5 Tactical Observations From September
A firm believer in traditional shirt numbers. I also write for ESPN, The Guardian, FourFourTwo & others.
With almost two months of football in the books for season 2012-2013, today on the blog Michael Cox from ZonalMarking.net delivers 5 tactical observations to consider as the football season heads into October.
Kroos may be Bayern’s key man
The overall shape and feel of Bayern Munich hasn’t changed significantly in the last four seasons. With Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben cutting inside from the flanks and Bastian Schweinsteiger setting the tempo in midfield, we’ve become accustomed to their gameplan, despite a few replacements here and there.
But Toni Kroos’ form over the past few months has arguably made him Bayern’s key player. There was initially some doubt about where he’d fit in at Bayern, with some considering him too similar to Schweinsteiger to play alongside him in the centre of midfield. The purchase of Javi Martinez from Athletic Bilbao means that’s unlikely to be a permanent solution.
Besides, Kroos has made the attacking midfield position his own. Few players around have such great appreciation of space, such tactical knowledge to be able to vary his position according to the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. If there’s space between the lines Kroos will hold his position, if the opposition are vulnerable in the midfield zone he’ll become an extra man, if there’s a weakness on the flanks, he’ll help create an overload. Limiting his influence upon the game might be the best way to stop Bayern this season.
Pirlo may not have same influence as last season
No-one doubted that Andrea Pirlo would be a success at Juventus, but few expected him to have such a fantastic 2011/12 campaign, leading the side to a historic unbeaten season. Pirlo was Serie A’s key man last season and followed that up with a fine Euro 2012 tournament, but is so far yet to reach that level this season.
Early days, of course, but it’s fair to question whether he’ll be able to cope with the extra demands of Champions League football this campaign, especially after a busy summer. Last year, Juventus weren’t in any competition at all, so Pirlo had a leisurely schedule – one game a week. The extra midweek games – often played at a greater intensity than Serie A matches – will take their toll.
It was notable that Pirlo tired in this week’s 0-0 draw with Fiorentina, with the nippy, energetic Adem Ljajic making constant runs off him into goalscoring positions. Massimo Carrera decided to replace Pirlo with ex-Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, who did a much better defensive job in a negative Juventus second half performance, but he won’t be able to recreate Pirlo’s creativity, and Claudio Marchisio has become an even more important player for The Old Lady.
Arsenal are yet to break down a deep defence in the league
Arsenal’s league matches so far this season have followed a simple pattern – Southampton and Stoke defended deep and kept clean sheets. Liverpool and Southampton played higher up the pitch and got ripped apart through speed and movement.
The game against Manchester City was a slight anomaly but doesn’t disprove the theory – Arsenal looked more dangerous in the first half, with City attacking, than when Roberto Mancini’s side dropped deep in the second. Granted, they scored after half-time through centre-back Laurent Koscielny, but this is hardly a reliable source of goals, and it was quick players like Lukas Podolski and Gervinho who had the Gunners’ best chances, both before the break.
The key to breaking down a deep defence is about using weapons other than pace, of course. For that, Arsenal have Olivier Giroud, who broke his goalscoring duck against Coventry in midweek with a fine penalty, but rather ruined his confidence levels by missing a second half penalty.
Giroud’s style will be crucial at some point, but it’s not necessarily about getting crosses into him – he’s not a player that thrives in the air, and is more of a link-up striker, happier with midfield runners supporting him. Still, until he proves his Premier League quality, Arsenal’s opponents would be wise to defend very deep.
Opponents must stop Everton’s left flank
Everton’s left flank is arguably the strongest in the Premier League. It’s not about the quality of the individuals – although Leighton Baines must be one of the Premier League’s finest full-backs – but instead the understanding between Baines and Steven Pienaar. The South African drifts inside quickly, allowing Baines to overlap and essentially become an extra midfielder.
Furthermore, Marouane Fellaini has also started playing towards that side of the pitch. Against Manchester United this appeared to be a one-off tactic to exploit United’s makeshift right side of their defence, but it’s actually become a permanent feature. Baines’ accurate chips down the line are always almost won by Fellaini up against the opposition’s right-sided centre-back, and he can either flick the ball on or bring it down on his chest – the most frequent recipient being Pienaar, storming inside into goalscoring positions.
This relationship, combined with Everton’s tendency to switch the ball accurately and swiftly from flank to flank, means the first task for any opposition manager should be to stay tight down the right. West Bromwich Albion coach Steve Clarke used Graham Dorrans in a very defensive role on that side, stopping Baines advancing, and resulting in Everton’s only league defeat so far this campaign.
Lazio won’t score enough to remain contenders
Lazio’s strong early season form was something of a surprise. Bosnian coach Vladimir Petkovic was relatively unknown before this season, but he managed to keep last season’s squad intact and got off to a fine start, winning their first three games.
But Lazio will do well to remain in the hunt for a Champions League place - their problem will be a lack of goals from across the side. Miroslav Klose is a reliable marksman but goals aren’t forthcoming from elsewhere in the side – Brazilian Hernanes can chip in with a spectacular strike, as he showed against Chievo, but he isn’t a regular contributor.
It’s more of an issue out wide, where none of their wingers - Andrea Candreva on the right, and Luciano Zauri or Senad Lulic on the left - consistently get themselves into the penalty box, and while playing them on the flanks in a 4-3-3 / 4-1-4-1 will offer the full-backs good protection, it’s unlikely any will get close to double figures in term of goals.
Klose can only keep Lazio going for so long, and with a Europa League run likely to drain the squad’s energy, this week’s 3-0 defeat to Napoli could be a sign of things to come, rather than an unfortunate blip.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @Zonal_Marking
And read more of his work at ZonalMarking.net
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Well pronounced. Everton's left flank is deadly. Unfortunately for them they depend on Gibson's contribution for some threat from their mid-centre and he is currently out injured. Neville in the centre has had his years show and the lack of technique slows down the maneuver for Moyes' men. Fully agree with the Juve and Lazio observations. The Italian international is less able at handling the years and a match every three days. He has always, more or less, been man-marked but physically he is not up for wriggling away from that anymore. He should be used sparingly for the more important games. Although it must be said that at Juventus there is no alternative to him. Pogba is more of a physical player. Lazio will definitely stumble on that goals hurdle. Petkovic has tried making the team more offensive and is thinking about utilizing a three-man defence in order to afford an extra man on the attack - which is essentially Lulic on the left advancing to attack the opponent. It might work but so far we have seen how his early attempts have turned out. The high line was duly taken advantage of against Napoli, which crave such tactical situations. As for Arsenal I would give them time as they get used to the new, more defensive, tactics being implemented by right-hand man Bould. You rightly mention Giroud and I believe he can be the key to make things run much more smoothly in their attacking maneuver. It would be a mistake to think Gervinho can actually get over his clumsiness in front of goal. The right flank is his right place where he has put in some disciplined performances, helping out Jenkinson, whenever employed there.
I agree with Lazio effectiveness this season. They are far from the quality to fight for the top spots as AC Milan right now.
About Everton I think tha tthey must stop Fellaini, and David Moys' boys wont be able to create so situations for sure...