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Technical topics for discussion

Technical topics for discussion
Bianca Schmidt was an effective wing-back for Frankfurt ©Sportsfile

Technical topics for discussion

"The interesting question for coaches is whether Frankfurt's win will encourage a trend towards playing with three at the back," commented Anna Signeul, one of UEFA's technical team, on the morning after the Berlin final. "It's also the system being used by FC Bayern in winning the women's Bundesliga; I think Potsdam used the same structure during the previous season; and I can imagine that a lot of coaches will be taking a good look at this option for next season."

Indeed, 1. FFC Frankfurt's switch to three at the back was in response to a 2-0 half-time deficit in a Bundesliga fixture against Bayern. Colin Bell switched to a formation which mirrored the Munich team's structure and was rewarded with a much more impressive second-half performance. Although VfL Wolfsburg's default setting was a classic 1-4-4-2, Ralf Kellermann kept the three-player defence as a wild card up his sleeve, playing it in the return leg of the semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain when chasing the adverse 2-0 scoreline registered during the German team's home leg. "They often ended up with just two players at the back," reported Hope Powell, UEFA's technical observer at the second leg in Paris, "with Noelle Maritz, one of the back three, often pushing up on the right flank. They were able to do this because Paris, with a view to protecting their advantage, sat deep and only pushed at the Wolfsburg back line with one player."

Brøndby IF also experimented with three at the back during the away leg of the other semi-final, with Per Nielsen opting initially to mirror Frankfurt's 1-3-5-2 structure. Judgements on its effectiveness cannot help but be coloured by the conclusive 7-0 scoreline. For the return match in Denmark, Nielsen reverted to a 1-4-2-3-1 formation with rapid transitions into 4-5-1 defending.

©Getty Images

Kerstin Garefrekes changed her Frankfurt role after Jess Fischlock left

After watching Frankfurt in action, Anne Noë succinctly sketched the skeleton of their structure: "Three defenders always in position; two wing-backs available for attacking and defending; one controlling midfielder; two more creative midfielders; and two attackers who stayed up front." This was in the quarter-final when Jessica Fishlock, still wearing Frankfurt's No28 shirt before the end of her loan spell from Seattle Reign FC, played the controlling midfield role. "She played a crucial part," Bell admitted, "and we had to compensate when she left. We had to tweak our system a bit." In the final, Kerstin Garefrekes illustrated a slightly different way of setting about the job but, as Anja Palusevic remarked, "the versatility of the players was a key element, with five players rotating in the middle-to-front roles. Frankfurt didn't play like this until quite recently and the way the system works is down to good work by the coach."

"The back three are very well-organised as a unit," Vanessa Martínez added. "They knew exactly when to put maximum pressure on the ball and their movements were straight out of a coaching manual."

"I think the way they interpret the three-at-the-back system is very effective," Anna Signeul concurred, "with Peggy Kuznik always attentive to giving cover to her two colleagues and acting as … well, not so much as a libero, but certainly an organiser. Obviously the other key factor in the system is the way that the two wing-backs, Bianca Schmidt and Simone Laudehr, handled their workload." Bell was very conscious of the demands and, when Paris threatened to take control in the closing phase of the final, he was quick to send on fresh legs in the key wide positions.

Apart from the already-mentioned variations dictated by opponents or match situations, the default settings among the quarter-finalists were 1-4-2-3-1 (Brøndby IF, Glasgow City FC, Linköpings FC), 1-4-3-3 (Paris, FC Rosengård) or 1-4-4-2 (Bristol Academy WFC, Wolfsburg). The question is whether the 1-3-5-2 structure will gain popularity as a result of Frankfurt's success.

Starting at the back

Elisabeth Loisel discusses the 2014/15 season

One of the key elements in the knockout rounds was a standard of goalkeeping which has improved radically (at national team and club levels) in recent times, with the availability of goalkeeper coaches and their contributions very much in evidence. Narrowing down the field when it came to naming the competition's Select Squad was a challenge for the technical observers who had, for example, singled out Lee Alexander (Glasgow), Mary Earps (Bristol) or Katrine Abel (Brøndby) for praise – Alexander especially for some brave goalkeeping which avoided heavier scorelines in the two games against Paris. Heavy defeats for their teams may have sabotaged their claims but did not subtract from their talents. On the other hand, Frankfurt's keepers were less able to shine, as they were rarely required to test their abilities.

