It has been an enthralling Europa League competition packed with drama, shocks and great goals, with UEFA’s decision to include a Champions League spot for the winners paying dividends as teams have begun to take it much more seriously. 195 teams from 54 different countries who have taken part in 2014/2015 have been whittled down to just two, with reigning champions Sevilla set to take on surprise package Dnipro in the Final in Warsaw on May 27th in what promises to be an intriguing match.

Europa League Final

Unai Emery’s side stand on the cusp of making unprecedented history by not only becoming the most successful team in the competition’s history (they current sit on three victories alongside Inter Milan, Juventus and Liverpool), but also become the first to record back-to-back trophies twice (coincidentally, they are the only team to have done it once back in 2006 and 2007). However, victories is by no means a foregone conclusion for the La Liga outfit as, although they will naturally be considered strong favourites to triumph in Poland, Dnipro have proved they have the metal to compete with the very best and added sprinkle of quality to make headlines and win the Final. Their passage illustrates the meteoric rise of Ukrainian football, and while Dynamo Kiev fell at the Quarter-Finals stage, Mryon Markevych has led Dnipro to the Europa League Final in his first season in charge in what could be a fairytale ending for region ravaged by war and conflict.

Strong favourites

Sevilla have made a habit of enjoying Europa League success over the last decade, and although they were not considered amongst the favourites, there was always the sense that Emery’s team had the quality to go all the way to Final once again. It has been a superb achievement for the way Sevilla have emerged as a diamond in the rough to become one of the most successful teams in Europe, but it remains to be seen how they will handle the pressure of being overwhelming favourites to win. The manner in which they have got through to the Final in Warsaw has been rather impressive, with victories against Borussia Monchengladbach, Villarreal, Zenit and Fiorentina illustrating that they have come away from four tough ties with flying colours. Carlos Bacca and Aleix Vidal have been integral throughout their Europa League campaign, and while Stephane Mbia, Ever Banega Grzegorz Krychowiak play an important role in controlling the midfield area, Emery will hope that his team continue to show the same creative flair and ability to score from all areas to get past a Dnipro side who may look to frustrate them.

Surprise package

Dnipro

Dnipro may have considered themselves extremely fortunate to scrape through during the group stages after winning just two games and suffered a shock loss at home to Azerbaijan side Qarabag FK, but they have since shown superb resilience and their ability to score goals at the right time to get past some extremely tough opponents on their way to the Final. The Ukrainians have ultimately flown under the radar as very few expected them to have the quality to go all the way, but getting past Olympiakos, Ajax, Club Brugge and Napoli during the knock-out stages should be a clear warning to Sevilla that they may not have it their own way in Warsaw. Markevych’s side may not be the most pleasing on the eye and lack a serious goal threat, but despite Yevhen Konoplyanka being the only player in their squad with star quality, they have made themselves incredibly difficult to break down and have a sting in the tail to catch teams on the break. Dnipro will have to be at their very best if they are to stand any chance of upsetting the odds in the Final, but beating the likes of Ajax and Napoli is enough to show that they can enjoy a fairytale ending and bring some joy, amidst the chaos, to their city.

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Attacking is the term used to describe the movement of the team in possession of the ball. It is not simply the act of shooting on goal or the play of the team in front of the net; it is more complex than that; it is the movement of the players and the ball for the team who has possession. Therefore, any time a team is in possession they are in the attacking phase.

Before a team can properly attack in the attacking phase there must first be an understanding of shape, possession and combination play. The collection of these concepts will form a teams patterns and principles of play. Shape describes the position of the players in relation to the ball and their movement within that shape.. A team that understands shape has the ability to possess the ball and as the concept of shape is understood possession will then follow. Usually, the team that has the possession advantage will find itself in a much better situation to win the game. Therefore training a team in basic attacking shape directly leads into training a team to possess which ultimately puts a team in a position to be win the game.

