Retro-Diary: Filip Mladenovic in Rome (part one?!)

What do we know about new acquisition Filip Mladenovic? We could make a list, but it’d be a fairly short one and would contain almost exclusively things read on various websites the last several days. I could start rehashing some of that for you (and actually already did a little bit), but that would be boring for me and maybe not effective.

You want to know about a footballer, you watch them play football. Ideally, you’d watch a LOT of that footballer’s game tape to get as full a picture as you can, but resources here are limited. Even if I wanted to invest 40-some hours in mashing through BATE Borisov’s domestic competition, I wouldn’t have the first clue as to where to find it. We only just got reasonable access to the Bundesliga a few months ago here in the United States. I don’t have to research the question to know that the chances of me readily finding much Belorusian Premier League videos are slim.

However, among the things we already learned about Mladenovic is that he played in all six of BATE’s UEFA Champions League group-stage matches this season. And despite the USA’s long-standing refusal to fully embrace the world’s favorite game, Champions League matches are almost easy to find here.

Hence, because I can and because English Premiership football has not been enough to fill the void in my soul left by the winter break, I’m going to watch some BATE Borisov Group E action and write a running diary while I do so.

You’re welcome.

Since we’re going backwards, I’m starting with the most-recent match, which saw the Belorusian’s travelling to Italy to battle AS Roma.

BATE had a chance to become the first Belorusian club to advance to the knockout stages. They needed a win over AS Roma, which happened to be the one team BATE had beaten in group competition. They also would have needed FC Barcelona’s B-squad to take at least a point from Bayer Leverkusen (which they did), but without all three from their match, nothing that happened on the other side of the Rhine that evening was of consequence for the guys in yellow.

And with that . . .

Our commentator explains that the reason there is almost nobody in attendance at the Stadio Olimpico for the home team’s do-or-die group finale is that the fans are protesting the recent run of form of the club. Not sure how effective it will be for them, but it certainly leaves an impression.

Guy English (I am NOT typing out “commentator” every time I need to refer to this English guy) says that the Roma players exhibit some “confusion and disunity” just before getting their team photo taken. They may have been running a bit slack in getting themselves together, but saying more than that is a bit of a reach in an effort to make a point.

But I’m not here to discuss Guy English or AS Roma or anything else. I came here for the Mladenovic, so . ..

1 – Okay, Roma does look a bit out of sorts. Sorry, Guy English.

2 – Our new guy gets into the middle of things pretty early, though not in an entirely flattering way. I hate for our first look to be a negative one, but . . .

Mladenovic versus DeRossi

This ball was chipped forward by Daniele De Rossi from well into his own defensive half. You can see that Iago Falque doesn’t really have a challenger for the ball there, which might explain why Mladenovic bailed on his flank to contest the situation. Whatever Mladenovic’s reasoning there, he’s left a whole lot of space for Alessandro Florenzi to run into.

Mladenovic versus DeRossi

Then again, perhaps Mladenovic simply knows he has the speed to get back into position even if Falque is able to play the ball down to Radja Nainggolan who would then be able to put a ball through for the rushing Florenzi.

Perhaps . . .

Mladenovic did make a nice recovery to close the gap between himself and Florenzi. The Roma right back showed little patience once Mladenovic arrived on the scene and launched one of those long looping balls that was so far from anyone or anything that we may never know whether it was intended as a shot or cross.

What’s fortunate is that Florenzi didn’t realize that when Mladovic came at him, he left Falque alone. It wouldn’t have been a simple play, but a shorter pass to a wide-open attacker at the edge of the area would have been a hell of an opportunity in the second minute of the match.

Easy to see from where I’m sitting, though.

3 – First touch of the match! Didn’t result in much, but inspired Guy to give us his pronunciation of the Serbian.

“‘mlah-din-OH-vitch’ . . . scored two goals against Roma in the first fixture back in September at the Borisov Arena. BATE were up three goals inside of thirty minutes.”

Maybe I should have started with THAT match. Nah. Save it for later. Maybe do it on Rabble.TV (there’s YOUR plug, Rabble!).

4 – “Something of a ‘Roma coaster’ you might say.”

Come on, Guy English. You ran that buy your buddies at the bar and even they didn’t laugh, despite being complete hammered.

4 – Mladenovic’s first touch of the game was a meaningless stretch of possession in the midfield area during which he wasn’t really pressured and ended with a back pass.

This second touch . . . if only it too had slipped by.

