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Tactics & Analysis

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

Fri, 21 Sep 2018 07:55:00 PDT

Resident fantasy expert Mark Donaldson shares his tips for this weekend's Premier League fixtures. 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 PDT

Jurgen Klopp admits how tough it is to leave someone of Fabinho's cost and quality on the bench at Liverpool. 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 PDT

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 PDT

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 PDT

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 PDT

The FC guys are already seeing improvements in Liverpool's defence and ability to close out games following their victory over Crystal Palace. 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 PDT

The FC guys are already seeing improvements in Liverpool's defence and ability to close out games following their victory over Crystal Palace. 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 PDT

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 PDT

The Three Lions test their knowledge of Tunisia, fans share their predictions and mosquitoes take over Volgograd in episode seven of Project Russia. Ronaldo joins episode five of Project Russia to discuss Brazil's World Cup hopes and his ambitions for Neymar. 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...

World Cup entertainment value could suffer from lack of pressing, diminished field

Tue, 29 May 2018 09:45:00 PDT

Ian Darke leads an expert panel to assess Spain's World Cup hopes and whether or not Julen Lopetegui will be able to sort out the attack. Twenty-five years ago, when quizzed about the differences between club football and international football, legendary Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi had one simple conclusion. "Football should always be played at the highest possible level," he declared, "and no club will ever reach the level as an international side." That was conventional wisdom back then: International tournaments were considered the pinnacle of football, with clubs playing something of a feeder role. In recent years, however,...

Liverpool fast start, Madrid late pressure can decide UCL final

Fri, 25 May 2018 01:00:00 PDT

As Real Madrid prepare for Kiev we go behind the scenes at the Bernabeu as Ronaldo grabs a lift to training, Zidane speaks about Liverpool and Kroos talks Klopp. As Liverpool head to Kiev, a look behind the scenes at Anfield as Salah meets Lampard, van Djik nutmegs Lovren and ESPN meets Wijnaldum. Saturday's Champions League final offers one of the most fascinating tactical clashes in recent memory: Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, with their astute, intensive, counter-pressing approach, meet the more laissez-faire style of Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid, who concentrate upon possession play. It has all the makings of a superb match. Here are four key questions waiting to be answered. 1. What formation will Zidane use? The most remarkable thing about Real Madrid's Champions League record under Zidane...

Carrick is one of Man United, England's most underrated players ever

Fri, 11 May 2018 07:52:00 PDT

Michael Carrick reflects on the evolution of Manchester United's rivalries with Manchester City and Liverpool during his time at Old Trafford. It's the summer of 2006, and Manchester United are in a crisis. This is not the usual football "crisis" -- which increasingly means little more than "they've lost their last two matches" -- but a genuine, wide-ranging, major question about how Manchester United are attempting to achieve success. Chelsea have won the last two Premier League titles. Arsenal have reached the Champions League final and are moving to a new home, while Liverpool have followed European Cup success with FA Cup success...

Man City's Premier League win: six keys to their stunning success

Thu, 10 May 2018 01:15:00 PDT

Manchester City's Premier League title success has been so inevitable, and has been achieved so comfortably, that their revolutionary style has almost been overlooked. Pep Guardiola's approach has been overwhelmingly technical, unashamedly possession-based and has featured positional nuances barely witnessed before in English football -- all of it combined with some "throwback" tactical principles borrowed from yesteryear. Here are six key features of City's recipe for success: 1. Possession...

Arsenal's opponents Atletico Madrid provide possible direction for Wenger-less future

Wed, 25 Apr 2018 08:57:00 PDT

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti delves into the Europa League semifinal matchups as Arsenal take on Atletico Madrid and Marseille square off with Red Bull Salzburg. It would be overly dramatic to suggest that 22 years and over 1,000 matches comes down to a two-legged Europa League tie, but Arsenal's performance over the next week against Atletico Madrid will play a significant role in shaping the mood at the Emirates upon Arsene Wenger's departure. Win, and Arsenal will start the Europa League final as favourites, with an opportunity to claim Wenger's first-ever European trophy and reclaim their position in the Champions League for next season. Lose, and...

Tottenham don't 'need' FA Cup glory but they do deserve it

Fri, 20 Apr 2018 08:18:00 PDT

The further Tottenham progress through this season's FA Cup, the more the debate will continue about whether or not Mauricio Pochettino and the club "need" to win a trophy. "Need" implies that there's some specific reason why a trophy is required and the explanation tends to vary: to keep players, to keep Pochettino, to act as a springboard to further success. You sometimes wonder whether winning trophies these days is actually ever considered a worthwhile achievement in itself or whether it's...

Man United need a big game from Alexis Sanchez vs. Man City

Fri, 6 Apr 2018 10:30:00 PDT

The critics are already out on Man United's latest big money signing Alexis Sanchez, who has struggled as of yet to make a splash at his new club. Alexis Sanchez's January transfer to Manchester United was, on paper, among the most dramatic moves in Premier League history. There were three major factors to it. The first was the novelty of a genuine, real-life swap deal between Arsenal and United, two of the Premier League's biggest clubs. It was exciting simply because for all the tabloid rumours, such exchange deals barely ever actually come to fruition. But this time everything went through, and two high-profile footballers suddenly...

Might Raheem Sterling be the key to Man City vs. Liverpool?

Tue, 3 Apr 2018 11:17:00 PDT

ESPN's Jonathan Smith and Glenn Price discuss whether the atmosphere at Anfield can be the decisive factor in who reaches the Champions League semi-finals. Ordinarily, for a fixture like this week's clash between Manchester City and Liverpool, you want both sides to have full-strength squads, managers able to play their strongest hand and for the game to be influenced by top-class attacking talents. This time around, however, the absence of Sergio Aguero might prompt a more complex, unpredictable game. Aguero remains an exceptional striker, boasting a mixture of acceleration and clinical finishing that few others in Europe can match. But he's...

Sanchez, Kane, De Bruyne, Salah: Top players must have the ball to lose it

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 02:44:00 PDT

Football has always been about statistics. The concept of a top scorer, for example, has been established for decades and yet is essentially a statistical irrelevance, given it almost always has no bearing upon the destination of a league title. That example, though, proves the statistics debate is nuanced. It's not about whether or not you use figures, but about what you record and how you interpret the numbers. Even the now-established idea of the assist was only formally defined in the 1990s...

Mourinho not finished at Man United, but not proven, either

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 12:39:00 PDT

Throughout his first two seasons at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho has regularly faced criticism for being too defensive. Although it's an issue that's dogged him throughout his career, it's arguably only been problematic at two clubs, Real Madrid and Manchester United, whose supporters believe their club boasts a proud tradition of playing attack-minded football. At Porto, Chelsea and Inter, Mourinho often played defensive football without much dissent from fans largely because he led them...

Man City chase Premier League record while playing beautiful game

Fri, 2 Mar 2018 12:39:00 PST

When looking at the fixture list in August, this weekend's clash between Manchester City and Chelsea -- the title favourites against the title holders -- appeared crucial in determining the destination of the Premier League trophy. Instead, it's anything but a six-pointer: City are way out in front, while Chelsea are merely chasing Champions League qualification after a wretched couple of months. But also in the sights of Pep Guardiola's side is the Premier League all-time points record, the holders...

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