Chelsea FC – A few more signings away !

Chelsea FC – A few more signings away !

In one of my previous articles, I talked about the signings Chelsea needed to make in order to be complete. How and Why Eden Hazard had lost his directness. After a good summer transfer window and 11 games into the season, Chelsea are now 4 points ahead of second placed Southampton. However what amazed me was that while Chelsea have played some aesthetically pleasing football this season little has changed in their approach and the way the team has been set up. Why has Eden Hazard remained less direct and more creative despite signing a World Class midfielder in Cesc Fabregas? Why has Mourinho not fielded Filipe Luis more often? And Are Chelsea really as complete as they look?

Despite being one of the best players for Chelsea this season Eden Hazard has got just one goal from open play and only three goals altogether this season(Premier League only) taking his tally in 2014 to just 9 goals, of which 5 of them have been penalties. Hazard has not provided a lot of assists either with just one assist this season.

Chelsea attacking midfielders and wingers this season

Chelsea attacking midfielders and wingers this season

The above image compares the contributions of the Chelsea wingers and attacking midfielders this season, Eden Hazard has been far better than his teammates in terms of creativity. Oscar’s average creativity and the lack of contributions from the other players has forced Hazard to continue with his creative role, one he had to take up for the second half of last season after the sale of Juan Mata and Oscar’s dip in form. The creative overload on Hazard has been preventing him from getting into areas where he can be more direct. It has affected his end products (goals and assists) as a winger. A lot of people including me believed that Hazard would find his directness back after the arrival of Cesc Fabregas but it hasn’t been the case so far. Cesc Fabregas has been lauded by a lot of fans, critics and pundits this season but how good has he actually been?

Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata:-

Prior to writing this article, I asked a lot of my friends to rate Cesc Fabregas’s performance on a scale of 0-10 this season and asked them how good Juan Mata was in his last season for Chelsea. A lot of people gave Fabregas a rating of 9 and above while they said Juan Mata was below par for Chelsea in his last season under Jose Mourinho. In reality, there has not been much of a difference in terms of their creativity.

Cesc Fabregas (14-15 BPL season) v Juan Mata(13-14 BPL season for Chelsea)

Cesc Fabregas (14-15 BPL season) v Juan Mata (13-14 BPL season for Chelsea)

The above image is a comparison of Cesc Fabregas of this season with Juan Mata in his last season for Chelsea. Unlike what most believed, Juan Mata has been the better player in terms of creativity. The reality here is that Diego Costa has done justice to Fabregas’s service unlike Torres, Eto’o and Demba Ba. One can argue that Fabregas plays in a much deeper role than what Mata did but he does venture a lot forward and has almost always found himself in a number 10 role during the game.

Chelsea forwards

Chelsea’s strikers from this season and last season.

The above image clearly shows how efficient Diego Costa has been as a striker. Costa immediately hit the ground running at Chelsea following his summer transfer and already has 10 goals from 9 games. The striker has been very efficient in terms of shot accuracy opposed to the strikers Chelsea had last season.

Cesc Fabregas’s signing has without doubt been a boost for Chelsea, I am not telling Mata has been better here but that they both did a great job and the lack of a quality striker was the difference between the two. Fabregas has added a new dimension to Chelsea’s style of football and they not only play aesthetically pleasing football now but have also controlled the midfield and the game better. Fabregas and Matic have been the sole reason for this, something Juan Mata could not offer. Fabregas has also been better in terms of work rate and defensive contributions than Mata but Mata has been the more creative player, someone who allowed Eden Hazard to play a more direct role, which Oscar is not able to do.

Cesc Fabregas and Mata have a lot of similarities too, they are small team bullies ! The Spanish duo have been ruthless against the smaller teams in the premier league. Chelsea’s quest to the Premier league title last season was stopped by poor displays against some of the smaller teams in the second half of the season, the lack of creativity in the final third is the reason for it.

Juan Mata v Small and Big teams

Mata had been absolutely fantastic against the smaller teams, the ones Chelsea struggled against last season. His contributions against the bigger teams was immense too and I feel Chelsea should have kept the Spaniard. Fabregas so far has had a similar start to the season, he has been extremely ruthless against the smaller teams and has put in good performances in the games against the big teams too.

Cesc v Small and Big teamsThe image above shows Fabregas’s  stats in the 2014-15 Barclays Premier league season so far. Apart from the Villa and Manchester City game Fabregas has actively contributed in each of the other 8 games. What I’m trying to tell here is, both Cesc and Mata were solutions for the problems Chelsea faced but in a different way and from different positions. The important difference here is that Eden Hazard was far more prolific and direct when Juan Mata was in charge of the creative role and since Cesc operates from a deeper role Hazard is forced to continue with the creative role. However this is only one of the reasons as to why Hazard is forced to work in a creative role. The primary reason for me is the lack of a quality Right Winger.

The lack of a quality right winger :-

Willian and Schurrle are not good enough to start for a team challenging for the title. Willian has been very average for Chelsea apart from the work rate he offers while Schurrle has been extremely inconsistent so far. Both of Chelsea’s right backs Azpilicueta and Ivanovic are not good at going forward either and this has only added to Mourinho’s woes. With almost no attacking outlet on his right wing, Mourinho has been forced to sacrifice his right wing completely, which in turn has led to him shifting to an approach he used throughout the second half of last season, their one dimensional approach- attacking on the left wing with Eden Hazard as their primary attacking outlet in the final third.

A combination of Oscar’s average creativity, the lack of attacking potential on the right wing have forced Hazard into continuing with this role, Chelsea should have signed a top quality right winger in the summer, someone like Alexis Sanchez or Cuadrado, the latter is still available. The lack of a right winger has also forced Mourinho into switching off after taking the lead against the bigger teams. He simply does not have enough quality at his disposal to kill the games against the big teams and has hence resorted to a more defensive approach for the remainder of the game to win 3 points, this has cost him to drop points in 2 out of 3 games despite taking the lead first.

Jose Mourinho has already fielded Ramires twice as a right winger this season in the hope that the Brazilian would be an interim solution to the problems and that he would offer more than what Willian and Schurrle do.

The fullbacks and the current system:-

One question most Chelsea fans have been asking is Why isn’t Filipe Luis playing? As the game evolves, fullbacks have had an increasingly important role and both Ivanovic and Azpilicueta have not done justice to their role in terms of going forward, while they have arguably been the best fullback pairing in the league in terms of their defensive contributions.

There are three reasons why I feel Jose Mourinho has opted for Ivanovic and Azpilicueta ahead of Filipe Luis despite the latter being one of the best left backs in the world.

1. Narrow defensive shape from fullbacks:-

Unlike Ivanovic and Azpilicueta, Filipe Luis cannot tuck into a narrow shape to form a more organized shape in defense for Chelsea. The fullbacks concede space to the opposition wingers and trust their wingers to trackback and cover for them.

2. Ivanovic- Set piece threat:- 

The Serbian has always been a set piece threat whenever he has played for Chelsea, pitching in crucial goals in more than one occasion. With Ivanovic along with Cahill,Matic,Terry and Costa,Chelsea are a huge set piece threat. Mourinho seems to have preferred Ivanovic in the starting lineup for this reason.

