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ViP2's Coaches' Corner

Michel Kane

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I want to use this thread as a place where we further analyse the game, post up data analysis, articles on players, playing style, youth development, tactics, policies, etc

Would love to see videos, podcasts here too.

I'll start. 2 interesting articles I've come across, one on Ronaldo & the other on the Bielsa-fication of modern day football.

Why Are More Goals Being Scored?

The style of possession football pioneered by the Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa, left, has been emulated throughout the game. Photograph: Vincent West/Reuters

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of goals. They're everywhere – in every competition, in every country, in every stadium (apart from games involving Sunderland). Four-goal leads are regularly obliterated (Angola v Mali, Newcastle v Arsenal, Germany v Sweden, Arsenal v Reading). Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Radamel Falcao break goalscoring records every week. Everybody attacks, all the time.

In the top flights of England, France and Spain, there has been a clear upward trend in the numbers of goals scored per game over the past decade. Last season, for the first time ever, the knockout stage of the Champions League yielded more than three goals per game and that has continued into this season's group stage, with 3.03 goals per game. And even in Italy and Germany, where goals per game have remained relatively constant for 10 years, this season is showing above average numbers of goals.

Over the last 10 seasons, the average number of goals scored per Premier League game has shown a steady rise. Starting in 2003-04, the figure for average goals per game for each season reads 2.66, 2.56, 2.48, 2.45, 2.63, 2.47, 2.77, 2.79, 2.80. This season, with all but Sunderland and Reading having played 11 games, the average stands at 2.82. If that were to be sustained to the end of the season, it would be the highest average since 1967-68. And yet it is still lower than the remarkable 2.94 in La Liga this season.

There has been a clear increase in the Premier League from 2009-10 onwards. In part that appears to be down to a better shot conversion rate which, having hovered between 11.8 and 12.8% for the previous six seasons has been at over 13% (this season stands at a 10-season high of 13.54%) for four seasons. That could be down to strikers becoming more efficient or it could be down to a better type of chance being created.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that average passes per game has also seen a clear increase, climbing from 717 in 2006-07 to 862 so far this season. That has coincided with an improvement in passing accuracy: from 70-75% a decade ago (a low of 70.51% in 2006-07, the season that also brought the lowest average goals per game in the past decade of 2.45) to 76.24% in 2010-11, 79.65% last year and 81.69% this season.

That correlation seems relatively easy to explain: more passes and better pass completion would suggest easier, probably shorter, passes are being attempted; more teams, in other words, are attempting to play possession-based football. That theory seems to be confirmed by the fact that the percentage of passes played into the final third has shown a steady decrease in recent seasons, from a high of 38.8% in 2007-08 to just 32% last season and 30.9% so far this, and that the number of crosses per game has dropped, from over 40 a decade ago to 34.52 last season and 35.81 so far this.

And because teams are focusing more on passing the ball, they are focusing less on winning it back. Tackle statistics only exist from 2006-7, when there were 47.5 per game. That figure has fallen in every season to a low of 37.67 last year. So far this year, the average is 38.74. Fouls, similarly, have come down, from 28 per game a decade ago to 21.86 last season. It's probably telling that in that period, yellow cards have remained relatively steady at around three per game, if anything showing a slight rise.

This is a trend repeated across Europe. More passing, less tackling.

In part, the lawmakers must take credit (or blame). The changes in the offside law have increased the effective playing area, permitting the return of the sort of diminutive, skilful midfielder who had been all but eradicated from central areas of the pitch a decade ago. Tackling is increasingly restricted: the snapping, snarling ball-winner has been all but refined from the game and that means more technically gifted players can't be intimidated.

But there has also been a fundamental change of attitude that was perhaps best encapsulated by Sir Alex Ferguson in an interview he gave in May when asked if his target over the summer would be a holding midfielder. "If you look at the examples, [Cesc] Fábregas was one of the best midfield players in England for five years but he wasn't a big lad and wasn't a holding player," he said. "He was an attacking player. Xavi [Hernández] and [Andrés] Iniesta are small players – you can't call them holding players. I don't think we've had a holding player since I've been here. We've never had a holding player. We tried to get Roy Keane to do that but he just couldn't do it. He had to play a way that was his own way of playing, so I've not had it for 25 years. Why should I think about it now?"

The answer was slightly disingenuous: United may not have had a holding player in the sense of a Claude Makelele-type who would sit in front of the back four, but in the likes of Keane, Paul Ince, Nicky Butt and Bryan Robson, they have certainly had ball-winners. It may be that Darren Fletcher, if he fully recovers from his colitis, can return to that role, but Ferguson clearly doesn't see it as a priority.

What's even more striking, though, is the behaviour of the two English teams who were the major prize-winners last season. Chelsea, having ground their way to the Champions League, now play with a dazzling trio of attacking midfielders who have a habit of leaving their full-backs exposed. Doggedness and defiance can bring one trophy, the message seems to be, but something far more proactive is necessary if pre-eminence is to be sustained. The sale of Nigel de Jong, the sidelining of Joleon Lescott for Matija Nastasic and the dabbles with a back three, meanwhile, all seem to suggest that Manchester City are attempting to play a more possession-based game.

