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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.

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:

The Importance Of Agirretxe To Real Sociedad

When people discuss the recent success of Real Sociedad, under both Philippe Montanier and Jagoba Arrasate, the names that roll off the tongue are those of: Antoine Griezmann, Carlos Vela, Iñigo Martínez, Claudio Bravo and (before his move to Real Madrid) Asier Illarramendi. There isn’t much love for Imanol Agirretxe but a closer look at La Real’s number nine in their 4-3 defeat to Almeria show just how important he is in their current 4-2-3-1 system.Despite losing the game, Agirretxe was extremely impressive and was a catalyst for most of Sociedad’s most impressive attacking play.

Occupying two center backs as a lone forward is a thankless task in modern day football as it sees little goal return and doesn’t make for impressive statistics. However in the Sociedad system, the job Agirretxe does is crucial in opening the space for the trio behind (Griezmann, Canales & Vela vs Almeria) to cause problems.

Agirretxe is a big physical presence and can use his power to protect the ball both on the ground and in the air; against Almeria he was again effective in both respect but it was aerially that he caused most problems particularly when Sociedad looked to break quickly. Almeria were very slow transitioning from defense to attack and La Real looked to take advantage using Agirretxe as the focal point; several times throughout the game Claudio Bravo quickly kicked long targeting Agirretxe who was already running towards the Almeria goal in order to force both Almeria central defenders back. Agirretxe didn’t always win the ball but his presence ensured that the Almeria defense was unable to sufficiently clear and ,with their midfield slow to return to their defensive positions, the ball was dropping in dangerous areas for Griezmann, Canales and Vela to attack.

When Agirretxe did win the aerial battle however he showed his class; once releasing Antoine Griezmann through one-on-one with a brilliantly weighted through ball. Another occasion was the goal that put Sociedad 2-1up; having been inside his own box defending a corner, which saw Almeria have a goal wrongly disallowed, Agirretxe quickly made his way up field to latch onto Bravo’s long kick and exquisitely chip Esteban in the Almeria goal.

At times, during the first half in particular against Almeria, Real Sociedad enjoy good control over games and are able to push both defensive midfielders (Bergara and Zurutuza vs Almeria) to press higher up the pitch and it becomes increasingly important for Agirretxe to ensure that the middle of the pitch doesn’t become too congested. Against Almeria it was noticeable that Sociedad had isolated Verza as the weaker passer in midfield and looked to press quickly in midfield when he was in possession; this tactic appeared to work forcing Verza into 8 long balls but only completing 3 of them. As both Zurutuza and Bergara pressed, Agirretxe was already dropping off the shoulder of the left center back, ensuring that he couldn’t push forward to close the space if Sociedad had won the ball; this movement was also keeping the attention of the Almeria left back leaving the Sociedad right-sided attacking midfielder to drift infield, having started with three left-footed attacking midfielders this was a preferable move for Arrasate.

Imanol Agirretxe Valencia CF v Real Sociedad QhTgepDc9NNlAnother key component of Agirretxe’s game is his link-up with Antoine Griezmann that has
helped the Frenchman to an impressive 15 La Liga goals this season; although often not directly involved in the move Agirretxe’s willingness to run channels or drop deeper in order to create space, either centrally or in behind for Griezmann, has been a huge factor when the two play together. This is shown by Griezmann scoring 10 of his 15 La Liga goals when Agirretxe has started the match. Griezmann’s goals against Elche and Valencia illustrate perfectly how the two link-up; the strike against Valencia sees Agirretxe drop into space, bringing the right center back with him and allowing the space in that channel for Griezmann to break into, off of Zurutuza’s well controlled header. The 2nd goal (vs Elche) sees Agirretxe run  the right hand channel allowing Griezmann to be left 1v1 at the far post, the cross isn’t great but with the help of a midfield runner the ball does find it’s way to Griezmann to finish.

(Goal vs Valencia)

(Goal vs Elche)

I’d liken the job Agirretxe does for the Real Sociedad to the job Olivier Giroud does for Arsenal; may not score the goals they could in a Manuel Pellegrini style 4-4-2 but are both key in creating space for the most dangerous part of both sides – their attacking midfielders. When Theo Walcott has been fit since Giroud’s arrival at Arsenal he has been in incredible goalscoring form and the same can be said for Griezmann with Agirretxe, he may not get the plaudits but i’m sure his teammates are extremely thankful for the job done by La Real’s number nine.