3. The current system :-

Another reason for both Ivanovic and Azpilicueta starting is because of the current system in place. As mentioned earlier, the fullbacks move into narrow shape while defending which requires the wingers to track back and deal with attacks on the wings. Schurrle despite having a decent start to the season is overlooked by Mourinho in bigger games because Willian does a better job tracking back and Willian seems likely to feature more after Schurrle’s mistake led to the City equalizer when the teams met earlier this season.

Willian however has been very poor in terms of creativity and as an attacking outlet and this has forced Mourinho to use Fabregas in a more advanced role when Chelsea have the ball. With Fabregas moving forward, Matic has to provide cover for him apart from his usual role of protecting the back 4. With an attacking fullback like Filipe Luis, a team’s defensive midfielder has to provide cover for the fullback or the space is left exposed when he is caught out of position in attack. With Matic involved in providing cover for Cesc he cannot offer this protection to Luis and hence Luis becomes more of a liability going forward than an asset because Hazard already does more than enough on the left wing.

These problems for Chelsea can only be solved by signing a right winger, to provide attacking options on the right flank.They also need to sign a replacement for John Terry, this can be done in two ways, either sign a quality right back like Seamus Coleman who can attack as well as defend and play Ivanovic as a centerback or they should sign a centerback and rotate between Azpilicueta and Ivanovic as right backs while using the latter as a cover for the centerback position. Chelsea should however go for a quality right back if one is available.

Chelsea also need to sign another midfielder, Matic is actually a box to box midfielder who has been deployed as a defensive midfielder for Chelsea. Chelsea have 3 options here, either they can sign a defensive midfielder like Carvalho to partner Matic and play Fabregas in a more advanced number 10 role, or they can sign a box to box midfielder like Pogba to partner Matic and deploy Cesc in the number 10 role and the final option is to sign a more creative attacking midfielder like Isco or Gotze and field them in the number 10 role. The first option would make the midfield perfectly balanced and would allow Chelsea to play attacking fullbacks on both their wings while having Cesc Fabregas in the advanced role for creativity.

Verdict: While Chelsea have been excellent so far this season, they are far from being complete. They must sign a right winger, a right back or a center back and another midfielder depending on the availability of the players. Juan Cuadrado,Gerrard Pique, Pedro Rodriguez ,Isco,Seamus Coleman and William Carvalho are a few players Chelsea should look at because they could be available.Once these signings are done Chelsea would be more balanced and complete, which in turn would bring the best out of their players especially their star man Eden Hazard, who has been forced into playing a more unnatural role.

Pep Guardiola – The Tactical Mastermind

Josep Guardiola i Sala – The Tactical Genius

When Pep Guardiola took over Bayern Munich in 2013 they were treble winners. Many claimed that Guardiola had a dream team to work with and how it was going to be a very easy task for him at Bayern Munich. They also said that there was not much left for him to achieve since his predecessor Jupp Heynckes had already achieved everything with the club.

Pep Guardiola not only got the team acclimatized to his style of football within weeks but broke three records in his first season with the Bavarian Club. The previous record of 14 unbeaten games set by Karl-Heinz Feldkamp was broken by Pep Guardiola. His 28 game unbeaten run finally ended in Bayern Munich’s 1-0 defeat to FC Augsburg. Guardiola also won the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) for a record 17th time. The Catalan’s biggest achievement however was winning the Bundesliga with 7 games left, breaking predecessor Jupp Heynckes record of winning the title with 6 games left.

Despite a lot of criticism about his tactics in the Champions League exit against Real Madrid, Guardiola defended his tactics but accepted blame for the defeat. What Pep Guardiola has done with his team after the defeat is phenomenal. The Catalan genius made a lot of changes to his 3-4-3 formation not only to bring out the best in his players but also to overcome the weaknesses of his system.

The Philosophy

Pep Guardiola’s philosophy is a modified version of Total Football and its high intensity pressing .There is a widespread misconception that “Tiki-Taka” is a style of football, it is not. In fact Pep Guardiola hates “Tiki-Taka”.

“Tiki-Taka” is merely a phrase like “Jibber – Jabber” or “Helter-Skelter”. “Tiki -Taka” was the phrase used by commentators to describe the rhythm of passing. Pep has used Total Football as his template but made a few changes to the Dutch style of football like introducing the 6 second pressing rule (The team had to win the ball under 6 seconds after losing it), a rule which embodies the concept of ” The best way to defend is to defend proactively, by keeping the ball as much as possible and winning it back as soon as possible”. Apart from the 6 second rule, Guardiola has highlighted the importance of workrate and has improved on Spalleti’s idea of the false 9.

In one of my previous articles I spoke about how a system or a formation should be chosen based on the ability of the players and how flexibility and versatility have become important factors to be considered when picking a system and the players for it.Guardiola’s biggest strength is his ability to see beyond a player’s position, a player’s attributes and qualities are important in where he will play and not where he had previously played in his career. Lahm being turned into a midfielder despite being one of the best right backs ever is the perfect example.

The biggest strength for Bayern this season is not just the transfers they have done but how Pep Guardiola has tweaked his system to extract the best out of his highly talented versatile squad. The Bayern team’s flexibility and versatility can be matched by none with almost every player in the team capable of playing in more than one area of the pitch. The reason I say area of the pitch and not position is because positions are not fixed in his system similar to the concept of Total Football. The team looks much stronger and better despite losing a player like Toni Kroos, something which Guardiola definitely has to be credited for.

What were the drawbacks of his older system?

There were three main problems in his previous system, the team was very open to counters, there was not enough penetration in the final third despite dominating possession and the 3-4-3 diamond formation of his was constantly exploited by attacking on the wings, the back 3 usually had to shift to fullback positions to defend attacks on the wings, this left behind a lot of space between each of the 3 centerbacks, something which was constantly exploited by teams. In his new system Guardiola has found a way to address almost all these problems whilst keeping his philosophy intact.

The yellow arrows between the 3 defenders indicate the space which is usually exploited when the centerbacks shift to fullback positions.

The yellow arrows between the 3 defenders indicate the space which is usually exploited when the centerbacks shift to fullback positions.

The matrix formation:-

In the game against Stuttgart, Guardiola fielded a completely new system. The best way I can describe it is as a 3X3 matrix with a lone striker upfront, three layers each with three players were deployed behind Lewandowski playing upfront as the striker. The flexibility of the system is phenomenal. There were 3 at the back like his 3-4-3 formation but there was always an extra player who would make it a 4 man defence, this addressed the problem of being exploited on the wings. This 3 to 4 man hybrid defence used the versatility of players like Juan Bernat, Xabi Alonso and Boateng to maximum use. With Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez out with injuries, the problem for Pep Guardiola was the lack of a box to box midfielder. The arrival of Xabi Alonso was indirectly the solution as Pep used Xabi Alonso in Philip Lahm’s role and gave Lahm the box to box role in his new system. The team lined up as shown below:-

The new system @ Bayern

There was a back 3 of Badstuber, Dante and Boateng with Xabi Alonso playing the Deep Lying playmaker role (Busquets role to be precise) with Lahm as a box to box midfielder. Bernat was used as a hybrid player in this system; he often dropped back to the left back position to form a back 4 whenever needed. Alonso also played a hybrid role as he dropped to the centerback position to form the back 4 whenever Boateng shifted to the right back position.