Attacking

Shape can best be described as the position that the players take on the field and movement they make in relation to the ball. Good attacking shape as three distinct qualities: Length, width and depth. The goal is to make the playing area as long (length) and as wide (width) as possible while giving as many options of support (depth) to the player on the ball. A team that instinctively attacks with great shape will open the field by spreading the defense apart creating seams to play into. These seams can be used for the attacking team to exploit the defense. As this shape is used properly the team can then possess and attack efficiently. (more…)

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Role of the First, Second and Third Attackers

A team in possession can always be referred to in terms of who has the ball and who is in near proximity to the ball. The player in possession is the first attacker. The players one pass away are the second attackers and the players more than one pass away are the third attackers.

Therefore, for the attacking team, there is always one first attacker, at least one second attacker, and the rest of the players are considered the third attackers.

A team that understands the attack and thinks in terms of these roles can think clearly about where to be on the field. This un-complicates a complex attacking scheme making it easier for the players to be effective on the field.

Role of the First Attacker: Maintain possession, attack space

The first attacker must maintain possession of the ball. The first thought on the first attackers mind is getting to open space by moving forward. This can be done by taking on a defender or by dribbling to space where the defenders are not. The role of the first attacker then is simple; maintain possession and attack space going forward. The training on the technical side of dribbling on the attack, dribbling for possession, and short and long passing are the skills required of the first attacker. At any time any player can be the first attacker so the entire team should possess the skills of attacking and possessing with the dribble.

If a player does go at a player, their next thought should be “how can I engage the defender”? Usually by going at the defender (on a diagonal) forces the defender to commit to the ball. By going on diagonals the attacker has the option of going right or left. Now the attacker has engaged the defender and he is forced to make a decision. The attacker then has the option of beating him with the dribble, turning away from the defender or playing a pass into the seam previously created and now further exploited by the stepping of the defender to the ball. When attacking a defender with the dribble, attack the heel of the front foot, get past him quick by changing speed and then keep him behind you.

Role of the Attackers

Role of the Second Attacker: Support

The role of the second attacker can be summed up in one word: support, meaning support of the ball by the team in possession. This is done in many ways and not simply from the front. The more options the first attacker has the more dangerous he is therefore there should be support from different angles at different positions.

The role of the second attacker is to move into dangerous space previously made by creating good shape. As the first attacker is engaging the defender the second attackers need to be moving towards the ball in the seams. Examples of this are forwards showing to the ball from fullback, center midfielders showing to outside midfielders closing pace on a defender and creating a wall pass, and the left and right fullback positioning themselves outside and wide of the center fullback in possession of the ball to support from behind so the center fullback can turn away from pressure and play a back ball.

The key to being the second attacker is filling empty space in a manner which gives the first attacker options that are dangerous and threaten the defense. (more…)

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Tactics is the movement of the players and the ball; it is the principles of play behind the game. Soccer is a game of continuous motion and unlike many other sports there are no timeouts or breaks to call plays every five seconds. Once on the field, the players must understand how to move and what to do. Teaching this movement is called the training of tactics.

Therefore the coach must train his players how and when to move when on and off the ball. He must teach his players to understand patterns of play and patterns of movement. Unlike football where a coach calls a play every ten seconds, or basketball where a signal indicates which play the team is going to run, soccer is a game of continuous flow, of patterns and organized movement. This movement is tactics.

The training of tactics has three basic phases that must be understood; attacking, defending and transition.

Attacking Tactics

  • Attacking:  The time of play when your team is in clear possession of the ball.
  • Defending:  The time when your team is not in possession of the ball
  • Transition: The time when neither team possesses and it is unclear of who is attacking or defending

Teams who are trained to be successful in these three tactical areas are the teams that will find success. So, train your teams to be successful in these areas and you will find success.

As a final note on tactics it must be understood that without technique there can be no tactics so skillfully training technique is an important requirement to successful tactics. First train players to be skilled technically then move on to the tactical sessions. This is not to say that tactics must wait until technique is perfect, however technique must be good enough such that tactical session does not break down.

