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Record Book – Sri Lanka’s first ODI series win

The inaugural World Cup in 1975 marked Sri Lanka’s entry on the ODI scene. Though they were heavily beaten by the West Indies and Pakistan, the neophyte islanders showed great grit against Australia, totalling 276/4 while facing the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in a steep chase of 329. The following edition in 1979 saw Sri Lanka’s maiden ODI victory, when they upstaged India by 47 runs at Old Trafford.

Sri Lanka attained full membership of the ICC in 1981, and duly played their first Test in February 1982, against England at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo. The two-match ODI series on this tour resulted in a 1-1 draw. In the next 12 months, Sri Lanka played three more ODI series (all three-match affairs overseas), losing each of them – they went down by 2-1 in Pakistan, 3-0 in India and 3-0 again in New Zealand.  

The Lions played host to Australia three weeks after their New Zealand tour. The Australian squad, led by Greg Chappell, was bereft of four key players who had opted out – Kim Hughes, Geoff Lawson, Rod Marsh and Thomson. Chappell’s opposite number was Duleep Mendis, who had scored a crucial 64 in the aforesaid win over India. The four-match ODI series commenced on 13th April 1983 at the P. Sara Oval.

The new-ball pair of Ashantha de Mel and Vinothen John tested the Australian openers after Chappell won the toss. It was John (2/33) who provided the first breakthrough, having a struggling Steven Smith caught behind by Guy de Alwis with the score at 15. Graham Yallop joined Graeme Wood at this stage, and the pair added 72 for the second wicket before leg-spinner Somachandra de Silva bowled Wood (50).

Soon after, Yallop (39) was caught behind off the medium pace of 19-year-old Arjuna Ranatunga to make the score 103/3. This sparked a collapse of four wickets for 15 runs that put Sri Lanka firmly in control. De Alwis’ good day continued, as he caught David Hookes (for a duck) off Ranatunga (2/26) and Chappell off John. At the other end, de Silva (2/21) castled Allan Border to leave Australia wobbling at 118/6.

De Mel (2/35) became the fourth bowler to take two wickets, those of debutant wicketkeeper Roger Woolley and Tom Hogan, whose breezy 27 pushed Australia to 168/9 in the stipulated 45 overs. Woolley’s wicket was de Alwis’ fifth catch – he became the second wicketkeeper to pouch five catches in an ODI innings and was later named Man of the Match. Marsh was the first to do so, against England in 1981.

Sidath Wettimuny (37) and Susil Fernando (31) built a solid opening stand of 71, until the latter was stumped off Hogan’s left-arm spin. Roy Dias was out LBW to Chappell, and when Hogan bowled Wettimuny, Sri Lanka were 82/3. Australia ensured that they stayed alive – Hogan (3/27) bowled Mendis to get his third wicket, while John Maguire got rid of Ranjan Madugalle thanks to a running catch from Smith at third man.

At this stage, Sri Lanka still needed 57 from 63 balls with five wickets left. Ranatunga was sixth out to Rodney Hogg at 139, but that did not deter de Mel, who made 27 in as many balls before falling to Maguire. With the scores level in the 44th over, de Alwis became Hogg­’s second victim. De Silva, who scored 15* in 13 balls, eventually hit the winning run to bring up Sri Lanka’s win by two wickets with five balls remaining.    

The second match was played at the same venue three days later. Kepler Wessels, who replaced Smith at the top, scored a patient 39 after Sri Lanka won the toss. He was second out at 77, bowled by paceman Rumesh Ratnayake, who had earlier also accounted for Wood. Yallop hit an aggressive 59, and after his dismissal, Chappell (54*) and Hookes, who hit a quick 27, helped carry the total to 207/5 after 45 overs.

Wettimuny (56) and Fernando (34) ensured a robust platform once again, this time going on to share in a stand worth 101. However, both batsmen were dismissed in the 29th over – Wettimuny was bowled by off-spinner Bruce Yardley (3/28), who had come in for Maguire, before Fernando was run out. Yardley added two more wickets to his kitty in his following over, snaring Dias and Mendis to reduce Sri Lanka to 108/4.

With the required rate rising and the momentum shifting towards Australia, Sri Lanka needed another substantial partnership. Ranatunga (55* in 37 balls) and Madugalle (37 in 23 balls) delivered just that, putting on 69 for the fifth wicket at a fast clip. Ranatunga, who was named Man of the Match, stayed at the crease until Sri Lanka achieved a four-wicket win in 43.2 overs to take an unassailable 2-0 lead.

The first ever Test between the two countries was played at Kandy in the middle of the ODI series, in which Sri Lanka went down by an innings and 38 runs. Rain made its presence as the ODI leg resumed at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo – the third match was washed out with Australia at 194/3 to confirm a historic first series win for Sri Lanka, as was the fourth (curtailed to 30 overs), with Australia at 124/3.

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2020-21 Liga NOS: Young Players To Watch

Mateus Carvalho profiles 20 of the best young players to watch in the Liga NOS  for the 2020-21 season, one from each club!


In a country deeply passionate about football as Portugal, the start of the Liga NOS 2020/21 season was long awaited by football fans, hoping to drown their pandemic-related sorrows in some competitive action. Even though they will not be allowed to return to stadiums just yet, many of them already started looking at their teams’ squads and transfer moves, hoping to predict which players will stand out from the rest. Their findings might very well reside on younger players, as many Portuguese clubs turn to youth development as the way forward considering the financial constraints caused by Covid-19. Here is a list of such youngsters (one per team) ready to prove themselves in the Portuguese football landscape.

Belenenses SAD // Nilton Varela // 19 // Portugal/Cabo Verde

Even before the pandemic stopped Liga NOS in the 2019/2020, and being only 18 years old, this offensive-minded young left-back had already established himself as a regular in the Belenenses SAD first team. After the ‘corona-break’ he became a bona fide starter, playing almost every remaining match. This season Nilton Varela will try to improve his record of 18 appearances, 1 goal and 2 assists, certainly relying on his above-average potency, aggressiveness and crossing skills. This will nonetheless be an improvement season for the left-back, as he hopes to refine his tactical defensive positioning and technical skills. Fun fact: his uncle, Portuguese international Silvestre Varela, will expectedly be the starting left-winger for Belenenses SAD. A family partnership on the left-flank, certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Honourable mention: Afonso Sousa (20 – midfielder – Portugal)

Benfica // Darwin Núñez // 21 // Uruguay

Benfica’s Uruguayan forward Darwin Nunez controls the ball during the Portuguese League football match between Famalicao and Benfica at the Famalicao Municipal Stadium in Vila Nova de Famalicao on September 18, 2020. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Darwin Núñez arrives at Benfica this summer with high expectations upon his shoulders, being the most expensive signing in Portuguese football’s history.

