Tammy Abraham: Can he reproduce his EFL Championship form of 16/17?


“Excited to start my new chapter this season with @AVFCOfficial lets get this season rocking” – Abraham on signing for Aston Villa

So Steve Bruce finally gets his man. After a waiting game and a fair few meetings with Abraham’s agent and with other parties more than interested in signing the England Under 21 international, Abraham decided on joining Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El Ghazi on season long loans to Villa Park.

Being a Villa fan myself I was chuffed to see the likes of Bolasie and El Ghazi. With Abraham I have my reservations and I have made this clear on my social media channels. Of course I will be rooting for Abraham and by no means is this an article slating the clubs decision to sign him but I hope it gives a bit more of a fuller picture of what he may or may not bring to Aston Villa this coming season.

Chelsea

Kevin Oghenetega Tamaraebi Bakumo-Abraham to quote his full name joined the Chelsea academy at under 8 level and progressed up through the age groups winning consecutive UEFA Youth League titles and FA Youth Cups in 2015 and 2016 and in doing so scoring 8 goals in 9 matches.

Abraham has scored 74 goals in 98 games encompassing all the Chelsea youth sides he has played in at the time of writing. You would be hard pressed to find many young players with this record.

He made his debut for the Chelsea first team under Guus Hiddink in the 1-1 draw away at Liverpool and then making his home debut starting the game against the newly crowned EPL Champions Leicester City a week later.

Still finding himself down the pecking order at Chelsea meant getting into the starting eleven would be difficult and so at the start of the 2016-17 season Abraham was sent out in loan to Championship side Bristol City.

On fire in the Championship

Abraham came off the bench to score on his Bristol City debut (the goal was later wrongly credited to his City teammate Magnússon). In September he was named Championship Player of the Month (below) scoring 4 goals which also earned him the Young Player of the Month award.

By January Abraham had reached 16 goals and was unplayable at times and was catching the eye of many a Premier League club but interested parties were met with litlle acknowledgment due to the fact Chelsea made it clear there lanky centre forward wasnt for sale.

Abraham’s radar 16-17

Hitting an xG per 90 of 0.42 is not to sniffed at especially in the grind that is the Championship and he exceeded that by scoring at a rate of 0.6 per 90, an excellent return indeed. Abraham played 3425 minutes that season (38 90 minute brackets) and this seemed what helped him achieve such excellent consistency throughout the season.

Bristol City played to Abraham’s strengths something that the other teams he has been loaned out to have not. Dont be fooled by his height and think he needs shedloads of crosses to score goals he has more in his locker than that and it showed at his time at Ashton Gate.

Swansea City 17-18

Abraham playing for Swansea in 17-18

In the July of 2017 Abraham signed a new 5 year contract at Stamford Bridge and then immediately signed on a season long loan to fellow Premier League side Swansea City.

But the move didn’t turn out as well as both parties had hoped with Swansea getting relegated and Abraham having a frustrating season scoring just 5 goals in 21 games.

Abraham’s radar 17-18

Its clear that when we compare the two radars from Abrahams last two seasons we can see how he struggled in a Swansea team that liked to play a possesion based passing game but created very little in terms of goal scoring chances for him and the South Wales outfit ended up pretty much reliant on him.

His goal return for Swansea was poor but more noticeable was his decline in the total number of aerial wins across that season. A big, but not inconceivable, 44 separate aerial duels were lost over the course of the two seasons. Now we know Swansea werent a big crossing of the ball side but this also shows that when it came to the EPL defenders had the better of him the majority of the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Abraham is a threat in the air but equally as good with both feet. With a hold up-turn and shoot style of centre forward play Abraham is able to roll his man on the turn in a Lukaku type movement. With that being said Abraham is often left isolated in games if the style of play isnt suited to his game and being able to adapt to those different styles hasnt always been fruitful.

England’s tall goal threat

I just want to briefly touch on Abraham’s time with the England youth sides of which he has been reasonably successful.

18 goals in 39 games for England youth sides from 2014 up until now is a fairly good return at international level. Abraham will be hoping for more after making his senior debut against Germany in the 0-0 draw last November.

England havent had a tall centre forward since the days of Peter Crouch so Abraham is still a viable option going forward but will he be able to be consistent enough and find some form with a club that suits him?

In summary

Tammy Abraham is still very hit and miss in a lot of people’s eyes.

Whether its been the clubs he has played at or whether certain managers play a style of football that suits him, its not certain what is the best set up and style to get the best out of him but Aidy Boothroyd seems to have got the best out him with the England Under 21’s so maybe Steve Bruce can take some pointers from Boothroyd?

Judging by the 4-1 drubbing away at Sheffield United today Villa need all the help they can get and with Bolasie and El Ghazi providing the anmunition Abraham may have half a chance of replicating that brilliant Championship form from his Bristol City days.

The season ahead at Villa

In my opinion he is best suited in a centre forward pairing (no false nines please) where he can be a target man with flick ons and holding the ball up for lay offs and his ability to pass well for a quicker strike partner.

In terms of formations, and considering the squad Steve Bruce has at his disposal, Abraham could play in a 3-5-2, shown below, (although three centre halves could be a problem now that Tommy Elphick has joined Hull City), or in a 4-4-2. Abraham is not effective as a lone frontman with no coach to my knowledge using him in this way. Can he play with Jonathan Kodija in a two?

Villa in a 3-5-2

Away from home Villa cannot be playing with just Kodija up front on his own, it simply doesnt work anymore maybe this is why Abraham has been brought in?Jedinak will continue at centre back whether we like it or not so now the two wingers have been brought in i believe 3-5-2 or even a variation in a 3-1-4-2 (shown below) is in Bruce’s thinking.

