Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Inter v Schalke Decompacted

Inter Milan v Schalke 04 by DeezRed77

At 2-1 the big chances had fallen Inter's way. They were ostensibly looking good. Their lack of compactness - a crime at this stage of the Champions League - proved their undoing.

Inter have just won the ball back. Then we have a ball that both Cambiasso and Sneijder tried to play frequently (with some success) all night: a diagonal ball to a forward. This time the forward is...Thiago Motta.

Look how close Sneijder, Cambiasso and Zanetti are. You'd think they were U10s who struggle to play a longer pass. The support play here is poor. There is no adequate transition from defence to attack. The strategy appear to be to spray balls in to the forward.

However, even with good passers, a long pass is risky business. The ball is miscontrolled and the defender takes the ball passing it forward. Notice now how they have 3 players around the ball (as Inter had). However they have a lot more space in which to advance. This time Inter's problem is the transition from attack to defence. 3 of Inter's midfielders were within 10 m of the lefthand touchline and so have a mission to resume central positions (the fourth, Thiago Motta, has bombed forward despite having lost it). The result of this is that having won the ball Schalke can travel 20m up the pitch without facing so much as a sniff of a challenge. There is no threat to the ball and their attack builds momentum IMMEDIATELY. There is no pause to consider which intricate pass to play, no problem solving required. Head up - GO!

As we can see here the two Inter players closest to the ball (Stankovic and Sneijder) will be easily split by a pass.

Schalke now have pace and momentum in their favour as they have a retreating defence to beat. It took 15 seconds from the moment the pass in the first frame was made to the ball being in the back of the net.

Inter's lack of compactness and positional awareness in midfield are compounded because they lack pace. Cambiasso, Stankovic, Thiago Motta and Sneijder are terrific players who are all worthy of being European Champions but none of them have much pace. To allow three of those midfielders to exhibit such a small area of the pitch is asking for trouble when playing risky balls forward to a defensive midfielder (as they did to Motta). This problem is compounded when you consider that the defence is also very slow. Zanetti is 37 and Chivu and Rannocchia are both SLOW. By not playing compactly you invite pressure onto the defence and they are made to do the one thing they least want to do: backtrack at pace. Introduce a player like Jefferson Farfan into the equation and you are asking for trouble.

This problem is not new. Benitez tried to play a high line earlier in the season and was consistently taken apart by teams who were pacey (Bale's annihilation of Inter's fastest defender Maicon stands out). You can only play a high line if you are EXTREMELY aggressive in midfield and win the ball back quickly denying the opposition midfield time and space on the ball to pick out those long passes behind the defence.

This problem is particularly frustrating because it was the principle problem during the Milan derby.

Everything Mourinho's side was - deep, aggressive, disciplined, compact, excellent at transitions - this side is not. Mourinho's side wouldn't have conceded such a sloppy goal at a corner. They wouldn't have left such big spaces after they lost the ball. Excellent players would have seemed like the best in the world (Cambiasso, Sneijder, Milito..).

Schalke themselves were poor leaving far too many spaces for Inter's static midfield and forward line but they were not Treble winners last year.

Oh how the mighty fall.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Team Philosophy - Team like a Spring

I have found an analogy for how I believe a team should play. It is simple and effective but not intended to be holistic. It is simply this: a team should play like a spring.

When territorial pressure is applied to the side, players - like the springs of a coil - should get closer together, winding ever more tightly. The more pressure that is applied on the side, the closer they should get and the harder they should work for each other. If under mental stress it is similarly important that the side binds together in these moments rather than fracturing. The more you push a spring the more resistance you encounter. Once that pressure is released it springs back. The greater the force applied to it, the harder and faster it bounces back. A football team should also bounce back quickly on the counter attack if put under a lot of pressure.

This is the basic idea. I shall now explain in more detail.

Without the ball it is vital to be compact. The closer to goal the opposition get, the more important it is to remain compact and deny space. The person on the ball must be denied time on the ball and the space closed so that good movement is less effective. The opposition must be made to risk possession. This must be done as a TEAM. In order to remain truly compact the whole team must be in the smallest area of the pitch possible whilst maintaining good depth.

