Between the Posts tactical analysis weekend preview: a look at the games we will cover this weekend
Welcome to the weekend primer of Between the Posts, where we preview the matches that will be covered during this weekend, including a little preview of these matches. International football is over until summer, club football is back. We have a whopping eleven matches coming up, from Friday to Wednesday, six days in a row, from five leagues.
Friday, March 29th
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Bundesliga), 20:30 CET
Friday night Bundesliga, y’all! This game sets us up for an interesting clash between two managers of a very different breed. Bosz is a poet, Nagelsmann is a pragmatist. Whereas Bosz favores a distinct style of play – which Leverkusen have incorporated almost immediately since his appointment – Nagelsmann’s teams operate more like a chameleon.
Sometimes their approach even changes within games, as was on full display against Borussia Dortmund. In the first half of that game, Hoffenheim were all about containing the opponent in a medium block, A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. whereas after the break, they pressed high up the pitch.
In this game against Bayer Leverkusen, Hoffenheim probably will attempt to sit deep and counterattack, as Leverkusen are prone to get caught with a lot of players in front of the ball. If Nagelsmann opts to let his team press just as intense as his opponent, this might be a true cracker.
Tactical analysis by Max Bergmann.
Stade Rennais – Olympique Lyonnais (Ligue 1), 20:45 CET
Life is good in Bretagne. Stade Rennes, the regional capital club, looks firmly underway to their sixth consecutive top half finish. With just two defeats in the last fourteen Ligue 1 matches, Julien Stéphan does an impressive job. These fourteen matches also happen to be the first of Stéphan’s managerial career, who took over after the painful 1-4 home defeat to Strasbourg. Stéphan immediately restored Hatem Ben Arfa as the prime offensive fulcrum with a lot of positional freedom in a 4-4-2 formation. Both Ben Arfa and hot commodity Ismaïla Sarr have contributed a lot to Rennes’ impressive recent streak.
Lyon have been eliminated from the Champions League by Barcelona, and they’ve already been eliminated from the Coupe de la Ligue too. Still, they’ve got everything to play for. Lyon trail second placed Lille by four points for an automated Champions League spot, and the semi final in the Coupe de France awaits them midweek, against… Rennes.
Tactical analysis by Daryl Gouilard.
Saturday, March 30th
Borussia Dortmund – VfL Wolfsburg (Bundesliga), 15:30 CET
Wolfsburg are doing a very good job in the Bundesliga this season. Their brand of football is based around hard work, a high tempo and putting bodies in the box for crosses. Dutch striker Wout Weghorst is the personification of this style of play, and manager Bruno Labbadia is showing some serious craftsmanship in letting this squad compete with the teams in the upper half of the table.
Wolfsburg are currently seventh, and have to travel to the biggest Bundesliga stadium. Dortmund’s season seemed to fizzle out very quietly, but just before the international break, they seem to have clawed themselves back into it by winning twice in a row. Dortmund have to play Bayern Munich next week, and with sixty points each, winning or losing this game against Wolfsburg might change the entire dynamic of that decisive game.
Tactical analysis by Carl Carpenter.
FC Barcelona – Espanyol (LaLiga), 16:15 CET
In the modern era of club football, where players change clubs faster than their cars, and being relegated to the bench for a couple of matches is a legitimate reason to start the process of an outgoing transfer, what is the exact worth of derbies? Is there? Do the players even care?
For a player like Gerard Piqué or Espanyol’s holding midfielder Víctor Sánchez – 227 Espanyol appearances – they might hold some value. But for all the other players, it is probably just another game, albeit one they want to win a bit more to appease the fans.
When this derby is played in Espanyol’s stadium, this turns into a menacing affair once every few seasons, with Espanyol hacking away at Barcelona’s players for fun, before Messi gets so angry he decides the game all by himself.
Yes, this can become a very physical match at times. Saturday afternoon at the Camp Nou will probably see Espanyol varying in their approach; then pressing Barcelona and then falling back in their 4-5-1 defensive formation. Will a surprise be at the cards? Probably not, but let’s hope for the Espanyol fans that clock into work Monday morning that there will be.
Tactical analysis by Erik Elias.
Sunday, March 31th
AS Roma – SSC Napoli (Serie A), 14:00 CET
Since Eusebio di Francesco was given the sack as manager and Claudio Ranieri has been installed as manager at AS Roma, one game against a lower-tier team was won, and one was lost. The away game against SPAL – in which Ranieri installed the 4-4-2 formation again – turned out horrible and was lost 2-1. Napoli, by the way, is one of the clubs formerly managed by Ranieri, but in Italy, that’s hardly an impressive feat, given Ranieri’s track record as a manager.
Since Napoli also play in a 4-4-2 formation, it will probably be 4-4-2 against 4-4-2 at the Stadio Olimpico! Two Italian managers, two iconic jerseys squaring off in an even more iconic stadium, including the running track. Put in a nice, hot sun and the eighies and nineties vibe will well and truly be on, Sunday afternoon. Make sure you watch this if you like retro Italian football!
Tactical analysis by Joel Parker.
Sevilla FC – Valencia CF (LaLiga), 15:15 CET
There is a case to be made that the fourth and fifth best teams in LaLiga go to battle this week. However, behind the perennial trio of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, we currently find Getafe in fourth place and Alavés in fifth. Two relatively small clubs that are enjoying a season where everything seems to fall in place, and this may just be enough for a historic Champions League qualification.