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Finishing eight last season was considered a wonderful achievement for Southampton, who showed promising signs of developing into a top half Premier League team, but very few expected them to go even further in 2014/2015. Losing a number of star players and the manager who made them produce eye-catching football was a real indication that the South Coast club had become a victim of their own success. However, Ronald Koeman has done a wonderful job in not only showing shrewd business acumen to bring in new arrivals who have made a real impact, but also take their performance levels to a whole new level. It resulted in Southampton making a wonderful start to the season against all odds, with their early momentum and form carrying them towards a potential top four finish. They have surprised everyone by remaining in Champions League contention throughout the season, and with just ten games remaining in the current campaign, Southampton are firmly in contention amongst a five-horse race to dine at Europe’s top table of football.

Southampton football

Recent form

While Southampton enjoyed a superb start to their campaign, many expected them to tail off and finish in a respectable top half position for the second season in a row. However, despite losing four league games in a row in early December, they showed excellent character to bounce straight back and recover the quality of football that got them in an excellent position in the first place. Another recent blip, in which they lost to Liverpool and West Brom, did come with consequences, as Southampton’s closest rivals jumped ahead of them in what could be the closest race for a top four finish in recent years. Their drop in form coincided with a number of injuries to key players, particularly Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama, who are integral to how Southampton tick in midfield and allow the more creative players to express themselves. Both played a crucial role in their recent 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace which could be the turning point in their season; not only did the three points end the run of consecutive defeats which threatened to cut them adrift of the top four, but Sadio Mane’s late winner could provide a much-needed confidence boost that gets Southampton firing on all cylinders again.

Prospects

The upcoming trip to leaders Chelsea could be a true indication of whether Southampton have the quality to maintain their challenge for the top four and realise the dream of playing Champions League football. They are currently four points adrift of Manchester United in fourth, and while the 2014/2015 Premier League season promises to throw up even more twists and turns between now and May, Southampton have to focus on their own results and let the rest take care of itself. Coming away from Stamford Bridge with a positive result would be a real statement of intent from Koeman’s side and make the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United aware that Southampton are not to be taken lightly.

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England surround a lot of controversy when it comes to playing football, many managerial debates, player debates and debates amongst the support and media. One thing that annoys fans the most is the inclusions into the team, which at times can be confusing. In recent years we have seen many odd and random inclusions into the international team – based on a player sudden good league form or a player who suits the managers play. Yet, they contribute nothing..

1. Gareth Barry

Gareth Barry

This is the first man on my list. Barry had a great time at Aston Villa, leading their team out week in and week out in the Premier League, being highly rated by football pundits and fans alike. He was included into the team a long time ago, and yet we are still to see what he can offer for us. He literally offers nothing to the England attack. He puts in a lot of effort, but that does not equal quality. I see Barry as a very average player who is not capable of anything special and never will be. I can’t really argue his case for being in the England team and think it would be better off replacing him with a more of an attacking threat!

2. Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard

Frank Frank Frank… Many people may disagree with me (Chelsea fans) but I do not think he warrants a place in the first team anymore. For about 2 years now Lampard hasn’t really performed to the standard he was once capable of, not even for Chelsea. Years ago he was placed in the team for his ability to nick goals like he did at Chelsea, although he has lost a lot of that form now, and didn’t even replicate that form for England! He now looks more like a playmaker who strings along the play, but surely we could get someone else to play that role, who is more natural to it? He has wasted numerous free-kicks and chances and his only talent seems to be taking penalties.

3. Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott

Walcott was full of promise in his younger days, although those days of promise are starting to fade away. There’s a time when we except errors because players are young and can learn more – but Walcott should be starting to peak or at least be showing signs of ‘world class’ form that he was dubbed. There are better wingers out there with better technical ability. Walcott has all the pace in the world but his end product is too inconsistent for the international stage. It’s frustrating to watch, just like Shaun Wright-Phillips and many before them.

