2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 18,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Malaga vs Real Madrid – Tactical Analysis

Falling 16 Points behind Barcelona or dropping Iker Casillas for “technical” reasons. What was the bigger story for Real Madrid from La Liga at the weekend?

The game against Malaga became something of a distraction when the news broke over the inclusion of Adan ahead of Casillas. Mourinho would have faced questions even with a win but the defeat simply intensifies the pressure.

Line Ups

There were three changes to the Malaga team that won the Andalusian derby against Sevilla.

Weligton, Iturra and Santa Cruz were replaced by Sanchez, Portillo and Saviola.

Pellegrini opted to line up in a 4-3-1-2 formation which could equally adapt to a diamond in midfield with Isco at the point and Camacho at the base. Eliseu and Portillo moved wide.

 

Malaga Starting Line Up

Malaga Starting Line Up

Mourinho made four changes to the side which could only draw at home to Espanyol.

The main change was, of course, the replacement of Casillas in goal by Adan. Arbeloa moved to left back replacing Coentrao allowing Essien to come back in at right back. Modric and Callejon dropped out with Di Maria and Benzema coming back into the side.

It was the customary 4-2-3-1 formation from Madrid.

 

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Malaga started this game well before Madrid provided more of a threat as the half wore on. Both Ronaldo and Di Maria spurned excellent chances for the visitors in the first half which they would later regret.

Malaga took control of the game early in the second half. With clever movement combined with passing, Malaga always had a man available to pass to whilst Madrid became increasingly disjointed as the match wore on with some strange substitutions.

The game demonstrated how Malaga have developed as a team under Pellegrini this season with defensive solidity and attacking creativity. Madrid, meanwhile, appear to have regressed under Mourinho this season looking increasingly like the side during his first season in charge when individual brilliance significantly outweighed the collective whole.

 

Demichellis

Malaga goalkeeper Willy Cabellero is amongst the candidates for the Zamora goalkeeping award in La Liga this season. In addition to making a couple of excellent saves during the game, one of the reasons why he is in contention for the award is the form of the defence in front of him and Martin Demichelis.

The Argentinean central defender was a key element in his side’s success against Madrid. Despite lacking pace, Demichelis reads the game well enabling him to make a number of key interceptions during the game as detailed below:-

Demichelis Tackles vs Real Madrid

Demichelis Interceptions vs Real Madrid    http://www.squawka.com

In addition to this, Demichelis was successful with both of his tackles and only one of his nine attempted clearances failed during the game. Pellegrini favours his side to hold a high defensive line and Demichelis leadership skills assist with this greatly.

The only blot on an otherwise excellent defensive performance for Malaga was the two Madrid goals they conceded. The first goal was a bizarre own goal when Benzema clipped the ball off Sanchez foot. The second Madrid goal would have been equally disappointing when Camacho was dispossessed by Ozil who quickly chipped the ball to the Frenchman to score his side’s second goal.

Malaga Attack – Movement of Isco

One of the reasons why Malaga enjoyed such a positive start to the second half and were the more dominant team throughout this period was the manner in which they attacked. With Eliseu on the left, Portillo on the right and Saviola as the central striker this enabled Joaquin to move across the pitch. Similarly, Isco also enjoyed the ability to move laterally across the pitch linking with both Eliseu and Portillo and creating problems for the Madrid midfield pairing of Khedira and particularly Alonso.

Isco Heat Map vs Real Madrid

Isco Heat Map vs Real Madrid                        http://www.squawka.com

Xabi Alonso is not the most mobile of players and does not want to be pulled wide. With clever movement, Isco was able to continually find space between Madrid’s lines.

Isco made 49 successful passes from his 59 attempted and scored the opening goal of the game from his one shot on target. Initially marked by Pepe when a cross was delivered, Isco moved back out to the edge of the penalty area and collected Joaquin’s cut back before firing the ball low past Adan for the opener.

The ease with which he found space was typical of his performance on the night.

