mercoledì 30 maggio 2012

Who starts? Who sits?

Will the Americans' new high-tempo, high-pressing style work again? This is the question when USMNT will face Brazil at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The game is important for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to know if their new way of playing can be successful against a top team, as ESPN television analyst Alexi Lalas pointed out. Pressing Brazil as the did Scotland could be dangerous, given the Selecao's skills to avoid pressure. Klinsmann could be a bit more conservative but play into Brazil half could help U.S. defense so we could see a high defensive line yet. About the line up, Klinsmann showed to have tactical flexibility but he still could rely on a three men midfield with Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu. The question is if Clint Dempsey will return. In this case, if Klinsmann wants to keep the 4-3-2-1, he could retain José Torres alongside Landon Donovan playing with Dempsey up top. Another way could be to drop one between Edu, Jones, and Bradley to insert Torres in the midfield or to keep out Torres himself. Up top, Hérculez Gómez aside, there are also the options of Jozy Altidore, who just joined the U.S. camp on Monday, and Terrence Boyd. Both Altidore and Boyd needs time to get acclimate. Scottish side was that bad but USMNT will not face Bazil A. By the way. USA will have to contain Neymar, Pato and Hulk.

martedì 29 maggio 2012

Not just!

The era of Brian Clough and Don Revie is over. In the collective British mind, the ideal football manager is an aged man, with look and charisma, used to beat player when it's needful. Now things are different: style is an important part of managing skills and clubs are looking for fresh blood and tactical ability. Simon Kuper well described managers' word. But who are the rising stars in this word? Simon Grayson left Leeds Uunited just outside the play offs in the Championship. His dismissal following the 4-1 defeat at home to Birmingham City on 31 January,  brought an end to his three-year stint in which he led Leeds to promotion from League One in 2010. He deserves the credit for Huddersfield Town’s dramatic promotion. The former Leeds manager has now guided three teams to promotion from League One after taken also Blackpool up trhough the play-offs in 2007. He likes to play 4-4-2 formations where the central midfielders stay tight to their men and the wide players move in. Close the opposition and win second balls is a key of his game. Gus Poyet is a though guy. He wants his team playing the way he wants, maintaining possession and waiting for the right moment to go forward. His toughts are here. Poyet's attacking guide tells us to keep the forwards moving, making a lot of different runs, and don't go direct. Brighton was a product of Gus Poyet’s coaching ideas, with the team building-up and the players looking for the opportunity to make the pass forward. Paul Sturrock's record was unnoticed. He lead Plymouth from League Two to Championship and League Champions in 2003/2004, although he left for Southampton six weeks before the promotion; Sheffield Wednesday from League One to Championship; and Swindon Town from League Two to League One. Why  big clubs ignored him? The Southampton debacle was not enough to rule him away from better jobs. Despite last season relegation from the EPL, Ian Holloway made a strong statement on his coaching skills. With his usual 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 shape, Holloway brought a brend new of football in Blackpool. Attacking football is what he wants and what he had from his players. Holloway himself expressed his football ideas in a column. As everyone will know, West Ham ended Blackpool's dreams to make a come back to the Premier League. But Holloway offensive, risk taking playing style was amazing. David Jones is the man behind recent Cardiff's success. Jones's commitment to attacking football made Cardiff one of the best teams in the Championship. His tactical inflexibility was built around a flat 4-4-2 with two wingers able to made rivals' fullbacks to stay deep. Jones likes to adapte players to tactics. After being sacked by Cardiff City last summer, Jones came to Sheffield to made Wednesday a scoring side bringing on his style and sending off the players not suited for..

domenica 27 maggio 2012

A club's success

Romanian coach Cosmin Olaroiu is the man behind Al Ain's success. He has revolutionized the club leading it from the bottom of the table to this year’s championship in one season span. The rebuilding project started when Olaroiu brought in Saudi Arabian national team captain Yasser Al Qahtani, Argentine midfielder Ignacio Scocco, and the Ghana international Asamoah Gyan. Then he added the veteran Emirati Helal Saeed, to use his skills in midfield. Behind those guys, Olaroiu built his 4-3-3 formation, based on width, with the wingers that had the goal to get at full-backs and play for the central forward and for the two upcoming midfielders whose had both to defend and attack. The return of Gyan from the African Cup of Nations allowed Olaroiu to utilize the 4-4-2 too, pairing him to Al Qahtani up top. All the eyes was on the lone striker Asamoah Gyan, top scorer in the Pro League with 20 goals in just 17 games, but he was 'just' the star in a very good bunch of players. Goalkeepers Waleed Salem and Dawoud Sulaiman, UAE international Fares Jumaa, Khaled Abdulrahman, Mohanad Salem Al Saadi, Fawzi Fayez, Ismail Ahmed and Musalam Fayez, was part of a very good defense. Scocco was the creative playmaker of Al Ain. Midfielder Salem Abdulla was a force of nature. Helal Saeed, Mirel Radoi and Yasser Al Qahtani all impressed. Now, it's time to look ahead. Gyan’s contract allows Al Ain to make his loan from English Premier League side Sunderland permanent for €3.5 million and Olariou hopes the club will make the move. Olaroiu also is hopeful to retain Al-Qahtani and Scocco. Remains some doubt over the future of both players. Coach and fans want the team become the first Pro-League winners to defend their title. We will see... It's easy to reach the summit, is difficult to stay here.

sabato 26 maggio 2012

Batista e poi...

