Spectacular Chaos Reigns Supreme As Las Palmas Secure Their Top Flight Status

Between 1954 and 1988 Las Palmas were near enough a firm fixture in the top flight of Spanish football, dropping to the 2nd tier for a total of just six seasons during this 34 year spell in the club’s very early history. Unfortunately tough times were to follow their relegation in ’88 as the club would only return to the Primera División for two brief seasons at the start of the new Millenium. Thanks to the work of Paco Herrera in the 2014/15 season, however, the club were back in the big time and determined to make a better fist of it this time around. Things didn’t start well for Los Amarillos in their return to La Liga, 2nd bottom in October and a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Getafe saw the club make, at the time, what seemed a harsh decision to sack Paco Herrera and replace him with top flight novice – Quique Setien. Nobody can say for sure if Herrera would have turned it around in that season but what we know for sure is that Setien has fully justified the club’s decision during his first eighteen months with the club.

Quique Setien, a true football man whose carefree loving attitude to the game is something that makes him extremely hard to dislike. A former beach football player, Atletico Madrid & Racing Santander midfielder and even a Spanish international in the mid 80s, Quique has been able to utilise his strong love of the strategic board game Chess with his love for flamboyant, almost ostentatious football to progress what looked to be a modest coaching career, at Poli Ejdo and CD Lugo amongst others, into a very good one. Under Setien, Las Palmas have scored some beautiful goals, been involved in spectacular matches and provided a load of memorable moments for their adoring yellow army in the stands. It’s easy to think that this sort of carefree, open approach to football can be seen as naive and will ultimately cost Las Palmas their top flight status but don’t count on it, since Setien’s first day on the job they have shown their capacity for tactical and strategically planned football whilst still playing with the inventiveness and emotion that Setien encourages.

starting-xi-vs-granadaPressing is a huge key in modern day football, with the sport reaching new incredible speeds and so much of the game being played in the quick transitions between defence and attack, it’s become essential to create a distinct pressing style that both emphasises your team’s individual strengths and attacks the opposition’s weaknesses. While Las Palmas are essentially a possession-orientated team, Setien has been seen to use a staggered pressing system that allows his team some opportunities to be aggressive and to win the ball high up the pitch whilst keeping the main defensive approach intact. The 5-1 victory over Granada was probably the best example of this pressing style. The lone striker, Marko Livaja, acts as a type of scout on the front line, loosely following the ball and positioning his body in a way to test the opposition’s ability to play out from the back. If Livaja (or sometimes Vieira depending on the rotation in the previous move) saw an opportunity to attack the defender he chased, triggering quick support work from first Jonathan Vieira, then Boateng and the central midfielders, turning a cautious out-to-in press into a very aggressive in-to-out press designed to force Granada to play passes from deep wide positions to isolated wide players. This play was especially effective in the match against Granada as they were up against a team in the early stages of Paco Jemez’s reign, struggling to move the ball up the pitch in the manner that he imposed so successfully at Rayo.

You can see in the first example how Livaja approaches Uche Agbo cautiously from the right side, blocking the pass he wants to play and forcing a hesitant turn from the central defender, as soon as Agbo looks hesitant Las Palmas fly forward, flooding the central area and forcing the mistake.

4-1-4-1-system-1st-defensive-phase-full-back-doesnt-press

A look at how the 4-1-4-1 pressing system works. The press is very high and has been successful in forcing the pass wide, now we can see Michel dropping into a deeper full back role with El Zhar, Vicente Gomez and Roque Mesa looking to get across to engage with the Granada player.

If chances to press aggressively didn’t occur then Las Palmas settled into their middle third press, transitioning from a 4-2-3-1 system into either a 4-1-4-1 (with transitional central midfielder Vicente Gomez pushing forward) or a 4-4-1-1 (with both wide players dropping deeper and narrower to prevent channel passes and cover in front of the full backs). Both formations work to force the opposition wide so that Las Palmas can then apply a four man box blocking system in their defensive corners. With the 4-1-4-1 Las Palmas can still be slightly more aggressive, Roque Mesa is left spare in the central zone in front of the back four to recover any loose balls whilst Vicente Gomez is able to utilise his imposing physique and excellent positional sense to force passes to the left side. Once the ball is wide, the full backs drop alongside the central defenders and create a narrow back four while the wide midfielder, accompanying central midfielder and Roque Mesa look to go across and either force the opposition out of play or recover the ball into a central area. This was the system used against Granada and worked for the most part very effectively but when Granada were able to push the ball into a central area and the centre backs were forced to defend on the front foot, a couple of individual errors were made with Jeremie Boga in particular was able to profit.

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Here we can see an early use of the 4-4-1-1 pressing system against Sevilla. The entire team is behind the ball and looking to force the ball wide but some small openings are left in central areas to tempt Sevilla into difficult attempts at early penetration. In this picture Iborra tries to force a pass through the right forward but Mateo Garcia is able to intercept and start a counter attack.

The 4-4-1-1 pressing system works slightly differently, a deeper foundation is set with Vicente Gomez and the two wide midfielders now playing alongside Roque Mesa and the front two cautiously pressing as a team. The idea of the press is still to force the ball wide in order to set up the four man box blocking system but is done so by laying traps in central areas and allowing the opposition full backs forward. Once the ball is moved out to the advancing full back, the central attacking midfield will drop in and the wide midfielder on that side will drift even more narrow to try and stop any diagonal balls into the central pockets thus forcing the full back to attempt a long switch to outnumbered teammates or travel with the ball and look to work through the four man box blocking system on that side. The 4-4-1-1 pressing structure was used extremely well in Las Palmas’ defeat to Sevilla. Against a team with such an emphasis on a high attacking approach, utilising the channels and central areas working without pace in behind but instead looking for overloads in the wide areas, it was so important for Las Palmas to keep things tight centrally and force Sevilla to work in tight spaces out wide which they did brilliantly.

sevilla-midfwd-heatmap-against-lp

The heatmap for Sevilla’s starting 5 midfielders and forward Ben Yedder makes for very interesting viewing. Shows just how little of an impression Sevilla were able to make in dangerous central areas.

The match against Sevilla was also a prefect example of how Las Palmas look to work in defensive transitions. Quique Setien is a big fan of creative freedom whilst in possession but in order for this to be the case, his side have to work extremely hard to hurriedly organise their defensive structure to cover the mistakes that come with such an open offensive system. They haven’t always been so impressive in this aspect but against Sevilla, Las Palmas were brilliant at creating a transitional game that completely disrupted Sevilla’s approach. Las Palmas were often a threat on the counter attack against Sevilla but were so quick in re-organising and setting up their 4-4-1-1 shape that they were more often than not able to set up the zonal blocking system out wide, recover the ball in the central area and then look to use Livaja’s wide running and Tana’s neat touches to create another counter attack. When defending against a Sevilla counter attack, Las Palmas had to adapt their system slightly. Now they had to initially look to block the early ball out wide to prevent a Sevilla over load on the flanks, sprinting back into central areas looking to hold up the attack until the wide players and forwards can regain their positions and look to utilise the 4-4-1-1 deep press again. The system lead to Sevilla controlling 65% of possession but in truth until very late on, Las Palmas were very comfortable in the match. Although they lost the match to two very late goals (including one controversial penalty) Las Palmas made life extremely difficult for one of the best teams in La Liga today, by the hour mark Sevilla were a goal down and had only managed 6 shots, a real display of just how well Setien’s tactics worked. A very strategic approach in this game not often associated to Setien’s usually carefree, attacking Las Palmas but a major indication of the depth of his coaching arsenal.

Here we can see how Las Palmas defend against the Sevilla counter attack. They are so quick to get back into defensive positions in the central area and initially block the wide pass while Roque Mesa tracks the wide runner to force the Sevilla player in field. Once they feel comfortable they allow the pass wide and look to set up the low block.

The low block is a key part of any team’s system. How they look to defend when pushed deep towards their own goal can make or break teams, we’ve seen in previous seasons where teams built on a solid defensive foundation like Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea succeed while teams who often overlooked the necessity of an imposing defensive block fail. Extremely well equipped attacking sides like Liverpool, Napoli and Lyon all had very promising title challengers falter due to a lack of serious defensive structure. Las Palmas can sometimes maybe be seen belonging to the latter category, focussing more on their attacking freedom than creating a defensive block they can adapt and apply to each game. This has particularly been seen in the second half of the season where Las Palmas have been on the end of some seriously poor defeats due to a lack of real defensive organisation but the Sevilla game and several others in the first half of the season showed that Setien does know how to set up a strong defensive structure in order to frustrate opponents when he fees necessary. Building on the strong work done in the pressing and defensive transitions, once set in their shape Setien’s men were strong, compact and united when defending Javi Varas’ goal against Sevila, something that can’t often be said about Las Palmas.

The general low block Setien looks to utilise starts with a wide squeeze: three or four players (usually the full back, wide midfielder, backtracking forward and central midfielder on that side, also it may be the central defender on that side) look to box the opponents right up to the touchline pressing the ball zonally rather than man to man, forcing the opposing forwards into passing or dribbling mistakes in tight areas rather than aggressive tackling. If the opposition are able to work their way through the box press and find a cross then Las Palmas are often set-up with one central defender positioned in advance of the near post to tighten the crossing angle, the other full back man marking along with the other central midfielder and the remaining central defender spare to try and intercept the cross in the most dangerous area. Whether it be via the clearance of a cross, a tackle out in the wide area or a forced passing/dribbling error from the opposition, the aim of the Las Palmas low block at Sevilla was to recover possession in a central area just outside the penalty box, here Roque Mesa, Vicente Gomez and Tana can begin the counter attacks that trouble Sevilla so much in the first half. It does show Setien’s mentality that even when in a low block he’s still looking at how his team can use their dribbling and quick countering ability to attack the opposition. It’s that mentality, however, that has made Setien successful and his Las Palmas side so much fun to watch.

4-man-zonal-block

One of the zonal blocks set up against Sevilla, 4 men with a 5th arriving looking to squeeze Sevilla out wide.

counter-attack-phase-1-zonal-block

A graphic showing the full pitch representation of the same zonal block.

Tana’s goal against Sevilla was the perfect example of how Las Palmas can turn their low block into a counter attack. Four men squeeze Sevilla right over to the far touchline whilst in the box the two man-marking, one blocking the near post and one more spare system is in full effect for any crosses coming into the box. Once the loose pass is forced, Roque Mesa is quick to recover possession in the recovery zone and start the counter attack.

zonal-block-too-high-space-in-behind

Aspas exploiting the space in behind for Celta’s third goal as Las Palmas look to block too high.

Las Palmas’ low block isn’t always as effective as it was here against Sevilla however. They’ve been often caught out looking to be too aggressive in pushing their block and being caught in behind, Iago Aspas was a particular beneficiary of this as he scored twice when Celta Vigo stormed to a 3-0 half time lead at the Estadio de Gran Canaria. There’s also an inexperience factor, with very limited Primera Division experience to speak of between the all the defenders in the Las Palmas squad, it’s natural that sometimes they get caught out by the abilities of their opponents. The variation in crossing and some of the channel interplay they’ve been on the receiving end of this season has caused serious issues with the lack of a real organisational defender, particular in matches against Celta, Villarreal and Real Madrid in the first half of the season.

initial-build-to-real-sociedad-first-goal

The first phase of the build up to the Sociedad opener. The left winger comes short, Willian Jose pulls the CB into the space in behind. They take the quick throw in and Zurutuza spreads the ball right where they’ve created a 2 on 1 scenario.

The 4-1 defeat away at Real Sociedad was a masterclass in how to play against Setien’s Las Palmas team with Willian Jose putting in a really complete forward’s performance. La Real pressed high but not particularly aggressively, allowing Las Palmas to play from the back but with little margin for error. Once possession was regained it was a clear plan from Sociedad to quickly get the ball into Willian Jose’s feet, pushing the Las Palmas team back and wide sooner than they’d like before quickly passing the ball back into midfield where they can switch possession to the opposite flank. The benefit to this quick forward, backwards then out wide passing combination is that it disrupts Las Palmas’ ability to transition into a central defensive shape. The quick pass forward pushes the defence back creating the space in front of them, the quick pass backwards exploits that space and as they scramble to recover the quick pass wide creates an overlap on the far side. It’s a tactic that Real Madrid also utilised against Setien’s men in their 2-2 draw at the Estadio de Gran Canaria in September.

