Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Can't mistake our biology..

Key systems are respiratory, muscular, cardiovascular and energy systems. The respiratory system is responsible for the intake of oxygen. When we breathe in we draw in air. Oxygen, which comprises 21% of the air’s composition, is then absorbed into the bloodstream via the alveoli. The oxygen then acts to release energy from the good we take in, and provide the body with energy. At any one time there is about 7 minutes worth of oxygen in our body. If we stop breathing this is the approximate amount of time we have before permanent brain damage is caused. The offshoot of this energy release is carbon dioxide which is then expelled by the reverse process as we breathe out.

The cardiovascular system includes our heart and blood vessels. It is the method by which oxygen is carried from the lungs to the rest of the body. It also carries nutrients and other healing agents (e.g. white blood cells, platelets etc). The heart can usefully be divided into two halves. The right half receives deoxygenated blood from the body. It is sent to the right ventricle and then blood is then pumped to the lungs where the blood becomes filled with oxygen and then pumped back to the left side where it is then pumped back out by way of the left ventricle.
Blood is made up of four key elements. Red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Red blood cells transport oxygen to cells around the body and have a large surface area to maximise the amount of oxygen they can carry. White blood cells fight infection and make antibodies to surround and overcome bacteria. Platelets are responsible for clotting. Plasma contains, amongst other things, substances dissolved during the process of digestion.

Blood is transported through three main types of vessels. Arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to various parts of the body. Veins transport deoxygenated blood back from its various destinations to the heart. Arteries have no pulse as there is no pump to push the blood through the venal systems. They also have to fight gravity and cope with lower pressure and thinner walls. To achieve their mission they are aided by a series of muscular contractions and valves, which prevent blood falling due to gravity. Finally, capillaries are minute bood vessels that join onto arterioles. They are one cell thick and cross into tissue cells (e.g. musculature) and are the exchange points for nutrients (oxygen and glucose) which help to poser the body.

Muscles move and make us capable of action by virtue of contractions and extensions. Muscles are attached to bone by tendons and exert force by converting chemical energy into tensions and contractions. They are made up of tiny protein filaments that work together to produce motion. There are three types of muscles: cardiac muscles, smooth muscles and skeletal muscles. The first two are found in the heart and other internal organs. They are involuntary muscles as they are not consciously controlled. Skeletal muscles are the most abundant tissue and carry out voluntary movements. They are responsible for 23% of a woman’s weight, and 40% of a man’s weight.

There are four physical properties of skeletal muscle. Excitability is the ability to respond to stimulation from the nervous system. Contractibility is the ability to shorten and contract., thus providing tension. Extensibility is the ability to increase in length – can you touch your toes?! Elasticity is the ability to return to resting length and shape after stretching. Muscles work concentrically (shorten), eccentrically (lengthen), or isometrically (contraction to create stability). The energy to produce these tasks comes from fats, carbohydrates, and proteins fed through arteries via capillaries in plasma.

Aerobic energy production happens using oxygen. Any effort of sufficiently low intensity that respiration can fully supply the requisite energy levels is done aerobically. Endurance work is aerobic in nature. It is linked to recovery time. Box to box midfielders and wingers are archetypal of players who need good stamina and recovery from sprints: In reality though all players need to be good at this. Anaerobic energy production occurs when the oxygen transported is not enough to supply all the energy demands of the situation. Short bursts of high energy activity will be produced this way e.g. jumping, turning and accelerating. When recovery time is low, strong anaerobic ability is required.
Response to exercise

Reactions to exercise can all be seen as a way of ensuring maximum efficiency in generating energy supplies for the activity undertaken. Faster beating of the heart mean more blood is pumped round the body and so more energy supplies in the plasma and oxygen in the red blood cells can reach the muscles. Faster breathing ensures more oxygen is taken into the lungs. Sweating ensures the body remains at a temperature at which it can best function. Some of the heat given off during exercise is useful as muscles work best at 38.5 degrees, 1-2 degrees warmer than the rest of our bodies. Heavy legs are associated with a build up of lactic acid. This occurs when not enough oxygen can reach the muscles. This can lead to muscle failure.

Physical exertion of a footballer (non position specific)

Short sprints (50m)
Slow jogging
Running backwards, sideways and diagonally.
Accelerating and defending.
Changing direction/turning – happens 400+ times over more than 90 degrees in a game.
Contesting possession
Fast recovery

Whilst these things are important to practice with the ball, only 2-3 minutes is spent with the ball in any one game. So some key, intense work should be done without the ball. Think about how these things can also be developed with the ball, as this work is more fun.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Milan v Juventus

An excellent match in which Juventus won a tight game 2-1. The game was as noticeable for its absentees as it was for those who played. Milan were missing Ronaldinho, Thiago, Ambrosini, and Zambrotta. Juventus were missing Krasic, serving a two match ban for diving to win a penalty last week against Bologna, Buffon, Amauri, Iaquinta and Chiellini.

Milan opted for a 4-3-3. Gatusso played the holding role exceptionally. He has come under criticism for muted performances over the past year and his discontent was no secret last season. Today though he was excellent. Pirlo played as a deep lying playmaker. Boateng completed the midfield. Up front they played with Robinho behind a central pairing of Ibrahimovic and Pato without the ball. When they won the ball Robinho shifted over to the left and Pato to the right. They played with a lot of width going forward.

Juventus' formation was less easy to categorise. It was something like a 4-1-4-1 or a lopsided 4-4-2 with Del Piero dropping off down the lefthand side. Without the ball Aquilani and Melo played similar roles to Pirlo and Gatusso, though it was noticeable that in the early exchanges Pirlo was far more effective than his counterpart. Marchisio and Martinez also dropped into more central positions to limit the space that Milan had.

The start of the match was noticeable for Milan's dominance. They pressed extremely aggressively and were simply brilliant at moving the ball about from flank to flank. Pirlo was key in achieving this. They also succeeded in finding a lot of penetration. Gatusso and Pirlo won a lot of balls in front of the defence and moved the ball quickly and effectively through the Juve midfield. They broke quickly with Robinho, Ibrahimovic and Pato, all of whom are excellent ball at feet. 7 minutes in Ibrahimovic rattled the bar. It looked as though Juventus would be overrun and that it would be a matter of time before Milan broke the deadlock.

