Underdog Stories: Czechia

 

Czech Republic (or Czechia). The moment you hear these 2 words, you get the images of Prague and it’s clamouring medieval era streets and of course Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Vladimir Smicer, Petr Cech, Tomas Rosicky, Milan Baros and who can forget the man, the myth, the legend: Antonin Panenka. 

Once the mighty yet underdog nation of Czechoslovakia boasted some of the most technically astute players ever known to man and their dark horse performances at various international tournaments, highlight being the 1976 Euros where they triumphed against all odds. This was the result of widespread change at grassroot level, also involving the use of Sports Science in the game. The country started churning out very good prospects which made the core of this team.

The West Germany of 1976 was a war-machine, ready to crumble any opposition in their way. Reigning world and European champions, they were still led on the touchline by the brilliant mind of Helmut Schön and directed on the pitch by the legendary Franz Beckenbauer. While West Germany did their part in dispatching the host nation, Yugoslavia in the second semi-final in Belgrade, 24-hours earlier in Zagreb, the Netherlands had been caught off-guard, losing their semi-final in extra-time against the largely unconsidered Czechoslovakia. 

 Czechoslovakia had twice been beaten World Cup finalists, in 1934 and 1962, and had reached the semi-finals of the very first European Championship in 1960. 16 years between those latter two peaks in achievement, this new appearance at the business end of a major international tournament was most unexpected. Failure to qualify for all major tournaments beyond the 1962 World Cup, apart from 1970 World Cup in Mexico, where Czechoslovakia played in group stage and lost all three matches, had left them looking ineffectual as a football-playing nation. In fact, after becoming European champions in 1976, they would revert to recent type and fail to qualify for the 1978 World Cup. It all made their success of 1976 seem like a mirage.

 

(Photo by Andrew Teebay/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

A 3-0 defeat to England at the Old Wembley had provided Czechoslovakia with a shaky start to their qualifying campaign. It was a game that put the Don Revie led England into a false sense of security. They would win only two further games, both against the group minnows, Cyprus. When the two nations faced one another in Bratislava, exactly one year after England’s victory, there was a complete change of fortunes. Czechoslovakia came from a goal down to win 2-1 and the advantage was now theirs. England finished with just 1 defeat in their qualifying campaign but the group was won on other competitive results against Portugal- heart break for the Englishmen, a party like mood in Czechoslovakia. 

During the quarter finals, Czechoslovakia was pitted against USSR. It was the classic Eastern Bloc face-off. The more day-to-day life in Bratislava and Prague was directed from offices in Moscow, the more Czechoslovakia wanted to bloody the noses of those pulling the long communist strings. The Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was still very fresh in the mind.  It was a symbolic 2-0 victory that Czechoslovakia obtained in Bratislava during the first leg and a defiant 2-2 draw in Kyiv during the second that took them to the finals in Yugoslavia. Jozef Móder was the hero of the piece, scoring the opening goal in the first game and both of Czechoslovakia’s efforts in the return.  

The team waiting for them in the semi-finals was the Netherlands. Johann Cryuff waiting for the fatigued Czechoslovakia team alongside Johan Neskeens, Rob Rensenbrick and Co. Another shocking victory, this time with a score line of 3-1 saw the minnows progress to the final. Was it a case of Dutch becoming complacent, or Czechoslovak organisation and determination definitively winning the day? On a rainy evening in Zagreb, it was quite probably a helping of both as, while Czechoslovakia were an increasingly potent force, Oranje were within the grips of one of their finest ever tournament meltdowns. Getting on the end of Antonin Panenka free-kick, Anton Ondruš, the Czechoslovak sweeper, opened the scoring with a beautifully directed first-half header. However, he then levelled the game for the Netherlands in the second half with a disastrously graceful side-footed volley, which found the top corner of his own goal. The game progressed into extra-time. With a penalty shoot-out looming over, František Veselý worked his way down the right flank, before arcing over a cross to the back post, where it was met by the head of the long-striding Zdeněk Nehoda. Netherlands were then caught in the open for a third time with less than two minutes remaining when, with an almost Cruyfian flourish, Veselý rounded Piet Schrijvers to make it 3-1. In what was an eventful game, Jaroslav Pollák was sent off on the hour mark for Czechoslovakia after mistiming a sliding tackle on the saturated turf. Things even turned sour when Johan Neskeens was sent back to dressing room for a mistimed tackle, culminating the meltdown of the Dutch during the course of 120 minutes. It had been a game played with a great sense of skill and style in torrential conditions. This was confirmed when both sets of players embraced one another upon the final whistle. The respect was there for all to see.

The following day, with a little over 25 minutes of their semi-final against Yugoslavia remaining, Die Teammannschaft were trailing 2-0. But the West Germans dramatically turned the game around for a 4-2 victory after extra-time. Another historic final for Czechoslovakia. The West Germans stood between them and absolute glory. Amidst all of this, the legend of Antonin Panenka was there in the making. A 2-0 advantage was cut down in the very last minute by the Germans with a Bernd Hölzenbein equalizer from a Rainer Bonhof corner. The match went down to penalties and then Antonin Panenka got the opportunity to win an international trophy for his home country, which he did- via a chipped penalty which became to be known as the ‘Panenka’. Francesco Totti vs Netherlands in Euros 2000 semis, Zinedine Zidane vs Italy in World Cup 2006 final. There are countless examples of the Panenka penalty over the years with many such moments coming in most crucial of matches.

