This season’s tactical talking points

This season’s tactical talking points

UEFA produces technical reports for each of its club and international competitions. These reports are based on the observations of top-level coaches at the games and insights from a team of performance analysts. They highlight the key tactical trends and innovations from each season as well as providing a comprehensive statistical record, and they are available for free on soon after the end of the campaign. Here are some examples of the technical observers’ match analysis on the road to Budapest.

United options

Facing elimination away to Barcelona in the knockout round play-offs, Manchester United showcased their flexibility to rally from behind and win 2-1. Erik ten Hag’s side had struggled in the first half at the Camp Nou as Barça constantly rotated their central midfielders, successfully overcoming the man-marking system United had used to good effect in the opening leg. Trailing 1-0 at the break, United needed to shake things up – and they did, bringing on livewire Antony and moving Marcus Rashford inside for a more direct approach.

“We had to bring more speed,” explained Ten Hag afterwards. “Antony is brave. What he brought in the second half was what we needed: his running behind and his dribbles.” The pace of Antony and Rashford helped United get past Barcelona’s high defensive line and this, combined with increased intensity in their pressing, formed the basis of their comeback victory. It was Antony himself who struck the winning goal – the 19th scored by a United substitute in 2022/23, underlining their range of options.

Man United vs Barcelona tactical analysis

Fluid mechanics

Sporting CP began their round of 16 tie against Arsenal as clear outsiders. By the time it was over, the Portuguese outfit had knocked the Premier League high-flyers out of Europe. It took a Pedro Gonçalves wonder goal to force extra time and eventually penalties in north London, but it was the masterful fluidity displayed by Rúben Amorim’s side that truly lay behind the result – both in their build-up play and defensive work.

Moving the ball forward, Sporting excelled thanks to their fluid central combinations, intelligent movement and rotations in the wide areas, creating overloads to ensure the man in possession had passing options. As the UEFA match observer noted, Arsenal “found it hard to cope with Sporting’s movement, combinations and technical ability”. Likewise, the visitors proved versatile at the back, able to switch from a low block to a high press or vice versa in a matter of seconds. By doing so, they could either take the pressure off the last line of defence or form a compact deep block, as required.

Tactical Analysis: Arsenal vs Sporting CP

Decisive discipline

Sporting met their match in the quarter-finals as Juventus stifled their threat in Lisbon. A goal up after the first leg, Juve relied on their supreme organisation to secure a 1-1 draw, trying to limit Sporting’s use of wing-backs by getting their wingers to apply pressure on the hosts’ wide centre-backs. The UEFA technical observers noted how Ángel Di María did this often and did it well – right from the first minute.

The visitors’ mobile midfield trio also played a vital role, applying pressure in wide areas when needed, which allowed their full-backs to stay connected with the rest of the back line. They also worked hard to screen central passes, with Adrien Rabiot and Manuel Locatelli particularly diligent.

The Bianconeri took an early lead and did not panic when the home side equalised. Instead, they remained compact and disciplined, happy to sit deep and manage the game. That owed much to Locatelli’s dominance in the centre as he helped run down the clock and interrupt Sporting’s attacking rhythm.

Sporting CP vs Juventus: The battle for midfield

False wing-backs

One of the key features of Roma’s 1-0 defeat of Leverkusen in their semi-final opener was the Italian outfit’s use of what the UEFA match observer labelled “false wing-backs”. With Leverkusen’s wing-backs looking to control their counterparts, Roma midfielders Lorenzo Pellegrini and Edoardo Bove rotated into the wing-back positions out wide, which allowed the actual wing-backs, Zeki Çelik and Leonardo Spinazzola, to move into central-midfield positions from which to get on the ball and progress.

This was just one example of how the Giallorossi used their defensive players in creative ways. Coach José Mourinho had spoken beforehand of the need for “balance and tactical control”, and his team rose to the challenge. Switching between a 3-5-2 formation and a 5-3-2, Roma enjoyed just 38% possession but continually thwarted Leverkusen, typically by sending Gianluca Mancini forward to deal with the player in the pocket. Roma regained possession 16 times in this manner, keeping Leverkusen contained away from their goal until they had won back the ball.

Tactical analysis: Leverkusen try to stretch Roma

Official final programme

The official final programme for the 2023 Europa League has landed. As the much-awaited final between Roma and Sevilla draws nearer, you can get stuck into a bundle of football storytelling containing everything from history, culture and food to tactical analysis, captivating imagery as well as player and coach interviews. Get your copy here!

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