Even though on Tuesday we had a few examples, yesterday´s Champions League games clearly showed the importance of victory. There was not one draw in the eight games with an entertaining average of three goals per game. There were 21 goals in total shared by a range of inspired strikers. As usual, Wednesday evening once again brought a lot of action and we will now analyse some of the most intense games.
Arsenal, 0-Schalke 04, 2.
Away victory for Schalke 04 at the ‘Emirates’ in a game in which both teams played with many precautions and followed the expected script. Arsenal had more ball possession and Schalke 04 sat back waiting for their chance. Cazorla played with intelligence between the lines and Neustadter was always aware of his movements.
Initially both teams displayed the same formation, 1-4-2-3-1, with players of similar characteristics in the second line; Cazorla and Holtby, both with an offensive mentality and clever movements between the lines.
But the pace of the game was quite slow; Arsenal struggled to move the ball quickly enough to surprise the Germans as they were feeling more comfortable on the pitch and started to launch counterattacks as the game went on. Both teams neutralised each other and there were no clear chances for either of them. Arsene Wenger was on the stands, as he was banned, and could do little to change the game scenario.
In the second half things got worse for the local team. Jones replaced Hoges in midfield and his energy soon made an impact on his team mates as Schalke 04 started to play with more intensity. The game had more pace but also less pass accuracy, and both teams begun to lose the ball more often what led to an increasing number of counterattacks. And in this aspect of the game Schalke 04, with Afellay and Farfan, were more threatening than Arsenal.
Arsenal responded and Cazorla moved to the left wing and Podolski played as striker for a few minutes but with no results. They tried again later after making a couple of substitutions but this didn’t work either. As the game progressed Arsenal were more anxious and Schalke 04 more confident and precise. And it could just end as it did; Huntelaar scored the first and Afellay the second finishing a perfect counterattack driven by Jones and Farfan.
In the end, a deserved win for Schalke 04 who got better and better throughout the game.
Borussia Dortmund, 2–Real Madrid, 1.
A very levelled game with both teams displaying similar formations (1-4-2-3-1) and a noticeable number of unforced errors especially in the midfield. Dortmund and Real Madrid tried to play quick counterattacks, unsuccessfully most of the time. This was due to the intensity and defensive order that both teams showed last night which eventually led them to miss an unusual number of passes.
Real Madrid, forced to make an early substitution in the 18th minute when Khedira was replaced by Modric, started the game with higher ball possession although both teams struggled to have complete control of the game. Lewandowski scored the first for Dortmund making the most of a defensive error by Real Madrid’s defence. But just a few minutes later Ronaldo put the equaliser on the scoreboard finding spaces behind Piszczek to beat the German goalkeeper. Real Madrid played with both fullbacks deep and wide trying to open the pitch to build play and constantly trying to connect with Di Maria, Ozil and Ronaldo. Xabi Alonso and Modric did not participate as much as usual mainly due to the excellent defensive work that Reus, Gotze and Grosskreutz made on them. For their part Dortmund’s attacking threat always came through Lewandowski and the three players between the lines, with quick defence-attack transitions but without creating clear chances.
In the second half the script barely changed and both teams kept trying to make the most of the rival’s unforced errors regaining the ball to launch dangerous counterattacks. As the game went on the pace sped up, what led to a loss of pass accuracy and more direct play. After the second goal Real Madrid decided to sit a bit higher on the pitch, using more the wide areas and trying to control the game. Dortmund responded sitting a bit deeper, launching counterattacks and effectively pressing Real Madrid’s midfielders, which made their attempts to build up play very difficult.
Ajax, 3–Manchester City, 1.
Ajax hosted Manchester City with their usual offensive formation of a 1-4-3-3. The English side displayed different tactical schemes throughout the game. Ajax began controlling the match with their pass and move philosophy, but their pace progressively decreased as City became more comfortable on the pitch. On the 22nd minute Nasri played with Richards and Milner to get behind Ajax´s back four to score the first goal of the night. From then on Aguero and Nasri had more presence in City’s attacking phase quite often finding spaces behind the Dutch fullbacks who were both very offensive going forward with determination (especially the right fullback Van Rhijn), also assisting their strikers and second line players. On the 45th minute De Jong found the back of the net after a good cross delivered by Van Rhijn.
After half time City seemed determined to do everything they could to get the 3 points: more ball possession, pressing higher on the pitch and the back four further up. But it was the local team who scored first when Moisander headed to the back of the net a cross delivered by Eriksen. The English tried to react but soon they conceded the third goal when Clichy deflected a shot taken by Eriksen in front of a helpless Hart. With that advantage on the scoreboard Ajax conceded City control of the game, and the blues could have scored twice but Dzeko and Nasri missed the target. Ajax goalkeeper Vermeer was busy and safe until the end of the game and City, who ended up playing with four strikers on the pitch, was not able score.
Malaga, 1-AC Milan, 0.
A historic victory for Malaga, who have been untouchable in their debut in the Champions League, this time it was against AC Milan, one of the big names of the competition.
Malaga (1-4-4-2) started the match playing with intensity and high tempo, pressing high on the pitch and threatening Milan´s defensive positions with their second line players exchanging constantly their positions (Isco and Portillo). Apart from that, their good movements between the lines and the permanent threat that Joaquin was for the Italians was remarkable. For their part AC Milan defended with a line of five, with four players in midfield and just one in front, well organised and balanced most of the time. Initially Malaga struggled to have the control of the game, but as it progressed they begun to have more ball possession and create some clear chances. Isco and Portillo, as said before, were very mobile going inside as well as Joaquin, who always tried to create 2v1 situations in wide areas. All these constant movements in the last third caused big problems for AC Milan, especially when the fullbacks decided to go forward (most of the time making the right decision). As a result of this Malaga was awarded a penalty on the 44th minute that Joaquin missed hitting the crossbar.
In the second half the Italians sat back in their own pitch, trying to get more bodies behind the ball and trying to exploit their only attacking weapon, the counterattack, although unsuccessfully. Malaga, instead, had more ball possession and kept causing problems for Milan’s defence with their movements between the lines, especially when their centerbacks were forced to leave their zone. And on the 64th minute Joaquin scored after a brilliant assist from Iturra. Allegri tried to find solutions. Bojan replaced Acerbi changing into a 1-4-4-2 formation and playing more long balls behind Malaga’s back four. In one of them El Shaarawy could have scored the equaliser in the 85 minute but Caballero was there to make the save.
This is the end of today´s short analysis, although the next one is close by. In no more than 15 days we will once again have top continental football played in another week of this new edition of the European Champions League (ECL). See you in two weeks.
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