 

(Photo by Karl Schnörrer/picture alliance via Getty Images)

What a way to write history on a grand stage and this victory along with various changes made at grassroot level resulted in the rise of a potential golden generation in the late 1980s, early 1990s with clubs like Sparta Prague, Slavia Prague, Bohemians 1905, FK Viktoria Plzen, FK Jablonec, FK Mlada Boleslav seeing an increase in the talent coming through the youth ranks. But the “Velvet Revolution” and the collapse of political order in 1989 brought an end to the various sporting schemes which helped the game thrive in the country. A funding gap was created due to this with influx of money decreasing over the years, which saw the outflux of talent from the country. By 2005, only 5 members of National Team were plying their trade in the country’s top tier league competition and rest of the members were making a name for themselves abroad. 

Playing under the new nation of Czech Republic (called Czechia in present day), the so-called exciting prospects took the world by storm in 1996. With the Bosman ruling and its potential game changing impact, a new market opened up for the Czech players to make a mark at club level and Euros 1996 became a stage to show their talent to the world. The underdogs defied the odds and reached to the finals of the competition and were moments away from getting hands on the coveted trophy but an Oliver Bierhoff double (including a golden goal winner) shattered the dreams of this tiny new nation, losing the match by the score line of 2-1. A revenge complete for now unified Germany.

 

(Left-Right) Back row: Jiri Nemec, Jan Suchoparek, Michal Hornak, Pavel Nedved, Lubos Kubic and Petr Kouba. Front row: Radoslav Latal, Pavel Kuka, Karel Poborsky, Radek Bejbl and Patrik Berger.(Photo by Professional Sport/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

But this tournament opened up the gates to European club football for many of it’s international players with the change in ruling of Non-European players allowed in squad in many countries after the Bosman ruling. Pavel Nedved joined Lazio, spearheading the Czech football revolution for many years and making his mark at Lazio and then at Juventus. Karel Poborsky (and his famous “Poborsky Lob”) joined Manchester United, winning a Premier League medal in his 18-month stay at the club, then moving to Benfica, Lazio and finishing his career in Czech Republic. After losing Poborsky to their arch-rivals Manchester United, Liverpool turned their attention to Patrik Berger, who spent 7 glorious years at the Merseyside club, then moving further south and joining The Pompeys, Portsmouth and then Aston Villa before calling it quit on his career in England, moving back to his native country to see out his last few years of the career. 

 

(Photo by Andrew Teebay/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

While the current crop of players made a name for themselves with their performances and winning their dream moves to the Elites, the next batch of youth was brimming on the chance to send shockwaves, in which they succeeded. The U21s of Czech Republic performed very well at U21 Euros, finishing runners up at 2000 edition which was held in Slovakia and winning the competition in 2002, hosted by Switzerland and brought the talent of iconic Petr Cech to the mainstream. Both the editions of competition saw the involvement of many players, who then went to have a good career including the likes of Petr Cech, Milan Baros, Zdenek Grygera, Marek Jankulovski, Jaroslav Drobny, David Rozehnal, Tomas Hubschman, Radoslav Kovac. (Tomas Rosicky was supposed to take part in 2000 edition but he had become a mainstay in senior team by the time qualification rounds for the tournament were over).

Carrying this momentum forward, Czech Republic again gave the European powerhouses a tough fight, reaching the semi-finals of 2004 Euros, setting up a clash with another underdog team in Greece. Milan Baros’ performances almost took them to another European final but an silver goal winner again destroyed the dreams of this tiny nation. An appearance at 2006 World Cup was another highlight for the country but by the turn of the decade, the Golden Generation was in its twilight years and the outflux of talent to neighbouring countries of Germany and Austria curtailed the development of many prospects. 

 

(Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

But with ex-players getting into administration level jobs in the Czech Republic FA, things are turning around. Karel Poborsky himself is the Technical Director, looking after the development of players representing the country at youth levels and creating a good path for them to take the chance to represent Czech Republic at senior level when they are ready; by trying to emulate the same sporting schemes and atmosphere from which their Golden Generation benefitted. 

A country which influenced German and Belgian Football Renaissance is itself going through the same phase and the signs are looking good till now. Exciting prospects like Alex Kral, Adam Hlozek, Adam Karabec, Alex Kral, Michal Sadilek, Ondrej Lingr, Ondrej Sasinka, Christian Frydek, Filip Soucek, Dominik Plechaty, Zdenek Hucek, Vojtech Patrak, Matej Polidar have stepped up and made a mark for their hometown teams and for country at Youth Levels too, again attracting the attention of scouts from other parts of Europe.

And Monday’s match against Scotland was an example of this Czech Football Renaissance. A brace by Patrick Schick which included a lobbed goal from 50 yards out is just the start of this generation’s rise to the top. The journey is long but the Czechs are ready for it, no matter what hurdles lie in front of them. 

 

(Photo by Craig Williamson- SNS Group via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Tactical Analysis: Unai Emery’s Villarreal

With normalcy kicking in i.e fans returning slowly and steadily back to stadiums, cup finals will have another aspect to become memorable- now that the 12th man will truly be back. One fanbase which will be travelling to support their team is that of ‘Yellow Submarine’- Villarreal CF who will be playing in their first ever major final- UEFA Europa League 2020-21 final in Gdansk on 26th May. The club also has the chance of winning their first ever major trophy in the club’s 98 year history. Such an occasion would have been bland for Villarreal CF had there been no fans but they have their footballing gods to thank now that it is safe to some extent to allow certain percentage occupancy of stadiums.

