Old School of Coaching is Being Left Behind Tactically

One need only look towards the counter pressing teams employed by Jurgen, back 3 systems used by Conte, and the myriad of innovative tactics used by Pep to know we’re in the age of modern tactics (or at least a revival).

One may also notice all 3 of those coaches I mentioned are considered amongst the top 3 managers currently (although Jurgen’s back line would argue otherwise).

As little as 2 years ago the Premier league was considered out-dated in tactics when compared to Germany or Spain.  The average fan will argue otherwise but that’s just ignorance plain and simple.  Any true soccer tactics fan will know that the premier league’s 1 man hero press while the rest of the team chills (Rooney special), an average of 2 kilometres between formation lines at any time, and outdated cross-the-ball in at all times from all angles are a testament to outdated tactics.

Things changed of course due to the English Premier league being the richest league in the world and the most popular.  They finally caught on and started dragging in the big guns like Pep, Jurgen, Mourinho, Conte and Pocchetino.   All that did of course was widen the gap between the rich and the poor.  Not only did the top teams have the best players but they also had the best managers.

Now you have top end managers with modern tactics (usually good tactics) armed with the best players laying waste to the rest of the league.

One need only look at the Premier league right now to see that all 5 of those managers mentioned are taking up the top 5 spots and to be honest?  It was quite obvious from the beginning of this season (and last season as well) that those 5 would be fighting for top honours – with of course Arsenal hanging around like usual.

But let’s take a quick look elsewhere to see how the progression of data and analytics in sports has changed modern tactics and strategy just like it has in soccer.  Look no further than one of the top sports across the pond, basketball.

Basketball, due to it’s complexity and free-flowing nature is more similar to soccer than people realize.  And due to advanced stats which has led to a better understanding, the game of NBA has shifted from post ups (big guy backing into a defender when close to hoop), and 2-point jump shots to more efficient 3 point shooting and drives to the hoop.  Why?  Advanced stats and analysis which has led to improved tactics and strategy which in turn has changed the way the game is played.

Similar of course to how soccer has changed, at least for those smart enough to realize.

So, what are some of the most obvious tactical changes that good managers have moved on from?

Let’s go in order here from the three I mentioned above starting with the “Rooney Special” one-man-hero-press.  It’s essentially just what it sounds like.

The other team’s defensive line has the ball and the defending striker rushes at them to try and steal the ball.  The only problem?  Nobody’s rushing with him. The striker puts pressure on the back-line, but his midfield line and d-line remain a mile behind watching the action.  And the best part is that good defenders know this.  They know that that strikers will put one good sprint together to pressure but are susceptible to a good fake.  One good fake clearance by the defender and you’ll see the striker bomb by and then give up.  Or even better yet, one simple pass from the defender to a holding mid and the entire “press” is beaten. Disjointed soccer at its finest.

The one-man hero rush may be one of the easiest tactical mistakes you’ll see when watching a game on the TV.

The next one is another easy one to spot when watching on the old telley.  What to look for?

Simply look for the defending team to have massive separation between their defensive lines.  Modern teams when defending make the field as small as possible (within reason of course).  Old school managers aren’t necessarily looking for this and as such you’ll often see huge separation between their lines at any given time.

Of course, this is suicide against for example a Pep Guardiola team that will intentionally target playing the ball between your lines in the #10 areas.

A great example of this was a series that featured two tactical geniuses in Pep’s Bayern Munich vs. Simeone’s Atletico.  Here you had two coaches tactically on the top of their games meeting up on the grand stage of the Champions league.  It was a great game of Chess where the more possession inclined side (Bayern), were trying to manipulate the game to find space between Atletico Madrid’s lines.  Atletico though, had maybe the best defense of anyone around at the time and of course, their entire defensive strategy is designed to stop teams from playing through the middle of the field and from playing between their defensive lines.

Over the course of two incredibly tight home and away games, fans witnessed a tactical masterclass as each team tried to impose their will.  Bayern did everything they could to manipulate Atletico’s shape to create space between their lines, while on the other side we had Atletico showing incredible discipline and moving all 11 of their guys as one in order to close down all the dangerous areas of the field.

Truly a game of contrasting styles.

And thirdly, we have the age old, “we need to get more crosses in” syndrome.

Statistically speaking crossing has been proven to be one of the least efficient ways of creating chances to score in soccer.  Yes, there is a place to do it, specifically if you know how to target the more efficient types of crossing like cut-backs and low crosses behind the d-line.  But the typical bomb it in from a mile out kind of crossing that you’ll see literally every game you ever watch (or so it seems), is out-dated.  The act of “toss it into the mix son!” remains too often as the “go to” for many managers.

You see, most good teams shift all the action away from the middle intentionally funneling teams to the outer skirts of the field.  As such, a team that is intentionally only looking for crosses as a valuable source of attack, are simply playing into the hands of what good teams want.

It’s hard to break from ages old tradition.  These methods have been used for years and years and have been passed down as fool-proof methods to play soccer.  Those willing to adapt to more modern methods are reaping the benefits.

Clubs need to realize that just going back to the classic old school manager who’s been around since the golden ages isn’t necessarily the right call.

At least if it’s the type of manager that’s around just for his name and hasn’t shown any inclination towards modern tactics.

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