In my previous posts I spoke about how I evaluated the squad at my disposal and then, how I shaped this squad into three systems.
Here I will look at how the season played out, then I’ll go into more detail about my usage of the 4-1-4-1 DM Wide, the 4-4-2. I’ll analyse how my attacks are built from the back, whilst also analysing the team in transition and also out of possession.
I’ll round off by analysing my usage of the 4-4-1-1 system versus Sambenedettese.
My first season was a triumph as I was able to clinch the Serie C title in some style, breaking records along the way for most points (89), most wins in a season (28), most matches without losing (14), most consecutive wins (11) and most consecutive clean sheets (8) and fewest goals conceded (23). My confidence in my squad was justified, particularly with the loan signings, and remained top after reaching the summit on matchday ten.
Now let’s look at how I achieved all of the above. I’ll look at each of the formations in some of these matches, analysing what worked well and not so well. I’ll also share my approach for using the post-match analysis tool.
The early season results were mixed, with a couple of heavy defeats. I had some difficulty with selecting the best roles for the central midfield three, but things clicked into place when I used Rabbas as an AP (A), Di Paola as a CAR with Pontisso anchoring in a DM role.
4-1-4-1 DM Wide
I used this system in around two-thirds of matches, as I believe that it gives me a very solid platform both defensively and offensively. In my previous post I outlined the team instructions in more detail, but essentially the tactics that I employ are based around fluid interplay between midfield and attack, high pressing, aggressive tackling, playing out from the back and wide players dribbling at the opposition with pace.
Match 1 – Monza away (won 2-0)
Here is how the teams lined up, with matching 4-1-4-1 formations. I was confident that my player’s superior technical and mental abilities would see us through.
Fortunately, the stats showed that my confidence was not misplaced, and it was a very comfortable 2-0 win for us.
The heat map is also a nice visualisation of how the players moved around the pitch. It’s very clear how dominant the team was; look at how much time was spent in the Monza half, and also how far apart their 32, 27 and 18 are. In contrast, my players have a nice even spread, with triangles available to every player, suggesting multiple passing options all within easy reach. It’s hard to believe that the two teams started with exactly the same formation, yet played so differently.
The trick is to use the match analysis tool to find out exactly why. When using the match analysis tool, here are the things that I take into account. I am looking to detect anything that is not working well, and trying to spot where problems may arise:
- Pass completion rates by player.
- Pass distribution: Are they going where I want them to go? My aim is to make sure I do everything in my power to reduce the quality of passes that the opposition can make. Conversely, I want to maximise the quality of passes that my team makes.
- Shot quality (I would like SI to build in an xG model into next year’s game)
- Fouls: These are early distress signals, highlighting where potential problems may crop up. For instance, if a large number of fouls are being committed in the right back area, this suggests that he is in trouble. This could be because he is too exposed, having a bad game, against a far superior opponent, or perhaps a combination of all three. Of the nine fouls that I committed in the match, five were in my own half, compared to twelve for Monza. In other words, Monza fouled my team twelve times and allowed me to start attacks directly in their own half, of which one of these was a penalty. So fouls are very good indicators of a problem with your system.
- Interceptions: Shows how hard your team is working to prevent attacks. If the opposition are. Obviously, you want to see your defence having an easy time of it, and the opposition breaking their backs to keep your team out.
I don’t think there is a better way to showcase a system than a video of a typical move, even better if it ends in a goal. The finish was somewhat fortuitous but the opposition didn’t get the near the ball until it was too late.
The move typifies what I am trying to get the players to do. Keep possession, channel the ball through to the midfield three, then let their skills do the talking. The midfield five are instructed to run with the ball, be expressive and provide lots of movement. This can also be dialled up or down by giving further player instructions if required.
Ball distribution from the back is absolutely key to this system. This is my goalkeeper’s distribution map, who averaged 90% in the game:
Contrast to the Monza goalkeeper’s distribution, who averaged a 38% pass completion rate. Just let that sink in for a minute; he gives the ball away six times out of ten! Not something I would ever want a player to do. Not one of them was played in his own half:
This is a good time to compare the passing stats between the two teams. As I mentioned above, pass completion rates are powerful indicators of how well your team is handling the ball. These are our completion rates, with the overall average at 86%. You can see that the lowest is 72% (Fabiano) followed by the full-backs and the other remaining wide player. All central players plus the goalkeeper are around mid 80% or above.