Football, in the past couple of years, has gone through a process of Bielsafication. At the highest level, virtually everybody now tries to win the ball back high up the pitch, tries to score with quick transitions. That means that the ability for a central defender not to give the ball away, not to panic when two or three forwards close him down, becomes paramount – and that in turn means that ability on the ball comes to be prized almost as much as the ability to win a tackle or a header. At the same time, thanks to Spain, it's now accepted that the safest way not to concede goals is not to concede possession.

That's why Marcelo Bielsa, the high priest of this style of football, has so often used a central midfielder as a defender. He did it was Gary Medel with Chile and Javi Martínez with Athletic Bilbao and it's not hard to see the influence of his thinking in Pep Guardiola's decision to convert Javier Mascherano – and at times Sergio Busquets – into centre-backs.

Bielsa developed his theories at Newell's Old Boys in Rosario in the early 90s, yet the odd thing is that he was won virtually nothing with them. His two titles with Newell's both came before the 6-0 Copa Libertadores defeat to San Lorenzo in 1992 that persuaded him to submit to the radicalism in his soul. It wasn't just that he played a 4-3-3/3-4-3 hybrid (like Louis van Gaal at Ajax and Johan Cruyff at Barcelona at the same time, he favoured a shape that was essentially a flattened diamond sandwiched by an attacking line of three and a defensive line of three); it was the ferocity of the pressing and the relentlessness of his attacking that marked him out.

Newell's reached the final of the Libertadores but lost to São Paulo and Bielsa left for Atlas in Mexico. Narrow failure, exhausted troops failing at the last, were to become a familiar pattern. He won another title at Vélez Sarsfield and an Olympic gold with Argentina but that aside his career has been characterised by near misses. Last season, Athletic, having played some stunning football in the spring, were defeated in the finals of both the Europa League and the Copa del Rey.

The feeling is that Bielsa may be too much of a fundamentalist: as he himself has said, if football were played by robots, he would win everything. Human limitations he seems to find harder to deal with.

Yet his followers, those who temper his ideals with realism, are coming to dominate. Jorge Sampaoli has led Universidad de Chile to three straight titles and last year's Copa Sudamericana. Guardiola, who shared a 12-hour asado with Bielsa before taking the Barcelona job, won three Spanish titles and a Champions League. Gerardo Martino took Paraguay to the Copa America final and has led Newell's title charge this season. Even when there is no direct link, few of Europe's bright young managers are not Bielsista in outlook: most notably André Villas-Boas (even if he has reined in the high line this season) and Jürgen Klopp.

Only international football remains aloof, the lack of time available for coaches to drill their players in the organised pressing required for Bielsista football leading to a more cautious, deeper-lying approach.

As Celtic showed against Barcelona, it's not the only way to play, but it is the modish way to play and, for the moment, the combination of laws that encourage technical football and a prevailing high-tempo, attacking philosophy is producing goal-packed, thrilling football. The counter-revolution will come but for now, at the highest club level, it's all about Bielsisme.

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Is Cristiano Ronaldo a strength or a weakness?

Real Madrid stand 11 points behind Barcelona in the league only 13 games into the season. They looked distinctly second best in taking just one point from two games in the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund. Pressure is mounting, it seems, on José Mourinho: six previous Real Madrid managers have found themselves more than six points off the lead at this stage of the season; none have made it until May. Yet it may be that the criticism is being directed at the wrong Portuguese.

Cristiano Ronaldo's goal stats are preposterous: 165 in 164 games since he joined Real Madrid in 2009. Physically he is monstrous: he has an explosive pace but also balance and deftness; he is strong enough that many opponents simply bounce off him and he is good in the air. He is exceptionally gifted with both feet. He is an extraordinary footballer, by many measures one of the greatest handful the world has known. He may also be the reason this Real Madrid team never wins the Champions League.

To an extent, of course, such a statement is ludicrous. With a fair enough wind, anybody who reaches the last 16 can win the Champions League – hard though it is to imagine Ronaldo accepting a role as an auxiliary wing-back as Samuel Eto'o did for Internazionale in the 2010 semi-final or driving himself to exhaustion with the sort of selflessness Didier Drogba showed at times last season. The point is more that no side that contains Ronaldo can reach the level that Barcelona did under Pep Guardiola or Milan did under Arrigo Sacchi, or Liverpool did under Bob Paisley, or Ajax did under Rinus Michels and Stefan Kovacs – when they are so good that it's almost a bigger story when they fail to win the European Cup than when they do.

Those sides, who stand as the greatest club teams there have been in the past 40 years, share the fact that they were about the collective rather than the individual. Valeriy Lobanovskyi took the principle so far that he argued that the coalitions between players were more important than the players themselves. For Marcelo Bielsa, whose theories have shaped the modern football environment more than anyone else's, this issue is clear. "We can't have anybody in the squad who thinks they can win games on their own," he said. "The key is to occupy the pitch well, to have a short team with no more than 25m from front to back and to have a defence that is not distracted if somebody moves position." After recent changes in the offside law he may revise that figure upwards but the basic point remains: the team is a system that is at its best when compact.

With Ronaldo, though, it's always all about him. Take, for example, the 2008 Champions League final. Ronaldo, playing on the left side of midfield, headed Manchester United into the lead. For half an hour or so he dominated Michael Essien, who was playing at right-back for Chelsea that night. But then Essien started running past him. Ronaldo didn't track him. One Essien surge led to Frank Lampard's equaliser. Chelsea had the better of the second half and extra-time, in part because Essien's advancement gave them an extra body in midfield.