E' arrivato da poco a Shangai. E' l'ultimo acquisto nella rivoluzione degli allenatori che il campionato cinese sta facendo per darsi un maggior prestigio internazionale. Dopo Marcello Lippi a Guangzhou, tocca ora all'ex allenatore dell'Argentina, Sergio Batista, pronto a firmare per lo Shanghai Shenhua. L'arrivo del 49enne tecnico, campione del mondo con l'Argentina nel 1986 e campione olimpico come allenatore alle Olimpiadi di Pechino del 2008, non è stato indolore. L'ingaggio di Batista ha infatti reso inqueita la star dello Shenhua, Nicolas Anelka, diventato allenatore-giocatore dopo il licenziamento di Jean Tigana. Anelka ha criticato la mancanza di comunicazione interna al club: insomma, dell'arrivo di Batista, per sostituirlo come coach, il francese non sapeva nulla. Anelka è il giocatore di maggior prestigio nella Chinese Super League, nella quale gioca da gennaio, quando ha firmato un contratto da $307,000 a settimana per due stagioni, mentre il contratto del suo coaching staff è per appena 6 mesi, altra questione che ha irritato il francese, indisponibile ad accettare un cambiamento dello staff tecnico, con l'arrivo di nuovi allenatori al posto di quelli da lui voluti. Subito sono circolati rumors in merito ad una presunta voglia di Anelka di lasciare il club, rumors poi seccamente smentiti dal 33enne attaccante. La situazione di classifica dello Shangai non è un granché, con lo Shenhua che veleggia in fondo alla classifica, 14° su 16 teams della CSL, con appena 11 punti registrati in 11 matches, 14 dietro i leaders del campionato. Per migliorare la situazione, accanto all'arrivo di Batista, il team sta cercando di portare a casa anche Didier Drogba, ex compagno di Anelka al Chelsea, con cui sono in corso trattative. Al team di Shangai non spaventano gli investimenti: nel campionato cinese, soltanto Shenhua e Guangzhou possono ad oggi essere considerati big clubs.

mercoledì 23 maggio 2012

Ready for an opportunity

While David Beckham and other big foreign players flew to Major League Soccer, there are also a lot of American players ready to go in the opposite direction. A lot of American players spent time training with European clubs during last offseason. A lot have gone on training stints with European clubs. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann pushed them to spend time in Europe. The results were good. None of them were marginalized or only trained with with lower teams. Some of them could be heading to play permanently in Europe next season. So which American stars could be on the move? First and foremost is Brek Shea, which could making a move to Europe soon. He caught the eye under new U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's regime. Shea had impressive MLS seasons with FC Dallas and he's a rising star with the USMNT. FC Dallas star defender George John rejected offers to train with three different European clubs this offseason. His contract expires at the end of the season so he could finally decide to try this way to improve. Omar Gonzalez is another highly-rated MLS talent. The 6-5, 23-year-old defender lead youthful Galaxy defense in two consecutive seasons. He's entering the final year of his MLS contract. Juan Agudelo spent time in Europe, during a training session with VfB Stuttgart. The 19-year-old played was impressive latest seasons and he earned experience playing alongside Thierry Henry before to be traded to Chivas USA. Hercules Gomez and DaMarcus Beasley are two players on this list performing outside MLS territory. Gomez had another amazing season in the Mexican League, while Beasley enjoyed a career renaissance in his first season in Mexico. On the net, there are some good names ready to try an European experience. Bill Hamid, a starter at D.C., is in line to make his European debut. Good size and skills, Sean Johnson is another promising goalkeeper likely to contend for a spot in Europe. Another young keeper who have aspirations and talent to go abroad is Zac MacMath. He has tremendous potential. Jeff Larentowicz, is a tough holding midfielder, and a long time MLS veteran. He has the experience to get more of a trial. Zach Pfeffer were training with Bundesliga side of 1899 Hoffenheim. He's considered one of the better prospect in MLS. Despite his age, he showed what he can do.He's still a kid but with good upside in the coaching staff.

martedì 22 maggio 2012

How important is possession?