That’s in contrast to Monza, whose overall completion rate is 70%. The defenders in particular have very poor completion rates, meaning that their midfielders don’t have a great deal of raw materials to work with.
The passing network combinations map is also a good way of visualising where most of the attacks are happening.
If I now overlay the passing network, heatmap and all completed passes together, you get a much clearer picture of how a team is attacking. Remember that this can be used to analyse opposition, making it a very powerful tool indeed:
It adds something extra to the heat map. It may look slightly overwhelming at first, but it is an excellent representation if you just focus on the bigger picture rather than the individual elements.
Shots should be a major part of your post-match analysis. This is what your passing networks are ultimately aimed to deliver: the highest possible shot quality. Here are mine on the left compared to Monza on the right:
One aspect that could be improved is that of my nine shots, six were outside the box. Monza meanwhile had one excellent chance from a free kick that was headed over, only seven yards out. Apart from that, the defensive side worked well, but one criticism could be that we weren’t quite creative enough.
I said in my previous article that the core elements of my defensive tactics are:
- More urgent pressing
- Much Higher line of engagement (aided by Granoche’s superb teamwork and work rate) which helps with…
- …preventing short distribution from the opposition goalkeeper
- Aggressive tackling
- Tighter marking
- Average defensive line (my defenders aren’t turbocharged, so we’re not able to risk playing an excessively high line yet)
As said earlier, the overall strategy is to minimise the quality of passes that the opposition can make, whilst aiming to maximise mine.
This clip shows how Monza distribute the ball, with the goalkeeper losing it and allowing me to build another attack; my central midfielder picks up the ball and passes to the left winger Jaadi.
Another example of my pressing here, closing them down quickly and allowing no viable passing options:
I mentioned the importance of interceptions earlier. Here are those made by Monza:
They are working hard to keep the ball out of their box, compared to my defenders having a relatively much easier time, only needing to make two in the box:
So overall, a very successful match but what was pleasing was the aspects of how we won it, implementing everything that I wanted to. As I mentioned in the introduction, the team broke a league record with eight consecutive clean sheets. Of course at this level with average players, there will always be mistakes you have to accept some bad performances, but on the whole we were very solid throughout the season.
My belief is that as a manager, you are aiming to create a platform or framework for your players to win matches.
Match 2 – Vis Pesaro (won 2-0)
In this match I used a much more aggressive 4-4-2 system. We were heavy favourites for the match and had willing to take more risks, involving sacrificing possession of the ball for chance creation. The line-ups were as follows:
The back four remained the same, the midfield contained Maracchi on the right wing and Jaadi on the left. A key pairing as always is the central midfield one, with Rabbas as an Advanced Playmaker, and Di Paola as a Carrilero. Maracchi and Rabbas were all given attack duties, with Di Paola and Jaadi on support.
The match was won comfortably and played out as follows:
The possession stats (I “lost” this one with a 40% share) weren’t on my side but looking at the shot on target count of nine compared to one, this was a very comfortable win. Those that say possession can be a meaningless stat would point to a match such as this, because if you do nothing with it, then it is ultimately meaningless. We essentially butchered the opponent by having substantially less of the ball.
A look at the shot map bears this out, with mine on the right and Pesaro on the left. The sheer number of shots we produced from ten yards or less is amazing, whereas Pesaro were restricted to long range efforts.
The heat map shows that I tended to attack down the left through Jaadi, as he is a superior option than Maracchi on the right. Pesaro did have a lot of the ball centrally, which is to be expected with an additional man in midfield. However as stated earlier, I was willing to trade ball possession for a higher tempo, more risk taking and ultimately more shots on target than my opponent. This was a match I wanted to win in style, and put them to the sword by a wave upon wave of attacks.