Juventus' only source of relief looked like coming down the lefthand side. De Ceglie got forward threateningly from leftback and Martinez drove forward towards the left wing with conviction a couple of times. Del Piero also dropped off into this space to create an overload. Pato did not track back. As Milan's shape was a 4-3-3 with Pato playing more narrowly when they lost the ball there was no cover. An interesting comparison can be made with the role Pandev and Eto'o had in the 4-2-3-1 their city rivals played last season. The forward's role there was to start wide so as to limit the threat from attacking fullbacks when they lost the ball, and then push inside when attacking. Pato did the opposite and so De Ceglie found himself with a lot of room when Juventus had the ball. The gap between Bonera and Pato was too great and it was exploited brilliantly.

To compensate for the 3 on 1 situation Bonera found himself in, Milan had to shift resources away from the centre and towards the rightback position. Papastathopoulos and Gatusso both found themselves pulled away from the centre. This left more space in the middle and from one such opportunity, Del Piero crossed only for Quagliarella to head over. Moments later Milan were not so lucky. A fantastic De Ceglie cross was headed home expertly by the same man, Quagliarella. Juve's supremacy in one part of the pitch allowed them to take the lead largely against the run of play.

If Milan could count themselves a little unlucky to be behind at this stage, they did nothing to help themselves. They looked deflated for the remainder of the second half and with 5 minutes to go they seemed like a team who couldn't wait for half time. The statistics going into the break told their own story. Both sides had had 4 shots on target but it had taken Milan twice as many attempts to force a save (10) than Juventus (5). A more clinical approach was needed. Ibrahimovic was typical of their wastefulness up front, squandering a number of opportunities from promising positions.

Injuries forced both sides into making changes. De Ceglie had to come off and so Pepe, a natural winger, slotted in at leftback. It looked as though Juventus would target the Milan right even more strongly as Pepe's natural tendency is to push forwad. Hoever Milan had to bring off Bonera for Abate. Bonera had played well considering the difficulty of the challenge he faced, but Abate provided far more going forward and immediately looked to take up advanced positions on the right handside. This worked well and largely curtailed the threat that could have been posed. Pepe looked unsure of himself and seemed to have been told, at 1-0 up, to think of defending before attacking. Juve's potency down the left was further deteriorated when ten minutes in Martinez, on a surging run out of defence, pulled up with a thigh strain. Sissoko was brought on. It seemed as though Sissoko, a defensive midfielder, would limit the amount of mobility Juventus would have in midfield and their ability to break away. Martinez had been key in transitioning from defence to attack. Sissoko is a robust player and Juventus would invite more pressure onto themselves having been forced into this change. The bianconeri switched to a more conventional 4-4-2.

Indeed as in the first half, Milan started brightly. The midfield was far more willing to push forward. Notice Juves abundance of forward arrows in the diagram above. In the second half it was Milan who looked to drive men forward in a similar fashion. Pirlo and Boateng often found themselves in the final third probing. Even Gatusso found himself beating a man down the righthand side. However this time it seemed as though Aquilani was more influential than Pirlo and he made a number of good challenges to disrupt Milan's fluency.

Football obeys eternal rules that are disregarded at your peril. Add strength going forward and you inevitably weaken your defence. This is exactly what happened. Milan's forward runs from midfield left a lot of room in front of the back four. Nesta got his team out of trouble with some desperate lunges on the half way line. Yet again Milan failed to head the warning signs and moments later the substitute Cissoko burst forward on the counter attack, and found himself unmarked as he burst into the Milan penalty area. With just the keeper to beat he went to strike the ball with his weaker left foot and fluffed it, falling over. He did well however to get back up and shield the ball, laying it off to Del Piero who made no mistake, striking it low and into the corner. 2-0.

Milan again looked deflated and looked flat for ten minutes. Seedorf was brought on for Boateng in a like for like swap. Allegri's lack of solutions tactically from the bench were a little disconcerting from such a talented young manager. Eventually Milan did pick up the momentum. Robinho looked effervescent whenever the ball was played out to him. Milan's failure to get him on the ball in more central positions where he could have hurt Juventus will be a cause for concern. Meanwhile Ibrahimovic seemed more concerned with showboating than showing the clinical edge Milan needed. At one point he chose to let the ball run between his feet when 12 yards out in a promising position. The ball ran to the edge of the area where Pato had to make an arced run to get a foot on the ball under pressure.

Milan did eventually pull one back, Ibrahimovic partially redeeming himself by heading home from a leftwing cross. With no Chiellini in the side and Juventus denying Milan space well, perhaps this approach should have been explored earlier in the game. It is notable that Pepe was caught on the wrong side of Ibrahimovic for the goal making life very easy for the tall Swede.

It was too little too late for Milan. They seemed to really believe in the final ten minutes but Juventus never looked too concerned. Both sides brought on an attacker in the second half and the difference seemed to epitomise the gulf in experience between the two managers. Allegri brought on Inzaghi for Pato (just before Milan scored). The two players are very similar and whilst his movement is very good the substitution never looked likely to change the game. Meanwhile Del Neri took Del Piero off for Amauri. Below peak fitness, his physical presence was in any event useful. His height and strength meant Juve could play long balls up to him. Immediately he latched onto a ball and held it up. A good tactical decision to kill the game and a fine example of how bringing on an attacking player can held you defend a lead.

A sign of champions is the ability to raise your game when thing go against you. Milan were heavily deflated after conceding both times, despite having looked promising moments beforehand. The squad is extremely experienced - Nesta, Pirlo, Seedorf and Gatusso have all played in big games. There are 7 Champions League finals, 3 World Cup finals and 3 European Championship finals between just those four and yet they seemed strongly reactive to the game. If Milan want to achieve any kind of success this season then they must not allow themselves to be so deflated when a goal behind.

There are three principle reasons Juventus won today. Firstly, they were able to show greater penetration than Milan were, exploiting a weakness in the Milan formation. Secondly, they coped better with a depleted squad and ensuing injuries than Milan did. Milan's injuries had no impact on shape. Juventus losing Krasic meant they were numbed down their right. Indeed winning at the San Siro with arguably their three best players out - Chiellini, Krasic, and Buffon - will be a massive boost for morale. Finally they were simply more efficient in the final third. Milan had 17 shots on goal and 7 on target. Juventus managed 6 on target from just 9 efforts. In big games, you cannot afford to be as wasteful and weak-willed as Milan were.

Formlessness and the rise of strikerless formations

The Art of War is a military manual written in the 6th Centure BC bu Sun Tzu, a Chinese general. The key theme is one of winning by deception. Its application in war, business and politics has made it essential reading for many. I daresay not many in football have read it, but all successful coaches have an intuitive understanding of its key claims. War, it proclaims, is largely a matter of deception. "Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness...thereby you can be the director of your opponent's fate". Football tactics have shifted this way over the past 5 years at an increasing pace.