The first minute against Real Sociedad is enough to illustrate what i’ve just said. The high press from Sociedad forces the mistake in possession by Las Palmas, then twice Yuri immediately looks into Willian Jose’s feet. The second time he does leads to a Sociedad throw and before Las Palmas effectively position themselves, Zurutuza switches possession to the far side and the goal is created.

Las Palmas’ open, romantic style of football might have seen them concede their fair share of goals but there’s no doubt that for the most part going forward they’ve been a force. Cohesive, creative and incisive, Setien’s team displayed throughout the first half of the season a strategic method of transitioning from defence to attack to be followed with innovative penetration through the freedom that Setien encourages. The matches against Sevilla and Granada provided two different attacking styles from Las Palmas, with the Sevilla game seeing a low block countered into a quick central attack and the Granada game providing a more aggressive press and patient, incisive work in the inside left channel.

Las Palmas usually look to control most of the ball possession in their matches but against Sampaoli’s Sevilla, Setien was happy to set up the low block and use their excellent transitional play to attack Sevilla quickly on the counter. We’ve already seen the Tana goal as an example of how the low block can be used to set-up the counter attack but it’s important to look at how the counter attack itself is performed as it wasn’t the only time in the match Las Palmas went close on the break. If phase 1 of the counter attack is the low block then phase 2 is the breakaway, how Las Palmas recover the ball and move it up the pitch quickly and intelligently in order to go create a chance to penetrate the Sevilla defence.

Here we can see a textbook Las Palmas counter attack as El Zhar has a goal disallowed against Sevilla. A big part of how Las Palmas were attacking in the first half of the season, especially on the counter, is the unusual way they keep their width. Looking to stretch the game not with two wingers or two offensive full backs but with one winger on the right (in this case El Zhar) and their only striker (often Livaja) very high and wide on the left. Once the ball is recovered just in front of the Las Palmas defence we see the shape of the four most offensive players form: El Zhar (AMR) pushes on the right, Livaja (ST) moves straight out high on the left, Tana (CAM) drifts into the inside right position to be the link man with Mateo (AML) staying slightly deep on the inside left, waiting for a potential overlap on Livaja. Victor Gomez is a the key transitional player, he picks up the ball in a deep position before quickly laying off to Roque Mesa, once he has done he moves forward  vertically breaking the Sevilla midfield line and receiving the ball from the link man Tana around 50 yards further forward from where he originally passed to Roque Mesa. Phase 3 of the counter attack is the most important – penetration. Once in a position to penetrate the idea is to move the ball quickly to the inside left channel, looking to either cut inside and score from around 20-25 yards (as Tana does for his goal and Livaja tries with El Zhar’s disallowed goal), look for a late run either through the middle or from the right side or look to use the overlap of Mateo as you can see Livaja fakes to do here before shooting.

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Phase 2 – The Breakaway

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Phase 3 – Penetration

 

 

 

 

 

Las Palmas, however, aren’t a counter attacking team, it’s a tactic they’re very adept at employing in certain matches but Setien has built a team that wants to be on the ball as much as possible, using their variety and creativity to be as exciting and unpredictable as possible going forward. A second highest average possession ranking in La Liga at 57.9% shows their ball playing intention and a closer look at how they turn that possession into penetration shows the attacking freedom indicative of Setien’s philosophy.

Las Palmas Key Passes v Granada

All Las Palmas’ Key Passes v Granada

Livaja wide left

Here we can see the 2nd phase of the Las Palmas attack, after Boateng won the ball on the left, Vieira brought into a central area while Livaja and El Zhar keep the width at different heights.

They are a team that operate heavily in the channels, particularly the left side. In their 5-1 win over Granada early in the season they hit 13 key passes with a staggering 11 of them coming from within the inside left channel. During the match they opted to play their way out of their own defensive zone utilising the ball retention abilities of Kevin Prince-Boateng on the left side to set up their attacking phases. Forward Livaja looked to run beyond him wide into the left side (similar to his role in counter attacks) and either the central attacking midfielder Jonathan Vieira or Roque Mesa would look to pick up the ball from Boateng and move it into a central area (Mesa with a pass, Vieira often dribbling) to create the next phase of the attack. The off the ball running of: Livaja in the left channel, transitional midfielder Vicente Gomez breaking between the lines from a deep central area and El Zhar holding the width combined well with the ability of the other midfield players in this match (Vieira, Roque Mesa and Boateng) to work in tight areas with clever touches and smooth rotations were the keys to Las Palmas being so effective against Granada.

Quique Setien’s rotation policy along with giving his attacking players the freedom to play in the final third with as much flair and ambition as they could muster is a huge key to making Las Palmas so much fun to watch. He allows his attacking players to take risks, to be inventive in the final third but to do so within a strategy that works for them. Before January unpredictable talents such as Vieira, Tana and Boateng were thriving with such freedom, scoring and assisting spectacular goals while more orthodox forward players like Livaja, Momo and El Zhar were contributing with effective off the ball running and more routine attacking plays that could be constructed from the training ground.

The signings of Jese Rodriguez and Alan Halilovic in the Winter coupled with the emergence of the offensive thinking Uruguayan centre back, Mauricio Lemos, have pushed Las Palmas into an even more unpredictable and attacking outfit, looking to work even more within the channels. Looking to be even more dynamic between the opposing defensive and midfield lines with the new additions has proved tougher than Setien would’ve liked however. Unlike the majority of possession-based teams in Europe’s elite leagues, Las Palmas are a team that rarely push their full backs beyond the attacking midfielders and don’t look to create overlaps on the flanks to open up space for crosses or cutbacks. Instead they look to build their attacks playing the ball from deep central positions (through either the afore mentioned Lemos or midfield general Roque Mesa)  into deep lying attacking midfielders before looking for diagonal runs from their inside forwards. This system is something that can work to superb effect when Las Palmas have space to play in and their more inconsistent attacking players come together at once proven in superbly controlled wins against Valencia (3-1), Osasuna (5-2) amd Real Betis (4-1) with an especially impressive performance coming at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid where Setien’s team lead 3-1 until the last 5 minutes where Madrid were able to come back and draw 3-3.

The positives, however, have been few and far between in the second half of the season for Setien. The adjustment period from a possession-orientated team with an inventive but distinct attacking strategy to an aggressively control hungry team with a more on-the-fly penetrative system has been a struggle for Las Palmas. In the first half of the season they were a team that understood the importance of choosing the balance between their favoured ball-playing approach and counter attacking approach for each match and even switching within matches. The added attacking quality of Jese, Halilovic and Lemos, however, has lead to Quique Setien trying to tip the balance towards a more aggressive system a bit sooner than his team were ready for, often leaving them unable to break down well organised teams and having their defensive deficiencies well exposed. A serious issue is that the high width is now being provided by the starting position of the inside forwards and not a late arriving winger, wide forward or an aggressive wing back, making it easier for the opposition to defend tight and narrow without the threat of an overlap and cross. Narrowing the attack to exclusively just working within the channels and deep runs from midfield may suit the personnel in the current squad but has made the margin for error in attack even smaller and opposing teams have responded simply by closing off the channels and looking to bully them physically in central areas.

Attacking set-up through false 9

Here’s the new attacking set-up with the high starting positions of the inside forwards. It’s easier for teams to set up the full backs to defend on the inside and push the centre backs on the front foot when there’s no threat of an overlapping Las Palmas full back.

Crosses Graph

Every team in Europe’s top 5 leagues to average over 55% possession ranked by number of crosses they attempt per match.

The low average number of crosses they attempt per match in comparison to other possession-orientated teams in Europe’s top five leagues is evidence of not necessarily a one-dimensional attack but one lacking structure and therefore versatility. If there are three or four similar forwards trying the same method of neat interplay in the channels every attack, they’re going to be easy to defend at the highest level. The lack of crosses is similar to two very much overachieving teams in Europe -Hoffenheim and Nice. The reason why these two teams are able to play this way however is the strong structural approach they’re managers have set up all over the pitch but starting with a strong foundation: Hoffenheim have conceded just 32 goals in 31 Bundesliga matches, while Nice have conceded just 29 in 35 Ligue 1 matches. Compare this to Las Palmas’ 66 goals conceded in 35 matches and it’s obvious that Las Palmas have to be versatile and thoughtful in their attacking whilst looking to improve things at the opposite end of the pitch.

The volatility of Las Palmas’ form in the more aggressive system can be shown in their 4 La Liga matches during the first 2 weeks of April. Setien’s side lost 3-1 away at both Celta Vigo and Eibar before hammering Real Betis 4-1 at the Estadio de Gran Canaria only to follow that win with a crushing 5-1 defeat to Athletic Club. Dominating the ball in all 4 matches but only managing 1 win with 3 defeats is a problem in itself but the manner in which the matches played out showed the issue with switching to such an aggressive system so early. While there are still strong questions over the Las Palmas defence, Setien needs to create a system that still incorporates all the attacking freedom and invention his team has been built on but also focuses on protecting their own goal. It’s definitely a system that can work with the quality in the Las Palmas attack but it needs to be built on a stronger foundation if they are ever going to become a team capable of forcing opponents so far back they can send wave after wave of attack looking to pick through the tight areas in the channels.

Las Palmas’ top flight status is definitely secure heading into the 2017/18 season but it could prove to be a big Summer for Quique Setien and his staff. Making the changes to take an inventive, exciting but often frustrating and inconsistent side to the next level is possibly his biggest challenge since taking control of the island club.

QUICK SCOUTING: Jonas Hector (FC Köln)

  • Name: Jonas Hector
  • Age: 25
  • Position: Left Back
  • Height: 6ft 1 in
  • Bundesliga Apps: 53
  • International Caps: 10

Born in Saarbrücken in 1990, Jonas Hector signed for Köln’s second team in July of 2010 at the age of 20 from SV Auersmacher. Hector had 2 full seasons in the 4th tier of German football with Köln II before getting the call up to FC Köln, as one of Germany’s biggest football clubs was struggling in the second tier of German football. After a strong debut season in the Köln first team, Hector became an integral part of new manager Peter Stöger’s 2013/14 side in his second campaign, starting 33 of 34 matches as Köln won the 2.Bundesliga . Under Stöger Köln have developed immensely, immediately taking them back amongst Germany’s elite and quickly re-establishing themselves in the Bundesliga with Jonas Hector only missing one of the 54 league matches they’ve played since promotion.

Jonas Hector’s consistency both in fitness and form has made him a key player for his club and a strong option for his country. An extremely well rounded wing back Hector is physically impressive. Strong and quick Hector can handle several different threats one-on-one with his overall awareness and intelligence making him such an incredible team asset. Köln’s system is often changing to adapt to each individual opponent, Hector’s intelligence in adapting to different ways of pressing and transitioning from defence to attack and vice versa is such a key in allowing Köln to get positive results in matches where they’re seemingly inferior for the majority. Currently 9th in the Bundeliga, Köln’s slightly more pragmatic approach has them looking upwards, hoping a strong run of form could push them towards an improbable but certainly not impossible European place.

Hector transitioning into a defensive position

Jonas quickly transitioning back to cover the counter attack, show great recovery pace.

Koln attacking but Hector is looking over his shoulder at potential counter

As Koln attack, Hector drifts in field to support the attack but looks over his shoulder, making sure he is aware of the possibilities on a Dortmund counter.

Hector’s stats show him to be a steady if not remarkable player. An average of 2.6 interceptions, 2.4 clearances and 1.8 tackles per match isn’t going to stand out amongst Europe’s defensive elite but it’s his variation and intelligence in his defending that makes him so important. Ensuring that when he goes forward he maintains an understanding of the situation to which he can transition quickly and effectively to stop any counter attack is a huge key. In the modern game where it’s very common for talented offensive wing backs who offer fairly limited defensive capabilities are successful, it’s refreshing to see a full back who likes to get forward but is always aware of his defensive responsibilities. Intelligence is the key word when talking about Jonas Hector’s defending, his awareness in transitioning is one example but his quality in his positioning and pressing has been such a huge part of what’s seen Hector make a 5 year rise from Köln II player to German international. Hector is rarely forced to dive in or is taken into areas where he’s isolated one-on-one against his opposing winger because of his expert positioning. Hector keeping his tactical discipline and working with his CB both when he has to engage the ball (press opponents/clear crosses) and when the ball is away from his defensive zone being the reason why.