The Berlin final illustrated the trend towards goalkeepers able to operate off the line when their team is in possession and effectively cover the area behind the back line and cut out counterattacks based on the long ball over the top. Keepers were required to be available to receive back passes and distribute the ball sensibly. There were, on the other hand, matches in which the keeper, due to the high pressing exerted by opponents, was obliged to kick long. The improvement in overall standards was highlighted by Rosengård’s Zecira Musovic who, in the words of Anja Palusevic: "Was the youngest player on the field, yet radiated confidence and tranquillity as well as being very good on her line."

Opening the wings

��Getty Images

Aurélie Kaci in action for Paris

One of the essential ingredients for the top teams was, as Anna Signeul put it, "full-backs of high standard in both attack and defence". As previously mentioned, Frankfurt's 1-3-5-2 structure provided a platform for combination raids along the flanks. Paris's attacking relied heavily on overlapping full-backs – especially the combination of Laure Boulleau and Aurélie Kaci along the left flank which asked serious questions of Wolfsburg in the semi-final. In the Wolfsburg lineup, Luisa Wensing had emerged as a speedy overlapping right-back who rounded-off her upfield runs with good deliveries yet set about her defensive duties with crisp tackling and good ability to read situations. Rosengård's attacking potential relied heavily on Marta's trickery aided and abetted by Ali Riley's contributions as an overlapping left-back. Right-back Theresa Nielsen played an important in the Brøndby formation where the wide midfielders Katrine Veje and Chirine Lamti operated from high starting positions. Frankfurt's wing-backs provided role-model examples of the sort of qualities now required of 'wide defenders'.

Building blocks

The two finalists illustrated the trend towards possession-based construction using passing moves originating from the back. But most teams, when winning possession in the defensive third, operated on the basis of the centre-backs spreading apart and the full-backs advancing into midfield to receive. Centre-backs were required to contribute more than tackling and heading ability. Babett Peter, alongside Nilla Fischer at the heart of the Wolfsburg back four, was, as Anja Palusevic observed, “a constant and reliable centre-back who reads the game well and contributes good passing to the build-up". In the same role, Charlotte Rohlin was important in the construction of Linköping's attacking moves. The top teams had centre-backs who were comfortable on the ball, even under pressure. Without these qualities, some teams struggled to play out from the back and were forced to opt for long balls which were, in general, easily intercepted by the opposition and re-converted into another wave of attacking.

©Getty Images

Playmaker Verónica Boquete

Definitions of the 'playmaker' role have also evolved in the modern game. The classic No10 is now a rare species and the key elements in launching attacks are now the controlling midfielders who, like the centre-backs, are capable of distributing the ball meaningfully into the wide areas. In the final, Frankfurt’s Verónica Boquete and Dzenifer Marozsán exemplified the new breed of attacking catalysts who use their technique and ability to run with the ball to weave play into goalscoring opportunities. Marozsan was outstanding in this function, contributing eight assists to her team’s successes in front of goal. In the Paris lineup, Shirley Cruz Traña performed a similar role but showed two different profiles in Berlin; firstly as a deep-lying organiser and, during the second half, more likely to create chaos in the Frankfurt lines by running at them from a more advanced position.

For Wolfsburg, Alexandra Popp also showed two profiles: as striker or as a mobile attacking midfielder performing attacking and defensive tasks with great stamina. With four goals and two assists, she was a key component in her team's attacking play. For Rosengård, Marta operated from a deeper midfield position, with Ramona Bachmann also dropping deep to receive and then using her dribbling and passing skills to stitch attacking moves together. Rtaher than a 'playmaker', the top teams possessed players capable of linking-up moves and taking them from midfield into the attacking third.

Goals talk

©AFP/Getty Images

Prolific Célia Šašić

Colin Bell insists that "people want goals" and, with 42, Frankfurt accounted for almost 20% of those scored in the knockout rounds. Célia Šašić, with 14, including seven in the semi-finals and the opener in the final, emerged as one of the decisive performers in the competition. She underscored the value of accurate finishing with impressive statistics of 34 shots on target out of a total of 52 attempts – in other words, two-thirds of her finishing was accurate. Behind her in the scoring charts, team-mates Boquete and Marozsán were two of the three players who wrote their names on scoresheets six times. However, Wolfsburg and Frankfurt, with ten and nine different scorers respectively, illustrated how the Bundesliga sides are capable of sharing goalscoring duties around the team.