Stability and structure are the foundations of a good defence. This is just as true when building a castle as a backline. Stability is achieved through a consistent centreback pairing. Successful teams have this. Understanding each other's movements, when to press and when to cover, tracking runs and organising others from a deep central position are all facilitated by having this stability. Ideally you want defensive players to have a set area of the field to operate in from which they rarely deviate. Consider Mourinho's comments after Inter defeated Barcelona on aggregate at the Nou Camp.

"We didn't want the ball because when Barcelona press and win the ball back, we lose our position - I never want to lose position on the pitch so I didn't want us to have the ball, we gave it away. I told my players that we could let the ball help us win and that we had to be compact, closing spaces."

The ultimate aim is to restrict space for the opposition to work in, particular near the goal. This results in many teams defending narrowly, thus forcing the opposition out wide (and away from goal). The classic "two banks of four" is a way of restricting space in terms of depth (as opposed to width). This is like having two castle walls (or a castle wall and a moat). You hit a defensive player sooner. It relieves some of the pressure from the backline.

Good attacking involves just the opposite. Unpredictability is the best way to break down locked defences. Whilst their players clearly exhibit more than one attribute, I shall explain a key element of good attacking play by using the Barcelona side that face Sevilla at the weekend.

Click on me to make me bigger.

There are three key elements to good attacking play. Good use of space. Penetration. Unpredictability. This final one is key. In order to unsettle stable defences they have to be unsure how you will attack. Predictable attacks are bad attacks. Lumping the ball up to a big man is bad as it is predictable. The fall of pedestrian playmakers can be attributed to this. Riquelme and Rui Costa were fantastically talented individuals but they had a tendency to slow the game down rather than speed it up. As the 2000s rolled on they both looked increasingly out of place. It is telling that Rui Costa's replacement in the Milan side, Kaka, was an exciting, dynamic player who ran at the defence with pace.

What Kaka's introduction achieved was an ability to play quickly on the counter attack. Counter attacks will always be popular as they exploit space, penetrate quickly and are unpredictable. Indeed the first two can be seen as a way to create unpredictability. During a counter attack the ball can be switched from one side of the pitch to the other very quickly, into space and so shifting according to the hastily arranged defence.

So much for you.

The best teams of the past decade have known how to control games, but they've also known how to turn defence into attack very quickly. In fact at times it can be seen as their defining feature. Mourinho's Chelsea with Robben and Duff playing outside Drogba. Arsenal with Thierry Henry, Pires and Ljunberg racing forward. Manchester United, pretty much always under Ferguson.

However in the past decade a new trend has emerged. It has been the result of two desires. Firstly, create unpredictable attacks. Secondly, to control the centre of midfield.

Mourinho's side did two things very successfully. Firstly it controlled the centre of midfield. When he arrived the 4-4-2 was still the formation of choice in the Premier League. Having an extra man in that key zone meant they could control play far more easily when with the ball, and disrupt the opposition without the ball. Have an extra man in midfield though, and you inevitably lose a player somewhere else. For Chelsea this meant fielding one less striker.

However, this was something they were willing to do. It hinged on having the perfect players to play that style. Jonathan Wilson argues in "Inverting the Pyramid" that formations are neutral. By this he means they are neither good nor bad in themselves. He is right. They depend both on the opposition and the players available. Chelsea had the perfect players to make this system work.

In attack they had Drogba. When they needed to - and at times they certainly did - they launched longs balls up to him. He is quick, strong and good in the air. A nightmare to play against and more than capable of flicking balls on or bringing it down and waiting for support. Playing off him were two speedy wingers, Robben and Duff. With their pace and trickery they were ideal players to latch on to any headed flick ons.

It was the midfield though that was really key. In Lampard and Essien/Ballack they had two box to box midfielders. Not only were they comfortable operating deep in midfield, they had an impeccable sense of timing when coming forward. Lampard regularly scored more than 20 goals a season. This is without playing as a typical attacking midfielder. Behind them was Makalele. He disrupted play magnificently. More than that though he was responsible for playing good, simple passes forward.

The defence too was important. They had three world class defenders and a very good one in Ferreira - who trusted Mourinho and had a lot of momentum at the time having just won a Uefa Cup and Champions League medal in consecutive seasons. In the middle they had a general who is good in the air and a ball playing centre-back in Carvalho, a feature of all Mourinho's teams. At Inter he made a big fuss over his desire to have one, and Inter's results dramatically improved with the addition of Lucio. Having a centreback who is genuinely comfortable on the ball allows you to start building attacks from your deepest outfield point with intelligence (Cech of course did launch attacks, usually directly up to Drogba). The fullbacks were key in attacking with width.

The results is Chelsea played with one striker but had 7 players who could attack from open play. Of the four I haven't included, Makelele and Carvalho contributed to the direction and launching of attacks, Terry was a major weapon from set plays scoring an incredible 15 goals in Mourinho's first two seasons at the club, and Cech's long balls stood Mourinho accused of bringing back an 80s style of play. But this ignores the fact that Chelsea's side were extremely dynamic. The threat could and did come from all over the pitch. In defending against Chelsea you had to cope with their relative formlessness in attack.

Knowing that genuine threats come from the left, right, and centre mean you have to be extremely disciplined in defence. It is no good trying to track individuals. Instead you have to hold your position. This is exactly the problem faced against Barcelona above. In fact Roma and Manchester United at times took this idea further by playing with no recognised centre forward. Manchester United, in the 2007/08 season they won the Champions League, played with a front trio of Rooney, Tevez, and Ronaldo with Rooney and Tevez playing off a central Ronaldo. The side was notable for its dynamism and interchange of that forward three. In away games they would often play Park, whose ability to press the opposition and break quickly, meant they would often break dangerously with four players. Here is a breathtaking counterattack from a season later:

Note the pace and penetration of the attack.

In the 2007/08 season they beat a Roma side in the Quarter finals 3-0 on aggregate. That Roma side were forced into playing with no strikers and it work surprisingly well. They had Totti in the centre with Vucinic and Mancini playing off him. Crucially, like Chelsea, they had box to box midfielders to make it work in Perrotta and De Rossi. Throw in a playmaker like Pizarro and you have a team packed with pace and creativity but incredibly difficult to mark against. Concentrate defensive resources on Totti and you leave the wingers free. Concentrate on the front three and their movement will inevitably drag you wide, and leave room for the central midfield three.

All four sides discussed in this post exhibit a degree of formlessness. They either ave no obvious focal point of attack or they can attack from so many directions that anticipating how they will attack at any given time is nigh on impossible. The success these sides have seen is a result of this formlessness and having the right players to play this formation. More static players would not work.