Much has been made of the fact that Ronaldo ended the evening, having missed his penalty in the shoot-out, sitting and weeping alone on the halfway line while his victorious team-mates celebrated in front of the United fans at one end. Perhaps that does speak of a certain self-centredness, a need always to be the one who claims the glory; far more significant, though, was that it was his indiscipline that had allowed Chelsea back into the game.

That was why Sir Alex Ferguson used him so often as a centre-forward that season: there his abilities could damage opponents without his laxity damaging United. Wayne Rooney, a lesser player than Ronaldo in many ways – and less disciplined in terms of staying in shape off the pitch – could be trusted to track an attacking full-back. The last-16 game with Porto was emblematic: in the first leg Ronaldo played wide, Rooney central and the Porto full-back Aly Cissokho caused untold problems; in the second Rooney and Ronaldo switched and Cissokho was kept in check.

The lesson has not been learned. When Ronaldo comes up against a strong driving right-back, Real struggle. Dani Alves, for all his defensive flaws, has generally had the better of him in Clásicos over the past three seasons. Philip Lahm, in the first leg particularly, was key as Bayern Munich won their Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid last season – his overlap led directly to Mario Gómez's winner. Ronaldo was still good enough to score twice in the second leg; the question is whether the problems he causes the team shape are worth it.

It was a similar story against Dortmund this season. Essien, playing at left-back in the game in Germany, was widely blamed for his inability to handle Marco Reus but Ronaldo's failure to check Lukasz Piszczek's surges for right-back were just as much to blame. You wonder what might have happened at the Euros had the Czech Republic had the courage to attack Ronaldo with Theodor Gebreselassie.

In a world in which systematised football is de rigueur, Ronaldo is an anachronism. Collective pressing was devised in the USSR in the 1960s by Viktor Maslov, who culled from his Dynamo Kyiv team anybody who refused to fulfil their share of defensive work. That included a hugely popular and skilful but dilettantish left winger – Lobanovskyi; Ronaldo, it's fair to say, is unlikely to follow a similar path to the Colonel, beguiling as it is to think of him in 30 years glowering from beneath a leather cap in a dugout having redefined the use of science in football. Only one player, the attacking midfielder Andriy Biba "retained full rights of democracy"; playing centrally he didn't have to attack the opposing full-back. Had Ronaldo moved into the middle, his lack of defensive work might have been possible to accommodate; by insisting on playing wide, it becomes, given the importance of attacking full-backs in the modern game, a liability.

To an extent, this is the Real Madrid way. Since the presidency of Santiago Bernabéu, it has favoured stars over system, something that led Sacchi to walk out after being appointed director of football in 2004-05, complaining about the insistence on "specialists" – that is, players who could function in only one way.

Ronaldo will continue to bully lesser sides and occasionally good ones. In a one on one with a defender he is formidable. He finishes magnificently. He is an awesome player. But at the highest level, against the best opposition, his way of playing becomes a weakness for opponents to exploit. He said recently that he thinks he doesn't get the credit he deserves because of perceptions about his personality; the problem is that, whatever he is really like in private, that perceived character pervades the way he plays. He should be a great strength for Real Madrid – he is a great strength; but he is also a flaw.

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Is anyone on here a coach or done any badges?


Second article annoyed me. This perception that Fergie 'regularly used ronaldo as a striker' that season is such a myth. Ive said this before but He played no more than 5 games that season as a centre forward.

A few other things annoyed me too about it. Ie why isnt he tracking his runner and saying his failure to do so cost his team. Imo that is a manager error, particularly if it continues to happen as the writer suggests

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My level 2 tutor said you have to apply for the course and be invited onto it now for level 3, based on things like coaching experience and past playing level. So dumb. He doesnt know why theyve changed it to that.


Thinking of going america to coach. Havent planned much though but im guaranteed 2 weeks if i want it and got a connect for the whole summer if i want to so not sure. Also got the option of norway

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Been coaching part time for about 5 years now. Always had regular jobs which is why I haven't yet done my level 2. Will do that first thing in 2013 so I can progress.


My boy done his degree at Greenwich and done his badges up to level 3 at the David beckham academy. Had some good coaching opportunities including coaching with an Italian team for a week(the one maxi Lopez used to play for)

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Player Focus: Mousa Dembélé

by Alistair Tweedale at Wednesday, Dec 5 2012 15:32


When Luka Modric made his long awaited and fully expected departure for the riches of Real Madrid in the summer, the little man left a gaping hole in the heart of Tottenham's midfield. The Croatian midfielder had proven his worth to one of the biggest clubs in the world through his performances for Spurs, dictating the pace of games from his central berth, always the man that Spurs would look to for that killer pass.

Many, including new manager André Villas-Boas considered Porto midfielder João Moutinho as the ideal replacement for Modric; a ball-playing but also a ball-winning central midfielder, who had inspired Villas-Boas' Porto side to an historic treble in his first season there. However, with the north London club priced out of any transfer involving the Portugal international, a vast amount of pressure was duly passed on to one of Tottenham's signings that did go through.

When Mousa Dembélé first came to the Premier League, he was a significantly more attack-minded player than he is now, and would often play off Bobby Zamora during his early days at Fulham. He has since, though, established himself as a central midfielder, capable of breaking up play and driving attacks forward from deeper positions. An incredibly impressive season in this role at Craven Cottage earned the Belgian a £15m move across London to Tottenham.