Indeed, Šašić‘s attacking accomplice in the final, Ana Maria Crnogorčevič, was not among the Frankfurt scorers. The champions were among the trio of teams in the last eight who regularly operated with a partnership up front. The others deployed a solitary target striker.

All in all, 219 goals were scored in the knockout rounds at an average of 3.59 per game. In the entire 2014/15 UEFA Women's Champions League, the ball hit the net 437 times at an average of four goals per match.

How the goals were scored

©Getty Images

Emma Madsen was the only player to head in a corner from the quarter-finals onwards

Of the 51 goals scored in the matches watched by UEFA Technical Observers, marginally under 30% were derived from set plays. However, five goals were from penalties and goals scored directly from free-kicks were conspicuous by their absence. The question is whether this speciality is being neglected in training time or in player development. Around 15% of goals stemmed from corners, although only one (Emma Madsen's opener for Brøndby in the 1-1 draw with Linköping) corresponded to the classic formula of corner + header. Of the others, three were scored when the corner-kick was not cleared, while one partial clearance paved  the way for the goal to be struck from long range.

Of the 36 goals scored in open play at the top end of the competition, 28% were the result of passing moves. An equal percentage could be traced to deliveries from the wide areas in the form of crosses or cut-backs.

Although the top teams were equipped to make fast defence-to-attack transitions, only two goals could be directly attributed to counterattacks – both by Frankfurt during the away games against Bristol and Brøndby. By and large, central defenders were alert to the possibility of long deliveries towards target strikers when opponents won possession in their defensive third, while goalkeepers were generally quick to deal with counterattacking attempt via the long ball over the top. Wolfsburg frequently attempted collective counters after the successful defence of opposition corners or free-kicks, but none of these resulted in a goal.

Fractionally under 14% of the goals were headers – five of the seven being shared by the two German clubs. The other two were Madsen's header from a corner and Marie-Laure Delie's emphatic finish to make it 1-1 in the Berlin final.

CATEGORY

ACTION

GUIDELINES

Goals

Set plays

Corners

Direct from / following a corner

7

Set plays

Free-kicks (direct)

Direct from a free-kick

0

Set plays

Free-kicks (indirect)

Following a free-kick

3

Set plays

Penalties

Spot kick (or follow-up from a penalty)

5

Set plays

Throw-ins

Following a throw-in

0

Open play

Combinations

Wall pass / combination move

10

Open play

Crosses

Cross from the wing

4

Open play

Cut-backs

Pass back from the by-line

6

Open play

Diagonals

Diagonal pass into the penalty box

3

Open play

Running with the ball

Dribble & close-range shot or pass

1

Open play

Long-range shots

Direct shot / shot and rebound

5

Open play

Forward passes

Through pass or pass over the defence

4

Open play

Defensive Errors

Bad back-pass / goalkeeper mistake

0

Open play

Own Goals

Goal byopponent in own net

3

TOTAL

      51

Goal times

UEFA's technical observers remarked on the athletic qualities and fitness levels displayed at the top end of the competition. A glut of goals in the closing minutes has traditionally been interpreted as a symptom linked with fatigue, but the statistics for the knockout rounds of the competition belie that theory, even though, excluding the five goals scored in extra-time, almost 57% of the goals hit net during the second half of games. Indeed, from the quarter-finals to Berlin, 26 goals were scored in the first half and 25 after the interval.

Minutes

Goals

%

1-15

 27

12

16-30

28

13

31-45

34

16

45+

  4

  2

46-60

37

17

61-75

40

18

76-90

33

15

90+

11

  5

91-105

  3

  1

106-120

  2

  1

A striking difference

The attacking vocation of the two German clubs is illustrated by a statistical review of goal attempts during the knockout rounds. Curiously, Frankfurt's total duplicates the tally posted by their opponents in Berlin. Colin Bell's team averaged 11.89 on-target attempts per match while Farid Benstiti's Paris registered a mean of 5.67. Olympique Lyonnais, eliminated by Paris in the round of 16, averaged 10.75 per match, ahead of Wolfsburg's 8.75. Of the top eight teams, Bristol Academy WFC were the least active in terms of producing an end product with only 3.83 on-target attempts per match.

