seasonOne.episodeFive | Preseason
When I came to Parma I understood that the challenge would be a tough one. We have demanding fans, an energetic board who, after back-to-back promotions, have a taste for success. However, I am a little more realistic and know that if we are to perform in the league to our expectations, we need to keep things simple. The plan is not to get promoted before we are ready.
With this in mind, I adopted a system I worked with previously that was modelled on a style akin to a Mourinho system. A structured style of play, where basics override fancy play. This is a high-level overview of the system, with more detail to come in later articles. The reason is that we are yet to kick a ball, so I have built this around the players I have available to me without seeing them on the pitch.
It might come as no surprise to you, given the name of this website, that my system is predicated on making the most use of the ball, both in and out of possession, the ball as a reference point is key to everything we are trying to achieve. This is my framework.
I keep trying new systems, but I always come back to the 4-2-3-1 because of its simplicity. There’s a reason it is such a popular tactic amongst football managers, and that’s because of its flexibility. It can be an extremely attacking system, but equally, it can be defensively strong. It is great for controlling possession, given the naturally forming diamonds and triangles from its shape, but it needs the right balance of roles and duties coupled with the correct use of team instructions.
This is the first line I set up, which consists of two central defenders and two full-backs. The defenders have a simple job: keep the shape and guard the goal. It is not their job to close down and harass the ball carrier, I want them back and protecting the goal, making the opposition try work around them, forcing them into an error or long shots. I need them to tuck in, keep their shape and intercept anything that comes their way.
I want my full-backs dribbling less, and making fewer risky passes. My central defenders are there to play simple balls into the midfield and keep possession. By virtue of the fact that we play a defensive mentality, this reduces the players’ appetite for risk overall, which means my defenders will be standing off the opposition more, sitting deep and keeping their shape. What this also means is they will have a propensity to play slightly longer balls, e.g., clearing it from danger rather than playing short balls out of defence. Since my style is predicated on possession, I’ve asked them to pass it shorter so we keep the ball without inviting more pressure by giving it away, launching it upfield.
The double pivot
A double pivot sits ahead of them in the defensive midfield area. For me I like to play this pivot in the central midfield strata, but with defensive duties. Given that my team mentality is defensive, the increase in individual mentality is negligible. We don’t exploit the middle in our team instructions so they’ll be nice and deep and look to protect the defence through the middle. Their job is to simply win the ball and feed the attacking players but also offer an option to recycle possession.
I am still unsure of the roles of these two players. I like to have a playmaker here who can use the ball from deep wisely. Again, going back to our risk-taking, with a defensive mentality, our buildup play will be more patient with the players looking for shorter passes and generally playing at a slower tempo. I don’t expect too much offensively from these two, but what I would like to see from them is simple passes into the overlapping full-backs and to the attackers ahead.
Further afield are three attacking midfielders and a striker. I like my wide attacking midfielders to run inside with the ball diagonally, making it hard for defenders to pick them up. Making darting runs into the box both on and off the ball. My number 10 is the conductor; the guy responsible for providing killer passes to the three attackers ahead of him.
When playing on lower mentalities you’re looking for the perfect opportunity to score. You will often have fewer chances than your opposition, but you are looking for a higher quality of chances. My central attacking midfielder needs to have great vision and creativity to pick out passes to the three rushing attackers ahead of him. I expect to see him providing for the rushing players.
While the defensive players will be closing down much less, the attacking players are asked to close down much more. When they lose the ball I want them harassing the opposition to get it back, forcing them into a mistake or long ball, with the aim that this will allow my defensive players to get back into their shape. I will need to look for players with better work rate out wide, as I need these guys to be tracking back and tightly marking any wide attackers to allow my full-backs to keep their shape and not be drawn out chasing down the ball.
As always, this is subject to change. Once we have a few games under our belts it is likely I will make some changes. Moreover, I do not set and forget. I will almost always make changes during a game depending on how it is playing out.
Mentality and shape
I won’t go into too much detail here, but as already alluded to, we will play with a defensive mentality because I want us to reduce our risk-taking and want us to be defensively solid. Short, slow and patient build-up, a deep line which maintains its shape which is hard to break down.
We will initially set out with a structured team shape because as part of our risk-averse approach, we will be more disciplined when it comes to allowing the team to play with creative freedom. I want to keep the team working as a unit and adhering to my instructions. Additionally, we should see more room between the lines to pick out passes. This should stretch out the opposition and give us more space to operate within. We rely on runners-up top, and if we’re congested there will be little space to run into.
Shape, tempo and width
Because of the slower pace of game, I like to play, the defensive mentality works great. It comes with a deep back line, a low tempo and narrow width. I don’t need to make any adjustments here. If I wanted to play with a higher line and more tempo I might notch up to a standard mentality, but for now, I consider us to be relative underdogs for most games and this patient approach suits my style.
Again, no adjustments needed. We are playing a defensive game so the relatively deep line and minimal closing down at the back works. We will use opposition instructions for any specific pressing requirements.
This is where I usually adjust my tactics via team instructions. The mentalities seldom need changes to the other areas, but I want to concentrate a higher proportion of our build-up out wide. Asking the players to exploit the flanks will also increase the mentality of the full-backs. This allows me to push them even higher than the defensive team mentality will ordinarily allow. So while they have attacking duties, exploit the flank pushes their mentality higher still.
What this should show us is the full-backs, on average, being up with the central midfielders, further aiding ball circulation. They will have a natural encouragement to overlap the wide attacking midfielders without having to use the look for overlap instruction, which can slow the pace of play down more than you sometimes want.
Finally, I’m asking the players to pass into open spaces, as this should encourage forward movement and an increase in through-balls, which is something I want my central attacking midfielder doing in abundance. Moreover, the wide attacking midfielders should also be looking for feed the striker when a clear shooting opportunity isn’t on.
Dribble less. Our possession game relies on the players not running themselves into trouble. This will apply less to the wide attacking midfielders, who by nature of their roles will still look to dribble with the ball sometimes.
These are pretty self-explanatory for what we’re looking to achieve, but I will go through my thinking for this.
Show onto weaker foot
Players are generally less dangerous out wide. You have the touchline as a barrier for movement, so they can generally only move in three directions, forwards, backwards or come back inside. By showing players on their outside we can focus their possession to the flanks, where we should in most instances being at a numerical advantage with 2v1 or 3v2 overloads. If the pass does come into the middle, this is where our marking instructions kick in…
So the wide players have been shuffled into the side of the pitch where their options should be limited. We mark tightly any passing options back inside, meaning they now should only have two real options, forwards or backwards. If the pass goes backwards, which is where our closing down instructions kick in…
When the ball is recirculated to the back line, we have the goal of chasing down the player in possession to win the ball back at all costs. And I mean all costs. If the ball evades the front players then the plans above kick in again, we push them wide, force a mistake and win the ball back.
It is always tough to get the pressing working correctly, especially since our work rate is quite low around the squad. But new player acquisitions should help this going forwards.
So that was a bit of a high-level overview of the system and tactics I’ll be looking to kick-off pre-season with. As mentioned, this is a work in progress, and so this might change if things aren’t quite going to plan over pre-season. First things first though, I need to cancel those bloody friendlies against Serie A sides. I don’t need that kick to moral this early on.
Next up I will round up pre-season and highlight how the tactical system is working ahead of going into the new season.
Until next time, arrivederci.