Our guy tried to move the ball a bit before attempting to thread a long-ish pass through Roma defenders to Evgeni Yablonsky, a defensive mid, resulting in a turnover to Nainggolan.

03 Looking for Yablonski finding Nainggolan

Now, I don’t know anything about BATE defensive midfielder Evgeni Yablonsky, nor of his potential for offensive , but please, dear Filip, learn quickly that a risky pass in that situation is not worth the payoff of getting the ball to Matze Lehmann in that position. We love our captain, but he’s not doing anything special with the ball in that spot. Now that you’re in Kölle, just find a real opening or hold the ball.

I’m sure coach Stöger will already have filled you in on that.

5 – I think our boy has some decent wheels.

Here, you see that Mladenovic was ready to supplement the attack should BATE keep possession.

05 ML in front of Falque

I will spare judgment on the wisdom of that call at that moment for now. Just note where he is in relation to Falque with the ball already being sent into that right-flank space we can assume is vacant with Mladenovic where he currently is.

Then . . .

06 ML beats Falque and beats him again

Whether it’s because he took a better route to the ball or simply had the better speed, Mladenovic is well ahead of Falque when it matters. What I can’t show you with screen captures is how Mladenovic deftly one-touches the ball back and around Falque and quickly reverses course.

With Falque left in the dust, Mladenovic bursts into the Roma defensive half and sends a long ball forward into the area, beyond the reach of Antonio Rudiger, but not deep enough to draw a play from keeper Wojciech Szczesny. Dmitri Mozolevski doesn’t quite have a play and has to turn toward the touch line to let help arrive.

The end result: Mladenovic manages to kill a counter-attacking opportunity and turn it quickly into possession deep in enemy territory.

This is something to like.

7 – First time we get to see Mladenovic in action deep in his own area, he is forced into an aerial battle with Florenzi. It wasn’t a confident-looking win, but considering he was throwing the ball in for a teammate moments later, it was enough.

09 ML early throw

10 – Maybe Mladenovic simply has a penchant for making very precise passes.

I chided him slightly for trying to force a pass through to Yablonsky. I’ll stick by that one, but a tight offsides call ruined an otherwise-delightful low pass through Roman traffic to Aleksander Hleb.

10 to hleb

Having grown up on American sports in the 80’s, I have a soft spot for the NBA point guard who can see a route for a pass that nobody else might see and then can actually deliver the ball through it. I was a hardcore fan of the Bad Boy Pistons back in the day, so Isaiah Thomas was my guy, but I also loved watching John Stockton create easy buckets for Karl Malone. It was amazing to watch.

Do not take this to mean I’m comparing Mladenovic to Stockton, but that’s what came to mind when I watched this pass get completed. It was a thing of beauty . . . and then the flag was raised.

Oh well . . . that’s our game, I guess.

12 – Pjanic and Florenzi play a tidy little one-two near the right touch line to effectively get around Mladenovic. Mikhail Gordejchuk was on hand to help, though, with a sliding tackle that stopped progress and allowed BATE to recover.

13 – Another situation in which Mladenovic hustles toward a ball and seems to simply better anticipate how it will travel than does his challenger, leaving our guy to win the moment and keep BATE in possession.

14 – Mladenovic does seem to want to go forward, sometimes so desperately that he’s willing to force something desperate.

11 another forced pass

He’s again looking for Hleb, but instead of leading the attacker toward the goal, he’s looking to give-and-go (I like using basketball lingo sometimes. Deal with it.). The numbers being in Roma’s favor make this a low-percentage play, especially with Florenzi so tight on Hleb’s ass. There is almost nothing for Hleb to do in that situation, much less any way for him to be able to make a good enough pass to get it back to a well-marked Mladenovic.

Granted, this sort of thing simply doesn’t fit into the Stöger style, so that should curb it. There’s also the fact BATE knew they had to score to get anything from the game, so they were more likely to take risks.

And I’m fine with risks, but this one had virtually no chance of return.

Well, not for BATE anyhow.

12 almost burned

Back in Roma’s possession, the ball was sent long for Florenzi, who did again try to run into space behind Mladenovic. Though Mladenovic was able to keep pace and play the ball, he was unable to control it. Florenzi got onto the ball and flipped it back toward the BATE goal and into the path of Edin Dzeko.

It wasn’t a great threat due to Dzeko’s errant shot, but it was a chance that needn’t have arrived. Even when you need to take chances, make sure you actually have a chance!

