One of the first two things I try and observe during a game are, where is the opposition’s defensive line, and secondly, how high up the pitch are they prepared to press.
Generally during the save teams have played with a relatively high defensive line against me, as Anzhi remains one of the lesser sides in the division, leaving plenty of space in behind for me to exploit.
I play a flat 4141 and, when I think about how I would want any side I managed to actually defend, this is the shape I imagine. In possession, however, the shape is very different due to the roles and duties selected, especially the midfield four. My left-midfielder(a) is instructed to cut inside with the ball and dribble more, as well as get further forward by default. I’ve added get further forward to my box to box midfielder while my mezzala(a) and winger(s) are vanilla. All four of these roles will attack space in front of them fairly aggressively. Having a standard defensive midfielder behind them offers me great security should we lose the ball in advanced areas.
The 4141DM starts deeper, inviting the opposition to push forward if that is their intention. By making very slight adjustments to team instructions we can exploit the space left in behind fairly well.
Towards the end of season three (catch up here if required), Anzhi faced a crucial game in our pursuit of champions league football. Lokomotiv Moscow were the opponents, sitting top of the league having lost only one game all season. I was fairly certain they would attack me. So before the game I instructed the side to ‘pass into space’ I also considered removing ‘play out of defence’ but I like the build-up play it encourages, and in my opinion, it helps to invite the opposition in. I also made a change in personnel in midfield opting to play Gordyushenko as my box-to-box midfielder, he is more dynamic than the ageing Glushakov and can also play as a striker so he can finish pretty well. In defence, Nazarov was changed from a centre-back to a ball playing defender, in the hope he had the vision to play a few risky passes forward into space.
While these changes to team instructions help, it is also important to make sure your base formation (including roles & duties) has sufficient movement to take advantage of the space teams like Lokomotiv leave in behind. All four of my midfielders have the potential to break through opposition defensive lines, add in some intelligent movement from my striker and you leave the AI with some very difficult decisions to make.
We won the game 2-1, and our two goals illustrated this movement very well. In the first image from our goal-kick, you can see how pushed on Lokomotiv are. We are playing out of defence, and goalkeeper Kvaskhadvze has been instructed to take short kicks to our centre-backs, who have split to both sides of the penalty area. Anzhi’s left centre-back, Novoseltsev (25) is unmarked and offers an easy pass out.
Once Novoseltsev has the ball, he attracts the Lokomotiv no.9, Smolov, which leaves our wing back Sobol free. Novoseltsev could also have chosen to pass to my defensive midfielder Likhachtev (6).
My left midfielder, Puchkovskyi (24) works himself into a bit of space for a pass. Sobol elects to use him and he immediately plays a one-two with the now unmarked Gordyushenko.
This disruption leaves a huge gap in the centre of the Lokomotiv defence. Zhamaletdinov (no.22) attracts both centre-backs allowing Gordyushenko to attack the penalty area and score.
Our second goal again starts in our half with Lokomotiv applying pressure deep into our half. A simple aerial ball into space behind the midfield for complete forward Zhamaletdinov (22) easily evades the press. This one pass takes eight Lokomotiv players out of the game.
Once Zhamaletdinov picks the ball up he draws the right-sided centre-back, Kvirkvelia no. 33 out from his centre-back position. All four midfielders now make forward runs, and fairly easily get goalside of their midfield counterparts.
By the time right-winger, Matyushenko (32) has the ball, there is a huge space in behind Lokomotiv for a midfield runner to exploit. As Kvirkvelia has continued to follow Zhamaletdinov all the way across to the Lokomotiv left side actually crossing his centre-back partner. Gordyushenko is, once again, goalside of Gojak, and carries on his run to finish well.
One of the challenges, as we progress through the save, is making sure our tactic can also be effective against sides that don’t press us, sides that are happy to sit deep and hit us on the counter-attack I have noticed sides doing this more and more as we climb the league. We have had a few games during which we struggle to create much at all and end up losing a game we really should have won.
I’m not convinced this tactic will be able to break those sides down on a regular basis, certainly not with the current personnel. Perhaps a move to a more positive mentality or moving my wide players up into the AM strata would help, I’ll have to experiment when the time comes.
If you have made it this far thanks very much for reading. If you haven’t a clue what is going on you can read earlier posts here.
Over and out FMEadster!