Category Archives: Tactics

Don’t judge a striker on goals alone

It’s oft stated that a striker ulterior job is to score goals. It was, but it no longer is.

Since the days of Duncan Ferguson, Clive Allen the place in a team of a true no. 9 has dwindled.  Even as recently as Mario Gomez, there is a prime example of the slow, pernicious death death of a true no. 9. I view it as the death nail of the man whose jobs it was to score goalsgoalsgoals and nothing more.

Its-a Mario. No not that one:

The death of the true no. 9 has two protagonists, both named Mario.

Mario Gomez signed for Bayern Munich for somewhere in between 30-35 million. After some teething problems in 09/10, he was amazing. He scored a combine 93  goals in two seasons. He was brilliant at finishing the chances that others made for him, one of the best in the business at it.

Gomez’s link-up play was truly, truly abysmal. In 10/11, Gomez averaged a horrendous 14.3 passes per match. That is indescribably poor link-up play.

In 11/12, he was slightly better and averaged 15.4 passes passes per game. But, still, that is truly abysmal.

He was still scoring goals. As I said, he scored 93 goals in these two seasons. He was almost undroppable. But all was not rosy beneath the surface. It took a big man in Jupp Heynckes to drop Gomez for Mario Mandzukic in his second season. With the aid of a few shrewd acquisitions in Dante and Javi Martinez, Bayern Munich went onto to complete the treble.

Mandzukic wasn’t exactly in prolific goal-scoring form. He scored only 18 goals in the whole season. That pales in comparison to what Gomez’s return of goals was but he was still the better player for the team. As an individual, he wasn’t near Gomez’s ability but he was better for the team. Mandzukic’s thankless work in running the channels, holding-up play, come short for a ball, occasionally going wide made the unit better as a whole. It allowed Franck Ribery to get to the stage where he surpasses Andres Iniesta and is nominated for the Ballon d’Or, it allowed Arjen Robben to go from a laughing stock after the Champion’s League final in 2012 to the best right winger in the world in one year. Mandzukic opened the game up because when Mario Gomez wasn’t scoring, Bayern were essentially playing with 10 men. I think that dovetails it nicely.

Mario Gomez is unlucky in that he’s the right player at the wrong time. If Gomez was born in the 1960’s and played his football in the 1980’s/1990’s, then I would be looking back at him now as the best true no.9 of that era. His unwillingness to adapt was ultimately his downfall.

There are three teams that play with striker that I’d describe as true no.9’s in the Premier League. Crystal Palace (but Tony Pulis doesn’t striker as the most up-to-date with modern tactics), Sunderland and Hull. In some cases even Hull don’t play with a true no. 9, Yannick Sagbo is quite prone to link-up play but when Danny Graham plays, they do.

Lastly, to put a finish to this particular blog, take a look at the players nominated for the FIFpro FIFA World XI

Name Current Club
Sergio Aguero Manchester City
Mario Balotelli AC Milan
Edinson Cavani Paris Saint-Germain
Diego Costa Atletico Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
Didier Drogba Galatasaray
Radamel Falcao Monaco
Zlatan Ibrahimovic Paris Saint-Germain
Robert Lewandowski Borussia Dortmund
Mario Mandzukic Bayern Munich
Lionel Messi Barcelona
Neymar Barcelona
Robin van Persie Manchester United
Wayne Rooney Manchester United
Luis Suarez Liverpool

LOL @ Balotelli and Drogba making the shortlist but how many of those players would you say don’t hold-up play, link-up play or get involved in chance creation?

In fact, I’d say that 7 out of those 15 nominations are the most creative player on their individual teams.

This is my obituary to true no.9’s

R.I.P true no.9’s


Leave a comment

Filed under Tactics, The modern game

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.


Leave a comment

Filed under Tactics

The First Green Shoots

Whether it was the full moon on Sunday night, I will never know but the superstitious part of me believes it, but Tottenham Hotspur did not play with the motific high line. It has been a stalwart for us this season and last. Never leaving  our side. In the three games since we beat Cardiff 1-0 in Cardiff, we’ve caught opponents offside 19 times. an average of 6.3 offsides per game.

Against Villa we caught two opponents offside. Two.

It’s also noticeable how much closer to our own goal that Chiricheş and particularly Dawson are compared to other games.


To cut a long story short, because of the full moon for whatever reason Tottenham didn’t play the high line versus Aston Villa.

This is really, really good. It’s the first sign that Villas Boas is becoming tactically flexible.

Tactically inflexibility cost us:

The biggest qualm I have had with Villas-Boas over the last year was his tactically inflexibility. It is admirable in some cases but good managers can only play one way or are afraid to play any other way. Great managers can and aren’t scared to play in multiple different styles. They change their game play to suit the opponent and to suit what they have at their disposal. This is what has impressed me about Brendan Rodgers and Pep Guardiola this season. Both don’t have fetish for possession any more and are more willing fall back onto a plan B or C. A long ball or a mazy dribble.  When that plan B is giving the ball to Franck Ribéry or Arjen Robben you can see why it’s working out.