Villa in a 3-1-4-2 formation

The only real other option is one I personally would like to see possibly in the next home game against Rotherham. The 4-4-2 diamond with Grealish at the tip is something I have pushed for for a while now. Its a tad risky with Bree in terms of game time and also Whelan could be left exposed from a Bolasie point of view but McGinn is more than capable of performing defensive duties. One positive is that this shape at least gets the error prone Jedinak out of the back four.

Villa in the 4-4-2 (diamond) shape

Whatever Bruce decides going forward I for one really hope Abraham has a good season and finds his scoring touch so Villa can mount that promotion push once again.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

xG and xA: Some (really) early numbers

Oh not this again, isnt it to early for this??!

The critics of xG (expected goals) and xA (expected assists) will be so annoyed that I have brought this up so early on in the season. In fact some of the main supporters of the two metrics will probably frown upon it as well.

Personally, I like to start as early as possible in collecting the data and also to publish some early tables, I have my reasons and they are the following.

  • Have last seasons top players according to these metrics started the season as they left off in 17/18?
  • Are there any new players that have started the season well?
  • Given relegations and promotions are they any players who have performed well with their clubs?
    Transfers. Have any new signings started well with their new clubs?

The EPL

This is one reason why I like to get a look in early on.

Mo Salah has indeed it seems carried on his form from last season in to this one. Okay i hear you, and I cant push it any further than what it is and of course xG is a minor factor in performance statistics but Salah looks to have returned from an unsettling time with Egypt at the World Cup with confidence and his performances so far have backed that up. His xA numbers arent quite their but they will be, we all know it.

Another Liverpool man Andy Robertson has provided an assist so far and a question to be asked is does Jurgen Klopp want more of this type of attacking threat from the Scotsman this year?

Sergio Aguero is already exceeding his xG numbers and still looking like a world class striker season after season. It should be noted the xG stat is probably irrelevant at this stage (no player will get near .90 per 90 mins all season).

When we talk about assists in the EPL we tend to think of De Bruyne, Salah and Hazard and with KDB out for a few months it will be up to Salah and Hazard (I also expect David Silva, Lucus Moura and James Maddison to have decent numbers xA wise) to have excellent seasons in providing assists for their respective clubs.

SkyBet Championship

According to the pundits and a lot of professional people within English football, this is probably the toughest of the four leagues to get promoted from that I have written about in this piece.

Dean Smith’s Brentford side impressed many people last year and they have began this season well again. With his preferred 4-3-3 shape, with Josh McEacharan in the heart of the midfield, Brentford play a quick, free flowing brand of attacking football and with Neal Maupay at centre forward and having scored 5 goals in as many games and 3 assists to boot Brentford have a striker in form and after his 17 goal haul last term Bees fans will hope it continues.

One of the reasons I gave earlier for wanting to look at some xG numbers this early was to see if some goalscorers would adapt to their leagues after relegation. Step forward West Brom’s Jay Rodriguez. Injury hit Rodriguez looks to have come into some early form and the Championship is suited to him theres no doubt.

Former Villa and Derby striker Andy Weimann is also playing well after his transfer to Bristol City with 5 goals exceeding his xG by 2 goals.

Can Norwich get a good return out of the much travelled Jordan Rhodes? Can Marco Bielsa do the same with the strikers he has at Leeds United until he can get new faces in in January? Both cases are in the balance in my opinion.

Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan is player who has the ability to change a game in the Championship but needs to improve on his assist tally from last year (3 assists) and would do well to repeat the 8 he achieved in the 16/17 season.

Another of Bielsa’s charges at Leeds, Pablo Hernandez, is another man who is very good on the ball and has 2 assists to his name already contributing to Leeds top of the table form.

I expect Leeds United’s Samu Saiz, QPR’ s Luke Freeman and Derby County’s Tom Lawrence to top the assist and xA tables come the end of the year especially Freeman who is more than capable of beating his 12 assists from last year.

SkyBet League 1

Walsall’s Andy Cook has had some very good chances to have at least 3 more goals than the two he has so far. His xG total of 5 suggests the former Carlisle man isnt finishing as well as he should do.

On loan Nottingham Forest hitman Jason Cummings has the opposite issue he cant stop scoring. Having scored 6 goals and with an xG of 3.93 the Scotsman hasn’t had any trouble in finding the net and in doing so propelling Posh up up the table.

Shaun Whalley’s delivery from set pieces doesnt come as a surprise to some of us hence him always having pretty decent numbers when it comes to asssits and he will pick up as the season progresses.

Sunderland’s Liam Gooch looks to be finally finding some form and long may it continue. Gooch has 3 assists already this season and with an xA of 1.95 the signs are looking good for him if he can stay injury free.

SkyBet League 2

In the table above are two reasons why I like to do these tables early.

MK Dons were relegated from League 1 last year but have began the season in League 2 unbeaten but they lack serious potentcy upfront. Kieron Agard has had some very good clear cut chances to add to his 2 goals, trust me ive seen it with my own eyes, hence his xG of 5.3. But his finishing needs a lot to desired and Paul Tisdale will need to think about this area of his squad if the Dons are to mount a serious promotion push.

On the flip side newly promoted Tranmere have a promising goalscorer in James Norwood who has scored 5 times this season and exceeding his xG of 4.07.

Assist wise bottom of League 1 Notts County have Dutch winger Enzio Boldewijn. The former Utrecht and Crawley Town man looks impressive early on and although mangerless after the sacking of Kevin Nolan, County shouldn’t be in the current situation come the end of the season given the squad they have to compete in League 2.