Defensive Transitions:-

The aim of the system was to form a structure in order to overcome the weakness to attacks from the wings. There were two different defensive transitions shown by Bayern in the game against Stuttgart. One when Bayern were attacked on their left wing and the other when attacked on their right wing.

Left Wing:-

Whenever Bayern were attacked on the left wing, Bernat would maintain his position on the left side of the midfield while Badstuber would slot into the left back position, Xabi Alonso then dropped into centerback position to fill the void left by Badstuber and Lahm moved to a more central area of the pitch, the area where Alonso was playing.

The Original System

The Original System

The transitions while defending on the left flank

The transitions while defending on the left flank

The above images shows how Bayern dealt with attacks on their left wing, there are 3 players on the left wing with Alaba, Bernat and Badstuber. These defensive transitions allowed Bayern to keep a stable back 4 while having two players defend on the left side (Bernat like a winger and Badstuber as a fullback)

Right Wing:-

The defensive transitions were slightly different when attacks came in on the right hand side. Boateng who had played as a right back for Germany during the World Cup did not have any problem shifting to right back position whenever the opposition were attacking on the right wing. With Boateng shifting to right back, Dante and Badstuber took up the centerback positions and Bernat dropped back into the left back position while Lahm maintained his original position as a right central midfielder.

The Original System

The Original System

The transitions while defending on the right flank

The transitions while defending on the right flank

The effect of the transitions was same as the one used while defending on the left wing. Lahm and Boateng double teamed to defend attacks on the right side of the pitch.

The defensive transitions did not allow opposition to exploit the space Boateng or Badstuber left behind while shifting to the fullback positions because of the extra man in defense. This allowed Pep Guardiola to nullify threats on the wings whilst ensuring there was no space left behind which could be exploited.

Attacking Transitions:-

Thomas Muller is one of the most intelligent players and is probably one of the most versatile players in the modern game. Muller was Germany’s best player at the World Cup in Brazil. His movement, positioning and intelligence to create and exploit spaces make him the most integral part of Guardiola’s system. Muller started off on the right wing but played as a second striker to Lewandowski, just like he did at the World Cup when he played as a second striker to Klose in most of the games.

Just like defense there were two transitions, the first one was when Muller shifted to play as a second striker to Lewandowski while the other was when he played as the right winger. A common thing to be noted in both transitions is the midfield diamond. In one of my previous articles, I highlighted the importance of the diamond and Pep Guardiola has found a way to incorporate his diamond in the new system too.

Muller as second striker:-

Whenever Muller shifted to play as the second striker, Boateng took over the responsibility of a right fullback with Lahm playing on the right side of the midfield diamond. Both Lahm and Boateng combined to provide width on the right side with Gotze dropping to a free role, at the tip of the diamond behind the front two of Lewandowski and Muller.

The Original System

The Original System

Transitions with muller as second striker

Transitions with muller as second striker

The Bayern team in this transition looked like a 4-4-2 diamond formation with Bernat and Boateng providing width on both flanks and Alaba slotting into left central midfield to complete the midfield diamond along with Gotze, Lahm and Alonso. Similar to Boateng and Lahm, Bernat and Alaba combined to provide the width on the left side of the pitch; the effect however was even more diabolical because Bernat is a winger turned into a fullback while Alaba is one of the best attacking fullbacks. This combination allowed Lewandowski to stay as the number 9 while Muller occasionally had to help Lahm and Boateng build attacks on the right wing.

Muller on the right wing:-

A coach who has been widely criticized for not having a plan B has come up with a second way of attacking during the game. With Muller staying wide right, Guardiola used Bernat to provide the width on the left wing while maintaining the midfield diamond of Alaba, Gotze, Lahm and Alonso.

The Original System

The Original System

Transitions when Muller plays on the right wing

Transitions when Muller plays on the right

With Bernat used as the left winger, Bayern were back to 3 at the back but this was not an issue anymore because of the defensive transitions (Attacks on the left wing) introduced by Pep. Bernat would remain in his left wing position with Badstuber shifting to left back and Alonso dropping to Left Centerback.


Pep Guardiola has found a near flawless system whilst maintaining his philosophy of Total football and high intensity pressing. This system seems to have overcome the drawbacks of his previous one. This like every other system could have a weakness too but I’m sure he will find a way to fix that too. The biggest problem for him would be picking his 11 if he chooses to stick to the system. The biggest question left unanswered is whether Pep Guardiola will Pick his best 11 and fit them in a system or pick the best 11 suited for this new system and how will he fit Robben, Ribery, Bastian, Thiago and Martinez in this system. Nevertheless the new system is exciting and we are lucky to witness the genius of Pep Guardiola.

Arsenal FC- The start of a new era !

In my previous article I mentioned about how Arsene Wenger would look to revert to his 4-4-2 formation, a system which stamped his authority in the Premier league. In this article I am going to explain why I feel he would shift to the formation with minor tweaks. The point of spending 35 million Euros on a World Class winger and not on a striker, something a lot of Arsenal fans wanted, and How Oliver Giroud could be a very important player for Arsenal from here on.

The ERA before 2006:-

When Arsene Wenger took over the club in October 1996, he had very little to worry about the defensive organization of the team. Former club manager and legend George Graham had already forged a solid back 4 boasting of the likes of Lee Dixon , Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown and Steve Bould with David Seaman at the goal.

Wenger’s first few signings were Patrick Vieira and Nicholas Anelka. Wenger built the core of his team around Dennis Bergkamp by signing players like Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit to add more firepower and stability in midfield. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place on 3rd August 1999 when Arsenal completed the signing of Thierry Henry.

However retirements of club Icons (Tony Adams, Lee Dixon ) and departures of key players in defense and midfield forced Arsene Wenger to rebuild his team retaining only the core players Vieira , Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. The team that he rebuilt went on to become the “Invincibles” .

The team followed a 4-4-2 system as shown below. Wenger had used 2 midfield powerhouses, Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira, who provided cover for the defense but most importantly linked the defense to their creative general Dennis Bergkamp.

Arsenal formation 4-4-2

Pires and Ljungberg were used as wingers who drifted inside whenever an opportunity arose with Henry used as a number 9 (moved in from the left most of the times). The width was provided by the highly rated academy graduate Ashley Cole and the winger turned right back Lauren.

Dennis Bergkamp was the most important player in this team, he was the glue that kept the entire Arsenal attack together. Arsenal at this time played a more direct style of football relying on the quick transitions from their midfield power houses and troubling teams with the pace they had upfront.

Arsenal post 2012

Having seen off the financial crisis, which was restricting his plans to rebuild his team, Arsene Wenger started the rebuilding of his team by getting rid of the deadwood and replaced them with players like Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla , Lucas Podolski and Oliver Giroud. The only setback was the loss of captain and world class striker Robin van Persie.