From a young age, the Uruguayan forward was dubbed as one of the most promising talents of South America, being a regular presence in his national team and making his debut for Uruguayan giants CA Peñarol at the age of 18. He confirmed his credentials in a fantastic one season stint playing for UD Almería, in Spain’s competitive second tier, scoring 16 goals (at an impressive clip of 0,59 goals per 90 minutes, which actually surpasses his xG of 0,45).

Besides his efficiency and finishing skills, Núñez is a mobile and agile attacking player, relying on his pace, dribbling and passing skills to disturb any marking arrangements he might encounter. One can only wonder what he might achieve playing under Jorge Jesus, a coach known to crave for mobile strikers keen to attack the space between and behind defenders to play in his intense 1-4-4-2 system.

Honourable mention: Gonçalo Ramos (19 – forward – Portugal); Nuno Tavares (20 – left-back – Portugal)

Boavista FC // Angel Gomes // 20 // England/Portugal

Boavista FC seem to have found themselves a ‘not so hidden gem’ in Angel Gomes. A Manchester United academy graduate and England youth team international, the offensive midfielder was from a young age on many ‘Young Players to watch’-type lists (even this website had him in its scouting lens three years ago). Such was his unusual potential that José Mourinho gave him his senior debut when Angel was only 16-years old, making him the fourth youngest player in United history.

Now, and despite not being able to rise through the ranks and become a regular at United’s senior side, his qualities and potential still hold true – gifted with above-average technique, an astute intelligence for the game and a fairly decent pace, he got signed by LOSC Lille and subsequently loaned to the historic Portuguese club, Boavista FC. From watching his pre-season, it was remarkable to notice how Angel Gomes seems to have grown, always selflessly looking to do the best play, no matter how simple. He will be a force to be reckoned with in Portugal’s first tier, his qualities being extremely adaptable, in my opinion, to Boavista FC’s quick and simple transition-minded style of play.

Honourable mention: Nuno Santos (21 – midfielder – Portugal)

CD Tondela // Tiago Almeida // 19 // Portugal

Deeply embedded in the fight against relegation, last season’s CD Tondela coach, Natxo González opted quite surprisingly to substitute some of his experienced veterans for youngsters from the U19 team, in the last matchdays of Liga NOS. He owned his bet before the media, stating ‘they were more deserving of playtime than some of their colleagues’. In fact, CD Tondela managed, in the past years, to assemble highly talented youth teams, betting on a mix of cast-out players from bigger sides and high-profile youngsters from Portugal’s lesser known teams. One example of the latter case is Tiago Almeida, a dynamic and aggressive right-back (he can also play as winger) that came from third-tier side Anadia FC to join CD Tondela U19 team and quickly ascended to the senior squad, managing to make his senior debut against giants Sporting CP and securing a starting spot in the last two matchdays of the CD Tondela’s successful relegation battle. With a long way still to go in his career, Tiago Almeida certainly has the qualities to compete for starting honours in this league. He might not cause a splash right away, but he is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

SC Farense // Madi Queta // 21 // Portugal/Guiné Bissau

Recently promoted, SC Farense opted to assemble a somewhat experienced side to try and enjoy a calm season in Liga NOS. Their youngest player is 21-year old Madi Queta, a FC Porto academy graduate and Portugal U19 international. Queta is a winger that can play in both sides, presenting his pace and ball control as his main attributes, being keen to exploit the opposition’s defence through diagonals into the box and runs to the back of the defensive line. After three years garnering experience in senior football, playing regularly in Portugal’s second tier for FC Porto B (86 matches, 10 goals and 10 assists), Madi Queta sure seems ready to compete and make it in the first division.

FC Famalicão // Gustavo Assunção // 20 // Brazil/Portugal

In Gustavo Assunção’s case, one could very well say ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree’. Son of the former FC Porto and Atlético de Madrid defensive midfielder, Paulo Assunção, Gustavo ended up having the chance to play for the ‘colchoneros’ youth team, where he completed his youth playing career. A defensive midfielder just like his father, Gustavo Assunção elected to play his first senior season in 2019/2020 for FC Famalicão, at the time a newly promoted team that had one of the most exciting projects in all of Portuguese football, recruiting young players from all around the world in order to be competitive in Liga NOS.

The youngsters of FC Famalicão exceeded all expectations, finishing 6th place and almost qualifying for Europa League. One of the integral pieces of Famalicão’s success was indeed their no.6, Gustavo Assunção, who played in 37 matches of their matches, displaying impressive tactical intelligence, passing traits and composure, especially for a 19-year old. In addition, he is already a defensive anchor, proving himself very efficient in both anticipation and tackling actions (amassing 49 direct ball recoveries through these type of actions last season). He will be undoubtedly one of his team’s cornerstones this season. The future certainly holds great heights for Gustavo Assunção, just like it did for his father.

Honourable mentions: Joaquín Pereyra (21 – midfielder – Argentina); Bruno Jordão (21 – midfielder – Portugal); João Neto (17 – winger – Brasil)

FC Porto // Fábio Vieira // 20 // Portugal

FC Porto’s Portuguese midfielder Fabio Vieira (L) challenges CD Tondela’s Brazilian forward Ronan David during the Portuguese League football match between Tondela and Porto at the Joao Cardoso stadium in Tondela on July 9, 2020. (Photo by FILIPE AMORIM / AFP) (Photo by FILIPE AMORIM/AFP via Getty Images)

FC Porto managed to develop a highly talented generation in its academy, something noticeable in the high affluence of their players in Portugal’s youth teams as well as in consistently good performances in UEFA’s Youth League (culminating in the conquest of the trophy in the 2018/2019 season). Many of these players naturally ascended to the senior side, notably helping the club to win last season’s Portuguese championship.

One of the members of this FC Porto’s golden generation is Fábio Vieira, a cerebral winger who can also play as a central offensive midfielder. Fábio is not a traditional winger and offers different offensive solutions to those of other players in his squad. Although he can also carry his team forward in impressive runs throughout the side of the pitch, he is much more prone to use his left-foot either to carry the ball diagonally to the centre of the pitch or to find his teammates between the defensive lines with creative but fairly precise passes. He is also a willing shooter, notably in right-leaning free kicks, through which he has already scored some goals in his career. Having played for FC Porto since the beginning of his playing career, Fábio Vieira certainly wishes to assert himself in his club of the heart. This might be the season to do so.

Honourable mentions: Diogo Costa (20 – goalkeeper – Portugal); Tomás Esteves (18 – right-back -Portugal)

Gil Vicente // Lino // 20 // Brazil

Arriving at Gil Vicente from Brazilian team São Bernardo in the 2019/2020 season, Lino was often used as the first man of the bench by the Portuguese mid-table side (20 of his 26 matches he played as a substitute). A right-footed winger, he would play in both sides of the pitch with the same level of intensity, energy and speed, almost always providing a mid-game spark to his team. As the season progressed, he continued to play more and more meaningful minutes, proving to be adapted to the defensive and overall tactical rigour of Portuguese and European football. He should continue his ascending trajectory this season, either as a contributor off the bench or as a starter. Either way, his explosiveness will certainly be of delight to Gil Vicente fans.