In summary

As I have said a great deal in this article it is still very early days in the season but I hope I have given you some insight as to what you can expect from your team in the coming season.

xG and xA numbers are always open for criticism for different reasons but they are a good marker when looking at taking goalscoring chances and also the creation of chances by the main players who try to provide those opportunities.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Newcastle United v Chelsea: Did Sarri’s team make hard work of getting the win on Sunday?

Hazard after scoring his penalty.

Watching the first 10 minutes of the game at the Sports Direct arena on Sunday it was clear to us all that the tone was set for the rest of the game. Rafa Benitez had clearly set his team up to not lose the game but afterwards claimed he also wanted to try to win the game, the latter didnt appear to be the case at all.

Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri also remarked that Newcastle were very compact which made his sides efforts all that more harder. But were his tactics enough to really hurt Newcastle’s back five?

Formations and tactics

Chelsea though made hard work of their 1-2 win and almost played into Newcastle’s hands. Having 73% of the possession compared to United’s 27% Chelsea dominated the ball but huffed and puffed and were frustrated by Newcastle and the 5-4-1 shape they had employed.

Newcastle and Chelsea line ups

Sarri again went with his much favoured 4-3-3 set up with the excellent Jorginho at the base of the midfield three. N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić were stationed either side of the Italian international and had clear licence to play as close to the penalty area as possible with what seemed minimal defensive responsibilities. Eden Hazard was given a free role across the final third and this is possible due to Marcus Alonso playing as high as possible from left back effectively taking up Hazards position on the left hand side with Kovačić able to move inside but also supporting on that left side. Pedro likes to keep the width made possible by the fact Ceśar Azpilicueta isnt in the same mould as Alonso and tends to play a more withdrawn full back role. Alvaro Morata seems almost redundant at times in this set up and this probably needs to be addressed if he is to be more involved in games.

Sarri watches on from the sideline

This Chelsea side is very well balanced with a clear focus of attacking down the left hand side. In the first 20 minutes of the game Chelsea attacked down Newcastle’s right 62% of the time compared to centrally (28%) and only 10% down the left. A clear focus indeed.

Chelsea’s attacking shape

N’Golo Kanté- suited to the role?

In the graphic above we can see how Chelsea group two players in the inside left and right positions when the ball is with Hazard. Alonso is not as far forward in this graphic but for the majority he would be easily on the back of Newcastle’s Yedlin.

N’Golo Kanté has a new role in this side, favouring a more attacking mindset and given his boundless energy he is still able to fulfil his defensive duties. He is tending to hang around on the edge of the box and if he does this Kovačić and Jorginho are reserved in their attacking intent especially the latter, more on him later. But is this what suits Kanté the most? In my opinion he isnt effective enough in this role and his qualities are wasted in the attacking phase.

In the second half Sarri realised that Pedro wasnt in the game and so decided on dropping Kanté back slightly to enable the Spaniard to fill these spaces on the edge of the box the problem was Azpilicueta was very reluctant to fully overlap like his fellow countryman Alonso on the opposite side probably knowing that Pedro has very little enthusiasm when it comes to defending.

Kovačić linked very well with Alonso and Hazard on the left hand side during the game with some slick interchanging of passes to get Alonso into crossing positions.

Jorginho- The pass master

In the past i have championed the fact i would love to see Jorginho in the Premier League and although i thought he may fit in with Guardiola’s 4-3-3 system at Manchester City but i now see why Chelsea brought him in from Napoli. He fits in perfectly at Chelsea and although his defensive qualities are at times questionable, and he is no Fernandinho in terms of tackling etc, but if he gets Kanté beside him in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid maybe, he has the ability to control and dictate games with his passing, especially his progressive passing into Hazard and co, something that Fernandinho severly lacks.

My pass map above is a carbon copy of Jorginho’s pass maps from his time at Napoli under Sarri. The similarities of the central positioning within the vacinity of the centre circle is uncanny and as his dot size shows he completed 155 passes in Sundays game.

Newcastle’s Mo Diamé did his upmost to stifle the Italians movements but to no avail and although third behind Hazard and Pedro in regards to xGChain (chance involvement) he really is going to be key to Chelsea’s progression this season.

Could it have been easier?

Newcastle v Chelsea xG timeline

Judging by my xG timeline above we can see Chelsea really applied more pressure starting around the 61st minute and on 76 minutes Eden Hazard duly dispatched his penalty after a clumsy foul on him by Newcastle defender Schär.

Up until halftime Chelsea made difficult work in breaking The Magpies down and this theme continued into the second half until the time bracket mentioned above.

Referring back to the pass map i would expect Chelsea to have more width across the pitch from Azpilicueta to Alonso (yes i know i gave reasons in regards to the former earlier on in the article). Pedro although started the game wide but as the game grew he became a tad narrower and, as Kanté retreated, even more so.

Given Newcastle had five across the back i get why Sarri employed the tactic of trying to play a more narrow shape than usual. But Chelsea slightly played into Newcastle’s hands in playing this way partly due to the fact their was barely any width provided due to the issues with Pedro and Azpilicueta but also due to Hazard coming in off the attacking wide left position.

Newcastle had enough personnel in the full back and wide areas to cope and forced Chelsea inside a ploy that worked pretty well until Yedlin had put into his own net on 87 minutes to hand Chelsea the 3 points.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

The (slightly) mysterious case of Domènec Torrent

“New York City is my team now”- Torrent at his unveiling as the new NYCFC head coach in June 2018

Not a typical statement you would expect to hear from a coach on his first day but Doménec Torrent has worked under the best coach in the world for the last 11 years so maybe its not that surprising after all.

Towards the end of last season everytime i was in the process of taking in the footballing splendour that Manchester City were serving up on the way to winning a record points total Premier League title i was aware that one man, one very important trusted man, was absent from Guardiola’s band of brothers on the City bench.

