Analysis: Spurs v Manchester United 13/1/19

Billed as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s biggest test to date as Manchester United’s interim manager, after some so called easy games, came at Wembley on Sunday afternoon and although it ended up a test of sorts it wasnt perhaps the sternest he had been expecting.

Games against Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth and away at Newcastle United had all ended with United winning all four games scoring 14 goals and conceding just the 3 and chuck in a 2-0 win in the FA Cup against Reading at Old Trafford and Solskjaer’s reign had started better than he could have imagined and with what seems a reinvigorated group of players the win on Sunday means it continues.


Starting 11’s

Mauricio Pochettino likes a diamond, we know that and it was no surprise to see him deploy it again on Sunday. Dele Alli will always be at the tip with the powerful yet somewhat cumbersome Moussa Sissoko on the right hand side, Christian Eriksen on the left and due to Eric Dier still out injured Harry Winks started in the screening role at the base. Diamonds can be complicated and need excellent discipline and bravery in the players positioning especially in attack to defensive transitions and this game was no different.

A diamond midfield is of course variation of a 4-4-2 but with no natural width. Given that Sissoko and Eriksen arent wingers and given Spurs have limited natural wide men at the club this becomes a natural set up for Pocchettino in many ways. Call it what you want some may say its a 4-3-1-2 and it can be interpreted that way but this depends on the the number 9 position (Dele Alli) floating around in midfield in positions ready to receive and turn with the ball to feed the two front men and not dropping in to make a four man midfield.

I thought Son’s defensive role in the game was interesting. He didnt really look to be interested in pressing Luke Shaw down the Spurs right hand side instead leaving that to Spurs right back Kieron Trippier and himself concentrated on pressing United’s central defenders with Harry Kane as Spurs looked to use their usual high intense pressing strategy. Not unusual perhaps but ‘Sonny’s’ game is all about pressing in the wide areas as well as up top.

Spurs high press

Sissoko’s presence around United’s Paul Pogba meant the latters ability to get on the ball and execute those ranging passes were restricted, well for the first half at least until Sissoko picked up an injury just before half time and Pogba’s freedom thereafter ended up being the difference come full time. Alli kept a (sort of) eye on Nemanja Matic as did Eriksen on Ander Herrera and this meant United’s midfield were suffocated and didnt have the angles and free players to be able to make any meaningful possession count.

United’s game plan seemed focused around trying to draw Spurs on to them and hit them on the counter and on a few occasions in the first half they did threaten in this way with Martial and Rashford having some joy. The fact United kept Rashford and Martial as high as the Spurs defensive line and Lingard not far off them signalled their intent.

xG timeline 

As my xG timeline shows above Spurs managed to restrict United’s attacking threat in the first half with some low xG shots. But it was on the stroke of half time that United managed to create the one opportunity that would end up with them coming away from Wembley with all three points.

United had the idea to make sure Rashford  and Martial stayed in the half spaces in between the Tottenham full backs and centre backs with Jesse Lingard occupying a more central role meaning the Spurs back four were stretched and with full backs Trippier and Ben Davies playing in their usual 10 yards inside the opposition half positions this then caused issues for Vertonghen and Alderweireld on who to pick up and when to shuffle accross not only due to the fact Rashford and Martial were in the half spaces but also if United decided to switch the play one of the two United front men could be in on goal, and so it proved.


Rashford and Martial kept to the half space positions on either side of the pitch to stretch Spurs


Pogba’s delivery to Rashford who had started his run from the right sided half space on 44 minutes
It was no coincidence that Sissoko’s substitution on 43 minutes looked to have had an impact as Pogba was able to take a touch and dig an exqusite pass out over and into the right hand side channel in between Vertonghen and Davies that Rashford had been occupying since the first minute and fire a neat right foot finish across Lloris and in to the far corner, United’s occupancy of the half spaces from defense to attacking transitions had paid off.

United defending late in the game

A quick end to this post and i wanted to take a brief look at United’s defensive strategy toward the end of the game.

Dalot was an important change but Rashford again played a part

This is where i think Solskjaer deserves credit for the changes he made later on in the game.