CS Marítimo // Pedro Pelágio // 20 // Portugal

A hometown boy, Pedro Pelágio was born and raised in Funchal in the Madeira island, the residence of CS Marítimo. Football-wise, the Portuguese defensive midfielder is also a CS Marítimo-homegrown player, having never played for another club. Standing at 1.81 m, Pelágio is the prototype of the tall, aggressive but technically well-rounded defensive midfielder, not afraid to carry the ball, to pass it or do any other action that serves his team’s build-up. Off the ball, he has an astute sense of positioning and never shies away from ball disputes, many times showing his value in breaking the opposition’s transition or covering for his attacking teammates in defensive actions, be it in anticipation or any other type of more direct challenge to the opposing player who carries the ball.

His ascension has been steady, having made his debut at 18-years old for CS Marítimo senior side and each season playing more matches for the first team. I would be surprised if he doesn’t improve his playing time and overall influence this season for his team and become even more of a fan favorite.

Moreirense FC // Filipe Soares // 21 // Portugal

Another family story in this list: Filipe Soares forms, alongside his brother Alex Soares, the dynamic duo of box-to-box midfielders of Moreirense FC. The younger brother Filipe proves, as his coach Ricardo Soares already publicly stated, to be ready for playing in another dimension. Having played in all of Benfica’s youth teams with an impressive track record, Filipe Soares impressed Moreirense FC to sign him last season after making 37 matches, 3 goals and 8 assists for Estoril de Praia, a second-division side. Being only 19 years old, Filipe Soares was already one of the best players of the second division. Moreirense FC directors were right in betting on the young midfielder: alongside his brother he played 31 matches, scored 4 goals and contributed with 7 assists in Moreirense FC’s calm cruise to avoid relegation. An offensive-minded box-to-box but being able to play in all central positions of the midfield, Filipe Soares is undoubtedly one of the best young players in Liga NOS and the partnership with his brother may not last much longer.

CD Nacional // João Victor // 21 // Brazil

The other team from the Madeira island competing in Liga NOS, CD Nacional has long been famous for finding hidden gems in Brazil’s lower divisions, thanks to deep scouting operations, sometimes conducted by the president himself. João Victor seems to be the next in line. A winger able to play both sides and with a feel for the box and appearing in finishing positions, he certainly has impressed during pre-season and it seems as though he is ready to translate his technique and skills to a more intense and demanding league.

Honourable mention: Vincent Thill (20 – midfielder – Luxembourg)

FC Paços de Ferreira // Matchoi Djaló // 17 // Guiné Bissau/Portugal

Matchoi Djaló seems to be always a step ahead. Coming from Academia Mabodja, a youth football academy from Guiné Bissau, the young winger arrived at FC Paços de Ferreira being only 14 years old and always played in the youth team above his age range. At age 16, in the beginning of last season he made his professional debut and at age 17, in the end of last season he scored his first goal in Liga NOS – in both events he was one of the youngest players to do so. He still got most of his playing time in the U19 squad and he might still play some matches there this season. But Matchoi Djaló certainly deserves to be on this list, as he is one of the most promising players in Portuguese football and will surely improve his experience this season. When asked about him, his coach said ‘I’m not Santa Claus, he played because he worked and because he showed quality to play at this level’. Enough said.

Honourable mention: Martín Calderón (21 – midfielder – Spain)

Portimonense SC // Luquinhas // 19 // Brazil

Another example on discovering young and promising Brazilian players, Portimonense SC has in the last two seasons activated an U-23 team and used it, among other things, to provide a stepping stone to such players coming from Brazil with huge talent but in need of an adaptation to Portuguese football. Some of them have already made it to the first team, one example being the small but energetic offensive midfielder by the name of Luquinhas. He impressed last season with his clear-cut passing and dribbling skills so much so that he did not play as much for the U23 team as he could have, being almost all matchdays already on the first team’s bench (an 18-year old at the time). At the end of the season came his professional debut and he has continued to work with the first team, impressing in the pre-season. A growth season awaits him.

Rio Ave // Costinha // 20 // Portugal

Having divided his youth development years between FC Porto, SC Braga and Rio Ave, Costinha had an amazing first senior season playing for Rio Ave’s U23 side at the age of 18. He played every match, showing defensive consistency, long passing prowess, a fairly decent speed and tactical rigour. So much so that he became a regular in Portugal’s U19 national team. With Costinha you won’t find flashiness, but football is not about that. Costinha has proven a remarkable consistency since he has been in Rio Ave, being that type of reliable player that every coach dreams of having in his team. Although he might still play some minutes in the U23 team, I expect him to continuously fight for minutes in the senior side, as he has succeeded in becoming the no.2 option for right-back in this season’s squad.

Santa Clara // Lincoln // 21 // Brazil

Being only 16 years old, Lincoln made his debut for Brazil giants, Grêmio, by the hand of Luiz Filipe Scolari. In the next season he made 26 matches and 4 goals. He frequently collected caps in Brazil’s national youth sides, even playing in the U17 World Cup. But after a coach change in Grêmio, Lincoln ended up losing some space and his progression seemed to have taken a downward turn, with some loans to Turkey’s Caykur Rizespor and Brazil’s América Mineiro. Set on giving a new direction to his career he left Grêmio as a free agent and joined Santa Clara. He could not have made a better choice. He was one of the highlights of the Portuguese mid-table side (certainly the youngest), playing almost every match and impressing with his superior technique and passing traits. He also proved to be able to play any position in the midfield due to an impressive tactical adaptability. Already being observed by a number of bigger clubs, Lincoln sure seems ready to continue his rebirth as one of the most promising Brazilian talents.

Sporting de Braga // Abel Ruiz // 20 // Spain

SC Braga impressed everyone when they announced in the middle of last season to have signed Spanish youth international and La Masia rising star, Abel Ruiz. Having played an integral part in Spain’s U17 and U19 European cup wins as well as in Barcelona’s UEFA Youth League victory, the Spanish starlet managed to make his debut for Barça’s senior side in the 2018/2019 season. With so many accolades, he decided to continue his improvement as a player in one of Portugal’s biggest sides, where he will certainly earn more playing time than in Barça. The second half of last season helped him adapt to Portuguese football and now everyone expects wonders of this complete, mobile and hard-working striker, capable of offering much more than goals to his team. This season will be crucial for him to display the finishing consistency that can propel him to football stardom.

Honourable mention: David Carmo (21 – centre-back – Portugal)

Sporting CP // Nuno Mendes // 18 // Portugal

Ravaged by internal turmoil and financial constraints, Sporting CP elected to invert their first team policy and return to the basics: player development and a first-team side composed mainly of academy players. A new generation seems to have taken on that mantle. At the forefront of that group of players is 18-year old left-back Nuno Mendes. Having played 10 years for Sporting CP he was always named one of the best in each of his teams. Being just 17 years old he started playing for the U23 side and after the corona-break he became a starter for the senior team, to the detriment of Marcos Acuña, experienced left-back who was moved to centre-back in Sporting’s 3-4-3 system due to the ascension of the young left-back.

