Friday, August 18, 2006

The Beautiful Game, maybe

Well, all the predictions are in and although a minute of league football hasn’t even elapsed, pundits and fans alike are ruminating upon the strategies and tactics managers will use this year in their chase for silver.

Since we’re coming off of a World Cup at the beginning of this season, it should be interesting to see how Premiership managers will adapt the formulas of successful teams in the quadrennial event.

Interestingly, the FIFA Technical Study Group found that 28 of the 32 teams in the tournament used a back four, and only two that did not reached the round of sixteen (Mexico and Australia), with neither of the two progressing to the quarters-finals. This is likely to mean most teams will stick with a back four.

In recent times, we’ve seen teams defend deeper and the traditional sweeper role has been moved up where he becomes sort of a screen between the back four and attacking midfield, which makes defenses difficult to penetrate. Italy employed this with Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo, France with Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele, and Germany w/Torsten Frings and Michael Ballack.

With these deeper-defending teams, we get more counter-attacks, which could mean more long balls in or, set pieces from the flanks. With everyone moving towards goal, a left-sided player can send a spinning ball in right-footed, and all it requires is a slight touch to get it into goal. It should be interesting to see if Arsene Wenger uses Emmanuel Eboue on the right side in an opposite fashion with Thierry Henry tearing up the left flank. I’m hoping to see some of that, along with some Argentina-style quick tempo play with diagonal passing.

Last year’s popular 4-5-1 in the Premiership created a lot of boring football between mediocre teams, and I’m hoping more teams decide to attack to disrupt this bogged down, crowded play in the midfield to open it up more.

I hope the success of Barcelona in the Champions League last year will result in more teams playing 4-3-3. Liverpool looks set to play like that, as they did in their first two meaningful games this year (Champions League tie and Charity Shield), and Chelsea could utilize this style, which would allow him to use Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele in the middle, with Arjen Robben and Joe Cole on the wings, with Andriy Shevchenko in the middle.

I think it’s time we see some entertaining football.


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