Mesut Ozil’s arrival in the summer of 2013 was the clubs most expensive transfer ever. It was a statement made by Arsene Wenger to tell everyone that he could now match the spending power of his elite counterparts. The signing along with the previous ones was crucial in ending the 8 year trophy drought.

Why sign Alexis and not a striker? 

There are two important reasons to this :-

1.) Giroud still has lots to offer and is yet to be used in the right role.

2.) Unavailability of a world class striker

Now with the arrival of Alexis Sanchez, Arsene Wenger has not only added enough quality to the first team but also given him an option to change his system .

The image below shows how I feel Arsenal would line up for the 2014/15 season.

Arsenal formation 14-15

I feel Wenger would use Alexis in a similar role to Thierry Henry and Oliver Giroud would now play a key part in how Arsenal play. Giroud has been a player who has been constantly criticized by Arsenal fans. In reality, they have just made him a scapegoat. Oliver Giroud for me is not a proper number 9, he is more of a second striker or target man who should be playing with another striker and not upfront on his own.

Giroud is a very intelligent striker, he has superb vision , control and the ability to hold on to the ball while bringing in his teammates into the game. Wenger will be using him in the same role as Dennis Bergkamp, don’t get me wrong here, I am not comparing the two players.

Giroud in this role would allow the likes of Walcott and Sanchez to move into much more attacking positions. With Ozil being the chief architect and having a player like Ramsey who is one of the best box to box midfielders in the league the role of Giroud becomes even more important. He will be the glue to hold all these players together. He will be the one to link everyone in attack, a perfect modern day target man. Giroud scored 23 goals and had 11 assists in all competitions last season and these numbers are bound to increase with the additions of Sanchez and the return of Walcott from his injury.

Why Arsenal fans compare him with other strikers or with their former strikers is beyond me. He is an entirely different player to the rest of them. Giroud is a jack of all trades, He has good physical presence, his vision and creativity is very good, a good header of the ball and a decent finisher. Of course you can argue that scoring goals is important for a striker but hasn’t he done that too?. He is a player who is similar to Berbatov for me. Berbatov’s best figures in the league came in his penultimate season for Manchester United where he scored 20 goals, Giroud’s highest so far is 16 !

Free role for Mesut Ozil ?

Ozil had a fantastic world cup for Germany. Ozil is evolving into a more complete player, becoming more and more like Iniesta and Silva. The change from being a more direct playmaker to a more complete and mature playmaker seems to have thrown a lot of doubts regarding his quality. I have seen a lot of people telling how his numbers in terms of goals and assists have gone down from his time at Madrid. How he is not a big game player anymore. Well, when you look up at Iniesta’s and Silva’s stats you get a better idea of what I am trying to say here.

Ozil v Ini v Silva

Ozil is becoming that kind of a player who helps in carrying the ball forward during the transition, who plays a huge part in his teams ball retention. The most important statistic for a playmaker is the chances created, in that aspect Ozil is right at the top for Germany with 17 chances created in 7 games. Arsene Wenger would be happy he is turning into a more complete playmaker than just a usual number 10. With Players like Alexis Sanchez and Walcott, Ozil will find a lot of space to drift into. He should be used as a Trequartista. Wenger should give him a free role than just a central number 10 role .

Differences with the older 4-4-2 system 

The biggest difference would be in the style of play; opposed to the direct, pacy hitting on the break style in the past Wenger would now look to integrate his possession based style of play into the new system.

This would require a few tweaks to the system. Like the Free role for Ozil, Giroud playing as a withdrawn forward, constant inward movement from both Alexis Sanchez and Walcott and most importantly a high line in defense.

The high line was something that made Wenger pay dearly but he continued using it . Games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City saw the team concede a galore of goals and their slow highline was cited as a reason for the defensive frailties. In my opinion the lack of a defensive midfielder is what made things worse and not playing highline. They did not have the right cover to play a high line and that is something Wenger will have to look into if he is going to play this system.

The new system would be something like a 4-2-1-3 , with Ozil playing a free role as a trequartista and Giroud playing as the withdrawn striker.

What signings to make? 

The only signing I feel is needed the most now is a player to partner Aaron Ramsey in midfield. A work horse or a defensive midfielder to cover the defense and someone who would allow Ramsey to storm forward when an opportunity arises.

Wenger in a recent Interview said “‘Up front we don’t need any more, maybe I will still bring in one centre-back. I will bring in a goalkeeper for sure and we are still out there to strengthen our squad”.

This again is an indicator that Wenger feels Giroud is his ideal man upfront, at least until he tries him out there. They do have enough back up in Lucas Podolski, Yaya Sanogo and Costa Rican World Cup star Joel Campbell. Walcott as a striker is another option for Wenger should Giroud get injured or needs to be rested. Getting a striker later on should this set up fail is not a big problem for Arsenal given their cash reserves and spending power. Arsenal fans need to understand that the signings required now are a centerback should Vermaelen leave and the midfielder to partner Ramsey.

Verdict : Wenger’s motives seem pretty clear here. He has been wanting to change his system for a while and finally gets a chance to do it. This system would bring out the best in his players and would make the best use of their qualities. Arsenal look more sorted out now from a tactical perspective, the team is superbly balanced barring the Defensive Midfielder and that signing is something which should be done soon. A new era for the Gooners !

Work-rate – The most important yet overlooked quality !

Despite the game evolving over the last few decades there has been very little change in terms of the system used by the coaches. 4-2-3-1 has now become a template for almost every team playing in Europe. The Idea of having a central midfield pairing of a box to box midfielder and a defensive midfielder or a deep lying play maker with a creative no 10 playing ahead of them is something that has been widely agreed upon. Some teams however do stick to an old fashioned 4-4-2 system or 4-3-3 system(which is only a slightly tweaked 4-2-3-1 system) while some managers follow the 5-3-2/ 3-5-2 systems. With almost every manager using the same system what differs is their philosophy/tactics  and the quality of the players.

Signing players with abundant quality in areas of technical ability, creativity and intelligence is very difficult because of the amount of players available who are touted “World Class” and the big price tag that comes with them. So it is natural that only the elite clubs across Europe can have such players and it is something that is being evenly distributed, almost every elite team has a world class midfielder, a world class winger, a world class number 10 or a world class striker. A few teams have all of these too. So what separates these big teams?  What is the reason behind smaller teams causing huge upsets at bigger stages? Work rate is something that is being constantly overlooked by a lot of people and my argument here is that  there are not many changes in terms of the system used , or tactics employed or the quality of players available. The subtle difference amongst the bigger teams is the work rate difference between the players in either team and that work rate is the trump card or impetus for the smaller teams when they take on much bigger clubs at bigger stages.

Consider the 2014 World Cup, How were teams like Costa Rica, USA, Algeria, Chile, Colombia able to perform above expectations ? Costa Rica went on to top of the group of death something almost everyone thought would be impossible. As a matter of fact , Netherlands was a team which lacked quality compared to the other three semi finalists but all these teams did so well because of their defensive organization and work rate. Brazil had a lot of quality in them but were humbled 7-1 by a technically solid German side. The same side which had a tough time against the likes of Ghana and Algeria.