How important is possession? The question was already put on place by Jonathan Wilson. And  ZonalMarking too recently added an interesting relationship between average possession and shots per game. It's an interesting question about football pragmatism. Against ball possession philosophy was Charles Reep, whose ideas would become FA strict rules under Charles Hughes, FA technical director. And a long balls kind of football became the tactical philosophy of the English game. This idea flourished on the North too, where Egil Olsen, a lecturer at the Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education, brought on Reep's approach. After he became the Norway national manager in 1990, he asked long and direct balls being played as soon as possible across rivals' defensive line. With this philosophy, from 1993 to 1996 Noway allowed just one goal from open play. Olsen lead Norway to USA 94 and through the second round of France 98. His method didn't work in England but his stint at Wimbledon was plagued by injuries and players' bad attitude. Despite the fact he was a true dribbling magician during his playing career, Olsen stuck to a scientific approach as manager. His decisions was made on statistics and analytical analysis.

His strategy was based on zone defence; aggressivity; an usually 4-5-1 formation. His strict zonal marking system developed average defenders as Rune Bratseth and Tore Pedersen.

Olsen idea was simple: make sure to have as many players as possible behind the ball, put pressure on the rivals, regain the ball and play fast counterattacks.

The two lines of defense and midfield have to play very close each other.


The defensive line is lined up high, in the way to keep the team short and compact. The midfielders had to run fast up top to support the lone forward. As Jonathan Wilson pointed out in his Inverting the Pyramid book, for Olsen was more important to pass the opposition longitudinally than to retain possession. Olsen wanted his team play long passes to the target man or to the wide midfielders. Off-the-ball running was his approach and the team also had to move to the flank defending where the ball is. Olsen was the inventor of the well know Flo Pass: it was the favourite tactic of the national side during his stint. This tactic involved one of the full-backs, usually Liverpool's Stig Inge Bjornebye, playing a long diagonal ball up to the Jostein Flo, which had the goal to knock the ball down to one of the upcoming midfielders. But Olsen aside, another big mind raised up during that time. The godfather of modern Rosenborg,  the team that have beaten Real Madrid in 1997-98, and AC Milan on their own pitch the season before, was Nils Arne Eggen. He introduced a 4-3-3 system inspired of Rinus Michels' total football. Eggen was always playing three strikers up top. His side was very unlike those of Olsen, mixing Dutch 4-3-3 formation and an English style pressing and long-ball game, playing on the ground behind gifted players such as Erik Mykland, Jahn Ivar “Mini” Jakobsen and Lars Bohinen in the midfield. This system was based on attacking football: every player knew exactly what to do with the ball. Eggen built a philosophy that produces players and results. The next one was Erik Hamren: he led Sweden to a comfortable automatic qualification to Euro 2012. He's a highly rated tactician in Scandinavian football, where he has a decent record at club level in his previous stints with Swedish side AIK, Orgryte IS, Danish side Aalborg and Norwegian side Rosenborg, collecting 6 titles. His skill is to make the best of what he has got. Hamren likes a 4-2-3-1 pattern with attacking full-backs. While Sweden team was known for a defensive style under previous head coach Lars Lagerback, the arrival of Hamren brought along a new style of play, no more focused on defensively oriented players like Magnus Svensson. The idea now is to attack and lead the game, not wait for a counterattack. Hamren wants Swedish to go forward and put pressure on the opponents when the ball is lost. The new generation of Norwegian managers counts on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer too. He built his Molde Fk around a classic 4-4-2 formation and his team have set the league alight. Solskjaer recently snubbed Aston Villa to stay on with Molde. But Norwegian football, Rosenborg above all, also had the chance to utilize the work of Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Faculty of Medicine, in Trondheim. NTNU has close links to Rosenborg and many of the players had degrees from NTNU or was students there. NTNU studied in many way physiological adaptations to football specific endurance training in professional players. They was the first to employ 4x4-min intervals running training uphill at 90-95% of maximal heart rate interspersed with 3 min jogging at 70% of maximal heart rate. And they was between the first to reveale that football specific training drills with the ball might be as effective as plain running. Many of their results are published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Rosenborg in the '90 posted a record for football clubs in VO2-Max results for the players. All thanks to NTNU training method. Also, they tried to find a way to improve max-strength training to give better explosiveness and strong muscles without increase muscle mass for the players. You can red about it here.