Real Madrid Changes

Mourinho made three substitutions in the second half.

Trailing 1-0, Mourinho withdrew Arbeloa and introduced Callejon in the 58th minute. Just five minutes later, Di Maria was replaced by Kaka.

The shape of the Madrid side was deteriorating as the second half progressed and these two changes created further problems.

The final substitution saw Xabi Alonso leave the pitch to be replaced by Luka Modric in the 76th minute. At this stage it was now clear that Madrid  would simply go long from back to front with nothing in the way of creative play. A move confirmed when Sergio Ramos went up front as an auxiliary striker from the 85th minute onwards.

As the game drew to a conclusion, the TV cameras caught Casillas, Arbeloa and Alonso all sitting side by side on the bench. There is already speculation over why the latter two players were withdrawn. Whilst the removal of Alonso was surprising, given the effort he had already given in the game and the first part of the season, it’s perhaps not that unexpected.

The replacement of Arbeloa by Callejon was the most baffling substitution. Whilst being designed for Callejon to push forward on the left, he was back by Malaga ’s attacks with Gamez moving forward and Joaquin drifting across to the right. Malaga took the lead from this area of the pitch.

Meanwhile, Essien remained on the pitch and offered little. Why not switch Arbeloa to the right and withdraw Essien?

Sergio Ramos – Good Egg?

Mourinho recently commented to a member of the Madrid press that there were “three bad eggs” in the squad. Two of these “eggs” would be Casillas and Ramos. With Casillas dropped, Ramos took over the captain’s armband for the game.

Over the past season or so, Ramos has shown time and time again exactly why he is now rightfully considered a top class international defender. Against Malaga he attempted six tackles and was successful with each of them:-

Ramos Tackles vs Malaga

Ramos Tackles vs Malaga                                              http://www.squawka.com

All the tackles came on the left side of defence. It’s worth noting that in the 58 minutes that Arbeloa was on the pitch, Ramos made two tackles in the left back area. When Callejon entered the game for the remaining 32 minutes, Ramos was increasingly called into action on the left and successfully made another four tackles.

Sometimes though, it’s the stats that cannot be measured which are so important. The drive and determination shown by Ramos has been essential to his side. If Madrid are going to get back on form this season and challenge for the Copa del Rey or Champions League, the form of Ramos will  be crucial.

Santa Cruz Goals

The Paraguayan’s first goal came via the right wing with Callejon badly exposed. Jesus Gamez had time and space to measure a low cross into the penalty area with Callejon slow to close him down and then standing off Gamez and allowing the cross. There had already been a warning over Callejon’s deployment at left back with Joaquin beating the makeshift defender with ease.

Gamez delivered a low cross which Joaquin flicked goal ward for Roque Santa Cruz to tap in unmarked at the back post.

Santa Cruz scored his second to give Malaga a two goal lead after 75minutes. Isco initiated a counter attack by playing a lofted pass to Joaquin on the halfway line. The winger progressed down the left, cutting inward before a deft pass released Santa Cruz  on a cross over run and his low shot found a gap at the near post.

 

Malaga Changes 

By sharp contrast to Mourinho, Pellegrini made three clever substitutions.

Leading 1-0, Saviola was withdrawn for Santa Cruz . The Argentinean had provided effort but little in the way of a cutting edge but his workrate had been valuable.

Following the Madrid equaliser, and in a moment when Madrid threatened to take the lead and were in the ascendency, Pellegrini introduced the combative Iturra for the more attack minded Portillo to strengthen the central area of the team.

Finally, with time running out, Seba Fernandez took the place of the tiring Joaquin. A move which helped eat up some previous seconds with the score at 3-2 and also enabled Malaga to have fresh legs to chase any long passes for the remaining few minutes.

 

Casillas Dropped

It’s difficult to examine the game without comment on the decision to start with Adan in goal.