The Rise of Yellow Submarine from depths to the surface 

Villarreal, a town of roughly 50,000 occupants is home to the El Submarino Amarillo. A club very close to the small community is an example of how a small club can harbor the ambitions of taking the fight to the elites. The club has spent majority of its time in the lower divisions of Spanish footballing pyramid before going under a change of ownership by a local businessman (and one of the wealthiest persons at that time in Spain) Fernando Roig Alfonso. Under his astute ownership, the club underwent a revolution- rising to Segunda Division at the start of 1990s before reaching La Liga for the first time in their history in 1998. Unlike the usual money-minded profit leeching businessman owners in football, Fernando Roig’s Alfonso focused more on the investment in human resource rather than spending cash just for the sake of it, slowly and steadily building one of the best scouting networks and youth development programs in the Valencian district (and eventually one of the best in Spain), fighting toe to toe with it’s local rival- Valencia CF who also were enjoying their glorious era at the same time. The club suffered the ignominy of relegation after their first season in La Liga but the club learnt from this experience, worked hard and worked efficiently to win back the promotion and build up the team slowly and steadily to climb up the table in La Liga over the years. 

This new-found stability provided the club to compete in now defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup, reaching its final 3 times and winning twice- the latter which provided the chance to play in UEFA Cup (2003-04) for the first time in its history- not bad for a club who wasn’t playing first division football 5 years back. On their major European Debut, the club became a dark horse- reaching the semi finals on their first attempt. This was the chance for the Yellow Submarine to make a name for themselves on the big stage. But their local and arch rivals, Valencia CF, stood in their way. Valencia did overshadow Villarreal yet again, going on to win the trophy themselves. But this budding club learnt from it’s experiences- another appearance in the final of UEFA Intertoto Cup provided the Yellow Submarine to play in UEFA Cup (2004-05) but this time it was yet another budding club in AZ Alkmaar who were themselves looking to break the dominance of the Old Guard of Netherlands- the big 3: Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord Rotterdam- who ended up putting a brave display in the Quarter Finals. Ever gracious in their defeat, Villarreal again learnt from this experience and side by side building’s it’s profile and attracting the interest of some footballing giants- Diego Forlan, Juan Roman Riquelme to name a few with whom they reached to semi finals of UEFA Champions League on their debut- under the stewardship of Manuel Pellegrini.

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

An 88th minute penalty miss by Riquelme in front of the 23,500 seater El Madrigal ended up costing Villarreal an opportunity of contesting for the grand prize in Paris that summer, a miss which sent Arsenal to their first ever UCL final. Yet another heart break but the club yet again gracious in defeat, learned from this experience.A slight slump in form saw the club out of action in UCL. But this absence was short lived. The club achieved it’s best ever league finish-2nd place in 2007-08 La Liga season which ensured them of an automatic place in UCL Group stages of 2008-09- playing in a group which consisted of yet another English giants, reigning UCL winners at that time (and Yellow Submarine’s opponents on 26th May)- Manchester United, the pride of Glasgow- Celtic FC and Danish side Aalborg FC. The Valencian side had the opportunity to play the Mancunian side again- playing against them for the first time in group stages of 2005-06 CL campaign- churning out an entertaining 0-0 draw on both occasions. Even in this campaign, both sides drew 0-0 at Old Trafford and El Madrigal. They finished 2nd in the group- advancing to R16 where they outclassed Greek champions Panathinaikos. Yet another Quarter Final appearance beckons for the budding club. And to add spice and seasoning to the occasion, they were matched up with Arsenal. A feeling of revenge developed among the tiny town- to take the fight to London and finish off the tie after a 1-1 draw at El Madrigal. But it was Robin Van Persie who produced one of his best ever performances in UCL for Arsenal in the 2nd leg- sending Villarreal and their strong fan contingent back home.

(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Another slump of form and managerial merry go around kept Villarreal away from defying the odds but again this slump was short lived. Yet again the footballing gods graced the club. This time it was a slot in newly branded UEFA Europa League (2010-11) after RCD Mallorca were found to have massive financial implications. The club, just like it’s hard working population of the town it represents which has historically consisted of Orange and Mango cultivators, took this granted opportunity like there was no tomorrow. A mix of entertaining yet pragmatic performances saw the El Submarí Groguet reach yet another semi-final of European Competition- beating sides such as Club Brugge, PAOK, Dinamo Zagreb, FC Twente, SSC Napoli, Bayer Leverkusen. This resulted in a clash with tournament’s favourite FC Porto led by a young and enigmatic Andre Villas Boas and spearheaded by Radamel Falcao- the competition’s top scorer. But Villareal also boasted some local cult icons- led by Giuseppe Rossi. Villarreal started the match in best fashion- taking the lead at Estadio Do Dragao but the second half saw one of the best ever performances in UEFA Europa League’s recent history. With the support of the fans, The Super Dragons responded with a staggering 5 second half goals to win the first leg. Villareal won the 2nd leg 3-2 but it wasn’t enough. Yet another exit at the semi final stage, yet another ‘what could have been moment’ for the Yellow Submarine. 

The club was flying so high over the years that it eventually was humbled down. But neither the club nor the fans thought that it would happen so soon. 2011-12 La Liga season- a season marred with club crumbling under hefty expectations and a horrendous form in 2nd half of the season saw the club falling down to Segunda. What’s worse is that their recently appointed manager- Manolo Preciado suffered a fatal heart attack on the same day of his appointment and sadly passed away. A tragedy like this coupled with relegation and mass exodus of it’s squad to greener pastures saw the club facing a Herculean task of coming out of this adversity unscathed. 

When all looked lost, the club yet again rose from the ashes like a Phoenix- a brave run in final gameweeks of the La Liga 2 saw the club clinch a 2nd place and automatic promotion back to La Liga. A reborn Villarreal with all of its highs and lows in this glorious 15 year period- straight away secured a place in UEL right after promotion. The 2nd half of 2010s saw the club become a regular of European competition, taking part in UEL and also fighting for CL spots. Yet another strong run in UEL saw the club reach yet another semi final in UEL (2015-16). Another English giant in Liverpool stood in their way. A strong 1-0 win at El Madrigal may just have been enough for Villarreal to secure their place in the final but The Kop provided Liverpool with extra vigour and it meant that another semi- final exit was waiting for Villareal. 