lunedì 21 maggio 2012

Torino is back

After a waiting of three seasons, Torino is back in Serie A. The man behind this succes is manager Giampiero Ventura. Ventura's side have generally played with a 4-2-4 since he took over last summer. His plan B this season was to insert a third midfielder switching to a 4-3-3 formation. There’s been too much talk on this system latest seasons. It was linked to Antonio Conte and current Juventus' manager spoke about it. As you can read, the 4-2-4 is considered a non existing formation being a classic 4-4-2 lined up as a 4-2-4 in attack. That isn't totally true. The way to run this pattern makes the difference between an usual 4-4-2 and a 4-2-4. To know more about it you can turn the eyes to Conte's Siena and Bari formations. But is Ventura that should have the last word on this formation being the godfather of  4-2-4. Although Ventura isn't the creator of the 4-men up top formations, his stints with Pisa and Bari means he deserves a lot of credit employing it. This 4-2-4 is a 6-4 pattern with 6 men defending and moving the ball and 4 attackers up top. The main question mark about the system is how to face attacking midfielders lined up in 4-3-1-2/4-3-2-1/4-2-3-1 formations. This issue is usual solved through the use of  hard working midfielders. This is not the case. Torino employed gifted central midfielders such as Manuel Iori or Giuseppe Vives. So the key against attacking midfielders was the tactical attitude of those players on stay deep and close the spaces between defensive and midfield's lines. The battle of midfield in recent season has evolved in a battle for ball possession. So teams with a three men midfield took the edge in midfield. In this situation is often the deep-lying playmaker to be free. Torino avoid trobules against the deep-lying playmaker using both forwards in the way to cover passes to him. On the offensive phase, playing with two holding midfielders rather than three usually means to play a more direct football. That dont' happens with Ventura's 4-2-4. Torino played a ball possession game to draw ahead the rivals. It means a long, continued, game control. Ventura likes to use the goalkeeper to retain the ball control. When the rivals came forward, Torino starts the attack. Ventura's gameplan is based on 'have numerical superiority' and play to the unmarked man'. To do it, Ventura try to create 2 vs. 1 situation all over the pitch. As we said earlier, it isn’t unusual to see a 4-4-2 pattern switch into a 4-2-4 in attack. And here we have somethings from the 4-4-2. But Ventura's 4-2-4 principles are different. We have not overlapping fullbacks. We have rarely shots made by the central midfielders. We have a team that plays using width and depth both. The goal is to attack with the  4-men attacking line. One of the main offensive issues with 4-4-2 is that there are only two attackers playing upfront. Here you have four. For the forwards, playing the system is intriguing. There are a lot of offensive movements here. They exploit the spaces open between the own holding midfielders and the rivals' defensive line. The first one is a classic 4-4-2 movement with one striker dropping deep,  and the other running a slant route across the defence.
This play often started from a long ball by the defenders, taking advantage of  Mirko Antenucci and Rolando Bianchi's aerial abilities. Ventura remains focused upon the team as unit but every player is specialized in this system.

Another classic 4-4-2 movement is the cross between the two central forward. Utilized as weapon to beat man-to-man marking during the '80, this movement is still good against modern zonal marking systems, specially with the ball on the flanks.



But the true news are the combinations born following a fake movements made by the forwards. With the ball on the flank, forwards assumed a staggered position, with the first one coming toward the ball to play the withdrawn forward role. In this way, this man can play a 1-2 punch with the flanker or he can play a fake, a veil, leaving the ball sliding to the second strike. So, the second forward, now with the ball, can play a 1-2 with the first attacker or shoot directly.



Basing forwards' movements on those plays allowed Ventura to turn average strikers such as Nacho Castillo and Vitali Kutuzov into scoring machines during his stints in Pisa and Bari.
A lot of goals and scoring opportunities came from the flanks, where Torino tried to play 1 vs. 1 situations in isolation with its wingers. At the end, Torino showed enough to suggest why they won the promotion. As we pointed out, though 4-2-4 system is usually considered an attacking formation, the way Ventura ran this pattern worked defensively and Torino allowed just 14 goals. It will be funny to see if this 4-2-4 will work yet in serie A.

venerdì 18 maggio 2012

The Norwegian

Wolverhampton Wanderers chairman, Steve Morgan,  defended Stale Solbakken hire as manager. But who is Stale Solbakken? A former member of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang, he had one bad season at a very poor club as Köln. They was relegated after this season and they have been relegated five times last fifteen it's hard to judge Solbakken by the work in Germany. In five season in Denmark with FC Copenhagen he won three league titles and two cups, progressing in the Champions League as well. At Cologne, he tried to reply this success. The Norwegian manager tried to run, all over the pitch, an extreme zonal marking system consisting on no doubling up and no defensive movement between the lines. A strict zonal marking system isn't a news for Norwegian football. Drillo Olsen, the manager who transformed Norwegian football, utilized it. A disciple of Charles Reep, Olsen introduced the long ball stuff alongside zonal defending in Norwey and obtained great defensive performances from average defenders. Solbakken used the strict zonal marking system: as a result Köln often defended well enough but Solbakken's tenure ended allowing a big amount of goals. Great blog well described Solbakken's system. He is inflexible with his tactics, preferring a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 system and rarely vary from having two banks of four. 

The two lines of four try to hold the positions as long as possible. Each player is assigned a zone here, as every zonal system does. To play effectively the 4-4-2, is povital to keep small distances between the lines. Solbakken's side wasn't able to do it. It exposed Köln when they played against teams lined up with four lines of depth against their three lines. Also they defend counting more on cover the spaces than to press rivals. That exposed the spaces between defensive and midfield's lines. At the beginning of the season, to avoid this issue, Solbakken tried to play with a very high defense line. That exposed Köln to rivals' counterattacks.

