5 Tactical Conclusions From October


As we head into the last months of 2012, today on the blog Michael Cox from Zonal Marking gives us 5 observations from October to take note of as 2012/2013 continues into November.


3-5-2 v 3-5-2 battles are often dull

Serie A has fallen back in love with the three-man defence. On any given weekend, it’s common to see half of Italy’s top division playing with a trio of centre-backs, almost always in a 3-5-2 formation. Often effective against narrow 4-3-1-2 formations in a country that has struggled to produce quality wingers, the 3-5-2 rarely produces spectacular matches when it faces a mirror image of itself.

At the risk of stereotyping matches according to pure formations, which is always a dangerous game, these matches result in two similar teams struggling to find space in the attacking third. Wing-back battles are often great individual contests, but they’re generally a war of attrition, decided when one is simply able to outrun the other. Technically, it’s not particularly interesting.

Often, both sides are scared to dominate for fear of being caught on the counter-attack, resulting in few goals. This weekend’s Derby D’Italia between Juventus and Inter is likely to be another clash of 3-5-2s, and could be decided by set-pieces, or through substitutions – Juventus are particularly astute at using their 12-man bench in the second half this season.

Oscar will start to score

Chelsea’s new Brazilian playmaker Oscar is an unusual player, and certainly not the classic languid number ten you expect from a South American. Instead, he plays a quicker, efficient game based around clever positioning and a burst of pace. His defensive ability shouldn’t be underestimated either, having performed impressively against both Andrea Pirlo and Mikel Arteta, preventing either from setting the tempo of the game.

A large part of Oscar’s role is as a decoy. As the most ‘immediate’ central playmaking threat, he’s often occupied the opposition central midfielders while Eden Hazard and, in particular, Juan Mata drift inside from the flanks. Individually his direct creativity has been minimal – he’s recorded just one league assist compared to Mata and Hazard sharing ten between them, and he hasn’t completed a single through-ball in the league.

Yet Oscar’s passing quality is undoubted – when he came on against Manchester United in midweek, he pulled the strings and helped get Chelsea back into the game, playing some excellent passes from deep. One of his main qualities, however, is his ability to jerk away from opponents and find space on the edge of the box. His double against Juventus demonstrated that – and in upcoming matches he’ll be a greater goal threat as opponents increasingly focus on Mata and Hazard.

Giroud will come good

By all accounts, Olivier Giroud has started 2012/13 slowly – yet he’s scored four goals in his last ten matches at club and international level. Five of those appearances have been as a substitute, so when you calculate his ‘minutes per goal’ statistic, it works out as one strike every 127 minutes – not a bad record.

Granted, one of these goals was in the Capital One Cup against a Coventry City side in disarray, another was in the astonishing 7-5 victory over Reading, a match when a half-decent striker could hardly fail to find the target. But Giroud is starting to find his feet and gain confidence, which is crucial – he’s a quiet, reserved, shy figure that needs to feel wanted. The more he scores, the more comfortable he’ll become.

In recent weeks Gervinho has sometimes been favoured upfront in a lateral roaming role, meaning Giroud has been benched. But the Ivorian’s injury means Giroud should start matches consistently in the next few weeks, and he can become a key player in Arsenal’s season. He’s unlikely to get close to Robin van Persie’s 30 league goals from 2011/12, but his link-up play will improve drastically with more self-belief.

Valbuena crucial to Marseille’s crossing

Marseille have played the most crosses in Ligue 1 this season – they average 29 per match, essentially one every three minutes. Unusually, the man who plays the highest number is not a winger, or even a full-back – but Mathieu Valbuena, who is nominally the central playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, playing behind Andre-Pierre Gignac.

Valbuena is a fascinating player – although his ‘average position’ would be somewhere near the centre of the pitch, he almost always drifts towards the flanks, seeking to create overloads with a winger, making two-versus-one situations against a full-back, or even three-versus-two situations when a Marseille full-back advances and takes an opposition winger with him. Even when he isn’t directly playing the cross, often his positioning is the reason Marseille get space to whip a ball in, and with Gignac prowling in the penalty area, Marseille have a perfect target man.

Marseille started the season with six wins on the bounce – but have failed to win their last three, and were eliminated from the cup by fierce rivals PSG on Wednesday night. This weekend’s home match with Lyon is difficult to predict, but there will certainly be plenty of crosses with Valbuena on show.

Suarez collects bookings

Even by the standards of Luis Suarez – never one to shy away from controversy – it’s remarkable that he’s been booked four times in just nine Premier League matches, considering he’s a forward. Only two players in the league have collected five, while no other forward has collected more than two.

Although Brendan Rodgers changed his strategy slightly at Everton, he generally wants his side to press – and no-one is better to lead the closing down than Suarez. This role shouldn’t be underestimated – a pressing team needs to look up the pitch and see a striker setting the example for the other nine outfielders. Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona, for example, was the antithesis of Suarez.

Players instructed to press will often collect cards. When Andre Villas-Boas demanded more closing down from his forwards at Chelsea, both Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba were dismissed for poor tackles within the first nine league games.

Yet Suarez has collected unnecessary bookings –for a dive against Sunderland, and for dissent against both Manchester City and West Brom. One more, and Liverpool will be without their best player for a match, which seems rather unprofessional considering the avoidable nature of his cards.



Follow Michael on Twitter: @Zonal_Marking

And read more of his work at ZonalMarking.net

A firm believer in traditional shirt numbers. I also write for ESPN, The Guardian, FourFourTwo & others.