From a passing perspective, there was more direct passing than in the Monza game, although the central axis remained a key feature of this match:
What is striking is how similar the passes and heat map are between this match and the Monza game, but with a different attacking setup and more aggressive attacking tactics. Slightly more play down the left, but lots of heat around the central and attacking central midfield areas:
I was willing to concede opportunities and by introducing more risk into this match, I had to be willing for my defence to partly bear the brunt of this. The interceptions map bears this out:
The central defenders and midfielders were responsible for more interceptions, whereas in the Monza game they had a very comfortable ride.
The shot map that I showed above did still prove that I was not conceding a worryingly large number of shots on target, therefore I was able to disrupt Pesaro without putting the balance of the match at risk. This is where the mental capacity of the squad comes to the fore; through a collectively high work rate, teamwork and determination, they are able to sustain periods of time without the ball.
So what worked well with the 4-4-2? I was able to control the game without the ball, generate a very high number of good chances, restrict the opponent to long shots. What could have been improved? Potentially the two strikers working together may not be the ideal partnership, this was a reason I didn’t use the 4-4-2 for more than 9 games, as I feel that a 4-1-4-1 complements my squads abilities much better.
4-4-1-1 Match 3 – Sambenedettese (won 3-0)
This was a comfortable win with lots of possession (65%) and ten shots on target compared to the opposition’s four. I wanted to showcase this tactic as it contains an Attacking Midfielder, something I wanted to have in the armoury for teams with no defensive midfielder. Here’s how the teams lined up:
Cortonovis is the key attacking player in the system, and I gave him an Attacking Midfielder role with an attack duty. In a previous post, I outlined his technical skills; he possesses a 13 attribute for Passing and Off The Ball, 13 for Technique and 15 for Decisions. I felt he would be a good foil for Granoche, who once again took up the Pressing Forward role on attack. I wasn’t sure if this would be the best combination for the two, so that was something I had to monitor throughout the season.
Here is how the match played out:
As said above, at first glance the game was a comfortable one with a lot of possession and ten shots on target compared to four for Sambenedettese.
The team instructions remained consistent with the other two systems that I played, the 4-1-4-1 and the 4-4-2. As a reminder, those instructions are:
- Shorter passing
- Be expressive
- Run at defence
- Play out of defence
- Work ball into the box
In defence, the instructions were:
- Much higher line of engagement
- More urgent pressing
- Standard defensive line
- Prevent short GK distribution
Because I used this system against sides that I felt were weaker, I also wanted to:
- Counter press
- Distribute the ball quickly
I wanted to retain the hallmarks of the passing that I highlighted in previous posts, with short distribution from the goalkeeper being a vital component of the system. My keeper Valentini is shown on the left, with the Sambenedettese keeper on the right; look at how the distribution varies:
Valentini had a 92% pass completion rate compared to 32% for the Sambenedettese goalkeeper. A monumental difference.
The overall passing map was pleasing once again, with strong play on the wings and also from both central and attacking midfield.
Compared to Sambenedettese, again there is a huge difference.
Nevertheless, there were aspects of the game that I was not pleased with. If we take a look at the shot map again, you can see that the opposition had quite a few shots from close range, shown on the left hand side:
I watched the clips and there was quite an alarming pattern of free headers from close range:
Clearly lots of work for me to do in working on set pieces. I did plan them at the start of the season, but this served as a reminder of just how important they are, and that need to be revisited throughout the season. A team can be completely dominant, yet a free header from an unmarked attacker can undo all of that good work.
Looking ahead to next season
So taking all of the above into account, these are the issues that need to be addressed next season:
- The template for buying new players will always remain the same, with technical, physical and mental attributes always being taken into account in equal measure.
- We ended the season with finances in very poor shape, so this will be something that I need to address next season. Hopefully we will generate substantially more income from TV and ticket revenue. I am not anticipating having any funds to buy new players; I fully expect to make extensive use of the loan system.
- I had an excellent season defensively, yet the number of goals conceded from set pieces was alarming. This is certainly an area that I need to address, both through better corner instructions, and training. I will look to do a couple of sessions on defending set pieces ahead of match day.
I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead. Thank you for reading.
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