After the awful performance and result against Wolves on Wednesday it seems that the Liverpool fans have called time on the managerial reign of Roy Hodgson. The defeat leaves the proud club only three points off the relegation places and eleven points adrift of European football.

Last season’s seventh place finish was bad enough for the fans but they still qualified for the Europa League which is the bare minimum they will accept. The prospect of missing out altogether would be a disaster.

It would seem the fans no longer want Roy in charge of their team, the body language and attitude of players would suggest they no longer want him in charge either, as soon as you lose the dressing room is it not time to pack up and go?

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Bayern Munich struggling in 10th travelled to the Imtech Arena to take on 5th place Hamburg. Louis van Gaal unable to pick Robben, van Bommel, Klose or Ribery stuck to his 4-2-3-1 formation, Ukrainian midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk continued in the centre of defence alongside Holger Badstuber. Danijel Pranjić at left back, Ottl and Altintop in midfield gave the team a patched up look.

Armin Veh playing 4-4-2 with Trochowski in the hole behind the front pairing of Guerrero and van Nistlerooy, the manager was also boosted by the inclusion of Mladen Petric on the bench back from injury the home fans would have been confident in taking on the Munich giants.

After a very sluggish start to the game from both sides Hamburg began to put their foot on the ball. Bayern’s tactic was to play a high defensive line trying to squeeze the game and restrict the time Hamburg’s players had on the ball.

It worked well and they continually won the ball back with ease, the problem being there was no quality to any of Bayern’s passes so the ball was given away far too often and Hamburg continued to heap on the pressure.

Without the ball Bayern’s defence sat very narrow, Lahm and Pranjić tucking inside to protect the makeshift central partnership, Collin Benjamin and Marcell Jansen used this to their advantage, constantly finding plenty of space to get forward they both saw lots of the ball early on.

The first chance of the game inevitibley came from a Bayern defensive area, Tymoschuk got himself in a muddle and was caught underneath a cross, Lahm couldn’t react, the ball fell to Paolo Guerrero and luckily for the Ukrainian his shot fizzed wide of the post.

Seeing this close call seemed to wake up Bayern’s midfield and for the first time they got on the front foot and a few minutes of pressure followed, Thomas Müller going close with a powerful shot, deflected over the bar but no corner was given.

Hamburg then gave themselves a little break from pressuring the ball high up the pitch allowing Bayern more time on the ball, Schweinsteiger and Kroos trying to pull the strings, Pranjić and Lahm finding some space to advance up the pitch, unfortunately Schweinsteiger was receiving the ball far too deep in the midfield to cause any damage in Hamburg’s defence, Armin Veh’s men looked very comfortable.

Mario Gómez cast a lonely shadow upfront lacking any support or service it was a frustrating night for last weeks hat-trick hero, without the ball everyone but Gómez worked to bet behind the ball, once in possession the midfield couldn’t close the gap from the striker and most moves petered out.

Bayern’s best chance of the first half came from a fast break after a tidy move Toni Kroos really should have put Hamit Altintop in on goal, the man with the best cheekbones in football was furious with the young German when the shot sailed over the bar.

Very few clear cut chances in the first half, Bayern’s tactics limited Hamburg’s space Piotr Trochowski touches could have been counted on one hand, the most excitement was when Franck Rost had to come off after a Schweinsteiger challenge, Czech Jaroslav Drobny took his place in net just before the Half Time whistle.

Louis van Gaal must have had a stern word for his team at the interval as they came out in the Second Half was a full tank of gas, closing the ball down all over the pitch and not giving Hamburg any space at all, however it is not good enough to only limit your opponents you need to show some attacking ambition.

Glimpses of Thomas Müller’s talents and the driving runs of Schweinsteiger at times breathed life into the Bayern attack but it was ineffective as a Wayne Rooney apology and Hamburg had enough to resist the attacks.

Substitutions were made and Armin Veh choose to freshen up the front line, Mladen Petric and Maxim Choupo-Moting replaced Guerrero and van Nistlerooy, it made an instant impact, the more mobile Moting was able to close down the Bayern defence faster, his runs made space for Jonathan Pitroipa to ghost through the centre of Bayern’s defence.

The movement of Petric, Moting and Pitroipa upset a tired fragile Bayern defence and with Trochowski becoming more influential the smart money would have been on a Hamburg goal. Schweinsteiger tried another of his trademark runs but lost the ball cheaply, Petric had dropped into that space, with time and space on the ball he released Pitroipa with a perfectly weighted pass, clear through on goal the Burkina Faso midfielder’s shot beat Butt but couldn’t beat the post, wheeling away to celebrate Pitroipa could only watch his shot crash off the woodwork.