Covering passing lane whilst still marking

Perfect position to help defend in the channel whilst also marking the out of shot Ginter.

Pressing Ginter high up, angles body so Ginter has to go backwards

Hector pressing Ginter so cleverly that even in a 3-on-1 situation he has to play backwards as Hector can track the outside so with his pace.

Dortmund heat map

The Dortmund heatmap shows just how little of the ball they saw high up on the right side

In Köln’s recent 2-1 win over Dortmund (arguably their biggest of the season) Hector played as left wing back in a 5-3-2 formation before moving into central midfield late on. Köln’s game plan was simple – they allowed Dortmund possession deep, pressed them high centrally and forced them wide where their wing backs would force them backwards. Dortmund had 69% possession but only three shots on target (with one of those being Sokratis’ goal from a set piece) displaying the effectiveness of Köln’s performance even at 1-0 down. Köln’s resistance to Dortmund pressure had allowed Stöger to go more offensive late on – putting on attackers Bittencourt and Modeste and pushing for an equaliser, which they got along with a subsequent winner. Jonas Hector was superb throughout, he won 8 aerial battles and made 7 interceptions whilst also managing 4 key passes at the other end. Hector’s biggest plus point, however, was how well he neutralised the attacking threat of Dortmund right back Matthias Ginter whilst also supporting Heintz on the left side of Köln’s back 3. Effectively Hector all but shut down Dortmund’s entire right sided offence almost single-handedly, I counted an incredible six occasions in the first ten minutes where Ginter received the ball but through the intelligent pressing of Hector (quickly engaging from the inside cutting off the central pass but not getting too tight to top Ginter running down the line) could only pass back to where he had received the ball from. After those ten minutes, along with his ability to cut off any space in the inside right channel, Dortmund were very reluctant to attack down the right side as their heatmap shows.

Hector is able to combine his strong defensive game with solid technical ability. He releases the ball early and to good effect, showing the sort of discipline and strong decision making that parallels his defensive game. He has very good crossing ability that in a more offensive team could be used as a powerful weapon and shows intelligent timing in his offensive running. Hector’s very recent spell as a central midfielder is looking like another positive step in the German international’s career. Using his pressing and positioning abilities along with his sharp, simple passing game has allowed Hector to make an impressive first impression in his new role and already lead to an assist in the 1-1 draw with Hamburg.

Jonas Hector is quite comfortably one of the most consistent high quality full backs in Europe right now and has been for quite a while. Already an established international a move to one of Europe’s elite clubs is surely on the cards soon for Hector, a move that in my opinion Hector is more than ready for.

Jorginho: The On-Field Conductor For Sarri’s Sensational Napoli

nalaz (4)Nineteen hard fought matches down and it’s all smiles for Napoli and manager Maurizio Sarri. They lead Serie A at the halfway stage, 2 points clear of Juventus. With Inter and Fiorentina both struggling to match the current consistency of Napoli and Juve, it’s looking increasingly likely that Sarri’s men will pose the biggest threat to The Old Lady from Turin as Juventus seek a fifth straight Serie A title. Napoli themselves haven’t won the Scudetto since 1990 when a certain Diego Maradona was leading the charge for the Naples based club. Back to 2016 however and Napoli’s chances look better by the game; led by a fascinating coach in Maurizio Sarri, the Partenopei are playing some breathtaking football with No.8 Jorginho as the central hub.

Maurizio Sarri was appointed as Napoli Head Coach in the Summer of 2015. A Napoli fan born in Naples he is one of the more likeable men in football using his talent, passion and dedication to take him from the 6th tier of Italian football to his dream of coaching Napoli. Sarri once responded to a question about his possible anger at being the lowest paid coach in Serie A with “Angry? Let’s not joke. They pay me for something I would have done for free after work. I’m lucky.” His coaching style is extremely tactical, known as ‘Mister 33’ (after preparing 33 potential set-play situations whilst in charge of Sansovino) he spends hours every day studying and creating football tactics. Sarri has spent years tweaking and perfecting the 4-3-3 system he currently employs at Napoli, a system that requires a seriously talented and well-balanced central pivot to work around. Former Verona midfielder Jorginho is that pivot.

Simages (11)igned in January of the 2014 season, Jorginho had a solid start to his Napoli career which included playing all 90 minutes of their 3-1 Coppa Italia victory against Fiorentina. As Napoli struggled throughout the 14/15 season however, so did Jorginho, starting just 14 league games and never really showing the talent he had meant his Napoli future was in doubt. The arrival of a new head coach in the summer as well as the signings of Allan and in particular Valdifiori (Sarri’s midfield pivot whilst manager at Empoli) added to the possibility that his time at Napoli could be nearing it’s end. However, having started the first 3 games on the bench, his exceptional performances in the back-to-back 5-0 victories vs first Club Brugge then Lazio helped quickly ascend Jorginho from rotational player to vital first teamer. Playing in a slightly deeper role than previously in his career, Jorginho is now a huge tactical key in an extremely talented Napoli side as they chase that elusive Scudetto.

Napoli 4-3-3Napoli’s preferred formation under Maurizio Sarri has been a very offensive and aggressive 4-3-3. The focus of the system is to completely control a large percentage of the ball and space on the pitch within the match, looking to impose their strong technical ability on their opponents after first utilising their speed and aggression in a high in-to-out pressing style. This high, aggressive pressing style, looking to win possession of the ball quickly, is the first phase in such an offensive style. The final phase is the critical part, being able to bury their opponents by finishing off any chances that they are able to create. Having the league’s top goalscorer in Gonzalo Higuain (18 goals) along with the support of Lorenzo Insigne (8 goals) has been huge in this respect. The second phase of play, however, is where Napoli have been most impressive and Jorginho has been the most influential. The passage of play between winning the ball back and looking to score at the other end is crucial for a team looking to play an aggressive, controlling system; variation, intelligence and team understanding are the key components of what make this part of the system work. Second phase football doesn’t just mean retaining possession with needless passes until deciding or being forced into trying to attack the opposition, it’s about how Napoli recycle the ball and move as a unit in order to impose themselves on their opposition. Napoli have excelled in this area with 2 main tactics, often using a long succession of short passes and sharp rotations looking to slowly push up the pitch and pin back, before ultimately pulling apart, an opponent’s defensive structure, whilst also using a quick counter with more direct passes and vertical sprinting looking to quickly exploit space left by an opponent’s attack.

Perfectly positioned to use triangles with teammates ahead of right side attack

Jorginho perfectly positioned early in the 2nd half against Lazio. Here he is in a position to quickly move either direction to cover in a defensive movement whilst also being in a position to receive and recycle the ball when it turns over.

Just passed vs Inter

This is an image just after Jorginho has released a vertical pass beyond Hamisk, through to Insigne. It shows Jorginho’s deep position, Insigne picking up the ball in the pocket and the subsequent offensive runs of Hamisk, Ghoulam and Allan pressing forward to attack Inter.

Jorginho’s role as the Regista in this crucial passage of play really cannot be understated. Playing in the centre of the midfield three, Jorginho’s main job is to recycle possession intelligently whilst maintaining his position as a reference point for wider and more offensive players to work off. Essentially playing as a pivot, Jorginho’s positioning and ball retention ability both offensively and defensively is what triggers the movements of his teammates and allows the team to play such a risky and offensive style. The two full backs are able to push on, central midfielders can play wider and wingers can play higher and narrower because of Jorginho’s tactical discipline. It’s a strong balancing act for Jorginho. Off the ball he has to ensure that he is close enough to his midfield partners to maintain a strong pressing shape both when Napoli are and aren’t in possession of the ball. Jorginho, however, must also maintain a position to effectively cover his full backs if an opponent looks to counter attack and also look to cut off an opponent’s central passing lanes when they look to attack using vertical passes through the channels into the pockets. On the ball he is seen as the middle man for Napoli, dropping deeper to receive possession from his defenders or goalkeeper he has to use his intelligence and exceptional passing ability to build attacks from the back. Rotating passes with his fellow central midfielders and often Lorenzo Insigne (so often playing in the pocket as an inside forward), Jorginho’s game is based around using short, grounded passes as well as more direct, vertical (but still often grounded) passes whilst rotating his position to force an opponent out of his defensive line, creating space for Napoli to attack the final third. His impressive passing stats reflect this. Jorginho attempts on average a staggering 97 passes per Serie A game at an extremely impressive 90% success rate. This passes-per-game average is the highest of any player in Europe’s top 5 leagues and just goes to show how strong Jorginho is at recycling possession in order to push his team up the pitch whilst forcing his opponents to press more and tire quicker.

High up in first wave of press (4-4-2)

This image is taken 5 minutes into the second half vs Lazio. It shows the first wave of Napoli pressing, even at 3-0 the midfield is extremely high with Hamisk and Higuain pressing the CBs.

Slightly right of centre to cover space left by Callejon:Allan whilst retaining positon and communicating with Hysaj

This shows the second wave of pressing; Insigne pressing high and wide whilst Jorginho drops deeper and drifts slightly right to easily move to help Hysaj if the ball is played down the line.

Jorginho’s performance against Club Brugge pushed him into Sarri’s Serie A starting line up for the first time this season, playing in the regista role in the side’s emphatic 5-0 victory over Lazio. Napoli completely controlled the game, boasting 64% possession and restricting Lazio to just one shot on target. Jorginho was an integral part of this brilliant team performance, playing 99 passes at a 96% accuracy along with three interceptions he controlled the centre of midfield. The early stages of the game are where Napoli’s pressing game was so important. Using an in to out system Napoli press in 2 waves: firstly Hamsik pushes alongside Higuain (leaving Jorginho/Allan deeper) to force Lazio wide before Insigne and Callejon press up the wings. Jorginho’s role in Napoli’s pressing game was extremely important in scoring an early goal and gaining  control of the match. His aggressively high starting position meant that when the ball turned over in the Lazio right back area and a pass is played down the line, Jorginho was able to get across quickly and, with Ghoulam, double up on Matri and force the mistake. This mistake gifted the ball to Higuain and the striker finished clinically and emphatically, a sight we’ve become very used to seeing from the Argentine. Once Napoli’s strong pressing game earns them an early lead and forces Lazio to chase the game, Jorginho drops deeper looking to use his positioning and passing ability to further control the game and build attacks from deep. This meant that in trying to chase the game, Lazio were pushing players forward to cut Napoli off at their source but ended up just leaving space for Napoli’s more offensive players to penetrate. This tactic is what leads to the 2nd goal. Jorginho drops into the left back area vacated by Ghoulam and as he lets the ball roll across his body and goes deeper into his own half no less than 5 Lazio players take the chance to press high. Jorginho chooses a more aggressive and risky short pass into Koulibaly over the simple pass back to Reina and consequently Napoli (via a series of short precise passes including Hamsik, a pushed on Ghoulam and a free Insigne in the pocket) are able to exploit the space created by those Lazio players pressing and Allan breaks through to score. This aggressive and risky style means the tactic takes a strong amount of understanding and trust within the Napoli unit. Two huge intangibles that have made Napoli so impressive and have been perfectly exemplified by Jorginho.

This video shows the first two goals vs Lazio and Jorginho’s role in each. Two different types of goals and tactics by Jorginho but with the same end result.

Move from deep centre to slightly pushed on the right side opens space centrally for Raul Albiol to switch play (1:2)

This was taken from late in the 1st half of the game against Lazio; with Albiol on the ball, Jorginho drifts into the right centre pocket, leaving space centrally for Koulibaly to receive the ball and move forward under absolutely no pressure.

Moves back to central area after ball is switched from right to left (2:2)

After the pass is played to Koulibaly, Jorginho starts to move back to the centre allowing for Hamsik and Ghoulam to start pushing up into the left channel.