A trusted right hand man

Most people probably wouldnt have noticed Dominec Torrent’s absence but as a self confessed sporadic follower of Guardiola’s career throughout the years, i did, and Doménec Torrent has been by his fellow Spaniards side right from the days when the pair took over the reigns of the Barcelona B team in 2007 winning their first league title that same year.

Guardiola & Torrent at Bayern Munich

Winning 24 trophies together at Barca, Bayern Munich and Manchester City over an 11 year period the friends formed a formidable partnership with Guardiola trusting Torrent to get across his ideas and game plans in training.

“We went to Germany (after leaving Barcelona) and immediately we realised we had to deal with counter attacks and that the football was much more physical” Torrent on his and Pep’s observations on German football.

The statement above gives a good insight into Torrent’s and Pep’s relationship. Name a time when you have heard an assistant manager speaking in this way and for the both of them? The trust between the two is clear to see. They dined outside of football together, plotted, planned and kept winning trophies with the teams they had took on.

“Its a simple drill, you play like a game when you lose the ball react. If not fall back, the first months of training were like this at City” – Torrent on one of Pep’s training ideas at Man City

These kind of ideas and the changing and trying of different formations all came from Pep and Torrent’s relaxed office at the City training complex with music on constantly and Pep sometimes barefoot the two would plan and conconct some of the greatest tactical ideas the EPL has ever seen.

An appointment with the city that never sleeps

Torrent it shouldn’t be forgotten has managed before. Spells at Segunda Catalonia side FC Palafrugell, Palamós who play in the Tercera Group 5 division in Spain and in 2006-07 newly promoted La Liga outfit Girona who are now part of the CFG (City Football Group) of course. Coincidentally as are New York City FC.

Conspicuous by his absence I wondered where Torrent had disappeared too. City fans I spoke to hadn’t got a clue and some hadn’t even noticed he had been absent pitchside during games. Manchester City were quiet media wise and nothing was being said on social media. As it turned out NYCFC fans were none the wiser either.

It came to light that Torrent had departed Manchester in the middle of May to attend a meeting in New York with a view to taking the job that Patrick Viera had vacated after leaving to take over at Ligue 1 club Nice. Torrent never returned. Well not to Manchester City anyway.

So it came to pass in late June that Torrent was announced as the new head coach with barely a mention on Manchester City’s media outlets which to this day i find strange. Only the briefest of pieces appeared in online newspaper websites.

Torrent has started well in New York including an excellent recent 2-3 win away at Toronto and fans seem more than happy with his appointment. Only those with a keen eye and good tactical knowledge will have seen offensive characteristics of the Barca, Bayern and City playing styles of the Guardiola and Torrent era’s.

Torrent takes training in New York

The future

I have always admired Torrent and his dedication to Pep and the way he is able to put his managers ideas into practice with such ease and also the continuity at the clubs they have worked at together. So i was pleased to see him back into a head coaches role and with him essentially still being employed by the CFG there is every chance we will see the two Catalans back together at some point at a big club somewhere near you in the future.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Aston Villa v Brentford: 70 minutes of pressure 20 minutes of madness

“The first half was as good as we’ve played in the two years I have been here”- Steve Bruce after the 2-2 draw with Brentford

I would have to agree with Steve Bruce for the most part. Villa looked up for it from the off with a high pressing game and regaining possession in good areas in the Brentford final third. For the best part of 70 minutes, and although conceding the opening goal, there wasnt a moment went by that i didnt think Villa wouldnt come away with the 3 points.

A sloppy goal from Brentford’s Maupay didn’t stem the flow of wave after wave of Aston Villa attacks and Jonathan Kodija levelled the game just before half time. So what went so wrong that Villa ended up having to fight for a point in a game that they were on top of for the majority?

Team selection and formation

Aston Villa v Brentford starting lineups

Bruce knew that Dean Smith’s team like to keep hold of the ball and use quick, intricate one touch passing in the final third and the selection of the solid Glenn Whelan in the centre of midfield was more than justified but also Whelan was the perfect foil for John McGinn, when in an attacking phase, alongside him.

Jack Grealish again playing in the no. 10 position behind a rejuvenated Jonathan Kodija.

A recent backlash against the choice of Mile Jedinak at centre back hadn’t deterred Steve Bruce again selecting the Australian ahead of Tommy Elphick, more on that later.

Aston Villa v Brentford Highlights

Pressure from the off

It was good to finally see Villa really put pressure on the opposition from the very start of the game with Adomah, Grealish, Kodija and El Mohamady pressing in unison across the front line but noticeably Villa pressed aggressively in wide areas backed up by Hutton and Tuanzebe at full back. McGinn stayed within 5 yards of Brentford’s McEacharan just in front of Whelan in the central areas.

This positioning shown in the graphic below also allowed….

…what is shown in the next graphic to happen in the attacking transitions.

Winning the ball as high as possible allowed the likes of Adomah, Grealish and, in part, McGinn to play in dangerous areas around the box. Balls out to Adomah and El Mohamady out wide, whos delivery is getting better, ended with some good crosses into the box (Villa are the highest crosses of the ball in the Championship with 113). Grealish also tried to dribble his way through various avenues in what was basically a free role for him.

The main issue i noticed was that although Villa got in to some excellent positions overall the ball wasnt moved on quick enough and attacks broke down when gaps to exploit were there.

Exploiting the overload

A fair bit of Villa’s attacking play came down the left hand side with Hutton and Adomah combining well especially when Grealish helped to create an overload and the three were able to combine and get Adomah into the box and into some good chance creating positions.

