Tactics & Analysis

The key to Man City's superb season might be Raheem Sterling's new role

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:11:00 PST

ESPN FC's Mark Ogden and Man City correspondent Jonathan Smith assess City's chances of finishing the Premier League season unbeaten. Man City's Raheem Sterling talks to ESPN FC about the Manchester derby, Pep Guardiola's tactics and much more. Craig Burley compares Manchester United to a small club playing a giant in the FA Cup in their loss to Manchester City. Pep Guardiola always springs a tactical surprise in big matches and Manchester United know that more than most. Guardiola underlined his status as a top-class manager back in May 2009, when his Barcelona side defeated Manchester United in the Champions League final thanks, in part, to a tactic involving the positioning of Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. Eto'o, who had played the majority of the season upfront, started wide-right. Messi, who had occupied the right-sided role, started in the centre....

Happier memories of Cazorla show the way for Arsenal to play vs. Man City

Fri, 3 Nov 2017 12:08:00 PDT

Thursday wasn't a particularly enjoyable day for Arsenal supporters. Shortly after sitting through a dull goalless Europa League draw with Red Star Belgrade, many will have scrolled through their social media feeds on the way home and discovered the horrifying extent of Santi Cazorla's ankle and Achilles tendon problems. The graphic pictures of the injury, as well as a moving story in which Cazorla reveals he feared his foot would be amputated, goes far beyond the usual football fitness woe. Yet,...

Jonjo Shelvey's high-risk, high-reward football is quintessentially British

Tue, 3 Oct 2017 10:39:00 PDT

The Exploding Heads take a look at the weekend's Premier League fixtures, including the unveiling of West Brom's new mascot and the tattoo World Cup. This week's edition of the Good, the Bad and the Funny brings you scintillating Harry Kane, woeful Joel Matip and an almost-eager Leicester fan. Few players in the Premier League influence a game, for better or worse, like Jonjo Shelvey. Every year, Time Magazine names their "Person of the Year." It's a curious award, famously not (as the name might imply) intended to reward someone who has necessarily done something positive, but simply to highlight someone who has, "for better or for worse... done the most to influence the events of the year." It's an interesting variation upon typical award criteria. Good? Bad? It doesn't matter. They've done something major. If football were to follow the same criteria -- man of the match...

Hazard vs. De Bruyne: Dazzling finesse against dominating power

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 08:18:00 PDT

Jonathan Smith reports from Man City's training ground where Pep Guardiola speaks for the first time since Sergio Aguero was involved in a car crash. Antonio Conte sends well wishes to Man City's Sergio Aguero after he was involved in a car crash in Amsterdam. Until recently, Premier League fans would have struggled to name a famous Belgian. Belgium's contribution to the English top flight was mediocre, with Philippe Albert's legendary chip over Peter Schmeichel in Newcastle's 5-0 victory against Manchester United in 1996 possibly the only standout contribution. It took two decades of Premier League seasons until a Belgian won the title. Now, however, you can't move for Belgians. There are currently 16 Premier League players who have represented Belgium...

Is Mourinho right that the Premier League is more defensive than before?

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 10:30:00 PDT

Craig Burley scoffs at the idea of the Premier League title being a two-horse race between United and City this season. After their unbeaten start to the 2017/18 Premier League season, Stewart Robson explains why Manchester United are favourites for the title. Regardless of the positional history of pundits, defending is often the first thing to be analysed. It's easier -- and probably makes for better television -- to find fault, rather than highlight the positives and, when analysis contains replays of goals, focusing upon defensive blunders is inevitable. But Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, when quizzed last week about Wayne Rooney's career ahead of his Old Trafford return, implied the opposite. "I think Wayne spent probably 10 years of his...

3-4-3 formations in focus as Chelsea and Arsenal meet again

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 09:29:00 PDT

Stewart Robson and the FC crew discuss Alexis Sanchez's role in the Arsenal squad and why he must be in the XI at Chelsea. Antonio Conte doesn't want to speak about Arsenal's situation and has a laugh at comments about how Morata's scoring goals. Steve Nicol and Shaka Hislop question how much Arsenal's win over Cologne will help them heading into their clash against Chelsea. For a managerial rivalry that is just a year old, the meetings between Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte have produced a series of fascinating Arsenal vs. Chelsea clashes that essentially tell the story of the Premier League's most significant tactical shift during that time: A shift from clubs being fixated upon four-man defences, to an increasing dominance of the back three. Sunday will mark the fifth meeting between Wenger and Conte since the latter arrived in London. In the league last season,...