Playing the Regista role in such a controlling, offensive style isn’t just about simply pressing high early then dropping deep. Jorginho has to be continuously aware of his own position and how it affects his teammates. Their freedom to move and play in the style Sarri requests comes directly from the positions Jorginho takes as the team’s pivot. As the second half wore on we saw Jorginho playing short give and go’s with several of his teammates whilst drifting all over the pitch both vertically and horizontally creating space for players both ahead and behind him. These short, quick passes along with little movements into pockets of space just wide of centre were key in bringing Lazio’s pressing units into different areas of the pitch, areas of the pitch which meant they weren’t able to put Napoli’s back 4 under pressure when they were in possession. Jorginho’s intelligence in his passing and his movement was a huge key in helping Napoli fully impose themselves on the game at 2-0, it didn’t matter that Napoli went on to score five as Lazio chased them, the game was under their complete control and only a horror show of errors would have seen them not go on to win the match.

This 37 second clip from the second half of the match shows a perfect execution of Jorginho’s role when Napoli are comfortable in a match. He drifts from side to side recycling possession linking with defenders and midfielders alike whilst staying perfectly positioned, allowing Napoli to move the ball from right to left and forward to back whilst always remaining a passing option for the player on the ball. The key part of the video however comes at the very end, as Koulibaly has possession Jorginho takes 2 or 3 steps towards his own goal, momentarily attracting the attention of his marker and allowing David Lopez to move into space and begin to attack.

Napoli have only lost once with Jorginho in the starting lineup this season and the mistakes that cost them that game are mistakes that both Sarri and Jorginho will need to learn from to ensure they’re at their best to challenge for the Scudetto. Napoli were flying heading into the game, fourteen wins in their last sixteen games in all competitions, and were fresh off the back of a huge top of the table victory over Inter Milan. The confidence they took into this game proved to be their undoing however, playing too aggressively in the first half an hour against a well-drilled Bologna side managed by the vastly experienced Roberto Donadoni. Despite being five years younger than Maurizio Sarri, Donadoni has been managing at the highest level in Italy for over a decade now and even managed the Italian national side from 2006 through to the end of the 2008 European Championships. Thinking that they could go to Bologna and comfortably turn over Donadoni’s side by being more aggressive in their pressing and attacking was a little naive by Sarri and on the pitch by Jorginho, who learnt a key lesson in the opening half an hour of that game.

Jorginho way in advance pressing ahead of Allan:Hamsik

This shows just how high Jorginho was pressing early on against Bologna; here he is ahead of both Allan and Hamsik when pressing and leaving a big gap between defence and midfield with Destro’s high positioning.

Destro and Diawara staying tight to Jorginho early on

Here we cans we Destro and Diawara tight to Jorginho with Taider looking to cut off the passing lane through to Insigne. This means Koulibaly (Napoli’s least accomplished ball player) is having to thread risky passes to attack Bologna.

Jorginho pressed way too high and not in tandem with his teammates. There were times in the first half an hour where Jorginho was pressing ahead of both Allan and Hamsik. This aggressive high pressing wouldn’t have been such a big issue had Donadoni not noticed and made sure his 3 forwards immediately started making runs in behind the Napoli defence from very high starting positions. This left a large gap between Napoli’s midfield and defence and meant Bologna were able to exploit the Napoli defenders individual weaknesses. Being so high also meant that Bologna central midfielders could engage Jorginho then look to drag him out of position. A few times we saw Taider engage Jorginho, pass out wide then make a diagonal run in to a wide area. This forced Jorginho to decide to track him and leave space centrally for Bologna to exploit or let Taider run free and risk Bologna overloading Napoli in the wide areas. There were several occasions before, during and just after the first goal where Napoli were caught out, either in behind the slow Albiol or with space being left for Bologna attackers to isolate and run directly at Koulibaly. The big Frenchmen has been impressive for Napoli this season but still struggles defending one-on-one against tricky forwards. On the ball Jorginho was finding it hard to influence the game as well. His high starting position meant it was easy for Bologna to mark him with one from midfield (often Diawara) as well as the centre forward (Destro) sticking tight to him on either side. With 2 men staying tight to Jorginho it meant that Napoli couldn’t build their attacks around a pivot and reliable passer. Full backs were pushing at different times and offensive players were having to retrieve sloppy penetrative passes played by the centre backs. The fix was easy for Jorginho, he had to drop deeper in order to gain possession and force Diawara to make a decision but by the time he had figured this out Napoli were 2 goals down and chasing the game.

 

When Jorginho and Napoli did switch up their tactics however, we did see a strong revival from Napoli and they could have well been level before Reina’s mistake allowed Bologna to take a three goal advantage. Once Jorginho started to drop deeper he was able to open the game up for his teammates with his positioning and passing ability and Napoli started to dominate the match. Sarri’s men had their moments just before the break but it was the first few minutes after half time where they totally dominated the match and, creating chances for Higuain, Callejon and Hamsik with a bit more of the ruthlessness in the final third they have shown this season, Napoli could have quite comfortably overturned the deficit. It was however to be Bologna’s day as Destro’s low effort squeezed passed the Napoli goalkeeper to give Bologna a 3-0 lead on the hour mark, a scoreline that Napoli and Higuain’s late rally couldn’t retrieve as the match finished 3-2. The match will go down as the one that got away from Napoli but if reacted to properly, it could be the game that teaches them the skills they need to win the Scudetto. Modern day managers, in particular recently Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, often look to the reaction of themselves and their teams at tough times. Whether it be going a goal down, losing a match or losing a run of matches, a team and manager’s reaction in these moments is where we can truly see what the side is made of. In dropping deeper and changing the way the game was being played through his individual position Jorginho showed a new found level of understanding in a fairly new role for him and deserves as much praise for his second half performance as criticism for his first half performance.

Dropping deeper in Napoli build up, creates a load of space for him as Taider chooses not to press so high

Jorginho here in line with the Napoi defenders on the ball, affords him plenty of space as Taider chooses not to press. This means he can take the ball on the half turn, move towards the Bologna goal and signal the forward players to move ahead of him.

Early 2nd Half Jorginho's deep position leads to 2 men pressing and space in between Bologna DEF and MID

Early in the 2nd half we see Jorginho again dropping deeper, only this time as 2 of the Bologna CM’s press the ball we can see the huge space it leaves centrally for Hamsik and Higuain to attack.

 

Jorginho’s best performance in his role as Napoli’s pivot came in his current side’s 2-0 victory over his former side, Hellas Verona. The Brazilian-born midfielder was incomparable as Napoli cruised to the simplest of 2-0 victories at the Stadio Marc-Antonio Bentegodi. Putting in a near perfect performance Jorginho had 212 touches, attempting 195 passes at an astonishing 93.9% completion rate, including NINE key passes (Mesut Ozil averages 4.4 per match, the highest across Europe’s top five leagues). Jorginho’s quite outrageous passing stats in this game were matched only by his superb positioning and intensity as he was key to the aggressive ultra-control system that Sarri’s Napoli carried out faultlessly. The pattern of the match was set in the opening two minutes which I will quickly run you through now:

 

Tight Napoli system at kick off

Napoli’s tight formation from kick off; shows their in to press immediately forcing Verona to play to their right side.

Jorginho recycling possession deep, attracting Verona midfielders

Jorginho receiving the ball under pressure, attracting Verona players.

Immediately we see Napoli’s in to out pressing style as Jorginho, Hamsik and Insigne force Verona back into the right back area. Higuain cuts off the simple backwards pass and Pisano is forced down the line and out of play. As play moves on we see Allan in a deeper position, exchanging passes with Callejon. Jorginho pushes a little higher to create space for Allan then drops in to create an option before dropping further as the ball goes back to the CBs. Jorginho, Hamsik and Allan exchange passes and rotate positions seamlessly as the Verona midfield struggles to find a pressing rhythm. After Ghoulam goes all the way back to Reina, Jorginho takes the ball under pressure twice, forcing Verona to press higher than they want to. With quick lay offs back to Chirches in defence Napoli were able to edge up the field as a unit and pin Verona back.

Jorginho receiving the ball high up the pitch with Verona penned in

Jorginho receiving the ball in space high up the pitch as Verona are penned in.

Midfield trio pressing immediately to recover possession and keep Verona penned in

Midfield trio pressing high in transition, allows Napoli to win ball back quickly with limited risk as they’re all transitioning back to a defensive position.

Then we see Jorginho very advanced, but still deeper than both Hamsik and Allan, receiving the ball unopposed and able to pick the pass of his choice. This moment came about because of the initial pressing and subsequent second phase passing that had gone before. Jorginho doesn’t pick the right pass on this occasion, looking to force a ball in behind the Verona LB, but as the ball breaks down Napoli are so well-drilled and quick in their pressing that they are immediately able win the ball back in the Verona half and start the process over again. Jorginho is pressing extremely high and aggressively, but is able to do so in this instance as Verona don’t have any controlled possession and he is in tandem with his teammates. Neither of these factors were applicable during his careless high pressing against Bologna. Already at this early stage Napoli have total control over the match and are forcing Verona into an extraordinary amount of defensive and physical work. Credit to Verona as they defend resolutely and hang on for a long time but tired bodies make mistakes and the moment their defence switches off, even for a second, and give a player with the quality of Insigne that amount of space in the penalty area, they are punished.

Overall Jorginho’s transition from either a more advanced central midfielder or one half of a double pivot in Rafael Benitez’s Napoli side to the regista and lone pivot in Sarri’s has been extremely successful. Jorginho is beginning to establish himself as one of the best holding midfielders in Italy and is gaining a strong reputation throughout Europe. For Jorginho to take his game to the next level however he needs to start improving the all round defensive portion of the job. The 24 year old is far from incompetent defensively and it can be argued that in such a style Jorginho doesn’t need to defend as much as a regular DM. This may be true but it still remains that to elevate their game to the absolute highest level, any player in this sort of role has to be have a strong defensive awareness and understanding in order to completely protect his defenders and cover for the forwards in front of him, who can struggle to transition quickly in a team so offensive. Jorginho’s base positions when opponents have controlled attacks is good and his ability to win headed duels as well as one-on-one technical battles is also impressive. Where Jorginho needs to develop his game is in his tackling (with his percentage of tackles won being well under 50%) and his all round defensive actions. Jorginho has made just 0.5 clearances and 1.8 interceptions per game, when you compare those numbers to that of Daniele De Rossi (2.1 clearances and 2.7 interceptions) the holding midfield veteran of Roma is the perfect example to any young defensive midfielder.

The defensive side of the game is something that Jorginho can and will develop over time through experience, however nothing should take away from what has been a groundbreaking first half of the season for Napoli’s chief on-field conductor. Under Sarri, Jorginho and Napoli have come such a long way in such a short space of time. Whether or not it will be enough to end the long wait for top flight success however is difficult to say. Stunning football and a real togetherness has put Napoli atop the rest in Italy but a young squad and a manager with no experience of a top fight title challenge could prove to be a real problem. The story of Sarri is a heartwarming one for football fans but sometimes this can be a cruel game and challengers don’t get much tougher than Juventus. I personally hope they win the Scudetto and I look forward to seeing how Jorginho develops as a player and on-field personality in the coming years. He may never hit the incredible heights of Sergio Busquets as the near perfect all-round modern day regista, but Jorginho has so much still to achieve and potential to unlock if time and luck are on his side.

 

Team Analysis: High Flying Heracles Almelo

Top 6 after 10 matches

Via uk.Soccerway.com

10 matches played and Heracles Almelo are sitting pretty in Eredivisie. Impressive team performances both inside and away from the Polman Stadion have John Stegeman’s side comfortably in 4th place – 2 places better than their highest ever Eredivisie finish (6th in the 2009/10 season) and 10 places better than last season’s finish of 14th. Having only managed 1 season in Holland’s top flight between 1967 and 2005, Heracles are now an established Eredivisie side with this being their 11th straight appearance in the competition. The current season however has seen by far and away their best start: 21 points in 10 matches, smashing their previous best first 10 match record of 14 points in the 09/10 season. The man behind the success, 39 year old John Stegeman, is just in his 2nd season as a football manager having been promoted from assistant manager when Jan de Jonge was sacked by Heracles on August 31st 2014.