In this is a key point. The physique of Premier League footballers has changed as the game has become faster. It is no longer possible to tell where a player plays by his body shape. Wingers aren't all tall, gangly runners. Centre backs don't all look like John Terry. There has been a homogenisation of players' physique. This has been reflected in a loss in specialisation. We no longer have a need for goal poachers like Owen or playmakers like Rui Costa. We want out players to be able to link the play quickly, with everyone having a hand in creating and scoring. This is the future of football. Barcelona provide a potential blueprint.

The world was not ready for Total Football in the 70s, but if defensive solidity is respected, it might just be in the future.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Square One - Short Passing and Ball Control

One university women's team. Two resounding losses. 12 more games. 90 minutes of training a week. Players who have never played the game before. What to do?

It's back to basics. I will document the weekly training sessions I put on. There will be some interesting ideas for other coaches to implement as well as some structure. I am constrained by time and the shortness of the league (there are just eight teams).

The first session will be on short passing and ball control. These two elements are key to football and getting them right at this level will dramatically improve standards.

The drill starts off with very simple passing. Four cones are set up in a ten by ten square. The players must pass to each other in any order or direction. The focus here is on the key technical aspects of short passing. Place the standing foot beside the ball you will strike pointing in the direction you will play the pass (except if making a disguised pass). Also strike through the ball firmly with the side of the foot. It is important to hit through the ball rather than allowing the foot to stop on contact, in order to make a nice, firm pass. Other technical considerations include:
Accuracy - into feet
Weight - Not too heavy so as to make control difficult, not so weak as to make interception likely.
Disguise - Pretend to pass to one player but actually pass to another.
Timing - Not so relevant in this drill as it it is unopposed but the player still needs to consider if the person receiving the pass is ready.

My standards are EXTREMELY high for every player. If I see that some technical aspect is deficient in a pass I will stop that group and demonstrate how I want it played, explaining what went wrong. I will then get the player to show me the pass in a controlled environment before sending the drill live. It is by setting high standards for every single second in training that you create a winning mentality. This transfers across to matches.

It is also important that every single player takes every drill seriously. Central defenders shouldn't be held to any lower standard than central midfielders. Everyone needs to have key technical proficiencies. I will only move on once I have seen everyone make a good pass.

Next we take one of the players out and have them acting as a passive defender. This means that they can intercept the ball but not tackle. This is to ensure the emphasis is still on maintaining the technical quality we saw in the first drill.

The aim here is for the attackers in blue to keep possession by staying on or behind the lines between the cones. Additionally there is now some movement involved. To begin with I will let the drill go for two minutes to see how they fare. I will correct for technical proficiency. Once they have get good at this I will begin to coach the following:

As the ball is played from position a to position b the player not involved must run so she is in a position to receive the ball. This means "creating an angle". I really hate that term because I love maths. What it means is moving into a position in space, ready to receive the pass. The defender then has a choice about whether to block the left hand player or the right hand player but he cannot hope to mark both. This creates SPACE.

This is ostensibly a short passing drill and they are practising this but they are also beginning to see how it fits in to the wider picture. In a game it is vital to have someone to pass to, otherwise with all the technical prowess in the world you will not be able to string two passes together. It is important that the third player makes the run AS THE BALL IS PLAYED. This means early. This means the ball can leave the receiver faster.

I will keep this running until I start to see some continuity. Because time is short I envisage leaving about 8 minutes for the technical section and 8 minutes for the opposed skill. After 20 minutes we must be done.

Ball Control

It's all well and good making a pass but we must also be able to control the ball. Having done short passing it would now make sense to concentrate on receiving the ball solely on the floor. My team need help controlling balls in the air as well and FAST. So I don't have the luxury of breaking it down. I must get the basics of controlling the ball however it comes at you immediately.

The cones are 10 metres from their nearest brothers and form a big box. The blue players serve the ball from their cone in a variety of ways to the green players in the middle (as listed below). The player controls the ball as the exercise demands before running off to find a new server somewhere. Plenty of communication is required. Emphasise the need for good service from the players in blue. Give a demo for one minute, allow them to do it for two minutes, then swap round servers and receivers for two minutes so everyone gets a go. 20 minutes for the whole drill.

1) Serve from floor. Make a short pass. Receiver takes one touch to control and one to play the pass.
2) Thrown to the thigh.
3) Thrown to the chest.
4) Random. Leave to servers to decide.

The key technical demands for all ball control are simple. Keep both eyes fixed on the ball. Judge the line of the ball and select which surface to control with (although in the first three exercises this decision is made up for them: this only really comes into play for the fourth). Then cushion pass in line with the ball (so you take the full force of the pass out of the ball). The ball should be a little away from you - "out of your feet" - but close enough to have it under control. It is important to keep balance the whole time. Then make the pass back.

So far 40 of my 90 minutes have been used up. It is now time to apply this learning. This is crucial. The players must understand how to apply what they have learned to a game. This involves three distinct stages that I implement in every training session.

1) Structural work.
2) A small sided game (coached).
3) A small sided game (uncoached).

Each one lasts ten minutes. I will explain them now.

1) Structural work is essentially slow motion tactical work (shadow play). I set the team up in formation over a small area (20 x 20 say). If we are doing attacking work then I ask players to shift shape according to where the ball is when in possession. If we have been doing defending drills then I will ask them to respond to me as an imagined attacking threat.

In this session I will give the ball to a player and expect others to move to be able to receive the short pass. I will begin by coaching the person closest to the ball. Once they have understood I will then cast my net wider and wider, expecting those far away from the ball to be anticipating where the ball might go next. This draws on work done at the end of the short passing drill (third diagram).

2) I then set them up into a small sided game (8 v 8 depending on numbers). I will choose their formation to best mimic the key roles in the team. I have A LOT of things I can coach. I will only coach what we have practised during the training session but I will expect high standards. This includes:
a) Short passing.
b) Controlling the ball.
c) Moving into space to receive the pass.
d) Communication.
...and all that these three points entail. The players will find this exacting as play will be stopped A LOT.

3) I will then let them continue without being coached. This will develop their decision making skill and give them a bit more freedom.

This brings our time to 70 minutes. I allow 20 minutes for moving between drills, quick water breaks and a cool down. Also I announce expectations for the coming game and field final questions.

There is a lot in this post of use to coaches looking for some STRUCTURE and TECHNICAL DETAIL.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Asserting Yourself

It is important for a side to have a clear identity. This is a large part of the reason why Mourinho has so much success: his sides have a clear identity and the mental resilience to enforce it no matter the score. This is important. In any game there will be one team reacting more to the other. If your team is reacting more then you have a problem. If the opponents are reacting more then you are doing something right. The team reacting less is generally the team with momentum.

