Champions League

CKSA

Just watched the CSKA match.

The CKSA crowd was really loud. I was imagining 30,000 very drunk Russians working themselves into a near-anarchic lather. I can see why it might be unnerving to play there. Well, not so much play, as leave safely after the game. Check your tea for Polonium.
I watched the game looking for to see if we have a striker problem and I agree that we may have a blind spot there. Janssen worked hard, but he frequently backs into one of the CBs and tries to box them out in an attempt to hold and dish,or turn and strike. So far he’s better at the hold up but other than that one dish off to Son against Middlesbrough he hasn’t created much. And he hasn’t been good enough at turning opportunities into shots on target. Time will tell if he figures out our system, or the BPL, or just finds a hot streak. Perhaps he’ll just be the guy who gets minutes when we need a front line defender to spell Kane when we’re holding onto a 2 goal lead in the 75th minute.
I was looking at our pass trackers over the past few games and there’s a pattern.
4-0 win over Stoke:
Inline image 1
1-0 win over Sunderland:
Inline image 2
2-1 win over Middlesbrough:
Inline image 3
1-0 win over CSKA:
Inline image 4
In all four of those matches we’re controlling the whole field except hit a wall about 22 yards from goal. It makes sense in that’s where the center backs stand, but it also aligns with our playing style of lateral/outside-in runs. With all of our attacking midfielders pushing so far up the field, we need vertical runs from deeper to break the defensive line.  The other options are passes from the wing backs into the near post or over the top passes. All three of those are in our repertoire. We haven’t had an awesome shred-them-to-ribbons game yet where those dinky Alli-Lamela-Erikson 1-2 passes turn into open shots, but it happened a bunch when we peaked Feb-March last year so we have it in us.
For comparison, here are the pass trackers for Man City’s 2-1 win over Swansea and 4-0 win over Bournemouth:
Inline image 5
Inline image 6
They’ve scored 80% more goals than us with about the same number of passes and shots. I think they’re getting a little closer to goal than we are with their passes. I checked their shot locations and they look pretty similar to ours. Perhaps they’re 2-4 yards closer and that makes a big conversion rate difference. I’m not sure. On the other hand, it’s only been 6 games. If you strip out the 3 PKs they’ve scored (compared to our 0) they’re getting a free 0.5 goals per game awarded to them that we’re not. Or, maybe they’re just better at finishing? You’d hope so given the value of their players is double ours.
Back to the game. I thought we were pretty blah in the first half. In particular, Alli was mediocre. His passes were sloppy, his shots were wasteful, he couldn’t dribble and his timing was weird. Hitting the crossbar early made him look more productive than he was. And his first half giveaway after he dribbled back deep into our half should have put us behind 1-0. Lamela and Son weren’t very impactful either. CSKA was also very well organized in defense and played their offsides trap really well. They nailed Janssen and Son several times and Son’s goal could have been called either way (although I think he was onsides and it was legit). Traore up top was a handful. It’s not often Vertonghen and Alderweirald are at a loss for size, strength, and speed. And he worked hard. There’s your striker target man, E.
In the second half we picked it up. Son was much better, and Davies, Vertonghen, and Alderweirald were excellent, but my man of the match was Erikson. He was the conductor, moving the pieces, linking passes, and opening up opportunities. He was too eager to shoot from distance early in the game, but after the first half hour he was really good. His 50 yard knee high laser to a streaking Alli at the far post was brilliant and would have been a tournament highlight had Alli turned it goalward. Janssen didn’t quite make it happen, but I like that he beat the keeper with a flick during one of his offsides calls. They were both going for it and Janssen won even if it doesn’t make it onto the scoresheet. NKoudou looked dangerous as a sub. I’m liking this guy and he’s very different from the other guys he’d be replacing. Poche likes having utilitarian cogs to swap out across his positions but having another speed merchant/dribbler is pretty exciting (besides Son). We definitely lacked that last season. Now we need to see NKoudou shoot.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen (+0) Decent hold up play, hustle as usual, couldn’t find enough good shots or passes from that lead role.
Son (+2) Better second half than first. Can’t fault the lone goal scorer though.
Lamela (+1) Better second half than first. Thought he was going to get booked for petulance in the first half. Good to see that he still owns the gloves. And the guyliner.
Erikson (+3) My man of the match
Alli (-1) Wasteful. Bad giveaways. Goes to ground looking for a foul too easily. Everyone and their mother is looking for his soft penalty dives.
Wanyama (+1) A few poor giveaways but owned the central defensive midfield. Was always available for an outlet/restart pass
Davies (+3) Good bounce back game following that shitshow against ‘brough. Was quick going forward, made smart passes, didn’t leave a gaping hole in defense, and stuck some good tackles
Vertonghen (+2) Was getting pushed around by Traore but never let it turn into a card-worthy foul. Did his job.
Alderweirald. (+3) I always rate him higher than Vertonghen because I suspect Vertonghen is a dick. Also, Toby offers a lot more going forward. Sometime soon I’m going to write about his awesome long ball game. He’s like a sniper for over the top passes. And he gets his head on the ball a lot on corner kicks.
Trippier (+1) Got down the field well to create width in the attacking third. Tracked back well most of the time, but got beat around the corner at least twice.
Lloris (0) I want to rate him higher because I like him but he didn’t look very good claiming crosses. Toby and Jan made his job a lot easier today.
NKoudou (+3) That was fun.  Hope to see more of that soon.
Winks (+1) Not a lot of time on the ball, but looked good when he was in the play.
Here’s the Korean commentary during the Son goal. Tight pass by Toby to get it started. Nice assist for Lamela.