Line-UpOver the Summer the young manager faced the task of filling the huge hole left in his side by the departure of Bryan Linssen to Groningen. Linssen had been a talismanic figure for Heracles, scoring 21 goals in 64 Eredivisie appearances for the club; his goals and assists also made up 38% of the club’s league goals as they just about staved off relegation in the 14/15 season. In his absence Stegeman has seen Joey Pelupessy and Oussama Tannane step up from first team rotation players to key members of his first XI, while also being able to get the best out of maturing young stars such as Wout Weghorst, Mike te Wierik and Iliass Bel Hassani. Along with the individual performers, Heracles spent a Summer focussed around building a strong team based on a solid defensive foundation and a varied offensive approach. A side with a good mixture of youth and experience as well as tactical and technical ability, Heracles have a very balanced squad with a seemingly great team spirit. Tactially, Stegeman has employed a flexible 4-3-3 system; adjusting the system from game-to-game as well as in-game. This has been the key to not being predictable and dealing with many different threats, Heracles have been able to do this expertly so far this season; allowing them to get the best out of the current squad, being an offensive-minded team but still solid at the back with the joint 2nd best defensive record in the division.

This shows the tight back 4 of Heracles in the 2-0 derby win over FC Twente. You can see the man marking system in full effect with DM Pelupessy sitting in front

This shows the tight back 4 of Heracles in the 2-0 derby win over FC Twente. You can see the man marking system in full effect with DM Pelupessy sitting in front

The back 4's heatmap in the 2-1 win over PSV shows the tightness of the defence and how CBs work with full backs. Also can see the adventure of Fledderus compared to other defenders.

The back 4’s heatmap in the 2-1 win over PSV shows the tightness of the defence and how CBs work with full backs. Also can see the adventure of Fledderus compared to other defenders.

The Heracles back 4 and Goalkeeper has remained the same for 9 of the league 10 matches so far (Fledderus missed the 2-0 win against Heerenveen through injury) and for good reason; despite a tough start in the 3-1 defeat to Roda JC, the defence has been in impressive form with Heracles keeping 5 clean sheets so far this season. Stegeman has employed a man marking system when in defence, defenders look to stay on their feet and stick one-to-one with their chosen attacker. The back 4 remains a tight unit as centre backs look to more often work with their corresponding full back in order to make they don’t get isolated in a league filled with talented wingers. Of the tight back 4 it’s often the experienced left back Fledderus who breaks the strong defensive line. The Heracles captain often attempts to win the ball higher up the pitch when Heracles are in a strong position in the match in order to create sustained pressure in the opposition half; he also will step out of defence when looking to break forward and counter attack. In the centre of defence Heracles have a strong partnership of Zomer and te Wierik; the former is an experienced Eredivisie defender who’s game is based on his physicality and ability to sweep in behind the left full back. Zomer has been a key performer in certain matches this season and strong relationship with Fledderus is evident but the one-to-one marking system however has sometimes allowed teams to exploit his lack of pace and tendency to get too tight to his man. Mike te Wierik on the other hand has been simply superb for Stegeman’s side, the 23 year old’s anticipation and strong front foot defending have been key for Heracles this season leading to the CB boasting 2.8 tackles per game, 3 interceptions per game and a huge 8.8 clearances per game. Te Wierik is the other defender in the Heracles system who often breaks the defensive line; his great reading of the game allows him to step out of defence quickly to dispossess the opposition before moving the ball intelligently. A free signing from Cambuur last Summer, right back Droste epitomises the defensive set-up of Heracles: composed, no nonsense and very much in tune with his teammates, Droste has been Mr.Reliable for Stegeman this season. The strongest part of Droste’s game has been his positioning; his standard defensive position staying almost always around 10 yards to the right of te Wierik and a couple yards further forward than the centre back. This of course changes when one player has to engage the ball or track a runner. Heracles have had their issues defending crosses however this season, Zomer in particular prone to getting caught underneath the ball and Castro not being the most imposing of goalkeepers when the ball enters his box.

This video shows a few examples of Heracles defending so far this season:

Pelupessy deep early in the 2nd half as Heracles lead PSV, defence sets up around his position.

Pelupessy deep early in the 2nd half as Heracles lead PSV, defence sets up around his position.

A tight defensive formation in the tough trip to ADO Den Haag, Pelupessy in between the 2 banks of 4, closing off space in between the lines.

A tight defensive formation in the tough trip to ADO Den Haag, Pelupessy in between the 2 banks of 4, closing off space in between the lines.

A key to Heracles performance this season has been the form of holding midfielder Joey Pelupessy. The 22 year old former Netherlands U19 international has been in superb form this season adding defensive stability, intelligent passing and a great work rate to Stegeman’s team. The midfield man has been a huge factor in adding balance and flexibility to the Heracles 11. Only 5 Eredivisie central midfielders have a better interceptions per/game record than Joey Pelupessy’s of 2.3 p/g and only 3 of those midfielders make more tackles per/game than Pelupessy, who’s record currently stands at 2.1 after 10 matches gone. The Heracles man’s ability to win and recycle possession without hesitation is similar to that of Barcelona great Sergio Busquets. Although he’s a long way off the incredible performance levels of Busquets it’s clear that Pelupessy’s intelligence, quick thinking and passing range is a huge asset in Stegeman’s system. He allows Heracles to tighten the game when needed as they did away at ADO Den Haag or expand the game and create a quicker, more offensive approach. The video below shows the variation in Pelupessy’s passing game, from quick forward thinking passing to shorter passes designed to keep possession. Whichever pass is required, Pelupessy’s match intelligence means more often than not he picks the right pass and complete’s his pass quickly and with full commitment.

Tight front 3:3 formation early on at ADO

The tight attacking formation vs ADO shows how close Burns and Bel Hassani play to the forwards.

Ball going long to the head of Weghorst, shows good support play from teammates as they switch up attack to a more direct approach.

Ball going long to the head of Weghorst, shows good support play from teammates as they switch up attack to a more direct approach.

Going forward Heracles are more effective than spectacular; using a variety of different attacking ploys Heracles have been able to make the most of their attacking talent since the departure of Bryan Linssen. One player who has really stepped up has been attacking midfielder Illias Bel Hassani: the Heracles number 8 has already matched his tally of 4 goals from last season with all 4 goals this time around being opening goals. The 23 year old former Sparta Rotterdam midfielder has played a lot this season very close or sometimes beyond the front man showing great energy, quick link play and goalscoring instincts. Bel Hassani’s all action approach perfectly compliments the more technical and calculated, Thomas Bruns and more disciplined and tactical Joey Pelupessy in the Heracles midfield. Weghorst, meanwhile, has also stepped up. Playing the Target Man role very well this season in a team that likes to play the ball on the floor. Weghorst has displayed a great ability to lay the ball off first time for midfield runners, move off the ball intelligently to open space for the players behind him and has come up with some crucial goals, scoring 5 in 10 so far this season. The striker hasn’t been afraid to run the channels, often running the left channel so Darri can use his great close control to drop into the inside left channel when the team look to build attacks with thought and precision. Heracles look to use quick counter attack or build attacks through clever passing but they are also happy enough to go long towards Weghorst and utilise his aerial abilities when needed – this was shown well in the win over PSV, Heracles struggled to build attacks due to PSV’s impressive early high press so they went long to Weghorst and got players tight around him to push PSV back and build attacks from higher up the pitch.

4 man counter attack away at Cambuur, utilising Weghorst's aerial ability and getting 3 runnind beyond him.

4 man counter attack away at Cambuur, utilising Weghorst’s aerial ability and getting 3 runnind beyond him.

This 4 man counter attack away at De Graafschap has 2 up trying to get in behind the defence with 2 supporting including LB Fledderus getting forward.

This 4 man counter attack away at De Graafschap has 2 up trying to get in behind the defence with 2 supporting including LB Fledderus getting forward.

Heracles have been very strong in offensive transitions this season. So quick when counter attacking they use their width and quick passiing midfielders to provide often a 4-man attack combining pace, width and skilful forwards. Their 4 man counter attacks come in different variations, it can often mean 3 attacking high at once with 1 support player or 2 high with 2 support players or 1 up top (not necessarily Weghorst) and 3 support quickly from deep. The key to being able to counter so well is the team’s commitment, they don’t hesitate in pushing 4 players forward in one go even when leading and look quickly to release, usually Tannane out right or Bel Hassani centrally – their two best attacking players. With Oussama Tannane staying very wide on the right and one of Darri/Bel Hassani or sometimes Fledderus attacking on the left side, Heracles are able to keep great width in their counter attacks and stay quick and direct with the pace and dribbling abilities of Darri, Bel Hassani and in particular Tannane. Heracles were very impressive when counter attacking in the 2-0 victory at home to Twente especially in the 2nd half; with the lead in place they were able to drop deep and look to break against their derby rivals. Another key feature of Heracles attacking play this season has been their distance shooting, quite the norm in the Eredivisie, 46% of their league attempts on goal have been from outside of the penalty area scoring 7 times. Weghorst’s movement and lay off abilities have been a key part in opening the space centrally for players to take shots from inside 30 yards.

One of the counter attacks against Twente, you can see how wide Tannane and Darri are as well as Weghorst's taking CBs away to allow Tannane to isolate his full back further.

One of the counter attacks against Twente, you can see how wide Tannane and Darri are as well as Weghorst’s taking CBs away to allow Tannane to isolate his full back further.

This counter attack vs Twente again shows the great width although its a rare attack that doesn't immediately have a 4 man wave.

This counter attack vs Twente again shows the great width although its a rare attack that doesn’t immediately have a 4 man wave.

Tannane stats

All stats in this article via WhoScored.com

The undoubted star of this Heracles team’s early success however has been Oussama Tannne. The 21 year old winger made an explosive start to his 3rd season at the Polman Stadion; taking the place in the front 3 of the departed Bryan Linssen, Tannane has played as a left footed right winger – being a more direct threat than Linssen was. The recently capped Netherlands U21 international has shown glimpses of his undoubted talents in the past but in the early stages of this season has turned from frustrating to extremely effective. Tannane has pace in abundance, brilliant dribbling ability and a great strike; when able to isolate his full back Tannane has shown impressive variation in looking to beat his man and get a cross or shot in. Heracles attacking approach is often built around getting Tannane in a position where he can isolate his full back high up the pitch, often using Darri, Bel Hassani and Fledderus’ strong combination play in the inside left channel to force the opposition over to one side before looking to switch over to the former Heerenveen youngster. In a league filled with talented wingers, Tannane is 9th for dribbles completed per game but only 1 player in the top 10 for dribbles completed has made more key passes per game than Tannane’s 2 (which also sees Tannane as the 9th best in the league for that particular statistic so far this season). Tannane was a key factor in the victories over Twente and PSV despite not registering a goal or assist with his counter attacking ability in particular causing several problems; however the game’s against NEC (scoring a stunning 35 yard free kick and recording an assist) and Cambuur (scoring 4 goals including a penalty he won himself) are where he’s really left his mark this season, the Cambuur game in particular showed his incredible pace and explosiveness and how when he’s on target he’s as difficult as any to stop. The winger unfortunately picked up a knee injury in the dramatic cup victory over Vitesse but Heracles are hopeful that he will return for the match against Willem II.

The very centralised attack vs NEC, this was a shot taken just as Tannane played in Weghorst for the big man's goal.

The very centralised attack vs NEC, this was a shot taken just as Tannane played in Weghorst for the big man’s goal.

Here we see the rotation of Bruns and Tannane, allowing Heracles to keep their width whilst posing different threats in different areas.

Here we see the rotation of Bruns and Tannane, allowing Heracles to keep their width whilst posing different threats in different areas.