The importance of Grealish & McGinn

Whelan & McGinn in a double pivot

It proably went unnoticed that John McGinn and Glenn Whelan had a very good understanding in the centre of midfield. Both played in a double pivot set up with McGinn doing most, if not all , the creative work and in doing so he was able to find Grealish and Adomah in areas between the lines on the left hand side (he needs to do this for the right hand side as much as the left but will have incentive to do this when Bolasie comes into the team) whilst Whelan was happy to sit and screen Chester and Jedinak even when Villa were attacking, Whelan isnt getting any younger but some fans massively underestimate his contribution in the team and his experience will be needed against teams like Leeds United for example who are playing their football on the edge of their opponents 18 yard box.

The importance of the final third

Both Grealish and Kodija had decent games for Villa in the final third and to an extent as did Adomah and El Mohamady but in the graphic below McGinn was on the periphery and id like to see him push up that bit further to influence the game even more.

Jonathan Kodija

“Im fully fit, confident and the team is confident with me”- Kodija post Brentford

Having started the season well Jonathan Kodija again played a pivotal role in the draw against Brentford by scoring a brace.

Kodija had a slow start to the game but grew into it as it wore on scoring a wonderful self made goal riffling home a powerful shot after wriggling free of his marker just before half time and then heading past Brentford keeper Bentley deep into added time in the second half to secure a point.

Kodija had done his upmost to hold the ball up dropping deep to make himself available as shown below. A criticism of Kodija is that he doesnt always release the ball when he should do and lay it off to team mates who could progress a move further and then getting into the box himself, evident in patches in this game as well. But in scoring two goals he can be forgiven of course.

The centre back conundrum

Like many i cannot get my head round why Bruce persists with Mile Jedinak at centre back when Tommy Elphick did his chances no harm in the opening game win at Hull City.

Against Brentford Jedinak continually stepped up to engage Brentford striker Maupay just short of the halfway line as shown below. This shouldn’t have been an issue but Brentford have the players in Canos and Watkins either side of Maupay to punish defences and so it proved with Chester having to try to cover his defensive partner on numerous occasions after Jedinak mistimes or misjudges a tackle. This was a concern due to Villa pressing high up the pitch including the full backs and so leaving Chester and Jedinak without cover where Watkins and Canos were operating.

In my opinion Jedinak is the weak link in the starting eleven and needs to be addressed if Villa are to challenge once again for promotion.

In summary

I often worry my articles drag on a bit but their was plenty to get stuck into post Brentford and i hope i have answered some of the questions some of you might have had, its food for thought if nothing else.

Thanks for reading!

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Style and football: Are things finally looking up for MK Dons under Paul Tisdale?

Paul Tisdale
Photo: MK Citzen

Lets start from the beginning

The appointment of Paul Tisdale at MK Dons on the 6th of June 2018 surprised some but maybe not MK Dons fans as whispers of his imminent arrival was hot on the lips of many fans who attend Stadium MK. Tisdale hadnt agreed new terms with Exeter City with whom he was the longest serving manager in English football after Arsene Wenger had left Arsenal.

Exeter City

Having led Exeter for the last 12 years Tisdale, for the majority, had an excellent relationship with the board and fans but cracks had started to appear with fans becoming increasingly anxious at his refusal to change his style of play. This came to a head in April away at Stevenage last season in a 3-1 loss. Fans were clearly disgruntled and chants of ‘Tisdale out’ rang across the Lamex Stadium despite Exeter sitting in fourth place in League 2. Steve Perryman, then director of football at Exeter, bizarrely started his own chant of ‘Theres only one Paul Tisdale’ which probably didn’t help matters at all.

Fast forward to May 2018 and the aformentioned whispers were gathering pace. Darren Ferguson, Simon Grayson and then caretaker manager Keith Millen were names being mentioned in regards to the vacancy left by the unfortunate but inevitable sacking of the very likeable Dan Micciche.

Yeh get on with it, whats changed?

Im getting there, stay with me.

Having spent time at Stadium MK around the first team it was clear to me that all wasnt well but the players clearly knew what was required but moral was ok considering but the legacy from the sackings of firstly Robbie Neilson then Dan Micchie to the brief stint of Keith Millen the players were asked to play in different styles with different tactics and do different things in training and all in a relatively short space of time with Micchie given from January to April to implement his ideas in an already pressurised situation with MK in a relagation fight and seemingly very little light at the end of the tunnel.

Players and fans were together for the most part with the latter doing their upmost to stay with the team in what was looking back, inevitable relagation.

After the Rochdale game last season Micciche had said he wanted 6 wins plus 4 more points to stay up.

Micciche’s wishes in numbers

Needless to say it didnt happen and Dons were relgated and big changes were needed. No matter what calculations i tried i couldnt get MK higher than 22nd.

Example of one calculation

Enter stage left a smartly dressed man born in Malta.

Tisdale and a new era

“Tisdale is renowned for ensuring his teams play short and tidy football” – Sky Sports top ten League managers 2008

Tactically Paul Tisdale is one of, if not the best at League 2 level in regards to his teams playing style and game management.

Tisdale’s Exeter sides in more recent seasons have played attractive, crowd pleasing football now results have varied with the highlight being a League 2 play off final last season albeit being well beaten by an excellent Marc McNulty inspired Coventry City side.

Tisdale seemed to prefer a 4-3-3 shape whilst at Exeter but his thinking seems to have changed somewhat at MK Dons starting in pre season with variations on a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 as shown below in a pre season friendly against Oxford United

MK Dons 4-4-1-1 vs Oxford United

This clearly shows Tisdale’s ability to adapt to the players at his disposal and rightly so he is the manager after all.

A summer of much needed new faces

The signings of Jordan Moore-Taylor at centre back and the welcome return of Joe Walsh alongside him have added strength to a defence that leaked 69 league goals last season.

