Please blame pandemic-induced boredom but I savour snatching a coaching license. I have done a bit of research; it would take me 3 years to move into professional coaching. I take this very un-seriously as my mind runs with multiple ideas. I think I know a little bit about football. Who doesn’t think he/she knows? We fancy ourselves as great pundits and analysts but stepping into the ring is a different thing. Ask Lampard, Gary Neville and Tim Sherwood, they learnt the “highway”.
Let’s create a hypothesis that I am Chelsea’s 20th manager under Roman Abramovich (the team is on 15 already and this is to close), what will be my tactics? Let me borrow the words of Louis Van Gaal, what will be my philosophy? As a friend would like to call me “Obanikoro Lampard”, what would I be thinking? I will take you through seven stages of “Gbaindeball”. Follow me:
- The Defence is the first basics: I personally don’t think a coach should start with how a team will score but think through how will the team defend. Defending a unit is the start of the philosophy and that’s not just about the central defenders and wing-backs. Nope. That’s start from the choice of the defensive midfielder and psychology of the whole team when they are without the ball. My style would be to commission two “agberos” — rugged players — to prowl defence and protect cover. The agbero pairing — Kroos/Casemiro, Partey/Xhaka, Makalele/Essien, Matic/Kante, McTominay/Fred— do the recovery while they leave the rest to music conductor who plays “10”. The other option is to use a single defensive midfielder (Fernandinho) and two attacking players (8s) (Kevin De Bruyne/Silva). Guardiola does this well but I see his style as an outlier that requires specific players to execute. I will go with the first option.
2. The Press is Everything: No matter how well-intentioned a team is, it can’t do much without the ball. You also can’t play well if you don’t press hard, all the way up the pitch. I like the Klopp style, three floating attackers that try to prowl the defence line, seeking for a mistake or forcing the keeper to go long. When a team loses the ball, how does it run riot to quickly pick it back and reset play? That’s why either watching prime Barcelona or Liverpool, it reveals pressing so hard to deny the opposition minutes on the ball. Players like Mount, Ward-Prowse, Henderson, McTominay and Ndidi excite me a lot. However, the press starts right from the top. Man City & Liverpool have mastered this.
3. Let the Opponent Eat: Most times I watch a team make 600–800 passes but no chances on goal. The team keeps recycling sideways, diagonal and short passes in the middle that goes nowhere. If the advantaged team would finally run out of luck, the opposing team like Burnley or prime Mourinho-led outfit grabs a goal in a clumsy corner kick and finally shuts down the game. My thinking is to sometimes ease the tension and let the opposition play. You form a low block and invite the opposition. When the opposition is out of their set defensive structure, there’s a chance to quickly apply for passes and take the chances. I see no sense in 600 completed passes and hardly a shot on goal. Like the popular saying, “Give them bread”. Let the opposition also eat once it’s 30 minutes of relentless passing and nothing seems to be happening. The art of defending, recovering quickly and counter-pressing is left to coordination and intelligence of the team.
4. One-touch in the attack: Teams that flourish in the league have players in the middle and also in the attack that makes this one-touch passes that swiftly moves things around. I am a fan of Bielsa’s Leeds and I like how the team is grilled in attack to make quick touches and take their chances. When the opposition is out of shape as stated above, that’s the period to inflict the wound. Before the opposition keeps shape, you move things quickly and take chances. This is how to break teams down and if relies on the speed of player intelligence to spot a run and know when to release the ball. The pace in attack has to be on the mind of players. When you have an opening, keep it simple and quick while opposition is still out of shape.
5. Waiting in Space: Why “gum-body” with an opposing or stay still in a small place? Players must be thought to find space on the field and just wait to receive the ball. For a player to not know how to wait in space would lead to the team losing the ball. It is very pragmatic to wait and receive the ball in space.
6. Long and short: Teams can choose to play short passes and move them around players or also go long to look or a striker. I like how Liverpool does this. They can have it both ways and catch the team on surprise. This is how I believe the games should go. Right from the defence, if you see a chance for a long ball, go for it and not another around “game of musical chairs”. You might even lose the ball in the process and that revert back to point “3" in this piece. Then you swiftly go again with pace and relentless attack!
7. Dynamism: Improvisation is the hallmark of the experience. The ability to change tactics and not miss the fundamentals when nothing is working is very important. A team can start with 4–3–3 or 4–4–2 formation and that worked for a while and suddenly collapses. To rejig tactics might be adding an extra player in the middle or adding protection to the defence to allow free-flowing flanks (3–4–3). I have seen this stubbornness with Sarri and Conte; they had no interest in changing things when things don’t work. It feels like mastery but does not usually work out. A manager needs to carve the scenarios, build redundancy in his bench and ready to switch in-games.
I hope I have a lot of free time to pursue these ideas and see it on the field. Right now, I just want to pause and reflect on tactics of teams and also analyse goals. Let me channel my “Obanikoro Lampard”. Who knows if this is the way? The Highway!