Strong individual performances have been good for Heracles but this is certainly a team effort, lead by a very shrewd young manager in John Stegeman. The former assistant manager has excelled in building strong communication and discipline in his side whilst taking on young talented players and maturing them quickly into accomplished professionals. He’s certainly not without tactical knowhow either; the variety in their attacking play and defensive stability is the product of hard work on the training ground while Stegeman has made several in-game adjustments that have proved vital. This was displayed as previously mentioned with the switch in tactics vs PSV having struggled against the high press. This was also shown in the win over Twente as Heracles focussed their defensive efforts against the Twente right side where, now Porto winger, Jesus Corona provided a serious threat; Heracles dropping deeper and focussing on set pieces and counter attacks in the second half against Twente was key to sealing that victory. Being strong frontrunners has been a feature of Heracles all season, only once in their ten Eredivisie games have Heracles conceded an equalising goal (the first game, a 3-1 defeat to Roda JC). Heracles game-to-game offensive variety extends beyond when they attack (counter or slower build) but also how they attack in terms of the width used, how many runners in behind and even who’s attacking from where. Heracles are very strong out wide but in the 3-0 win over NEC it was from a more central area where they proved most effective, Tannane, Bel Hassani and Darri playing as a tight 3 in behind Weghorst who made more runs in behind than usual to create space for the trio. A feature used in the wins over Twente and Cambuur was the rotation of central midfielder Bruns and winger Tannane, allowing Tannane to use his explosiveness centrally while Bruns technical ability allowed him to swing over more accurate crosses for Weghorst.

Stegeman will be thrilled with his side’s performances so far this season but knows there is still a lot of work to be done; Heracles must maintain they’re togetherness and identity if they’re to ride their current wave of momentum to the end of the season. A top 6/7 finish and participation in next season’s Europa League is definitely a possibility for the Almelo club. In the short-term Stegeman will be looking at the side’s 7 matches heading into the Winter break with confidence; only Feyenoord away looks on paper like a game Heracles will be lucky to get anything from. They need to keep using their determination, team spirit and other key factors (such as being good frontrunners, offensive variety and stability in defence) to maintain they’re current league status. I’m predicting a 6th placed finish for Heracles a good chance of winning the Europa League playoff, I think Stegeman’s an intelligent young manager who’s ability to get the best out of his players will push his side into Europe and a joint highest Eredivisie finish.

Form Analysis: Pardew’s Palace On The Road

26DEA2CE00000578-3005572-image-a-61_1426955267257It’s often been said that to survive in the Premier League team’s have to make their home a fortress, to do more than just survive however you need to be able to take points on the road. With wins at Selhurst Park proving harder to come by and just one win away from home before Christmas, Palace were staring relegation straight in the face. A three nil defeat away at Manchester City followed by a Boxing Day loss at home to Southampton left The Eagles in the relegation zone and saw manager Neil Warnock sacked. After Keith Millen took interim charge for two goalless draws away at QPR and Aston Villa, Alan Pardew was given the job and sparked an immediate upturn in form particularly on the road.Lineup

Pardew lead Crystal Palace into 8 Premier League away matches after his appointment in early January, winning 6 of them. He adopted a more open attacking approach whilst keeping a strong defensive balance – shown with the side conceding just 8 goals in his 8 away matches in charge, half the amount conceded in Warnock’s 9 away matches.

Palace displayed a strong appreciation for the space on a football pitch in their end of season away run; their ability to press as a unit and adapt tactics from game to game were particularly important in this respect. Palace looked to use a high press method, whilst keeping a deep and compact defensive set-up. Utilising the pace and power of their front three along with the versatility and energy of their central midfielders, Palace are able to engage opponents for a short period of time very high up the pitch. The Eagles looked to press man-to-man when central to force opponents towards their own goal whilst often adopting a tight four man system when pressing high and wide. The intended outcome of this pressing style was to force the opposition to either look high and direct towards their forwards (playing into the hands of Palace’s tall back four) or look to get the ball down the sides of the Palace defence which allowed Palace’s full backs to use their impressive one-on-one defensive ability. Pardew’s defensive midfielders played a key role in how they pressed and utilised space last season too. The Ledley/McArthur combination had a tactical flexibility to it that was pivotal in the 2-1 victory away at Stoke: with Ledley able to press left comfortably and McArthur right, they were able to help the side press high and wide, cover their full backs and more importantly close the large space left centrally with their impressive recovery running. Club captain Mile Jedinak came back into the side in the 3-1 victory away at West Ham: playing the anchor man role alongside, at first Mutch then the energetic McArthur. Jedinak used his tactical discipline to stay central and close to his defence against West Ham’s narrow diamond system, whilst using his physical attributes to combat West Ham’s direct, phsyical style. Pardew successfully rotated his midfield combinations to suit the specifications of each opponent, sometimes playing McArthur/Mutch in a more advanced role to add further steel their midfield.

This displays the high man-to-man press that they employed against West Ham, turning Alex Song towards his own goal and back to the goalkeeper.

This displays the high man-to-man press that they employed against West Ham, turning Alex Song towards his own goal and back to the goalkeeper.

This picture shows the how Palace set up to press an opposition's deep throw in. Using a 4 man press whilst calling Murray across to block off the easy ball wide.

This picture shows the how Palace set up to press an opposition’s deep throw in. Using a 4 man press whilst calling Murray across to block off the easy ball wide.

Jedinak challenging the first ball as the defence backtracks to use their numerical advantage and compactness to win the second ball.

Jedinak challenging the first ball as the defence backtracks to use their numerical advantage and compactness to win the second ball.

A display of front foot defending by Ward, immediately robbing the attacker of possession

A display of front foot defending by Ward, immediately robbing the attacker of possession

A key to Pardew’s success on the road was his side’s defensive set-up. Palace lined up with a tight four-man unit. All players well balanced physically and with a strong desire to defend, alongside the insurance of a reliable goalkeeper, Palace were turned into a very difficult side to score against. As previously mentioned Palace looked to defend deep; keeping compact and dropping deeper towards their own penalty area when the ball was hit direct at them, Palace defenders would often look to engage with the first challenge but focus on winning the second ball. A very strong component in the Crystal Palace defence come in the form of Ward and Kelly, the full backs. Both players can be accused of needing to do more going forward but defensively, particularly away from home, they are a key part of what made Palace successful. Both players have a clear understanding of their roles within the side: working in tandem with the central defenders and often more the central midfielders than wide players, the Palace full backs have to be well disciplined and ensure they drop with the rest of the defence to protect against exposure in behind. This may sounds simple but acts in direct conflict with another of their key roles – front foot defending. Making sure they stay tight to their respective wingers, Kelly and Ward are tasked with looking to steal the ball as soon as it reaches the opponent, ensuring a quick turnover in possession not allowing the opponent’s support players to become a factor in the attack. To be able to perform both key parts of the full back role in this system requires impeccable timing and a ability to quickly analyse each particular situation.

Palace are also very strong at defending inside of their own penalty area. They have four defenders and a keeper who are very good at dealing with deep high crosses into the box which forces a lot of their opponents to try and penetrate wide and from close to the goal line. This allows Palace to smother the penalty area: defending low balls at the front post as well as defending against the cut back to the penalty spot and the high cross to the far post. The only issue with this is defending so deep into their penalty area can leave space on the edge of the box, presenting an opportunity for an opponent to fire a shot off but with a need to be extremely quick and accurate to score from the opportunity as Enner Valencia did for West Ham. However when comparing against the alternatives, Palace will be happy to use this defensive method as it plays to their strengths and protects against clear cut opportunities.

Smothering their own penalty are, crowding out the forward as West Ham look to force a way through.

Smothering their own penalty are, crowding out the forward as West Ham look to force a way through.

Smothering own penalty area against Stoke, wide player has a chance to cross but has to be extremely accurate to create a chance.

Smothering own penalty area against Stoke, wide player has a chance to cross but has to be extremely accurate to create a chance.

Offensively the Crystal Palace approach is very simple but effective. Using a front three of players with good positional intelligence and strong physical attributes, Pardew’s side were very direct with their attacking approach – looking to go from back to front as quickly as possible. Palace often hit high to Murray’s head or chest and get Bolasie and Zaha running in behind, looking to latch onto any flick ons from Murray. Pardew’s adaptation of what some people would call ‘route one football’ is very bold however, looking to keep 3 players high up the pitch for as long as possible so they can penetrate when the ball turns over despite often leaving large vacuums of space either wide or centrally depending on the opponent. This sort of open attacking approach is allowed to work because of the strength in the side as a unit (to be able to create a strong defensive foundation which allows Bolasie and Zaha to remain so high) and the off the ball running of the two wide men which needs to be fully committed and well timed.

The 1st goal vs Sunderland, shows how high up the pitch Murray is when he heads the ball on and how much further both Zaha and Bolasie are to latch on to the flick on

The 1st goal vs Sunderland, shows how high up the pitch Murray is when he heads the ball on and how much further both Zaha and Bolasie are to latch on to the flick on

2nd goal vs Sunderland shows the rotation of the front two but also the support play of the midfield players.

2nd goal vs Sunderland shows the rotation of the front two but also the support play of the midfield players.

This tactic proved most successful in the 4-1 victory away at Sunderland: Pardew’s men scored 4 times inside a 15 minute spell early in the 2nd half, using the direct route to overpower and overwhelm the shaky Sunderland defence. In the build up to all 4 goals (1 scored by Murray and 3 by Bolasie) Palace played a long ball, often aimed at Murray, with Bolasie and Zaha immediately supporting from either beyond the striker or from a little deeper. The match was a perfect display of how Crystal Palace look to use their physical capabilities and direct approach to isolate defenders. This match also displayed the positional flexibility of Palace’s frontmen; Pardew rotated the front 3 throughout the game but in particular looked at any opportunity to switch Bolasie and Murray. This allowed Murray to be challenging Sunderland’s full backs in the air as opposed to Sunderland’s two 6 foot, 3 inch centre backs as well as meaning that Bolasie could play on the shoulder of Vergini/O’Shea in the Sunderland defence, utilising his incredible speed advantage which was key in his first two goals. Another game which displayed Palace’s effective direct route was the 2-1 victory at Stoke City; the Palace equaliser came after Murray had rotated with Bolasie, allowing Bolasie to use his pace to drive passed Shawcross and win a penalty out of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. The win was sealed just a few minutes later, Murray with the flick on and this time it was Zaha racing in behind to slot home.

Puncheon immediately supporting and picking up the loose ball from kick off.

Puncheon immediately supporting and picking up the loose ball from kick off.

Another key to the Palace attack is the support the forwards receive. In midfield and at full back, the team are very good at arriving in good areas and offering options on the ball if the forwards get closed out. The support from deep is particularly important in allowing Zaha and Bolasie in particular to isolate and look to beat their opposing defenders. The wingers love to penetrate quickly using pace and skill to beat players but without support players to distract other defenders, it would be easy for opponents to double up or even triple up on the Palace wingers. Jason Puncheon’s role as the main support and approach player is very underrated. Puncheon operates in the hole in between midfield and attack: this position is often seen as a playmaker role, taken up by players who continuously look to get on the ball and dictate play. Puncheon however is asked to play the role a different way: looking to get close to the forwards in front of him to provide support, picking up any loose balls and feeding the players ahead of him as early as possible. Puncheon’s positioning in offensive transitions is key in helping Palace push high up the pitch and his ability to pick up second balls is even more key in helping the team keep sustained pressure in the opposition’s final third.

Set-pieces are another strong part of the Palace game. Due to the height of the players throughout the Crystal Palace team as well as having several players who are strong at dead ball situations, it’s not a surprise to see just how good The Eagles are at set-pieces. Both defensively and offensively, Palace are more often than not able to be dominant against most opponents when it comes to corners and free kicks. Away from home in particular, Pardew’s side are intelligent: they know how to earn or concede free kicks and corners (depending on the situation) in order to release pressure. With forwards like Bolasie, Puncheon and Zaha able to manoeuvre themselves and the ball into a position where a foul is inevitable would lead to free kicks in good areas and even 2 penalties. When it comes down to the set-pieces themselves: in Puncheon and Jedinak in particular, Palace have players with very strong deliveries in both quality and variation as well as being able to go straight for goal from the right position. Puncheon was able to completely change the flow of the game at Anfield with a perfectly dispatched free-kick, levelling a game Palace went on to win 3-1. It was Puncheon again who was the key in the 3-1 win away at West Ham, the variation on his delivery lead to all 3 goals: the first being a corner stood up to the penalty spot, the second and deep in-swinging corner that was met by Scott Dann at the far post and finally a low in-swinging free-kick which Murray was able to stoop to and head home. Being able to use set-pieces to not only break up play away from home but also score goals is a very valuable attribute in the Premier League; the league is physical that being able to win the set piece battle is a strong mental advantage as well as technical.