But more importantly the addition of England Under 20 midfielder Jordan Houghton a confident passer and mature midfielder has been excellent business, MK Dons missed a ball playing midfielder like Houghton last year who could control the pace of a game, a much needed quality missing since the days of Darren Potter some might say. With the aid of a long awaited return from injury of Alex Gilbey the Dons midfield is finally looking much more solid.

Ryan Harley, Lawson D’Ath, Ryan Watson, Mitch Hancox, and Robbie Simpson all came to Stadium MK all in relative quick succession it must be said and this points to Tisdale getting his house in order early so as to get plenty of time with the players and getting them into a system he believes they will be at their best in, being tactically flexible is a fantastic quality to have as a coach as well as being able to stick to a playing style of course.

The appointments of Matt Oakley, Danny Butterfield and Tisdale’s DOF at Exeter Steve Perryman to the backroom staff is equally as important.

Starting the campaign well

Opening game vs Oldham (A)
First home game vs Bury

My pass maps above show the passing networks by MK Dons in the first two games and its clear to see how much more compact the team are this year. With the two wins one away at Oldham and the second at home to Bury setting up in a 4-2-3-1 away at Oldham and a 3-4-2-1 (both are variations on Tisdale’s favoured 4-3-3) against Bury the flexibility of the team not only reflects on the manager but also the fact the players have brought in to what he wants them to do something which was badly missing last season.

Of course every manager wants to start a season well and as i said to people associated with the club building a winning mentality is key especially after last year and Tisdale seems to have done that so far with the Dons sitting in 3rd position in League 2 with 2 wins and and two draws after 4 games and with 6 different goal scorers already the signs are looking good.

I sense there’s a but coming

I have watch every game under Tisdale this year (apart from one pre season game in Spain) mostly on Wyscout due mainly to moving house and its clear things have changed for the better but im sure most Dons fans will agree that striking options are not at a premium with Chuks Aneke’s (top scorer last year with 9 league goals) future in doubt and Kieron Agard’s issues in hesitating when chances come his way this still needs to be sorted come January if no loan deals can be arranged before then with Robbie Simpson the only real option apart from the younger players Dylan Asonganyi, Sam Nombe and the pacey Brandon Thomas-Asante of course.

I have gone on way to long and i hope its been interesting and i will revisit how things have progressed later on in the season.

Thanks for reading!

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

Ederson: Analysis of THAT assist vs Huddersfield

Lets get one thing straight from the start, one of the reasons Pep Guardiola decided on forking out £36 million last July for then Benfica goalkeeper Ederson Santana de Moraes was not that he had previously excelled in sending long goal kicks into centre forwards in goal scoring positions, in fact, since the 2014/15 season, up until Sundays 6-1 demolition of Huddersfield Town, Ederson hadn’t registered a single assist in any shape or form in 7648 minutes of first team football. Not unusual of course for a goal keeper.

He had provided the odd ‘key pass’ here and there but nothing of any worth.

Something more palatable?

According to WhoScored.com the Brazilian international has attempted 1,155 long balls in club football to date and 498 of them have reached there intended target, 43% in fact, so can we start to see some form here? Still questionable?

Fair enough, i agree.

We could try to pick out differing stats from Ederson’s passing past and could end up with various conclusions but one things for certain even in open play Ederson is very, very comfortable with the ball at his feet and, oh very accurate.

We saw last season with Manchester City and indeed with Barcelona before them how Pep likes his keepers to be able to play out from the back sometimes with calamitous consequences re Claudio Bravo, who albeit hilarious to watch and also looks like someone has chucked a firework at his feet, caused more problems than solutions. Joe Hart wasnt deemed good enough either and was shipped out on loan to West Ham.

So Ederson comes in and things already look up in regards to Pep’s goal keeping conundrum. He is calm and confident under pressure, isnt frightened of a Cruyff turn here and there and can ping a pass 70 odd yards to its destination with relative ease.

That Huddersfield assist though?!

Anyway i digress, and to the Etihad on Sunday and City are dominating possession against David Wagner’s Terriers from Yorkshire. City have a goal kick and set up as shown below

A typical short goal kick set up you might say? Indeed but note the positioning of Mendy, Jesus and Bernardo Silva who Huddersfield probably think wont be the first port of call for the goal kick given the positions of Laporte, Kompany and Stones. Little do they know Jesus and Bernardo are positioned where they are for a specific purpose.

Lets stick the Huddersfield players in for context.

The marking is good considering they dont think Ederson will be kicking this ball long by any stretch. They have the City back three penned in, Fernandinho and Gundogan cant receive the ball where they are as they are to being marked. Here is a screenshot from a wider angle.

In my graphic i have marked the arrow where the ball is going and also the runs of the City attackers once the ball has been kicked. The Terriers are off guard and have left Aguero one v one at the back because as i mentioned there’s no way the ball will be kicked long, right?

Ederson pings his 83 yard pass and City are on the move. Bernardo Silva, who starts his run from 10 yards shy of the halfway line, doubles back round Aguero who has sprinted from just inside the Huddersfield left hand side, across the pitch and toward the inside right channel he will end up on the edge of the box somehow with the ball at his feet.

Most opponents will expect you to probably hit a striker, or more fashionable these days, a full back with a longish goal kick (Mendy was a decoy here as this side is where Aguero starts his run from) so this ploy was training ground practised at its very best and as we can see from the final image above, all of City’s outfield players end up pretty much in the Huddersfield half by the time Aguero has chipped the ball over Ben Hamer in the Huddersfield goal.

In Summary

Huddersfield made the fatal mistake of leaving Aguero 1v1 at the back and that in itself is inexcusable but they did not expect Ederson to hit the ball to such accurate effect to the diminutive Argentinian to opening the scoring for the Citizens in what was to be an emphatic victory.