At Spurs, he has shone from the off, coming off the bench for his debut and scoring not long after appearing in that game against Norwich. He quickly became an integral part of the Spurs line up, as without him now, they seem to lack a great deal of attacking impetus through central parts of the field.

Compare the average positions in which Spurs players touched the ball in two of their recent, and contrasting, results; one without Dembélé - against Wigan - and one with him - against Fulham.


Against Wigan, the starting central trio in midfield were Sandro (30), Huddlestone (6) and Dempsey (2). The average player positions of those three are not all that surprising - all three remained fairly central - while Jermain Defoe (18) was forced to drop deep in search of the ball, taking up a place on the left with some regularity. Gareth Bale (11), meanwhile, in the absence of much creativity from the middle, took it upon himself to move into central positions and try to conjure up some magic of his own.

In the Fulham game, on the other hand, Dembélé's presence (19) in place of Tom Huddlestone had some striking consequences. Whilst Dembélé's average position was rather similar to Huddlestone's, the Belgian can run with the ball, driving at defences, thus encouraging the likes of Defoe to stay central and look for balls to be played through or in behind the opposition defence for him to run on to. Also of note, is that Bale stuck to his left-sided position much more than against Wigan, with Dembélé running things centrally and Bale able to keep to what he's best at.

Furthermore, Spurs won by three clear goals at Fulham, handing the Cottagers their biggest home defeat of the season, while they lost at home to Wigan, in a game they would have expected to win. Dembélé's presence in the win was no coincidence.

Dembélé has featured in exactly half of Spurs' 22 competitive games this season, and the difference in their results with him compared to without him is quite astounding. They have won 7 of the 11 he has played in and drawn the rest, while without him, they have won only 3 out of 11, losing on 6 occasions. The change in the goals their games have seen is vast as well, with his side scoring an average of 1.82 goals per game when he has featured, compared to 1.55 without him, while Spurs have conceded 0.73 goals per game in matches with Dembélé playing a part, compared to 1.82 without him.


While he cannot be solely responsible for such large discrepancies, he certainly improves the team both on the attack and defensively, and he has become a key component of AVB's Tottenham machine. His 3.7 tackles per game is the 7th most of players to have made more than one appearance in the Premier League this season, and what is more, of the 26 players to average more than 3 tackles per game, Dembélé comes away from those tackles with possession of the ball most often; 86.5% of the time. Additionally, despite only making 10 league appearances this season, only 8 players have dribbled past opposing players more times than the Belgian, who has done so 27 times.

At Spurs, he is on the ball more often than most, with only full-backs Assou-Ekotto (81.7), Vertonghen (74) and Walker (68.5) averaging more touches per game than Dembélé (59.6), further highlighting Spurs' reliance on wide areas of the pitch, when more impetus is needed in the middle.

He has already topped his assist tally in the Premier League from last season, with 3 so far this term, leaving him joint top of those charts at Tottenham. He needs to add more goals to his game, but those could well come with a decent run in the team without the disruption injury causes.

Manchester United fans may well be cursing the powers that be at their club for not doing more to sign Dembélé when they had the chance, particularly given his two outstanding performances at Old Trafford already this season, and Spurs fans should certainly be grateful they have him. Eventually Dembélé will taste defeat in a Tottenham shirt, but if he keeps up the form he has shown since his summer move, he may be able to keep his impressive run going.


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Whether it's Terry Venables keeping his wife up late at night with diagrams on scraps of paper spread over the eiderdown, or the classic TV sitcom of moving the salt & pepper around the table top in the transport cafe, football tactics are now part of the fabric of everyday life. Steve McLaren's switch to an untried 3-5-2 against Croatia will probably go down as the moment he lost his slim credibility gained from dropping David Beckham; Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, was often brought to task for trying to smuggle the long ball game back into English football.

Here Jonathan Wilson pulls apart the modern game, traces the world history of tactics from modern pioneers right back to beginning where chaos reigned. Along the way he looks at the lives of great players and thinkers who shaped the game, and probes why the English, in particular, have 'proved themselves unwilling to grapple with the abstract'.


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Per Mertesacker and his role in Arsenal’s defensive structure

In Sport on December 2, 2012 at 11:42 am


” Not the quickest but he uses his brains.” – Arsene Wenger

Per Mertesacker arrived at Arsenal on the last day of August 2011; just days after the clubs staggering 8-2 loss to Manchester United. For some he represented a change in tactic; an older more experienced player as opposed to a teenager with potential.

However, others labelled him as a panic buy; far too slow and immobile to play in the fast paced Premier league. For Wenger he added depth and a variety of differing qualities as opposed to those offered by Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen.

Standing at 6ft 6 many would expect Mertesacker to be dominant in the air; a typical Premiership bruiser. However, this could not be further from the truth; the German prefers to rely on brains rather than brawn, a quick mind rather than quick feet.

The Bundesliga is rather different to the Premiership, the player himself stating, “It’s much more physical than the Bundesliga so you have to make your mind up about the tackles, about the way you cover your partner.”

It also must not be forgotten that due to the timing of the signing, Mertesacker missed out on pre-season with his new club. It was primarily for these reasons that Kraus Allof (Bremen manager at the time) warned of an adaption period saying,

“I believe Per Mertesacker is a good fit, he will do well in the Premiership. He will break through. It’s obvious his game needs a bit of adopting to that standard there. But he is an intelligent player, he will do so.”