But their fortunes were to change. Another slump in form humbled the club and made them to restructure their strategies. And with yet another blessing from the footballing gods, they got the person who may just be the one who can change their fortunes- who shared the same philosophy about football, about life. The new man-in charge? Unai Emery.

(Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

Tactical Analysis 

A humble and down to earth person off the pitch, Unai Emery has made a name for himself over the years in the Spanish footballing circuit. His spells outside of Spain haven’t been very successful but he is a person who has always been ready to take a challenge and test himself. Taking a job in Russia with Spartak Moscow, returning back home and achieving a legendary status in Seville. The charms of Paris and PSG attracted him after his stint at Sevilla,  followed by a fairly successful stint at Arsenal (given the North London side was in an era of transition). His flexibility in managing the resources at his disposal in Villarreal has seen him try various formations, from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, 4-4-1-1 and even on occasion utilizing a 4-1-4-1 shape. At centre-back however, Emery has established the formidable partnership of former Real Madrid and Napoli man Raul Albiol, and youngster Pau Torres who has started attracting attention of various clubs in Europe. Emery has shown faith in the 24-year old Alfonso Pedraza, who previously had four loan spells away from the club. The young Ecuadorian Pervis Estupinan remains a solid rotation option for Villarreal to use at Left back after his loan spell at Osasuna. The creative Dani Parejo has been one of Villarreal’s key men this season after his move from Valencia, and has been partnered most often with another long-time Villarreal player – Manu Trigueros. And the attack is led by Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcacer. Gerard has been in the form of his life, enjoying his best spell of his career under Emery who has helped him improve even further.

Passing Map depicting the average positions taken by the players

Playing out from the Back

Unai Emery has always had a desire to play out from the back and that has continued on so far this season in 2020-21. In build-up and attacking phases, Villarreal’s formation shifts more into a 2-1-4-3. For purposes of simplifying things, you could also call this a 3-4-3, with Vicente Iborra/ Manu Trigueros dropping in between or alongside the two centre-backs. This allows the full backs to push wide and further up the field, stretching the play and creating possible openings to receive the pass while creating overload in the middle of the pitch- a possible numerical advantage over the opposition in same area by creating a diamond shape and a route both forward and backwards if things go awry. These shapes offer the Yellow Submarine options both forwards and backwards at proper angles to keep possession of the ball and avoid making dangerous sideways passes in their own half.

Villarreal trying to play from the back

Midfield Superiority 

If the opposition are then keen to try and bypass Villarreal’s midfield triangle, they are often forced into longer passes or the wide areas, closer to the touch-line. Dani Parejo and Manu Trigueros are the most frequent ball-winners for Villarreal, and in Francis Coquelin they have another player who can do the exact same job when needed.  In attacking transitions, they have a very vertical approach and as already noted, Moi Gomez and Gerard Moreno often drift inside. Their verticality naturally increases their use of through-balls down the middle rather than working the ball out to the wide areas and delivering crosses.

An attempt at through balls in central area of the pitch

While the Yellow Submarine started well in La Liga, their form has been topsy turvy which has left them at 7th place with 58 points, 3 point short of 6th place, ensuring a chance to play in the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League next season at minimum. But their performances have yet again come up in the Europa League this season. With the club’s penchant of performing at top level in European competition and Unai Emery’s experience at the same stage complementing each other, their performance in this season’s Europa League have been exciting to follow. They topped their group stage with relatively easier sides- Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel, Sivasspor of Turkey and Qarabag of Azerbaijan. They then went on to defeat RB Salzburg, Dynamo Kiev, Dinamo Zagreb to reach the semi finals where they were again paired with Arsenal. 

This was a tie which held a lot of importance to both the manager and the club, a chance at redemption and glory and possible revenge against the side who got the better of them twice before in KO rounds of both UCL and UEL. The first leg was played in Spain, at El Madrigal. Villarreal opted for a 4-4-2 with Manu Trigueros starting at left flank, trying to cut in and drop into more advanced midfield areas- creating an overload in the center and Parejo, Capoue sitting in deep midfield space and nullifying Arsenal’s approach of playing a narrower game. The biggest problem for Arsenal in this game was essentially self-inflicted. They tried to press high, with the wingers responsible for helping Smith Rowe. Saka and Pepe would press from the outside in, trying to force Villarreal through the centre where Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Ceballos and Partey would look to overload the Spanish side’s double pivot of Capoue and Parejo. But Villarreal were able to play out of this pressure.

The Villareal center backs trying to play through the opposition’s pressing higher up the pitch (example 1)

Villarreal’s centre-backs and midfielders were comfortable handling the ball under this high pressure, combining to find a way out. Arteta’s choice of Smith Rowe upfront naturally led to an extra option in midfield, as the 20-year-old dropped back looking to make angles for his teammates. However, Villarreal were compact and organised enough to minimise space for Smith Rowe and Odegaard between the lines, forcing Arsenal to play more directly – in the end, 11.4% of the Premier League side’s passes were long balls (compared to 9.8% for Villarreal). Ceballos was sent off early on in the second half, which didn’t help Arsenal’s chances.

