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Tactics & Analysis

PSG tried to break soccer by signing Neymar and Mbappe. The only thing they broke was themselves

Thu, 20 Jun 2019 06:26:30 GMT

It sure seemed like everything changed in August 2017, didn't it? Before then, there was an established food chain in soccer's transfer market: Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top, and then everyone else. Those two clubs were as rich as anyone and for the most part, it seemed like it was every elite soccer player's goal to end up in the Spanish capital or Catalonia. Once you got there, you only left when you weren't needed anymore. In this century, the only star who left either club in his...

Alisson is the real reason Liverpool are in the Champions League final

Tue, 28 May 2019 10:12:36 GMT

Fair warning: Depending on your personal affinities, the following exercise may be either painful, hilarious or offensive. OK, now let's quickly go through all of the once-in-a-lifetime incidents that happened in last year's Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. First, Mohamed Salah, he of the 44 goals and 16 assists in his debut season with Liverpool, badly injured his shoulder after a (pick your adjective of choice) collision with Sergio Ramos. He was subbed off in tears...

Alex Iwobi's movement and link play essential to Arsenal's rebuilding process

Sat, 23 Mar 2019 02:17:00 GMT

Alex Iwobi has only five goals and six assists in 38 appearances, but his value is about more than goals and assists. Football is very good at comparing young footballers to previous greats -- there's a desperation to look for the next Diego Maradona, the next Thierry Henry, the next Cristiano Ronaldo. But what happens when a footballer comes along who doesn't quite fit an obvious template? Well, the simple answer is that such players' talents aren't always appreciated. Step up Alex Iwobi, Arsenal's Nigeria international who isn't really a winger, a central midfielder or a No. 10 and isn't particularly prolific...

Arsenal vs. Man United could be a real throwback battle of diamond midfields

Thu, 24 Jan 2019 03:36:00 GMT

Since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, various different formations have dominated. The 4-4-2 has long been considered English football's default system, although there was a brief craze of 3-5-2 in the mid-to-late 1990s. Jose Mourinho's impact in the mid-2000s meant many sides shifted to 4-3-3, before 4-2-3-1 started to become the most common system in the early 2010s. A couple of years ago, 3-4-3 became suddenly popular after the brief dominance of Antonio Conte's Chelsea. One...

Bill Barnwell's Premier League midseason awards: Hazard best player; Fred worst summer signing

Fri, 28 Dec 2018 06:00:00 GMT

As we hit the peak of the festive season and approach the start of the January transfer window, now is a good time to take a look back at the Premier League. The competition is hitting its halfway point after 19 matches, and following a suffocating performance from Manchester City last season, the race between City and Liverpool (with Tottenham Hotspur on the outside) is shaping up to present the most exciting second half of a campaign since Leicester claimed the title in 2016. Today, I'm going...

Why the Premier League should be afraid of 'Sarri-ball' once Chelsea master it

Tue, 11 Dec 2018 01:43:00 GMT

Stewart Robson analyses how Maurizio Sarri's tactics mixed with quality individual performances were enough to inflict Manchester City's first loss of the season. The Premier League currently finds itself with the most impressive array of managers in its 27-season history, and the eclectic cast includes three managers who have contributed significantly to the evolution of modern football. The first is Manchester City's Pep Guardiola. His hugely successful Barcelona side repopularised possession football across the continent before he became an increasingly flexible manager during his period in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. The second is Liverpool's Jurgen...

Transfer window can save Premier League's strugglers from relegation

Thu, 6 Dec 2018 02:28:00 GMT

The 2018-19 Premier League season has a markedly different feel from 2017-18. This is a campaign of identities, of philosophies, of ideologues. The change has been evident at the top, where Chelsea's Maurizio Sarri and Arsenal's Unai Emery have stamped their authority upon their sides with remarkable speed. In midtable, Everton finally have a clear playing identity under Marco Silva, and Watford appear more settled under Javi Gracia. But the pattern is also evident among bottom-half sides, which...

Football's dark arts: Your guide to the set-piece trickery, diving and sneaky fouls that make a difference

Thu, 29 Nov 2018 05:00:00 GMT

Football's laws are always evolving. In recent years, there have been changes to the kickoff, alteration to the punishment for "last man" fouls and the long-awaited rollout of VAR. The rules and regulations have not adapted much in terms of clamping down on gamesmanship, and in a way, that is the point: It is not about breaking laws as such but more about pushing their boundaries in search of an advantage. A popular description of these actions is "dark arts," but what are its major forms? Here...

Trent Alexander-Arnold is already a world-class full-back but he might not be there for long

Tue, 27 Nov 2018 04:07:00 GMT

After a limp first-half display, Liverpool burst into life in the second period winning in the end very comfortably 3-0 against Watford It was a complex offside situation. Sadio Mane had converted the rebound, seemingly giving Liverpool a 1-0 lead at the Emirates, but a linesman's flag had thwarted him. Mane had been offside when the initial pass was played, but wasn't interfering with play. When he was interfering with play, in the second phase, he'd been level with Roberto Firmino as the Brazilian volleyed towards goal. Mane was onside, the goal should have stood. From the freeze-frames on the replay, we were looking at the...

Juan Mata has saved Jose Mourinho's Man United career... for now

Fri, 9 Nov 2018 01:48:00 GMT

If there's been one constant throughout Jose Mourinho's managerial career in England, it's been his love of bold substitutions. Mourinho, perhaps more than any other manager in the modern game, uses his replacements swiftly, decisively and often unusually. He has made substitutions within the first 25 minutes to completely change formation; he has introduced players primarily tasked with communicating tactical messages to teammates; he's made a half-time treble substitution; he even once made a...