What does it mean to react to the other team? There are three broad ways this can happen. Mentally, physically and tactically. You mentally react to a team if you believe they have a better chance of getting a positive result than you do. Forcing the other team to react is a matter of self belief: who can say "we will win" with more steel?

Physically reacting is a matter of assessing characteristics such as speed, strength and agility. If your team believes they will be out-muscled, out run and lose more 50/50s than they win then they are reacting to the other team. Arsenal frequently react to Chelsea physically. A good way to get your side to impose themselves on the opposition is to highlight the importance of the first few challenges. This makes the other side more cautious about entering into physical battles with you. If you know the opposition have a few key players then putting a player with a strong physical presence up against him could be a good idea. Last season Bassong had Drogba in his pocket at White Hart Lane. He was too physical for him from the off. That is rare. If we're picking on Drogba then remember how Lucio ran rings around Drogba in the two legs last season? It is one of the best defensive displays I have ever seen:

From the first challenge in the opening minutes Lucio goes in hard but fair on Drogba. He knows he's in for a game. By the end of the game he is helpless: look at the expression on his face at 3:25. And again at 5:04.

For more mental strength, check this out:

The guy is a beast and exceptional at getting the opposition to react to him. Half the battle is mental.

Finally to reacting tactically. This does not mean creating sensible contingencies to limit the attacking force of the opposition. This is sensible. This means forsaking your game plan haphazardly to contain the opposition. Inter's deep defending against Barcelona at the Nou Camp last season was not reactive in the sense I want to use the term. It was responsive. If anything Barcelona's increasingly frantic attempts to break the fortress was reactive. They no longer seemed to be exhibiting a clear tactical plan and instead seemed to be forcing the ball forwards anyway possible.

Reacting tactically is about abandoning structure. It is about losing form. It is generally accompanied by panic. If a team can remain calm and stick to the plan come what may then they have shown a level of resilience and are more likely to get a positive result. This is particularly true at lower levels. At higher levels of the professional game it more often comes down to how clearly thought each team's gameplan is.

So having a strong identity is about have the courage to assert who you are. At times this can mean being brash. At others it means having the composure to keep going when all around you are losing their heads.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Will Bale's night be a poisoned chalice?

Inter took Tottenham apart at the San Siro on Wednesday. At half time it was 4-0 and Harry Redknapp admitted that he was bracing himself for 8 or 9. That it finished 4-3 is seen by many to be a positive result. Not many teams will count themselves favourite at the San Siro (last year they were unbeaten at home in the Champions League having played Barcelona twice and Chelsea). To lose by a single goal, having been down to ten men for 80 odd minutes, is being seen as a positive sign.

Of course the plaudits haven't really been levelled at Tottenham's fightback but at Gareth Bale. This is usually symptomatic of the media's desire to create an individual hero for success. In reality success and failure can only be accomplished as a team. In this case however, the goals were largely the result of excellent opportunism by Bale who has a bright future ahead of him. Inter were linked with him in in 2009 whilst Mourinho was at the club, and again this summer but nothing materialised. This display will surely intensify rumours in future transfer windows. Having spoken to coaches at Tottenham it seems unlikely such a move will take place. When Inter first registered interest in him, Tottenham fans were exasperated with his fluctuating performances. However having invested so much in him as a club and knowing all along that he would become a left winger rather than a leftback, it seems unlikely that he will be sold. A team like Tottenham who are building something positive for the future will not willingly sell their best players.

"Tottenham is a club that is looking to progress, not to sell its best players. Selling him would send out the wrong signals. It would make us a selling club. We have to build a team around him and if Tottenham can progress to become a regular Champions League team, he would be a big part of that" Redknapp.

With Bale showing no signs of wanting to leave it seems clear he will stay. For now he has certainly found his level. He will see plenty of playing time and be allowed to develop at a good club without bad performances being overly scrutinised.

So far, so good. Where is this poisoned chalice? It lies not in Bale's progress but in the effect this late, unwarranted resurgence could have on the team's approach to the game in London. Tottenham will look at the final score and be buoyed by it. The momentum of having felt such joy in the final 10 minutes will carry through into the next game. Tottenham risk complacency.

It would be foolish to demean Bale's achievements but preventing all three goals from happening again will be very easy. For one, Julio Cesar could have done better on the first two goals. He has come out and said,

"I was so angry. I didn't even touch the ball. I was asleep on the first goal. Even the second was avoidable. The third wasn't. It was like my brother was in goal, not me."

A goalkeeper of his calibre should not be beaten so resoundingly for two replica goals.

Secondly, the threat of Bale from deep positions has been highlighted. Zanetti, despite being a model sportsman and taking his goal superbly for the first, is 37 and cannot be expected to catch a speedy 21 year old. There is a reason he plays in midfield not fullback and it was highlighted on Wednesday night. Expect extra cover. As Inter are away from home you might well see Maicon being more cautious in his forward runs, looking instead to contain the threat that comes from Bale.

Finally, and most importantly, Inter will not be relaxed. Bale's second goal came from a very lax pass from Lucio to Maicon under no pressure. Having not received the ball Maicon made very little attempt to stop Bale advancing up the pitch. The third goal came from the young Inter leftback losing the ball cheaply in Inter's final third. Notably, aside from Lennon's pressing, there was little pressure on surrounding Inter players. If this had been a two legged tie you could not imagine Inter giving the ball away so cheaply twice. Coutinho, who impressed in the first half, said this:

"We made a mistake in thinking the game was over, an error we cannot repeat. We had a lapse in concentration, but fortunately did not compromise the victory."

Inter's confidence was too high and there was not the requisite tension. In a two-legged tie the tension would have been there. As it was they allowed the energy to dip and Bale took advantage magnificently.

Inter will not be underestimating Tottenham as they might have done had Bale not scored two late goals. It is unlikely Tottenham will underestimate Inter and will come out with great verve. They will be buoyed by two things that were missing in Italy. Firstly, they will have the home crowd behind them. There will be no sense of being overawed and the Tottenham home support is excellent. Secondly, they will have Van der Vaart back from suspension. His equaliser again today against Everton underlines his importance to the side. Tottenham's success or failure could hinge on how well Inter cope with this threat, as he has been in fine form so far this season.

