Tactics are frequently misunderstood as a starting point for dissecting wins, losses and longer season fortunes.
That’s why I almost often join the camp that says “tactics schmatics” when critical analysis starts there. It’s not that tactics aren’t important; rather, it’s because tactical discussion are too often conducted in a vacuum.
As in: “The 4-2-3-1 is better / worse / superior / inferior to the 4-4-2.” Those discussions leave me wanting to change the channel or go sit at the next table.
Now, choosing the best personnel to fit a system and the optimal game-day arrangement of the correct personnel is certainly a discussion worth biting into – even if we don’t always get it right. This is all more art than science, of course, and always highly subjective.
The prescient tactical choices serve to illuminate players rather than bathing them in dimming shadows.
Of course, having the right personnel is the bedrock starting point.
For instance, give me a couple of difference makers in a match where the opponent misses the same, and even my mushy-pea brain stands a reasonable chance of arranging a limited set of tactics that can carry the day. It’s really about assigning players to comfortable roles and then drilling home the importance of dodging collective booboos. From there, you just let the game-changers do their doggone thing.
Now, about Friday:
Again, missing Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley in the midfield, and having Clint Dempsey at a clearly under-inflated tire pressure was simply too much to overcome. That’s how I saw the setback in Kingston.
How the choice of playing a deeply recessed back line didn’t mesh with Kyle Beckerman’s abilities. (For me, the defensive plan was far from a fiasco, considering Jamaica put very little pressure on goalkeeper Tim Howard in open play. The only defensive demerit came in the fouling – which did prove quite damaging.)
How Clint Dempsey’s assigned role just does not suit him. It never will. I made the same point here in a post that dropped just after Friday’s match.
How Graham Zusi could have helped sooth the burn of missing Bradley and Donovan. I’m not sure I agree with that one – but see my comment above regarding subjectivity.
There’s plenty more in the article to agree or disagree with.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.