With the managerial situation resolved, the midfield and defence hugely upgraded and the mercato still very much in full swing I feel there is cause to open discussions regarding the major tactical questions regarding our new era…
I am not the only one who has studied Sarri’s system. Even for those who have not, there will likely be an awareness of Jorginho and his importance to the delightful football played by our new coach’s Napoli side, and his subsequent move to Chelsea. Clearly that role is of major importance to Sarriball.
I wrote more of an in depth analysis of the tactical side of things recently:
The pivot role, where Jorginho has been deployed in Italy and England under Sarri, is where many of the moves start and flow through. This player must make hundreds of passes. And some say that after Chelsea’s blistering start last season, the reason for the sudden downturn in form was that other sides worked out that if you deny Jorginho time on the ball, the whole Sarri system falters. Whilst there may be some truth to this, it is certainly not a simple approach to thwart the system. For by focusing more on the pivot, yes the triangles created between the regista and the CBs are cut off, but the cost of this is that the strikers and attacking midfielders of the opposition push up and not only tire but create the optimum condition for the Sarriball routine to launch; vertical passing.
At Napoli, by focusing on Jorginho, this indeed cut down the passing range and time on the ball of the pivot, but it created huge gaps for the two shuttling box to box midfielders, Hamsik and Allan, to exploit. It also allows the fullbacks to move up to create wide options moving forward, with the triangular passing options longer to find, but positioned with CMs and FBs higher up the field, with the players focusing on the DM out of position and unable to help defend.
Focus resources on the DM and CBs and the side can become a 2-1-4-3. Huge overload possibilities relying on the CBs mainly, passing the ball to retain possession then springing the launch to the 4-3, which is high up the field.
Probably more common is an asymmetrical fullback set-up with one more attacking and the other more defensive minded. This allows the more defensive minded fullback to drop back more centrally to make a back three when the offensive option on the other side of the field is working his way forward. Sandro is certainly capable of defending and if Cancelo remains, he is the obvious one to keep bombing forward.
Remember…Sarriball is based on the offensive players finding space to be found with vertical passes.
Still, I am moving beyond the original focus of this outburst. Although, it is all connected. For we now have the strongest midfield options since the days of Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba. We are not at that level, yet Rabiot and Ramsey offer a massive upgrade on Khedira and Matuidi.
The question is, when adding those new recruits to Pjanic, what is for the best???
Having watched the friendlies so far, we can conjure some ideas of how we seek to play and the current progress of Sarri’s still very larval system he is working on to make meet both his own philosophy and the talent in hand. Yet I must add that friendlies are not an indicator of future form. The side is not match sharp, they are traveling far and wide, with little time to train, and a fair few have been left behind in Italy to work on their conditioning and recover from injuries. As many as half the ideal starting outfield set-up – Chiellini, Sandro, Costa, Dybala, Ramsey. (Bentancur – who was once again a strong performer for his country as they fell short at the quarter finals of the recent Copa America – I believe will be perfectly suited to Sarri’s philosophy. Naturally gifted on the ball, quicker than he looks with his loping style of running and adept at transitioning the play and already with superb experience for his age, it could be a big year for the elegant midfielder who turned 22 a few weeks back.)
It is also worth noting that whilst some of the opponents we play on our seasonal globetrotting are playing at full pelt, facing a side of huge prestige and eager to make the most of the chance to play against some of the world’s best players, those in black and white are working on fitness and movement and trying to avoid injury. Perhaps its fair to say that whilst those eager to impress the boss with suggestion of their worth for a first XI berth will be doing their utmost to catch his eye, the majority of those likely in and around the first XI will not be running in top gear.
With those considerations made and explained, I can ponder more what I have seen in the 3 games played in Asia…
Pjanic indeed appears very much the chosen pivot. Which comes as no major surprise for he has been there for many moons now. His passing range is superb, his accuracy also very high, and he is creative…Yet for me his inclusion in the side as a DM/ Regista remains a problem. Whilst mobile and comfortable on the ball, Pjanic offers very little as a screen for the defence. He is too easily hustled off the ball, makes few interceptions, wins virtually nothing in the air and due to his lack of aggression if not physicality, he rarely holds off a challenge and moves away with the ball at his feet. All these characteristics are pre-requisites for the player in this position.
This role is integral for the defence and balance of the side as a whole, for with the other midfielders often box to box, the central channel becomes of prime importance, and we rarely dominate in this area. Yes yes! We have been weak there for a while, and Rabiot and Ramsey will improve this situation hugely. Yet the frenchman is a player I would like to see in the DM role, for he has the creativity and passing range of Pjanic (less flair perhaps) and he wins a lot in the air, is naturally a tackler, and is a strong lad very hard to knock off the ball. Its not however just his preference for playing in a more offensive role that is a negative here, he is also prone to attempting moments of skill on the ball to escape tackles. Pirlo used to the do the same, and I love to see players doing this, but its risky, for to lose the ball in that area, just in front of the defence and 18 yard box often leads to trouble. Still, Rabiot is a stronger option than Pjanic.
I would also suggest that its the only position where we might well get some value out of Emre Can. He is physical enough and strong defensively. Too slow and lacking the technique to be an option as a box to box and no matter how much people hope, he is never going to transform into Vidal. He is a player we have got very little value from since he joined the club and I hope that we can find some of this next season.
Similar thoughts are steady in my mind in regards to Freddy Bernardeschi. Held back by injuries and playing differing roles, I dont believe he has yet produced even the form of his fiorentina days for Juve. Too many flashes in the pan. Lots of hustle and bustle but the end product is lacking. I dare say that Cuadrado – who I am not keen on for his limitations technically are always evident and he has a very weak mentality – is more productive than the italian. Which is perhaps at odds with the opinion of others, but so be it.