After Pocchettino had brought Fernando Llorente on for Harry Winks in the 81st minute United knew they would be facing a barrage of crosses from the Spurs full backs especially from the Spurs right and side and the right foot of Kieron Trippier. So on came Diogo Dalot to add some more steel in front of Ashley Young at right back to halt Ben Davies charges down the flank and his crossing ability but also Marcus Rashford was deployed down the left hand side to cope with the pace of Trippier as United moved to a 4-5-1 shape with Romelu Lukaku as the lone striker chasing down loose clearances when United had managed to clear the ball long upfield. This essentially cut off the high ball supply in to the United penalty area with a relatively low number of those types of balls being crossed in and Spurs instead having to try to play their way in through the centre of the pitch which United had simply re-enforced with men.

Gareth Cooper

G.C Analytics

Huge success or massive failure? What can Leeds fans expect from Marco Bielsa

“A man with new ideas is a madman, until his ideas triumph” Marco Bielsa

To say heads in the EFL Championship were turned by the appointment of former PE teacher Marco Bielsa as Leeds United manager ahead of the start of the season would be an understatement to say the least.

Loco Bielsa, Madman Bielsa in english has a reputation as a bit of a, well, character lets say in football circles.

The Argentian coach has had some radical views and ways of coaching in his various roles in the past Espanyol, Argentina, Chile, Marseille and most recently Lille have all been under Bielsa’s control with limited success coming in the form of an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in 2004.

Bielsa stayed in charge of the Argentinian national team for four years, a highlight being a bizarre game against Columbia which saw Argentina miss three penalties in a 3-0 loss with Bielsa getting sent off in the process after a confrontation with the referee.

“In my respect of my expulsion (from the game) the referee was correct in his decision” Bielsa after the 3-0 drubbing by Colombia

The former Newells Old Boys defender earned his stripes in coaching at the same club leading them to several titles in the 1990’s. Stints managing in Chilean football followed but it was with the Chilean national team that he earned cult status with the huge improvement in the performances of the team but also because of his gesturing and antics on the touchline.

He also managed to get stuck in to the issues of the political system in Chile during his time there.

But it was at Athletic Bilbao that Bielsa really came to prominence. Appointed in 2011 Bielsa lead the Basque side to the Europa League Final and the Copa Del Rey finals in his first season albeit losing both finals. Bielsa left in 2013.

Stints at Marseille for a year and then Lille alerted teams across Europe to his tactical nous and inventiveness although his behaviour put possible suitors off perhaps.

Leeds United come calling

So we come to the summer of 2018 more exactly the 5th August at Elland Road against Stoke City, relegated from the EPL last season and who have kept hold of most of that EPL squad bar Xherdan Shaquiri, and Bielsa gets his first taste of what some describe as the toughest league in the world.

Leeds attacked with gusto and their pressing from Roofe as the lone striker all the way back to always-on the front foot goalkeeper Peacock-Farrell was impressive and a feature of Bielsa’s reputation is playing this way.

Leeds players all confirmed at various points in preseason that Bielsa’s methods and relentless fitness work were tough going but it clearly paid off against Stoke who seemed surprised at the intensity Leeds came at them with.

Leeds United pass map against Stoke City
Playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation pressing from Roofe and the midfield four behind him was relentless especially in wide areas where Gary Rowett’s men couldnt even catch a breath on the ball and when in defense to attcking transitions Leeds made the pitch as wide as possible with Alioski and Hernandez on the flanks taking on players and delivering crosses. As the home sides goals flee in Bielsa stayed emotionless on the touchline choosing to stay seated on his upturned water bucket.

“It is the first game, maybe i will get excited” Bielsa after the game

As an Championship fan i look forward to seeing what comes from Leeds and Bielsa as the season progresses but hold on its going to be a hell of a ride.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Arsenal v Chelsea, FA Cup Final 2017

One mananger has taken the Premier league by storm the other has had a rather ‘alternative’ season. 

Antonio Conte and his Chelsea team have been pretty much faultless all season beating pretty much everyone who comes before them, winning the league and now on the brink of the double should they beat Arsene Wenger and his, some may say, underachieving Arsenal side at Wembley today.