Despite this, many failed to heed his warning and expected seamless adaption and an immediate level of performance that displayed why the Centre Back has been capped over 80 times for Germany. Of course this was not the case as despite impressive performances in the Champions League, Per initially struggled to adapt to the relentless nature of the Premier League. Shaky domestic performances culminated in a high profile error at Norwich and fans ultimately began to doubt Wenger’s new signing.

However as the season progressed, the 28 year old began to slowly adapt his game to the Premier League; gone was the hesitation and indecisiveness, replaced with a sense of calm and a presence that exuded authority. His ability to mark space was evident, whilst his smart positioning brought out other aspects of his game; most notably his precise judgement on the flight of the ball.

It’s not his ability to cut off angles for crosses that impressed most but it was more the speed at which he moved into these positions. This keen sense of danger and brilliant anticipatory skills helped save the Gunners on several occasions as they looked to recover from their early season slump. Ironically these very attributes were used as weapons to criticise Per; choosing to mark space instead of the man saw him lamented for “switching off,” when in fact he was doing the exact opposite.

It was clear that the Premiership had seen very few defenders like him and it is perhaps his unusual combination of physical attributes that have seen him adapt his game in such a way; tall but not robust, tactical rather than physical; it is rare to find a defender (a CB anyway) with his stature.

As a result he seems far more adept at reading the game than dominating opposition target man. In addition to this, it also goes some way to explain the defenders remarkable disciplinary record; committing only 0.2 fouls per game; second only to Johnny Evans. Furthermore he has only 1 yellow card to his name in 17 appearances this season; his height in combination with his pre-emptive nature making him a very clean and precise tackler.

Recovering from an expected unsteady start; the German soon grew into his new role at the club and delivered a string of impressive performances; helping contribute to clean sheets against both Everton and Wigan.

The fact that Mertesacker always seems to be in the right place at the right time is not by chance; his excellent understanding of the game leads him to positions where he is able to continuously intercept the ball. Unfortunately his progress was abruptly curtailed at the Stadium of Light in mid-February; a season ended prematurely due to a knee injury.

After a Euro 2012 that ended in disappointment, the defender managed to pick himself up and began the new domestic campaign brilliantly. Starting alongside the more aggressive Vermaelen; together they proved an impenetrable duo as Arsenal did not concede in their first three league matches. Mertesacker was at the heart of this; however, this time he received praise for his confident performances; club legend Tony Adams even lavished praise on the player.

Perhaps his “breakthrough performance,” (for the sceptics anyway) was a 2-0 victory at Liverpool in early September; just over a year after he joined the club. Wenger took a rather unorthodox approach for an Arsenal team; choosing to station the team deeper, he looked to draw Liverpool out before quickly countering.

This was perfectly suited to Per’s game; he is brilliant at defending in the penalty area; his long legs cutting out any through balls, whilst his speed of thought meant that he was quick to block shots or clear threatening crosses.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers later admitted that he had encouraged nimble striker Luis Suarez to “play in and around Per Mertesacker,” however, the German coped admirably; his speed of thought often outfoxing the Uruguayan.

Finally, Mertesacker was receiving his due credit and is now seen as a main stay in the team; few would have foreseen this a year ago as the German is now arguably Arsenal’s first choice centre back. French team-mate and another Wenger masterstroke, Laurent Koscielny showed that Per’s improvement had not gone unnoticed and said about his fellow team mate,

“I think everybody sees he is better this season,” Koscielny told Arsenal Player. “The English league is very difficult, very strong and different players have a smaller time or a longer time to adapt to this football.”

Despite clear progress before his injury, there has been a marked improvement in the overall quality of his game during his sophomore season at the club. New defensive coach Steve Bould had been cited as an influence whilst many pointed to a finally settled and balanced back four. The latter is evident; new captain Vermaelen compliments Pers game perfectly; the Belgian preferring to be more aggressive and intercept play higher up the pitch whilst the German sits deeper and sweeps up any balls that filter through.

The nature of their partnership means that as outrageous as it sounds, Mertesacker rarely has to make a tackle as this is dealt with by Vermaelen; as a result the defender only averages 1.1 tackles per game; the least of any Arsenal defender. On the other hand he makes 5.5 clearances per game; the most in the Arsenal squad. This partnership thrives against teams who play with a solitary striker as Vermaelen is usually tasked with intercepting the ball before the attack reaches the rest of the Arsenal back line.

However, there is a slight issue with teams who prefer to play with a more orthodox 4-4-2 as Mertesacker can be drawn out to deal with the deepest lying striker. Tottenham exploited this (whilst they had 11 men on the pitch) in the recent North London Derby as Defoe easily span Per high up the pitch and former Gooner Adebayor was on hand to tap in.

The worry of his lack of pace is eliminated in this new drilled defence as he rarely strays beyond the halfway line; so much so that in televised games he can disappear from view completely. Whilst not an issue when Arsenal are leading, this does pose a problem when they are chasing the game. Obviously not blessed with pace and mobility, he struggles to play as part of a high line; meaning that when Arsenal try to push up and “squeeze the play,” they leave themselves susceptible to direct balls over the top as most strikers in the Premiership will defeat the German for speed.