The Villareal center backs trying to play through the opposition’s pressing higher up the pitch (example 2)

At that point they were 2-0 down, with Albiol heading home from a set piece to double Villarreal’s advantage. And it could so easily have been more. Arsenal continued to press as they had before, only now they had one man less. Unsurprisingly, this led to gaps for Villarreal to exploit in a midfield populated only by Smith Rowe (moved back when Arteta brought Gabriel Martinelli on for Odegaard) and Partey. Emery’s introduction of Francis Coquelin worked out, as the ex-Gunner frequently found himself the extra man in midfield and nearly set up a third goal for the hosts. In the end, it took a bit of individual quality and luck for Arsenal to get back in the tie and set-up a mouth watering 2nd leg clash in London. 

But, Villarreal was in control because their players were used to play a more pragmatic approach. Using the basics of seeing out the game, Villarreal defended well against an Arsenal side who again lacked the intensity which was clearly evident from their playing style. A 0-0 draw was enough to finally break the duck- a first ever final appearance in any competition for Yellow Submarine. And it came at the expense of tactically outclassing Arsenal, a sign of relief for Villarreal and Unai Emery.

A fairytale run across Europe will reach its final destination- Gdansk, Poland. With fans ready to back the Yellow Submarine against the Red Devils, a historic Europa League final is on the cards. A victory against Manchester United will not only mean a first ever UEL trophy (also first ever major title) but a victory against an opposition of the prestige of Manchester United, one of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ of ESL will be such a sweet experience for Villarreal. 

No matter what happens on the pitch, this Villarreal side will not be just playing for a trophy, this side will be playing for it’s colours, for it’s Barrio, for it’s philosophy. 

The Ramones’ ”I Believe in Miracles” which has been heard quite a few times at El Madrigal on matchdays, will actually hold a brand new meaning for Villarreal if they end up taming the Devil in front of them and get their hands on that Europa League trophy.  

“I believe in miracles. I believe in a better world, for me and you”- the ethos on which this club, deeply attached to it’s smaller community, has worked during its entire history. 

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Scout Report- Noni Madueke

One name which has dominated headlines in the last 1 year is that of Jadon Sancho. Everywhere you look, it is all ‘Jadon Sancho’- Whether he will move to Manchester United or not, will he cost 100 million euros or more (or less which the chiefs running the football turned American franchise thought before). Even though there has been a verbal agreement of personal terms between the player and buying party, the buying party (in this case Manchester not so United under the current ownership), there has been a haggling over the price from Manchester United’s side over the impact of Covid-19 on football finances (but all of that went down the gutter during the unveiling of the European Super League). 

Now that the summer of 2020 is past us and 2 years are left on Jadon Sancho’s contract, this summer will be the best opportunity for Borussia Dortmund to command a price worthy of the Englishman’s talent and experience. Whatever club ends up getting the South London born Jadon will end up with a gem of a player and person which can elevate their attacking unit to new heights. But what will happen to BVB after Sancho’s departure? Going by the news in Germany (and adjoining Netherlands), BVB are after yet another Englishman who plies his trade in Eindhoven. In case of Jadon Sancho’s potential departure, BVB have their eyes set on PSV Eindhoven’s Noni Madueke. In this data driven scout report, a glimpse will be shown at how another Londoner is thriving outside of England and how he can replicate the heights of Jadon Sancho. 

(Photo by Photo Prestige/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Player Background 

The 19 year old Noni Madueke plays as a right winger for PSV Eindhoven, led by the German Roger Schmidt. The youngster spent the entirety of his youth career at Tottenham where he led the Under 16 side and also made his debut for the under-18 side as a 15-year-old. After being declared Player of the Tournament at the Sonnenland Cup in Germany in 2017, the youngster started attracting interest from the likes of clubs in England and abroad. However, Madueke decided to make a move to PSV instead where he had a better chance of playing regular first-team football.

(Photo by Photo Prestige/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Playing Style

Noni is a winger who likes to cut in on his stronger left foot and also use the width of the pitch, in order to stretch out the defense. It is pretty evident given the tactics Roger Schmidt uses, a high octane version of 4-4-2- taking the shape of expansive 4-2-2-2 in attacking phase and reverting to a narrower version of 4-4-2 in defensive phase. Even if he is positioned as a right-sided winger, Madueke prefers moving in a central role since it allows him to see more of the ball whilst also improving his involvement in games. Moreover, the youngster doesn’t mind going in the deeper positions where he can be quite effective in helping with the buildup and also being an extra defender when the team is under pressure.

(Madueke’s heatmap for 2020-21 season)

Madueke is blessed with great pace and agility combined with good technical ability which allows him to be a very annoying presence for the opposing players. His ability to constantly move around the edge of the penalty area while far away from the buildup always keeps defenders on their toes. The youngster knows exactly how to free himself up and when to free himself up, meaning a good off the ball movement which you expect from a winger (and what new BVB Boss Marco Rose demands from his attacking players)

(Madueke making a run with his good off the ball movement into free space)

During most of his outings either as a starter or as a sub, Madueke has proven to be a very accomplished player when it comes to creating space and making himself available to teammates. The youngster does like to cut inside but you will mostly find him scanning for possible areas where he can be a better option for one of his teammates. This can cause a lot of problems for teams especially those who look to go for a man-marking system. The youngster’s ability to play potential scenarios in his head help him be more effective in buildup play. You will always see him trying to fill a pocket of space which allows his teammates to have more options to go for.For a winger, perhaps the most important attribute (arguably) would be how good he is when it comes to dribbling the ball and carrying it deep inside enemy territory. Madueke does love to dribble quite a lot. The Englishman has great close control and excellent pace which allows him to penetrate and stretch defences. The winger boasts a 64% rate of successful dribbles- amassing a 1.7 successful dribble per 90 minute. Meanwhile on defensive end, he has won 52% of his contested duels- winning 3.2 duels per 90 minute. He has stats to back him up both in attacking and defensive end, no wonder why a player of ability will be loved by Marco Rose if this potential transfer goes forward. Since he is predominantly left-footed, Madueke tends to position his body in such a way that it makes it easy for him to make a pass from his preferred foot. While it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, relying on his left foot has seen the youngster make the wrong decisions which is something he would need to work on.

