Well I’ve managed to get through the first half of the season in a stupidly short span of time, partly due to being on holiday but also due to not having internationals, continental games or two cups to deal with. A nice simple 21 games that has taken me up to the Italian winter break.
I say simple but it really wasn’t very simple at all for a while there.
As I detailed in the club introduction, I was intending to play a simple 4-5-1 counter-attacking game but we were really struggling to get this to click which lead to an extraordinary run of winless games before I decided that I simply had to try something a bit different.
That tactical change has worked wonders and we hit a nice bit of form… anyway, you’ll need to read on to find out the details.
A quick look at the league table would intimate that things have been comfortable for us as we sit slap bang in the middle of the table, but this really doesn’t tell the whole story.
We have lost the joint fewest amount of games in the league but those 7 draws keep us out of the playoff places which is, to be honest, a fair reflection of our performances to date. We’ve taken counter attacking quite literally and have simply sat back in most games, conceding possession to the opposition and then bombing forward in numbers when we win it back.
Here are the fixtures to date, take note of the highlighted game – a friendly against non-league opposition.
As you can no doubt see, the early fixtures were… difficult, let’s say. After the opening win over Pro Patria we embarked on a massive 8 game winless streak. Although we only lost twice in that time and secured some decent draws, we were, in the main, struggling to create chances or simply failing to take those chances we did create.
Something had to change.
After reading this excellent counter-attacking article on Push them Wide, I decided to re-assess my tactic and have a look at where we were going wrong. An exhaustive review of my players’ statistics for those first 9 games identified a key deficiency. For a counter-attacking tactic we were not making nearly enough “key passes”. These are designated within the match engine as passes which break the defensive line thereby leaving the receiver of the pass goal side.
This should surely be the crux of any counter attacking tactic as you look to hit the defence whilst they are disorganised or under-manned. The primary “key pass” makers for me were supposed to be the striker (trequarista) and the two MC’s (advanced playmakers), yet they were barely breaking into double figures between them.
At this point I decided to go back and re-watch some game highlights and peruse the match analysis to find out where we were going wrong. Using the example of the home game against Carpi, a 0-0 draw, I could start to draw some conclusions.
Here is the passing analysis page, showing my trequarista’s pass map on the right-hand side:
I have highlighted the key passes, disappointingly showing just the one for the trequarista. I have also highlighted a particular pass on the right hand side. This pass was made from an area where I would expect the trequarista to look forward, trying to slip in an inside forward between centre half and fullback. So why did he simply pass it backwards? (note – sometimes passing backwards is the right thing to do, this is just an example)
The trequarista has received the ball nice and early. Good, that’s what I want. He’s managed to turn and look for a pass into space but there just isn’t the right options. The ideal pass would be the one I’ve highlighted for the left inside forward to run onto, leaving him 1-on-1 with the ‘keeper. However, Bytyci can’t play this because our players don’t currently have the pace to beat the defenders.
There’s a similar story on the right-flank with a more difficult passing option available but, again, the right inside forward won’t make it.
Similarly, the MC’s are too deep here. They aren’t breaking past the ball-carrier as I would hope, following the arrows I’ve indicated. They hold their position deep and the right MC ends up taking the backwards pass and the chance is lost.
Note also that the fullbacks are too deep to assist. I’d be comfortable if these players decided to bomb on in this case with the DM nicely covering the shaded area and the potential runners pulling the majority of the opposition deep.
So what to do about it?
A small change but an important one. The striker has been dropped into the AMC slot, retaining his trequarista role, whilst the two central midfielders have been given box-to-box instructions and the DMC has been changed to a deep-lying playmaker, allowing him to make more incisive passers for those players who should be making more advanced runs in front of him.
Due to my fullbacks lack of dribbling ability, I’ve also changed them to attacking fullbacks although I haven’t yet decided whether to manually instruct them to cross from the byline and ensure that they get further up the wing.
Incidentally, I’ve called this tactic “scabs”… because there aren’t any strikers… no?… I’ll get my coat.
Has it worked? Well one look at the fixtures after the morale-boosting friendly, when I implemented the change, will tell you that yes, it has. We went on a 4-game winning streak, the first 3 against fellow relegation strugglers and then thumping Spezia, a side who are challenging at the top.
The match stats from this game will show you just how little of the ball we actually need:
A lot of people would be concerned when allowing the opposition that much possession and so would I except that it’s, for the most part, harmless possession. Here is their passing map:
They’ve spent 44% of the game holding the ball in the middle third and 11% in their own third. Their centre halves have had most of the ball and they’ve only made 3 “key passes” in the entire game, my trequarista made 4 on his own.
If they want to dick around with the ball at the back whilst we sit, organised, cutting off any passing angles then they are very welcome to do so. We are, essentially, doing the exact opposite of the latest possession hungry trend but it’s no less viable an approach and one which is clearly suiting us well.
Absolutely crucial to the improvement has been the impact on our trequarista, Bytyci. Here is his form over the last 17 games with the red line indicating the tactical change:
More key passes, more assists and, as a nice aside, more goals as his breaking from deep has seen him getting on the end of more crosses. With the central midfielders also claiming 5 goals in the 8 games, there are some really promising signs that this could be a beneficial approach.
The tactic is far from settled but what it has done is given me 4 months to tweak, test shouts and, most importantly, gauge the efficacy of the players at my disposal. As we approach the January transfer window and the ability to sign Bosmans for next season, I should now have an idea of where we need to strengthen.
For the most part, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the players. Mattia Desole, at left back, has been excellent, Giannelli has proven to be a sound loan signing in goal whilst Francesco Lisi, with 12 goals, has been absolutely crucial.
Less fruitful has been the inside forwards on the opposite side with Kingsley Boateng already looking like an expensive mistake whilst Pietro Tripoli has blown hot and cold. And this is where my problems really start. 8 players that I would like to keep are out of contract in the summer and although I could feasibly give them all new contracts, this is going to cause me severe financial problems.
We’re bleeding money at an alarming rate and will likely be £1m in debt by the end of the season. Therefore, I’ve prioritised the contracts and will have to say goodbye to Tripoli, his £2800 per week is just too much for me to service, particularly given his inconsistent performances.
Having said that, losing 8 first teamers on free transfers would be catastrophic business and so I’ve offered, and agreed, terms with the likes of Desole, Lisi, Gerbo and Luperini – some of them even taking pay cuts.
Looking at bringing players in then, my options are severely limited and I will likely be restricted to loan moves only in January. I would dearly love to sell Boateng, a big mistake on my part, for a profit but can’t see anyone being as stupid as I was. There are other sellable assets, presuming they sign the new contracts and I’ve have to seriously consider a 6 figure offer for just about any player in the squad.
I’ve arranged two friendlies for the winter break, partly to aid with the financial situation as we’ll travel to the San Siro to get spanked by Milan – although we’ll take £85k back to Salò with us as compensation. With that in mind, the last friendly is against non-league opposition to get our morale back up.
Co-ownership deals are something I don’t have a great deal of experience with and, if I’m honest, don’t fully understand but would definitely be an approach I would consider for my younger players. However, I don’t think it’s a viable option for us in terms of incomings and the likelihood is that one, maybe two, loans will join and I’ll concentrate on trying to find Bosmans for the summer.
I am quite happy to accept a mid-table finish this season and build the team up slowly, finances permitting. With that in mind, I’ll be trying to keep the signings young, preferably under 23, with a ‘keeper and a right inside-forward absolute top of the priority list.
For now, it’s a case of keeping us away from that relegation zone and ensuring our finances don’t become too restrictive.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to any questions or comments you may have.