2019 will likely always be know as the year of the Underdog. With Ajax’s fairy-tale Champions run, lovers of the beautiful game will have great moments to remember. Who can forget the time that we saw European lightweight Ajax thump Real Madrid’s Galacticos 4 goals to 1? For me the giant-killer stories of football’s Davids beating the game’s Goliaths are always the most satisfying to read about. It is even more rewarding to experience them yourself with your favourite club. Some of us stay hooked to our virtual hobby just to relive the joy of bringing continental glory to the underdog. I tend to devout a lot of time, devising tactics for such clubs. Lately I read a lot about Mourinho’s Porto, envisioning how I could apply Jose’s ideas to my own save. The following is the result of my musings. It is not only an attempt to recreate Porto’s 2004 Champions League winning tactic but also a continuation of my search for the next world-class player to wear the fabled #10, a fantasista for the new era!
Winning the Ukrainian Cup last season, has left my Dynamo team with a taste for victory, and itching for even greater success in 2020-2021 season. It is still a nice hard-won trophy but the desire to win the domestic League is stronger than ever after playing second fiddle to Shakhtar two seasons in a row. Also the dream of European success has been strong since day one. My ultimate aim from first taking over as manager will always be to win continental European trophy, either in Europa or Champions League. The satisfaction of finally winning any European hardware will be sweet indeed. The last Ukrainian side, or any East European side, to win Europa League was our rival Shakhtar in 2009. Dynamo’s second and last shot at European glory came in 1986 when they won UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (presently Europa League) by trouncing Athletico Madrid 3-0. The UEFA Champions League (and its predecessor European Champion Clubs’ European Cup) has never been won by any club from independent Ukraine or former Soviet Republic of Ukraine. In fact, the last East European side to win this tournament was a former Yugoslavian club Red Star Belgrade in 1991. This is the feat I intend to replicate with Dynamo. I’m certain we can do it. The only question that remains is when? I am hoping that at least a few of the current squad players will be able to lift this glorious trophy.
When it comes to winning some European hardware, the “when” might be unclear while “the how” is more apparent to me than ever before. Tactical tweaking over the summer break, has left me with some strong ideas of where I want to take the team. The modified 4-3-1-2 shape is very well suited to the players I have and the play style that the team uses. In general we want to play beautiful free-flowing attacking football while remaining solid and disciplined in the back. These two goals seemed contradictory at first, until I remembered that there already existed a team over a decade ago which achieved both of these things while being hugely successful. One needs to look no further than Jose Mourinho’s Porto side from 2002-2004
Thus three weeks after starting our Epic Search for the fantasista in fog-shrouded England, doing a side-trip to the shores of sunny Italy, without further ado I bring you my dear reader beyond the mysterious Serra da Estrela Mountains and to the distant country of Portugal.
Mourinho’s Masterclass of 2004
The squad that Jose Mourinho inherited at the Dragon Stadium in 2002 was by no means a world-class side or even a very talented squad. In retrospect, looking back at some of the names now one might be misled into thinking that Mourinho started with a team of stars. But the truth was that winning the Champions’ League was what put many of these players on the map. At the start of the year, Porto’s side was mostly a very hard-working group of football’s nobodies. Mourinho’s tactical acumen did not only make him the most in-demand manager in the world, but also carved this group into a solid and cohesive unit. On the individual level none of the names were well-known in the world of football, with the possible exception of the side’s supremely creative trequartista Deco. At the start of the 2003 season, the young Brazilian was closest thing to a fantasista that the squad possessed.
Deco was given all the creative freedom of a Number 10. Acting as the team’s fantasista he was its creative heart and was allowed to roam around the field looking for the ball and ping passes to the striker duo. Deco’s exceptional dribbling ability and ball-control combined well with his low centre of gravity and balance. This allowed him to keep the ball longer than most, and just enough time to orchestrate accurate passes to the forwards. And when he needed to be more selfish to score, not many players could dribble through tight spaces like Deco could.
With Deco acting as the offensive creative pivot in Porto’s midfield diamond, the striker pair of Benni McCarthy (the more advanced attacker of the two) and Carlos Alberto (creative supporting role) provided most of the goals. Carlos Alberto behaved almost as an attacking midfielder retrained to play as a striker. Definitely a Deeplying Forward but one with more creative freedom and instructed to go wide, dragging defenders with him and overloading that side of the field. At the same time McCarthy, the poacher, would be left with space on the other flank to go for the goal. Both strikers excelled in their quick movements and work rate, regularly making lateral movements from the centre into wide positions to escape their markers. The two strikers and Deco had to be mobile and creative to compensate for Porto’s more rigid and organized defence and midfield. As result, Porto’s hallmark entertaining football largely originated from its attacking trio. Their mobility and work rate allowed them to make lateral movements from the centre into wide positions to escape their markers.
In this task McCarthy was never left alone as he was supported by Deco, one of the wingbacks and the more attacking of the three midfielders. The more attacking wingback, usually Ferreira, would quickly get up the field to support the attack. He acted essentially as a complete wingback. Watching Porto’s games you could sometimes be mistaken that they played with an actual winger on the right flank. On the other hand Ferreira’s partner Valente would play a much more conservative role of the “returner”, essentially a fast wide defender, staying deeper and guarding the left flank.
