We’re now into the sixth week of the new soccer season and it’s very interesting to see how the league tables are ranking.
Globall Coach does not collectively follow any particular team in the English Premier League (Forza Napoli!), but we do study the playing styles of different teams with great interest.
Although it’s far too early to make any real predictions as to who will win the league, (as Arsene Wenger said: “we have only played six games and to talk today about the title is absolutely ridiculous,”) it’s becoming clear that changes in team dynamics and systems across the Premier League have been made for better, or worse, since the close of the transfer window.
Ultimately, the implementation of new systems and strategies are down to managerial preference and knowledge of team dynamics.
With both Manchester United and Chelsea under new-management, it’s understandable that tactics and strategy changes are taking time to take effect. With the implementation of a new regime at any club, it must be difficult to produce a consistently strong squad every game this early in the season. There must be some element of trial and error in terms of building partnerships between players and developing a consistently strong strategy within the team.
At the same time, the managers of both Tottenham and Liverpool have already built their teams to their specifications. Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers have both had a season at their respective clubs behind them and will know the intricacies and the creative partnerships of their teams; despite the loss of key players with Gareth Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid and Luis Suarez’s 10-match ban. Both Spurs and Liverpool have made excellent starts to the season. Both are currently on equal points, with only the goal difference between them forcing Spurs into third place.
But can a difficult start to a season be blamed on the manager?
Perhaps it’s more of an issue with systems of play and the need for the players to adapt and work together, build new partnerships and adjust to the new systems that managers have put in place.
At the same time, it’s more than just understanding players. It’s also understanding opponents, understanding their strengths and adapting a system to exploit any weaknesses; to develop a play style that works perfectly for the whole squad, not just the starting 11. A manager needs to build a strong, consistent, unbreakable structure but at the same time remains responsive and open to adaption.
Rafa Benitez recently published an article in the Independent (Read it HERE) discussing how the Italian game is so much more reliant on team systems, formations and data than he’s ever known in the English game. Well known for his attention to detail with data collection, Rafa is considered an expert in strategy. His Napoli squad have won 6 of their last 7 games (including a Champions League victory against Borussia Dortmund) and is still maintaining an unbeaten record in Serie A.
Looking at Rafa’s strategy across his Serie A campaign shows a consistent preference for the 4-2-3-1 formation, having used this in all his matches so far. Not only that, but he has consistently rotated his starting 11, ensuring that there is no definitive squad. This will ultimately create a fully rounded team with no weak links in the formation should there be player injuries or suspensions. This is particularly interesting when considering the wide range of formations Napoli has faced. Everything from 4-3-2, 3-5-1-1 and 4-1-2-1-2, Rafa has kept to his strategy. And it works!
Napoli’s recent draw against Sassuolo backs Rafa’s opinion that adapting the right strategy and playing style to a team is enough to confidently play against any opponent. Sassuolo had lost their previous match against Inter Milan 7-0. Against Napoli, they drew 1-1 after implementing a stronger formation and strategy for their team – not a win, but a considerable improvement on their previous game.
Rafa has frequently reiterated his opinion that no one player ‘makes’ a team, and that all his players must fight for their place in his starting 11. Reliance in building team partnerships and overall strength, rather than the playing ability of star players, is something that has proven successful for Rafa and his ‘project’ so far.
A test will be Napoli’s Champions League battle against Arsenal, currently top of the English Premier League. Having already beaten Borussia Dortmund, Napoli will be looking to keep their unbeaten track record.
No matter who wins, both teams are utilising the best of their respective systems. It’s well known that Arsenal made only a handful of acquisitions during the transfer window; purchasing only key players like Ozil. Whilst Rafa has made big, impactful changes to Napoli, and brought in key players himself (Gonzalo Higuain, Pepe Reina – who saved Mario Balotelli’s penalty in Napoli’s recent match against AC Milan, breaking Balotelli’s unbeaten penalty record); both teams keep to a strong consistent system of play, with both managers showing a preference for a 4-2-3-1 formation.
This season so far is proving that a well-thought out and used system is key to winning games and keeping teams to a consistently high standard. With so many different approaches to this ‘perfect’ winning formula; it’s exciting to see the ever-changing systems of play across the teams.