Leaving aside Mourniho’s comments that Casillas was dropped for technical reasons and that on current form, Adan is performing better. The question which must be asked why Mourinho would choose to replace Casillas in such a significant game for a relative rookie at this level? Despite Adan being 25 years old, this was just his 15th top team appearance for Real Madrid.

There have been problems with Madrid defending set pieces this season with the accusation that Casillas stays on his line and fails to command his box. Whilst that may be true to a certain extent, a team defends a set piece as a unit. Teams may be scoring against Madrid but when the ball is delivered into the penalty area, it should be cleared. And with the number of goals that Madrid are conceding, Mourinho should be addressing these problems on the training pitch.

The answer against Malaga was to pull every player back to defend corner kicks. This is not an efficient use of resources and also weakens one of Madrid’s key strengths; their superb counter attack. When a ball is cleared from the corner, there was no Madrid player waiting 30 or so yards from goal to collect the ball and instigate a quick transition. Instead, Malaga regained possession.

 

Conclusions

The miracle of Malaga under Pellegrini continues. Despite losing key players in the summer and the ongoing financial problems which present obstacles to European football next season, the team march on.

Whilst the defeat was another significant blow to the team, the challenge to retain their La Liga crown was not lost at La Rosaleda on Saturday evening. The title was lost on earlier trips to Andalusia this season with defeats at Sevilla and Real Betis.

With the departure of Mourinho at the end of the season inevitable, this defeat will add weight to those who claim he is prepared to drag others down with him. The decision to drop Casillas over a personal dispute

 

 

Osasuna vs Valencia

The reign of Ernesto Valverde at the Mestalla, for however long that may be, commenced with a hard fought 1-0 away victory in Pamplona against Osasuna. This was a poor quality game were determination, character and strength were valued more highly than any technical quality or skill.

Both Valverde and Mendilibar made numerous changes to their starting line ups from their previous games. Osasuna had four changes from the side that had defeated Rayo 1-0 at home providing their fifth consecutive clean sheet in all competitions during which time they had recorded two wins and two draws in the league to lift them outwith the relegation zone.

Valverde made six changes to the Valencia team that crashed 2-5 at home to La Real in a game which marked the end of Mauricio Pellgrino’s short stint in charge of Los Che. Amidst the changes due to injury and suspension, the most interesting alteration was the inclusion of Albelda who was recalled in place of Fernando Gago.

Low Quality

The quality on show during this match is aptly demonstrated by the very poor pass completion rates. Valencia completed just 265 passes from their total of 394 attempted (a success rate of 67%). The hosts fared much worse with a pass completion rate of just 59% as only 204 passes from 344 attempted found a team mate.

Too often passes went astray or were mis-controlled and the opposition gathered possession. With both teams pressing, short accurate passing was limited with long balls being more prevalent.

Osasuna are a side who are aggressive, play a high defensive line and press the opponent. You don’t expect them to have much in the way of possession or a high degree of accuracy as they look to play a quick, direct game. Following a summer of key departures, Osasuna need to fight for every point and rely heavily upon their home form. With players of a lesser ability in their team, they need to force opponents to play the game at their level and they achieved this during this match.

Valencia are still searching for a personality this season but there were signs from the outset that Valverde wants them to adopt a patient style with attacks being constructed from the back. Against such a spiky opponent, it was perhaps wrong to try and instigate such a change in style. The side never looked comfortable when Alves went short to instigate moves.

Goalmouth incident was also at a premium in this game. From a total of 21 shots at goal from both sides, just six hit the target. Neither team had the ability to craft out chances with limited action in either goal mouth area as can be seen from the two heat map graphics below:-

Osasuna Team Heat Map

Osasuna Team Heat Map                                                http://www.squawka.com

Valencia Team Heat Map

Valencia Team Heat Map                                                  http://www.squawka.com

What must concern Valverde, even this early, is the need to link the midfield and attack to prevent Soldado being isolated. Banega cannot play too high, he needs to be on the ball in the midfield area. Either Jonas must start, when he is not suspended, or the wingers must become more inverted and reach Soldado quicker to offer support.

