Just Some Food For Thought

I like to start my posts with a simple question. I’ll continue in much the same vein.

How is it that a team can be completely transformed from month-to-month or week-to-week or in an extreme case from half-to-half?


Sunday against Newcastle United was one such extreme case. The first half absolutely turgid. A quick change of system and substitutions appropriate to instigate the change and hey presto! we looked phenomenal. The best football Spurs played since the last time they played their best football was played  that second half.

How is it that one tactical change (Kaboul for Chiriches is like-for-like), Sandro for Dembele, can transform a team into much more proficient defense and attack?

My Hypothesis 

My hypothesis is that the system deployed by a manager is more important than the players used in the system. In fact, the system deployed by the manager is so much more important than the quality of the players used in the system that the quality of the players isn’t important at all. Exaggeration. It is important but only minutely.

Hear me out.

A few anecdotes. Roma this season and last are a prime example of this hypothesis in action.

Roma under Rudi Garcia

Last season, the overall quality of the Roma team was far better than the Roma team now. The sum of their parts was greater last season than it is this season. They had players like Osvaldo, Lamela & Marquinhos on their roster. Players that are no longer there, needless to say.

This season they are doing better with a better team.

This season they are doing better with a worse squad.

The problem with Roma over the last two season has been that they can’t keep out goals. They had a very leaky defense up until this season. There was no problem with the attack, averaging 1.7 goals a game but they only had a goal difference of +21. They conceded 106 goals in 76 games!

This problem was endemic. It didn’t changed when Luis Enrique was sacked and Zdenek Zeman was appointed.

It did change when Rudi Garcia was appointed. Roma under Rudi Garcia play a bunkered defense and invite long shots. But when the opposition gets within 25 yards, they defend like a frenzy of bees. They press extremely hard but only within the opposition’s final third. As it turns out, Roma are very suited to this style of play. And it has stopped them conceding goals (3 in 12 games).

Garcia didn’t change a lot just how far from their goal Roma starts to defend and it’s completely transformed AS Roma. And an extra emphasis on attack, which was only made possible by the bunkered defense.

There is a system that suits every squad and it’s about finding that system. The system or philosophy, whatever you want to term it, is more important than the players themselves. As demonstrated by Roma. You can take out their 3 best players and with a slight change of system you can still perform much, much, much, much better.

Roma this season  and last is the example that is most relevant right now but there are a few other glaring examples from years gone by.

Barcelona under Pep Guardiola

Before Guardiola took over Barcelona, they played a push-and-run style very similar to Tottenham’s double winning side. It was brilliant to watch but not very successful. Barcelona hadn’t won a La Liga in 3 year (yes, that is unsuccessful for some teams!). Guardiola took over and immediately sold on Ronaldinho and Deco, the two best players on the roster at the time. Remember Xavi & Iniesta weren’t what they are now, back then and Messi hadn’t gone beserk just yet. In fact many very good players over the next two summers would be sold on. Including Eidur Gudjohnsen, Samuel Eto’o, Alexander Hleb and Martín Cáceres. They were all deemed unsuitable for the system.

Guardiola changed the team from a push-and-run style of football to a, as the term would soon be coined, Tiki-Taka style of football. This brought unprecedented success with a squad that had less individual quality.

A metaphor is apt here.

I often think of a team as an engine of a car. There are many players to a team just as there are parts to an engine. Each part has own job just as each player has his own job.

But it doesn’t matter how good the crankshaft is, it can’t be used as a piston head. It doesn’t matter how good a carburetor is, it can’t be used as a petrol tank.

This applies to players. A player may be brilliant but if you try and shoehorn a brilliant but slow or remiss centre back into a highline, then it’ll end ignominiously (Oh Hai John Terry!). Likewise, if you try and shoehorn a brilliant but unfit centre back into a bunkered defense , it will end in failure.

Let’s stop scapegoating

We’ve finally gotten to the fruit of the article. I see a lot of people saying that Eriksen should be played instead of Holtby, that Lamela should be played instead of Townsend or that Dembele should be played instead of Paulinho. A lot of people blame a poor performance on an individual. 

As outlined above, I think this is silly. I’m never going to say that anyone is the root of all our problems. I won’t call for anyone to be dropped unless they’re truly abject. I will, however, call for the system to be changed.

In most cases, just a slight change is needed. Take Tottenham, they should pass that little bit quicker and it’ll work wonders. Suddenly gaps will open up that would have been closed before we could exploit them. Precisely because the passing is so slow.

Just some food for thought.



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