Also in this category of ‘yet to see their best’ is definitely Douglas Costa. Can was often very good indeed at Liverpool, and I am hopeful that he could still be the same for our crowd. Young Freddy also has more to offer. Yet it is the Brazilian who has shown previously that he can be truly world class. He is a proven talent, when on form, mentally and physically, of the highest rank. A player who can decimate opponents, make something happen whenever he gets the ball.
(best mute the hideous ‘music‘)
Little Doug is explosive, has lightning acceleration and pace, a huge amount of flair and should be a mega star. Along with Dybala, he is a player who I hugely hope Sarri can revive and bring to prosper for he is a natural born match winner.
Somewhat related are our mercato meanderings which remain very much in progress. For we are surely set to rid ourselves of:>
Higuain (too expensive to keep as a sub)
Perin (no room at the inn for baby jesus, off to the stables)
Matuidi (doesnt fit the technically focused Sarri system and still has financial worth)
And perhaps also…
Rugani (we have five CBs for 2 positions and I already see Demiral as above him technically, aggressively, physically, mentally)
Cuadrado (Probably will stay as who would want him? And he is useful still on the flank but NOT AS A RB, for he cannot tackle and is featherweight in the tackle, awful at positioning)
Kean (The kid wants to play, and he wont be a starter under Sarri)
Cancelo (despite the silly rumours of his lack of interest in training, he has looked one of the sharpest and in shape of all those featuring so far – just goes to show, dont buy into the twitter rumours)
Pjaca (yes he is back! But will be gone)
The Pogba story rages on, and he remains a class player but I would only be happy with the move if it were financed by the sale of Pjanic, for it would have to be someone worth at least 60m, ideally more. I would be horrified to see Pogba come in at the expense of Dybala. And yet the recent media conjecture is still much worse than this…for a fair few reporters appear convinced or at least steadfast in their delivery of Dybala to become a makeweight in a deal for Lukaku.
This is staggeringly appalling…Dybala is a player we should be building the team around. He has already shown elite level talent and output. And it would be horrendous to see him sold. I understand that some folks judge him on last season, when to my reckoning, Dybala was one of many affected by Allegri’s tunnel vision of defensive focus, pragmatic tactics, with all offensive play centred on finding Ronaldo. Bernardeschi, Costa, Dybala, Mandzukic…they all suffered and all seemed less potent than in previous campaigns. Yet look at Dybala before Ronaldo arrived>>>
42 games, 10 goals and 5 assists in 18/19.
46 games, 26 goals and 7 assists in 17/18.
48 games, 19 goals and 9 assists in 16/17.
To compare…Ronaldo last season – 43 games, 28 goals and 10 assists. Hardly a gulf between them
Something happened last season which was not just some sudden malaise of Dybala’s mentality. It was Ronaldo. It was moving the argentine from a focal point in attack to a build up player expected to forage deeper to receive and move the ball onwards.
I was bothered by Sarri’s words on Ronaldo of late…
Many will agree with Sarri on this score. I do not. And the more I think of it, the more I feel Ronaldo is dominating tactics too much, at the expense of development of other players. We are a club, not a player.
Ronaldo is a superb talent. He has the stamina and fitness of a 29 year old. Yet he misses chances, he seems to need three openings to score one goal, and I dont see Dybala or Costa as that far off this…and yet our new manager is basically building the team around Ronaldo. And perhaps due to this, Costa or Dybala, both world class talents and much younger, may well leave…to accommodate the focus on Ronaldo.
The fullback situation is perplexing…Cancelo may leave, so many rumours, its almost an expectation now that he will depart for richer shores, but he is the only wide defender who has looked fit and sharp and capable. De Sciglio is bang average defensively, and below this in the final third. Cuadrado as an option I have mentioned above. Sandro? He could be superb in Sarri’s system and I have faith in him but let us keep Pellegrini as his back-up/ apprentice. Now if Cancelo does leave, we MUST bring in someone who can attack and defend. Darmian is the cheap option, but who else is there…Hysaj would be better.
Now it must be written, noted, discussed, that we have seen a definite move towards playing the ball to feet from the back. One or two touch football, which has led to some sublime moves and goals – Higuain v Spurs and Muratore v the K stars. It has also led to harrowing turnovers in our rear third and conceding goals. The curious thing here is that Buffon is much better with he feet on the ball than Szczęsny…
“Buffon was incredible in the penalty shootout, as he is a born fighter and he acted at the most difficult moment,” said Sarri.
“But it’s clear for us from the beginning, the starting goalkeeper is Szczesny.”
I am not worried. Yet I would not be surprised to see us struggle for a few months, and Inter to find no fangs in their attack but to be immensely solid and close to unbeatable defensively, which leaves Napoli…and Ancelotti is a cunning, decent chap. Maybe he will sneak Napoli through to the title, and why not eh! I wouldnt begrudge him that, but it would mean we had failed to prosper, which may well happen, with so many new players and a massive change in tactics, in movement, in position, in duties, in selection. We need to be prepared for the birth pains of a new era.
Yet we are stronger than all other italian sides, with greater depth, and it is unlikely we will struggle to such a degree that we lose the scudetto.
For me…it will be enough to see the compass stop spinning and pointing towards attacking, sometimes sublime football. We will concede more, but that is part of the game, and all that matters is that we score more than the opponents. And do this with fluidity, flair and precision.
Life is an adventure, and it gets boring when we stick to steady lines of travel, where everything is scripted…we have taken a different path. The true fans will bear the agony that comes, for only those who know true bliss, are aware that it comes only after true agony.