Sam Allardyce’s 4-6-0 and the end of Modern Football

By John Ray

I saw things on the sixth of October, Two-Thousand and Thirteen. Dangerous things; ideas and shapes which have left an imprint on my cornea that only slowly burns away, like the bright morning sun upon first wake. I’ve double-taked in stupor, wondering, “Am I really seeing this?” and “why now, I’m still young?” Who knew that Sam Allardyce would be the harbinger of the apocalypse after-all?

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An Awakening in the Eternal City

By John Ray

Roma’s Ultras held up a banner that read “Not knowing how to respond to defeat is worse than defeat itself” upon the side’s presentation to supporters on August 21st. They were referencing the side’s 1-0 loss to Lazio in the Coppa Italia final, the first steps of what they assumed was the destruction of a young but talented team, as well as the uninspired hiring of Rudi Garcia, who was resoundingly booed. It was assumed that Garcia would merely be the next to fly off the Benedetto consortium’s coaching carousel. In the carousel’s wake lay the mangled egos of Zdenek Zeman and Luis Enrique: men who I greatly admire, but found it difficult for their idealism to gain traction in the pragmatic landscape of today’s Serie A.

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The Pirlo, Mascherano and Makelele: An insight into the role of the Number 6

By Ogo Sylla

The holding midfielder, or defensive midfielder, or number 6 as we can also call it, is a thankless task that often gets overlooked in today’s football of marauding fullbacks, twinkle-toed playmakers and dead-eye strikers. However what is most underappreciated about the number 6 (as we will refer to it from henceforth) are its complexities that most fail to recognize. In fact, the failure to do so can be key to why some sides may struggle to find the right balance. Indeed, the defensive number 6 sits – on a tactical sense – at the heart of the game and at the center of the pitch where everything goes through him. It is for this reason that it is important to recognize the many intricacies of that position and its numerous roles in order to better appreciate it.

It is important difference – albeit just a seemingly semantic one – between a holding midfielder and defensive midfielder. But these are just types of the number 6, which can be broken down in three different roles: the destroyer, the deep-lying playmaker (regista), and the volante. The destroyer is exclusively a defensive midfielder, while the regista is a holding midfielder. The volante, however, has the particularity of belonging to both types of the number 6. Being such a special case, we will touch on the role of the volante last. 

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Ferguson and the diamond

By Tim Palmer

The signing of Robin van Persie cast doubt over Sir Alex Ferguson’s ability to fit all his players into a working system. The presence of Shinji Kagawa, who is at his best in a central playmaking role, accentuated his problems, and while no manager would ever turn down such attacking riches, it poses difficult selection dilemmas.

Yet Van Persie arrived late in the transfer window and was deemed not ready to start in United’s opening game against Everton. That was a game lost 1-0 through a Marouane Fellaini header, where Wayne Rooney was so poor and off the pace he was dropped for their next match against Fulham. He did eventually come on for Kagawa in the sixty-eighth minute, playing alongside Van Persie, but he was injured with a serious cut to his knee twenty minutes later. Both had come as substitutes to play with the other, but it seemed that the universe was conspiring to keep the two apart.

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Notes from the sideline: Cazorla symbol of Arsenal’s new found style

By Tim Palmer

The transfer of Santi Cazorla from Malaga to Arsenal underlined what has made Arsene Wenger such a favourite in North London. The Spanish playmaker is clever on the ball, with a cute first touch and a remarkable ability to link play and dictate the tempo of the game, the sort of artist that the Emirates has come to so greatly appreciate. For a player of his class - many saw him as the best player outside the top two in La Liga last season – the price of £12 million was a snip, as Arsenal benefitted from Malaga’s financial explosion to again find value in the transfer market. Wenger is a manager who sees the game as the systematic process of the collective, and Cazorla’s humble attitude both on and off the pitch serves to highlight this philosophy.

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Notes from the sideline: The Baines and Pienaar reunion has revitalised the strength of Everton’s attack

By Tim Palmer

The major talking point from Tuesday’s game against Newcastle United was inevitably (and rightfully so) the two blunders by the officials, but although Everton will be aggrieved not to have picked up three points they will take heart from the strength of their left flank.

The Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar partnership has been a recurring feature of David Moyes time at Everton, and both players have played every game of the new season so far. They were split apart when the South African departed to Tottenham Hotspur in the January transfer window of 2010, but after an unsuccessful stint in London, Pienaar returned firstly on loan halfway through last season and on a permanent transfer at the start of the summer. Curiously enough, the duo has undergone somewhat of a role reversal: as Baines appealed for Pienaar to reject the overtures of Tottenham; similarly this summer Pienaar was desperate for Baines to remain at Everton despite interest from Manchester United. Clearly both recognise the value of their relationship: working in tandem, they’ve re-established what is the most dangerous partnership in the league.

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Bilbao wasn’t built in a day: Part Three

Spanish football blogger Chalkontheboots continues his analysis of the current structure of Athletic Bilbao by examining Marcelo Bielsa’s struggle between pragmatism and idealism, as he searches for the perfect tactical approach for the situation. You can read part two of this piece here.

Should Bielsa alter his beliefs and accommodate a more pragmatic streak within his football?

For so long an advocate of pro-active attacking football with a strong emphasis on the vertical approach, does Bielsa need to alter his thinking and shift his tactical plan to allow for a more defensive perspective when required?

Or is Bielsa a fundamentalist, a man who recognises the inherent problems with his preferred system but remains unwilling to compromise, determined to maintain his views to the bitter end, even if they eventually cause his downfall?

From the outside, Bielsa appears so fundamentally attached to his views, that he will take them to their logical conclusion, defending them and his team irrespective of the havoc it could create. It is the re-emergence of the stubborn streak. It is Bielsa’s genius and his burden.

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Barça’s 30 passes.

The day after we had a decent discussion focusing on possession not always leading to substance, Barcelona exhibited exactly how you can pass a team to death, and complete such exquisite sequences with an end product. The blaugrana were in great form when they traveled to Zaragoza, gliding to a 4-1 victory. But the 4th goal was yet another lesson for us all to learn from.

Of course, most teams cannot replicate how Thiago (his pass was the true catalyst), Pedro, and Messi combined to create the goal, but 30 passes strung together serve as an excellent example of tiki-taka’s potential effectiveness even when being implemented against a well-disciplined opponent. [AFR on Twitter/FB]

The Mönchengladbach way

Borussia Mönchengladbach are one of the biggest surprises in Europe this season. Facing relegation at the end of last year, manager Lucien Favre has done a remarkable job in instilling a brand new system in his players. The league table doesn’t lie, and Mönchengladbach sit in second place, above Bayern Munich and completely capable of snatching the Bundesliga title from Borussia Dortmund.

Favre’s new tactics have emulated Barcelona’s tiki-taka system full of triangular passing, with a more physical twist that adheres to the customs of German Fußball. Fans are fawning over the likes of Marco Reus and Marc-André ter Stegen, but ‘gladbach as a team have transformed into a real force that can compete with the very best, in Germany and beyond.

(Thanks to 3nil for sending this vid our way)

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