Wenger has had a tough time in recent months with sections of the Emirates faithful playing judge, jury and executioner with multiple banners and protests being in situe at matches toward the latter part of the season and not to mention the rants by supporters on Arsenal Fan TV. But Wenger still stands firm and is expected to sign a 2 year deal despite others thinking he should do the reverse and let a more pragmatic possibly younger coach take the reigns.

This of course doesnt matter today in all honestly as the FA Cup stands alone in respect of if Arsenal beat there fellow Londoners it may appease some Gunners fans (possibly) but with Europa League football next year things long term may not be so rosy for the Frenchman.

Conte, the charismatic and passionate Italian has charmed his way into the hearts of the Shed End at Chelsea and with just cause. They never looked like blowing their lead even with a youthful and energetic Spurs side hanging onto their coat tails. 

So to todays game and one would assume their is alot riding for both sides. Conte will still have his team pumped without a doubt and Wenger will see a win today as a message to state he can still lead his team in big games.

Key battles

Laurent Koscielny banned after his moment of madness against Everton last week and he will be a miss especially against the robustness and willing runner in Diego Costa. Per Mertesacker may come in for him as Gabriel is also out injured again against Everton. Aaron Ramsey has fine FA Cup pedigree in goalscoring terms and should play in place of Coquelin. Mesut Ozil needs a performance today having been a tad lacklustre in recent games and the PFA player of the year N’golo Kante will be tasked with disrupting the flow of the German aswell as Alexis Sanchez.

For Chelsea Cesc Fabregas should play against his old side in place of Nemanja Matic with no other changes to the regular starting 11 for Antonio Conte. At the back, David Luiz will be keen to keep Olivier Giroud quiet.

Wing backs v Full backs

The key battle i believe will be on the flanks. Wenger’s recent change to play a 3-4-2-1  had its issues early on but it has come good and will have to be at its strongest today against the attacking nouse of the 3-4-3 that Conte has brought to Chelsea. Can Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding halt the charge if Victor Moses and Pedro? Mirrored on the other flank against Mustafi and Bellerin is Eden Hazard and Marcus Alonso. Of course Arsenal will be a threat going the other way so the reverse applies but either way this is where the game will be won and lost with the Chelsea front 3 stretching and moving that Arsenal back 3/5 around, Hazard in particular is hard to track cutting in and popping up in between the lines so Xhaka and Ramsey will need to be aware. Wenger will also be cautious that Bellerin and Monreal may be overran by the double threat down their respective flanks with Chelsea playing Alonso and Moses high up the pitch with Pedro and Hazard. Will Arsenal look for a high line to counter the threat of the passing range of Fabregas over the top for Costa? Dont doubt that Arsenal will be a threat with Sanchez, Ozil and with Giroud at set pieces.
Gareth Cooper


Has Guardiola’s constant tinkering ruined City’s season?

Formation Played Won Drawn Lost Conceded Scored Win %

4-2-3-1       12 8 1 3 11 24 66%

4-1-4-1 7 3 4 0 6 13 42%

4-3-3 6 6 0 0 4 15 100%

3-4-2-1 2 0 1 1 4 2 0%

3-4-3 1 0 1 0 1 1 0%

3-4-3 (Diamond) 1 0 1 0 4 2 0%

4-1-2-1-2 1 0 0 1 4 0 0%

After last night’s defeat to Chelsea and my constant frustration at not being able to predict Pep’s starting eleven for Manchester City I thought I would take a deeper look at if his constant messing around with his team selection and formations has hampered his sides title charge and what could be the solution.

The table above shows the basic win percentages of these team shapes in the Premier League this season. In more recent games Pep has tried to persevere with the 4-1-4-1 shape with Yaya Toure in the holding role in front of a back four of Clichy, Stones, Otamendi and Sagna/Zabaleta but even this has been infrequent and with a win percentage of 42% should he of stuck with it a bit more?.

The bottom four in that table can be discounted as these seem to be more of an experimental time in his tenure but injuries could be a factor in these set ups. Guardiola does like to play with 3 at the back if he and when he can with usually Stones, Otamendi and Kolarov/Zabaleta with wing backs Clichy and Sagna operating on the flanks but also moving in to the centre of midfield so that the back three can spread out to not only receive the ball from the goalkeeper but to make the pitch as wide as possible to make the opposition attackers have to work harder.