Osasuna Approach

Osasuna tried to move in behind Guardado at left back. As a converted winger, Guardado is more comfortable moving forward and sought to do so as often as possible with the result that Osasuna hit more long balls into the channel behind him for Lamah to try chase.

On the occasions that the pass was productive and Guardado was caught higher upfield, Albelda offered excellent defensive cover. Although he is firmly in the veteran stage of his career, the midfielder still has qualities which can be useful in games such as these. Albelda is not one to pull out from a tackle.

The high defensive line that Osasuna employs requires their keeper to be comfortable moving off the goal line as and when required to clear balls over the top. Twice Andres Fernandez was called into action, leaving his penalty area to clear the ball. The graphic below shows this and also how he often brought the ball out from his area before launching a long ball forward.

Fernandez Passes vs Valencia

Fernandez Passes vs Valencia                                  http://www.squawka.com

Fernandez played just one short pass to a team mate in the entire game. Although Fernandez may concede possession as often as Osasuna retain it with his long kick outs, Osasuna will compete for the second ball as they push up and squeeze their opponents. Territorial gain is greater than possession for Mendilibar.

Valencia Set Up

Valverde retained the 4-2-3-1 style formation which Valencia have used this season but it was noticeable how the team lined up when keeper Alves had possession. Both centre backs were splitting and Albelda was dropping deep, not quite between them but sufficiently positioned to act as as auxiliary centre back. The full backs pushed very high to form a line of four across midfield with Fehgouli and Piatti flanking Roberto Soldado in attack.

The approach gradually fizzled out as Osasuna repeatedly pressed high forcing more longer passing from Valencia and partly due to the positioning of Valencia being correct but not compact enough. The team needs to be positioned to allow shorter passing if they are to build from the back and must offer greater movement. If Rami or Ricardo Costa received the ball in this game, only Albelda was relatively close.

Does Valverde have the players at his disposal to implement the system that he wishes to use?

The only goal of the game was scored by Soldado and, in some respects, the goal was fitting of such a poor game. Piatti made a good run down the left but is cross was poor and was moving away from the waiting Soldado before it struck the inside of the post and rebounded out to Soldado who blasted home from a few yards out.

Soldado Shots vs Osasuna

Soldado Shots vs Osasuna                                                     http://www.squawka.com

Soldado struck the target with three of his four shots but as highlighted above, he is often isolated and left to cut a forlorn figure in the Valencia attack. Someone has to break from the midfield to support him.

Valverde achieved in his first game, that which had eluded Pellgrino all season; an elusive away league win. The manner in which it was achieved was not particularly stylish or even enjoyable but it’s three points on the road.

Mendilibar and Osasuna will likely feel harshly treated. There was little between the sides and a draw would have been fair. The issue from Osasuna is scoring goals. With the departure of four of their five top scorers from last season, the men from Pamplona need to begin scoring and quickly. The veteran striker Joseba Llorente is probably not the answer but Mendilibar has few alternatives. Just 12 goals scored from 15 league games tells the story. Defensively they are quite sound as they have conceded just 16 goals. As is so often the case, for Osasuna, the first goal in a game is completely crucial.

Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid – Tactical Analysis

After all the talking, after all the hype, after the 21,000 Atleti fans who turned up to watch their side’s final training session, after the Mourinho press conferences, this was it. The first derbi el madrileno of the season. Possibly one of the most important derby’s in some time. And one in which Atleti went, yet again, in search of that elusive victory against their more illustrious rivals.

Everyone knows the background to Atleti’s last derby win. It really was 1999 the last time Atleti were victorious and it really was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scoring in that game.

Atleti went into this game on form and with an eight point lead over Madrid in the table. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Madrid took all three points in an awful game illuminated only by a few fleeting moments of magic from Ronaldo.