Positioning must also facilitate transitions into the attacking phase. Like a spring, the more pressure that is exerted on the team the quicker this transition must be. This is because a team that has committed more men forwards has left more space in defence. It is this space that the transition must look to exploit quickly. However, if possession has been regained inside the opposition half there are likely to be fewer spaces to exploit. Here it is not so opportune to strike quickly but instead to keep possession.

When attacking the most important attribute is SUPPORT PLAY. How well do those players off the ball support the player with the ball? A team that can provide good options will attack effectively. On the counter attack this is particularly important, but in any event the aim is to exploit any space left by the opposition QUICKLY.

The most important attribute of the attacking team is to be PROACTIVE or, more simply, PLAY TO WIN. Don't play not to lose. Play to win. Take risks, try to be play that killer ball. Make the defence uncertain and nervous.

The other team should spend far more time wondering how to counteract you, than the other way around.

Play to win.

Finally I think formations are already far less important than systems of play and it is easy to imagine a time when formations become obsolete as a way of describing tactics. Teams increasingly must attack and defend together. Spalletti's Roma played a 4-6-0 and this will prove to be the way teams play in the future. Versatile players like Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, Nasri, Alves, Lucio, and even Wilshere are very much the future of the game. Players must be capable of playing between the lines, as comfortable with the ball at feet as they are defending, as comfortable passing as they are making surging runs forward.

Football is at an exciting moment in its development. The birth of new, more fluid ideas (I have previously referenced the "formlessness" discussed in the Art of Way) mean that tactics are very much enjoying a rebirth: their very own spring.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

On Milan v Inter

In the face of criticism of the players used, I dont think anyone’s mentioned that the personnel was very similar to that used by Mourinho in the CL final last year. 4 defenders, 2 holding players and Sneijder, Eto’o, Pandev, Milito/Pazzini. The problem was not inflexibility in that regard because Mourinho’s players played very differently from Leonardo’s.

The real point hasn’t quite been hit yet although the point about the midfield superiority comes closest. Milan were very COMPACT without the ball, Inter weren’t. Mourinho’s Inter’s outstanding feature was its compactness. No spaces were left for the opposition and even when out of possession they looked like a team in control. Everyone speaks of the Barcelona Semi Final and how compact Inter were then but it’s true of every game, it just stands out then because they made no attempt to attack.

When Inter had the ball you could count 7 or 8 Milan players in 1/4 of the pitch. When Milan had the ball – exacerbated by the way Pandev, Eto’o and Pazzini were deployed – Inter had that number in half the pitch. Milan were about twice as compact. This meant when Inter had the ball they had very little space and if they found some there were two players immediately on the player. The sight of Sneijder diving before taking out his frustration on the pitch in the first half is symptomatic of the difference between the two sides.

Conversely, when Milan had the ball they had a lot more time and space to pick a pass. They exploited this well, playing ball after ball behind the helpless defence. Inter’s lack of compactness also helped Milan keep the ball for long periods of the second half. When Inter did win the ball there was a big gap between defence and attack and so launching a counter attack was difficult.

Remaining compact is vital in the modern game. In fact it came out recently. I’m gonna find a quote….


“Plan A is 9-1. This is the new football. The new system is to go forward with a lot of players and to defend with nine. You have to be compact. Barcelona and Arsenal do it. If you want to win back the ball, you have to defend with a lot of players and attack the same.”

Consider how compactness is the reason why “defending deep and narrow” is any good at all.

It’s interesting how different teams interpret compactness differently e.g. Barcelona and Mourinho’s Inter.

As a final note, it’s interesting that the way players move both individually and as a team are at least as important as the players selected, the type of player selected, and the formation used. Any comments to the effect that “this formation was bound to lose” is clearly false, as a comparison between Mourinho and Leonardo’s Inter shows.

[Written as a comment on run by Michael Cox - not just extremely knowledgeable, but a great guy]