In football, you have a game plan unless you’re Alan Pardew. Like everything else, there is a way to anaesthetise that game plan. West Ham executed that 2 weeks ago. Unfortunately, we’re not Barcelona even though that is what Villas-Boas has in his vision for us long term. We cannot bulldoze over teams if our game plan isn’t working.

Not even Barcelona:

Not even Barcelona can afford to be tactically inflexible. Even Barcelona can’t bulldoze over a team now with a defunct game plan. Gerardo Martino has freed up Barcelona. They now play the odd, very odd, long ball or go on a mazy dribble. It isn’t pass-pass-pass until the ball is in the net. The point is, it’s easy to find the anaesthetic. Bayern found it last season. You needed to play really, really physically and cross the ball a lot. When Bayern beat Barcelona. 5 goals came through crosses. 1 was a ludicrous foul on Jordi Alba by Arjen Robben and the other was a moment of brilliance by Arjen Robben.

This is why I genuinely think West Ham would beat Barcelona (last season). But whatever.

The point is it’s easy to find an anaesthetic for any team no matter how good.

Baseless speculation:

I’m going to try and second guess AVB here.

I believe that Villas-Boas saw that Aston Villa are phenomenal on the break, one of the best counter attacking teams in Europe and the best in the Premier League and decided it would suicidal to play a high line against this team.

Which it would be.

I believe he also saw that Jan Vertonghen would be up against Andreas Weimann. Vertonghen is incredibly talented but very slow and carrying a bit of timber. Vertonghen struggles against direct opponents because of his lack of mobility and pace.

Which Weimann is.

Agbonlahor and Weimann are speed merchants and Kožak is nothing to be snuffed at. Villas-Boas also thought that Christian Benteke would return from injury. 

This is the first sign that Villas-Boas is finally becoming tactically aware and flexible and it’s the best thing to happen all season.

Leave a comment

Filed under Tactics, Villas-Boas' tactics

The Advantage of Inverted Wingers.

Bush has been bet, fruit has fallen, leaves have died. This is an article about Aaron Lennon  and Andros Townsend.

Traditional Wingers vs. Inverted Wingers

I believe both are of equal ability at what they do but what they do is different. One is more advantageous than the other. This is why.

Traditional wingers are a dying breed.

In the old game, a wingers job was to get in behind the defense and cross for the striker to score. One of the best wingers to ever wear the Spurs jersey was Cliff Jones. Though he was before my time I have heard about him. He was natural left footed. He was ambidextrous, truly two footed. In his time as a Spurs player, he scored 135 goals. The vast majority of his goals came when he cut in from the left and rifled a shot into the net. Even when traditional wingers were the motif in football, inverted wingers were always head and shoulders above them.

The same is true today.

The best wingers are always inverted wingers. It isn’t necessarily because they’re more talented.

A traditional, to-the-byline winger is only ever passively searching for the ball, only ever passively impacting on play. A traditional winger is, by design, a touch-line hugger.

An inverted winger is constantly searching for the ball, constantly trying to get involved in play because they can. they aren’t shackled to the touchline. 

Involvement, the greatest asset of an inverted winger.

A player’s output is based off of two variables, how much they are involved and how much they do when they are involved

A traditional winger is only sporadically involved in play, by design. That is fine with me. I’m never going to play a player for the type of player  he is. It’s like blaming Jan Vertonghen for not being a striker.

But that’s as an aside.

We have one of the best traditional winger in the league in Aaron Lennon. However you can be the best winger in the world and you won’t have the same impact on play as an inverted winger. This is because you simply aren’t involved in play as much as an inverted.

Felling with a blunt axe

Even when a traditional winger is involved, it is so easy to defend against simply because it’s so monotone. You know from the moment Aaron Lennon receives a ball what he’s going to do. He’s a head-down, hell-for-leather speed machine. To stop a traditional winger, all you need to do is sheperd him to the byline and either block the cross or let it sail onto the head of your centre back (Soldado or Defoe aren’t winning any headers any time soon). Either way, we’re not going to score many goals this season with a traditional winger

To substantiate; here is Aaron Lennon’s passing chalkboard in the game against Crystal Palace:

We can see in this that Townsend is much more willing to come inside and vary his play. There is little end product in Lennon’s chalkboard. He rarely gets into a dangerous position,  again, because his play is so monotone.

Andros Townsend, on the other hand, has many more tricks up his sleeve. He could very well come inside for a shot, he could play a reverse ball or pass it off to Eriksen (or whoever happens to be the trequartista on the day) or pass it to either of his full backs. Or he could burn the fullback and go to the byline and cross. Just because he can. His options are vast in comparison to those of a traditional winger an Aaron Lennon.