(Madueke’s dribble map in the final third)

Every speedy winger blessed with a bag of tricks needs to be a great reader of the game, especially when his team is transitioning from defence to attack. While he has a breakthrough season in terms of first team football at PSV, Madueke knows exactly how to make use of his excellent dribbling skills and ability to bring teammates into play. Madueke likes to set things in motion quickly and there are instances where he would go for a first-time pass to his teammate if he’s in space or is in a better position. The England youth international does not like to complicate things and would simply put a teammate through. In the long run, this ability will help him become a team player and his passing accuracy for first-time passes will also improve considerably.Being a winger, one can expect Madueke to be a good crosser. However, the youngster still has a lot of work to do on his crosses inside the penalty area. The Englishman definitely doesn’t cover himself in glory when it comes to delivering crosses and this should be a major concern going forward. While we do understand that he is a different type of winger, one who wants to be closer to the action, he will be required to whip in crosses more often than he does. But then again, the youngster isn’t exactly a highly experienced first-team player so he is bound to come up short in a few instances.  The youngster plays as an inverted winger so it becomes abundantly clear that the teenager likes to stay close to the penalty area, especially when his team is finding a way past the opposition in or around the final third. This ability has also seen Roger Schmidt use him as a second striker at times, staying close to the 18 yard box, trying to find space in order to either pick up the main #9 with a pass or make space for him or take a late run in the box to trouble the opposition’s defense.

(Madueke’s positioning during one of the counter attacking transitions-1)
(Madueke’s positioning during one of the counter attacking transitions-2)

Conclusion

With his dribbling ability, off the ball movement and most importantly, his flexibility in terms of positional sense coupled with his ability to handle pressure when it comes to playing outside of his comfort zone, make him an ideal Jadon Sancho replacement. If this summer, Jadon Sancho’s departure is sealed then it makes sense for BVB to make a move for Noni Madueke given the abilities (both on and off the pitch) which the youngster brings with him. Marco Rose will love a player of his ability and tactical discipline, while Noni will also not find it extremely difficult to settle down since he has played under Roger Schmidt who also uses a similar tactical skeleton as Marco Rose. Only time will tell whether Noni Madueke will explode like Jadon Sancho or not but the underlying talent and hard working attitude exist. The next step will be to amplify this to the best of the player’s ability and in turn’s the team’s advantage which should reflect in terms of progressive football and positive results – the ethos on which BVB works. A modest fee of 10-15 million euros will be enough for PSV to part ways with Noni Madueke which can be used to recruit able replacement(s) – a good move for all parties involved if it were to go through in yet another topsy-turvy summer window.

(Photo by NESImages/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Scout Report: Patson Daka

Last few days in the footballing world have seen some mind-boggling developments: from the abomination called European Super League (and the new UCL Reforms) to Hansi Flick going public about his discontent with the upper management of FC Bayern Munich.  A domino effect has been observed in Germany with clubs experiencing a mass exodus of managers and sporting directors alike leaving for greener pastures. It all started when Borussia Dortmund decided to approach Marco Rose, manager of their arch rivals Borussia Monchengladbach. A ruling in the German ownership/voting model; which is another hot topic in footballing world after the ESL fiasco, dictates the clubs to officially announce such incomings and outgoings to the shareholders/voting members who hold the upper hand in running of the club directly or indirectly-all thanks to 50+1 model. This midseason announcement derailed the campaign of Gladbach. A similar event happened at Eintracht Frankfurt who announced the departure of their influential Sporting Director Ferdi Bobic to fellow Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin and Gladbach then poaching Adolf Hutter from Eintracht Frankfurt. Same scenario has triggered the movement between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig which saw the Bavarian club agreeing to pay a world record compensation fee for a boyhood Bayern Munich fan and current RB Leipzig’s manager- Julian Nagelsmann. 

This domino effect has now provided the talented American manager Jesse Marsch to take over from Julian Nagelsmann at the start of new season. This merry go round of managers and directors will eventually result in the movement of some talented players from one destination to another to get reunited with known faces at the new club. One such player who might be embroiled in this domino effect is Patson Daka, the talented Zambian international who currently plays for RB Salzburg and is managed by Leipzig-bound Jesse Marsch.


(Photo by Michael Molzar/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

Background

Born in the Zambian city of ChingolaPatson Daka provides an inspirational success story, going from the school playing fields in his native Zambia to now leading the attack at one of Europe’s most exciting teams.  Daka grew up with the benefit of having a father who played professional football – in fact Daka’s earliest memories of football are watching his father Nathtali taking on opponents out wide. Nathtali’s sad passing during Patson’s youth has provided a main source of motivation in his own footballing journey. The youngster was taking his school exams when trials to represent the local province were being held. Persuaded by a friend, Daka went along and made an immediate impression.

Less than 12 months after this trial he was captaining Zambia at youth tournaments and even earned a call-up to the senior national team aged just 16. Daka’s impressive performances for Zambia in the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations(AFCON) in 2015 captured the attention of former Mali international Frederic Kanoute, which eventually led Daka to RB Salzburg after a loan spell at FC Liefering.


(Photo by Lars Baron – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

2017 proved to be a breakthrough for Patson Daka. The Zambian was a pivotal figure in RB Salzburg’s surprising UEFA Youth League success, scoring in the semi-final and final against FC Barcelona and Benfica respectively. At International level, Daka earned individual honours when named the 2017 Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations Best Player, in which he was also its top-scorer, the 2017 CAF Youth Player of the Year and the 2017 CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year. The latter especially is a very prestigious award, previously won by the likes of Mohamed Salah and John Obi Mikel.