Spurs Week 1

It Begins

Week 1 didn’t quite live up to the hype. We were coming off an ego-stroking demolition of Inter and Everton spent the offseason being unimpressive against Championship and Scottish clubs. Their business dealings have been mostly selling, however they did acquire  Koeman from Southampton as their new coach. On Friday, less than 24 hours before kickoff, he declared his team 70% fit. Their star striker, Lukaku, was going to be unavailable (stitches in his foot and possibly an impending sale), and their new star defender–the perpetually underwhelming Ashley Williams–wasn’t ready to start with the team. Spurs were ready to start everyone but Dembele who was on game 3 of his 6 game suspension, but new signing Wanyama was ready to start in his place. My expectations were through the roof.

We started the game playing like shit. Everton came out in a 3-5-2 which clogged up the running lanes for our pressing full backs. Strike 1. Wanyama and Dier were like mirror images instead of complimentary pieces so our double pivots never managed to move the ball from the back to the front. Strike 2. Kane was completely gobbled up by the 3 defenders and pretty much never got a second touch on any pass directed to him. Strike 3. This was Jan Vertonghen’s first game back from the ankle injury he picked up in the Euros. He was rusty and slow. Strike 4. Eriksen, Alli, and Lamela couldn’t connect any passes in the crowded midfield. Strike 5.
It was ugly. 5 mins in Everton had a free kick from 30 yards out by the edge of the box. The cross was whipped in and fell in no-man’s land. It looked like poor marking was going to let an Everton attacker get a head on it and Lloris froze. The ball bounced and slipped in at the far post, untouched. Boo.
Only our defenders were stringing together passes, and Everton was hitting hard on the counter-attack. They were good at finding the gaps behind our fullbacks and outside our center backs. It was causing headaches. 35 mins into the game Lloris subbed off. It was unclear at the time but he tweaked his hamstring. Vorm came on and played well, making a couple of key saves to keep it at 1-0 at halftime. It was ugly.
In the second half, we started better but were tactically stuck. New striker Janssen was subbed in for Dier at 55 mins and we shifted to a 4-4-2 that played more like a 4-1-3-1-1 with Janssen at the top and Kane as the #9. I was worried with Dier off, but we played much better. Janssen was a beast in hold up play and made some clever passes. Having 2 guys up top forced Everton to shift their defensive alignment and we started finding gaps in the attacking third. Lamela, who normally plays on the right, shifted to the left and spent most of the game linking up exclusively with Kane. Eriksen swapped with Lamela and played almost exclusively with Janssen. It was a new look and effective. We created a lot of chances and completely flipped the game. Walker started finding space in along the sideline and whipped in some beautiful crosses. One was inch perfect and Lamela beat out some tight defending to put in a sweet header. Lamela had another late chance that took a deflection before the keeper got a reaction save finger on it and the ball clipped the crossbar before going over. Walker had a nice sniper shot at the near post that almost snuck in. Eriksen grazed the top of the crossbar with a free kick. Janssen had the ball fall to his feet during a corner kick scrum and his reaction shot from 6 yards out was saved by the keeper. We looked potent and effective.
If there was any complaint, it was that Alli was still invisible in the middle of the pitch. All of our attacks came from the wings. We usually generate 60%+ of our chances from the wings but we’re at our best when we also have steep runs up the middle with Kane/Alli, Eriksen/Alli, and Lamela/Alli playing 1-2’s through the heart of the D. Had we managed even 3 of these we would have taken all 3 points. As it was, the draw was a fair but disappointing result.
My player ratings (1-5)
Kane – 2
Eriksen – 2
Alli – 2
Lamela – 4
Wanyama – 3
Dier – 3
Rose – 3
Vertonghen – 2
Alderweirald – 4
Walker – 4
Lloris – 3
Janssen – 4
Vorm – 4
Just imagine how long this review would have been had we played well.
Our next match is home versus Crystal Palace. Palace is difficult to quantify but a lot of pundits are picking them to finish in the bottom 6.
Look for the PL Review show on NBCSN later this week. The Arsenal-Liverpool match was crazy. 7 goals, a saved PK, and Klopp (or Kloop as Domo calls him) going nuts on the sideline next to a comatose Wenger. At one point Klopp gave new striker Sadio Mane a piggy back ride in celebration.