Work Rate teams

The table above represents the distance covered by the semi finalists and the other teams that performed much better than they were expected to. As I had expected these were also the top 13 teams in terms of distance covered !

Another reason as to why the table has been dominated by North and South American teams is because they were already acclimatized to the playing conditions, something most European teams found difficult to cope with.

Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland are the only Non American teams which went the “extra mile”, something that turned out well for them.

The table below shows a list of the top 20 players in terms of average distance covered(Minimum 3 games played)

Distance top 20

Barring Axel Witsel from Belgium , the other 19 players are from the teams which have done exceedingly well in the tournament. Note that this is sorted by the average distance per game and playing more games does not matter .

Let us now consider 5 top managers who have done exceedingly well in their domestic and European campaigns.

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona :-

What change did Pep make at Barca that was not already in existence? The Catalans had been playing the tiki taka ever since the Johan Cruyff became the head coach of the team. Pep Guardiola himself was a part of the Johan Cruyff dream team.  So how did Pep’s Barcelona become one of the greatest teams ever in the history of the game? A lot of people fail to notice what Barcelona had done “off” the ball. All the talk and focus is on their mesmerizing link up plays, silky passing and Messi. Guardiola in an interview told he is unhappy with what Barcelona were doing off the ball, he was talking about their weakness when the opposition had the ball.  Pep countered this by introducing the “6 second rule” . The rule played a major part in the way Barcelona dominated their games. Having more than 60 % possession in almost all the games they played irrespective of the opposition. Barcelona were not only good at retaining possession but also at recovering it almost immediately. Their compact, narrow shape allowed Pep to implement his rule where the 2-3 players would press with very high intensity, closing down their opponents fast enough to disrupt the passing flow. Guardiola used a timer in all his training sessions to see how long his players take to recover possession. The average time given to the Barcelona players to regain possession was only 6 seconds. My point here is that while the possession based tactics like tiki taka were implemented across a number of clubs including Ajax where it originated, the cutting edge for Barcelona was the work rate ! This was applied to Bayern too when Pep took over as their head coach.

Chile and Germany were two teams that focused on this idea and a variation of it was made the crux of their philosophy. Both teams focused on pressing in the opponents half, not allowing them to build up while capitalizing on their miss passes. Germany were much more clinical than Chile and made most use of their chances.

A classic example is the way both teams played against Brazil. Most of the chances created by both these teams came from mistakes(dispossessed of the ball or their passes being intercepted) by Brazilian players (Sanchez goal , Kroos 2nd goal, Khedira goal) .

Jose Mourinho :-

From Porto to Real Madrid and then back to Chelsea now Jose Mourinho has implemented a lot of tactical changes to his teams , 2 things that always remained constant were the teams shape(Defensive Organization especially) and the Work rate from his players.

His teams played a high pressing game and capitalized on the opponents squandering possession and them being out of shape whilst conceding possession. Quick counters and some direct passing got him the crucial goals and was instrumental in his Champions League winning campaign at Inter Milan.

Mourinho overlooked “World Class” players like Ricardo Kaka , Juan Mata citing their work rate as the reason he picked other players over them. Sniejder worked like a charm at Inter because of what he could do off the ball and not just what he did when he was on the ball.

Louis van Gaal :-

One word that comes to your mind when you talk about this guy is his “Philosophy” . The concept of Total Football where players are allowed to interchange positions and have a more fluid yet organized shape. The most important phase in his philosophy is the Transition phase , how the team reshapes quickly to a defensive shape after losing the ball or how the players move around swiftly, finding spaces when the team has the ball.

He has been very particular about the fitness of his players because his philosophy is based a lot on their fitness and work rates.

He set up a training camp in Portugal prior to their World Cup campaign in Brazil. The conditions in the camp were similar to that of Brazil and the sole purpose of the camp was to bring the players into best shape, improve them in terms of work rate and see how much they could offer in those aspects under the working conditions ( High humidity and temperature).

Something similar to this was what Pep did with his Bayern team at Doha. All the above mentioned managers focused a lot on fitness and held a lot of fitness circuit training !

Sir Alex Ferguson :-

A success story in football without this man would be incomplete. Despite being a Manchester United fan for almost 11 years now, I have never completely figured out what brand of football Manchester United played under Sir Alex Ferguson. The safe term to use was the “United way” . But the more you look into it you figure out that it was a mix of possession based football with some deadly counter attacking football. The style revolved around transitions made, how quickly Manchester United hit on the break or to what extent where the wingers tracking back and supporting their full backs.

Sir Alex has been a firm believer of the importance of workrate, he always looked into players who offer a lot in terms work rate when he picks his team for crunch games or against other big teams like Ac Milan, Barcelona or Real Madrid. Be it using Park ji Sung to hound Pirlo in the game against Milan or using Welbeck against Real Madrid.

In fact Sir Alex’s bust up with Beckham happened because he did not track back which led to Arsenal’s goal and Man Utd’s eventual elimination from FA Cup.

Arsene Wenger :-

Arguably one of the greatest managers in the premier league era . From the time he took over in 1996 to present , Wenger has introduced a lot of changes to his base formations . From a 4-4-2 featuring Henry Bergkamp to a 4-5-1 with a poacher like Adebayor or Eduardo and now to the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation that most teams employ.  The teams which played under his 4-4-2 set up had a mid field pivot of Vieria Petit and bolstered the likes of Gilberto Silva too. The concept was having an organized defense and having a midfield of two hard working players who provided quick transitions as well as cover to the team leaving the creativity job to their number 10 Bergkamp. Later on Wenger shifted to a 4-5-1 with the core of his team departing

Then came the 4-5-1 base , where Fabregas was introduced along with the likes of similar minded player Rosicky and Hleb ! The team at this point played a more possession based football opposed to the counter attacking style while retaining the beautiful link up plays, often referred to as “Wengerball”. The team at this point used high pressing and involved a lot of work rate but as time progressed Wenger was not able to continue with it because of the players he had at his disposal, forcing him to drop the pressing. Only a few players like Walcott, Ramsey , Flamini and even Rosicky now continue to do it while the rest do not. The lack of a Defensive Midfielder also played a part in it.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are two players who have done brilliantly in terms of work rate in the past few seasons and at the World cup. A common misconception regarding Ozil is that he is “Lazy” but when you look at the stats he covers the most distance.

Wenger now has finally set sights on signing a Defensive Midfielder or someone who can offer a lot of work rate and can contribute defensively, someone to partner Ramsey. Khedira has been heavily linked with them along with players like Lars Bender and Morgan Schneiderlin who are very similar. The fact that wenger tried to sign Gustavo also hints at a possible shift to his old pressing / possession based set up. The Golden years for Wenger came when his team employed high pressing or quick transitions through midfield powerhouses or pacy and clever wingers. It looks more like a cycle now, Wenger will look to get back to his 4-4-2 set up with a few tweaks to make it ideal for the modern scenario.

