5 Tactical Conclusions From October


As we head into the next quarter of the domestic football season, today on the blog Michael Cox delivers his five tactical conclusions from the month of October.


Ancelotti will take time to find his best XI

Carlo Ancelotti is a highly intelligent manager that obsesses about team shape. His new autobiography is titled ‘My Christmas Tree’, named after his favoured formation, and has in-depth analysis of relatively obscure football concepts, rather than being a standard year-by-year account of his playing and managerial career.

As a coach, however, Ancelotti is not primarily a tactician. The defining feature of his management is his ability to strike up excellent relationships with star individuals, and sometimes it feels like the Italian simply shoves his best eleven players into the same team, and hopes they’ll sort things out amongst themselves.

That’s an exaggeration, but Ancelotti is currently faced with a difficult situation at Real. There seems to be no easy option when it comes to keeping star names happy, with some players suiting a 4-3-3 and others a 4-2-3-1, after Ancelotti had initially started the season with a 4-4-2 system. The midweek 7-3 win over Sevilla was an amazing contest, but it’s rather a return to the ‘Harlem Globetrotters’ style of play Real became infamous for during Florentino Perez’s first spell. It doesn’t breed success.

The best sides control matches and don’t depend upon pure individualism – Ancelotti will struggle to create a cohesive unit this year.

Liverpool’s formation favours the forwards

Brendan Rodgers’ decided to shift to a 3-4-1-2 system primarily because it allows Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge to play upfront together – and once Coutinho returns to full fitness to play in the number ten role, Liverpool should have one of the most exciting attacking trios in Europe. Suarez and Sturridge have scored ten goals in their four matches together, while Coutinho is the perfect man to play delicate through-balls.

But having played four games with this 3-4-1-2, Liverpool are yet to keep a clean sheet. That’s in stark contrast to their record at the start of the season, when they kept clean sheets in their first three games. The three centre-backs – Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho – have actually played very well, but Liverpool can become overloaded down the flanks and invite too much pressure.

It remains to be seen how long Rodgers perseveres with this system, but at both ends of the pitch it means one thing – plenty of goals.

Sporting are building for the future

It’s been a difficult few years for fans of Sporting Lisbon – rivals Benfica have consistently finished ahead in the league table, Porto have regularly defeated them in league matches, and it’s been a considerable time since the Lions put up a genuine title charge.

The start to this season, however, has been very promising. With Benfica off form, Braga struggling in midtable and last season’s surprise package Pacos de Ferreira currently bottom, Sporting were providing Porto’s main challenge. Last weekend’s fixture between Porto and Sporting at the Dragao was a genuine title clash for the first time in years.

In the end, Porto ran out comfortable 3-1 winners, dominating the game from the centre of the pitch, and simply seeming more organised, compact and cohesive than Sporting. Leonardo Jardim still has plenty of work to do on the training ground.

But still, there’s reasons to be positive – Sporting have an incredibly young side. Of the regulars, only striker Jefferson Montero is over the age of 25, and the all-Portuguese midfield of William Carvalho, Adrian Silva and Andre Martins have an average age of 22. Carvalho, in particular, looks a very talented young holding midfielder.

Realistically, Sporting won’t be challenging this season – but the next couple of years could be very interesting.

Roma are surviving without Totti

The injury Francesco Totti suffered during the 2-0 win over Napoli looked set to derail Roma’s amazing title charge – the captain had been Serie A’s star performer in the opening weeks of the season, finding pockets of space to create from between the lines, and dropping deeper to prompt quick counter-attacking moves.

Few players in the world are capable of replacing an on-form Totti, and reserve striker Marco Borriello isn’t the most obvious candidate. Whereas Totti is a silky, creative trequartista, Borriello is an old-school number nine that thrives on long balls and crosses. But Borriello has proved rather useful over the last couple of weeks. Against Napoli, Roma adjusted their game to suit Borriello excellently – they provided him with a different type of service, without compromising their overall gameplan. In recent weeks, particularly in the narrow 1-0 win over Chievo on Thursday night, opponents have tried to stifle Roma’s creativity by sitting extremely deep inside their own third, and getting nine men behind the ball. But Borriello has proved a useful target man, bringing others into play, and netting the winner against Chievo. Somewhat surprisingly, Borriello might turn into one of Serie A’s key players this season.

The Eredivisie is crazy

The Eredivisie is no longer regarded as one of Europe’s best leagues – but this season, it might be the most exciting. After a summer of change amongst the big clubs, with Ajax losing big stars and PSV seeing a managerial change, the league table this season is amazing: after one-third of the season, just three points separates the entire top half. Every side has lost at least two of their 11 fixtures.

Inevitably, Ajax and PSV remain favourites – and should pull away at some point. Frank De Boer has Ajax playing some good football, with Icelandic forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson amongst the goals in the early weeks, and La Masia product Bojan Krcic playing some decent football in a wide role. De Boer has the ability to vary his system, with Ajax sometimes using a back three in possession, and once the side becomes more cohesive, their results should become more consistent.

PSV are also an interesting case – new coach Philipp Cocu started extremely strongly but has suffered three defeats in four. He too wants flexibility from his midfield, with the midfield trio rotating seamlessly in the first few weeks of the season – but the loss of captain Georginio Wijnaldum has proved a real blow.

Twente, meanwhile, are currently top of the league. With highly-rated ex-Inter striker Luc Castaignos banging in the goals, and Serbian winger Dusan Tadic registering multiple assists and being absolutely clinical from the penalty spot, the 2011 champions could be the dark horse – if you can call the league leaders a dark horse, that is.

Some bookmakers have no fewer than eight sides priced at odds of 41.00 or shorter – if you want an unpredictable league, head to Holland.



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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.