In this scout report, an in-depth analysis of player’s game and his usage by Jesse Marsch will be covered which can also solve one issue which RB Leipzig has faced this season – the lack of a reliable striker up front. We analyse how the 22-year old can solve this issue if he were to get reunited with Marsch and one of his close friends off the pitch, Dominik Szoboszalai, in Leipzig.

Player Analysis

After taking the mantle from Erling Haaland, who moved to Germany in January 2020, Patson Daka exploded becoming the team’s top scorer in the Austrian Bundesliga with 24 goals and 6 assists in 21 starts and 10 substitute appearances. The current campaign has seen him net the same amount of goals in lesser number of appearances (24 with 18 starts and 6 substitute appearances) – scoring a goal every 71 minutes – an exceptional goal scoring frequency no matter what competition and standard in terms of difficulty. Till now in his professional career at senior level, Patson Daka has scored 0.64 goals per 90 minutes, after amassing an expected goal (xG) ratio of 0.54 per 90 minutes- again proving that he can be a reliable player in a suitable tactical setup – no matter what the quality and standards of the competition.

One of the main reasons he has such a great clinical streak in front of goal is the intelligence of his movement and how he positions himself before receiving the ball creating plenty of space for himself in optimal shooting positions, giving himself the best possible opportunity to convert his chances. Additionally, it does often seem as though the ball literally just finds him, due to how he often ends up on the end of a pass, loose ball or rebound in very favourable positions but this is a result of his excellent positioning and movement before the ball reaches him which creates such favourable conditions for the striker.

This intelligent movement and positioning go hand in hand with intelligent shot selection when it comes to Daka. He rarely takes on long-shots, with just one of his 19 shots at goal in the league this season coming from outside of the penalty area. He is a ‘fox in the box’. The benefit to this intelligent shot selection is seen in how often he hits the target with his shots. Daka has taken 4.69 shots per 90 minutes in the league this term, hitting the target with 56.22% of them. For reference, Haaland took 4.54 shots per 90 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga last season, hitting the target with 48.08% of them. The 22-year-old is very two-footed and scores almost as many goals with his left foot as he does with his right foot, the latter being his alleged stronger foot. This two-footedness makes him even more difficult to defend against, especially in these central areas he likes to position himself, as he can shoot very effectively from either side and he’s an agile dribbler that can quickly shift the ball onto either foot when a potential shooting angle opens up.

Daka is strong enough to back into a defender and hold the ball up in these situations, which he often does, but he’s also quick and agile enough to potentially spin out and get around the defender on his own in this type of situation. On this occasion, Daka’s receiving the ball with one teammate running towards goal inside of him who he could potentially pass to, but with so much more space on the outside and no teammate out there, he opts to collect the ball and go alone and the Zambian reaps the benefits of this decision. He intelligently uses his body positioning to keep the defender guessing as the pass comes to him, initially feinting forward on his left leg before quickly switching his weight onto his right leg, receiving the ball and spinning in behind, exploiting this space and creating a good shooting angle.

Daka has an impressive defensive work-rate for a striker. Daka keeps himself very active without the ball both when his team are in possession and when they’re without possession. Without possession, whether he’s required to track back into deep areas or whether he’s trying to help his side to win the ball back high up the pitch, Daka generally works hard and performs his required role diligently. He could never be described as a lazy player by any means. He’s also diligent at helping his side to defend against a counter when the ball is further up the pitch and tracking back is not a problem for Daka, with his pace also coming in handy there.

Conclusion

Jesse Marsch plays a high octane version of 4-4-2 which can take the shape of an expansive 4-2-2-2 (which Ralph Hasenhuttl deployed at RB Leipzig during his successful tenure) in attacking transitions. But RBL have struggled in the attacking department this season. With the departure of Timo Werner to Chelsea and their new recruits in Hwang Hee Chan (who played with Daka at RB Salzburg) and Alexander Sorloth taking time to settle in, RBL lacked a reliable #9 who can take the mantle of goal scoring. With the talks of Yusuf Poulsen, Marcel Sabitzer looking to find new challenges and Hwang Hee Chan apparently to be put on the market (with interest coming from London based West Ham United), RB Leipzig will need some firepower in their arsenal. Even though, they have secured the Bosman signing of another talented youngster- Brian Brobbey from AFC Ajax, his inexperience at senior level will end up putting excessive pressure on a youngster leading a side as competitive as RB Leipzig. An able partner and senior player in Patson Daka (whose current RB Salzburg contract ends in 2022) and Alexander Sorloth will enable RB Leipzig and Jesse Marsch to build his new tactical approach and perfect it with signings of his choice-which RB Leipzig can provide with ease given their healthy financials and also avoid a pretty inexperienced yet talented youngster in Brian Brobbey being ‘thrown under the bus’.


(Photo by Peter Lottermoser/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

What will happen to RB Salzburg? Their extensive scouting network will again enable them to find capable replacements without compromising on competitive streak at domestic and continental level. Best bet will be the promotion of talented 17-year old Slovenian youngster Benjamin Sesko who has come to life at FC Liefering this season with 15 goals and 5 assists in 26 outings. Current FC Liefering manager and successor to Jesse Marsch, the 33-year old Matthias Jaissle clearly prefers the Slovenian youngster and looking at the model RB Salzburg follows, there are high chances that the young striker will be promoted to first team. German youth international Karim Adeyemi is also knocking down on the door as first choice winger/striker. A potential strike force of Megrim Berisha, Sekou Koita, Karim Adeyemi and Benjamin Sesko can replicate the consistent goal scoring record of Patson Daka if he were to depart in coming summer, without losing any competitive edge and providing a win-win situation for every party involved in such a complex situation, made easy by the Red Bull Sporting Model. 