How not to be impressed by Nuno Mendes? Unbelievable pace and resistance, acute defensive sense of positioning, amazing ball control (it is quasi-impossible for him to lose the ball when it is in his control), the Portuguese left-back is a great fit for Sporting’s tactical system, in which he needs to constantly wander back and forth on the left flank. Some are already talking of a Portugal’s senior national team debut or a blockbuster transfer. Extremely humble and coachable, Nuno seems only set on working hard and improving as a player. That might be what will set him apart from other young promising talents.

Honourable mentions: Eduardo Quaresma (18 – centre-back – Portugal; Gonzalo Plata (19 – winger – Ecuador); Tiago Tomás (18-forward-Portugal)

Vitória SC // Marcus Edwards // 21 // England/Cyprus

Vitoria Guimaraes’ British midfielder Marcus Edwards (R) tries to score a goal against FC Porto’s Argentine goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin during the Portuguese league football match between Vitoria Guimaraes SC and FC Porto at the Dom Alfonso Henriques stadium in Guimaraes on February 16, 2020. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)

An England youth international and a Tottenham academy graduate, Marcus Edwards seemed to be a bit lost in the Spurs U23 team, struggling with some injuries in the process. Having been loaned to Dutch side Excelsior in the 2018/2019 season, the Spurs did not make a big fuss about letting him sign a permanent deal with historic Portuguese club, Vitória SC. The rest is history: Edwards was one of the best players of last year’s edition of Liga NOS, having the best season of his short but promising career. He played 36 matches, scored 9 goals and contributed with 9 assists. This left-footed explosive winger seems to be set on staying in Vitória, at least for this season, where he can benefit from playing alongside newly signed Portuguese international, Ricardo Quaresma. An amazing crosser and fairly decent finisher (also from long range), but also a willing defender, Marcus Edwards sure seems ready to be, once again, a sensation in Portugal top flight.

Honourable mentions: Noah Holm (19 – forward – Norway); Yann Bisseck (19 – centre-back – Germany); Lyle Foster (20 – forward – South Africa)


Read all our Talent Radar articles here.

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Scout Report: Agustin Urzi | Banfield And Argentina Winger

Tom Robinson writes a detailed scout report about the Argentina and Banfield attacking midfielder, Agustin Urzi.


With no confirmed date for football to return in Argentina, it’s been hard for most fans to get their fix during lockdown.  One player who has been keeping everyone entertained is 20-year-old Banfield winger Agustin Urzi, who has been regularly uploading amazing trick shots into a basketball hoop from his back garden to great acclaim.

Far from merely being a viral sensation, Urzi is one of the most exciting young players in the Argentinian Primera and has been linked to the likes of Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid.  An Argentina international at U20 and U23 level, the pacey winger is highly rated by club and country and has a €20 million clause in his contract.

Born and raised in Lomas de Zamora, a city in the south of the Greater Buenos Aires sprawl, Urzi joined local club Banfield at the age of eight. Nicknamed Caniche (Poodle), he was promoted to the Reserves as a 17-year-old and would have debuted for El Taladro sooner had it not been for an injury that sidelined him for several months.

Eventually, in December 2018, boss Julio Falcioni handed Urzi his debut and he scored twice in 10 appearances in his maiden campaign. By the following season Urzi was a regular, playing 18 games and quickly establishing himself as a key player. Meanwhile, Caniche also impressed for the national team, featuring for Argentina at the 2019 U20 World Cup in Poland and then winning a gold medal at the Panamerican Games later that summer.

More success for the Albiceleste would come in the form of triumph at the Pre-Olympic qualification tournament at the beginning of 2020, playing six times and scoring in the final against Honduras to seal a place at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Compared to Angel di Maria and Ricky Centurion, we look at what makes Urzi one of the must watch players in the Primera Division and why is he so highly coveted by Europe’s elite.

Pace & Acceleration

One of Urzi’s main weapons is his electric burst of speed and frightening turn of pace.  Raw and unrefined, there is a frenetic, almost roadrunner style, about the way he tears up and down the left flank and is part of what makes him both so enjoyable to watch and so difficult to defend against.

Typically hugging the left touchline and giving Banfield plenty of width, Urzi’s fleet of foot helps stretch the opposition by either isolating the full back or getting in behind the defence.

Below we see Urzi receive the ball wide on the left, where he pauses, allowing the defender to set himself and think he has an opportunity to steal the ball, before using his blistering acceleration to run into the huge space in behind.

As he races towards the penalty box, his pace carries him away from any challenge and gives him the possibility of firing a low ball across the six yard box or cutting it back to one of his teammates making a run in between the two defensive lines.

In the following example, we see Urzi using his pace to cut inside and exploit the half space.  As the opposition right back is caught in two minds as to who to engage, Urzi accelerates from deep to receive the ball more centrally for a run at goal, showing the variation of where his pace can be effective on the pitch.

Skill & Inventiveness

As demonstrated by the aforementioned social media skill videos, Urzi possesses a dazzling array of tricks and the confidence to pull them off.  While Urzi averages a good, if not outstanding, 5.74 dribbles per 90, he has the fearlessness and bravado to use his potent mix of pace and skill to take on opponents and, more often than not, beat them.

An extrovert personality and something of a joker off the field, this joie de vivre and irreverence is reflecting by his dribbling style and character on the pitch too, hence the apt comparisons to Velez’s Ricky Centurion. With a penchant for a nutmeg, Urzi loves to entertain the crowd and find creative solutions to break down opposition defences.

Crossing

Far from being just a speed and skill merchant, Urzi boasts an excellent crossing ability from wide areas.  Typically Caniche averages 3.25 crosses per game, which places him within the top 20 in the league last season, and he always delivers the ball with plenty of pace and whip.

Most of Urzi’s best crossing work comes from the left as shown above, but the example below also demonstrates his effectiveness on the right flank too, dropping deep, opening up the angle and sending an inch perfect cross onto the head of his teammate to send a towering header into the net.

While Urzi’s crossing ability is beyond doubt, his general passing accuracy (68%) could be improved and he will look to add more end product in the final third when it comes to assists.

Shooting

Although Urzi’s goalscoring figures aren’t anything to write home about, he does nevertheless possess a potent shot from range.  Indeed, he averages a decent 1.87 shots per 90 and more than half of these attempts come from outside the area.

The best example of his long-distance shooting came in a game against Colombia where he unleashed an unstoppable bullet from 25 plus yards.

Defensive Contribution

Away from the threat he poses in the final third, Urzi bounding energy and enthusiasm means that he is more than happy to track back and fulfil his defensive duties. He typically makes 2.2 tackles per game and is not afraid to go for a slide tackle.