 Emergence of Atletico Madrid and Borrusia Dortmund :-

These are two teams that shocked the entire football community with their performances domestically and in the UEFA Champions league. Both teams did not have a lot of World Class players like their counterparts did. A few things both these teams had in common was their high intensity pressing , making transitions and counter attacking with a more direct brand of football. To put it in simpler words high work rate !

Verdict : What I am trying to say here is that changes in terms of formations , philosophy applied would be very little from here on. Swansea and Liverpool have tried emulating Barcelona’s possession based football. And a lot of teams will continue to do this but the most important thing which differentiates every team is the work rate of the players, a quality that has always been over looked.  The point of mentioning the 5 managers was because each of them had different philosophies and styles of football their teams played, but the crux of their philosophies were always based on work rate and fitness one way or the other. Over the next few years a lot of teams and managers will emphasize on this and work rate from here on will hold the key to success for these teams.

Ander Herrera – A potential Manchester United Target !

Oh Boy was I shocked when a lot of top newspapers and journalists were reporting Herrera to Manchester United is almost done. I have been following the Basque man ever since his performances against United in the 11/12 Europa League edition. Herrera was an integral part of the team that finished as runners up in the Europa League and Copa Del Rey the same year.

I came across a lot of people telling Manchester United are overpaying for the midfielder, someone who has not broken into his country’s 23 man World Cup squad.  Herrera has been one of Spain’s promising talents having played 30 games for the U20, u21 and u23. He scored a crucial goal in the finals of the Uefa Euro u 21 Championship 2011, helping Spain to be crowned as champions. With an unfortunate turn of events for the Spanish National team in the 2014 World Cup, Ander Herrera along with the likes of Koke and Thiago will become an integral part of the team.National team selections are influenced by a lot of factors, Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho was not a part of Scolari’s plans until Feb 2014. Fernandinho was a very important player for city and he had not broken into his country’s setup either.

So What kind of player is Ander Herrera??

Over the last two years I have seen him being fielded across all three positions in central midfield. Ander Herrera is a very complete midfielder who has improved gradually over the last 3 years .Herrera is definitely a  player who can provide the drive in midfield, something Manchester United are in desperate need of.

He is a very good dribbler with a nice range of passing. He contributes a lot in defense as much as he does in attack.Someone who is not afraid to have a go when he gets into shooting positions. He averaged 2.1 shots per game last season, something that is a lot for a central midfielder. Ivan Rakitic was the only central midfielder who managed more shots on goal than him. Last season Herrera was given an advanced role in central midfield and he adapted very quickly to it and was Athletic Bilbao’s best player last season along with midfield partner Ander Iturraspe.

Midway through last season Ander Herrera was used in a midfield pivot along with Iturraspe and he performed even better. The Versatile midfielder was also used on either wings for a couple of games.

However something that makes this guy a lot more special is his movements off the ball.Herrera always looked restless, constantly moving around offering his support to his teammates. He has a very high work rate and a solid understanding of the game.Herrera attacking v Manutd per 90

The above image is a comparison of Ander Herrera’s attacking stats with the Manchester United midfield. Herrera is an upgrade over all of United’s midfielders in terms of attacking contributions. ManUtd have lacked the sort of player who creates chances from midfield, takes on players and shoots when an opportunity arises. Herrera is an answer to almost all their troubles.

Herrera defensive v Manutd Players 90 metricsHerrera’s defensive contributions have been impressive too. Remember that Herrera was used alongside a defensive midfielder and there was little expectations from him in terms of his defensive contributions. Yet Herrera managed 2.64 tackles every 90 minutes . Another similar player to Herrera like Strootman Or Vidal could make them a perfect pivot for Manchester United. The other viable option is to partner him with a defensive midfielder.

Herrera passing v Manutd per 90

While Herrera has been impressive in terms of Attacking and Defensive contributions he is far behind in terms of passing, a very important attribute for a central midfielder. However one debatable point in his favor is the amount of risky passes he makes, these could affect the overall pass completion rates. Nevertheless, Herrera must work on his passing and improve a lot if he has to thrive under new coach Louis Van Gaal.

Two very important qualities of his that makes him a top player are his commitment and consistency.

Ander Herrera has always put 100% in every game I have seen him play, be it against 2nd division teams or Title favorites.

Big game player?

He has also put in a number of commendable performances against top teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Mardid (Copa Del Rey).

The table below shows Ander Herrera’s performances against top sides in La Liga . He did not feature in both legs against Atletico Madrid in the league and the away game against Real Madrid in the league. Athletic Bilbao lost all the three games he did not feature in.

Herrera v Top teams

Herrera comparison with other United targets !

AnderHerrera is clearly not given enough credit for the work he does.

Conclusion : Ander Herrera would be a very important signing for Manchester United IF they make it. He has a mix of Scholes and Keane in him but has a very long way to go before he can be compared to either of them. A player with a lot of potential and talent, can definitely become a World class midfielder in the next few seasons under Louis Van Gaal. Manchester United however have to make another signing, probably a defensive midfielder or a similar player to Herrera but with better defensive contributions and distribution.  A suitable pairing according to me would be Luis Gustavo. He has been very impressive for Brazil so far and Manchester United should try and go for him. De Jong  and Schneiderlin are other options.

Overall the deal will be  a win win for all parties SHOULD it happen, whether he can live up to his price tag is something we have to wait and see !

World Cup 2014 – Everything you need to know

Spain, Brazil , Argentina and Germany are widely regarded as favourites to win this World cup, But who could be the Dark Horses?  Who should be expected to top their group ?  Well read ahead to find answers to these questions.

Group A

Despite this being somewhat a tricky group, Brazil are out-and-out favorites to win it .Having won the Confederations cup convincingly, Brazil are a team brimming with confidence and have hit fine form winning 9 of their last 10 games in their preparation to the world cup, with the only loss coming against Switzerland.

The second spot here is what makes the group a little tricky. Mexico and Croatia are two teams who could both challenge for the second spot, Cameron seem heavily over matched here. However Mexico unlike Brazil head into the tournament with a shaky morale. They changed their coach twice in the space of four months and almost failed to make it to Brazil. A playoff was required to book their berth in the finals. Croatia have had a similar run up to the world cup, changing their coach just before their two-legged playoff against Iceland. Another huge setback is the unavailability of Mario Mandzukic for the opener against Brazil.

Players to watch out for :
Brazil : Neymar,Thiago Silva,Oscar
Croatia : Ivan Rakitic , Luka Modric , Mario Mandzukic , Darijo Srna
Mexico : Giovanni Dos Santos , Javier Hernandez , Raul Jimenez
Cameroon : Samuel Eto’o  Alexander Song

A crucial game would be the decider between Mexico and Croatia. Croatian midfielders Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric have had spectacular seasons with their clubs and them along with Mario Mandzukic could tip the balance in favor of the Vaterni but Mexico are  very organized as a team and could definetely cause Croatia a lot of trouble.

