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.

No comments:

Post a Comment