Last season – read about it here
The ultimate goal is to win the Champions League. Therefore it was really underwhelming to finish last in our group this season. However, we managed to win the league giving us a place in next season’s group stage with a chance for redemption. Before we go on to the next season we’ll spend a bit of time analyzing our performance.
Player performances/our tactic
So it’s time to go deep. As I’m writing these words I honestly don’t know where this will land. My aim is to guide you through my tactic, roughly explain what I want the different positions/player roles to do and then analyze the player performances based on a number of statistical parameters. Finally I hope to tie it all together in an evaluation of both the players and the tactic. In the best case scenario it’ll make for an interesting read. Worst case scenario you’ll stop reading somewhere halfway through this post. Either way, hopefully I’ll learn a lot by writing this post at least!
This was our tactical approach going into the second season with Benfica, a 4-3-3 with a balanced mentality. We were going to be the dominant side in most games – at least in the league – and the tactic was therefore mainly built to break down solid defenses and parked buses. Offensively we want to play a possession-based football where both passing and running – with as well as without the ball – are fundamentals. Before we look anymore at the big picture let’s start from the back.
We want to win games! Simple, right? How do we do it? By outscoring our opponents! Still simple. Trying to find a route to get there is where things start to get a bit complicated. I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible though. The more we have the ball the more time do we have to create opportunities to score and win the game. Therefore we start by distributing the ball to our central defenders. Why not the wing backs, you ask? The reason is simple. We WANT the wing back to get the ball, but not straight away. We want the opposing team to be forced into a decision straight away:
- Defend the center or
- Defend the flank.
If we distribute the ball to the wing back we make that decision for them. If we distribute to a central defender of course the opposition will initially defend the center. But if they only do it halfheartedly or spread wide in an attempt to cut off our flanks we have a good chance of finding one of our central midfielders. If they stay narrow and close that option it leaves more space for our wing backs.
It’s terribly hard to defend both the center well enough to close off our midfield trio as well as both flanks. Therefore, let’s start by analyzing our central defenders!
So, let’s look at what we want the central defender to do in offense.
As stated above, since we want to build our play from the back there are a couple of different options for the central defender with the ball depending on what area(s) the opposition decide to defend. If the central defender can find a central midfielder – usually our DLP – then that’s his primary target. If that is not an option, then there is probably a wing back open. If for some reason that isn’t an available option either he simply recycles the ball by finding the other central defender or goalkeeper with a pass.
That is basically it in build-up play. The central defenders serve another important purpose offensively though. Set pieces. Corners and free kicks. We want them to get in the box and score a few goals per season. Several of our central defenders are tall with at least decent heading ability. Therefore we build our set piece regime to give these players as many scoring chances as possible.
Defensively their main duty is to fall back and prevent passes coming in behind them when transitioning from offence to defence. In organized defense their primary duty is to mark central attackers and head away crosses. It’s as simple as that.
Now, let’s look at how they did.
The A squad used four central defenders who played between 19 and 35 games during the season. The B squad rotated on three central defenders who played between 23 and 31 games.
When comparing the A squad players you see that the player with the highest average rating, Pedro Álvaro, is our worst player defensively when looking at the radar chart above. He rates the lowest in Interceptions, Key tackles, Tackles and Successful Headers. This rely defies logic. If he has the highest average rating, shouldn’t he be our best performer as well? Not necessarily apparently. However, he offered the biggest contribution offensively last season which is probably a major key to his high average rating, since Football Manager tends to give goals and assists too big credit when determining average rating.
What do I want the wing backs to do in offense?
Well, it’s fairly simple as you can see above. The combination of playing extremely wide and also telling the wing backs to stay wide will hopefully make them do exactly that. Stay wide in order to force the opposition into making decisions. If they stretch out in an attempt to cut off our wide players there will be room for our central midfielders. Most teams won’t do that though. They will stay narrow, defending the center of the pitch, an area that is usually regarded as more vital to defend. This is where our wing backs come into play. The picture above shows a pretty common situation. Our central midfielder or central defender has the ball with the opposition closing in on him, leaving both flanks wide open. Our left wing back basically has an ocean of space to first receive the ball and then move forward with it. He is instructed to run with it along the flank and then get the ball into the box, preferably with a cross from the byline. This will hopefully give the offensive players enough time to reach the box, giving the wing back as many players as possible to hit with the ball.
So, how did our wing backs perform?
Because of our shortage in wing backs we couldn’t be too picky who we played. This resulted in us basically playing each and everyone we had in the squad. Nuno Tavares on the left played the most, totaling 35 games for the A squad. Young Ferreira didn’t play enough games for the A squad (2) to feature in the analysis.
When looking at the radar chart above, one thing quickly becomes clear, Nuno Tavares is by far our best performing wing back this season. But, and there’s a big but here, there’s been a serious mistake made by me when creating this chart. Do you spot it? Interceptions, assists and crosses, all the areas where Nuno Tavares excel are absolute numbers. Since he played the most games it’s only natural for him to have the highest numbers in these areas. Back to the drawing board/excel spreadsheet!
Well, this paints a slightly different picture! Nuno Tavares is still the most solid performer in my eyes, but not by a mile. When interceptions, assists and crosses are counted per game instead of in absolute numbers the other players are much closer in their performances. If we break it down into offensive and defensive contributions we have to analyze both the difference in player roles on the left and right side as well as the individual player performances. The player roles are slightly different, with an attacking role on the left and a support role on the right. In my opinion that is reflected quite well in the chart above.
- Left CWB(a): Nuno Tavares and Frimpong
- More Assists/90 mins and more Crosses/90 mins
- Right CWB(s): P Pereira and Pinto
- More Tackles/90 mins and more Interceptions/90 mins
The conclusion is clear and simple. With an attacking mentality the CWB provides more attacking threat and slightly less defensive output than with a support mentality. One thing to note is the low Dribbles/90 mins. I would have thought that this would be much higher, but when analyzing what the wing back actually does it becomes quite natural. Because of the massive space he’s usually provided with when receiving the ball he doesn’t encounter an opponent until he reaches the box. In that situation he nearly never takes on the defender and tries to dribble. He pretty much always goes for the cross and in 14-20% of the times he manages to find a team mate with it. This number feels low to me, but the match engine seems to favour defenders blocking both crosses and shots to an almost ridiculous extent.
So, that’s it for the defenders. I’ll leave you there before this post gets too long, and I promise to get back to you with the midfielders and attackers in a couple of days. Consider it a promise or a threat if you like. Until then, so long!