Inverted Wingers in action

The example that prompted this article came against Norwich

Embedded image permalink

The picture is ordered left-to-right & top-to-bottom.

In the first slide, we can see Norwich have a rigid backline. There seems like there is no immediate way through and certainly if Townsend went to the byline one of Michael Turner or Sebastien Bassong would cut the ball out.

In the next slide, we can see Townsend coming inside and opening up space that will be exploiting later.

In the third slide, we can see Leroy Fer, Bradley Johnson and Javier Garrido have all been dragged inside by Townsend’s incisive run. Paulinho is left in acres of space that would have otherwise been occupied by Garrido.

Eriksen passes to Paulinho and the rest is history.

It isn’t even that Townsend is greatly better than Townsend. He’s not but the manner in which Townsend plays in greatly advantageous for any team. His driving runs for the heart of an opposition’s defense open up gaps that others can exploit.

For this reason, Townsend is a starter over Lennon

Don’t get me wrong, I think Lennon has an important role to play. I’m salivating over him coming off the bench but i think he is a bench player this season.

Leave a comment

Filed under Player analysis, Tactics

Is the Moose wading in deep water?

I have been waiting to write this post since the start of the season, Dembele’s great performance versus Norwich on Saturday prompted me.

Dembélé before the international break

Much has been made of Mousa Dembélé’s sub-par performances. Or what appear, superficially, to be sub-par performances.

Anyone that follows me on Twitter knows that I have been somewhat bemused by Dembélé’s superficial sub-par performances.

It appears Dembélé has regressed.

I don’t subscribe to that in the normal sense of the word; “Regress”

When somebody says that a player has regressed, I immediately associate a drop in performance level. Dembele’s performance output has dropped but his performance level hasn’t dropped.

Let me explain.

A player’s output in a game is based off of two (main) variables, the level of performance and the level of involvement.

This way players who are highly involved in a team’s attack and/or defense looks better than a player who isn’t. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the player is at a higher level of performance. At a very fundamental level, Townsend was involved in Tottenham’s attack very sparingly last season. This season he is involved and his output has increased greatly but his performance level hasn’t increased proportionately.

The theory holds true for lots of players. The example most familiar to Tottenham fans is Clint Dempsey. Every attack Fulham had in 11/12 went through Dempsey. He was the core of the attack. When he joined Tottenham has was at the periphery of the attack. This theory can be applied to Gareth Bale, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aaron Lennon (United at the Lane, he was the core of the attack and went HAM), Adebayor and, finally, Mousa Dembélé.

So has Mousa Dembéle regressed or is he just less involved?

At a very simple level, player involvement is how long you spend with the ball at your feet. Lloris spends very little time with the ball at his feet, he is little involved. Walker spends a lot of time with the ball at his feet, he is involved.

Everyone will agree he was ‘sub-par’ versus both Swansea and Crystal Palace (Arsenal are omitted because everyone was horrendously, awfully, laughably bad, which will taint his stats). Tottenham completed 381 passes versus Swansea. Mousa received 34. 9% of our passes.

Against Crystal Palace, Tottenham completed 434 passes, Mousa was received 27 passes in 57 minutes. Hypothetically, that would be 43 passes  Dembele received 10% of our completed passes.

On the surface an average of 9.5% involvement seems OK for a team of eleven but consider that the CM’s are the players most involved in both a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 and that we dominated totally but had little penetration meaning the ball was often in the middle third of the field.

To contrast Étienne Capoue was involved in 57 passes against Swansea and 19 in 33 minutes against Crystal Palace or a hypothetical 51 passes.

In a random game I chose (Tottenham versus Everton at the Lane) Dembele received 12% of Tottenham’s passes in a game where he was subbed off after 75 minutes, Hypothetically, if Dembélé stayed on, he’d have received 14.4% of our total passes.

In another random game, Swansea at the Lane, a game very similar to yesterday’s game in that we totally dominated, he received 18% of Tottenham’s total passe.

In the finally game chosen at random, Reading at the Lane, Mousa received 76 passes out of 544, a total of 14%.

The mean of these percentages in 15% compared to 9.5%.

It might seem like a nominal difference but it’s not. Over the course of a game, it equates to being involved in 3 minutes more of the time your team has the ball.

Dembélé after the international break

Dembéle was much more involved in the game against Norwich. Tottenham completed 563 passes and Mousa received 72 of these. A percentage of 14. He’s not far off the mean for last season and it showed yesterday. Norwich threaten with a few swift counter attacks and Dembele was there to stop them all. Dembele is near his best once  again.

Mousa Dembéle hadn’t regressed, he was just less involved than last season.

To answer my own question, The Moose isn’t wading in deep water, he’s parting the red sea.

Follow me @ImmenDimensions

1 Comment

Filed under Mousa Dembele, Player analysis, Tactics