Bristol Academy WFC

Opponent

  On target

  Off target

Blocked

  Woodwork

  Total

Raheny (a)

10

13

  4

  1

27

Raheny (h)

  8

  8

  2

  0

18

Barcelona (a)

  1

  1

  1

  0

  3

Barcelona (h)

  3

  2

  1

  1

  6

Frankfurt (h)

  0 

  1

  2

  0

  3

Frankfurt (a)

  1

  2

  0

  0

  3

Total

23

27

10

  2

60

Brøndby IF

Opponent

  On target

  Off target

   Blocked

   Woodwork

  Total

Apollon (a)

  1

  9

  1

  0

11

Apollon (h)

10

  4

  4

  0

18

Gintra (h)

12

  6

  4

  2

22

Gintra (a)

  4

  4

  4

  0

12

Linköping (a)

�� 6

  6

  1

  0

13

Linköping (h)

  3

  2

  2

  0

  7

Frankfurt (a)

  0

  1

  1

  0

  2

Frankfurt (h)

  5

  4

  1

  0

10

Total

41

36

18

  2

95

1. FFC Frankfurt

Opponent

  On target

  Off target

  Blocked

 Woodwork

  Total

BIIK (a)

12

14

 11

  1

37

BIIK (h)

12

  9

  8

  2

29

Torres (h)

  8

  3

  9

  0

20

Torres (a)

10

  7

  3

  1

20

Bristol (a)

17

14

  6

  0

37

Bristol (h)

15

  9

  6

  4

30

Brøndby (h)

13

  4

  2

  2

19

Brøndby (a)

10

  1

  5

  2

16

Paris (n)

10

  7

  4

  0

21

Total

107

68

54

12

229

Glasgow City FC

Opponent

  On target

  Off target

  Blocked

  Woodwork

  Total

Medyk Konin (a)

  6

  7

  2

  0

15

Medyk Konin (h)

11

  9

  2

  1

22

Zürich (a)

  3

  5

  3

  0

11

Zürich (h)

10

  2

  1

  0

13

Paris (h)

  1

  0

  0

  0

  1

Paris (a)

  0

  1

  1

  0

  2

Total

31

24

 9

  1

64

Linköpings FC

Opponent

  On target

  Off target

  Blocked

  Woodwork

  Total

Liverpool (a)

  8

  1

  4

  0

13

Liverpool (h)

  9

  2

  2

  0

13

Zvezda (h)

  8

  6

  2

  1

16

Zvezda (a)

  2

  3

  4

  1

  9

Brøndby (h)

  8

14

  5

  2

27

Brøndby (a)

  5

  8

  8

  0

21

Total

40

34

25

 4

99

Paris Saint-Germain

Opponent

  On target

  Off target

  Blocked

  Woodwork 

  Total

Twente (a)

  5

  2

  3

  0

10

Twente (h)

  7

12

  5

  0

24

Lyon (h)

  5

  3

  3

  0

11

Lyon (a)

  1

  1

  0

  0

  2

Glasgow (a)

  7

  3

  8

  0

18

Glasgow (h)

12

  6

  7

  0

25

Wolfsburg (a)

  6

  1

  0

  0

  7

Wolfsburg (h)

  4

  3

  1

  0

  8

Frankfurt (n)

  4

  3

  1

  0

  8

Total

51

34

28

  0

113

FC Rosengård

Opponent

  On target

  Off target

  Blocked

 Woodwork

  Total

Ryazan (a)

  6

  7

  4

 0

17

Ryazan (h)

  5

  5

  0

 0

10

Fortuna (h)

10

  7

  1

 0

18

Fortuna (a)

12

10

  2

 0

24

Wolfsburg (a)

  3

  1

  0

 0

  4

Wolfsburg (h)

  5

  4

  0

 0

  9

Total

41

34

  7

 0

82

VfL Wolfsburg

Opponent

  On target

  Off target

   Blocked

Woodwork

Total

Stabæk (a)

  6

15

  0

  1

21

Stabæk (h)

10

21

  3

  1

34

Neulengbach (a)

12

10

  2

  0

24

Neulengbach (h)

14

  9

  3

  1

26

Rosengård (h)

11

  4

  1

  0

16

Rosengård (a)

10

  4

  0

  0

14

Paris (h)

  4

  2

  0

  0

  6

Paris (a)

  4

  8

  3

  1

15

Total

71

73

12

 4

156

Note: attempts striking the woodwork are included in the on-target total if deflected by goalkeeper or defender and in the off-target total if the attempt strikes the woodwork directly

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