When the team played more deep, it created new problems: the open spaces left between the defensive and midfield lines, where the holding midfielders didn't cover each other.

Solbakken's gameplan was built on quick counterattacks after forcing the opponents to make mistakes and win the ball . On the offensive phase, as the outside forwards moved up aggressively in many situations, it created a 4-2-4 with a lot of spaces in the midfield. Often defense and holding midfielders was very deep and was hard to establish a link between midfield and attack. At the end, Solbakken has the pedigree and the ideas to bring success there. But he needs of a roster suited for his gameplan. How the players will adjust to his approach will make or break his era.

mercoledì 16 maggio 2012

Lippi made in China

According to Tuttosport, Marcello Lippi is set for Guangzhou Evergrande FC. Chinese Super League's team sacked Korean manager Lee Jang-Soo despite a 2-1 win against Buriram United in AFC Champions League that made the team progressing to the knockout stage. What kind of team Lippi will find? Recent signing of Borussia Dortmund's Lucas Barrios made the Chinese champions in 2011, and currently No. 1 team of the Super League's rankings, a bit stronger. The arrival of Lippi will benefit the growth of Chinese football, giving the Chinese league a new impulse. Though Japan’s J-League is still the best league in Asia, we saw some development in China. The signing of Lippi will contribute to Chinese soccer: he will join  Japanese Takeshi Okada, and Dutch coaches Henk ten Cate and Jan Versleijen, in the coaching rank. By the way, Chinese soccer still suffers growing pains, with money injected into the professional league and not in the youth development. CFA took a stance against corruption that has plagued it in the past, and the 18-team professional division is now talked just because its spending list of international players and foreign coaches. Leaded by Brazilian striker Cleo and Argentinian midfielder Dario Conca, Guangzhou also has a good number of current China internationals, such as holding midfielder Zhao Xuri. Guangzhou displayed very fast speed and they have several good players up top. Brazilian Muriqui is the cutting inside left wing: he has no fear to exploit 1 vs 1 situations and to come up trying to score.
Team utilized 4-2-3-1, looking for the depth.  The construction phase is awarded to the four-men back line and to the holding midfielders. When they control the game, playing a ball possession game, this is waiting the right moment to go deep.

 On the transition phase, the 6-men between defense and midfielder have the duty to come back quickly. Team has to improve the overall transition game, being weak against counterattacks and also playing them. The four men up top can have the goal to press highly on rival’s defensive line, as they did against Thai's side Buriram or to press at the midfield's line, helping the rest of the team in the defensive phase, as they did against Jeonbuk Motors (KOR).

At the end, it's a well coached side. Lippi will have the task to improve the team's tactics, using his experience to made it better and more organised. But the first goal will be to adjust himself to the Chinese way of life.

lunedì 14 maggio 2012

Pescara - Torino 2-0, home side lift the game

Lorenzo Insigne & Ciro Immobile did it again. A 1-2 punch by the dynamic duo put Pescara ahead of Torino...probably a decisive lead at the summit of the Serie B ranking. This match was a very impressive chess game between two tactical chiefs as Giampiero Ventura e Zdenek Zeman and a classic battle between two different systems. Both managers lined up their own teams in the usual form. Ventura with the liked 4-2-4, Zeman with his well know 4-3-3. In the first pic you can also note the interesting way in which Zeman's team starts its match. Pescara lines up an 8-men line at the line of scrimmage, 2 in the middle and 3 in each part along the ball. Match started as expected. Torino tried to play a control the ball game while Pescara  pressed heavily up front at a very high tempo. Torino's 4-2-4 is based on ball control and slow the tempo. Be quit, retain the ball and wait for the opponents to come, in the way to start the action. This is because Ventura wants to beat up rivals' pressure and take the edge moving the ball from the defense through the midfield.

"Torino has always played that way, does so much possession to draw ahead the opponent. And we went forward willingly, often running wrong, but it had to be done and we done", Zeman said.

Torino's two central midfielders stay deep and don’t break forward, leaving the offensive duties to the four forwards, wich play with each other. Overlapping full-backs also aren't there. Pescara's approach was the same than usual: press high on defensive phase and move the players on the offense, with full-backs overlapping, wings cutting inside and interior midfielders getting up to support the lone forward. Against a 4-2-4, 4-3-3 obviously tends to take the edge in the middle of the pitch, so Manuel Iori and Migjen Basha faced a numerical disadvantage against Pescara's midfield trio of Matti Nielsen, Marco Verratti, and Emmanuel Cascione.

Verratti, playing the deep-lying playmaker, was particularly free. To deal it, Torino put both forwards, Mirko Antenucci and Alessandro Sgrigna, working tirelessly up top in the way to close down the centre-backs and Verratti. It dind't work and Verratti was free to play as  a backward number ten, moving the ball all around, as we have seen in the first goal.

