Tactics & Analysis

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. Steve Nicol believes that Man City's big summer spending has made the club favourites to win the Premier League. 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. Steve Nicol believes that Man City's big summer spending has made the club favourites to win the Premier League. 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

With Craig Burley enjoying his holiday, the FC crew take a moment to poke some fun at some of his vacation exploits. 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. Herculez Gomez feels Romelu Lukaku's move to Man United allows for the Belgian to prove his worth to Mourinho. Paul Mariner has his doubts as to whether Romelu Lukaku will thrive at Manchester United. Ian Darke explains why he thinks Romelu Lukaku would be a good fit at Man United if they beat out Chelsea for his services. 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...

Real Madrid press Juventus in second half to seal Champions League title

Mon, 5 Jun 2017 02:58:00 PDT

Real Madrid ripped Juventus to shreds with a scintillating second-half display to win their 12th European Cup in Cardiff on Saturday night. The Italians had largely managed to repel the Spanish champions in the first period, thanks to Massimiliano Allegri's 4-4-2 shape. Their only weak spot seemed to be right-back Andrea Barzagli, who got targeted by Karim Benzema and Isco. That did not prevent Cristiano Ronaldo from scoring the opener, but Juve responded by equalising with an attack down the left,...

UCL final key battles include Ronaldo vs. Barzagli, Marcelo vs. Dani Alves

Thu, 1 Jun 2017 01:05:00 PDT

Saturday night's Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus has the makings of a true classic: two league champions, two excellent sides playing a very different brand of football and plenty of fascinating individual battles. Here are four that may have a significant bearing upon the destination of the European Cup. CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL: REAL MADRID 4-1 JUVENTUS - Report | Ronaldo hits 600th career goal | Bale's joy - Marcotti: Real show their greatness | History made in Cardiff - WATCH: Ronaldo's brace (U.S.) | UCL sights & sounds (U.S.) - Play of the Day: Mandzukic's golazo | WATCH: Ronaldo heroic - Ogden: Ronaldo comes full circle | Jones: Buffon's woe - WATCH: Ramos' son fits in the cup | Real lift the trophy - Buffon: It all went wrong | Ratings: Real Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Andrea Barzagli Even by his standards, Cristiano Ronaldo's form throughout this season's Champions League knockout stages has been incredible....

How Ruud Gullit's 'libero' role at Chelsea rocked the Premier League

Thu, 1 Jun 2017 08:51:00 PDT

Ruud Gullit, right, changed the way English football looked at defenders and their skill sets. In his new book, "The Mixer," Michael Cox looks at the tactical evolution of the Premier League and how the game has developed over the last quarter century. Here, he details Ruud Gullit's sensational arrival in English football. English football was changed significantly in the mid-1990s, courtesy of the arrival of top-class foreign players who demonstrated the value of different roles, positions and styles, and encouraged managers to think outside the box -- and outside boxy 4-4-2 formations. A...

Can Mandzukic become the latest out-of-position Champions League winner?

Tue, 30 May 2017 01:48:00 PDT

One of Juventus' key performers en route to this weekend's Champions League final against Real Madrid has been Mario Mandzukic, who has performed a magnificent job in a hugely unfamiliar left-wing role, having been accustomed to playing as a centre-forward over the course of his career. But a player being deployed out of position for a European Cup-winning side is nothing new. Here are five examples of players, who sacrificed their game for the good of the team on the biggest stage. CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL: REAL MADRID 4-1 JUVENTUS - Report | Ronaldo hits 600th career goal | Bale's joy - Marcotti: Real show their greatness | History made in Cardiff - WATCH: Ronaldo's brace (U.S.) | UCL sights & sounds (U.S.) - Play of the Day: Mandzukic's golazo | WATCH: Ronaldo heroic - Ogden: Ronaldo comes full circle | Jones: Buffon's woe - WATCH: Ramos' son fits in the cup | Real lift the trophy - Buffon: It all went wrong | Ratings: Real Madrid David Beckham:...

FA Cup final tactical preview: How will Wenger counteract Conte's plans?

Fri, 26 May 2017 07:28:00 PDT

Chelsea have gone through 16 managerial changes in Arsene Wenger's 20-year tenure with Arsenal, here is a look at who came out on top On Saturday afternoon at Wembley, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is aiming to become only the third manager to win the league and cup double in his first full season in English football. One of the previous two, Arsene Wenger, will be in the other dugout. For all of the intriguing on-pitch head-to-head battles, and in a game where both sides will use similar systems (and therefore players will match one another across the pitch), it is the clash between Conte and Wenger that is the most intriguing....

Antonio Conte and Chelsea dominated Premier League tactics in 2016-17

Tue, 23 May 2017 10:21:00 PDT

This season's Premier League was supposed to be the most tactically diverse ever -- in the end, the campaign was based almost entirely around Chelsea's switching system, and everyone else looking to copy them. Chelsea's 3-4-3 and how teams played against them completely dominate our tactical review of the 2017 Premier League campaign... Tactical decision of the season Antonio Conte's decision to switch from a 4-1-4-1 system to a 3-4-3 back in the fall is probably the most decisive tactical...

Contrast between top and bottom clear as Chelsea thrash Sunderland

Mon, 22 May 2017 02:53:00 PDT

Watch on as John Terry and Gary Cahill hoist the 2016/17 Premier League trophy. Janusz Michallik and Alexis Nunes take a long look at how the Premier League top 6 shaped out this season. David Moyes came up with an honest attempt to stop Antonio Conte's 3-4-3 system, but Chelsea still trashed his Sunderland team 5-1. In a prelude to the title celebrations at Stamford Bridge, Sunderland lined up in a back three, as many have done against Chelsea this season, but with a twist: they used four central midfielders in order to ensure double cover near key men Eden Hazard and Willian. It seemed a decent idea, particularly when Javier Manquillo put Sunderland ahead inside three minutes....

Son and Alli go unmarked as Tottenham's 3-4-3 outsmarts Leicester

Fri, 19 May 2017 02:10:00 PDT

Harry Kane says he's eager to win the Golden Boot after moving to the top of the charts following four goals against Leicester. While the big story on Thursday was all about how Harry Kane scored four as Tottenham trashed Leicester 6-1, the tactical talking point centred on how a 3-4-3 once more outsmarted a 4-4-2. The 3-4-3 has become the tactical trend of the season, with Chelsea using it to transform their campaign and Arsenal turning to it in times of need. More than once, teams playing four at the back have struggled so badly to control it that they have resorted to copying it. That happened again here. In the first...

Fluent Tottenham upset Man United's man-marking plan with set-piece goals

Mon, 15 May 2017 02:26:00 PDT

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho tried an unconventional man-marking system in a bid to stop Tottenham, but Mauricio Pochettino's side still ran out 2-1 winners in a fitting White Hart Lane farewell. Hampered by heavy rotation ahead of the Europa League final, Manchester United followed a tailor-made defensive plan. Instead of marking zonally, Michael Carrick and Axel Tuanzebe tracked Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen respectively, while Jesse Lingard protected the full-back on whichever side...

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