However, the deeper position he occupies, even when Arsenal are in a neutral position does pose its own problems; the issue of a communication or a lack of it has arisen in the past few weeks. The rest of the defence have to be aware when Mertesacker steps up to try and play an opposition striker offside.

When this does not happen, the consequences can be costly. Arsenal’s 1-0 lost to Norwich was the most notable example as Mertesacker attempted to step up and play Grant Holt offside, however, the much maligned Andre Santos failed to react and as a result Arsenal conceded. The same happened with Klass Jan Hunteelar’s goal for Schalke in a Champions league game at the Emirates; again the same full back was involved.

Defensive injuries have certainly not helped Arsenal’s defensive coherence in recent weeks; Mertesacker himself has attributed recent defensive lapses to the international break saying,

“We had three consecutive clean sheets at the start of the season and managed the situation well as a team, but the international breaks did not help us.”

Whether he is right or not, what is clear is that whilst others round him have faltered, he has gone from strength to strength.

Mertesacker’s overall distribution has improved as a result of this new deeper role that he now inhabits. A criticism many aimed at him in his debut season was his tendency to play long balls; often inaccurate and not in keeping with the Arsenal philosophy. The high line that the team used to play meant he was often rushed when in possession and frequently had little time to find and execute an appropriate pass.

This has now all changed, the deeper role gives him more time on the ball and Mikel Arteta’s new role has given him a readily available option. Therefore it comes as no surprise that his pass accuracy has rocketed to 92.7%; a vast improvement and is only bested by Arteta himself (92.8%) in the entire league. It will be interesting to see how Mertesacker adapts his game over the coming weeks as Arteta is now closely shadowed by an opposition striker or attacking midfielder so as to marginalise the Spaniards overall influence.

Injury and poor form have seen the break-up of the Per-Verm partnership, whilst a catalogue of individual errors have hampered the teams’ early promise. However, Mertesacker has received very little individual criticism; rightly so as he has hardly put a foot wrong; something which manager Arsene Wenger has realised; recently singling out his centre back for special praise;

“He is calm, intelligent and he is now showing clearly that he can lead the defence.”

The untraditional Centre-Back has now settled into the English Premier League recently saying, “I had a very difficult first season, with all the settling in and the new things at Arsenal, but now I feel much more confident with the situation.”

He certainly appears much more confident on the pitch and so whilst Arsene Wenger tries to find the solution to kick start his sides faltering season; dropping Mertesacker should not be one of them. The German is slowly becoming one of the most consistent central defenders in the league and If Arsenal are too qualify for the Champions league and possibly claim some silverware, then he will surely be at the heart of it.


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the great Bill Shankly not the most successful manager but the most influential and motivating manager I have ever heard speak

'If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing'
'Take that bandage off! And what do you mean YOUR knee? It’s LIVERPOOL’S knee!'
'I told this player.. listen son, you haven’t broken your leg.. it’s all in you MIND!'
'If everton were playing at the bottom of my garden, i’d shut the curtains.'
'"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

Muhammad Ali of this managing sh*t. my favourite quote about the fans

The word fanatic has been used many times.. I think it’s more than fanaticism. It’s a religion to them. The thousands who come here, come to worship.. it’s a sort of shrine, it isn’t a football ground.
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Agony you got the links for graham hunters barca book or guillem balagues new guardiola book?

Haven't read or found links for Guillem's book but here's the links for the barca book







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Excellent coaching blog. Very progressive, the name of the blog says it all. I'll post up the latest article which dropped on Friday...

Moving a football purposely around a football pitch against active opposition is not easy, it requires various skills brought together at the same time to accomplish successfully. Passing is the linkage of the game, whether it is performed with any part of the body (hands included if by goalkeepers). Teams’ who have players able to use their individualism in conjunction with an ability to combine with team-mates when necessary, have ‘gold dust’ at their disposal ….. Barcelona are a great example! As individualism has faded from our game, the importance of passing and receiving the ball has increased. The unpredictable ‘tanner ball player’ of the past has been forsaken for a safer option…. the ‘negative passer’.


Passing can be made unpredictable just as dribbling is, but in today’s football obvious, simplistic passing tends to be the rule. Passes backwards and sideways are made too frequently in all areas of the field when better passing options forward are available. However, when forward passes over varying distances into more pressurized situations are made they tend to break down un-necessarily so often in games. Too often the use of the forward pass into mid-field is dispensed with as longer passes to front players is preferred. Our front players have an annoying tendency to prefer making runs in beyond opposing defences rather than have a pass to their feet and in the vast majority of cases ball possession is lost; the impatience in our game supersedes preparatory playing aspects! The most regular cause for forward passes to go astray is usually due to too much speed given to the pass forcing receivers to make difficult controls to retain possession whilst under pressure from opponents. The percentage of slower passes forward into both mid-field and front positions should be much higher than we see at present. The combination of incorrect passing speed and over-stretched distances between passer and receiver allows marking defenders the opportunity to make successful interceptions and challenges for the ball.

The art of receiving is also compromised when ball speed and distance are disregarded. Being able to receive the ball in a half-turned, ‘screening’ position is virtually impossible when ball speed and travel length is incorrect. Ball retention from forward passes is vital if successful attacking play is to be achieved. A carefully directed forward pass provides a receiver with a much better chance to retain the ball for him/herself as well as offering more opportunity for further team linkage to develop and prosper as play moves towards the opposing goal.