Additionally, when Verratti moved up, across Torino's front line, Iori and Basha was late in coming and not able to close on Verratti, who had still time to distribute the ball forward. The result was Torino being outnumbered in the middle.

To avoid Pescara's pressure, Torino often played long passes. Though this kind of passes are usually accurate, and utilized to start exciting combinations between forwards, this time they was disturbed by Pescara's centre-backs. Both Simone Romagnoli and Marco Capuano were in the right position to cover so Pescara defenders won the ball often.

As the game came near the end, Zeman surprised a lot when he sub Marco Sansovini, a forward, with Moussa Koné, a midfielder, switching from his usual 4-3-3 to a classic 4-4-2.

"I wanted to close spaces and not give Torino the opportunity to score", Zeman said.

At the end, as Zeman noted, it’s difficult for Ventura'side to play unless they control the whole game, and they didnt' control it against Pescara. Their ball retention skills faced a big challenge against Pescara's high pressure. In the defensive phase of play, when Torino started its action from the centre-backs, was a Pescara's interior midfielder that had the duty to help centre-forward Ciro Immobile to press high up the pitch. That made Torino’s troubles in playing out from the back more evident as the game went on. Ventura tried to change the game introducing another pure centre-forward in the second half, but this move produced not success. In the first leg between two sides, Torino's strategy was highly based around counter-attacking, playing the ball forward quickly. At this time, it didn't work.

venerdì 11 maggio 2012

Wind of change

Al Wahda's manager Josef Hickersberger is set to leave his team after this season. The Abu Dhabi's team also decided not to renew Brazilian trio Fernando Baiano, Magrao and Hugo, and Oman international Mohammed Shaibah's contracts. A Super Cup victory over Al Jazira aside, it was a disappointing season for Al Wahda with the team sixth in the Pro League with three games left. Team ownership decided to sub Hickersberger with former Iran and the Saudi club Al Ettifaq's coach Branko Ivankovic. Team also signed Gabon international forward, Eric Mouloungui, a free agent from Ligue 1 club of Nice and Jordan defender Anas Bani Yaseen. Hickersberger's side suffered a lot of injuries that affected Abu Dhabi club's season. Brazilian midfielder Magrao was out for a long time such as forwards Fernando Baiano and Ismail Matar and the Omani international Mohammed Shaibah.

The failed revolution

He quit. Roma coach Luis Enrique said  he will leave the Serie A club after the final game against Cesena. He told it to the team and support staff at the end of the training session. This is the end of a revolution. A failed revolution, of course. History teaches us a lot about failed revolutions.When As Rome appointed former Barcelona's midfielder last summer, they hope to bring on a new football idea in the mouldy Italian football. The idea was to run a Barcelona-style football in the Catenaccio land. An attacking football based on ball control. 

Luis Enrique tried to install Barcelona's movements, a 4-3-3 with full-backs moving forward to become wing-backs; with the holding midfielder, often Daniele De Rossi, sometimes Fernando Gago, collapsing on the back line at the start of the attack;  with wings moving forward to go beyond the lone forward. Rome wasn’t built in a day but patience is not there. In Italy you have to win.
Why he failed? Because the system wasn't suited for his roster. But Enrique never changed mind and he stuck to his principles. He don’t consider football any other way.
Despite the rise of  Fabio Borini, forwards weren't real weapons. In some matches, As Rome created few scoring chances; in some others, they created a lot but failed to score. The idea to keep Francesco Totti far from the goal, asking him to come back and play an attacking midfielder role was unffective and highly criticized, despite he played some of his best football in that position. Moving him away from the penalty box does mean he was not comfortable operating there and depleted team of a functional finisher. Also, Enrique liked the idea to utilize Totti coming out from the bench. He wanted forwards able to press high when the ball was lost, and the 35-years old captain wasn't suited for this job. Youngsters showed growing pains as Lamela and Bojan was so-so. Just centre forward Osvaldo has done well, despite the fact he played often as cutting inside wing. The hirings of Fernando Gago and Miralem Pjanic showed that Enrique wanted control the game a la Barcelona. As Rome averaged 60% of possession but the team struggled to create scoring chances in the first part of the season. In Italy, a non vertical football  don't pay off. To improve this part of the game, and correct the lack of penetration, Enrique switched his system, utilizing both 4-3-3 and a 4-3-1-2 formation, and his gameplan. But isseus stayed. On the flanks, Enrique lacked of true wing-backs. Jose Angel has been far from impressive at left-back; Brazilian Marquinho was much better when he played there. Simone Perrotta and Rodrigo Taddei was uncomfortable defensively, playing out of position; Marco Cassetti and Aleandro Rosi neither have looked good. The early abandon of Cicinho was inexplicable. Utilizing De Rossi deep in midfield, dropping between the centre-backs, gave the team its bigger performer but depleted As Rome of a scoring threat, as he was as insider midfielder in the early part of his career. And employing him sometimes at centre-back fit Enrique’s will for ball-playing backs but depleted midfield. But the bigger downside to this tactic was that Roma were helpless to the counterattacks. Team conceded 13 shots per game and often allowed goals defeding with just the two centre-backs.
 With Nicolas Burdisso injuried, Enrique had just Gabriel Heinze as gifted centre-back. Simon Kjaer's season was horrible. But Enrique also paid As Rome's lack of maturity. Too often his team went out of the game too early. Just take a look to the matches vs Juventus or Lecce as examples.