Sevilla and Valencia both fail to live up to expectations this season. Sevilla went on a slide when their poor underlying defensive numbers started to shine through, resulting in the demise of Pablo Machín and his fierce pressing football. Valencia started the season very poorly, drawing an extremely short straw of finishing on either end of the pitch. Eventually, as expected, results are now starting the catch up with their impressive underlying numbers. Their current streak extends to fifteen matches without a loss, a winnable Europa League quarter final against Villarreal awaits them, and they will close off their season with the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.
Tactical analysis by José Pérez.
Liverpool – Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League), 16:30 CET
Both Jürgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have a reputation of insane pressing and a high-energy type of football. In general, however, this season both these teams try to contain the opponent in a medium block, and preserve the bulk of their pressing endeavours for counterpressing situations.
Tottenham Hotspur are the only top-six club that will play both Manchester City and Liverpool in the remaining fixtures of the Premier League. In matches against top opposition this season, Pochettino’s approach has been less about pressing and more about controlling the game, sitting deep and absorbing the pressure. At Wembley, Spurs played in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Though in theory perfectly blocking off the center of the pitch, Liverpool could largely play around this, as Klopp’s men put in a commendable, flank-oriented display and easily won the game.
As in all big games, Klopp will probably go for a 4-3-3 formation, as the 4-2-3-1 is almost never used in a big game, barring their shallacking of Arsenal. If the clash of formations will again be 4-3-3 against 4-4-2 diamond, the space will be on the flanks once more. We’ll learn quickly enough whether Pochettino has learned from the game at Wembley.
Tactical analysis by Josh Manley.
Monday, April 1st
Arsenal – Newcastle United (Premier League), 20:00 CET
Extend your weekend with this tasty Monday night Premier League fixture. Matches between these two teams have been tight recently, with all of the most recent six clashes decided by a single goal. Arsenal won five, Newcastle one.
Beneath the fascinating title race between Liverpool and Manchester City, we’ve got a very exciting top four race shaping up. Tottenham’s recent stutters have seen them entering the mix that was already crowded with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal fighting for those all-important Champions League places. If not for the honour or the money involved, then certainly for the appeal on the transfermarkt.
Newcastle have been on the up recently, with home wins over Huddersfield Town and Burnley giving some breathing space. Their playing style may not be that attractive – euphemism alert – but manager Rafael Benítez is definitely winning over some Northern hearts with his steady results.
Tactical analysis by Peter M.
Tuesday, April 2nd
Wolverhampton Wanderers – Manchester United (Premier League), 19:45 CET
This exact fixture was a true cracker in the FA Cup, a couple of weeks ago. Wolves drummed Manchester United out of the cup after a very coherent defensive display and taking their chances well at the other end.
At Between the Posts, we always end the match report with a ‘takeaway’ section. In the takeaway section of that specific match, the writer stated: ‘On their day, Wolves cannot beat just every team in England, but frankly, every team in the world.’
Even though that might be a bit over the top, Wolves’ defensive organization is top drawer stuff, and Manchester United this season – a bit less under Solskjaer than under Mourinho – have struggled against teams playing in a low block. A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box.
Speaking of Solskjaer, he signed a deal this week, making him the permanent manager at Old Trafford. Great timing for Ole, as United have to play a daunting set of matches in the next five weeks, and if they lose a few of those challenging fixtures… You know the drill, in football, right? So he better makes sure to begin that streak with a win. No easy task at the Molineux, mind you!
Tactical analysis by Cem Soylu.
Wednesday, April 3rd
Torino – Sampdoria (Serie A), 20:00 CET
This midweek round of fixtures provides an excellent opportunity to finally take a detailed look at Torino. A look they have been thoroughly deserving lately, catching some eyes with six consecutive clean sheets, including matches against Inter, Napoli and Atalanta.
In terms of goals conceded, Torino are up there with the top teams – 26 goals conceded in 28 matches. However, over 35 expected goals conceded tell us that this defensive performance may not be all that likely to translate to the future. Even in this ‘impressive’ streak of six clean sheets, Torino conceded 7.6 expected goals. So, either Torino pull of some special magic recently, or we are looking at an extreme case of variation.
Sampdoria are a mid-table Serie A team. Since their most recent promotion, now seven seasons ago, they have not finished higher than seventh or lower than fifteenth, and their current ninth spot means they’re well underway to more mid table stability. Yet, Sampdoria fans have every right to worry. This season’s 49 goals scored – fifth in the league, yeah – is backed up by just 32 expected goals created. Either they spend well and fix their offense over the summer, or we’ve got some serious issues coming up next season.
Tactical analysis by Chris Baker.
Valencia CF – Real Madrid (LaLiga), 20:30 CET
In the first match of his second stint as Real Madrid’s manager, Zizou saw his team play some classic Zidane-ball. The fullbacks pushed up high on the flanks, Modrić and Kroos were being sought early in the buildup and a heavy emphasis was put on crossing.
More or less the exact same strategy that worked very well in the Champions League, but failed in LaLiga, consistently. And by the way, that was with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo still in the team, constantly lurking in the box for said crosses.
Whether Zidane – an underrated tactician, by the way – keeps trusting the good ol’ tactics, or he just started with what he knew and will build on this is unknown, and an interesting side plot to keep tabs on.
Who would have thought Valencia would suddenly start winning so many matches instead of drawing? Well… Anybody who knows about expected goals. And reads our pieces.
Jokes and self-promotion aside, Valencia’s 4-4-2 formation is though to break down for every team, even if you can field the likes of Isco – who’s back in the team – Asensio and Modrić. As a result of their defensive Valencia are unbeaten since January, and have not lost a game at the Mestalla since November.
Tactical analysis by Om Arvind.