Despite doubts about the future, Aaron Ramsey and Arsenal need each other

Fri, 2 Nov 2018 07:48:00 GMT

If you want a concise summary of Arsenal's ups and downs over the last decade, the best personification is Aaron Ramsey. Signed from under the noses of Manchester United in 2008, after Arsenal had challenged Sir Alex Ferguson's side for the Premier League title, Ramsey's purchase was typical of Arsene Wenger during that period: A young, promising technical midfielder who would make significant improvement. Ramsey's initial performances were composed but a horrific broken leg, suffered in February...

Cardiff's direct, no-nonsense style can test Manchester City

Fri, 21 Sep 2018 07:55:00 GMT

On Saturday, the greatest stylistic mismatch of the 2018-19 Premier League campaign takes place when promoted Cardiff City, managed by Neil Warnock, host Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. The statistics tell the story effectively. Man City's pass completion rate this season is 90 percent, a reflection of their determination to build patiently from the back and move the ball through a technically proficient midfield trio. Cardiff, on the other hand, have a pass completion rate of just 64 percent....

Pochettino vs. Klopp a battle of Premier League's brightest minds

Fri, 14 Sep 2018 08:10:00 GMT

From the multitude of talented foreign coaches currently operating in the Premier League, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp are the ones who have contributed most to the division's current tactical feel. We've long since moved past the defensive era defined by Jose Mourinho, and the possession-based approach epitomised by Pep Guardiola was actually more popular several seasons ago, before he joined Manchester City. This is the Premier League's pressing era, and it's Pochettino and Klopp, more...

Mesut Ozil's impact at Arsenal mixed in five years since transfer

Tue, 4 Sep 2018 11:58:00 GMT

Before Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil five years ago, nobody believed Arsenal were crying out for a signing like Mesut Ozil. After all, Arsenal's attacking quartet in 2012-13 was very balanced, with all four players -- Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla -- reaching double figures in terms of Premier League goals. The consensus was that Arsenal required the types of player Arsenal always seem to require: a solid defensive midfielder, or a commanding centre-back. Maybe a top-class...

Attacking left-backs like Benjamin Mendy, Marcos Alonso revolutionising the Premier League

Fri, 31 Aug 2018 02:11:00 GMT

Three games into the new Premier League campaign is somewhat premature for assessing 2018-19's tactical trends, but it's been easy to identify certain patterns from the 30 matches thus far: lots of goals, lots of heavy pressing and -- in particular -- a seemingly high number of attacking contributions from attack-minded left-backs. Left-back was the weakest position in the Premier League last season. You really had to scramble around to find a player deserving of a place in the "Team of the Year,"...

Why ambitious Premier League managers are less likely to park the bus

Tue, 28 Aug 2018 03:07:00 GMT

The Premier League is currently blessed with an unusual level of tactical variety. In particular, last weekend's action featured two entirely different approaches from small sides hosting title challengers. In Saturday's lunchtime fixture, Wolverhampton Wanderers held Manchester City to a draw with an impressively bold performance. The following day, Newcastle were narrowly defeated by Chelsea, having parked the bus for the duration. Wolves played an open style of football and caused Manchester...

Liverpool must beat 'bottom 10' teams if they're to challenge for title

Fri, 24 Aug 2018 12:13:00 GMT

Footballers are increasingly judged according to their performance in big games, with memorable performances in semifinals and finals seemingly the main criteria for end-of-year awards. But such focus upon football's biggest matches obscures the fact that performance in smaller games has never been so crucial. In an era in which league champions can achieve 100 points, contenders can barely afford more than a single slip-up in a small game all season. Some clubs, strange as it might sound, suffer...

Premier League weekend featured goals of all shapes and sizes

Tue, 21 Aug 2018 07:53:00 GMT

The debate about football's greatest-ever goal has long been contested between an almost undisputed shortlist of three, all scored in international tournaments during the 1970s or 1980s. Notably, they are all completely different, essentially incomparable. Carlos Alberto rounded off a brilliant Brazilian team move against Italy in 1970, Argentina's Diego Maradona produced a mesmeric dribble through the England defence in 1986, and Marco van Basten struck a remarkable dipping volley for Netherlands...

Premier League helped by early deadline but were teams ready to play?

Tue, 14 Aug 2018 12:13:00 GMT

Former Premier League referee Peter Walton and Stewart Robson discuss the key decisions from the weekend. Former Premier League referee Peter Walton and Stewart Robson discuss the key decisions from the weekend. The 2018-19 Premier League season is well and truly underway and for once, that phrase feels appropriate. The English top-flight always commences in mid-August but, after a significant change to the structure of the transfer window, the new campaign will not feature the disastrous three-week period, in which clubs and media were focused more upon moves than matches. Now deadline day has already passed, the games themselves dominate. In years gone by, the first month has been compromised by numerous...

World Cup's best age-adjusted young stars: Mbappe, Jesus and more

Tue, 19 Jun 2018 09:45:00 GMT

The Three Lions test their knowledge of Tunisia, fans share their predictions and mosquitoes take over Volgograd in episode seven of Project Russia. Join ESPN in Russia, as we go on the lookout for one of the World Cup's biggest stars, Cristiano Ronaldo. For countries around the world, getting to the World Cup is half the battle. The same is true for their players. Even before ever suiting up for a match, being named to a 23-man World Cup roster is a remarkable accomplishment and a sign that you've arrived. For young players, it's also a great indicator of stardom to come. Take Ronaldo, for example. While Brazil was winning the World Cup in America during the summer of 1994, a 17-year-old Ronaldo was sitting on scorching-hot benches around the...

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