mercoledì 9 maggio 2012

The victory of verticality

Thanks to their 2-0 victory against Cagliari and Milan's defeat, Juventus have won the Serie A championship. This was Antonio Conte's capolavoro. When former Juventus' captain took the job this summer, he was linked with the 4-2-4 formation he successfully employed with Bari and Siena during his previous stints. Interviewed about it, he candidly admitted:
“There’s been too much talk on this particular way of playing. In actuality it’s a 4-4-2. I know of course novelty makes sometimes a great topic of discussion. If instead of saying ‘4-2-4′ I had said ‘4-4-2′ from the very beginning, we wouldn’t be discussing this ‘innovation’. Maybe all it is is just a normal idea of play. It is a normal 4-4-2. I think in England most teams that are winning are applying this type of module, which enables you to cover the playing field in the best possible way I think.”
But as the season went on, Conte changed his way, switching to a 4-3-3 before stuck to a classic 3-5-2, a defensively pattern utilized above all by teams with relegation fears. Switching between formations can be wrong if the players aren't suited to do it. Juventus had the team ability to switch between 3-5-2 and 4-3-3. Conte showed that all the people thinking you can't win with a 3-5-2 formation was wrong. But Conte didn't turn to a rough 3-5-2 and his approach was active and not reactive. He employed a three-men midfield to protect the deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo and to leave him free of hard defensive duties. Covering Pirlo was one of the main issues for the opponents. You have seen it against Lecce, that utilized a forward like Haris Seferovic marking him. Using a second striker dropping on Pirlo in the defensive phase resulted on to have the striker tired soon; using a midfielder often has seen this player to be late on the coverage. In both cases Pirlo became free as the game went on. And he also goes forward to help the team in the final third of the pitch.

 If teams try to cover Pirlo with an attacking midfielder, as Udinese did, Giorgio Chiellini or Leonardo Bonucci was the men able of playing out of the back and joining the midfield to start attacks for Juventus. The diamond built around the three-men back line and Pirlo is from where Juventus started his ball circulation. The only team that created problems to Conte's side was AC Milan, which forced him to switch from the initial 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 during the the match played on 26 Feb. 2012. Though Juventus' forwards wasn’t a great threat this season (Conte often changed his strikers, switching Mirko Vucinic, Marco Borriello, Fabio Quagliarella, Alex Del Piero and Alessandro Matri) the team took advantage from the extra-midfielder, so both Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal got spaces forward: Marchisio went for 9 goals, Vidal for 7. This tactics allowed Conte to employ a winger like Emanuele Giaccherini in the middle. Also, switching to three at the back line allowed Conte to line up in Paolo De Ceglie ( or Marcelo Estigarribia), on the flank opposite to Stephan Lichsteiner, an offensive full-back pushing forward to provide width on the offense. At the end, they had two wing-backs on the flanks able to cross inside the box and two insider midfielders able to support the forwards centrally. Team played an 84% of short passes and scored 71% of its goals on open play, adding a good 22% of goal scored on set pieces situations. Juventus' attack were balanced between middle and flanks. When they faced a team that defended deep, Juventus keept the ball, remained patient but whit speed, using the wingers to open the box or going in the middle with 1-2 punches with forwards coming toward the ball.

 The movements of a forward coming toward the midfield is usual in the Juventus' system. It's utilized both to open the spaces for insider midfielders and to allow to wing-backs and midfielders to gain spaces and a time of play in the counterattacks, moving the opposite's defense too.

Juventus found troubles when faced samll teams defending deep, as Bologna, Chievo or Cesena. On the other side, the team didn't allow scoring chances to the opponents.

Another key factor was the team's shape. Following Napoli's example, Juventus ran a high pressure football, less based on ball control. You have seen Juventus focused on keeping the ball sometimes, but often after they scored first. By the way the first idea was to go for the goal vertically. They had an average possession of 61% per game, significantly low for a such big team. Juventus was in shape during all the season. Credit to Conte, a fitness trainer himself, and to his staff, leaded by Roberto Sassi and with former Luciano Spalletti's fitness trainer Paolo Bertelli.

