TFN’s Simon Smith on why Juventus vs Dortmund runs deeper than Catenaccio versus Gegenpress…
Of the various ties in this Champions League last 16 to savour this week and next, there are many sub plots and rivalries to look forward to. Last week’s David Luiz derby might not have been the most enthralling, but with Carlo Ancelotti facing fellow former Abramovic employee Roberto Di Matteo in Schalke versus Real and Arsene Wenger’s reunion with Monaco there shall be no shortage of managerial talking points.Manchester City and Barcelona once again contest the Yaya Toure derby, although the match will most likely be more shaped by their experiences in last season’s clash. But none of this is what I’ve been looking forward to the most.
That would be the other semi-tenuous derby clash, the rematch of the 1997 Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Juventus. In tactical terms this is arguably the most intriguing match, and on paper one of the most evenly matched in a round that often provides mismatches for the larger clubs to sail to the latter stages. And, for differing reasons, this probably represents one of the more important ties for the two clubs themselves.
Dortmund are in the horrifying position of being on something of a hot streak – only Bremen’s five consecutive Bundesliga wins is better than their two – and yet having only just climbed out of the relegation zone. Their season would be long over were it not for the fact that their relegation battle is all too real, and yet their form in a difficult group with Arsenal, Fenerbahce and Anderlecht was unexpectedly good. The Champions League represents the best chance of any glory in a season they will hope to forget. Continue reading
Simon Smith looks at how the smaller Premier League clubs have upset the balance this season by signing the right players and assigning the right tactics…
Recent events have got me wondering how the league table would look if Chelsea hadn’t managed to have such a productive summer in the transfer market and get their act together this season. Would Southampton really be the league leaders? The trend in recent seasons has grown from none to one, and then to two, of the big teams each season to struggle. Not necessarily terribly, but to fail to achieve what they ought to, to invite the media crisis circus upon them. This season has reached new crises heights due to the fact that all the big clubs bar Chelsea (and to a lesser extent Manchester City) have failed to get their act together.
Just what is going on at Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United? The answer for all those clubs will be different, so perhaps instead we might muse what Southampton, Swansea and West Ham are doing that these sleeping giants are incapable of.
Tactically, it’s hard to conclude anything concrete: all three of those clubs have reasonably different plans, styles of play and ways the team is set up. What perhaps sets them apart the most is their player recruitment strategy. In a chaotic summer for Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United in particular, these smaller clubs have shown the value of planning signings with the team in mind. Continue reading
In the fifth instalment of ‘Tacticle Your Fancy’, Simon Smith compares the style and roles of Mesut Ozil and Wayne Rooney…
The recent debate about what’s wrong with Mesut Ozil has really captured my imagination, perhaps almost as much as his unlikely summer transfer itself did. Everyone seems to agree that there’s something wrong with the way he is playing at the moment, and yet there seems to be so much inconsistency in the reports. Sure, we can agree that he has a tendency to ghost in and out of games and perhaps it is fair to see he isn’t the most proactive player off the ball. The jump I find hard to make is how we get from this very general observation to the very niche and specific problem of why he is out of form: surely this is how he plays always, when in form as well as out?
The excellent two minute debate about whether he should be left out of the starting XI to face Manchester United by Sky Sports News was simply thrilling, in that while the panel managed to point out some home truths about the player, they all seemed to miss the point somewhat. It was a brilliant display of how big generalisations about players lead to a misinterpretation of specifics in games. Continue reading
In the fourth installment of ‘Tacticle Your Fancy’, Simon Smith discusses the merits of Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov and explores the idea of a back ‘three and a half’…
This has been a strange week for Manchester City’s full backs. I basically love Aleksandar Kolarov, but I strongly hate the constant popular analysis of him. It’s not that it’s wrong, on Match of the Day when the pundits gather round and highlight his attacking penetration but defensive shortcomings, or when the fans are rightly frustrated when a lapse in his concentration allows yet another testy ball into a dangerous area.
No, that does very well summarize the issue in Pellegrini playing him. The reason I hate that isn’t because of its inaccuracy but for the same reason I detest comparisons between Theo Walcott and defensive workhorse James Milner, why I loathe it when an old reliable like Ashley Cole is held up as an example of what Kolarov should try and emulate. These players play in the same part of the pitch, but they are far from the same position.
So to find myself enjoying not only Kolarov’s performance against the unfortunate Newcastle United on Sunday but also the quality of analysis on Match of the Day 2 was something of a surprise. Was there more detail than usual, a clever insight into his role I had missed? No, just the usual pointing out of his wide attacking overlapping with Silva cutting inside: an interesting feature but one prevalent in many top sides and a regular tactic of Mancini before Pellegrini.
