HGAS #1: FCB vs. RBL and TOT vs. BHA
Welcome to the first edition of ‘How Goals Are Scored’! A very new medium and style for me, but I’m excited to get into it. I’d like to introduce the purpose here first, and will copy and paste this into the introduction of all future issues. Hope you enjoy!
Objective: Explain how score lines are determined by tactics by hyper focusing on the moments that result in the scoreboard changing: goals.
Match Selection: Each week, I’ll basically just select at random a match that I’m interested in. Sometimes this will be European powerhouses, sometimes I’ll pick a South American matchup. Variety will give us a flavor of the world!
Format: I’ll begin with a brief tactical introduction of each team, rather than looking at granular details, we’ll just look at overall tactics on the day. Questions like ‘Do they press hard?’ or ‘Do they play narrow while in/out of possession?’ will be the basis. In the future, I’d like to create a cool graphic for this, almost FM style, but for now we will write! After that, each goal will be analyzed on it’s own.
What this is NOT: A wholistic analysis of each match, it will look at a variety of variables but the focus is on goals themselves. As you’ll see in this issue or future issues, some goals are dumb luck. Such is football!
This week, we’ll be discussing one of the biggest matches in Europe, along with one of my favorite tactical matchups in England. This, of course, being Bayern vs. Leipzig and Brighton vs. Spurs. Strap in, because these games got pretty out of hand.
Final disclaimer: I can’t quite figure out how to embed any sort of video yet onto Revue, so for now, here are two links to highlights of each match. Not necessary to read, but if you missed them the goals might add extra context.
FC Bayern Munich vs. RB Leipzig
Bayern Munich Tactics: Although there were a few tweaks for this match, I’m unsure how much introduction I need to make to a FCB team who has pretty much had the same overall style since Pep joined. Formation and lineup were particularly interesting today from Nagelsmann, which included Gnabry and Coman as wingbacks in a 3–4–2–1 ‘base’ formation. Cheers to Google for being accurate and making life easy.
As you’d expect, Muller and Sane both played between the lines as a vertical threat looking to receive from the outside CB’s, while Coman and Gnabry played very high making runs behind the opposition backline. This is particularly important for two reasons: their positioning often pinned the Leipzig wingbacks deeper, and it meant the outside CB’s were both isolated, and had loads of space behind to cover.
Re: Sane and Muller, Sane was probably the best player in this match overall because of his ability to receive the ball, abuse his athleticism to turn, and drive at the opposition defense. This happened frequently with the CB’s looking to play through the opposition quickly.
In terms of ‘tactical’ decisions, we all know Nagelsmann and Bundesliga tactics by now right? Intense pressing triggers in the opposition 1/3, looking to win the ball back quickly so they’re able to counter with numbers high. In the opposition half when pressing their shape almost looked more like a 3–1–3–1, where Tolisso steps into almost a ‘10’ position between the two forwards. This was an intentional decision to ensure Laimer was as unimpactful as possible across the match, but particularly in the build up.
This positioning from Tolisso was particularly dangerous because it left Kimmich completely isolated in the midfield. Breaking the press from Leipzig would almost certainly ensure midfield superiority, and a very dangerous counter-attack. But I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a smart choice.
In the build up though, it wasn’t uncommon for Tolisso to still be very high. This meant that Bayern were building in a 3–1 shape, which was dangerous, but encouraged the balls higher because Bayern were often able to find a free man.
Quick recap of pertinent points:
- Played in a 3–4–2–1 which pressed in a 3–1–3–1.
- Huge emphasis on verticality, passes must go forward.
- Sane and Muller receiving between the lines.
- Intense pressing triggers to win the ball back.
- Tolisso pushing into the front line during opposition build up.
- Wingbacks high and wide.
- Kimmich isolated in midfield.
RB Leipzig Tactics: I, for one, have no clue what Leipzig’s tactics could possibly be… maybe they press intensely in the opposition build up phase to try and create a fast scoring chance? Or do they cede possession to try and win the ball back in their own half to counter space behind? Yeah, Leipzig’s got a type. Tedesco’s men are hardly a deviation from this norm.
For starters, they used a very similar formation to the one that Bayern used, but instead they played two strikers with Olmo as the 10 (a 3–4–1–2). When pressing out of possession, Olmo would generally do the central pressing, while the two strikers passively herded Bayern’s wide CB’s central. (Unfortunately, Google got this one wrong.)
I have to note that despite my positioning in the image, they’re far from a man-oriented team out of possession. Sane dropping deep to receive exploited this on many occasions as I mentioned before.