Barcelona, have developed a passing game that focuses on slower passing speeds over shorter distances in the majority of cases. Their use of the forward pass is often delivered to simply draw opponents away from positions through which other passes can then be sent or into which colleagues can run. Playing in this way makes receiving easier, increases team ball possession, opens gaps in opposing defences and provides more goal-scoring opportunities.


The faster forward pass that Barcelona sometimes delivers to exploit an attacking opportunity is not always successful even though these players have extremely high skill levels ………our teams’ with less skill and tactically awareness ‘hit’ fast passes too frequently over long distances and expect to play successful football……… it hasn’t worked in the past for us, it doesn’t work now and success playing this way just isn’t going to happen in the future! We must educate our coaches, and subsequently the players they work with, to embrace a more controlled passing game-style in which forward passes are not sent ‘rocket-like’ to distant targets, but are delivered to receiving players in all parts of the field with greater care and suitability.

Individual and team performances should not be a matter of luck on the day. We must develop a playing attitude and a game-style that gives all players a better chance to display their playing skills and not just their physical and athletic qualities whilst our teams’ must make combination play a dominant feature of our game.

Forward passes must ‘stick’ more often. Like forward running with the ball, the forward pass must become a possession conscious ‘penetrative thrust’ in our game and not the ‘give-away’ pass it has become.

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Team Shape and Principles of Play

Coaches often make a reference to 'team shape'. By that they are referring to the positioning of the players relative to each other at any point during the game. A team exhibits a good shape in attack when its players are spread out, making the effective playing area big, and positioned to provide width, depth (ahead and behind the ball), and good support angles around the ball. Obviously, maintaining a good shape when in possession enables a team to keep the ball and penetrate into scoring positions. Conversely, a good defensive shape has all or most players goal-side of the ball, with one or two players applying pressure on the ball and the rest providing cover, balance and compactness in order to make the effective playing area small.

Shape is the key to successful tactics and good soccer. Shape is everything! When players move according to the principles of play, the correct shape will likely be sustained. Team shape is more important to maintain than team formation. Team formation is just a frame of reference, a blue print of the players' responsibilities. Team shape is the actual physical location of the players on the field at any given moment. It's the shape that will determine success or failure, not the formation.


Every time a team wins possession of the ball, its players should be spreading out quickly into new positions that enable the team to penetrate while keeping possession. In Diagram 142 the left defender has the ball and his teammates demonstrate a good attacking shape within a 3-5-2 formation.

The qualities of a good attacking shape are all apparent in diagram 142. Forwards F1 and F2 have pushed up high to provide DEPTH ahead of the bail. Defenders D2 and D3 have adopted SUPPORTING positions behind the ball in case D1 cannot play the ball forward and needs to relieve pressure by playing the ball back. Midfielders Ml and M5 provide team WIDTH to stretch the opponents. Notice the positions of M2, M3, and M4. The central midfielders hold the key in creating an effective attacking shape. Each one of them is deeper than the next. Yet, they can all receive a pass from D1 while keeping clear of the passing lane to the forwards.

This shape provides D1 with a variety of passing options for PENETRATION. Also, if M4 receives a pass, M3 is in a position to SUPPORT him from behind, and M2 supports M3 In the same way. The ability of the midfielders to support each other from behind is extremely important in modern soccer. The battle for control of the midfield is fierce, punctuated with tight marking and squeezed spaces. Midfielders often receive the ball while facing their own goal and under pressure. Modern midfielders need immediate support behind them in order to pass the ball back in the direction they are facing, instead of turning into pressure. In diagram 142, if the ball goes from 01 to M4 and back to M3, penetration into midfield is achieved without losing possession and with the added advantage of M3 facing up field and having several passing options for further penetration. In contrast, diagram 143 shows how difficult it would be to penetrate if all three central midfielders destroy the midfield shape by moving towards the ball. Not only do they all present the same passing option for D1, they will all have to risk turning into pressure or play it back to a defender without achieving any penetration. The midfielders in diagram 143 are too flat.


Notice also that, in diagram 142, every player is either slightly ahead or slightly behind the other players around him. In other words, the players are not 'flat' relative to each other. This creates a multitude of support and passing 'triangles', which helps the team maintain possession. Some examples of these triangles are the D1/D2/M2 triangle, the Ml /M4/F1 triangle, the M2/M3/M4 triangle, or the M4/F1 /F2 triangle. As you can see, the permutations are limitless. And it all stems from the intelligent positioning of the players relative to each other. These triangles provide many proper SUPPORT ANGLES and allow for more diagonal passes which are more effective than straight horizontal or vertical passes. Contrast that with the flatness exhibited in diagram 143. Not only are the midfielders flat relative to each other, but the three defenders ore flat as well. If the defenders are put under pressure, D1 will have no choice but to play the ball back to the keeper. Playing the ball back to the keeper is fine as a last resort but it also concedes any territory previously gained and essentially forces the team to restart the attack from deep, making it harder to play out of the bock. The angled support positions of D2 and D3 in diagram 142, behind D1, facilitate a switch to the right side without the need to play H all the way back to the keeper.


Good shape has other features worth noting. The team shape shown in diagram 144 has decent depth and width, but central midfielders M3 and M4 are in a straight line, together with F2, making it difficult for D2 to pass to M4 or F2. Diagram 145 shows how staggered positions allow passes to skip lines and facilitate penetration.

