Manchester City 1-2 Lyon

View From The Press Box: Manchester City 1-2 Lyon

In a new feature for Twelve, James Nalton reports from the press box on Manchester City 1-2 Lyon.

For modern Manchester City, defeats are a rarity. When looking at the bigger picture, and the club’s history, that they are even competing in the Champions League is something. That they expect to win every game they play is something else. This is how far they have come in a short space of time but even though they rarely lose, defeat to Olympique Lyonnais means they have now lost their last four in this competition.

It was December of last year that Pep Guardiola’s side tasted defeat for the first time in the 2017/18 season, when they lost to wily European campaigners Shakhtar Donetsk. Their manager used the loss to spur his side on for the rest of the season, and though this latest disappointment has come earlier in the campaign, Guardiola will hope it has a similar effect.

Guardiola was serving a touchline ban as a result of being sent to the stands for complaining to the referee during his side’s defeat to Liverpool in the quarter-finals last season. Mikel Arteta took control, and it appeared that he’d been given a chance to take full responsibility, taking pre and post-match press conferences as well as leading the team from the touchline. Read More

Young Boys vs Manchester United Champions League preview

Young Boys vs Manchester United: Mourinho’s momentum building

Manchester United will look to get their 2018/19 Champions league campaign off to the perfect start when they travel to Switzerland to take on Young Boys on Wednesday night. The last time United were in the elite European competition wasn’t memorable for them, as they lost to Sevilla in the first knockout round. This will be Young Boys’ first-ever appearance in the group stages of the competition, and they will be hoping for a historic win.

United’s momentum is building

United have now won two games in a row, and victory against Watford represented a huge win for Jose Mourinho’s struggling side. This may not seem like an impressive achievement, and United didn’t show a dominant performance, but two tricky away games against Burnley and Watford are behind them and Mourinho’s side’s momentum is starting to build.

And it’s thanks to a change in tactics. Read More

Real Madrid vs Roma Champions League Preview

Real Madrid vs Roma Preview: New Era Begins for Los Blancos

With their eyes firmly set on the midweek Champions League action, both Real Madrid and AS Roma will be determined to put their respective domestic draws behind them as Europe’s elite competition returns to the spotlight. Real Madrid vs Roma could be a cracker.

The reigning European champions kick off their title defence and start pursuit of their fourth consecutive Champions League title through the beginning of a new era at Santiago Bernabeu. All of their previous four European crowns were in large amounts won thanks to the formidable goal scoring exploits of the man who is now residing in Turin (and will be hoping to spread his ketchup in Valencia). Read More

Inter Milan vs Tottenham Champions League Preview

Inter Milan vs Tottenham Preview: Can Spurs pick themselves up?

Tottenham will need to improve on recent results if they are to get anything out of Tuesday night’s game against Inter Milan.

Spurs’ 2-1 defeat to Liverpool on Saturday was a flattering score line for the north London club, who had one of their sloppiest performances under Mauricio Pochettino. Tottenham were slow off the blocks and conceded in the first minute, only for the goal to be ruled offside. However, this did not send a warning to the Spurs players who continued to play their lacklustre football with multiple passes going astray and a number of them leading to Liverpool chances.

Just before half time the first goal scored by Liverpool came in that fashion with Spurs failing to clear the ball and Christian Eriksen heading the ball back to Liverpool who scored from the resulting corner.

Michel Vorm was heavily criticised for his poor contact of the ball that allowed Wijnaldum to head in, with the referee having to revert to goal line technology for clarification of the ball going in. Liverpool later doubled their lead after the ball hit the post and Michel Vorm couldn’t scramble onto the rebound, which resulted in Firmino tapping home. Read More

Valencia vs Juventus Champions League Preview

Valencia vs Juventus Preview: Ketchup for Ronaldo’s return?

“Goals are like ketchup: all comes out at once”. If Cristiano Ronaldo applies the analogy that he launched back in 2010, after ten games without scoring for Portugal, then Valencia have reasons to be worried.