18 – A little nothing near the intersection of the center line and the touch line. A short pass from Mladenovic, an attempt to return while pressured by two defenders, ball goes out off one of the defenders, Mladenovic takes the throw-in. Ah, “the beautiful game!”

19 – As Roma makes a few forays deeper into BATE territory, you see Mladenovic shifting his emphasis to defensive responsibilities. On one rush, he nicely takes a path to his flank that ran across the front of another rushing attack, slightly impeding the Roman. Minor detail, but those things matter in tight contests.

20 – Not for the first time, a BATE takeaway in their own end results in a teammate immediately looking for Mladenovic on the rush. You get the impression he’s considered by his team to be a pivot-man in attack.

Mladenovic looking for Hleb

After the ball was snatched away from Roma at the near touchline, well into BATE’s defensive third, central defender Denis Polyakov receives an outlet ball and immediately looks to Mladenovic’s side. Seeing him on the run, Plyakov starts dribbling quickly toward that side of the pitch and sends a pass over for the left back.

You see that Mladenovic was able to carry possession into Rome’s half without too much trouble. Before the defense really starts to close on him, he’d already identified his preferred option, which is the guy closest to the center of the screen cap, Alex Hleb. Again, Mladenovic attempts a precision ball across knowing he’d need to lead enough to avoid Nainggolan, but not so far that it was be an easy pick for Antonio Rudiger.

Hleb wasn’t expecting the ball, but once it was played, added some pace and got a foot onto it. Had Hleb anticipated the play, he’d still have needed to make a pretty good effort to turn it into something, but he acknowledged Mladenovic afterwards with the obligatory “thumbs up for looking for me, hoss!”

Instead of thinking of this as a waste of a counterattack, I’m starting to appreciate the way Mladenovic sees the pitch and anticipate seeing him deliver well-targeted balls to Big Mo’ in the middle . . . if and when he sees the field, of course.

20 – HA! Florenzi tries to go through and/or around Mladenovic at midfield, maybe thinking he’d punish the guy for not dropping back deeper into a defensive posture.

 

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Mladenovic wasn’t having any of it, instead coolly taking the ball off Florenzi and starting quickly in the other direction. It was ultimately cleared by Falque when Mladenovic tried to play it deeper down the flank, but they could only deflect it out of touch for a BATE throw.

Sidebar:  Is writing this much about a single guy in a single game a bit loopy? I think it might be loopy. Oh well. I’m committed, at this point.

21 – First opportunity at defending a cross from the other flank.

vlcsnap-2016-01-07-11h15m20s126

It’s impossible to know what Lucas Digne (#3) had in mind (Dzeko, maybe?), but Mladenovic had his guy (Iturbe?) beat well before the ball was even struck. Plenty of time to camp under it and direct the header from danger.

22 – WHEELS!

After keeper Sergey Chernik punches a corner clear toward midfield, Mladenovic bolts from the area onto Nainggolan’s tail. He helps press play all the way back to Szczesny.

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When the Roma keeper tries to come back to Nainggolan, Mladenovic steps up to remind Nainggolan that he’s not retreated, so the ball goes all the way back to Szczesny again, this time for a long boot up the pitch.

24 – And . . . back to earth.

A long side-switching ball was sent into Mladenovic’s territory. He got onto it, but after playing the ball, was screened away as it went out for a Roma throw. The ensuing action led to Romas first really big series of chances.

vlcsnap-2016-01-07-11h31m24s10

 

It’s not the surrendering of a throw that deep in his own area that is of concern, though it’s not idea. The problem was triggered when Mladenovic got lured out of his area for a casual chase of the ball being played around after the throw-in that opened the door to danger.

If you can see the pink shoe, you’ll see that our left back has four teammates and four attackers behind him. The ball is being played into the area where he’d have been if he’d stayed home rather than drifting high (he didn’t really have a chance at taking the ball away, nor was he aggressively doing anything out there). Pjanic had no problem leading Falque into the area, ultimately leading to a scramble in front of the BATE goal.

It should otherwise be noted that the BATE defenders were very cool in dealing with the situation.

25 – This one isn’t really his fault.

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As he starts to move toward the touch line to keep tabs on the Roma player hanging out over there, Mladenovic clearly communicates to Namanja Nikolic to keep an eye on Iturbe. Whether the defensive mid misunderstood or just didn’t hear over the hundreds in attendance, Nikolic almost immediately abandoned Iturbe to become a third defender on the ball .  . . which was there for only a split-second longer as Florenzi recognized the opportunity and sent it through.