In the end both teams struggled to create many chances, Bayern fans may have questioned why van Gaal didn’t try something else, the like for like change Gómez for Olic didn’t add anything to the game, bringing Olic on for Kroos for the last 15 minutes could have helped Bayern’s cause, van Gaal’s hands were pretty much tied by the lack of options available to him.

Armin Veh will see this as two points dropped, his team played well in patches, with the amount of possession Hamburg had they should have created many more chances, and that’s what will worry Veh the most.

 FINAL SCORE: Hamburg 0 Bayern Munich 0

Hamburg v Bayern Munich – Tactical Extra

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This is the article I wrote for STV Sport before the match between Rangers and Valencia

After the dust settled on Rangers 4-1 win over Motherwell on Saturday, thoughts would have turned to this week’s opponents and early La Liga pace setters Valencia. A few hours after the full time whistle at Ibrox, Valencia were in action with the small task of taking on Catalan giants Barcelona in the Nou Camp and any fans who tuned in to cast their eye over their midweek opponents would have witnessed what truly was a “game of two halves”.

In a first half that consisted of Los Che taking the game to Pep Guardiola’s star studded side, dominating the play and deserving their half-time lead, Unai Emery’s team could have easily been held more than the slim one goal advantage. The second half was a much different story.

Pep Guardiola’s team talk worked a treat, with Barcelona pinning Valencia back in their own half for much of the half. A superb team goal finished by Iniesta gave them their equaliser, mimicking the movements of Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith earlier that day. Xavi’s pass sliced through four defenders and Iniesta applied the finish, making it 1-1 and later Carles Puyol left his defensive post unguarded to crash a powerful header into the net and give Barca a crucial home win.

The heroics of Cesar Sanchez in the Valencia net kept this game close, denying Villa and Messi countless times, but the defeat dropped Valencia down to third in the league after a bright start to the league campaign. There was, however, enough in the first half to show any Rangers fans watching that this is a team to be respected.

For many observers, this was supposed to be the season where Valencia fell away, the pressure to sell key players finally telling and seeing Valencia living in reduced circumstances, with results to match. David Villa and David Silva were the most notable departures from the Mestalla but Valencia also said goodbye to Nikola Zigic, Carlos Marchena, Alexis and Ruben Baraja. All six were regular starters last season, forcing Emery to utilise his squad to cover the gaps.

Predicting Valencia’s line-ups this season have been a job impossible for even Mystic Meg. In the league alone an astonishing 22 players have been used. Having two players in each position is a situation most clubs dream of, and for Emery to go on and use each player is a method seldom used in football these days.

In La Liga the manager has set his team up for the majority of games in a 4-4-1-1 formation, deviating slightly to 4-2-3-1 against Barcelona. It seems very likely he will use one of these formations for the trip to Ibrox.

Cesar Sanchez has been the only ever present so far. After spells at Real Madrid and Real Zaragoza, and the ill fated time at Tottenham Hotspur, the goalkeeper moved back to Spain at the tender age of 38 to make the number one jersey his own. Still playing at a very high level his performances have boosted the performances of the back four.

With Portuguese international Miguel out injured, Bruno will start at right back. He’s a tough tackling no frills full back, more defensive minded than Miguel although he sometimes gets caught out of position.

In the centre should be the pairing of David Navarro and Ricardo Costa. Navarro is more famous for the seven month ban he received after the much documented fight against Inter Milan, but he remains a no-nonsense, solid defender who is very strong and good in the air. His partner Ricardo Costa is one of Emery’s six new signings.

He spent half of last season on loan at Lille in France where he played at centre back and left back and has the ability to play anywhere along the back four. This positional knowledge helps out the defence no end, able to fill gaps left by the full backs he then has the pace to track attackers down the wing.

The choice of left-back on Wednesday could help determine not only how Valencia attack, but also could show a weakness that Rangers could exploit. Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba have been fighting for the position so far this season. On Saturday against Barcelona both were picked to link up down the left hand side and though the original team sheet showed Mathieu at left back with Alba slightly further forward, throughout the game both swapped positions taking it in turns to defend and attack.

Emery’s decision to leave out Juan Mata made this selection possible but with Mata’s return on Wednesday almost guaranteed this leaves the kind of selection headache managers dream about.

Whether playing as a defender or a midfielder Mathieu is not scared to go forward and join the attack. Against Malaga and Bursaspor he was used in a defensive role but very often when the team on the attack it is no surprise to find him in line with Valencia’s forwards.

With only 11 minutes of the game gone against Barcelona, Mathieu (red) had already decided to break forward. Nearly on the shoulder of the last defender, with Alba (yellow) pushing up trying to release Mathieu down the wing, there is acres of space behind the full back which forwards and midfielders could easily use against them. In these situations the alertness of Ricardo Costa is hugely important.