. (Photo by Markus Tobisch/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

Scout Report: Anel Ahmedhodzic

According to reputed Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano, English Giants Chelsea and Manchester United have extensively scouted this talented Bosnian center back but it is the underdog Italian side Atalanta who are in advanced talks with him, beating their local rivals AC Milan along the way. The player under spotlight today is Anel Ahmedhodzic of Malmo. 

Background 

Born in Malmo, Sweden to parents of Bosnian heritage, Anel joined the youth academy of his hometown club which he left to play abroad, eventually landing at Nottingham Forest in January 2016. He made his professional debut against Newcastle United on 30th December, 2016- at the age of 17. This was his first and last start for the English side. He returned to Malmo FF in the winter window of 2018-19 season for an undisclosed fee. He made his first team debut for Malmo FF against their arch rivals- Helsingborg on 2nd June, 2019. 

Anel joined Danish Superliga side Hobro IK in a loan arrangement for 2019-20 season. He made his first start for his new club against fellow Superliga side Esbjerg on 21st July, 2019. He was called back to Malmo in January 2020 since his presence was deemed necessary at first team level and he has never looked back ever since. He extended his contract with Malmo FF until December 2023 and already has won the league with his home town club.

Ahmedhodzic has represented Sweden at all youth levels and even won his first senior cap for the Swedes in 2020 but he always had his heart set to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina. With the latest change of ruling by FIFA when it comes to representation at international level, this made Ahmed’s dream come true since his application for change of representation was accepted and he has now 2 caps for Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Playing Style

He is a right footed center back with a good built and height for a center back. He is the epitome of a modern day center back with underlying principles of those old school ‘no-nonsense’ center backs. Malmo’s head coach and former English Premier League and La Liga striker, Jon Dahl Tomasson, prefers a 4-4-1-1 formation. Ahmedhodžić (#15) is deployed at right centre-back in a back four. The majority of his touches, as you would expect for a defender, are in his team’s half of the pitch.

His tall built (6’4”) gives him an advantage over his opposition and it is reflected in statistics too. He has a success rate of 73% when it comes to aerial duels, the highest in Allsvenskan. But Ahmedhodžić is not quite as dominant in the air in his team’s penalty area. In this area, he wins 62.1% of his aerial duels.

Anel is a good ball playing center back too, boasting a good accuracy of 91.9% successful passes and most of his passes are forward passes, progressing into wide areas of the pitch. His progressive pass accuracy is 79%. Ahmedhodžić is competent at both keeping possession safe and playing forward into attacking areas.

The above image shows the moments after Ahmedhodžić has received the ball from LB. As soon as he receives the ball, he tries to attack the vacant space in front of him. Despite having easier and safer passing options available, he takes the responsibility of looking for an opening and tries a line breaking pass. By dribbling into the space in front of him at speed, he causes disruption to the opposition. Travelling up the pitch also makes a through ball easier to complete due to the shorter distance the ball will have to travel. Whilst being pressed, he has the awareness and ability to break the opposition’s press and pick out his striker’s clever run. This play is typical of the young defender. He doesn’t run away from responsibility. His first thought, even when receiving the ball in his own half, is how to put the opposition on their back foot and create a goal-scoring opportunity for his team. Not only does he possess an aggressive attacking mentality but also has the technical ability to pull it off.

Tackling is one of Ahmedhodžić’s mains strengths and at the same time one of his biggest liabilities. There are moments, usually when covering for a teammate, that he is able to use a slide tackle to recover the ball in a desperate situation. These challenges are perfectly timed and have often prevented clear goalscoring opportunities for the opposition.

However, too often when the situation requires patience, Ahmedhodžić is too eager to regain possession and dives in. This has cost his team by conceding freekicks in dangerous areas, showing his brave and aggressive streak. This is one area where the talented Bosnian has to improve and try to keep a calm and level head in such heated situations. His slide tackles are a good attribute to have but too often they are used as his first choice rather than a last resort. Should he go on to play at a higher level, going to ground so readily will have him found out quickly.

Overall, Ahmedhodžić’s movements off the ball are good. When keeping possession, he is aware of where the ball is and where he wants it to go next. He adopts a good position and body shape to achieve this. As covered in the previous section, when progressing the ball, he is aggressive with his runs and creates and joins in counter-attacks.

Conclusion

Given his ability on and off the ball, he comes off as a typical modern day center back who can play in a very high defensive line and try to build the attacks from the back, shuffling possession from central to wide areas and vice versa. This is the reason why teams like Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan and Atalanta have extensively scouted him. 

All those teams have an extensive scouting network in Scandinavia, all 4 of those teams have a playing style which will complement his strengths and also nullify his weaknesses in longer run. If we were to go by chatter in the media, Atalanta lead the race for his signature and even the player prefers a move to the Lombardy based side which will be the best possible move for him. Atalanta may lose out on their star player Cristian Romero (who is currently on loan from Juventus) but they will get a good and reliable replacement in Anel Ahmedhodzic who can take the mantle from Romero and play in a system which will suit him very well and playing in a league like Serie A will hone his technical ability as well. 

Another brilliant example of Atalanta’s scouting who not only have the one of the best (if not the best) youth setup in Italy but their scouting model in Scandinavia and other fringe countries is also the best among Italian clubs- getting cheaper yet first team ready replacements, sell them for a great profit and again repeat the cycle whilst not losing the competitive edge.