These sources of optimism for Spurs should be tempered by several other issues. Firstly, Inter will have no complacency that they might have otherwise enjoyed. The requisite tension will be there for the full 90 minutes. Secondly, Tottenham have looked extremely unsettled at centreback. In the Champions League it is vital to have that understanding which comes only through playing time. If Inter have some easy tactical adjustments to cope with Tottenham threats at the San Siro, then Tottenham don't have such an obvious way of curtailing Eto'o or the movement of Sneijder, Coutinho, Pandev or Biabany behind. Thirdly, Chivu, Motta and Cambiasso will be back for Inter. The latter is especially welcome in trying to limit the influence of van der Vaart. Finally, a draw is a good result for Inter. Tottenham will be put under pressure by results elsewhere, particularly if Twente win. The home game against Werder Bremen should prove relatively unproblematic but the trip to Holland is not a simple one. Inter only managed a 2-2 draw.

If Tottenham are to have a good chance of success against Inter then they need to ensure they find a way of limiting Inter's midfield. Van der Vaart off Crouch has worked well this season. Van der Vaart's movement is excellent and his ability to read the game is a real asset. Bale and Lennon will surely start on the wings. This probably leaved two central midfielders to place. If Modric starts, as he did away from home, then there can be just one midfielder protecting the shaky central defensive partnership. Given that they lined up with just one holding player away, and given Redknapp's famed willingness to "have a go", it seems unlikely they'll sacrifice Modric's creativity for greater protection of their back four. Even if Inter choose to play solely on the counter then it is unlikely Tottenham will manage to keep Sneijder's passing, Coutinho's movement, Biabany's pace and Eto'o's finishing out for the whole game. Sneijder's through ball to Biabany that lead to the penalty is a perfect illustration of what Inter can do within 5 seconds of winning the ball. Tottenham beware.

An early goal for Tottenham could ease nerves and carry momentum further in their direction. The game will be decided by three things.

1) Inter's ability to deal with the pace and dribbling of Bale and Lennon. Maicon looks capable of dealing with Bale. Will Chivu or Santon deal with Lennon?

2) Who will see more of the ball: Sneijder or Van der Vaart? The dutch playmakers are both match winners and their influence on the game - and the systems designed to spoil both players - could prove decisive.

3) The extent to which Inter have learnt their mistakes from the game on Wednesday. If they have truly learnt from that then they will be very tough to break down and Bale's late goals leading to increased intensity from Inter, could prove to have been a posioned chalice for Tottenham.

An exciting game awaits us.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Tension v Confidence - Hitting the sweet spot III

There is a depth to dealing with situations that most never see. What I'm about to share with you goes beyond football. It is a way of analysing any situation where there is the possibility of success or failure. Nonetheless, in the fast paced world of football it has a particularly relevance. And this magic thing I speak of is the sweet spot that occurs between confidence and tension.

What is confidence? Confidence is a belief in your abilities as an individual and as a team. It is typically associated with an enjoyment of the process, a relaxed approach to affairs without worry, and intrinsic enjoyment - i.e. playing the game for the good emotions it gives you... for the game's sake. Confidence is good because it typically allows you to express yourself in a creative manner.

What is tension? By tension I don't mean knots in your back that your local massage parlour rids you of. It is not a bad thing. It is typified by a focus on getting good results, understanding the importance of what you are doing, and taking extrinsic enjoyment for what you are doing i.e. seeing the greater purpose of what you are doing (winning, parents, pride). It is good because it ensures there is a high level of application to the task at hand and you take nothing for granted.

I see both as existing on a continuum. It is impossible to have too much tension and too much confidence. It is possible to have too much of either. Too much confidence and you fail to prepare adequately. Players with high levels of confidence typically attribute winning to their own ability, and losing to a lack of effort on behalf of the team. Players with low confidence (i.e. high tension) typically attribute success by a good team effort, but a loss to poor personal ability. Too much tension results in being stifled, with lack of creativity and self-expression.

However there is a sweet spot in the middle where the two no longer seem to pull away from each other but act together to create "the sweet spot".

When I spoke about "commitment", "positivity" and "fun" as being important in my first post, then it is in the sweet spot that these things are built. Before I talk about how to make players more confident or increase tension, I want to make a point so simple it may barely seem worth making.

In order to hit that sweet spot you need to know where your players are. Or, in order to know which direction you need to head in, you have to know where you are now! This involves having great empathy for your players and an understanding of what motivates them. If you do not speak with them, if you do not show them you care, if you do not make a real effort to get to know them, then you will never be able to lead them. When all is said and done leadership is simply being able to organise people to behave in a certain effective way. Find out what makes them tick and you're onto a winner. Here is a short list of questions you might like to ask each player:

Name/what you like to be called?
Have you received coaching before?
Did you enjoy it? Why?
Favourite player/club?
Why do you want to play for ?
What type of players do you like around you?
Favourite film?
Favourite band?
What are your goals for the year?

This list can make it sound formulaic. It needn't be. You might like to just get them to fill out a form. This will suit some players who like to reflect on themselves. Other players will prefer to talk loudly and quickly. A team will have many different characters and your role as a coach is to allow each player to express themselves fully. This way you no longer drag them behind you, but guide them as they propel themselves to greatness. One of my favourite quotes of all times is by Arsene Wenger...

"It's not really that important what a manager has to say. What's important is what you instil in the players' heads. You have to make sure the players are under the impression they are struggling for themselves. Point them in the right direction and then allow them to express themselves. If they do that, they can move mountains."

This is not to say let the team take charge. On the contrary, they must have complete trust in your knowledge and ability if they are to take your democratic style as a sign of strength rather than weakness.

It is particularly important to take an interest in a player's well being when he is down/injured/not playing well. A coach's role is not to try to be strong enough for the hole team. It is to have the intelligence to bring out the best strength in each and every player. However, there will be times when individuals will need you to convince them they are part of the team. If you know your players you are likely to spot this before it becomes a big deal.

How to improve confidence

Players must feel like they have improved after every training session. Growth is invaluable for all human beings. Football is no different. If you can add value to your players they will enjoy themselves and have more trust in your ability as a coach and in turn be more willing to put themselves at the disposal of the team.

Emphasise the importance of the team over individuals. The coach and the players all need each other.

Positive feedback on performance in training and matches.

Remind players of past successes.

Prepare thoroughly. Do everything possible to succeed. This removes any lingering doubts.

An emphasis on progress and improving as players rather than results.

Praise and encouragement.

Getting closer to agreed goals.

Having input to the way sessions are run.

Feeling a part of the team/valued/making a positive contribution.

Positive talk among teammates.

Mimic high confidence players by emphasising ability after a win, and effort after a defeat.

Varied, challenging and fun training sessions.

Clarity in player's role and instructions.

Intrinsic enjoyment - are they being fulfilled in ways they thought they would be by playing the game.

Opportunities to demonstrate ability (say "show me what you've got..")

Key points: Players need confidence in their own ability, to feel part of a positive team, and to be able to express themselves/influence the team.