It can be argued that Urzi can be somewhat over enthusiastic in his desire to get stuck in, as displayed by his six yellow cards in 18 games last season. His sending off for Argentina U23s against Colombia, when he lashed out at an opponent, was another example that suggests there is still work to be done on his discipline.

Conclusion

When football does get back underway in Argentina, it will be all the better for Urzi’s presence on the field.  His speed, skills and stirring style of play will be one of the highlights and another strong showing this season will see even more suitors circle for this diamond in the rough.

As for his national team future, he should be a game-changing presence for the Albiceleste as they go for gold in Tokyo next year.  Given the lack of out-and-out wingers in the Argentina set up, Urzi will do well to learn from Lucas Ocampos’ rise to prominence and he could one day be an interesting wide option for Argentina in the future.


Read all our other articles on Young Players here.

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Specials – Revisiting the 2000 ICC Knockout

It has been two decades since the second edition of the ICC Champions Trophy (christened as the ICC Knockout) was contested in Kenya. The 11-team competition ran from 3rd to 15th October, with all ten matches played at Nairobi’s Gymkhana Ground. The defending champions were South Africa, who had won the first edition of the Knockout in Bangladesh two years earlier.

The format gave the top five finishers at the 1999 World Cup – Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe – entry into the quarterfinals. For the remaining three quarterfinal berths, six teams – India, England, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh (newly inducted as the tenth full-member nation) and hosts Kenya – battled in a pre-quarterfinal round. Here is a look back at the tournament.

First Pre-Quarterfinal – Kenya v India

India had three debutants – Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Vijay Dahiya. Left-arm seamer Zaheer took 3/48, while leggie Anil Kumble snared 2/22, as Kenya were limited to 208/9. The best stand was 81 for the fourth wicket between Ravindu Shah (60) and captain Maurice Odumbe (51). India rode on fifties from captain Sourav Ganguly (66) and Rahul Dravid (68*) to post an eight-wicket win in the 43rd over.

Second Pre-Quarterfinal – Sri Lanka v West Indies

Sri Lanka were reduced to 10/2 in the fifth over, but Avishka Gunawardene (132) and Mahela Jayawardene (72) put on 160 for the third wicket to boost the total towards 287/6. The West Indies, for whom Marlon Samuels and Kerry Jeremy were debuting, crashed to 85/6 before folding for 179 in the 47th over. Left-arm pacer Nuwan Zoysa captured 3/34, while off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan had figures of 10-4-9-0.

Third Pre-Quarterfinal – Bangladesh v England

Opener Javed Omar retired hurt early in the innings, before returning to remain unbeaten on 63 out of Bangladesh’s total of 232/8. He added 64 for the fourth wicket with captain Naimur Rahman (46). England chased down the target rather comfortably, ensuring victory by eight wickets in the 44th over thanks to a second-wicket stand of 175 between Alec Stewart (87*) and captain Nasser Hussain (95).

Eleven teams battled it out for the 2000 ICC Knockout Trophy (source – imdb.com)

First Quarterfinal – Australia v India

World Cup champions Australia were edged out of the tournament by a resolute India. Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar raced to an opening stand of 66 within 12 overs, with the latter being particularly severe on the usually miserly Glenn McGrath. The left-handed Yuvraj, aged only 18, then took charge in the middle order – he came in at a tricky 90/3 and went on to score 84 from just 80 balls, steering the total to 265/9.

Two overs were deducted from the Australian innings owing to a slow over-rate. Ricky Ponting and Michael Bevan came together at 86/3 to put on 73, but both fell in quick succession to tilt the scales towards India. Captain Steve Waugh, along with Brett Lee, kept Australia alive until he was castled by Zaheer in the 43rd over to make the score 224/8. India held on for a gripping 20-run win with eight balls remaining.

Second Quarterfinal – Pakistan v Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka again endured a wobbly start, falling to 8/2 in the fourth over. But this time they failed to recover, as the pace duo of Wasim Akram (3/40) and Azhar Mahmood (3/52) dictated terms. The innings wound up at 194 in the 46th over. Southpaw Saeed Anwar (105*) added 90 for the first wicket with Imran Nazir and 105* for the second wicket with Yousuf Youhana to seal a nine-wicket win for Pakistan in the 44th over.

Third Quarterfinal – New Zealand v Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe had beaten New Zealand in an ODI series a week earlier, but the Black Caps prevailed this time. New Zealand’s total of 265/7 revolved around Roger Twose (85), who added 95 for the fifth wicket with Craig McMillan (52). In reply, Alastair Campbell (47) and Stuart Carlisle (67) guided the score to 88/1, before off-spinner Paul Wiseman (4/45) came good. The innings eventually ended at 201 in 42.2 overs.      

Fourth Quarterfinal – England v South Africa

An insipid display from England contributed to a facile win for South Africa. Skipper Shaun Pollock (3/27) led the way, first by stifling the openers – five runs were scored in the first eight overs – and then by taking wickets. Graeme Hick hit a spunky 65, but England were bowled out for 182. Jacques Kallis (78*) and Boeta Dippenaar (65*) put on 132* to confirm an eight-wicket victory for the Proteas with 65 balls to spare.  

First Semifinal – New Zealand v Pakistan

As was the case in the 1999 World Cup, Pakistan faced New Zealand with a place in the final at stake. However, they ended up on the losing side on this occasion. Anwar (104) cracked another century before being sixth out at 178. Abdul Razzaq (48) and Akram then struck crucial lower-order runs, even as left-arm pacer Shayne O’Connor bagged 5/46 – the only fifer of the tourney – to help restrict the total to 252.

Mahmood (4/65) reduced New Zealand to 15/2, but Twose (87) rose to the challenge again. The left-hander combined with Nathan Astle (49) for a third-wicket stand of 135, before four wickets fell for 37 to bring Pakistan back. When McMillan (51*) was joined by Scott Styris, New Zealand needed 65 in 71 balls. The duo kept their cool, adding 68* to complete a four-wicket win for New Zealand with an over remaining.



Second Semifinal – India v South Africa

India galloped into the final with a commanding victory over the defending champions. Ganguly led from the front, smashing 141* in 142 balls, studded with 11 fours and six sixes – the highest individual score of the tournament. His second-wicket alliance of 145 with Rahul Dravid (58), followed by a rip-roaring third-wicket stand of 82 with Yuvraj (41) propelled India to a tournament-high total of 295/6.

Zaheer continued his good start to international cricket with the wickets of Andrew Hall and Dippenaar in his first spell, which, along with the run-out of Gary Kirsten, resulted in the score sliding to 28/3 in the fifth over. Despite Mark Boucher’s 60, South Africa were never in the hunt, and were bundled out for 200 in 41 overs. Besides Zaheer, the spin duo of Kumble and Tendulkar also took two wickets each.