Against Bursaspor, Mathieu did a fantastic job of controlling playmaker Volkan Sen though. Whenever the ball was played into his feet Mathieu was touch tight and he frustrated the Turkish international giving him very little time on the ball. When Valencia pushed forward looking for more goals though, Sen started to exploit the space Mathieu vacated.

A simple ball over the top caught Mathieu (red) out of position in one instance. Costa (yellow) had to come across quickly to close down Sen (blue) and stop the attack. In this situation Bursaspor didn’t do a good job in supporting the attack, as a darting run from any of the midfielders could have exploited the space left by Costa and easily have led to a great chance. Rangers’ midfielders will need to be alert when Costa covers Mathieu’s position, Steven Davis is wonderful at breaking from the midfield and as his thunderous shot against Motherwell proved he is also good enough to take advantage of any space given.

Unai Emery might decide to play Jordi Alba on Wednesday to keep things tight. Not picking Mathieu does however mean Valencia are without a player who has great aerial presence and is a very technically sound defender. The team would also miss his ability on the ball, his pacy breaks from the back and his aptitude for turning defence into attack very quickly.

Alba too has these abilities, although not to the extent of Mathieu. The young full back was extremely impressive while marking Lionel Messi on Saturday, showing he has the speed and the strength to keep up with one of the world’s best. His size could be his downfall though. Up against Lafferty, Broadfoot or Whittaker, Rangers would win the aerial battle giving them an effective out-ball. Mathieu at 6 foot 3 wouldn’t be as easily beaten.

Defensively, the full back area is one that Rangers could punish if worked properly, Valencia’s midfield worked very hard to close down Barcelona and win the ball back, with four midfielders (yellow) closely chasing the ball, and the defenders’ attention also trained on the ball.

This led to Bruno (pink), being caught in a central area, unaware of David Villa (red) pushing down the flank followed closely by Maxwell (blue). The majestic skills of Iniesta (green) beat the midfield and he was able to find Villa in acres of space supplying him with a chance to shoot on goal.

With Steven Naismith in good form recently, it is important he is wise to Bruno’s positioning and tries to use this to his and Rangers advantage. It is obvious Rangers don’t have the quality in midfield that Barcelona do, but the space is there to be exploited.

One of Valencia’s great strengths this season has been the pressure the midfield puts on the ball, turning this into countless fast break situations. Emery will likely play with a four in midfield, favouring a creative player to support the front man rather than playing forwards Aduriz and Soldado up front together. The latter, now fully fit after missing the start of the season will lead the line, the five players picked to play behind him will be the result of hours and hours of discussion and deliberation.

Nine players have occupied these positions so far this season, each bringing their own attributes to Valencia’s style and success on the counter attack. One of the first names on the team sheet will likely be Juan Mata, who was rested against Barca with the trip to Ibrox in mind.

Mata was let go by Real Madrid and signed for Valencia on a free in 2008 and for two years he has quietly been making a name for himself. Now out of the shadows of Villa and Silva this could be Mata’s breakout year. Undoubtedly talented on the ball, he has the ability to play off the front man in a creative role but seems to be more effective starting from the left and breaking into the box.

His excellent finishing abilities have led to 26 goals for the club so far and at only 22 it will not be long before the big club vultures are back at the Mestalla waving their chequebooks. Right now he is a Valencia player and one to be very wary of.

Whoever Emery picks to support Soldado and Mata, be it Pablo Hernandez, Manuel Fernandes, Ever Banega or Tino Costa, Rangers must not give the ball needlessly away in midfield or up front as many of Valencia’s goals this season have come from breathtaking fast breaks.

 

When Valencia go forward, regardless of their formation, there are always players in support. Against Malaga when it was 4-4-1-1 four players broke forward providing options left and right of the man in possession. Then, against Barcelona, while playing 4-2-3-1 a very similar break saw four players bombing forward giving the man on the ball choices and leading to the opening goal, Right midfielder Pablo (red) cut in from the right to get on the end of Mathieu’s cutback, Soldado’s run (blue) to the back post caught the attention of Puyol and Maxwell gave Pablo the space needed to apply the finish.

Another great example of Valencia’s strength in attack was the fourth goal against Bursaspor. With 14 minutes to go and already three goals to the good, Valencia won the ball back next to their own bye-line (red). Three passes and 10 seconds later, Soldado (yellow) found himself one on one with the goalkeeper and had an easy job to make it 4-0. It was a fine example of the counter-attacking style the Spanish team have shown so often this season.

Undoubtedly Wednesday night will be a very tough test for Walter Smith’s team, and if Rangers are to have a genuine hope of advancing from the Group Stage some kind of result will be needed. At home, the Rangers fans will want a victory and this pressure to go forward could fall straight into Valencia’s style and strengths. Rangers can’t afford to sit back and defend but caution must be taken when attacking in numbers.

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