How Real Madrid surprisingly came to dominate the Champions League

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 11:40:00 PDT

With Champions League matchday 1 looming, the FC crew delve into the marquee fixtures. It feels like yesterday that Real Madrid were obsessed with "La Decima," their relentless quest to become the first club to move into double figures in terms of European Cups. Yet after three triumphs in the past four years, they have 12 to their name, five clear of their nearest challengers, Milan, and seven clear of archrivals Barcelona. A haul of 12 European Cups suggests that Real Madrid have triumphed consistently over the history of the competition, but that's not entirely true. It has...

Liverpool's press vs. Mesut Ozil might be key to Sunday's clash with Arsenal

Fri, 25 Aug 2017 12:50:00 PDT

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was the last to find out after Georginio Wijnaldum welcomed his second child. Few fixtures over the past four years have been as entertaining as Liverpool-Arsenal: Their eight matches in that time have averaged 3.8 goals, a run that includes a 0-0 draw at the Emirates. And even that stalemate was fast-paced, frenetic and thoroughly entertaining. Their fixture slated for Sunday seems to be a genuinely big game. It appears doubtful that both sides will finish in the top four given the competition from Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham. Three games...

Formation trends making traditional wingers a rarity in the Premier League

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 12:31:00 PDT

Craig Burley and Paul Mariner point to Manchester City's formation as the reason they've sputtered to start the season. Pep Guardiola feels echoes of last season for Manchester City after they draw with Everton. Steve Nicol explains how Jose Mourinho should utilise Marcus Rashford and why he will be vital to Romelu Lukaku's success. Manchester City's 1-1 draw with Everton on Monday evening was the most tactically fascinating contest of the Premier League campaign so far, a tussle between Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman, long-standing friends who once roomed together on away trips when playing for Johan Cruyff's Barcelona. The two managers repeatedly tinkered with their systems, attempting to outwit one another, with Guardiola switching centre-backs and then changing formation three times in the second half, and Koeman making...

One big question for Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City, Spurs, Liverpool

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 10:36:00 PDT

The FC panel delve into their 2017-18 Premier League title predictions. The new Premier League campaign is finally here, starting with Arsenal's home meeting with Leicester at the Emirates on Friday evening. But what are the major tactical issues facing the title contenders? Here's a run-down of the major question mark about each side's tactical approach. Arsenal: Will they stick with the 3-4-2-1? The immediate answer to this question is simple: yes. Arsene Wenger's decision to switch to a three-man defence last season for the first time in over 20 years completely...

The Premier League at 25: How it became the world's most popular

Tue, 8 Aug 2017 09:15:00 PDT

As the 25th anniversary of the Premier League nears, the FC crew discuss how the league has changed over a quarter century. The Exploding Heads provide their comical take of what exactly will happen this Premier League season. To fully appreciate the overwhelming success of the Premier League over its first quarter of a century, it's worth flicking through a British newspaper from the early 1990s and assessing the nature of the sport section. Football dominated in some newspapers at that point but in others, it competed for attention with rugby and cricket, vanishing almost completely during the summer off-season. Fast-forward 25 years and the way supporters consume media has changed dramatically: the internet has taken...

Why does the Premier League feature so many stoppage-time goals?

Sat, 5 Aug 2017 09:34:00 PDT

The Premier League routinely sees more stoppage time, and more stoppage-time goals, than any other league. The Premier League frequently casts itself as Europe's most exciting league, boasting of its unpredictability, its open title race and its frenetic tempo. There's one other crucial factor in its reputation as an entertaining, thrilling and crazy spectacle, though: its propensity for late goals. None of the other major European leagues comes close to England's top-flight for late drama. In 2016-17, the Premier League's 25th season, there were no fewer than 68 goals scored in second-half stoppage...

Bailly, Xhaka, Wijnaldum, others must be wary of second-season syndrome

Tue, 1 Aug 2017 02:39:00 PDT

With the 2017/18 Premier League season around the corner, Stevie Nicol predicts who will finish in the top 4. With Man United and Chelsea back in the Champions League, will this year's competition now be tighter than ever? First impressions matter but, in Premier League terms, they can also be deceptive. England's top flight has seen many players initially disappoint having moved to a new club, only to then thrive -- see Robert Pires or Didier Drogba, for example. Likewise, though, there are also those who look sensational initially but prove to be one-season wonders; Michu and Roque Santa Cruz were superb upon their arrival, only to entirely underwhelm after that. Here are three players approaching their second season...