Line Ups

Mourinho named arguably his strongest starting line up for the game, retaining faith in the side that had lost 1-0 away to Real Betis the previous week.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Diego “El Cholo” Simeone’s plans were disrupted before kick off when Filipe Luis suffered an injury during the warm up. Although he declared himself fit, Simeone was unwilling to run the risk of a greater lay off as a consequence of his participation. Cata Diaz came in at left back.

Atleti Starting Line Up

Atleti Starting Line Up

The only other change for Simeone was the return of Mario following a suspension. Tiago dropped to the bench.

Atleti started with the same 4-4-2 formation which had comfortably seen off Sevilla 4-0 in their last league outing.

The Game

This was a game which was instantly forgettable in so many respects. A game that never developed with neither side showing any real guile or craft until the latter stages when Madrid led 2-0. With both sides noted for their counter attacking abilities and preference to allow their opponent to open up and attack them, the opening goal was always going to be crucial. Yet there were a few bright interludes amidst a scrappy, niggly game.

Atleti started brightly if not cohesively when in possession. Both Gabi and Mario were prepared to support their attackers and press Madrid in defence to try and create more of a long ball style game, something which would suit Atleti with a number of their players superior aerially. Too often they went direct seeking their strike pairing.

On the few occasions that Madrid had to defend free kicks towards their penalty area, they held a very high line to prevent Atleti players being able to head at goal. If they lost the initial header, Madrid would still be able to compete or the second ball.

Madrid were unable to get their forward players involved in the game. Ozil feeding Benzema after 28 minutes was one of the few occasions when they found space behind the Atleti pairing of Gabi and Mario.

The one moment which lit up a drab first half was the opening goal by Ronaldo. Arda Turan inexplicably handballed around 25 yards from goal in a central position enabling Ronaldo to strike a perfect free kick up and over the wall for the opening goal. The expression on Casillas face when the goal was scored said everything about it.

And the second half continued in a similar vein. Petulant fouls were the order of the day with both sides cancelling each other out. Atleti struggled to get support forward to Falcao and Costa whilst Madrid were unable to break Atleti down with space between Atleti’s compact lines at a premium.

The key point in the second half again involved Ronaldo. Miranda missed a header near the halfway line enabling Ronaldo to gather possession. The Portuguese initial pass to Benzema was blocked but he cleverly reversed the ball to Ozil who was free to score Madrid’s second goal. Although he had a relatively quiet night in terms of the quality of his overall performance, Ronaldo’s contribution was still pivotal.

The goal changed the dynamic of the game with Atleti having to open up more and chase the game. The player who benefited the most from this was the goalscorer himself, Ozil.

Ozil’s Involvement

With Atleti very compact, space between the lines was scarce in the first half of this game and consequently, Ozil toiled to gain a foothold in the game.

The graphics below show his first and second half passes:-

Mesut Ozil 2nd Half Passes

Mesut Ozil 2nd Half Passes                                         http://www.squawka.com

Mesut Ozil 1st Half Passes

Mesut Ozil 1st Half Passes                                            http://www.squawka.com

Ozil was forced to operate too deep in the first half, unable to break through Atleti’s lines and closely marked but in the second half with Atleti beginning to push forward more and with their players tiring, there was greater space available to move into. Ozil was now playing higher and making passes in the final third of the pitch. His perfectly weighted pass following a quick Madrid transition late in the game saw Ronaldo hit the post. It was one of the few counter attacks with real venom from either side.

Atleti Left

One of the key areas of the Atleti team is the left wing with the forward runs of Luis Filipe from left back. In league games, approximately 42% of all Atleti attacks originate on the left side.

Cata Diaz Heat Map vs Real Madrid

Cata Diaz Heat Map vs Real Madrid     http://www.squawka.com

The use of centre back Cata Diaz as a makeshift left back created an imbalance in the Atleti team. Cata Diaz seldom pushed into the Madrid half to support Arda and naturally, gravitated towards the centre of the defence leaving Atleti narrow on the left. Should Simeone have used Cisma at left back? He would have been a more natural fit for the side. The inclusion of Cata Diaz created a real problem for Arda Turan. He was forced to undertake greater defensive responsibilities and offered little in a attacking role.