What made the analysis good was what was left unsaid. Kolarov was effectively analyzed as if he was a midfielder in City’s 2-6-2 formation. Continue reading
The False Nine’s tactics aficionado Simon Smith discusses the varying uses of strikerless formations…
Watching AS Roma destroy Internazionale last week was one of my highlights of the season, because it felt like a win for the underdog. I’m not saying that I prefer the Romans to Inter, or even that I wanted them to win, but seeing a team who sold their best defender and forward reborn through a collective strategy is hard not to enjoy. If the experiment with Zemen ended in tears, Garcia has been refreshingly simplistic in the way he makes attacking football look natural, instead of requiring a season long revolution. The most obvious change to the attack has been the reintroduction of Totti to centre forward after a season as the trequartista.
Just two days earlier, Sam Allerdici grabbed the headlines by adopting a similar strategy to demolish hot favourites Tottenham Hotspur 3-0. Are we to believe that this is because he was influenced by Serie A, or is the more cynical view that this was a desperate throw of the dice born out of Andy Carroll’s injury more accurate? Increasingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly following Barcelona’s success, the false nine is being used to describe systems in football matches in all the major European leagues. The real question is whether this is because the formation is more commonly used, or whether the term is: and to answer this, we need to look at strikerless formations in the pre Guardiola world. Continue reading
Simon Smith’s latest tactics column looks at North London’s Number Eights, who are currently trumping their rivals’ split teams…
An Arsenal fan recently told me he hoped Tottenham would finish second in the league this season. It turned out to be a tongue in cheek setup for a joke about how Arsenal always finish higher. While I laughed, I’m sure Spurs fans will struggle to see the humour through the cruelty: recruiting a new manager, changing the playing squad, extracting every last penny from the Madrid coffers to reinvest this season – literally every meticulous thing Daniel Levy has been able to do to improve Tottenham’s standing has been done. Meanwhile the red half of North London have somehow managed, at times, to appear languid and lazy while staying one step ahead.
Whether or not that will be the case by May remains to be seen, but certainly this increasingly divergent ethos of each team has been on display already this season. It’s not so much a style of play as much as a method in achieving this style: I couldn’t help but notice the very Tottenham and Arsenal ways that their new number eights have been unearthed and harnessed this season. I’m talking about the more attack-minded holding player, the function midfielder as opposed to the defensive specialist. Both have made a conscious decision to change the individual charged with this role, both have improved their fluidity as a result, but both have achieved this in a different manner. Continue reading
Making his triumphant TFN return after a summer spent away, Simon Smith explores the rationale behind the recent recruitment of creative players…
It was 2nd September and I was walking to the train station in Milan when I came across a crowd of Rossoneri singing Kaka’s name outside a restaurant. This impromptu chorus line, decked out in the famous black and red stripes of Milan, had gathered hoping to catch a glimpse of their returning hero inside enjoying a meal. Watching the fans jostle for position to welcome the prodigal Brazilian home, I couldn’t help but wonder why his arrival had received so little coverage outside of Italy whilst clearly meaning so much to the those within the city. Though Kaka is certainly past his best years now – his transfer will likely become more famous for his massive pay cut and dispensing of the usual signing bonuses and fees that made the move possible – surely such fluff stories about a name as huge as his is exactly what the English red-tops thrive on? Perhaps the problem for Kaka’s PR team, and the cause for the general lack of interest in his homecoming, is that even with his profile he wasn’t the biggest playmaker to move this summer; he wasn’t even close.
Willian, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Gotze, Erikson, Isco, Lamela, Thiago, Kevin Prince Boateng; it was an uncharacteristically active season for playmaker deals throughout Europe. In a busy summer all round, with such highly sought after stars as Tevez, Cavani, Falcao and Bale sealing big moves, and the protracted transfer sagas of Rooney and Suarez dominating the back pages, it remains rare to see so many so-called number tens change clubs at the same time. The playmaker is such an ambiguous term that it has become difficult to pinpoint what sort of player the word describes in the modern game; the general use means an attacking player who can unpick the opposition defence, somewhere in between more metronomic passers like Michael Carrick – midfield managers rather than playmakers – and players who operate more like second strikers, such as Stevan Jovetic.
If the playmakers of the present can be so diverse in their role and make up, why do teams remain so tentative about bringing them into their side? Arguably it may well be variety and the lack of standardisation that can make clubs hesitate over their number tens. Continue reading