This season, players' injuries are gone down of a 60% from last season. Playing just once at week helped the team to stay injury-free. And they also tried to build a roster free of injury-prone players. But also the methodology was different. Alongside Bertelli there is Julio Tous, former fitness trainer at Barcelona under Frank Rijkaard. The strength training was based on to improve the specific movements of the players, not to maximize the muscle hypertrophy. Conte's method is based on high intensity, both in drills with or without the ball.

domenica 6 maggio 2012

King Dalglish

His chances of staying failed after Chelsea hold on to win FA Cup. Kenny Dalglish's tenure at Anfield Road seems to be near to an end. Tactically Dalglish's system essentially is based on a classic  4-4-2 with  two pure wingers or with a classic one on a flank and a midfielder on the other. He employed it on his previous stints with Blackburn, Newcastle and Celtic. By the way, this season Dalglish had surprisingly lined up system with 3 midfielders, i.e. against Man Utd and Totthenam, to face rivals lined up with three central midfielders. He has beaten Chelsea twice this campaign by playing with a three-men back line while in the FA Cup final Dalglish decided to stay with the four-men defence. So he left out Andy Carroll and went for a 4-3-3 with Luis Suarez up top. Suarez struggled to score as the second striker behind a big man so Dalglish started with him as lone forward. But the best things happened when Dalglish, with Chelsea parking the bus, introduced the second forward to face the Blues. Dalglish likes to have a flexible team. What Dalglish does well is line up a reactive team, able to expose the rivals’ weaknesses. This is why he likes to switch patterns and because Liverpool has changed approaches many times this season.

sabato 5 maggio 2012

Remember the time

New England's manager Roy Hodgson had an Asian stint when he were UAE National Team's head coach. He ran few training sessions but he impressed everybody with his attention to detail and enthusiasm. The new England manager was in charge of the UAE from April 2002 until January 2004 when he led the team through qualification to the 2004 Asian Cup in China but finishing just fifth out of eight teams in the Gulf Cup. His team included players such as Al Ain's Salem and Ali Al Wahaibi, Al Jazira's Subait Khater and Al Wahda's Ismail Matar. He brought on an enormous knowledge on the game and tried to build a squad based on youth. But Hodgson work was hard with no training camps and players not available. He ended his tenure with a 50-50 win ratio.

mercoledì 2 maggio 2012

The Decision

England's national team is back to an Englishman after Roy Hodgson was hired by the FA. Hodgson is a veteran coach that had stints with the national teams of Switzerland, Finland and the United Arab Emirates, and with clubs in England, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Italy. But what kind of coach FA appointed? Hodgson is a gentleman and a blue-collar worker. Maybe his workouts are boring but he thinks the best coaches just utilize 8-9 different training sessions. "He gets the 11 that he wants on a match-day and he drills everything in that he wants. It's certain drills defensive, certain drills attacking, and we work very hard at it. There are no diagrams. It's all on the pitch with the ball, nothing unopposed. We do a lot of work after every game on analysis, sorting the bad things out, sorting the good things out. It's nice to know what you work hard on works so well. We're two-and-a-half years down the line now, so we're all converted; it's just working on little things now and hoping we can still get better," Fulham player Simon Davis, who worked under Hodgosn, told to Jonathan Wilson. Roy Hodgson is grown at the school of former technical director of the FA Allen Wade, who introduced a new way of thinking about the game. Hodgson's philosophy is abt the same he learned under Wade, based on a number of principles which give you every part of the game as theorized. Wade first theorized the five principles of attacking and defending in football in the The F.A. Guide to Training and Coaching manual. The five attacking principles are penetration, support/depth, mobility, width and creativity/improvisation; the defensive principles are delay, depth, balance, concentration and composure/discipline/patience. Wade introduced the modern English football era favouring pressing, counter-attacks and direct passes. When Hodgson became manager of Swedish side of Halmstad in 1976, Swedish teams utilized a sweeper in a 5-men back line, favouring man--to-man coverage. Hodgson changed team's pattern, introducing Wade's concepts by switching to a 4-4-2 and using zonal marking: "On the first day of the season, 20 newspapers said Halmstads would go down. I’d qualified for my full coaching badge at 23 but that was my first season coaching adults. Halmstads had played a very different type of football to what I wanted, man-to-man across the field, with a libero. From the start it was: ‘Okay, you lads know nothing, this is what we’re going to do," he said. Hogdson likes the 4-4-2 pattern. So the England could have this look.

Pass and move are the keys of Hodgson's play style. He wants two central midfielders protecting the back four and two wings ready to attack the spaces. His team put emphasis on getting the ball into wide areas. But, above all, he likes the four-men back line that also give you, as he said, the option to get the full-backs forward when the chance happens. Every day in training is about team shape. He had success with this formation and method during latest stints. The only mess was at Liverpool, the club more similar to the England job about demands and intensity.  But the work with West Brom and Fulham was amazing. With the WBA, Hodgson employed a 4-4-2 pattern with a lot of short passes and an average pass success of more than 75%. The question is if England’s players would follow Hodgson's instructions and if Hodgson will be able to work out with this type of egos on the dressing room.