Bielsa meets Ranieri, Tottenham face Chelsea among early-season highlights

Sat, 29 Jul 2017 01:00:00 PDT

With the 2017/18 Premier League season around the corner, Stevie Nicol predicts who will finish in the top 4. The 2017-18 European season is nearly upon us and, with Serie A having finally released its fixture list this week, we have a clear idea of which games to watch and when. Here's a selection of the most intriguing fixture for each weekend in August, leading up until the month-ending international break and transfer window closure. Aug. 6: Lille vs. Nantes Ordinarily, there would be nothing special about this run-of-the-mill Ligue 1 fixture. It's not a meeting between two major sides and it's not...

Playing a game under Opta's watch: heat maps, pass completion and terror

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 02:43:00 PDT

SUTTON, England -- Many of us involved in football reporting have, at some stage, been told our opinions are irrelevant because "we've never played the game." That is, of course, entirely untrue. We've all played the game; we're simply not very good at it. Last week, some of us were afforded the pleasure of discovering quite how incompetent we were, with statistics, graphics and heat maps to prove it. Football data company Opta held a friendly match at Gander Green Lane, the home of Sutton United,...

Man United give Lukaku the platform he craves to score the goals they need

Sat, 8 Jul 2017 11:47:00 PDT

Romelu Lukaku sits down with ESPN FC's Alexis Nunes in Los Angeles after completing his Manchester United medical. After working together at Chelsea, Romelu Lukaku says he is excited to link up with Jose Mourinho again at Man United. Romelu Lukaku says he looks up to Zlatan Ibrahimovic but will fill the striker position in his own way at Man United. Paul Mariner has his doubts as to whether Romelu Lukaku will thrive at Manchester United. The FC crew evaluate whether Romelu Lukaku would make Manchester United a Premier League title contender next season. Mark Ogden feels Romelu Lukaku is the powerful striker Jose Mourinho and Man United have been searching for. Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku kept busy ahead of preseason with a five-a-side match in Los Angeles. This is the age of the false nine and, though there are few Premier League sides that genuinely use a player in the role, the emphasis upon link-up play has unquestionably shifted what managers want from their attackers. The likes of Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez didn't consider themselves No. 9s when arriving in England, but have been pushed forward to become a main striker with great goal-scoring success. The same thing happened with Robin van Persie and Carlos Tevez. Even Harry Kane, often...

'He's hit that too well' -- Why striking the ball worse is actually better

Tue, 4 Jul 2017 04:45:00 PDT

Sid Lowe, Raf Honigstein and Steve Nicol weigh the pros and cons of implementing a 60-minute clock in football matches. One of the most popular footballing cliches presumably makes little sense to anyone watching the sport for the first time. "If anything," the commentator will say after an attacker's shot hasn't ended up in the net, "he's actually hit that too well." It's difficult to imagine, for example, a runner running a race too well, or a long jumper jumping too far. But there is some logic behind this, especially with the evolution of the modern ball and how players now attempt to kick it. The cliche is usually...

Differing approaches inspired German, Chilean resurgences in the last decade

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 09:14:00 PDT

The FC crew make their picks for the Confederations Cup final between Chile and Germany. Daniel Amokachi and Andrew Kabuura discuss Germany's youthful Confederations Cup side and why they believe they've been so successful. International football has, unfortunately, not been in a particularly good state over recent years. Once considered the peak of the game, it's impossible to claim now that it remotely rivals the standard of the Champions League. The abolition of the three-foreigner rule, combined with increasing inequality both within leagues and between them, means top club sides are able to assemble players an international team cannot imagine. The increased tactical emphasis in modern football, meanwhile, means...

With Rooney gone, time for England to focus on collective group, not one star

Fri, 9 Jun 2017 09:18:00 PDT

Here are two quick questions. First, who was Spain's key player for their World Cup success in 2010? Second, who was Germany's key player for their World Cup success in 2014? There is, of course, no right answer to either question. For Spain you could name Xavi Hernandez for orchestrating the midfield play, Andres Iniesta for his mesmeric attacking midfield play or David Villa for his goal return. Similarly, for Germany you could pinpoint Manuel Neuer's sweeper-keeping, Philipp Lahm's...

To rebuild Man Utd's attack, Mourinho must focus on ability, not position

Tue, 6 Jun 2017 03:21:00 PDT

It's funny how quickly things change in football. One moment Antoine Griezmann was specifically rating his chances of joining Manchester United, the next the transfer seemed off entirely, thanks to the upholding of a transfer ban that means Atletico Madrid wouldn't be able to sign a replacement for their best player. United quickly reacted by briefing that they were instead looking for a No. 9, rather than a deeper or wider forward like Griezmann. Beyond that sounding suspiciously like sour grapes...

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