Group B

This, in my opinion is one of the three “Groups of Death”. Spain head into the tournament as one of the favourites having dominated at the International stage since 2008 , winning 2 European Championships(2008,2012) , A World Cup(2010) and finishing 2nd in last years Confederations cup. Netherlands and Chile however are no pushovers. Spearheaded by Captain Robin Van Persie Netherlands qualified in style winning all their qualifying matches except  the draw against Estonia while Chile finished 3rd in their qualifying group. Australia, like Cameroon are dramatically over matched. Any of the three teams have a chance of topping their group.

What makes this a group of death?

Kevin Strootman’s injury has forced Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal to adopt a 5-3-2 formation rather than his usual 4-3-3 formation, implying how important the player was for the team. The Oranje have also been very unpredictable , from runners-up in 2010 world cup to a shocking group exit at the European Championships in 2012. However Robben and Robin Van Persie on their day could definitely lead the dutch to top billing in this group . Chile on the other hand are a team that could definitely cause upsets, a win against England and a draw against Spain in their preparation for the world cup makes them the Dark horses of this group .

Key players :
Spain :Xavi,Andres Iniesta,Xabi Alonso,Sergio Ramos
Netherlands : Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie
Chile :Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez
Australia :Tim Cahill, Mile Jedinak

Group C :

This is a really intriguing group as feasibly all four of these teams could advance. Even the unquestioned favourites, Colombia, will have questions to answer, one of them being ” how they’ll fare without star striker Radamel Falcao ? “.

Japan are a technically sound side led by creative midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, but can they stifle the attack-minded Colombians or the athletic and talented players littering Ivory Coast’s roster? Yaya Toure  Wilfried Bony and Didier Drogba are good enough to lead Ivory Coast to top billing in this group.

And then there is Greece, the sleeper team. The Greeks traditionally play a stifling brand of defense, but goals can be hard to come by. Still, those close results mean just about anything can happen. They nearly escaped a tough group in the 2010 World Cup that included Argentina, Nigeria and South Korea, and they proved their mettle at the 2012 Euros. Their qualifying campaign is enough proof of their defensive prowess , conceding just 4 goals in 10 games.

Key players:

Colombia : James Rodriguez , Freddy Guarin , Juan Cuadrado, Jackson Martinez
Greece : Georgios Samaras , Konstantinos Mitroglou,
Ivory Coast :Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony
Japan : Keisuke Honda,Shinji Kagawa , Shinji Okazaki

Group D:

This for me is “The” group of death. Any one of the three teams, Uruguay , Italy and England could top the group. Uruguay secured their place in Brazil only after a two-legged playoff against Jordan as opposed to England and Italy who qualified from their groups by not only finishing first but also undefeated.

Uruguay however are the current Copa America champions, spearheaded by the deadly strike force of Edinson Cavani ,Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez.  The latter’s injury concerns however could put Uruguay’s qualification in Jeopardy.

England head into the tournament with a perfect mix of young talents and experience, However a weak link in the team is their right back position. While Glen Johnson is most likely to get the nod he had a very poor season at Liverpool. England also lack a proper cover for the full back should he get injured. An injury to Danny welbeck , one of Roy Hodgson’s preferred players is another problem.

Italy have had their fair share of injuries with Rossi and now Montolivo. Italy similar to Netherlands have also been really unpredictable , From World champions to an exit in group stages in the 2010 World Cup and then a sensational run to finish as runners-up in the European Championships in 2012.

Costa Rica are not a very easy team to play against. They have a very good defensive organization and are strong on the counters and set pieces. If the 3 world cup winners arent cautious enough there might be a few surprises here .

Key Players :

Uruguay : Luis Suarez , Edinson Cavani , Diego Godin
England : Wayne Rooney , Steven Gerrard , Daniel Sturridge
Italy : Andrea Pirlo , Mario Balotelli ,Gianluigi Buffon
Costa Rica: Joel Campbell , Bryan Ruiz

Group E:

Boy, did France luck out, drawing the weakest Pot 1 team (Switzerland) and a very winnable group overall. Switzerland were very impressive in their qualification run and are no pushovers either and could upset a volatile France.

Ecuador are an interesting team to watch. Led by Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, they finished fourth in South American qualifying, forcing Uruguay into the playoff round. But while they are incredibly difficult to beat on their home soil, they are less dangerous away from Ecuador. It remains to be seen if they can bottle some of their home magic for Brazil.

Key players :
France : Karim Benzema , Matheiu Valbuena , Paul Pogba
Switzerland: Granit Xhaka , Xherdan Shaqiri , Josip Drmic
Ecuador : Antonio Valencia
Honduras: Wilson Palacios

Group F

Argentina are overwhelming favourites to win the group and anything short of top spot would be a disappointment.  Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria are not poor teams but they lack the quality to finish ahead of Argentina.

As if having arguably the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, wasn’t enough, they also have Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria, a group of attacking talent most countries simply can’t match.

Despite being this their first World Cup , Bosnia-Herzegovina are better than they are given credit for. Led by Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Vedad Ibesivic they are most likely to finish runners up. But Nigeria are a very dangerous side , the African champions have all the fire power to prevail

Argentina : Lionel Messi , Angel Di Maria , Sergio Aguero , Javier Mascherano
Bosnia-Herzegovina : Edin Dzeko , Miralem Pjanic , Vedad Ibesivic
Nigeria : John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses ,Emanuel Emenike ,Ahmed Musa
Iran : Javad Nekounam

Group G

Three time world cup winners Germany are favorites to top the group. Germany have rightly been labeled “chokers” , being the only team to make it to the semi finals in their last 4 major tournaments (WC 2006,2010 and Euro 2008,2012) and not winning any of them. Having a plethora of talents with the right mix of youth and experience , Germany are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Portugal are led by their Captain and prolific goal scorer Crisitano Ronaldo . Ronaldo was at the helm for Portugal in Euro 2012 , leading them to a 4th place finish. He was also very instrumental in Portugal securing a berth in the finals at Brazil after scoring all 4 goals in the playoffs against Team Zlatan.

Ghana are definitely the dark horses of this group, led by striker and captain Asamoah Gyan, Ghana have been one of the most successful African teams in recent world cup history , making it past the group stages in their last two world cups. USA coached by Klinsmann are a very determined team, who finished ahead of England in the 2010 World cup group stage. Led by Clint Dempsey and Micheal Bradley USA topped their qualifying group ahead of the likes of Mexico and Costa Rica.

Games to look out for  :

Portugal vs Germany could decide who tops the group, while Germany are widely considered favorites , a good day for Cristiano and co could definitely see off the Germans.

Germany vs USA :
While this game isn’t a proper match up,  USA coach Klinsmann who was then at the helm of the Germany side between 2004 and 2006 played a significant role in the country’s ‘fairytale’ World Cup in 2006. After Klinsmann stepped down, his former assistant Joachim Low took charge and has since taken Germany’s game to another level.

Germany vs Ghana :
A lot of emotions in this game would be exciting to see how Kevin Prince Boateng fares against his brother Jerome Boateng.