Their midfield is an important topic in this match, because until Kampl was subbed off for Szoboszlai at half-time, Leipzig’s midfield contributed almost nothing in build up. The combination of Tolisso’s marking, Lewandowski’s constant covershadow (a given) and Kampl’s positioning made it really difficult. The substitution helped a lot, as Szoboszlai began to drop just slightly deeper, providing an option for combination play to progress along the wings rather than long balls to Silva (who I didn’t realize was so good in the air?)
A really quick one: Nkunku often made a lot of runs in the gap between Sule and Pavard (CCB, RCB) and found success there. This was definitely a micro-detail that they had highlighted in pre-match planning.
At times, the positioning of wingbacks was very problematic. Bayern’s usage of wingers as wingbacks even further accentuated the classic conundrum of height for a wingback. The image below shows this specifically, where the Leipzig wingbacks were pinned deep, making wide progression difficult because there was nobody to receive in the channels.
Now as mentioned in the first paragraph, Leipzig look to force turnovers in the central areas. This is the foundation of their attack. When Bayern held possession in the wide areas, they were pretty relaxed in their pressing, whereas whenever a player would receive central they’d collapse hard.
Quick recap of pertinent points:
- Playing a 3–4–1–2 that pressed as a 3–4–3.
- Intense counter-pressing in the opposition build-up phase.
- Kampl’s positioning higher in the first half, and Szoboszlai’s addition helping to alleviate the stress on Laimer.
- Nkunku making runs between Pavard and Sule.
- Deeper wingback positioning
- Collapse hard on balls in the center, allow space wide.
Goal #1 (Bayern 1–0, Thomas Muller, 12'):
Man, this is a tactical chef’s kiss on this first goal. Going to bullet point the relevant points that resulted in this goal being scored:
- Pressing shape preventing progression options.
- Man-marking on Laimer.
- Forward-first mentality after winning possession.
- Crashing the goal to score a rebound.
Goal #2 (Leipzig 1–1, Andre Silva, 27'):
Love goals like this because they’re kind of just goofy but also demonstrate tactics again. I have no clue how Silva put this in the net.
- Allow Bayern time to enter their half
- Sane/Tolisso receive acting as a trigger to press
- Pressing causing a turnover (Note the location, in the center of the pitch. Exactly where they want them.)
- Nkunku’s run between the CB’s.
Goal #3 (Bayern 2–1, Robert Lewandowski, 44'):
I didn’t mention it much in the Leipzig tactics section, but one of the problems you always encounter with a 3-x-x formation is that the wingbacks can get caught out of position because they’re too high, exposing your back line to a situation where they’re a man down. That happened here, where Mukiele was caught too high.
- Find runs and space behind the WB’s
Goal #4 (Leipzig 2–2, Cristopher Nkunku, 53'):
You should watch some Nkunku if you haven’t before… brilliant player. Here’s our tactical points:
- Win the ball in midfield
- Play forward first
- Make threatening runs behind and find gaps between the CB’s
Goal #5 (Bayern 3–2, Joško Gvardiol (OG), 58'):
Obviously own goals are kind of flukes, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story tactically of how this was scored.
- Pressing shape limiting build-up options for Leipzig (even messier in this sequence because Laimer is higher while Orban has sorta stepped into the ‘6’ position)
- Win the ball and go forward first.
- Expand the field and find space behind the wingback.
Bonus! Goal #2.5 (Bayern 2–1, Thomas Muller, 37'):
Although this one was brought back for a foul on Gvardiol by Lewandowski, it illustrates how some defensive choices by Leipzig hurt them in the end.
- Lack of passing options forces Leipzig to go long.
- Forward first with the counter attack.
- Lack of pressure on Gnabry wide. (allowing crosses from there is literally asking to get scored on.)
- Runs into the box from forwards.
That should about hit all the important points in Bayern vs. Leipzig. The trends here are similar trends across the Bundesliga really, intense (and intentional) pressure to win the ball back and counter hard and fast. It’s not everyone’s ‘thing’ but it is quite obviously effective. Right Antonio Conte?
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Brighton and Hove Albion
(These sections will be much briefer than the last one because the goals were… yeah, weird.)
Brighton Tactics: Brighton is quite comfortably one of my teams on the planet right now, they’re a fantastic watch. Pressing, possession, fun players making smart choices on the ball, it’s like watching a baby Pep team.
First we’ll show their formation. I’m going to call it a 3–5–2, I saw some outlets call it a 3–5–1–1, who cares. Some important things to note here, Solly March is playing a normal position, but Cucurella is normally the LWB and that LCB is a weird spot for him. Leave it up to Potter to compensate for this!