How to increase tension

Some players will be overly cocky. Others will not want to work hard to improve their game. Sometimes your team will have won many games in a row and you'll want to guard against complacency. Here are some things you can do to guard against anything less than 100% commitment.

Lose (or draw). Obviously this is never the aim but when it does happen amidst very good results then this can be used as leverage for future games. It's not all bad.

Poor performance. When a player plays badly he will (hopefully) be upset. This is natural. What is important is that this is leveraged into good performance in the future.

A demand for focus.


How can you as an individual contribute more to the team?

Focus on improvement not talent.

Performance under scrutiny from coach.

Enforcing rules to the letter.

Extrinsic enjoyment i.e. results based focus or trying to please someone else (e.g. "do this for your dad!").

The key here is maintaining high standards of results and being critical of performance but within the context of improving skills.

Where does the line lie exactly? This is a matter of good judgement and experience but as a guide the team should be "leaning on its edge". This means it should be operating inside its comfort zone in terms of routines and self-perception but constantly trying to push the limits of what they can achieve.

If this article doesn't end with a bang it is because the sweet spot is not an understanding. It is not a series of words. Anyone can intellectually know what is right. No, the sweet spot is an experience. It is up to every coach and individual out there to take action to get into that zone and live it.

Football - Mental or Physical? II

Football is thought of as a physical game. One where technical prowess and movement are key. Passing, grace, dribbling, feinting, shooting... all physical components to the game. Whilst they all have a physical component, once a player has hit double figures the bulk of his concern is really mental. Let's take something simple like a short pass. What does this consist of?

Planting foot beside the ball, facing the direction you will play the ball.
Hitting through the ball firmly with the side of your foot.
Weight of the pass.
Accuracy of the pass.
Pass selection.
Timing of the bass.

The first two components seems to be classic cases of good physical technique. The second two might strike us as being matters of physical execution but the mental plays an equally important role. In a pressured situation we are more likely to misplace or overhit a pass. Why is this?

It isn't because the technical demands of the situation have changed but because there is more pressure. Pressure is a mental obstacle for the player to overcome. A player who can remain composed in a pressured situation will appear to be a better player technically than a player who panics. Composure can be seen as a technical maximiser. A player who can deal with being put under pressure will better display their talent than a player who cannot.

It is a leap to assert that they are definitely the archetype but it certainly seems plausible that Arsenal embody this principle. In games against smaller teams they suffer less pressure and play a beautiful, expansive game. Often in the big games when they perceive there is a lot of pressure on them, they crack. If only they could reproduce the same form they reproduce against smaller teams, when playing the big teams..!

Of course it isn't quite that simple as playing against a strong team will be technically harder as defenders have better tackling and positioning and midfielders have more energy, perhaps tactics also have a part to play. Nonetheless it seems true that pressurised situations yield worse performance, than those free from pressure.

As we move on to the next two examples we can see exactly the same principles apply. Deciding which pass to play is at least as important as executing the pass. The choice of pass determines how well a team controls the space. Playing a looser pass from an area of high pressure to one of low pressure is preferable to playing an accurate pass, complete with weight, accuracy and shiny bells back into the area of high pressure. This decision making is mental. In fact the decision to pass at all, rather than pass or dribble, is a mental act. How often do we bemoan a striker for shooting when a pass looked the better option? The timing of the pass should obviously be similar.

Finally disguise - looking one way and passing the other, for instance - is an act of cunning and trickery that is essentially mental. The added physical demands of the situation are negligible (the planted foot might not face the way you will pass). More important is the awareness and lucidity required to pull it off. To top it all off is the decision making process involved with whether to disguise the pass at all.


Two things should have become apparent:

1) Endless unopposed technical practice does not a good player make. Technique is to be put to an end. If we bought a very ornate spoon with a hole in the middle we would not marvel at its ingenuity. Likewise, bells and ribbons are fantastic, but only once attached to an end product. We all know players who were far better at kickups than playing the game!

Do not take this as support for 'route one' or pragmatic football. I am not necessarily an apostle of Mourinho. Playing like Barcelona is an efficient style of play. Everything they do is to a particular end. The players understand what their role is and their style of play. It is good football. As a coach you must ensure your players have a similar understanding of how to put there technical demands of the game into practice, by honing the mental.

2) Improving this decision-making process will drastically improve results. How can we do this?

That will be the topic of my next post.

Principles of the team - Learning Methods I

It is important that every team has a clear philosophy. This provides direction for the side and it comes from the coach. These have to be underpinned by a basic moral basis. Some themes I promote include

Independence through responsibility
Fair Play

However there is a tendency for coaches to hear these words on coaching courses, nod, smile, and go back to doing pretty much what they always have done. These principles are not just buzzwords to use but should be allowed to percolate through every session. This series of articles will highlight the importance of these principles and how they can practically be applied.

I will start with some comments on learning methods (coaching styles).

Shaping occurs when you allow the whole to be run through by itself and then you intervene, changing the practice bit by bit until you have the desired result. I like to call this crafting. It is a little like a pottery wheel or a sculpture. You start with a big, brute, unsophisticated slab of marble and slowly hone it until you end up with a product you like.

Shaping is particularly useful for defensive drills as they are essentially reactive to the attack you are facing. The key technical demands of the defensive phase are positional rather than to do with execution.

If you were coaching compactness in defense then you might let the drill run for a short while before stopping it at an opportune moment and moving players to where they should be.

Chaining involves breaking an exercise down into its constituent parts and then building it up. Like a brick house. Or a lego mosque. I find this particularly useful for attacking skills as they can more readily be broken down into unopposed, technical aspects. Passing can be broken down into body shape, contact area (e.g. side of foot, hard, firm contact), weight, accuracy, timing and disguise before being incorporated into a game situation.

Small sided games, whilst not a coaching style, provide a distinct environment from regular technique to skill drills. They are key in providing a context for all other work. The aim of any drill is to be useful in a game. Allowing players the opportunity to practice skills (e.g. passing or compactness in defence) in a low-pressure game environment is key to promoting confidence. Confidence = improvement and winning.

Questioning is an excellent method of checking for understanding. It only works if it is positive and solutions-focused. Don't ask "Why did you do that?!" in a moany voice. This will give off Basil Fawlty vibes and your team will think you're a twat. You are a leader. Ask instead, "How could you do better next time?" or with a more confident player, "What happened there?" More important than the question is the answer. Ensure they understand exactly what went wrong and how it can be corrected. Get them to reply both verbally and by demonstrating.

If the error came whilst opposed (as, perhaps, in a small sided game) then get them to demonstrate free from pressure and then again under pressure.