Final – India v New Zealand

The two teams produced a see-sawing contest that made for a fitting final. Ganguly and Tendulkar gave India the upper hand after Stephen Fleming won the toss, putting on 141 for the first wicket in 26.3 overs until the latter was run out for 69. Ganguly (117 in 130 balls, with nine fours and four sixes) hit his second successive century, but New Zealand reined in the runs thereafter to keep the total to 264/6.  

Seamer Venkatesh Prasad (3/27) removed Craig Spearman and Fleming with only 37 on the board. Kumble and Tendulkar were among the wickets too, and at 132/5 in the 24th over, New Zealand needed a rescue act. Chris Cairns, coming off a knee injury and batting at number five, found support in Chris Harris. They turned the tide with a sixth-wicket stand of 122 in 25.1 overs, which ended with the wicket of Harris (46).

By this stage, New Zealand required 11 in nine balls, and Cairns had reached his hundred. He hit the winning run off the fourth ball of the last over, finishing on 102* from 113 balls with eight fours and two sixes. New Zealand thus secured their first major title – and a prize of US$ 250,000 – with a four-wicket win. Ganguly (348) was the tournament’s highest run-getter, while Prasad led the bowling with eight scalps.

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Can Leeds reclaim their position as a regular Premier League club?

Mateus Carvalho casts a discerning eye over Leeds United to assess their prospects in the Premier League.


I still remember being a little kid, and obsessively watching football matches, reading sports newspapers and playing Championship Manager. It was inevitable that a number of stories started popping up in my football imagination, some of them self-discovered, some of them told by my grandfather. He often spoke to me about this English club called Leeds United, who once played the Champions League and then fell abruptly into the lower divisions of English football. Leeds United was perhaps the first story I heard about a football club falling into demise.

Indeed, in 2004 Leeds United were relegated to the Championship after years of being one of the top teams in English football. 16 years (and even a subsequent relegation to League One) have passed and finally Leeds returned to the topflight. This historical and globally famous achievement received all the more attention due to the man at the helm: Argentinian world-renowned coach, Marcelo Bielsa.

In this article, I do not intend to re-tell the story of Leeds United’s ascension. I instead wish to focus on the question formulated in the title: can Leeds reclaim their position as a regular Premier League club? I do not wish (or feel competent to) delve into the question of where in the table will Leeds United finish on a consistent basis or even whether they will become one of the best clubs in the Premier League again. Neither will I focus on the economic overview of the club, even if Leeds’ previous struggles were deeply financially rooted (I assume that the reader would not want that as well).

Instead I will focus on Leeds United short-term and long-term chances of re-solidifying a place in the Premier League, wherever in the standings that may be and assuming relative financial health of the club. After a brief statistical and tactical overview that I find useful to sustain my opinion, I will focus on the key factors that I believe to be integral for Leeds United to be competitive year in and year out in the Premier League: depth, experience and long-term club stability.

Brief tactical and statistical outlook

Leeds United under Bielsa has been incredibly consistent in their squad composition, style of play and tactical formations. I do not mean to be exhaustive in this analysis, but I do want to point out some patterns and characteristics of the team in the last two years (since ‘El Loco’ took over as coach of the Peacocks). Knowing his football philosophy and having watched Leeds’ first games of the season I’m confident in saying that the overall characteristics of the team will remain the same in the Premier League.

Leeds United displays itself in a 1-4-1-4-1 resting formation (the goalkeeper very much accounts for Leeds’ playing style) that will often develop into Bielsa’s trademark 1-3-3-1-3 or a 1-3-3-3-1 in attacking movements: (i) the defensive midfielder, Kalvin Phillips, dropping deep between the centre-backs in build-up; (ii) the full-backs going up and playing alongside the other central midfielder, Mateusz Klich; (iii) and then, in a very nuanced way, the wingers supporting the forward or alongside an offensive midfielder or second-forward depending on the degree of attacking inclination Bielsa wants to adopt for each match. It all becomes easier with some visuals:

Bielsa’s Leeds is a very intense, all around-pressing squad. Nonetheless, it is heavily dependent on a select core of players that will play almost every minute. Some indicators prove this:

  • In the 2019/2020 season, 11 players played more than 3000 minutes and apart from those only 4 players played more than 1000 minutes. A similar (yet less extreme) state of affairs can be found with regard to the previous season;
  • Also, last season amassed an impressive 30% of ‘aggression’ metrics, meaning the percentage of opposition pass receipts faced by a pressure event or defensive action;
  • If you look into any pressing heat map, you will see that Leeds United press in all areas of the pitch with around 1.5 times more defensive actions to opposition passes in any zone of the pitch (except for the back goalkeeper line). Their pressure starts from the striker – e.g. Patrick Bamford their starting striker the last two seasons has had an above 80% percentage of pressure events in the opposition’s half.

Just look at one example:

Lastly, Leeds United managed to attain positive xG differences (xG – xG against) in the last two seasons (before Bielsa took over they actually were a negative xG team) and in the promotion season their actual production more or less matched their xG data.

Leeds United only allowed 35 goals (best in the division, with roughly 0.8 goals conceded per match, a number a little bit superior to their xG against of around 0.5) and had the best goal difference of the Championship (+42, tied with Brentford FC). Their offensive production remained fairly stable throughout these two seasons, hovering around 1.5 xG and translating into 153 goal scored (an average of 1.62 per match).

Of course, the Premier League is more demanding, and this already shows this season: having started the season with a 3-4 loss against Liverpool and a 4-3 win against Fulham, they scored 7 goals (with an xG of 3.1) and conceded 7 goals (6.7 xG against). It is not difficult to understand that such a high pressing style will augment shot quality for the opponent when it does manage to surpass Leeds’s pressing lines. They seem, however, to have improved this side of their game in their last match against Sheffield United (won 1-0), with a xG result of 1.71 – 1.32 (positive differential of + 0,39).

The sample size this season is, nonetheless, very small.

So, can Leeds reclaim their position as a regular Premier League club?

By answering this question, I will spare you a redundant conclusion at the end: yes, they can. Easy, right? End of the article? Not even close. The key word here is regular. In order to reclaim a regular status in Premier League and avoid a return to Championship woes, especially in England’s top flight, a lot of factors need to concur. There is, obviously, a certain degree of uncertainty, especially in such a competitive league. Not always a ‘positive’ and offensive approach to football grants you success therein (just look at last season’s Norwich City). However, in my view these are some of the key factors for Leeds United to ensure long-term stability in the Premier League:

Squad depth

Depth for me has two veins, a short-term and a long term one. In what pertains to the short-term pertinence of squad depth, it seems to me that despite their extremely intense style of play documented above, Leeds United will fare well in the Premier League: the Championship has way more games and they managed to achieve incredible success and, above all, extremely consistent performance stats (even when results seemed to slag a bit). Not playing in European competitions and already eliminated from the Carabao Cup, it doesn’t seem to me that the core of players Bielsa relies on will falter too much under fatigue (also due to their incredible physical preparation under the Argentinian, with very rigorous trainings and body fat and other physiological demands imposed on players). That being said, squad depth sure plays a role on allowing Leeds United to nuance their approach to matches.

