Whether it is due to my own personal enlightenment in the theoretical and practical implication of tactics or not, there seems to have been a sudden yearning for tactical innovations and knowledge of these over the last few years in England.
“Inverted full-backs” at Man City or the “Gegen-pressing” of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, football teams have established an identity or tactical innovations in recent years, something that seemingly passed Steve Bruce by.
In that sense, the liberation, and I do consider it a liberation in the highest sense of the word, of being a pseudo-solid team, a welcome liberation at that.
Saturday’s game was a fine example of how a managerial appointment can influence a team. That being said, it wasn’t our on the ball efforts that impressed me, it was what we did without it.
Press, Press, Press
Upon looking at Dean Smith’s Brentford side from previous years, it was quite obvious a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation would be likely.
Smith tended to favour an attacking 4-3-3 with two high wingers or wide forwards. Luck would have it that this formation tends to fare well against teams that play three at the back. You only have to look at how Croatia nulified England in the World Cup semi-final.
Now pressing is no modern invention, stemming from the 1970’s to 80’s Dynamo Kyiv teams under Valeriy Lobanovskyi or Rinus Michels’ famed Ajax and Dutch national side of the early 70’s. But the implementation of such systems, albeit in the right places is something Villa Park hasn’t seen in while.
With Swansea essentially playing a 3-4-3 which concedes the centre of the park to us but aims to overrun our defence, Dean Smith deployed Croatia’s tactic againdt England of pushing our own wingers high onto their left and right centre-back. This means that while our opposing wing-backs were often left unmarked, their back-three partnership were constantly hurried and forced into playing more high-risk passes.
When our first defensive line was broken, our full-backs Neil Taylor and Alan Hutton pressed Swansea’s wing-backs right from the off. This was helped by a defensive shift across the line, making sure all three of the visiting teams’ forwards were picked up.
Another note taken from the game was how high up the pitch we won the ball back – giving us great field position to mount an attack. John McGinn, who I thought was Man of The Match, was the perfect example, recording 11 duels in the match (the most by an player).
A Work in Progress
Despite a positive start under the tutelage of Smith, let it be known this will be no easy or quick task.
Our first problem is our stamina and for the last few years our ability to play a full 90 minutes at a high tempo has been a fallacy. Fitness related or not, 45 minutes of hard work and effort are not enough in this league and once again, we were subject to a barrage from our weekend oppositiin in the last 15 minutes.
An emphasis on the high-press has been a good start to the transformation and one that will serve well in stopping creative teams formulating attacks, but our play when we have the ball can be caught lacking.
This will undoubtedly take time and whilst the directness and speed with which we broke was encouraging, our play when having sustained periods of possession gets slowed down too often for my liking with the main culprits being our right flank. Ahmed Elmohamady can be frustrating at times, holding the ball or naking a dash for the touchline before dragging the ball back for support which allows the opposition defence reset.
The reign of Dean Smith has well and truly begun and if a week can produce an immediate response such as Saturday’s 1-0 win, I for one will be looking forward to the next several months.
By Jack Cudworth