While in possession, Cucurella had the ability to move a bit higher due to positioning from Gross, who would drop into the RCB position. It gave the Brighton fullbacks license to press really high, almost as wingers, providing width as well as pinning the Spurs fullbacks deep into their half.
In terms of tactics out of possession, they’re a pretty complicated team, I still struggle to sometimes really properly explain them. The main things I’d mention is their counter-pressing is very intense, and very dangerous at times. A failure to execute on the counter-pressing results in dangerous counters for the opposition at times… like today.
Spring-boarding off of that, Brighton play a very narrow midfield, while their WB’s are super high. This means that width is pretty killer, and we’ll see it exploited at least once by Spurs.
One of my favorite things about them though is their decisions while in possession. Potter has somehow managed to turn a group of mid-table level players brains into some of the most intelligent in the league through small micro-movements like this one below.
The forward making a run into the box is utterly useless if looking to receive, but what it does is distracts Davies(?) and opens space for the pass into Maupay, who lays it off for Moder to get a good chance. You see this stuff across the pitch and I love it.
Spurs Tactics: Unlike the last three teams, I have watched almost zero Spurs matches this season! Gave me a good test to see how much I could pick up from a single match, because I’m pretty sure this is the only Spurs match I’ve seen this season?
For starters, they lineup in the much anticipated Conte 3–4–3, and Christian Romero finally returned from injury today. From what I can tell, Conte seems to have essentially copy and pasted his tactics from Inter, and have worked pretty well here.
An intense pressing front line is the first piece of a Conte team, looking to create turnovers in that first phase from the opposition. Kane and Son are two of the most intelligent players in Europe, and it’s not surprising to me that they’ve adapted to this well.
This focus is on winning balls in the center of the pitch (am I sensing… a trend?) where there are opportunities to counter the opposition with pace and behind their defensive line.
When defending the box, they’re near impenetrable with Son and Lucas dropping into the midfield line, while the WB’s drop into the defensive line. This creates a very solid 5–4–1 shape, with minimal space between the lines. Brighton struggled to get almost any space at any point because of this.
Furthermore, the common usage of wingbacks in a Conte system was ruthlessly on display. Emerson and Reguilon were seemingly chained to the sidelines with a leash of 15 yards at most, and it forced Brighton to consider just how narrow and high they were willing to allow themselves to play.
Unfortunately though, the scope of tactics influence on goals here was pretty limited despite my expectations.
Goal #1 (Spurs 1–0, Harry Kane, 13'):
These first two goals are the ones where we see tactics making the most influence, even though the scope of it is still somewhat small. Definitely aided by a Webster mistake, whose been so good this season.
- Close down immediate passing options w/ pressing.
- Win the ball back (in opposition half) and go forward
- Lack of pressure on Kane, too much focus on delaying. (I think Bissouma could have stopped this goal, to be honest.)
Goal #2 (Spurs 2–0, Solly March (OG), 24'):
You might find this hard to believe, but this goal demonstrates almost as much of Conte’s (and Potter’s) tactics as the last one, despite it being an absolutely baffling deflection. If you watch any of the highlights, make sure you at least watch this one, probably the most important.
- Turnover b/c of the lack of space between lines given by Spurs.
- Failed counter-press
- Compact midfield
- Width of Spurs WB’s and height of Brighton WB’s (even though March did a great job tracking back here.
It might have been an unfortunate goal you just shrug at, but it demonstrated the weaknesses of Brighton pretty obviously.
Goal #3 (Brighton 2–1, Yves Bissouma, 63'):
Earlier in the match, Bissouma got a similar chance from distance that deflected and Lloris made a pretty good save. This case though, it went in. I truly struggle to find any tactical value from this goal, some players could have done better individually, but besides that. Meh.
Goal #4 (Spurs 3–1, Harry Kane, 66'):
Somehow, it got worse than the Bissouma goal. Just tackle Son. That’s it. Technically the midfield (hey Bissouma) could have done a lot better challenging the second balls, but this isn’t really something that Potter told them not to do (right?) so yeah, again, nothing to say here.
I probably won’t include anything at the end in the future, or even two matches. This got a bit longer than anticipated because a) I did two matches and b) we had nine goals between the two matches, but I hope it was an enjoyable read nonetheless. I really think there is some cool learning value to doing this for me, I hope you as the reader pull something out of it as well!
My final thing is this: I get a weirdly large number of questions about how I analyze a match, how I plan articles, etc. So I figured I’d include my notes, they’re crude, not revised in any way, and some things might only be logical to me. But if you’re interested in reading how I make something like this; here’s my notes!