Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Quickie "Style of Play" Thought on the Euros

In the same way that football coaches are typically willing to punt or kick field goals as opposed to going for fourth downs because it is easier to appear risk-averse, soccer coaches like to prevent criticism by massing their defenses and reducing the chances that their teams give up. It's easier to answer questions after losing on penalties or by a 1-0 score in which the opponent scored on a ball that ricocheted eight times in the box than it is to answer questions after a 3-2 loss in which the opponent scored the winner on a three-on-three break. The former is "unlucky"; the latter is "naive" and "careless." The desire to avoid criticism is especially strong in major international tournaments when a coach has to answer to the media of an entire nation. If you think that the manager of the Yankees has it tough fending off questions from nine different newspapers, imagine what Roberto Donadoni is going to be faced with after the Dutch undress Italy on Monday (I can dream, can't I?) and he has to respond to writers from Rome, Florence, Milan, Naples, Turin, Genoa, etc.

Risk aversion takes many forms. The most common one in Euro '08 is likely going to be using two central defensive midfielders as screens for four-man back lines. You know that when the Dutch go to two holding mids, there is little hope for proper attacking in the tournament. Italy is going with the approach, as are France and Portugal. Germany and Spain are the two contenders who are only playing one holding midfielder. Neutrals who like attacking football ought to support these two sides...if they can stomach the idea of cheering for the modern-day Anschluss. (WWII joke number one of the summer.)

If every defense in the tournament is committed to putting up a massed wall in the middle of the park, then it stands to reason that the best way to get goals is going to be through wing play and crosses. That favors Italy (Luca Toni is great in the air and Di Natale and Camoranesi can get crosses in) and Germany (Klose is great in the air and their wing backs Lahm and Friedrich are outstanding). It hurts Portugal (great wingers, but no striker [unless they put Cristiano Ronaldo, an excellent header of the ball, in the middle]), France (no strikers who can score in the air), Spain (talented, but narrow midfield), and Holland (no wingers now that Babel is out, unless you count Arjen Robben who can dribble, but not cross or pass properly). On the other hand, it could put a premium on great central offensive midfielders who can break down a massed defense, in which case Holland and Spain will do well. Anyway, the styles that teams use to attack six-man defenses are going to be fascinating this summer.

1 comment:

dogfood said...

From a german point of view, this is a bad looking scenario. Friedrich isn't a good full-back. He is normally Half-Back and playing on the right wing is more a defensive option against strong opponent. He is one of germanys worst passers.

Full-Backs will be probably Jansen on the left side and Lahm or Fritz on the right side. With Fritz as Full-Back, Lahm will move to the right midfield.

The last matches showed extreme weaknesses on both wings. It's actually the german weak spot. Lahm and Schweinsteiger aren't in good shape. There is even speculation that Podolski could be used for the left midfield. Fritz and Jansen are needing more time after coming back from injuries to get to the old level.

I think the main thrust will come from the inside, with Ballack being actually very strong and agile attackers (Klose & Gomez) being able not only to shoot, but also to make assists. The trick will be to intercept the opposite team very early in their plays via pressing.