Cristiano finally scored for Juventus, against Sassuolo (as Massimo Allegri had predicted), and in a double dose. The Portuguese star overthrew the psychological barrier, and just three days before his return to Spain. Definitely not good news for Valencia, against whom Ronaldo has already scored fifteen goals, with eight of them at Mestalla.

Ironically, it’s in Spain, where Cristiano Ronaldo lived for the last nine years, that begins this European journey of a “vecchia signora” with renewed ambition with the arrival of the Portuguese. “If you can’t beat him, sign him” must have been the idea of the Italian leaders, who advanced for the most popular transfer of the summer. Juventus don’t want only internal hegemony and looked for the missing piece to regain European glory. Read More

Barcelona vs PSV Eindhoven Champions League preview

Barcelona vs PSV Preview: Are Barca Champions League favourites?

Football’s premier club competition the Champions League kicks off for the season this week, and FC Barcelona’s search for a first title win since 2015 begins at home against PSV Eindhoven.

Ernesto Valverde’s men have been drawn in a relatively difficult Group B alongside Tottenham Hotspur of England, Inter of Italy and PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands. The first test for the Catalan club is arguably the easiest of the three opponents with PSV having qualified for the tournament by defeating BATE Borisov 6-2 on aggregate over the two legs.

Lionel Messi’s main focus this season appears to be the Champions League and he has made it abundantly clear that he would very much like to win it this year. Addressing the fans at the Camp Nou at the beginning of the season, here’s what the little magician had to say: Read More

Liverpool vs PSG

Liverpool vs PSG Preview: Will crossing make the difference?

This is a very intriguing match up. Liverpool have been arguably the continent’s biggest over-achievers in their last two European campaigns, albeit they fell at the final hurdle both times. Then there’s Paris Saint-Germain, who have more money than most countries yet haven’t been able to venture past the last eight of the Champions League.

Throw in the Dortmund connection of Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, plus Neymar’s needle about the Reds finishing outside the top four this season, and Liverpool vs PSG looks set to be a cracker.

Presumably Neymar was just upset because James Milner equalled his record for assists in a Champions League campaign. Looking at how the players of Liverpool and PSG performed last season, they were the top two for attack points. Read More

Real Madrid vs Liverpool: The story of the Champions League final

Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev to win their fourth Champions League title in the last five seasons. It’s a remarkable achievement, but did they deserve to win? And who were the best players on the night?

UEFA gave their man of the match award to Gareth Bale, and he topped the Twelve ratings too. As he scored two goals he was always likely to, but there will rarely have been a match where the key player had such little involvement overall.

Even so, Bale’s first goal was one of the finest seen in any final, and certainly worthy of winning any match. Of course, with Twelve utilising an algorithm there are no points for artistic merit, but if there were then you’d probably assign at least 1,990 of his 2,000 goal points from the match to the overhead kick. It’s certainly worth viewing again, and it’s not a goal anyone, aside from Liverpool fans, will ever tire of seeing.

In total, five of the top six performers on the night were wearing white. This probably illustrates Madrid deserved to win, even if they benefitted hugely from two goalkeeping howlers in order to claim the trophy.

Ah yes, the goalkeeping errors. Poor old Loris Karius. It won’t count for a thing now, but at the half way point in the match he had been Liverpool’s third best performer, behind Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk. It won’t surprise you to hear he finished the match dead last of all 27 players who took to the field, but what was unusual was that the German goalkeeper earned more attacking points than Roberto Firmino.

Former Premier League goalkeeper Shaka Hislop indirectly made a point regarding this in a video for ESPN. “I am convinced that Jürgen Klopp says to Liverpool do everything quickly,” Hislop said, and while this speed of thought helps Karius contribute to the attack at times, it proved his undoing for the goals.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, it wasn’t a great night for their number nine either, and that was doubly disappointing in that they needed him to step up once Salah was forced to leave the field. Firmino wasn’t even able to chip in with his usually superb off ball work, which was a feature of his fine campaign in the Premier League, and he didn’t pick up a single point in that category.

The Reds’ best player on the night according to the Twelve ratings, thanks hugely to his goal, was Sadio Mané. However, it was the Reds’ defenders who probably deserve the most plaudits. The defence chart was the only one where a Liverpool player performed best, in the form of van Dijk, but it’s perhaps Andy Robertson who arguably deserves the most praise here.