A quick thought on the flip side is that David De Gea attempted to find Fred in the centre circle in Manchester United’s defeat at Brighton on Sunday in a similar ploy yet Brighton left four players in areas around the centre circle but left Fred with enough space to draw him into thinking he was safe to receive the ball. Brighton proceeded to crowd Fred out and dispossessed him quickly and set up a counter attack which resulted in Chris Hughton’s team winning a penalty after a clumsy foul by United’s Eric Bailly so there are ways of attempting to thwart these kind of goal kicks from happening but stopping City from doing it is another thing all together.

One things for sure. Ederson now has an assist to his name after 7742 minutes of first team football.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

The Scouting Network

Take a look at the services that thescoutingnetwork.co.uk can offer your club

Opposition reports, detailed data and mathmatical driven scouting, traditional scouting, pre match analysis reports and so much more and all at very competitive prices.

Keep an eye out for the blog on the website in the next week or so for detailed breakdowns of all the metrics we use when compiling our pre match data driven analysis reports if you have seen my articles and other work posted on here and you have been interested in finding out how it is done go to thescoutingnetwork.co.uk to find out more you won’t be dissapointed.

Gareth Cooper

Data Analyst @ thescoutingnetwork.co.uk

Huge success or massive failure? What can Leeds fans expect from Marco Bielsa

“A man with new ideas is a madman, until his ideas triumph” Marco Bielsa

To say heads in the EFL Championship were turned by the appointment of former PE teacher Marco Bielsa as Leeds United manager ahead of the start of the season would be an understatement to say the least.

Loco Bielsa, Madman Bielsa in english has a reputation as a bit of a, well, character lets say in football circles.

The Argentian coach has had some radical views and ways of coaching in his various roles in the past Espanyol, Argentina, Chile, Marseille and most recently Lille have all been under Bielsa’s control with limited success coming in the form of an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in 2004.

Bielsa stayed in charge of the Argentinian national team for four years, a highlight being a bizarre game against Columbia which saw Argentina miss three penalties in a 3-0 loss with Bielsa getting sent off in the process after a confrontation with the referee.

“In my respect of my expulsion (from the game) the referee was correct in his decision” Bielsa after the 3-0 drubbing by Colombia

The former Newells Old Boys defender earned his stripes in coaching at the same club leading them to several titles in the 1990’s. Stints managing in Chilean football followed but it was with the Chilean national team that he earned cult status with the huge improvement in the performances of the team but also because of his gesturing and antics on the touchline.

He also managed to get stuck in to the issues of the political system in Chile during his time there.

But it was at Athletic Bilbao that Bielsa really came to prominence. Appointed in 2011 Bielsa lead the Basque side to the Europa League Final and the Copa Del Rey finals in his first season albeit losing both finals. Bielsa left in 2013.

Stints at Marseille for a year and then Lille alerted teams across Europe to his tactical nous and inventiveness although his behaviour put possible suitors off perhaps.

Leeds United come calling

So we come to the summer of 2018 more exactly the 5th August at Elland Road against Stoke City, relegated from the EPL last season and who have kept hold of most of that EPL squad bar Xherdan Shaquiri, and Bielsa gets his first taste of what some describe as the toughest league in the world.

Leeds attacked with gusto and their pressing from Roofe as the lone striker all the way back to always-on the front foot goalkeeper Peacock-Farrell was impressive and a feature of Bielsa’s reputation is playing this way.

Leeds players all confirmed at various points in preseason that Bielsa’s methods and relentless fitness work were tough going but it clearly paid off against Stoke who seemed surprised at the intensity Leeds came at them with.

Leeds United pass map against Stoke City
Playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation pressing from Roofe and the midfield four behind him was relentless especially in wide areas where Gary Rowett’s men couldnt even catch a breath on the ball and when in defense to attcking transitions Leeds made the pitch as wide as possible with Alioski and Hernandez on the flanks taking on players and delivering crosses. As the home sides goals flee in Bielsa stayed emotionless on the touchline choosing to stay seated on his upturned water bucket.

“It is the first game, maybe i will get excited” Bielsa after the game

As an Championship fan i look forward to seeing what comes from Leeds and Bielsa as the season progresses but hold on its going to be a hell of a ride.

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics

1950-2018: Formations and tactics across the years

I love a good tactical write up, team formations and tactics have always fascinated me since i was a child and now being involved in football on a daily basis from this perspective is a dream come true!

From the EFL League 2 all the way to the Champions League and International football the way managers set teams up against differing opposition takes great skill and tactical nous especially if you are the underdog of course.

I wanted to take a bit of a break from writing about current teams and how they set up and take a brief look back on how formations and tactics have changed over the years. Mainly for a bit of fun but also to see if any current coaches or managers would ever think about going back to some of the formations that the great Brazilian and Hungary sides of the 50’s used to great success.

So here we go starting with the much revered Hungary team of 1950.

Hungary 1950 (3-2-1-4)

Hungary1950
Ferenc Puskas thrived in the way Hungary played in the early 1950’s

“A new conception of football”  The Times reporting in 1953 after Hungary’s 6-3 demolition of Walter Winterbottom’s England at Wembley.

If we measure success in trophies Hungary wouldn’t be top of the list of course but mention Puskas’ name and anyone who knows anything about football would recognise his name and in this team he had great success scoring 84 goals in 85 matches in his international career spanning 11 years not to mention his club career tallies.

This 3-2-1-4 system is considered the forefather to what we know now as the 4-3-3 system with the term withdrawn center forwards also being coined as a phase in this era. This shape and tactics was set up to score goals at will nothing else and Puskas thrived in this system.