Case in point: the offensive midfielder/second forward role is very much interchangeable in Bielsa’s system as we’ve seen above. The signing of Rodrigo Moreno, a mobile striker, despite having already Patrick Bamford and Tyler Roberts in the squad, provides more solutions in the attacking front. Bielsa can play Roberts or Moreno as main strikers, substituting Bamford, or as a second-forward, but also as a No. 10-type player (although not a pure one). Bielsa might even want to combine the two of these three strikers, and play in somewhat of a 3-1-4-2 (like in the most recent Sheffield United clash, where he played left-back Dallas more in front, pushing Jack Harrison to the centre of the midfield alongside Klich and thus making a midfield line of 4, and assembling somewhat of a back three with Ayling as a right-centre back). This is only one example, but I can name a few other players that were brought this season with a view to having more depth in the squad, like Robin Koch, Diego Llorente.

Long-term, and especially if Leeds United enjoy a certain degree of success that propels them to European competitions, we know how demanding the English calendar can be. There, irrespective of the coach or style of play Leeds United will need a deep squad, with sufficient players to endure such a long season.

We should also bear in mind that the answer to this might very well rely on player development. Firstly, Bielsa is known for this; as we’ve seen at Leeds he took a mid-table side, hardly made any changes to the playing staff and drastically contributed to a performance improvement of the likes of Bamford (look at his goals résumé) or Kalvin Phillips (an England international nowadays), for example. Secondly, couple this with the select group of young players under long-term contracts that the Whites have already on the senior side, being groomed under one of the best coaches of the world: Meslier now the starting goalkeeper, Pascal Struijk, a centre-back from Ajax’s academy, Ian Poveda, a former Citizen, Leif Davis, Jamie Shackleton, Mateusz Bogusz, Robbie Gotts, Tyler Roberts, a more and more influential player since he started being developed by Bielsa at the age of 19. The list goes on, but the future sure seems bright.

Experience and defensive consistency

However competitive the Championship, nothing compares to the Premier League. Being a fairly inexperienced squad in this division, Leeds United could face no better first test than the first matchday clash with champions Liverpool FC. After losing 4-3 and conceding two penalties in the process, Bielsa laconically put it in the post-match presser: “at this level, errors equals goals”.

I believe it will be key for this team to be compact at all times, focused at all times and avoid not so smart decisions, mainly on the defensive side of things, that will amount to goals. In this aspect this is a learning curve and (sorry for the cliché) the more you play the better you’ll get. Of course, to have such an experienced coach at the helm in this first season back in the Premier League can be hugely beneficial to Leeds United; especially one that so carefully analyses their opponents and assembles his team’s game plan.

For Leeds you can also see this learning curve in the last matches, with one clean sheet and despite still allowing a fair number of shots, diminishing their quality (we can see that in the drop in xG against compared with the first two matches of the season but also in the mere 28% of shots on goal that Sheffield managed to make). To sum up, experience will be key especially in the defensive side of things – to allow 3 penalties in 3 matches in the Premier League is the most glaring example.

When you leave fewer things to chance and every player knows what they should be doing, you significantly diminish the risk of avoidable errors. Even then, Leeds players should be persistent even when things go wrong; because they might and almost certainly will eventually during a long season. To quote Bielsa yet again: “the fact that you can imagine and anticipate some situations of the game, doesn’t mean you can necessarily avoid them”.

Long-term club stability

When you rely so heavily on a coach as Leeds United have for the past two years, you might face a long-term risk: what to do once that coach leaves?

Indeed, as many journalists covering the team and club officials have publicly stated, Bielsa drastically changed the club’s culture and organization: not only on the pitch but off the pitch as well; from the analytics to the physical preparation of players; from the club’s transfer policy (to suit Bielsa’s system) to even some ethical dimensions of the game (look at his decision to force his team to concede a goal against Aston Villa after scoring when an opposition player was on the ground, injured). He is a fan favourite, the squad as presently constructed seems to enjoy (and more importantly) be used to his ideas and rhythm of play, and the board seems fully on board with his vision for the club.

This is great, truly! But it doesn’t seem that Bielsa can be a long-term coach of this team. And what will happen once he eventually leaves? A significant part of this team is very much the same to the one he took over, a mere mid-table Championship side.

I believe long-term stability is firstly ensured by keeping a core group of players in the squad, a skeleton identified with the club’s culture and pedigree and that has played together for a number of years. That presently exists at Leeds: Luke Ayling, Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas, Kalvin Phillips, Mateusz Klich, Hélder Costa, Patrick Bamford. It is important that at least some of these players stay at the club, helping to integrate new additions to the squad and to push forth the young players already brewing in the supporting cast. Even if a team ends up renovating itself, it should do so in a piecemeal way. I could now easily state various teams who got promoted, acquired a brand-new squad for the first-tier (spending huge sums in the process) and underachieving in the process (2018/2019 Fulham comes to mind).

And yes, I promised I would not delve into economics, but I cannot control myself: this would be much less burdensome on the club from a financial standpoint. Stability in the squad and in the club culture has undoubtedly economical benefits. In Elland Road that is known far too well (not for the best reasons). But that’s the good thing about history and our imagination – if we learn from it, hopefully we won’t repeat past mistakes.


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All data from Statsbomb.

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Analysis: Are Chelsea’s pressing issues a concern?

Vishal Patel takes a close look at Chelsea’s defence to understand why the club conceded so many goals in the 2019-20 Premier League.


Frank Lampard’s first season in charge of Chelsea was a broadly positive one. The club secured Champions League football, and made an appearance in the FA Cup final. A summer of spending has left Stamford Bridge feeling optimistic about future prospects, but a few issues continue to linger. Chief among them are Lampard’s inability to organise a defence. Chelsea ended up conceding 54 goals in the league, more than sides like Brighton, Burnley, and Crystal Palace. Having the 12th best defensive record in the league is certainly not the way to titles, and we’ll try and get into why Chelsea face these problems.

Of the 54 goals Chelsea conceded in the league last season, a quick look at the type of goals conceded points the way forward. The Blues conceded an inordinately high amount of goals from set pieces, long shots, and counter attacks (11, 9, and 9 respectively). These figures are well below the league averages (8.4 for set pieces, 6.4 from long shots, and 5.7 from counter attacks respectively). For the sake of this article, we will focus primarily on counter attacks, and try to isolate why Chelsea tend to struggle so much while defending them. The long shot goals stem partly from the same issues, and the keeper situation has been covered in depth. Set pieces have been another area of concern, and perhaps we will attempt to study this is a separate article.

Chelsea struggling to contain counter attack, long shot, and set piece goals, compared to their peers and the league average.