Mladenovic reversed course almost the moment Nikolic peeled off Iturbe, but it came down to Nemanja Milunovic barring a cross at the expense of a corner.

26 – Routine block of cross, but why not mention it considering I’m writing EVERYTHING ELSE THAT HAPPENS?!

In that spirit, Mladenovic would moments later calmly clear a ball up the pitch with a big boot.

Moving on . . .

30 – Fool us once . . .

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Roma didn’t wait long to see if they could create that opening on the right side of the area again. They posted their man over at the boards, looking to draw a defender out of the path of a potential run, but both Mladenovic and Nikolic thought better of playing into it. The right back cheated toward home this time and Nicolic kept back.

So Nainggolan instead sent a laser of a pass to Dzeko just inside the area. Was a pretty precise pass, but far too hot to handle, maybe causing the target to stumble after playing it.

31 – More caution from Mladenovic. He got the ball at midfield this time and scanned for options. Rather than forcing something, he conservatively played back.

There may be something to Guy English’s theory that BATE figures Roma will get increasingly desperate the longer they are unable to get a goal, which would then be the time for the visitors to strike.

Maybe . . .

32 – YEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAW!!!!! All-around great stuff from Mladenovic.

vlcsnap-2016-01-07-12h01m15s56

Mladenovic saw this situation develop early and immediately recognized the danger. The pass into the Roma player (sorry, don’t know who it is ) was quality. Instead of chasing the ball or player, Mladenovic went directly for the best path to intercept a potential shot or pass. He slid pretty early, even before the Roma player fully squared to the goal after receiving the ball, so he likely didn’t realize he had a defender in the way by the time he decided to take a shot. Very strong play from Mladenovic.

Moments later, an aggressive play interrupted Roma’s passing around on that flank and began a series of battles that ultimately caused a turnover and counter for BATE.

37 – This challenge  (the ball is coming in toward the Roma player, with Mladenovic sprinting into a late bid for it) . . .

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leads to this rush.

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Was it worth it?

Roma actually pulled up a bit on their charge as they approached the final third. A Nainggolan shot was all they got from it, and that was fairly easily handled. Even so, there wasn’t a big payoff for Mladenovic’s decision on that pass. It was a lazy ball, which does mean it was up for grabs (sort of), but he wasn’t ever going to be able to do anything with it. He’d have been better off going the other direction, really.

This is where you start to feel for the Roma fans. After so much possession without much that is truly promising, you start to recognize it as “one of those matches.”

40 – It’s late in the half, but we finally get to see Mladenovic into a semi-settled offensive situation. I say “semi” because though BATE is in possession, they are fighting to keep it under Roma pressure.

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Igor Stasevich made a grand effort to escape the Roma defense and start moving forward. You can see Mladenovic making himself available with plenty of space for him to work. Stasevich moves in that direction and sends the ball toward the empty space.

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Mladenovic had plenty of time to organize his thoughts and body for a delivery here. You can see that BATE remained somewhat conservative in attacking in this situation, but the left back opted to go into the middle rather than extend the moment by sending it to someone out on the fringes.

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This will not go down as one of his better deliveries of the half. If he was going to go behind his two most-forward attackers, he probably should have gone with one of the guys just outside the area in hopes of a dream shot.

42 – Here’s probably where my lack of football savvy is keeping me from seeing the reasoning here.

BATE is clearly looking to get to halftime at this point. pulling away from chances to attack in favor of maintaining possession, likely a bit worn from all the defending they’ve been doing. So why, when everyone is staying so deep, is Mladenovic still going forward? Did he not get the memo, or is he the one guy being sent up in case some big opportunity makes itself obvious?

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It’s not a huge problem, as long as you maintain possession, but if someone stumbles at the slightest challenge and doesn’t get a call from the referee . . .

There ended up being enough yellow playing deeply, especially as Roma continues to fumble at the crucial moment, offensively. Even so . . . I don’t get it.

Halftime!

I may have gotten a bit too into this, but after 45 minutes, I feel like I’m getting a feel for who Filip Mladenovic is as a player.

Okay, that’d be absurd, considering it’s just one match and a Champions League match at that, but at least I can now say I’ve seen him play.

I’ll return with a “Part 2” eventually, but will likely use a lot fewer screen caps and words to relate things of interest. I’m sure those of you who’ve made it this far down the page will appreciate that.

 

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