Winter break is upon is in the 2014 / 15 season and we’ve been going from strength to strength. So well, in fact, that we’ve only lost 1 game and that was the final Champions League group game against Man Utd when we’d already qualified.
That isn’t to say that we’ve had everything our own way or that things have been overly easy. As I expected and wrote about in my last post, second season syndrome has been a factor in breaking teams down and we’ve had spells where we’ve struggled to score when using the deep 4-3-3 that has been our hallmark in the last 3 seasons.
Defensively, though, we’ve been peerless and the 4-2-3-1 has been well used in reacting to the more conservative opposition that we now face. It too has evolved in since pre-season, though, as I look to make the most of the players at my disposal and, now that we’ve reached a new window, there’s been some interesting transfer activity at the club.
Just a short update today and we’ll start with the usual look at the basic results thus far…
Firstly, as always, the league table:
A 12 point gap, although Marseille have a game in hand, is quite remarkable at this stage and there’s no prizes for spotting that this is largely going to be down to my incredible defensive record. Just 4 goals conceded in 19 games is ludicrous and we’re not far off matching last season’s average rate of goals per game.
After the last update, we went on a very good goal-scoring run using the deep 4-3-3, kicked off by a dominating 4-0 win over Anderlecht in the Champions League. I don’t tend to mess with a winning formation, well would you?, and so I stuck with it until that blip ringed by the yellow box in the screenshot to the right.
Amongst those results we’d also put in some average performances in the Champions League and, although we were getting away with it, I felt it was time to roll out the 4-2-3-1 on a regular basis. Up to that point, I’d only used it intermittently – at the end of games we’d already put to bed or in games where the 4-3-3 was proving impotent.
It’s changed slightly from the tactic I showed at the start of the season as I look to integrate a few of the concepts from the Téfécé 4-3-3 into what was originally a tactic for my very different Rapid side.
One of those concepts was the using of a deeper targetman up top who could receive the ball to feet, encourage getting the ball forward quickly, pull defenders out of position and play in advancing wingers. As my personnel are already suited to this it made good sense although I was originally concerned that the striker would play too deep and impose on the space I want the trequarista to exploit. This hasn’t been the case, though, and the interplay between the two has been a real bonus and has helped mitigate against close man-marking of either the striker or AMC.
A quite different approach is that I have maxed out the tempo of the tactic, playing as quickly as we can. This is partly an experiment on my part but is aimed at moving the ball around the final third as quickly as possible to utilise the space that is created by the different angles the front 4 create. I did think that this would adversely affect our possession but that simply hasn’t been the case so far with most games seeing as retain 60% of the ball.
As you’ll have noticed from the fixtures screenshot above, the switch doesn’t appear to have impinged on our defensive efficiency too greatly but has been creating screeds of chances and more goals. It is definitely weaker defensively than the 4-3-3 with the opposition getting more shots away but that’s always going to be the trade off when you try something more offensive. Tactics are always about finding the balance that you are comfortable with.
It’ll be obvious, therefore, why I still choose to play the 4-3-3 against the better sides and in most Champions League games.
However, our continental opponents obviously don’t hold us in the same respect as the domestic teams and therefore the 4-3-3 retains its effectiveness from previous seasons. So effective that we’ve once again finished top of our Champions League group. We started with a thumping win over Anderlecht, the group’s whipping-boys, but then followed it up with a completely unexpected 3-0 victory at Old Trafford.
We’d confirmed qualification after 4 games and only a 4 goal loss in the final game would see us fail to take top spot so I wasn’t all that bothered when we lost our unbeaten record to a Man Utd side looking for revenge. Next up… Liverpool in the knockouts. Well we managed to beat Man City last year so why not?
In the meantime, I’m looking to fine tune the squad as some of my youth players are starting to develop and put pressure on the senior players for first team slots. The most obvious of these is South African winger Sipho Makhanya who has been so impressive in the reserves that I’ve given him a chance in the first team. A chance which he has seized with both hands.
With the number of players I have available for the inside forward (and now winger) slots, I decided that we were a little over-loaded and could do with losing one or two. Cardozo and Kakuta are the only left-footers and provide fine competition for each other so that left me looking at the right-footers that we had: Nangis, Lazovic, Obertan, Makhanya, Shilov and Males. The latter two are promising youngsters and I fancy Males as more of a striker than winger. Obertan is a recent signing who has performed well and I have high hopes for Nangis.
That left me looking at Darko Lazovic, one of my original signings and a fine servant but no longer first choice and, crucially, not French. He was attracting some attention and when Atalanta met my £8m asking price it was a simple choice.
Secondly, Hennie van Schoonhoven has been doing very well indeed. He may not be French but, frankly, he’s so good that I don’t care. His arrival has meant that Etienne Didot and Morgan Schniederlin are now more or less obsolete. The latter has particularly suffered with just 4 subs appearances so far this season so I will certainly be considering any offers which come in for him whilst Didot’s contract expires at the end of the season and I have no plans to renew.
That should leave the squad fairly well balanced although I am considering strengthening both right-back and up front. Faussurier, my signing in the summer, has done fairly well but isn’t much of an improvement on Aurier whilst Corchia just looks like a superstar to me. Sochaux, however, are still playing hard ball and simply will not accept anything less than £20m which is more than I’m willing to pay for a right back.
Back on my wishlist, though, is Lens striker Jean-Marie Dussaut. His club’s relegation has done him the world of good and he’s made up the ground which he seemed to have lost last season, to the point where he’s forced their big signing, Denis Stracqualursi ( 😀 ) into the reserves.
I would quite happily spend big on Dussaut, as I feel we could do with another striker. Fletcher has played well this season, scoring 11 in 17, but still has a disgusting habit of missing sitters – something I’m trying to alleviate by teaching him the “places shots” PPM. Bezus has now been withdrawn to the trequarista position though, so Fletcher and Stefanik (when he returns from his loan) will be our only proven striking options. I say “proven” for Stefanik as he’s done well at Zaragoza thus far, scoring 7 in 12. Not only would Dussaut provide a 3rd option but also a French striker which is the only position that I don’t have a domestic option.
Other than that, I’m very happy with the squad and I’d just like to leave you with the beautiful sight of one Ali Ahamada and his remarkable clean sheets record…
Allez le Téfécé!!!