4-3-3 clearly worked with a 100% win percentage albeit only for six games with the best, and last of them coming in a 0-2 win away against Sunderland on the 5 March. Although facing a weaker opposition in Sinderland City were in total control and with Toure sitting Fernandinho covering aswell, Silva and the other front three were able to attack with gusto. This game did coincide with Kevin De Bruyne being injured so again maybe him being absent dictated team shape?

The main success from a formation point of view has been the 4-2-3-1 without a doubt in my opinion. The loss to Chelsea last night doesn’t contradict this in anyway. The selection of Delph instead of Toure was baffling to say the least with the Ivorian clearly better at a holding role that Delph and the call in the second half for him to come on never happened and if he had come on I think City would have snatched a point with his passing and driving forward attitude. Jesus Navas is not a wing back and although his performance last night was better against Arsenal at the weekend he was poor and clearly Bacary Sagna is the better choice but come the summer both he and Clichy may find themselves surplus to requirements.

In summary Guardiola hasn’t helped himself with his selections and I for one am disappointed that it has gone this way as I truly believe had he found the ideal shape and players for his team, just as Antonio Conte has at Chelsea, City really would have been a force to be reckoned with.

Gareth Cooper



Can we make it two?

After a much needed hard fought win against Derby County on Saturday Aston Villa face Bristol City tonight at Villa Park hoping for another 3 points.

James Chesters first half goal was enough to win the game and a better performance all round has given Villa fans something to smile about at least for now.

Bristol City havent won away from home in the Championship in 13 games. Sitting in 21st place on 33 points 4 places below Villa who will be looking to pile more misery on Lee Johnsons men.

Conor Hourihane maybe available for Steve Bruce but wont be risked. Scott Hogan is still out and Leandro Bacuna is banned for the next three games after his sending off on Saturday.

Expected Goals

Aston Villa-  Current goals per game- 1.0

ExG (per game)- 0.56

Bristol City- Current goals per game- 1.4

ExG (per game)- 0.68

ExG tonight- 1.24


With 18 goals this season Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham will need to be kept quiet by the Villa defence this evening with his strong finishing he is a real goal threat. However being caught offside is a bad habit for Abraham so Villa could use this to their advantage should they choose to.


Aston Villa 2-1 Bristol City

Compiled by @ThatGarateyjc

Preview: Aston Villa v Derby

Steve Bruce and his charges meet a Derby County side who are having a stop start season. The Rams sit 11th in the table and boast a decent record against teams in the bottom half of the table winning five and drawing and losing one and averaging 1.2 goals a game.

Craig Bryson and Jonny Russell are fit again for Steve McClaren and may come back into the side

Villa are still struggling and have not won since beating Burton Albion on Boxing Day. Confidence is low but an improved performance against top of the table Newcastle last Monday has given hope back into a team that has collected just two points from a possible thirty conceding 18 goals along the way. Reeling from the loss to injury of Scott Hogan, who will be out for 4-5 weeks with an ankle problem, Villa have Jonathan Kodija who will have a fitness test ahead of today’s game and Andre Green as the only proper goalscoring threats upfront with Agbonlahor injured and McCormack on loan at Forest and Gestede sold to Middlesborough in January. Is Bruce regretting those decisions?

Bruce is looking at free agents to add to his striking options with Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov being mentioned also former Blackburn defender Chris Samba is training with the club with a view to earning a deal.

Villa looked like a team who’s cohesion could be creeping back in and that can only be a good sign as in reality this looks to be the main issue. Steve Bruce has said this week that he has the personnel to play a 4-3-3 and when he has a fully fit squad to choose from I’m sure he’s correct  but at the moment this isn’t the case. He also said he has never played this system before so now is not the time to be experimenting. Today Villa will probably be a 4-3-2-1 with Kodija on his own upfront. Villa need to come out fast and get an early goal to try to gain momentum against McClaren’s men who aren’t great defensively either.

Villa scoring an average of a goal a game is not good and Hogan’s loss is bad timing given the need for goals and Kodija is a striker who is better on his own in all honesty. Villa have beaten Derby in all of the last four games in all competitions so are the omens good for Villa today? Let’s hope so as although Bruce is the man to get the club back up to the Premier League he doesn’t want to be the man who takes them down either.

Gareth Cooper