Valente’s defensive responsibilities were essential in balancing the dynamic, and much more offensive, role that Maniche (and Alenichev when he was fit) played on the left side of the midfield trio, next to Valente. Despite being in left central midfield on paper, his actual role was that of an aggressive wide midfielder. Maniche was tasked with staying very narrow during defensive phase and then during the attack to burst into the left half-space to support the attack in the opposition penalty area. Acting as the offensive prong of the midfield trio, he posed a hidden offensive threat both from long range and from penetrative runs. In older games recreating this was tricky and required the extensive use of individual instructions, while with the new mezzala role such behavior can be recreated quite easily.
The other two central midfielders complemented Maniche’s attacking prowess and proved just how specialized Mourinho’s central midfield trio was. Mendes was the side’s destroyer and was tasked with winning the ball back as quickly as possible and laying it off to his more creative teammates. Nevertheless he played as a more dynamic supportive role than what one would expect of a typical central midfield ball-winner.
Costinha, nicknamed O Ministro (The Minister) was key to the deep midfield and dictated the play with accurate long passes. He was very good positionally and comfortable both on and off the ball, able to support the attack when going forward and to drop deep to cover for Maniche’s and Ferreira’s runs. In his defensive duty he was backed by the solid partnership of the classic defence pair of a Stopper (Costa) and a Cover (Costa) in the back. This pairing of a brave tough tackling Costa with a faster, more technical sweeper Carvalho is what helped Porto keep so many clean sheets as well as get through the latter stages of Champions League.
It also helped that between the posts Mourinho had Vitor Baia, one of the best goalkeepers in Porto’s history. By 2004, He was a 34 year old veteran with 33 titles (in an illustrious career split between Barcelona and Porto). Not surprisingly he was one of, if not the best, players on this team.
Idea is born in FM
When the idea for my last article about the Fantasista was first conceived, I had one player in mind to embody this iconic role. Over my two and a half seasons with the Ukrainian club I witnessed his growth from an average attacking midfielder into one of the best players on my team. At the start of the 3rd season, I can attest that he is truly becoming the creative heartbeat of my team and the perfect candidate for Deco’s role. Once the fantasista role was set, the rest of the tactic fell into place. I already had an idea of doing something similar to an Italian Catenaccio, where you have the trequartista/fantasista as the primary spark of creativity in an otherwise defensive tactic. I did not want to totally recreate Catenaccio’s defensive rigidity but instead look for a tactic with still an element of a dangerous attacking threat upfront. Then I happened across Tifo’s excellent video detailing Mourinho’s 2004 Porto Team and my idea for the tactic was born.
Mourinho’s Porto played as a 4-4-2 Narrow Diamond (or 4-3-1-2 if you wish to be pedantic), and I would like to emulate this with Dynamo except I will position my wingbacks in the wingback strata. With the current match engine I believe that is the ideal place for the them to exert equal influence on the attack and defence. In a tactic without any wingers, the wingback becomes an essential role as it the sole provider of width in a tactic.
Nevertheless, similar to Mourinho’s setup, I have one wingback acting as the more dynamic, attacking of the pair while his partner on the right is the classic “returner” counterbalance holding his position and concentrating on his defensive duties. This is actually inverse to how Porto was set up due to the players I have available at Dynamo. So depending on your team, you might have to similarly play a mirror version of Mourinho’s original tactic.
To mimic the dual counter-balance nature of Mourinho’s tactic, I have tried to set up as the defense and attack as two distinct units: one tight and focused completely on stifling the opposition and the other flexible and free to break forward at pace as soon as the ball is won and space is exposed behind the opponent. The following are the tactical instructions I use.
Playing on Positive Mentality, my players are told to Counter-Press, Get Stuck in, Defend Narrower, with Higher Defensive Line (using Offside Trap), Lower Line of Engagement, and Tighter Marking. All these instructions were selected to make the defense as solid and difficult for opponent to play through as possible. At the same time the attacking trident is given extra creative license, starting with the Fantasista/Deco role at the center of the diamond. Mykola Shaparenko is my fantasista and you can see that he fully deserved this moniker as he is a supremely talented young player with still much room to grow into this demanding role. I’m looking forward to writing future entries chronicling his development.
At the tips of the trident, to reflect the increased attacking freedom, the Advanced Forward is told to roam around while his supporting Deep Lying Forward partner on the right is instructed to also roam and drift wide in order to drag the defenders wide and make room for Shaparenko as well as my mezzala making runs from the midfield.
On the attacking front, Higher Tempo, Counter, More Direct Passing, Pass into Space and Overlap on the left (where the more attacking wingback is positioned) are all meant to increase the attacking intent of the front unit of two forwards, advanced midfielder, left wingback and right central midfielder (mezzala).
Other Player instructions:
DR/WBd – sit narrower
AMC/Treq – more direct passing
MR/Mez- more direct passing
DMC/DLPd- more direct passing
So this is my Dynamo Kyiv’s tactical setup in the nutshell. It might not be the most faithful representation of Mourinho’s Porto but it is one that I feel captures the spirit of Porto’s 2004 surprising triumph. Porto was a hard-working tightly-knit machine, yet with a spark of creativity at its core that made it into one of the most dangerous attacking teams of the decade and allowed it to achieve the impossible.
Thank you for reading. Here is the tactic download link as promised in my last article: https://ufile.io/qzuerd65
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