sabato 28 aprile 2012

The Bielsa's Way

Fernando Llorente scored twice to give Athletic Bilbao a 3-1 win over Sporting Lisbon that sent Athletic to the Europa League final against 2010 champion Atletico Madrid. Credit to Marcelo Bielsa for the team's success. Bielsa built the team in a different way from the Spanish tiki-taka style. He worked after another coach that likes quick, aggressive, high-tempo football, as Joaquin Caparros. Bielsa side plays a direct football, looking for forwards passes, a la Zdenek Zeman. In Spain, Bielsa mixed his love for a direct football with a lot of movements, with a buildup play more suited for a Spanish team. The results was that while the team starts the action with defenders and holding midfielders playing a control-keeping the ball game, the flow of the play become more quick and direct, as soon as possible, toward the net. Pep Guardiola well described Athletic here: "They all run up … and they all run down again. Up, down, up, down, up, down. They're fascinating." That's Athletic: a low buildup play at the back, followed by quick movements in the opposite half. Coming to Spain, Bielsa's most famous pattern was the 3-3-1-3 he employed with Argentina and Chile. This formation became largely famous due to the Johan Cruyff era with Ajax. A similar approach was employed also by Pep Guardiola with Barcelona. I mean similar because while the formation was almost the same, the concepts employed are different. While Guardiola's 3-3-4 requires a large amount of positional work, Bielsa's 3-3-1-3 is more direct. Tactically, Bielsa loves to play with an high defensive line and press all over the pitch. With the Athletic, he switched from 3-3-1-3 to a 4-3-3 formation. In this pattern, there are a lot of well-know movements and some new or so. Have the hodling midfielder, Ander Iturraspe, dropping into the defence, switching Athletic four-men back line into a back three, allowing the fullbacks to spread, isn't unusual for Spanish football.

Mexico too during his 2010 campaign employed a similar mode, with holding midfielder, Rafael Marquez, collpasing back in the middle of the defence to become a sweeper. The holding midfilder's job is to distribute the ball to the middle or  wide open. The fullbacks, now two wingers, have to run towards, looking to spread the rivals' defense. But they can also to cut into, as De Marcos and Iraola often did this season, creating gaps others players can explore. As ZonalMarking pointed out,  the diagonal run from full-backs was also common in Bielsa’s formations. But they are not a news in the modern football era: we have seen them before in Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dotmund and in the Alberto Zaccheroni's 3-4-3 system, where the movements between flankers and wide forwards was coordinated in the way that one went externally and the second internally on the pitch. Also, isn't unusual another Bielsa's movement; the combination between wing and interior midfielder, with the flanker cutting inside.

That's different from Guardiola's approach, where the flankers, wings of full-backs, stay wide in both 4-3-3 and 3-3-4 formations, stretching the defense. That said, Bielsa's football demands his team being at full fitness. On defensive phase, the high pressure action is linked to a sort of man-to-man marking, in the middle and into the defense, against the players coming toward the ball controller to receive the pass. This play of marking and pressing needs of a good fitness by the players.

Coming back to Bielsa loved 3-3-1-3, this way was run in Italy too by Ezio Glerean. Though Glerean had not the opportunity to run this pattern at the highest level, having just one experience in a big place like Palermo, he deserves a lot of credit for his experiment with a not usual formation like 3-3-4. He built a big surprise with this system during his stint with Cittadella, a small club that tried to repeat the Chievo experiment of a small franchise who went on to play at a bigger level. Glerean supports the idea that 3-3-4 don't need of wingers. In his 3-3-4, the forwards are pure attackers. "You can also win by utilizing a single centre-forward ... but I believe that more increases the number of forwards, more chances you have to win," once he said. He wants more quality up...more technical palyers in the field at the same time. In this system, there are not usual overlapping movements, and the players have precise duties: it means that this system is a 6-4, with 6 men defending and 4 attacking. This is why, while Bielsa surprised with midfilder Javi Martinez lined up as central defender, Glerean often employed defenders on the midfield. The buildup play is fast at the back, and often made with a long and direct ball from the goalkeeper. It's a strong, high-tempo game. Quick movements and short passes are utilized just in the opposite half to try to get behind the rivals' back line. In the other half, Glerean likes to work the ball in zones where 1 v 1 situations could be created. A perfect example of Glerean's spectacular 3-3-4 came from an old match against Zdenek Zeman's side, ended 4-4. On defensive phase, the outside players stayed deep, meaning that Glerean's 3-3-4 looked like a 5-3-2. In fact, the exterior forwards collapsed back centrally covering the midfield.

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