of Gabi that impressed me.

I was slightly disappointed with the inconsistency of Real Sociedad, after their 4th place last season and inclusion in the Champions League, they struggled this year. Despite finishing in the Europa League spot in 7th, they gave away silly points, particularly away from home, and never really picked up the same momentum they had last time around. Griezmann was again a star performer, earning himself a place in the French World Cup squad. I think whilst Vela is still impressing with 16 goals and 12 assists, Xabi Prieto’s influence has waned and the back four (+ Bravo) haven’t had a brilliant season with the likes of the two Martinez’s not showing the same kind of form we were used to last year.

In terms of the other European places, Athletic Bilbao took the 4th Champions League spot after having a very decent season. Aduriz bagged himself 16 league goals, Susaeta was a creative force with 12 assists along with an ever improving Ander Herrera who is putting in some much more consistent performances. Muniain continues to show a constant standard greater than one you might expect of someone his age and Ibai Gomez always impresses me when we see him – having a great impact from the bench with 8 league goals. They will go into the Champions League playoffs for next season, although if they make it into the group stages I think they may struggle with the extra games and their Basque recruitment policy may not help their squad too much over the summer.

Villarreal started the season newly promoted as the surprise performers, racing into the top four in the early stages. Their style of counter-attacking low possession football was incredibly effective. I remember their away game against Rayo in which Villarreal won 5-2 with only 30% possession. However they faded away slightly, after a patchy second half of the season, ultimately finishing in 6th place, level with Sociedad on points. Sevilla had an incredible season. They capped it off with a Europa League win and a 5th place finish in the league. They handled their fixtures superbly and, despite a poor spell in January, they showed great consistency. Their stand out players were Bacca with 14 league goals, and the hugely impressive Ivan Rakitic with 12 goals and 10 assists (not to mention what I reckon was pass of the season in the latter stages of the Europa League final). He will hopefully feature heavily in Croatia’s World Cup campaign.

The relegation fight this season was relatively close, with two of the newly promoted sides – Elche and Almeria escaping narrowly, 1 point above the drop zone. It became obvious pretty early into the season that the other newly promoted side Villarreal would be more likely to finish in the top half of the table than the bottom. Betis, who were 12/1 to go down before the season got underway, ended up being cut well adrift and looked down and out reasonably early. Valladolid simply drew too many games – 15 in total – which saw them finish 19th, although Javi Guerra finished the season with 15 league goals. Osasuna didn’t come out of it much better, although only a point from safety. Their top scorer was Oriol Riera who ended up on 13 goals for the campaign.

Total goals: 1045
Penalties scored: 80
Clean sheets: 233
Minutes per goal: Alvaro Morata (62mins), Cristiano Ronaldo (82mins), Ibai Gomez (85mins), Lionel Messi (93mins), Diego Costa (111mins)
Pass completion: Xavi (93%), Sergio Busquets (92.5%), Andres Iniesta (90.7%), Gerard Pique (90.2%), Marc Bartra (89.9%), Luka Modric (89.7%)
Average passes per game: Xavi (86.2), Roberto Trashorras (79.4), Sergio Busquets (76.7), Dani Alves (69.6), Xabi Alonso (65.6), Dani Parejo (64)
Key passes per game: Angel di Maria (2.7), Lionel Messi (2.4), Roberto Trashorras (2.3), Ivan Rakitic (2.3), Isco (2.2), Duda (2.2)
Clean sheets: Thibaut Courtois (19), Keylor Navas (15), Diego Lopez (15), Victor Valdez (12), Willy Caballero (11)