A quick glance at a few more defensive stats might help us understand the issues Chelsea are facing a little bit better. In terms of shots conceded, Chelsea actually did rather well, conceding only 7.13 shots per game, against a league average of 10.63. Only City keepers faced fewer shots per game than Chelsea, as the Blues outperformed even the mighty Liverpool on this metric. However, a closer look at the quality of shots conceded clarifies the picture a little more. The average shot Chelsea had to face was about 17.1 metres away from goal, or to put it slightly differently, the average shot Chelsea faced was from the edge of their own penalty area. Unsurprisingly, Chelsea are below average when compared to the league on that metric, with the average standing at 17.5 metres, and league winners Liverpool performing much better, and facing their average shot from 17.61 metres away.

Clearly, Liverpool’s defence have done a fine job of keeping their opponents far away from their goal, while Chelsea haven’t been quite as successful. This stacks up well with Jurgen Klopp’s identity as the high priest of pressing football. Klopp’s Liverpool, like his Dortmund, are adept at winning the ball back higher up the pitch. In fact, most successful teams across Europe utilise some form of pressing, and generally do so effectively for their results. It isn’t a coincidence that the last two winners of the Champions League are perhaps the two most aggressive pressing teams in all of Europe. So a few stats for Chelsea’s pressing could be useful to look at. The most widely accepted stat to measure pressing intensity, PPDA, is a good starting point. PPDA expanded is Passes Per Defensive Action. As the name suggests, the stat seeks to measure the number of passes a team allows the opposition to make before executing a defensive action (defensive duel, foul, interception, sliding tackle). Therefore, a lower number indicates a more intense press. In the Premier League, Southampton top the list in this regard, with a PPDA of just 8.16. Chelsea actually press more aggressively than most sides, which is reflected in a PPDA of 9.65 (vs a league average of 11.46), but are behind both Liverpool, who clock in a PPDA of 8.66. Indeed, it is also slightly behind the imperious Bayern Munich side, whose PPDA averages at 8.36. In theory, this should translate to a very high amount of ball recoveries in the opposition third of the pitch, as PPDA measures this for the higher 60% of the pitch. But this is where Chelsea’s pressing seems to fall short. Both Bayern and Liverpool make over 20% of their ball recoveries in the final third (20.2% for Bayern, 21% for Liverpool). The corresponding number for Chelsea lies at 17%, and immediately points out a flaw in the Chelsea press. So what’s going wrong?

Chelsea are pressing intensely (PPDA, lower is better), but not effectively (final 1/3rd recoveries, higher is better)

Most teams aspiring to be near the top of the football pyramid, and those at the top of it tend to play a style that incorporates pressing high up the pitch. The difference between those that succeed and those that don’t tends to lie in the efficacy of their pressing. So while Chelsea can always shift to playing a different way, Lampard’s tactical philosophy seems to dictate that they will look to press the opposition close their goal. Given the numbers above, it does appear that Chelsea are very willing to press  and make the effort, but the fact is that they don’t do so very effectively. Clearly, teams are able to play beyond the Chelsea press, and attack their back line. So what are teams like Liverpool and Bayern doing? Well, firstly, they simply aren’t losing the ball that much. More importantly, they don’t lose it in the wrong areas of the pitch. Liverpool tend to lose the ball mostly in the opposition’s third, with about 56% of their losses happening there. This is the best in the league, along with City. On the other hand, only 46% of Chelsea’s ball losses are in the opposition third. While that figure in itself doesn’t look disastrous, it’s just slightly above the average, and lower than the corresponding figure for sides like Sheffield United, and even Watford. That might hint as some issues with the structure Chelsea hold in their build up, causing ball losses in the wrong areas of the pitch. But the most important issue what Chelsea dont do in the moments just after losing the ball, and what teams like Bayern and Liverpool do in these situations.

Typically, the top teams tend to attack with both full backs, and leave 2 to 3 players in deeper areas to guard against the counter. The arrangement and functions of these players tends to make the difference during the counter-press that ensures a team regains the ball higher up the pitch successfully. Typically, sides like Liverpool and Bayern push these players up further to close the space between the lines. In most scenarios, these sides man mark any attackers that the opposition have left up for the counter, and play a sweeper in behind.

Liverpool’s shape on the ball

The idea of using this shape is to create and maintain access to the opponent’s ball players when they have the ball. Constant access to the opposition’s counter-attackers serves to slow the counter down in its infancy, often forcing play backwards, and into a wall of pressure from retreating attackers.

Here you see Liverpool creating access to the attackers as Wolves try to build their attack.

Here we see TAA closing down the receiver, with Fabinho and van Dijk marking attackers closely. Simultaneously, Joe Gomez is dropping deeper to sweep up any balls that come in behind.

From the same match, Fabinho is closing down the receiver, therefore slowing down the counter attack.

On the other hand, Chelsea simply haven’t been able to stop counter attacks because the defensive line/players simply dont push up to challenge for the ball once it is lost. The defenders tend to drop deep to protect the space in behind, but this inadvertently leaves too much space in midfield to exploit.

Chelsea defenders drop very deep upon losing the ball, therefore there is a massive amount of space to exploit between the midfield and defence. Teams on the break can exploit this fairly easily once they get past the first line of pressure.

Jorginho is no position to pressure the ball here (given his distance from Choudhury), but Perez and Maddison are in space behind him, as the Chelsea defenders have dropped deep.

Another image from the same match against Leicester – Chelsea lose the ball after an attack, and Maddison is free to pick up the ball under no pressure whatsoever, because the Chelsea defence is in retreat.

In the return leg against Leicester, Chelsea have just lost the ball here in midfield. Azpilicueta is too far away from Perez (who was behind the Chelsea midfield) to put any meaningful pressure on him. More importantly, Maddison (highlighted) is also running in behind Kante, and has a free run at the centre backs (who are too deep to challenge him immediately).

As if to exacerbate the point, Chelsea’s recent PL game against Liverpool saw this image. Chelsea have just lost the ball after an attack. Henderson is able to receive the ball in space, with the Chelsea midfield absent. A few seconds later Henderson’s long ball puts Christensen in an awkward position, and the defender is sent off.

From the same match, Liverpool have just lost the ball here. Zouma is forced to play it long as his nearest options are all marked, with the outball Werner (bottom left corner) also being marked by Fabinho (just outside the image)

Conclusion

The lack of a solid counter-pressing structure is clearly impeding Chelsea’s path to the next level. Of course, a team doesn’t necessarily have to play with a high pressing and counter-pressing approach, Chelsea seem to have chosen that path consciously. The Chelsea defence does look far more secure when they play three at the back because the team sits a lot deeper, playing with a block, and perhaps this is an option Lampard could turn to more often. However, given that Chelsea look set to play with four defenders and three midfielders, it does appear as though Lampard will need to find a solution to the pressing issues currently plaguing Chelsea.


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