Always meet your own standards. Failure to do this is a severe failure in leadership. You must work harder than anyone in the team to achieve positive results. You must care more than any of your team. They will look to you to establish how to behave and what sort of attitude is acceptable. If you expect them to come with the correct kit then dress well yourself. Make sure you are well groomed. Ensure you remain focused, positive, punctual, have a sense of humour... in order to inspire a certain quality in your players you must first project that quality yourself. It's not a case of 'do as I say but not as I do'.

Reward effort rather than outcome. This has major caveats which will be discussed in a lot of detail in a later article. As a general theme though players must be committed to constant improvement which only comes through constant work and application.

However, as explained in the last point, if you are happy with defeat then your team will be too. Stay positive and action oriented but not a team of soft losers.

Feedback and self-analysis should be encouraged. 15 minds are better than 1. Sometimes they will spot things that you don't. Its also a good way of understanding how self-aware players are of their own and the team's performance. Getting players to reflect on their own performance in a solutions-focused, positive way is an excellent way of encouraging improvement and responsibility for the team.

All these points will either have whole articles devoted to them or countless examples showing how they can practically be incorporated into sessions.

A significant amount of time you spend together as a team is away from the two hours of game time you have each week. It is normal that the attitude you take away from the pitch affects the results you get on it. Despite this I shall also spend some time discussing match day preparation. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Trofeo Tim

The Trofeo Tim is a very bad indicator of later success. Held anually between Italy's big three of Juventus, Milan, and Inter, it pits the three off against each other in 45 minute games. This year Inter have won it. Last year Juventus won it and had a remarkably poor season, failing to qualify for the Champions League and having three coaches in the ensuing 12 months. In 2008 Milan won it in an otherwise forgettable year. In 2007 it was Inter again. In 2006, Milan. From 2002 - 2005 Inter won it 4 years in a row. This success spurred them on to win 0 league titles in that period (the 2005/2006 title being handed to them only after the furore surrounding calciopoli). All this is to say the winner of the Trofeo Tim is no more or less likely to win the ensuing League campaign.

It is however a useful chance to experiment with tactics or confirm those you are putting in place. The two teams lined up with similar 4-2-3-1 tactics but the two played very different roles in the team's pre-season preparations. Juventus used the first game against Inter as a chance to experiment. Inter used the game to consolidate previous work.

Football Fans Know Better

Juventus' version of the 4-2-3-1 lined up with Chiellini and Bonucci in the centre of defence. This looks set to become a formidable centre back pairing. At the moment it was somewhat shaky and never looked comfortable in dealing with the threat posed by Pandev, Eto'o and Obinna. Pandev in particular caused the defence problems. Grygera and De Ceglie in the fullback positions pushed forward well but their wingers were too often caught in narrow positions.

Despite the fact Pepe and and Lanzafame are natural wingers it often felt like Juventus were playing with three trequartistas. Packing the middle of the park applying pressure on the two holding players and defence can work well, but only if there is some natural outlet when the pressure in the middle becomes too much. Cambiasso is excellent positionally and Juventus really struggled to make much of an impact through the middle. When the fullbacks did provide more support Juventus looked good with the ball. However their defensive phase needs some work which is to be expected with a new manager bringing in a new system. When they lost the ball Pandev and Obinna frequently had a lot of space to attack. This led to 3 v 3 and 2 v 2 situations which Juventus will want to avoid.

In this diagram we can see the effect of stretching the play. It is a very simple point. Move the ball and players into wide zones and the defenders will come with you creating more space in the middle. If the defender does not come with you then you have space in which to run in: a defender does not want to have to deal with an attacker running at him at pace as the margins for error become so small. The modern game is best viewed as a battle to control space. More on this in a later blog post.

Conversely good defending is about restricting the playing space. The primary aim of the defensive phase is to make play slow and predictable. This means slowing down the attack so that it moves away from goal. In the short term this means either backwards or to the flanks. This repels the immediate danger. However once there is no immediate danger the aim is then to make it difficult for the attacking team to penetrate the defence. Consider how much more accurate the attacking team has to be with its passing on the left handside than on the right handside. The defending team is far happier dealing with the narrow threat on the right than on the left. Too often Juventus found themselves attacking as on the right and defending as on the left.

Inter by contrast controlled the space very well. Obinna and Pandev provided excellent width. Obinna in particular cut inside well. He is fortunate to have had Maicon outside him he gets forward frequently to provide support. When he does so Inter attack with 5 players: 3 of these are forwards and so have a natural eye for goal. Chivu is not such an attacking player and so Inter will need to play someone with the discipline to keep wide on the left. Inter have an embarrassment of riches for the three forward positions. Highly rated Coutinho would be happy to play on the left or right. Pandev and Obinna can play on the left or right or in the centre on their own. Inter are also close to signing Sculli, a hard working forward who could also occupy any of the three forward positions.

Eto'o was played up front today, but when Milito returns it is inconceivable that he will not start. Last season Eto'o was played in as a wide forward with key defensive responsibilities. Much has been made of his more defensive position. Some have even described him as being played at fullback. It is true that images of him tracking back in his own area against Barcelona act as a powerful symbol for the work rate of Mourinho's Inter. However it is stretching the truth to suggest this was his customary position. In truth he was a wide forward with defensive responsibilities. This was his position at Inter and it was often his position at Barcelona. His goal aside, Eto'o stood out in the 2009 Champions League final for his exceptional work rate in closing down the Manchester United defence. In the modern game the defensive phase starts as early as possible. In practice this means with the forwards.

Having said this, Eto'o has come out publicly and asked to be played in a more offensive position. By this he must surely mean he wants to be played in a more central position where he will have more goal scoring opportunities. For Barcelona he scored 108 goals in 145 appearances - allbeit for a more freescoring team. This is a fantastic return over 5 seasons and Inter will do well to bring this side of his game out. If Milito and Eto'o are both on form then Inter will have two of the most dangerous goal scorers in the world supported by one of the world's best trequartistas - Sneijder. Eto'o's runs into the centre will be offset by Maicon's width.

Inter look very, very good going forward and if they can maintain their defensive solidity - surely not a worry under Benitez - then they can expect another successful season ahead. Juventus on the other hand need to decide how they are going to attack. They seem committed to playing two holding players so the position of the other four will be important in determining their success. This should start with determining Diego's future.

Everything to play for.

Pressing Issues

This blog will talk tactics. Specifically it will cover the Italian league - Serie A - and coaching points. It will interest those who want to improve their own game, those with an interest in Serie A, and those with an interest in coaching the game. There will be four categories to search through: three representing the sections listed and one miscellaneous category.

I will look to update at least once a week for each category.