The safety verGood sus risk equation has a profound impact on the team shape and player movement. Diagram 146 reveals a very stretched team, well spread out both vertically and horizontally, with M2 in possession. Is this a good shape? The team is too stretched, which could lead to a number of problems. When players are too spread out, it encourages long passes, which could be intercepted. It is difficult to provide quick support to teammates or create a numerical advantage around the ball. But, above all. It leaves the team dangerously vulnerable to the counterattack if possession is lost. The shape in Diagram 147 is more defensively sound while still providing width and depth. In diagram 147, the defenders stepped up to stay connected to the midfield and are tucked inside more to provide cover and close support. With M1 and M5 already providing width, there Is no need for the defenders to get wide at this particular moment. As the attack progresses up field, the defenders should move up as well to maintain compactness and a constant distance of 40-50 yards between themselves and the forwards.


As mentioned before, a good attacking shape should provide the player on the ball a variety of short and long passing options while securing a quick support following a long pass. Refer to diagram 148 and note that if midfielder M3 elects to switch play using a long pass to MS, the team could lose possession. M5 could be double challenged by 1 and 2 and lose the ball since no one is in a good position to offer him quick support. Defender D3 is the closest player but he will hesitate to abandon his position to support M5 since he is the last man. Diagram 149 shows a better team shape where either M2 or D3 can provide a quick support for M5 following a long switch. Notice also that in diagram 149 the ball can be switched from M3 to M5 by either one long pass or a couple of medium passes through M2.

Another feature of a good attacking shape is the ability to apply immediate pressure on the ball if it is lost. In diagram 149, if M5 is stripped of the ball, D3 can step up and apply immediate pressure to prevent a quick counterattack. But in diagram 148, if M5 loses the ball, there is no one to stop the other team from mounting a quick counterattack.


To summarize, o good attacking shape should have the following features:

1) Provide depth, width and good support angles.

2) Provide support behind the ball.

3) Create maximum triangulation and many options for angled passes.

4) Provide a variety of short and long passing options.

5) Allow a switch from one side of the field to the other, using both one long pass or a couple of medium passes.

6) Staggered arrangement that allows passes to skip lines.

7) Allow the ball to be played from the back to the front using either one long pass or a combination of forward passes followed by short drop passes to supporting players.

8) Provide enough players around the ball such that if the ball is lost. Immediate pressure can be applied.

9) Provide immediate support following a long pass.


Up to now, the discussion of team shape focused on the attacking side. Let us now examine the defensive aspects of team shape. Obviously, a team that adheres to the defensive principles of pressure-cover-balance-compactness when possession is lost will automatically adopt o good defensive team shape. Diagram 150 illustrates a good defensive shape by the white team. All the features of solid defending are easily apparent: Immediate pressure on the ball. Defenders outnumber attackers 6 to 5 and all the defenders are goal-side of the ball. The opposing striker is tightly marked and double marked because he Is In the dangerous scoring area. The other opponents are loosely marked since they are outside the dangerous area and pose no immediate scoring threat. The marking distance is dictated by the proximity to the ball and the area of the field, and the further from goal, the looser the marking. At the same time, the marking is such that each defender can easily close the distance and apply immediate pressure should his mark receive a pass. Notice that the positioning of the six defenders prevents penetration and invites square passes to wide players, thus keeping the ball in front of the defenders. It is clear that any ball played into the space behind the defense will likely be given away.

But even before a team loses possession, the positioning of the players needs to reflect some balance between attack and defense. For starters, it's always defensively sound to maintain 'numbers-up' in the back. This simply means that defenders should outnumber opposing forwards by at least one player at all times, even when their own team has possession, otherwise they can be vulnerable to the counterattack. So, if the defending team leaves two forwards lurking on top, the team engaged In attack should keep at least three defenders in the back. This is clearly illustrated in Diagram 149, where defenders D1, D2 and D3 are staying back to mark 9 and 10. In contrast. Diagram 148 shows how vulnerable the team is to the counterattack. If the opponents were to win the ball, it could easily spring a 2v2 counterattack, pitting 9 and 10 versus D2 and D3.


Notice also In Diagram 149 how midfielder M2 Is adopting a ’holding’ position in front of the three defenders. The holding midfielder has a vital role in maintaining a defensive balance within the team shape. From his holding position, M2 can apply Immediate pressure on any opponents who break out into midfield on a counterattack. M2 is also able to block passes to 10 as well as challenge any clearances. If M2 decided to run ahead of the ball and join the attack, he would leave his team naked should a turnover occur. It is easy to see that if the opponents win the ball while M2 is out of position, 8 could sprint and join the forwards to make it a very dangerous 3v3 counterattack. Of course, there are times when a team is forced to throw caution to the wind, take chances and not worry about keeping numbers up in the back. These include when a team is a goal or two behind in the second half, or any other time when a goal is urgently needed.

The modem game demands that defenders overlap into attack, which means that, in order to maintain numbers-up in the back, midfielders must be trained to cover for the overlapping defenders. This creates a whirl of player movements, as defenders interchange with midfielders and midfielders interchange with forwards, all the while looking to maintain a balance between the number of players positioned behind the ball to those in front of the ball. Even at the top level, this delicate balance between attacking and defensive shape can be momentarily lost, resulting In 1v1 or 2v2 attacks. The best teams are the ones who manage to keep a balanced team shape the longest, with the least number of breakdowns.

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