These highlights of the 3-1 victory against West Ham show how key set-pieces were in that particular game: 

One thing Pardew has instilled into the Palace side is great mental strength. Crystal Palace have become a side that are very consistent throughout the game; the level of their play rarely dips or increases during the game and this makes them a very difficult opponent. It’s noticeable too how little the team react to external factors; away at Stoke down by a goal to nil, Palace could have easily crumbled like so others have due mostly to the atmosphere and in your face style of Stoke as a club. The 2-1 victory at Stoke was one of three extremely impressive come-from-behind victories away from home for Pardew’s side: one being the 3-2 win away at battling Burnley, this time coming from 2 goals down. The 3-1 victory at Anfield was possibly the most impressive however, battling against the emotion of the game being Steven Gerrard’s last Liverpool match at Anfield to not just win but completely outplay the opposition. This sort of mental ability can have it’s problems when playing at home as Palace sometimes struggle to really get up for the task of breaking down resilient teams (shown with defeats at home to West Brom and Hull). Away from home however Palace’s mental approach cannot be knocked: they take risks, aren’t affected by external factors like fans or media buzz and are able to keep a consistent level of performance throughout the ninety minutes ensuring that the opposition can’t overwhelm them with a spell of serious attacking pressure.

It’s been a fantastic start to life under Alan Pardew for Crystal Palace but improvements need to be made to ensure progression. The signing of Yohan Cabaye already shows the type of ambition that Palace need to press on and compete for a European place; adding further depth to a very strong central midfield area, Cabaye adds a range of passing and a fluidity that no player in the Palace squad can compete with. The signing of Cabaye adds something to the Palace attack that they could really do with – dynamism. The Palace attacking approach is effective but can be easily neutralised if not updated and upgraded; I think a lot of Palace fans will agree that although Glenn Murray was a very good fit for the side for the second part of last season, a younger player with more quality on the ball and in goalscoring areas is much needed. The club has been linked with Loic Remy, Joel Campbell and Charlie Austin in recent weeks, all forwards who would add extra quality to Palace’s attacking approach. A less popular opinion with Palace fans would probably say that they would do well to sign a winger of higher quality than both Bolasie and Zaha. Both wingers had good seasons (Bolasie in particular) but if Palace are to climb the Premie League table then they need forwards with strong definition in the final third and both players are very unreliable. Bolasie in particular is a winger of great talent, physical ability and can be unplayable at times, his touch however is often loose and he lacks real consistency. Both are fans favourites and real impact players so I wouldn’t sell either but instead look to sign a more reliable, consistent forward and look to rotate the three depending on the situation. This would create a more unpredictable and dynamic attacking set-up that could really help Palace push on. The team elsewhere shows real balance and depth, Pardew should just look at adding extra quality and experience where he can. In defence the links to Newcastle’s Fabrizio Coloccini are very encouraging for Palace fans: a very high quality, experienced defender with great leadership skills and again show the club’s ambition even if the transfer doesn’t take place. Further forward the singing of Cabaye I think for now completes a very impressive set of central midfielders but Pardew could look at improving on Jason Puncheon; a versatile and very talented player who is a great asset for the side but again doesn’t quite offer the consistency and final third definition necessary to make Palace a top 7 or 8 side.

Make no mistake, Crystal Palace are a club on the up and if they can retain such strong away form whilst developing their approach to make them less predictable at Selhurst Park then they could definitely push teams like Southampton, Swansea and Stoke for a place in the top 8.

Scout Report: Denis Cheryshev

  • 25412F2D00000578-2935562-image-a-13_1422823997879Name: Denis Cheryshev
  • Nationality: Russian
  • Age: 24
  • Position: Left Wing
  • International Caps: 7
  • Preferred Foot: Left
  • Current Team: Real Madrid

Cheryshev was born in Russia but quickly made the move to Spain to join the youth ranks at Sporting Gijon where his Father played. After spells in the youth system at Sporting Gijon and Burgos CF, Denis Cheryshev was signed by Real Madrid – one of the giants of world football. Cheryshev rose through the ranks at Real Madrid and played 102 times for their B side, known as Castilla, but has only ever made 1 cup appearance for Real Madrid. After an unsuccessful loan spell at Sevilla, Cheryshev spent the 2014/15 season on loan at Villarreal and was largely impressive, leaving many to wonder what comes next for the Russian wide man and more importantly just how good is he?

Cheryshev playing a pass  from a central position in the build up to the opening goal vs Levante. Shows rotation with dos Santos.

Cheryshev playing a pass from a central position in the build up to the opening goal vs Levante. Shows rotation with dos Santos.

Cheryshev is a very powerful winger whose tactical flexibility and intelligence, particularly in the final third, make him a very exciting prospect in the modern game. He lined up and often played as an out-and-out winger in Villarreal’s 4-4-2 system but also showed the ability to quickly transition to a more central role to make him more unpredictable to the opposition. The Russian never looks to overcomplicate his game and can be accused of being very one-footed so being able to use his positional intelligence to mix up his game is key to his success. This was helped at Villarreal by playing with forwards who would rotate happily – Vietto, Uche and dos Santos are all forwards who can double up as wide players.

Creating a momentary front 3 against Athletic Club.

Creating a momentary front 3 against Athletic Club.

Cheryshev actually started as 1 of a front 2 in the 4-2 win over Rayo Vallecano before moving wide later on and grabbing 2 assists. A better example of his flexibility however was Villarreal’s 2-0 win at home to Athletic Club – Cheryshev was up against Oscar de Marcos. Realising early on that de Marcos could match him for pace and was happy to defend wide, Cheryshev had to switch up his tactics. His answer was to, on occasion, create a momentary front 3 with Uche and Vietto forcing Athletic to defend as a tight unit and allow for space out wide as well as in behind. Cheryshev also made the same move twice in quick succession; as one of the forwards made a move wide, Cheryshev would come short then race into the space in behind – breaking through the heart of the Athletic defence off of the long ball.

This move lead to Cheryshev opening the scoring against Athletic: 

Cherysev’s role in the Villarreal team was to be one the team’s main source of penetration. Always thinking on the front foot and looking to move the ball quickly, Cheryshev’s power in his running and with him always looking to move the ball on as quickly as possible, Villarreal were able to turn defence into attack very quickly. Villarreal often looked to variate their attacking approach, mixing it up from a more direct approach to a slower more compact approach looking to penetrate from just outside the opposition penalty area.

When he gets forward he creates an overlap down the left and shows the ability to create space offensively and force the opposition defence to face their own goal.

When he gets forward he creates an overlap down the left and shows the ability to create space offensively and force the opposition defence to face their own goal.

Breaking as the ball turns over, showing great desire to power forward.

Breaking as the ball turns over, showing great desire to power forward.

Both these approaches suited Cheryshev’s style. His incredible desire and pace when transitioning helps with a more direct approach: allowing an out ball for the defenders and other midfielders to hit early. Flying forward when transitioning also often lead to an overload in the attacking third. With Cheryshev’s tendency not to overcomplicate and his relationship with the forwards (In particular Vietto, 4 of his 9 assists in the 14/15 season were to the Argentinian) Villarreal were able to move the ball quickly from a good position to a genuine goalscoring opportunity.

An example of Cheryshev's pass and move style. He quickly feeds the ball wide before racing into the channel either looking for the return or just to separate the centre backs and create a space centrally.

An example of Cheryshev’s pass and move style. He quickly feeds the ball wide before racing into the channel either looking for the return or just to separate the centre backs/drag a midfielder out of positions and create space centrally.

Cheryshev’s direct and powerful style is more suited to the counter attack but is also very effective with a more patient approach. His favoured move of a quick pass and running across his marker into the space in behind or out wide is big in helping pull defences around to create space. Cheryshev’s value above other direct, powerful wingers is his ability to create opportunities with a single touch in the final third: his appreciation of space and the runs of his teammates means that even when not heavily involved in a move, Cheryshev can play a vital role by providing the key pass and even assist.

His assist for Mario Gaspar’s goal vs Espanyol displays this: 

Goal vs Barca (1:3)

Mario fires low in Cheryshev’s direction.

Goal vs Barca (2:3)

Cheryshev is able to react and place the ball into the bottom corner.

Cheryshev also has great reactions and instincts when in and around the opposition penalty area: often reacting to loose balls to hit snapshots or low crosses leading to sustained pressure on the opposition goal and sometimes a goal itself. His goal against Barcelona at the Nou Camp showed his impressive reactions – managing to turn home Mario Gaspar’s cross shot.

Cheryshev is a great weapon but far from complete. As a player who runs a lot on instinct and power rather than intelligence and flair he has a natural tendency to waste good opportunities; shooting at bad times or looking to force an attack against a strong defence. Cheryshev also has issues with discipline and injuries: his defensive play on the whole is good but he often rushes into unnecessary challenges looking to turn the ball over and as a result received 7 yellow cards, Villarreal’s 3rd most booked player in La Liga. The Russian has had a few injuries in his time too, unsurprisingly his all action style has lead to one reoccurring muscle injury having suffered with 4 separate thigh muscle injuries in less than 2 years.

Assuming Cheryshev moves from Real Madrid which seems likely then his next club is a huge decision. A player of great talent but in need of real managing: his all action style and clear power could see him well suited to the Premier League or Bundesliga. I could see him very well being an effective plan B for a team like Liverpool or Borussia Dortmund; his flexibility in attack means he could quite comfortably play a very simple role even in a complicated system before coming alive when it comes to pressing, transitioning and working with flexible forwards who look to rotate and drift. Both Dortmund and Liverpool look to attack with variety but struggled last season to open defences up. Cheryshev would provide a very different option to anything either team has – an outlet as well as bold movement that can create space centrally for the more flair players.

Borussia Mönchengladbach: A Tactical Look At Favre’s Fantastic Side

Borussia Mönchengladbach, Gladbach or simply just BMG, whichever your naming preference there is one thing everyone can agree on – Die Fohlen had a superb 2014/15 season. In their 4th full season under manager Lucien Favre, the 57 year old Swiss lead the team to 3rd position in the Bundesliga – the side’s highest placed finish in 31 years. Despite falling to eventual champions Sevilla in the early knockout stages of the Europa League and a shock defeat in the DFB Pokal, (losing their Quarter Final on penalties to 3.Bundesliga champions Arminia Bielefeld) an impressive Bundesliga campaign that got stronger and stronger as the season wore on has all Gladbach fans smiling and excitement building heading into the upcoming 2015/16 season. But what exactly made BMG such a strong side?

A comparison to 3 years ago shows Lucien Favre sticking with a similar system that saw his only previous top 4 finish with Gladbach, in the 2011/12 season. The likes of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Dante, Neustädter and the incredible Marco Reus may have left but with the development of Jantschke and Herrmann, the experience of Stranzl and Wendt and the superb job done by Sporting Director – Max Eberl in the transfer market, Gladbach have built not just a first eleven but a squad filled with a variation of talented, flexible players.

BMG LineupBMG typically line up with a modern take on the most famous formation in football – the 4-4-2. Although on paper Gladbach look to line up with the well known two banks of 4 behind 2 strikers, the tactical flexibility within the system as well as within the individuals has the team playing with an incredible fluidity that is usually hard to achieve within such a formation. A combination of impressive, fast, short passing as well as an incredible appreciation and understanding of the space all over the football pitch make BMG an extremely tough opponent for any opposition. Borussia Mönchengladbach were incredible throughout the season at controlling the pitch. With or without the ball, Gladbach very rarely looked out of position. Players know their specific roles in the system perfectly and worked very well together in an attempt to achieve their main focus points.

A deep defence and a top goalkeeper, who happens to be comfortable with the ball at his feet, working closely with two extremely impressive central midfielders allows the team to control the defensive third of the pitch and lay the foundation to move forward. Gladbach’s deep defence makes it near impossible for teams to create a multiple of clear cut chances against them; being forced to into crosses through deep and looking to pick up bits and pieces in and around the Gladbach box. The 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena against eventual champions Bayern Munich was a masterclass in deep defending. Stranzl and Dominguez were able to keep tight together and look to defend only inside and on the edge of their own penalty area, Jantschke kept tight to Sranzl to cover for his lack of pace whilst Xhaka, Johnson and Raffael were always on hand to help Wendt smother Bayern’s right side. Herrmann’s high starting position on the opposite flank as well forced Bernat deep and lead to Gotze being forced to stay wide and eventually frozen out of the game.