The young Scot denied Cristiano Ronaldo what would’ve been an almost certain goal by sliding into block his shot in the 73rd minute. That block was worth 103 points, and on it’s own would’ve put Robertson 12th in the defence standings.

Speaking of Ronaldo, he had a very quiet night by his standards, and was only rated 13th in the total scores for the final. He had just three shots, and Real’s #7 has only had fewer in a Champions League or La Liga match once all season. His surprisingly strong defensive work was highlighted prior to the final, but it was still a surprise to see it contribute so much to his score for the game.

Ronaldo picked up 219 points for shots, and 182 for attack, but 176 for defence. There won’t have been many matches where his dashboard shows more important actions at the back rather than up front, but this game is one such example.

But when all is said and done, it was the errors by Karius which defined this match. It’s one he won’t want to watch again in a hurry.

Real Madrid vs Liverpool: Who have been their best players in Europe?

In my last article I took a look at who Liverpool’s player of the year has been when it comes to the stats in the Premier League. With the Champions League final coming up on Saturday, it’s now time to take a look at how the players of Liverpool and Real Madrid have fared in Europe in 2017/18.

It won’t surprise anyone to see Cristiano Ronaldo lead the way from Liverpool’s fabulous front three, as those four players are the top four scorers in the competition this season. However, it will probably confound people to see Dejan Lovren sneak into the top five, just as he did when looking for the Reds’ top players in domestic football.

While the top four have clearly relied a lot on shots and goals (the blue bar) to reach their high scores, Liverpool’s Croatian centreback has understandably relied upon his defensive (red) points. But his off ball bar (yellow) is relevant too, and in fact Lovren leads the way on this particular attribute, either in total or on a points per minute basis.

Jürgen Klopp appears to value Lovren’s brand of front foot defending, even if it has Liverpool supporters tearing their hair out at times. Twelve value his contribution here too, as we can see on his map.

However, if anything is more surprising than Lovren’s inclusion in the top five players, it’s the fact Ronaldo has racked up far more defensive points than any of Liverpool’s front three, as that feels counter-intuitive when the Reds love to defend from the front.

The Portuguese legend is a useful asset when defending set plays though, thanks to his aerial prowess. Ronaldo has made one more clearance than the Reds’ attacking trident have between them, and here’s his defensive chart.

In terms of actual defenders, both Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos have amassed more points for defending than Lovren has, and in fewer minutes on the pitch too. So how have Liverpool conceded two fewer goals in the competition this season?

An easier batch of opponents has obviously helped, but any Kopite will utter three words when asked why the Reds’ defence has improved recently: Virgil van Dijk. Sure enough, the Dutchman is top of the defensive pile when the scores are sorted on a points per minute basis.

That’s impressive work from the former Southampton man, and let’s not forget he has only featured in the knockout stages as he joined Liverpool in January. Van Dijk’s figures have not been boosted by facing lesser sides in the group stage.

Will his impact help in the final though? After all, Ronaldo is more inclined to drift to the left anyway (as his attack map testifies), and that is where the weaker side of Liverpool’s defence resides too. Then again, van Dijk should prove to be useful in marking Ronaldo on set pieces, even if they don’t face up too often in open play.

In the attack stats, it would be natural to assume James Milner would lead the way, as he has clocked up eight assists in the 2017/18 Champions League, yet he only takes the silver medal.

The fact the winner in this category has set up a single goal in the competition illustrates the random nature of assists nicely. Toni Kroos has created 24 goal scoring opportunities in the Champions League this season, so perhaps should’ve assisted more goals. Mohamed Salah is the only player on either side to create more chances, and he is behind Kroos on a per 90 minutes basis.

The German international has boosted his creativity figures with set plays, but he clearly contributes plenty to Madrid’s attack. While Liverpool will need to be wary of Kroos in Kiev, there’s clearly players on both sides who can cause damage. That makes the match both a mouthwatering prospect but also incredibly difficult to call. Don’t be surprised if one of the top four players in the Twelve rankings makes the key difference in the final.