4. James Milner

James Milner

Don’t get me wrong, I think Milner is a very good player… for club level. He is a work horse who can be a handful for defences with his strength and persistence, although technically he is not brilliant at time and does not have the right amount of pace for this level. When we need that genius creativity to split a solid Brazilian defence, is Milner the man to come up with the goods? We need to look at better options (in my opinion Adam Johnson is better) who can challenge solid defences at the World Cup.

5. Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick has been included in the first team for quite a while although he is consistently picked in the squads and I just don’t see a place in the team for him. He can’t hold a place down in the Manchester United squad like he used to and that’s for a reason. Carrick is known for his ability to ping balls around although with the way England currently play, I don’t see a place for him.

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After another pulsating north London derby where Spurs emerged victorious over Arsenal, the race for the top four has heated up even more.

Just ten points separate 2nd place Manchester City and 7th place Liverpool and after Harry Kane’s double, Spurs fans can be expectant of a top four place for the first time since 2012 if they keep their performances up.

tottenham_arsenal

Here are the player ratings for the game:

TOTTENHAM

Hugo Lloris – 6

Couldn’t do anything about Ozil’s excellent finish but other than that, had very little to do but did well when called on to action, saving a decent Danny Welbeck effort.

Kyle Walker – 5

Offered pace and drive but wasn’t as effective as Danny Rose getting forward.

Eric Dier – 6

For a first north London derby, the 21-year-old did well against the in-form Olivier Giroud.

Jan Vertonghen – 6

Made some good tackles and overall had a decent game.

Danny Rose – 6

Was at fault for Arsenal’s goal after being outpaced by Danny Welbeck but other than that, had a very good game. Rose was effective going forward, troubling the defense and was unlucky not to score as well.

Nabil Bentaleb – 7

Had a very good game after returning from the African Cup of Nations. Protected and dominated the midfield battle and provided a great cross for Kane’s winner.

Ryan Mason – 7.5

Was everywhere, pressed relentlessly and offered a lot of energy. Also had a good effort saved by David Ospina.

Erik Lamela – 5

Relatively quiet game and didn’t offer much of a threat.

Moussa Dembele – 5.5

Tried to create openings but largely ineffective. However, he played a role in Kane’s equalizer.

Christian Eriksen – 6

Had a surprisingly quiet game but always looked dangerous and capable of creating something when he had possession.

Harry Kane – 8

He worked hard, kept pressing and was a nuisance for the Arsenal defense after his brace sealed the win. Stunning header as well, taking his tally to 22 goals in all competitions this season.

ARSENAL

David Ospina – 6.5

Despite looking nervous and his parry leading to Kane’s equalizer, Ospina kept the scoreline to just two goals with some stunning diving saves.

Hector Bellerin – 5

After an impressive game against Aston Villa, the young Spaniard had a night to forget with his flank dominated throughout.

Per Mertesacker – 5

His performances have declined this season and Mertesacker was at fault for a free Kane scoring the equalizer. He really needs to improve especially with new signing, Gabriel waiting on the bench for his chance.

Laurent Koscielny – 5.5

Should have done better for Kane’s winner but was good overall. Had a free header straight at Lloris which should have been a goal.

Nacho Monreal – 6

One of the few who had a good game with no real threat coming from his flank. Unlucky to get a yellow card.

Francis Coquelin – 6

Played well initially until Spurs took control of the midfield.

Aaron Ramsey – 5.5

Like Mertesacker, his performances have regressed and seems like a liability in midfield now. Maybe he needs a rest?

Santi Cazorla – 5

A surprisingly poor game from Arsenal’s most in-form player, creating nothing and offering no influence on the game.

Danny Welbeck – 6.5

Made a smart run, outpacing Rose to contribute to Arsenal’s goal. Also had a good effort saved by Lloris and had good ball retention but offered nothing else up front.

Mesut Ozil – 7

Another one who can hold his head high, Ozil looks back in good form with 3 goals and an assist in 4 starts in 2015. Well taken goal and could have gotten an assist if not for the finishing of his teammates.

Olivier Giroud – 5.5

Quiet game from another of Arsenal’s in-form players. Not given enough space and had a good header go wide but assisted Ozil for the goal.

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