Tactics guru Michael Cox – editor of ZonalMarking.net
– returns with more Champions League analysis using the Stats Zone app from FourFourTwo and Opta...
Arsenal face a tricky trip to the Stade Velodrome this evening to take on Marseille, a club who have experienced vastly different domestic and European campaigns so far. In Ligue 1 they’ve picked up just one win from nine matches, but in their Champions League group they have a 100% record.
Looking at the data from their eye-catching 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund last time out, it’s fair to say that the victory was very much against the run of play. Dortmund completed over 100 more passes in the game, despite being the away side.
And although passes don't always translate into shots – as we showed earlier this week, Swansea average almost twice the passes per shot Wolves and Norwich require – the German champions also had significantly more attempts on goal, 20 to Marseille’s eight.
L'OM were perhaps fortunate to record a win by such a convincing scoreline, but the data sums up the way they are likely to play against Arsenal this evening: to sit back and then break quickly and use the speed of their front players.
Arsenal can be caught out on the counter when they hold the ball high up the pitch, and they’ll have to be cautious in possession – Alex Song spent much of Sunday’s win against Sunderland moving higher up than Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky, but he might be wise to stay in a deep position where he can break up counter-attacks tonight.
Arsene Wenger sees Marseille striker Loic Remy as the main threat. “Remy improves all the time,” Wenger said this week. “He reminds me of a young Thierry Henry, his runs and the speed at which he plays.”
Few are in a better position to make that comparison than Wenger, and the visualisations below of the positions Remy receives passes in is reminiscent of Arsenal’s record goalscorer – rarely in the centre of the pitch, always towards the flank. The one caveat is that he prefers to drift to the right, whereas Henry generally moved to the left.
Chelsea have gone seven games without keeping a clean sheet, their worst run since Claudio Ranieri was in charge back in 2003. They should have a decent chance of ending that run tonight, because Genk come to London still yet to score in this season’s Champions League – although not for want of trying, with 21 shots in their two games so far.
Their main threat seems to come from just outside the box in central positions, with Jelle Vossen often dropping into deep zones before having long-range efforts.
Arguably the most important part of the side will be Genk’s two holding midfielders, Daniel Tozser and David Hubert. They’ll have to try to protect an injury-hit defence, but also attempt to control the game when in possession. They play different roles – captain Hubert is steady and reliable with his passing, whilst vice-captain Tozser tries to play longer, more ambitious balls forward, and is also a good free-kick taker.
Finally, Shakhtar Donetsk versus Zenit St Petersburg should be a fascinating tactical battle between Eastern Europe’s two strongest teams. Both sides are excellently technically, fluid with the ball and great at counter-attacking.
The one danger, though, is that they’ll rely too much on playing on the break, and the game will be a stand-off with neither wishing to concede space in behind. As the positions of interceptions from Shakhtar’s last home game and Zenit’s last away game shows, both usually look to stay in their own half before winning the ball.
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