White - Jantschke Tight Yellow - Smothering Right Green - Dominguez/Stranzl

White – Jantschke Tight
Yellow – Smothering Right
Green – Dominguez/Stranzl

Herrmann starting position

This shows how high and wide Herrmann is even when Gladbach have a deep throw in. The break in play helps Gotze move centrally but will have to come wide to open the game up.

The great thing about Lucien Favre however was his game management: when the game required great defensive knowhow he went with Stranzl, when he felt like he needed more going forward then Jantschke would play centrally with the impressive Julian Jorb coming in at right back. The depth in the Gladbach squad was evident all over the pitch but particularly in defence. Despite using several different combinations throughout the season, Gladbach always remained solid at the back, conceding just 26 Bundesliga goals, the 2nd best record in the league. Favre’s incredible game management was a huge key in Gladbach never being out of a game: only losing once by more than 1 goal in a competitive game all season, with that coming in the final game when down to 10 men against Augsburg.

Moving forward into the central third was where BMG were most decisive this season. Keeping a tight unit between the central midfielders and the forwards was a huge key to what made Gladbach so good. With often such a quick transition between defence and attack but also looking to keep the ball grounded. Wide players are rarely used until the final phase of the attack, instead Gladbach look to move the ball from the defence into the midfield and quickly onto the link man, usually Raffael. For BMG this is easier when counter attacking: their impressive defensive shape and positional discipline usually means when they turn the ball over deep in their own Xhaka:Kramer linehalf they can move the ball on quickly to either Xhaka and Kramer in midfield. This also means more space for Raffael or another forward player to receive the ball in between the opposition’s defence and attack and create problems. When in control of the game they operate a different tactic: the centre backs split and allow one of the two central midfielders to drop in between, the picture here shows how Xhaka/Kramer keep a line during this tactic – this allows for the higher of the two to move in either direction and the deeper to pivot off that reference point after moving the ball on. This helps them refrain from being forced into going wide to create space in the middle.

The Xhaka/Kramer axis has been one of the most important combinations in European football this season and certainly a key point in the Gladbach system. Two different styles that complimented each other perfectly in the middle of midfield. Granit Xhaka, following the model of the modern deep lying playmaker: comfortable taking the ball under any circumstance and with a strong passing range, Xhaka is very adept at controlling the game. Xhaka’s also very strong in the air (as shown with a hugely important 90th minute derby winner vs Koln), never shy about putting his foot in and has a superb appreciation of space both offensively and defensively. Christoph Kramer is a bit more robust: a powerful player with incredible intelligence both on and off the ball. Kramer showed exactly why Joachim Löw started him in last Summer’s World Cup final with a sensational season displaying his impressive technical ability, exceptional mental attributes and great physical presence.

The pair showed a superb understanding throughout the season: forever keeping a solid line both horizontally (usually when without the ball) and vertically (when in possession deep as previously shown and when pressing high).

Tight and perfectly horizontal line.

Tight and perfectly horizontal line.

As they force Sevilla back Kramer presses to prevent an easy way out.

As they force Sevilla back Kramer presses to prevent an easy way out.

There is also a very impressive structure to their pressing; picking intelligent moments for one man (usually Kramer) to press high and central whilst the other stays deep. The pressing is usually quick and rarely leads to a turnover in possession, just a way to close the angles off to the opposition’s deepest midfielders until the forwards can close in.

A huge part of what made the Xhaka/Kramer combination successful was their use of the ball. Being able to recycle the ball with such accuracy and variation so consistently throughout a game is extremely important. Both players having great composure on the ball and showing great ability was key against all types of teams. Against quick, high pressing teams it meant they were not only able to just keep possession but also move the ball forward to a position where they could hit their opponents on the counter attack. Against deeper more rigid teams, Kramer and Xhaka were able to utilise the extra time they got on the ball. Whether it be using short, incisive passes to pull open the opposition and create space to play through them or using Xhaka’s super range of passing to take a more direct root (only 3 outfield players made more accurate long passes per game than Granit Xhaka in the 14/15 Bundesliga season). Whatever the opposition, making the right pass at the right time is always the key and both Xhaka and Kramer were able to make that pass more often than not.

Andre Hahn’s opening goal against Schalke in the video above shows how Kramer and Xhaka build a quick counter attack from deep using sharp, central passes. The video also shows Gladbach’s main tactic when it comes to the final third. Looking to move the ball, often quickly, through the middle into the link man (in this case it’s Kruse) and onto the wide player. Borussia Mönchengladbach scored many goals through wide positions this season; keeping wide players high and looking to move the ball from in to out when in attacking positions was a key for Gladbach this season. Favre would utilise a high front 4 in many games this season particularly when counter attacking, looking to use their pace and attacking instincts out wide in accordance with the intelligence and playmaking ability of his central players.

High and wide front 4.

High and wide front 4.

High front 4 even away at Bayern.

High front 4 even away at Bayern.

This allowed BMG to either force their opposition’s defence deep into their own box and create shooting opportunities often from between 12-20 yards from goal or, as in this case, get in behind the opponent’s full backs and either through one on one with the goalkeeper or look to pick out a teammate arriving at the far post. One of Gladbach’s trademarks this season was attacking with a 3-man line: whether it be the 2 forwards and a winger or an advanced full back (often Wendt) or advanced central midfielder. Lucien Favre would look to get a player in a position wide of the penalty area and create a situation where support players would arrive not only in numbers but with great synchronisation in order to increase the options and make them harder to defend against.

Perfectly executed attack creating the 3 man opening on the edge of the box.

Perfectly executed attack creating the 3 man opening on the edge of the box.

One of the great strengths of Gladbach’s attacking as well as defending this season, was their incredible variation and flexibility. If an opposition had set up to defend against the edge of the box 3-man set up then they could look to create a similar moment on the inside the penalty area by sliding a ball down the side of the opposition’s defence. Another option in variation was allowing certain players (especially Raffael) to pick the ball up deep and run straight at an opponent’s central defensive setup. This often lead to shots from range or an opportunity for one of the players in the team who liked to dribble (Herrmann, Traore, Raffael in particular) drive and commit players at pace, leading to an opportunity to outnumber opponents in their own defensive third.

Dortmund look to squeeze the edge of the box so BMG's 3 run deep into the box.

Dortmund look to squeeze the edge of the box so BMG’s 3 run deep into the box.

A less well synchronised arrival but shows Xhaka and Wendt making up the numbers.

A less well synchronised arrival but shows Xhaka and Wendt making up the numbers

The build up to Raffael's 2nd goal shows both forwards making moves in behind the Bayern defence. Kramer driving from deep to get the assist and Herrmann picking the ball up high up the pitch to set up the counter attack due to his high starting position.

The build up to Raffael’s 2nd goal shows both forwards making moves in behind the Bayern defence. Kramer driving from deep to get the assist and Herrmann picking the ball up high up the pitch to set up the counter attack due to his high starting position.

Lucien Favre’s ability to adjust his tactics throughout the game was key at this end of the field too. Favre is very clever when it comes to altering his attacking setup to suit each scenario. Not just with important substitutions at key times but making the switch to a more direct style, looking to create set-piece opportunities late in games or reacting to the opposition looking to open the game up. The latter was extremely key as the season wore on: having a tight, compact style as BMG do is fine but defending so deep especially when leading can lead to Gladbach being penned in by strong attacks if not managed well. Favre was able to counteract this by pushing one of his forwards (usually Kruse) further up the pitch: having a forward constantly running in behind the opposition late on makes it difficult for them to push fully up the pitch at risk of being caught, it also gives his teammates an outlet when looking to release pressure. This tactic was perfectly utilised by Favre in the 2-0 win away at Bayern Munich: not only were BMG able to get to the end of the game without suffering any real moments of sustained heavy Bayern pressure, they were able to add a 2nd goal and, without the brilliant Neuer in the Bayern goal, could have got 3 or 4.

Credit has to be give to, not only Lucien Favre, but also to Sporting Director – Max Eberl. Together they have built an offence with depth and flexibility up top. Using combinations of players that compliment the system and each other has lead to an efficient attacking setup that did enough to propel the team to that impressive 3rd position. With Raffael, Kruse and Hrgota being the main striking options, Gladbach had several different types of wide players. Andre Hahn and Patrick Herrmann were used as wide forwards – Herrmann managing 16 goals in all competitions. Ibrahima Traore however was used as an impact winger: often coming off the bench, looking to stay wide to create space and using his expertise in dribbling with the ball to commit players when defences were tight. Thorgen Hazard was used as the utility forward – able to play on both flanks and up top, Hazard’s flexibility proved a big help to BMG and also saw him record 7 league assists despite only 7 of his 28 league appearances being starts. While Fabian Johnson was mainly used as a more defensive wide player on the left side, while not a huge key in the build up play, Johnson’s tactical discipline and understanding with Wendt proved key in big matches.

Shows how wide the Sevilla full backs and wingers were late on.

Shows how wide the Sevilla full backs and wingers were late on.

Showing how high and wide Sevilla with Diogo on the pitch.

Showing how high and wide Sevilla with Diogo on the pitch.

There are, as always, things for Favre and co to work on heading into next season. From a tactical standpoint they do struggle defending against extreme width and, although forcing teams to hit deep crosses has many advantages, Gladbach could work better at defending the 2nd ball in and around their own penalty area. In the first leg of their Europa League exit to Sevilla, the game turned into a real battle of wits between the 2 managers and Emery just came out on top; switching out Jose Antonio Reyes for right wing back Diogo, which pushed Aleix Vidal forward and really stretched BMG who had just turned to a 4-2-3-1 formation to match up Sevilla centrally. The move saw Sevilla, with the insurance of Kyrchowiak at holding midfield, able to employ essentially 4 out and out wingers for the last 20 minutes and win the match through a Diogo assist.

There is some work to be done in the transfer market too. With Max Kruse on his way to Wolfsburg and Christoph Kramer’s loan deal set to end with seemingly very little chance to get him back in a BMG shirt next season, Max Eberl and Lucien Favre will have to work closely with the club’s scouts to ensure they make the right additions to secure their top 4 place in next season’s Bundesliga. This will be especially important as they look to also be competitive in the Champions League and having a real go at winning the DFB Pokal. True to form however, Gladbach have already moved early and, on paper anyway, impressively in the Summer window. Securing a permanent deal for versatile attacking midfielder Thorgen Hazard and signing Hannover midfielder Lars Stindl for a reported €3m are singings that coincide perfectly with the club’s tactical flexibility and keep quality high throughout the squad. Possibly the singing that could really take them to the next level however is Josip Drmic; the club acted quickly to losing Max Kruse by sealing the deal for a forward who not only matches the system in terms of playing style and flexibility but could also prove to be the natural goalscorer that they so desperately need. The Swiss forward scored 17 Bundesliga goals for relegated Nurnberg in the 13/14 season and although his move to Leverkusen didn’t work out as planned, he was still able to score 6 league goals despite only 5 starts. There is still one big move to make however in my opinion, Christoph Kramer was so incredibly vital to the Gladbach system last season and it’s going to take an serious talent to come in and pick up where he left off. I’m a fan of Lars Stindl but would see him as a more utility midfielder, adding depth and extra quality to the squad, but not the man to replace Kramer.

Whoever comes in for Gladbach throughout the Summer, as long as they keep the man in charge and other key players such as Sommer, Xhaka and Herrmann, I believe they have more than enough to take on the challenge of an expected Dortmund renaissance under Tommy Tuchel, Schalke under new management and the possible breakout of Leverkusen and their top young stars. It’s going to be an extremely strong Bundesliga next season and with Champions League football heading to Borussia-Park, it could be a real season to remember for all Borussia Mönchengladbach fans.

Thanks for reading, as a reward, here’s Patrick Herrmann tearing through one of Europe’s top teams: