The old-fashioned ‘number 10’ ánd playmaker, around which the rest of the team is built, is barely seen any more in contemporary football. In the Dutch city of Enschede however, there is still one of these rare specimens walking around on the football pitch: Hakim Ziyech. Now that the season is over, he will be looking for a new employer. And he will have a wide selection of clubs to pick from, because Ziyech has had a good season. A very good season.
After a fantastic year at sc Heerenveen, where he scored nine times and gave as many assists, Hakim Ziyech made the move to Enschede in the summer of 2014. FC Twente splashed out €3.5 million euro on the midfielder. The club was locked in a transfer battle for Ziyech with Feyenoord, but managed to beat the club from Rotterdam by offering the Moroccan more career security. Alfred Schreuder, FC Twente’s manager at the time, had reserved Ziyech’s favorite spot on the field just for him: the ‘number 10’ position.
In his first season in Enschede, Ziyech made himself known by being directly involved in 27 of Twente’s goals. After playing 31 league matches, he had scored eleven goals and given sixteen assists. Football, however, is a team sport and the rest of the team performed below expectations. Though Twente managed to reach the semi-final of the Dutch Cup, they got knocked out in the play-off round of the Europa League against Qarabag FK and disappointingly finished tenth in the Eredivisie. The season soured even further due to the financial struggles of the club, which resulted in a two point deduction in the league. The pressure on Alfred Schreuder grew and in August 2015 the manager, who was such a fan of Ziyech, was fired. That decision did not fall well with the newly appointed captain and seriously damaged the relationship between the club and the player. The mood between the Twente supporters and Ziyech also stayed troublesome and after the player made some critical comments in the media, the club stripped him from his captaincy. After the departure of Schreuder, his goal for the 2015/2016 season was clear: to move up as soon as possible.
The season 2015/2016
Ziyech knew that if he performed well on the field, it would be a matter of time before that possibility would arrive. The playmaker was the heart of Twente’s attacking play. In 33 league games, he scored seventeen goals, while creating twelve. With those stats, the midfielder has been directly involved in 59% of FC Twente’s goals. Individually, this has been Ziyech’s best offensive season. Never did he shoot, score and assist his teammates as much per 90 minutes as he did this season.
Not only within his team, but also compared to the rest of the Eredivisie, Ziyech’s numbers are impressive. The midfielder has the second most attempts on goal per 90 minutes (4.9) in the league. However, thirteen players (minimum of 15 appearances) have scored more goals per 90 minutes then Twente’s number 10. This has to do with the quality of his shot locations. Almost two-third of Ziyech’s shots are made from outside the 18-yard box. That Ziyech was able to score the amount of goals he has – one goal per two full matches – is mostly due to the high amount of attempts on goal.
In the area of passing, the Dutch-born Moroccan is nearly inimitable. Only two players gave more assists and none gave more keypasses than Hakim Ziyech. In total he created 2.9 chances per 90 minutes. Overall, however, Ziyech passes less than other midfielders in the league. When Ziyech has the ball, he is able to create danger quite rapidly. In late October of last year, the very respected football analyst 11tegen11 tweeted the image below, which confirms this premise. The picture shows us that most of Ziyech’s touches are near the so called halfspaces. The halfspaces are the areas on the field, around the opponent’s penalty area, between the middle of the field and the flanks. In the middle area in front of the goal situations are often too crowded and therefore difficult to play through, while at the flanks a player is not only further from the goal, but his passing options are limited due to the sideline. Within the halfspaces, a player has a better view and can easier become an attacking threat. Looking at the location his touches, Ziyech seems to be aware of this.
Still, people expect more of a midfielder than just attacking. And if we cut to the chase, defensively Ziyech does very little. In physical duels the attacking midfielder regularly falters. Even though he repeatedly beats his opponent (only five players have more successful dribbles), he also often loses the ball in a duel. Of all central and attacking midfielders, no one is more dispossessed per 90 minutes than Ziyech (3.2). He also most often loses the ball after a bad first touch. There are several possible causes for this loss of possession.
Ziyech is thé playmaker in his team and the opponents know this. They will mark the number 10 more strongly and will constantly be on top of him when he gets the ball. Ziyech is quite slender, which can mean that he falls short physically, which results in him being pushed aside more easily. Another reason can be a bit of carelessness by Ziyech. The attacking midfielder is not known for his defensive work ethos and even though he can get away with that in the Eredivisie, this might not be the case in another league where teams play on a higher level.
Since his arrival at FC Twente two years ago, Ziyech has been directly involved in 52 league goals, or 54% of Twente’s entire production, over the last two seasons. Based on his attacking play, Ziyech has outgrown the Eredivisie. The midfielder has already confirmed that a summer transfer is a certainty. Considering his performances and Twente’s financial struggles, the number 10 is an interesting option for a lot of clubs. So the question remains: where will Hakim Ziyech showcase his abilities next season?
Given their record in major European competition, the Italians are always mentioned for success. Conte possesses a very flexible squad which can be used in different formations and systems of his choice, despite lacking in attack.
Against Scotland, Conte set up his team in a similar shape to his conquering Juventus team. Bonucci who is world class in offense played as the most central and deepest defender beside teammates Chiellini and Bazargli. Darmian played as the left wingback while Candreva played on the right side with a generally proactive and offensive starting point. De Rossi played the famous Italian regista role just ahead of the centerbacks and was partnered with Florenzi and Giaccherini in the middle. Up top Graziano Pelle was used as a targetman while Eder playing beside him moved and dropped into the pockets to knit the attack together.There were caveats to Italy’s play. In terms of defensive organization and counter-pressing, the Azzurri was brilliant. In the final offensive phases however they were rather poor. That is, the creating and finishing aspect of their game was lacking. I’m looking you Candreva and all your 40 yard shots.
Let’s focus on the good. Yes lets focus on Bonucci. In terms of playmaking ability, Bonucci is one of the best in the world. The Azzurri defender controls the direction of play and is imperative to his team’s offensive structure. Scotland didn’t press high and positioned their forwards to shadow passing lanes into midfield giving a lot of space to the deeper players to get touches. This led to a lot of possession in the deeper areas, though the centerbacks tried to move the ball into the forward areas as soon as possible.
As mentioned above, the distribution and counterpressing of Bonucci who was named man of the match wasn’t the only bright thing about Italy’s approach. Their entire defensive organization and counterpressing was impressive. Aided of course by Scotland’s cautious approach, Conte’s organized setup reduced any potential threats by stopping Scotland possession before they even entered the Italy half. The Italian’s pressing was based on intelligent pressing triggers. For example, Eder was more oriented on the deep midfielder of Scotland Fletcher when they had the ball in the deeper areas while the other midfielders were oriented on their markers. Scotland’s centerbacks passed the ball laterally in open of open spaces which failed to open. Italy allowed them to keep it in their first line but whenever the ball was played vertically or diagonally into a higher player they would rush aggressively to cut out options. A backward pass will also trigger them to put pressure on the ball carrier.
Bernardeschi: “Conte asks us to pressure our man, to create an imbalance in numbers. He wants huge concentration when defending.”
Now to the other side of their play, the offense.
As seen in this Expected goals plot by 11tegen11, the Italians had a high amount of shots, most of them however were not from good areas. Candreva in particular got the ball in good positions but wasted a lot of attacks by poor cross and shot selections. Another problem they faced was receiving the ball in the right areas. De Rossi, apart from a brilliant pass in the build up to the goal wasn’t very creative with his passing in the deep lying midfield role. Giaccherini and Florenzi also didn’t involve them selves much in build up and were often bypassed, meaning there were few central connections and combinations. In the end, there were good signs for Italy in their defensive game where as their already known attacking problems were still evident.
The Italian league has gained a reputation for being a league heavy in tactical and strategic components. Since 2012 few teams have been able to go toe to toe with Serie A giants Juventus. Defeat to Barcelona in last year’s UCL was the only thing that could stop Allegri from Juve’s first ever treble in his first season in Turin. On the way, the Italian displayed a very strong tactical mindset and adaptability.
The Old Lady had a not so great start to the campaign after dominance in 2014/15, finding herself down in 12th around mid-November. The losses of Vidal, Tevez and Pirlo who were key players the year before was sighted regularly in the media as reasons for their disastrous start while new signings took time to adjust. Juventus’ early struggle was weird. Tactically they struggled with their defensive organization and mainly deeper build up without Pirlo among other things, but statistically they were consistently the better team using xG which measures the statistical value of shots considering many factors. Taking a closer analytical look, their poor form looked like just a blip, and indeed Juve proved just that with their obscene winning streak since November. In their last 24 games, the Turin giants have won 23 and drawn just 1. That is, 70 points out of 72: A Serie A record.
“I think that football is happiness and fun but in football you still need to think about winning because that’s the thing that counts. To arrive at this objective, the objective of winning games, we need to take the path of playing beautiful football, having great intensity, working on tactics and technique – there are many aspects.” – Allegri’s view on football.
First and foremost Allegri is a trainer. He constantly watches videos and analyzes the team to create a stable system and atmosphere that can get the best out of his players. His view of football is to play beautiful winning football and as a result constantly adapts to his squad to create the right environment. Improving the physical, technical and tactical level of his players is Allegri’s priority before even thinking about the system and tactics to use. Presenting at a forum, the Italian explained his methodology.
“Before even start thinking about strategy and how to set up your team, it is absolutely crucial that you teach your players to interpret and react to the flow of any given game for themselves. Truly great players know exactly what to do when required and can make the complicated look simple; where normal players would pass the ball at 30 km/h, they do it at 100 km/h. It’s vital that you encourage your players to think for themselves. By its very nature, football is a very simple game if approached with the requisite level of logic and decision-making. My passion lies in coaching and it’s up to me to deliver results for Juventus. I will look back on my year’s work with pride if I have been able to improve each and every one of my squad’s technical and tactical knowledge.” via Juventus official site.
During his time at Juve he has played many different formations depending on what he tries to achieve in the game and the players at his disposal. Formations are not that important to Allegri. “I don’t know what to call it,” Allegri says when asked about the formation which alters between a three or four-man defence depending on who has possession, “but 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 are just numbers on a page, what matters is the way they are applied.” In fact most of the time Juve play with many formations depending on the phase and position of the ball.
Tactically they are one of THE fascinating teams in Europe. Their model is based on patient build up from the backline, quick movements and interchanging around the opposition area with a strong focus on crosses an setplays. Defensively, Juventus are phenomenal. Though they possess three of the finest centerbacks in Europe, Juve’s defensive strengths stem from their strong pressing, counterpressing and compactness.
Juve became linked with the 3-5-2 formation under of Conte and Allegri has so continued with this formation after replacing Conte. The back three normally consists of Bonucci, Bazargli and Chiellini. Bonucci is the playmaker in chief playing in between the other Italians. In this role, Bonucci positions to receive from the goalkeeper and other defenders and is often the free man – As a result he usually has a lot of time on the ball to play vertically into the forward players. The other centerbacks Bazargli and Chiellini are also very important. They position well in buildup and normally look to stretch as wide as possible to give opposition more horizontal ground to cover in their pressing. They both possess good skill-sets needed for playing out the back as well as the intelligence to position properly which is a nice combination with their renowned defensive capabilities. The wingbacks Lichsteiner/Cuadrado/Evra/Alex Sandro are excellent players who possess great offensive and defensive qualities as well as immense physical attributes. Marchisio plays the deeper role in midfield and is often supported by Pogba and Khedira who both possess immense physical qualities. Pogba provides the guile and often links with the final third players. No Serie A player has more assists than him. In attack Dybala is often paired with either Mandzukic or Morata who normally play higher than the Argentine. Dybala is very crucial to Juve’s system particularly in the final third where his intelligence and movements allows him to link and connect with most of his teammates while possessing that goal-scoring instincts as well.
Structure in possession is crucial in making connections with teammates across the pitch as well as having control. In football, all phases of the game are interconnected. For example having a poor structure in possession is not only going to affect your attacking transitions and attacking play but also the team’s transition defense should there be a turnover in possession. Having good organization is very important in the modern game particularly for the big teams and Allegri knows this.Space in football is everything. Like many big teams, Juventus often come up against deep lying defenses whose main aim is to defend their territory. In order to cleanly move the ball into the forward areas, Juventus play a very strong positional game that aims at moving the ball to move the opposition and open up spaces in the final third. The first and second phases of build up is very important to Allegri’s model.(first phase according to Van Gaal’s methodology is basically the starting point, normally with the keeper. “The second phase is to replace the ball, so you can see the disorganization of the opponent, and then you need creativity to give the pass – to see that moment”)
The centerbacks are very crucial to Juventus in offense because of the time and space they get with most of their opponents in the league sitting in a deep block. Bonucci in particular is very very important in moving the ball into the forward areas because of his phenomenal vertical passing ability. In deeper build up, Rugani and Bazargli who were paired with Bonucci in this particular game vs Palermo were very intelligent in their actions and will move very wide towards the sideline to great a large horizontal distance among each other. “The longer the teams are stretched out on the pitch, less pressure your opponents can apply and the more space your team has.” – Cruyff
Palermo played a very narrow system that looked to stifle Marchisio’s access to the ball. Marchisio being the deepest midfielder is important in moving the ball from the first build up phase either directly by moving the ball from the back or indirectly by occupying markers and opening passing lanes for the centerbacks.This shot captures it perfectly. As both forwards were heavily oriented on Marchisio’s access to the ball, Juventus’ back three all had time in possession to move the ball into the forward areas. Rugani and Bazargli have a lot of space to move forward and provided good diagonal angles for a pass from Bonucci. Pogba and Khedira do not contribute much directly to their deeper build up. Their actions are mainly to create space and not to receive from the centerbacks and they do so impressively. In deep build up, both Juve’s 8’s spread to the wide areas to occupy the flanks and to the halfspaces leaving a lot of space centrally. This is to pull man-oriented opposition defenses into the wider areas and create a lot of space centrally for the forwards Mandzukic and Dybala who would often drop between the lines to receive.
This video captures one of the main benefits of having someone who can pass between the lines in your first line of build up and the importance of Bonucci whose disguised vertical pass into Mandzukic started the move. Rugani spent last season on loan at Empoli under the proactive Sarri and has already shown signs this season that he can replace any of the centerbacks when needed. The young Italian is already one of the most impressive players in Italy in the deeper build up phase.
Against Lazio, Juve’s intelligent build up play in the deeper areas gave them easy access to the forward areas and destroyed their press. The point of Juve’s entire build up is to invite pressure. By moving the ball in the deeper areas, Juventus trigger the opponents to press using the ball as a ‘carrot’ as AVB would say. By passing sideways at the back, they trigger the press. They move the ball from right to left and back to the right side after Lazio collectively shift to that side to exploit the under-loaded area. Bazargli who is good in possession spots the space in Lazio’s structure and edges Mandzukic to drop deep between the lines to receive the pass. Khedira notices the movement and runs in behind.
And again vs Fiorentina.
Khedira’s off the ball movement and exploiting of space is a key component in Juve’s attacking phase. Whether he is running directly with the ball or indirectly, the German is able to intelligently open spaces for his teammates or exploit the space himself.
In Marchisio, Pogba and Khedira, Juventus have great central presence to move the ball in the opposition half. As the deepest of the midfield three, Marchisio has the most responsibility in moving the ball from the deep phases of build up. Having a 6 who can pass between the lines and position well is very important for teams who seek to have control of the ball. Last year, it was Pirlo who occupied the deep lying midfield role, this season Marchisio has taken over and has been super good. Marchisio is very important in build up by providing a constant option for a pass. He positions well to receive the ball and on it, he speeds up the build up by switching play to the free open man on the flanks and also by passing into players between the lines.
The wingbacks are often bypassed in buildup, maintaining a very high position on the flanks. Their presence in the opposition area is to pin opposition fullbacks back and further create space in the deeper areas for effective circulation of the ball. It would be weird to talk about Juventus midfield without mentioning Paul Pogba who after a disappointing opening to the season has been crucial in the past couple of months.
Pogba playing the position of “mezz’ala” — meaning “half-wing” is already a game changer and has proven in 2016 how wide his skillset is by adding end product to his passing. The Frenchman’s physique combined with his unique press resistance makes him difficult to dispossess and he uses these qualities quite well in moving the ball into the final third. The Frenchman has an aggressive starting position in build up and mainly occupies areas in the final third. Allegri has at times used him as some sort of roaming target-man from midfield.
One key aspect of Juventus’ attacking play is the use of overloads and combinations in the halfspaces and on the flanks. The use of overloads in maintaining possession higher up the pitch is important as the ball carrier has many angles and options for a pass in a confined area. Against Chievo, Juve used effective combination play and overloading on the right, and through Dybala who normally positions in between the lines are able to move the ball to Pogba who has tonnes of space in the center.
Buffon set a Serie A record for most consecutive clean sheets and longest minutes without conceding a goal. He rightly got praise for those two records, however the defensive organization and pressing made this possible.
Caley’s xG model rates Juventus as the second best team in the world defensively, in terms of quality of shots allowed only behind Bayern whose possession game prevents shots in the first place.Juventus are one of the best defensive teams in 2016 and a clean sheet machine. They have a strong organization which mainly aims to control the center of the pitch. The pressing begins with the forwards who press defenders aggressively in the first line of the build up. The forwards have aggressive movements and move horizontally to press the centerbacks. As the forwards press is the first phase, the rest of the team move up in a compact manner to restrict space. The whole point is to reduce time and space the opponent has. A team with poor spacing and players who can’t build under pressure will be forced to play an aimless long ball which is recovered by Juve’s defenders.
Juve are an aggressive pressing team generally but may alter their pressing strategy depending on their opponent. For example in the home game vs Bayern they were very passive in their pressing in the opening stages looking to sit in their block and maintain their structure, where as in the second leg they pressed very = high in the opening hour. They started the second leg in a very flexible 541/451 shape however when pressing the shape became a 4-3-1-2 with Pogba joining Morata in the first line to pressurize the Bayern defenders. Their effective use of shadows and man-orientations disrupted Bayern’s early build up in what was one of my favourite halves of football in terms of organization. Juventus use a lot of pressing traps and have many pressing triggers. One common pressing action in their game vs Bayern was their very central positioning which opened up passing lanes to the wide Bayern players. As soon as the pass is made Cuadrado in this instance on the right would sprint to Alaba in the scenario while the entire team collectively shift laterally to maintain a compact shape and cover passing options with situational man orientations. Another pressing trigger Juventus use is the sideways pass. Here Juventus sit in their shape and cover vertical options into the center using the forwards. Sampdoria decide to circulate at the back and play a sideways pass from right to left. As soon as the pass is played Pogba runs to press the player in possession, the rest of the team squeeze up vertically to maintain compactness and force another sideways pass before regaining possession.
Juventus employ zonal marking in the center with certain man-orientations which gives them good central presence. Defending is all about controlling space. In disorganized pressing structures a good player can suddenly look a bad one because of the amount of space he has to defend. Allegri’s instructions however are clear. Juventus move together in a compact block and each player is giving instructions as to specific zones and players to press.“So what’s defending? It’s a matter of how much space I must defend. If I’ve to defend the whole garden, I’m the worst defender.”
The defenders are heavily man-oriented on forwards at times and would follow them at times into the forward areas. Bonucci pressed very high vs Bayern in their deep build up for example following Lewandowski’s movements. Evra was similarly also very oriented on Muller on the other side. Most teams playing with a back three have nig problems defending the wide areas. Mathematically an opposing fullback and a wide attacker will mean a 2 v 1 against a 352 if the team doesn’t make adjustments. Defending the halfspaces and center has been a big problem for teams particularly in the PL when defending with a back three. Allegri makes good adjustments to ensure defensive stability. Juventus employ a pendulating defense line.When defending the wide areas, Juventus still look to maintain great central presence by leaving their midfielders in the central areas. The ball-near wingback pushes high to press the ball while the far side wingback drops into the backline to make it a four-man-defense, this allows the midfield also to maintain their central position and control the middle.
Their second leg vs Bayern earned Juve and Allegri plaudits. The Turin side continue to evolve under his guidance and after a horrid start to the season are on the verge of a 5th consecutive scudetto.
At halftime the opinion was Guardiola is overrated and bald, and Allegri is producing another tactical masterclass. Juventus despite being in last year’s Champions league final were not considered favorites in their tie against Bayern. Coming into the game with the previous 2-2 draw(Two away goals for Bayern) and injuries to their key attacker Dybala, midfield metronome Claudio Marchisio and the Chiellini, the odds were against them.
For Bayern, Kimmich and Benatia starting as the central defensive duo with Alaba and Lahm in the fullback spots. Alonso operated as a single pivot, ahead of him was Vidal in the left halfspace and further ahead was Muller on the right. Ribery and Douglas Costa started wide with Lewandowski leading the line.
Allegri’s Juve lined up in a 451/541 hybrid. The defense consisted of Bazargli, Bonucci and Evra who had an interesting role playing as a third centerback or a fullback depending on the phase of play. In their defensive shape Lichsteiner, Bazargli, Bonucci, Evra and Alex Sandro operated as a five man defense, ahead of them was Cuadrado on the right, Khedira and Hernanes central with Pogba occupying the left halfspace/left wing. Morata operated as a counter attacking lone forward.
In pressing Juve’s system looked entirely different. Pogba who in the defensive phase played as a wide midfielder supported Morata in Juve’s aggressive high-press in a 4-1-3-2/4-3-2-1/4-3-1-2 shape. Cuadrado on the other side tucked into a more central role in press as Juventus looked to deny Bayern vertical access into the central areas from the back. Cuadrado in most instances remained very narrow and this opened up a diagonal passing lane to Alaba from the centerbacks, however as soon as the ball went to the Austrain, Cuadrado will sprint quickly to pressurize. Khedira was very proactive in his pressing and played higher than Hernanes who was deeper and monitoring Muller’s movements between the lines. Khedira would in some instances be as high as the edge of Bayern’s box in the high press to man mark Alonso who dropped deeper to create a situational 3v2 numerical advantage with Pogba and Morata both occupying the centerbacks. Juventus had very strong man-oriented movements, starting from their last line of defense. The centerhalves pushed as high as the attacking third in Juve’s press. In some instance in the video, Bonucci pressed very high to win the ball, Evra did the same on Muller too in some instances at the beginning. It was a high risk approach but the intelligence of Juve’s players made it very difficult for Bayern in offense and this forced many square passes in their own half. Juventus’ pressing and defensive organization was too good for Bayern in the first half. Guardiola kept yelling at his defenders who struggled in progressing the ball into the right areas because of the intelligent tactics and instructions of Allegri.
“Juventus defend low with a 5-4-1, they press with a 4-4-2 and they attack with a 4-2-3-1. Systems in the future will become ever more fluid.” – Antonio Gagliardi, Italian Analyst
In the end Bayern were too strong for Juve with Pep saying the result wasn’t due to tactics, despite altering the shape and personnel but rather because of fatigue to Juve’s defenders and emotions. Tactically it was one of the games of the season.