It was back in days when Serie A was the strongest league in the world, season 1999-2000. Alessandro Del Piero only returned from a horrible injury and desperately needed a goal from open play. Referees in Italy – as you might know – gave penalties for bianconeri on regular basis, and Del Piero scored them regularly, but the problem was that he had failed to score from open play in the first 21 matches of the league.
Week 22 gave Juventus an easy fixture at Venice against Venezia. Del Piero scored a penalty in the first half and a strong Juventus side that included such players as Van der Sar, Davids and Zidane didn’t have a lot of problems to score a few more goals. Del Piero had two chances to score himself from open play but his team-mate Filippo Inzaghi took all the glory in both occasions – first he decided to round the goalkeeper instead of passing the ball to Del Piero, who would have had an empty goal in front of him – and the second time, after his first shot was saved by the Venezia goalkeeper, he scored from the rebound instead of passing the ball to Del Piero, who was in better position. Inzaghi himself completed a hat-trick, but those goals turned some Juventus fans against him – he could and should have helped Del Piero to restore his confidence, but his hunger for goals was stronger.
A real poacher is a bit selfish, it’s something that goes with jersey No.9 (and I don’t mean jersey No.9 that Khalid Boulahrouz used to wear for the Chavs), but Inzaghi went over the limits. Nobody can deny Inzaghi was one of the best goal-scorers in the history of Serie A, and one who actually scored important goals (like that lucky brace against Liverpool in Champions’ League Final 2007) worthy of trophies.
I have been very critical regarding our pre-season. If you ask me, it is rather unacceptable that we had had just one pre-season match with all our players, including three reinforcements signed in summer transfer window (it was against Koln, the very last match in which Van Judas wore a proper shirt).
It is totally unacceptable that we have spent most of our first halves this season learning how to play against our respective opponents. Whether it is a result of pre-season or poor match preparation/scouting of our opponents (I wrote before – all top players of our opponents have scored against us: Mata, Van Judas, Bale, Fellaini, Michu, Berbatov, Suarez), it has been frustrating to watch goals conceded due to individual errors (lack of concentration might be connected with poor physical condition, but that collides with the fact we have scored 18 goals in the last 15 minutes of our games), or chances wasted due to misunderstanding of our players in attack.
Now, we all know about our defensive record (which has been much better lately), and how 4-2-3-1 formation has worked much better for that department of our team, as well as the partnership that was formed between Mertesacker and Koscielny in the heart of our defence, but I haven’t seen too many words written or said about lack of understanding in our attacking department.
Most of criticism have been pointed at individual performances from Giroud, Gervinho and, to the lesser extent, Walcott. And there are things we should say about it as well.
Our attacking play has been too much one-dimensional when our strongest striker Giroud (despite his flaws, he is the best option we have for CF-role) has been the spearhead of the attack. We have relied on his flick-on-play too much, and the match against Blackburn might be a good example of how Giroud’s attempts to link-up with the rest of our attack fail. Our other attacking options lack physical abilities to cope with strong defenders.
Then, there is something that has happened too many times this season and what is the biggest reason I wanted to write this post in the first place.
How many times have we seen our players in attack waiting for the ball on the other side, and then just angrily raising their hands in the air due to lack of positional awareness of their team-mate, who picked the ball instead of playing “the dummy”? Giroud was usually doing this and that’s where he reminded me of aforementioned example of Pippo Inzaghi (which might lead us to the similar question that was asked regarding Inzaghi and Del Piero: what kind of relationship does he have with his team-mates?).
It would be unfair to jump on the Frenchman’s back as his team-mates act mostly the same when the ball goes inside the opponent’s box. Gervinho and Walcott have screwed up some of our counter-attacks due to desire to score themselves as well. Statistics can fool a bit if you don’t see actual things on the field. For instance, Walcott got himself an assist for Podolski’s goal against Norwich; what stats won’t tell you is that Walcott was dwelling on the ball on the right after Giroud’s flick-on released him (Walcott was offside), attempting to beat the defender and, when he was left with a tight angle and no free space, he decided to pass the ball to Podolski outside the box, who pulled out an individual effort to create himself a space and take a shot to seal our victory.
The worst part is that we have seen a glimpse of how we should play in that match at Anfield. There was a GIF-file after that match in which our players (I think Gibbs, Cazorla and Podolski) make a triangle on the left flank. I can’t recall of many triangles we pulled after that one.
Our players – with fine exception of Aaron Ramsey – tend to attack the ball, despite their team-mates might be having a better position after “the dummy”. In my humble opinion, Ramsey is a unique player in our team when it comes to this, and that’s one of the reasons I would like Wenger and/or his successor to stick with Aaron in years to come.
A brief look at the Premiership table would imply that there is nothing that we should be worried about regarding our attack. We have scored 65 goals (before match with FAnchester United) which is third best record in the league. 65 goals in 34 matches makes average 1,91 goals per game. Not bad at all. However, there is a problem when it comes to distribution of goals – we have scored 7 against Newcastle, 6 against Southampton, 5 against Reading (away), West Ham and Spuds and 4 against Reading (home). That means we have scored 32 goals out of 65 in just six matches. That leaves us with 33 goals in 28 matches or just 1,17 per game.
It’s obvious that we lack consistency as well as ability to score goals against top teams. Top teams are harder to break; relying only on individual efforts of our best players, and that’s something that we need as much as another top-class striker. One of the greatest Yugoslav and Croatian coaches of all times and one of the founders of Hajduk Split, Luka Kaliterna (also known as Barba Luka) used to say that it is the quality display that scores goals and not players, and that football is more played by those who don’t possess the ball than by those who do.
Watching recent Champions’ League matches in which German direct football (Bayern) dominated over the Spanish style of football build around ball-possession (Barcelona), and football built around automatic off-the-ball movements (Borussia Dortmund) dominating over direct football build around expensive world-class players (Real Madrid), was something that would make late Kaliterna smile, but also something that we should take note of, especially the latter example.
Borussia Dortmund had less ball possession against Manchester Oilers in Group Stage at Etihad, but anyone who watched that game will have noticed that they should have won with at least a three-goal margin (the very same Oilers that are second in English Premier League), despite only 39 % of possession.
Same thing happened against Real Madrid on Wednesday as Spanish giants had most of the ball (51 %) while Borussia enjoyed quality of possession. Their players have formed brilliant counter-attacks, and attack with triangles under Klopp, with off-the-ball movement and anticipation of their team-mates moves of the highest level.
It might have something to do with the current policy of German football in which Matthias Sammer has imported a philosophy of automatism from the very first football steps. His intention was to reduce the time with the ball to one second or less in order to fight against Spanish domination which was based on half-a-touch football. Marco Reus recently spoke about his understanding with Goetze (sadly, that partnership will continue only at international level after the summer), and how he knows where Goetze is without watching.
There is a new revolution on the horizon and it will be of the highest importance not to miss out of it.
Pre-season and match preparation must be focused on our players’ understanding on both sides of the pitch, as it might turn out to be the best weapon against all Abramovichs, Fergusons and Sheiks that have ruled English football since 2004-05.
I understand that there is a reason for commercial Asian tours, as Arsenal have been rather popular there as well, but even those tours should serve more to reaching tactical perfection and automatism than commercial purposes.
Written by: Admir.