Key Players :
Germany : Mesut Ozil , Miroslav Klose , Lahm , Schweinsteiger , Thomas Muller
Portugal : Joao Moutinho , Cristiano Ronaldo , Pepe
Ghana : Asamoah Gyan , Kevin Prince Boateng, Michael Essien
USA:  Micheal Bradley , Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore

Group H:

The Belgium team booked their place in the finals with superb performances in their qualifying campaign going undefeated and winning 8 out of their 10 games. Being a team that comprises of a lot of talented and experienced players who have performed exceedingly well at club level in recent years has made them the biggest sleeper team in this tournament,

Russia, just like Belgium topped their group in the qualifying campaign against the likes of Portugal, pushing the latter into playoffs. Populated mainly by CSKA Moscow players, Fabio Capello’s defense let in just five goals in 10 qualifying matches, and have conceded only once during their three warm-up fixtures. An injury to their star man and captain Shirokov is definitely a huge blow for the Russians.

But Korea Republic could make some noise. They surprised many  by advancing to the knockout phase in 2010 over the likes of Greece and Nigeria, and they could do so again this year. Led by Sunderland’s Ki Sung-yueng and Bayer Leverkusen winger Son Heung-min and bolstered by new manager Hong Myung-bo, South Korea could surprise some folks in Brazil.

Key Players :
Belgium : Eden Hazard , Romelu Lukaku , Vincent Kompany
Russia :  Aleksandr Kokorin. Igor Akinfeev, Igor Denisov, Alan Dzagoev
Algeria : Sofiane Feghouli , Saphir Taider
Korea Republic : Park Chu-Young, Ki Sung-yueng, Son Heung-min

CFC :- More than just a striker away !


A look into Chelsea’s season and where they need improving.

                  There is this widespread misconception among a lot of a people that signing a world-class striker would solve Chelsea’s problems and get them their league title. I decided to write this article to give my view on the “different” problems Chelsea are facing right now.

                  Prior to writing this article, I conducted a survey, asked a few of my friends about how much they would rate Ramires on a scale of 1-10 and why? The answers were as expected, most of them gave him a rating of 5-7, as i would have. Ramires for me is a hard-working player who gives 100 % when he has played for Chelsea but he cannot be more than  a squad player.He has all the qualities to be a good box to box midfielder but that is not what Chelsea need right now.The problem for Chelsea is that they need someone to partner Matic. There is no one in the team to link defense to attack, which is the most important phase in any team, the transition phase. Ramires’s passing, poor ball retention and his poor decision-making only adds to the woes .

                Having Ramires in the team alongside matic as a midfield pivot ensures almost zero creativity from the back, there is no one to dictate the tempo in midfield. This lack of a creative general in midfield has forced Chelsea into adopting a one-dimensional style of football; the lack of the proper link in midfield has forced them to opt for a more direct counterattacking approach and an increased dependency on their star man Eden Hazard.

             Eden Hazard had a different second season at Chelsea’s compared to his first season. Jose Mourinho has tried to make Eden Hazard a much more complete player by making him the team’s creative head in the final third. But how has this affected Chelsea?

Hazard comparison

                   The above image is a comparison between hazard’s second season to his first season at Chelsea. While he has nurtured into a more complete player for Chelsea his impact was no more direct; especially in the second half of the season.Ever since the sale of Juan Mata and Oscar’s form dip, Hazard has been offered the creative role at Chelsea and he definitely has done justice to it but at the cost of his direct impact.

                 In the first half of his second season Eden Hazard scored 9 goals and had 5 assists (source to the stats), this was when he had the role of a left winger/ inside forward in the team and the creativity task was given to Oscar and Mata.  However he managed to score only 5 goals in the league in the second half of his season of which 3 of them were penalties.  Both the open play goals he scored came against Newcastle united on the 8th of February. Since then hazard never managed to score a goal from open play in all competitions.

Chelsea dropping points

                       The above picture shows Chelsea’s results which actually cost them the season, It isn’t a coincidence that Chelsea dropped points against smaller teams post January. The problem was the lack of a proper creative play maker in the team and they were clearly missing the direct impact provided by Eden Hazard.

Let’s have a look at how Chelsea fared against the same teams in their first fixture

2013-14 Season Fixtures and Results (First Half)

West ham Vs Chelsea , Result : 3-0 win for Chelsea
Chelsea Vs West Brom , Result : 2-2 draw
Chelsea Vs Aston Villa , Result 2-1 win for Chelsea
Chelsea Vs Crystal Palace , Result 2-1 win for Chelsea
Norwich Vs Chelsea , Result 3-1 win for Chelsea
Sunderland Vs Chelsea , Result 4-3 win for Chelsea

                 Against the same opposition in the first half of the season Chelsea managed to get 5 wins and a draw dropping just 2 points out of a possible 18 compared to them dropping 14 points of a possible 18 in the second half of the season.The lack of a natural play maker and the significantly reduced direct impact of Eden Hazard are the primary reasons for the results in the second half of the season..

              A possible solution for Chelsea is to sign a Midfielder to partner Matic, Someone who can dictate the tempo of the game, Act as a link between Defense and Attack and someone who could offer creativity from the back. Another important signing Chelsea need to make is that of an attacking midfielder/advanced play maker who would be the primary creative head of the team. Both these signings would reduce the increased taxation on Eden Hazard, allowing him to perform better in his natural role of a left winger/Inside forward and add a new dimension to Chelsea’s approach.

             Another huge problem Chelsea has is their fullbacks. As the game constantly evolves, Wingers drift further inside leaving abundant space for their full back partners to run into. Only very few teams stick to traditional wingers whose job is to get past his opposition fullback and cross. Most of the teams are adopting an approach where wingers are more direct.  Chelsea has used a Right back as a left back and a Centre back at Right back. This causes problems for Chelsea because while Azpilicueta and Ivanovic have been sensational in terms of their defensive duties they have been below average when they move forward.

              Azpilicueta is restricted to doing two things every time he gets forward. He has either to swing his weaker foot and hope his cross is met by a teammate inside the box or he has to shift onto his right foot before crossing, which makes him very predictable.  Ivanovic on the other hand has been really solid defensively but his crossing has been really poor and he has been very rigid whenever he’s gone forward.

Left backs

                The above image shows a comparison between Azpilicueta and 3 left backs who played a very crucial role for their team.

                A possible solution would be to sign a top quality left back who can contribute both in attacking and defensive duties. Azpilicueta has been a revelation this season playing in a position that isn’t his natural one, given more regular chances at Right back would add a lot of balance to the team.

               The last problem for Chelsea is the one that is being talked about a lot, The lack of a world-class striker. The video below is a brilliant analysis by Gary Neville on Chelsea FC’s Striker Demba BA and he also tells you exactly what they are missing in the attacking department.

Conclusion: Chelsea is definitely a team in transition not just because of the new manager that has come in but because of the problems discussed above. They need to make those 3-4 important signings in order to push for the title. Mourinho has switched to a system where he uses his wingers for creativity and plays his 10 in a more direct role.. Whether he did that because of the players he had at his disposal or because that’s his philosophy remains unanswered. Apart from just signing a world-class striker Chelsea needs to change their one-dimensional approach; which can only be achieved by signing the right set of players.