Arda Turan Passes vs Real Madrid

Arda Turan Passes vs Real Madrid          http://www.squawka.com

In his 77 minutes on the pitch, Arda completed just 9 passes from an attempted 13. A brief switch to the right flank was marginally successful but left Koke with the same problem on the left.

It was somewhat fortunate that Atleti were facing Arbeloa, a conservative full back, and Di Maria, an inverted winger and the defensive duties of Arda and Cata Diaz were never stretched but it came at the price of attacking verve. And with Atleti playing a front two, there was nobody in midfield able to shuffle across and lend Arda some assistance.

With Arda pushed back, who would supply the front pairing?

Diego Costa

The inclusion of Diego Costa was something of a surprise move by Simone. His inclusion meant that Atleti moved to a more orthodox 4-4-2 as had been deployed against Sevilla the previous weekend. This is a departure from the tried and tested 4-2-3-1.

If Atleti were going to maximise the ability and potential of both Costa and Falcao, they needed to get the ball forward but too often Atleti resorted to long hopeful balls rather than moving the ball wide and delivering crosses into the box via Koke and Arda. Just as Atleti had failed to support Falcao in the 4-1 home defeat last season, they again failed to support Falcao and Costa with no service from the flanks. For a side that relies heavily upon crosses, averaging 25 per game, Atleti only attempted 11 crosses. With limited possession and poor passing (only 190 successful passes from 302 attempted) Falcao and Costa were left to forage upon meager scraps.

Last season, whilst on loan at Rayo Vallecano, Diego Costa had produced an excellent performance against Real Madrid causing their central defensive partnership numerous problems that evening despite Rayo losing 1-0.

It appears that El Cholo believed that Costa could replicate that performance again but it failed to arrive. Costa should have been removed at half time with Adrian or Emre introduced to gain a better balance in midfield with support for Arda. Instead, Diego Costa remained on the pitch with a performance that is best summarised by an ongoing display of petulance towards his opponent, participating in a number of petty feuds across the pitch with whoever would indulge him. Sadly, given the importance of the occasion, too many players on both sides were prepared to become pre-occupied with committing fouls.

Lack of Rhythm

Important games seldom begin fluently, rather they take time to develop with either side keen to test their adversary before finding a sense of rhythm and patterns of play developing. At the Bernabeu last night, this was lacking:-

Madrid vs Atleti - Fouls

Madrid vs Atleti – Fouls                                                  http://www.squawka.com

A total of 42 fouls were awarded during the game with the most surprising feature being the leniency shown by referee Undiano Mallenco. The game rarely developed beyond a few passes before any flow was disrupted.

Conclusions

Madrid secure a 2-0 victory but were the real winners Barcelona? They maintain their 11 point advantage over Madrid but now enjoy a more comfortable 6 point lead over Atleti in 2nd place.

In a game that was instantly forgettable except for the Ronaldo free kick, the victory was the only thing that mattered and Madrid secured this. Will any Madridista’s complain about the quality of the victory if this is the catalyst to push on in the pursuit of Barcelona? No, the pragmatic will realise this is another 3 points in the bank and an incredibly important 3 points at that.

And so the wait continues for Atleti. Another year passes without a win against their great rivals. And Simeone awaits his first taste of victory against Madrid. Having never beaten them during his time playing, he now has two defeats in his short time as Atleti manager. El Cholo must ensure there is no hangover from this defeat. They still enjoy a 5 point lead over Madrid and have enjoyed a superb 12 month period under the stewardship of the Argentinean. They must remain focused and continue to perform as they have done so far if they have any intention of disrupting the hegemony of the big two in Spain.

All statistics and graphics taken from http://www.squawka.com