The vulnerability to counter attacks was substantial of course as two of the three defenders acted as wing backs and not your typical center backs so therefore leaving a sole defender plus one midfielder to defend the fort.

Brazil and the samba football 1958 (4-2-4)

“They tend to play football as if it were a dance, they tend to reduce everything to dance, work and play alike.” Gilberto Freyre 1959

Brazil 1958
With the right players Brazil were unpredictable in attack

The Selecao or Brazil to you and I in their 4-2-4 formation is still considered to be one of the best ever but the right players are needed to pull this off and boy did they pull it off!  Brazil had the players to play this way from 1958 all the way through till 1970, winning three world cups in this period. Of course Pele was the main attraction but it wasn’t just Pele that brought the flair. The bow legged Garrincha with his twisting and turning ability on the ball was also a great player in his own right.

Manager Vicente Feola had his team playing the perfect blend of exciting, constant attacking football had coaches around the world scratching their heads as to how to stop them. No one could guess or even anticipate how they were going to score until it was to late.

Didi and Zito were so flexible in midfield that this allowed the front four to run riot even against the best international sides. Pele would often drop deep to receive the ball with Garrincha keeping the width at all times and center back Bellini with his raiding forward runs that left opponents confused. Brazil played this way for over a decade which leads me on to…

Brazil 1970 (4-2-4)

Brazil1970
Considered the best international team ever, Brazil’s world cup winners 1970

Given that Brazil had played this way up until this point still no team was able to figure out the best way to stop them such was the flexibility of the eleven players on the field.

Zagallo, Vava and Garrincha had gone but in came Rivelino, Tostao and Jairzinho in their place and there was no let up in the attacking way Brazil played and with so many memorable goals to choose with one of them being Jairzinho’s low and hard shot against England in the 1970 finals after a fine Selecao build up.  Jairzinho went on to score in every game in the finals in Mexico.

Gerson and Clodoaldo were immense in midfield and as in the past simply let the front four do so much damage with their interchanging of positions and flicks and tricks.

Carlos Alberto was also given license to raid forward from right back and this later on would become a feature of Brazil’s attacking play with the likes of Cafu and Roberto Carlos and then a few years later Dani Alves.

But even the best come to an end, well sort of.

Brazil 1998 (4-2-2-2)

 

Brazil 1998
The revolutionary 4-2-2-2 formation of the Brazil team of the late 90’s

By this time Brazil had started to use the full backs in a more attacking sense and having won the world cup in 1994 no one optimized this more than Cafu and Roberto Carlos with their immense fitness levels, Cafu’s outstanding defensive play and Carlos’ speed and wicked left foot.

Brazil have always been inventive in their formations and the 4-2-2-2 was no exception. This set up didn’t always work so well with them getting beat by a talismanic performance from Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup final of 1998.

This shape was labelled the ‘perfect square formation’ by some. There were no wingers but there were wing backs so this meant the space in between this square in midfield was in abundance.  The passing speed was unbelievable and confused opponents with quick one and two touch passing in tight areas with the inevitable Bebeto or Il Fenomeno- Ronaldo finishing off the move with a goal.

Some of the goals were a sheer joy to watch and I for one was lucky to be of the right age to see them play this way.

Interestingly this shape has been used as recently as last season with Hoffenheim’s exciting young coach Julian Nagelsmann adopting this formation in the Bundesliga.

Barcelona 2010 (4-3-3)

Like the Brazilian team of the early 70’s in international football this Barcelona team has been mentioned as the best club team in decades with La Masia producing some of the greatest and most skillful players La Liga and even the world has ever seen.

Barca 2010
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in a 4-3-3 in 2010

Barcelona and there tiki-taka possession based football took on all that came before them in the 2010 season.

David Villa added to the attacking weaponry after signing from Valencia and Barcelona started where they had left off the previous year winning the Champions League, La Liga and the Supercopa and finishing runners up in the Copa Del Rey final of that year Barcelona were unstoppable in every sense of the word.

Lionel Messi was at his best yet again scoring 43 goals in 53 games and with the evergreen Xavi conducting and controlling the game from the deep lying midfield position and Andres Iniesta creating chances with eye of the needle through balls to Villa, Messi and Pedro Barca were scoring for fun.

Dani Alves was truly immense for Barcelona during his time in the team with his rampaging runs from right back reaching as far as the 18 yard area and into goal scoring positions.

The one two’s on the edge of the box between Messi and Iniesta were a key feature of their play and countless goals were scored this way. Messi was, and still is,  the archetypal false nine and is arguably the best in this position, ever.

Of course good things don’t always last and this was the case with this team but still to this day Barcelona continue to dominate games with possession based football a feature of their coach Pep Guardiola.

Manchester City 2017 (4-3-3)

City2017
The inverted full backs employed by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City last season.

Like Pep’s Barcelona teams the main objective for this City team is to keep possession of the ball for the majority of the game, create opportunities by passing a team to death, and then with lightning quick speed split their opponents open with quick passes into Sane and Sterling coming diagonally into the box for pull back opportunities or indeed shooting themselves.

Guardiola’s pressing rule of winning the ball back as soon as possible once possession is lost is also key in springing counter attacks and although being a year without a title City were back to winning ways last year storming to the title with a record number of points.

The passing range of Kevin De Bruyne is a key feature of City’s play from back to front given that the pace of Sane and Sterling on the run means they can be found in excellent attacking positions.

Fernandinho is the Busquets of this City team but unlike the Barca man he will get forward and has a decent right foot and this is actively encouraged by Guardiola.

So there we have it a very brief, but i hope informative,  history in successful formations and tactics from some of the greatest teams the world has ever seen i hope you have enjoyed the read!

Gareth Cooper

GC Analytics