The Isolation of Jefferson Montero

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Mont

Football today is largely driven by narrative, the emergence within society of social media as led to people from all over the world being able to join in discussions around the game with opinion being gauged and narrative set. That is in part why it is so easy to become an overnight sensation in today’s game. That was highlighted at the beginning of this season when the Ecuadorian winger Jefferson Montero shone so brightly for Swansea in consecutive matches against Chelsea and Newcastle United. The performances of Montero in these games echoes back to a previous generation of footballers before the introduction of inverted wingers and the reintroduction of inside forwards as Montero’s performance on the left wing left experienced Chelsea full back Branislav Ivanovic with twisted blood and led to Dutch international full back Daryl Janmaat being sent off for two rash challenges in the early stages of the match. Jefferson Montero is a stereotypically old fashioned South American winger with great pace and the capacity to beat a man going inside or outside, he is not however an overnight sensation.

Whilst it is true that Swansea signed Montero directly from Morelia in the Mexican Liga MX that does not mean that this is the Ecuadorians first exposure to football in Europe. In 2009 Montero moved to Villarreal of Spain, a club that is well renowned for spotting young talent in South America. There was little doubt in Spain that Montero was a player of real promise but he never quite managed to add consistency to his skilful attacking play and after loan spells at both Levante and Real Betis he chose to move back to a more familiar style of football and joined Morelia of Mexico. Why then has Montero suddenly developed a sense of consistency that has been missing from his career to date? The answer lies at least in part with the tactical system that Montero now finds himself in at Swansea under coach Gary Monk. Last season Monk held true to the tactical framework that had been used by his predecessors Michael Laudrup and Brendan Rodgers with two wide players holding high positions and stretching the field horizontally as well as vertically. This year however after a productive summer of recruitment the framework has altered slightly in a way that has created more freedom and opportunity for Montero on the left hand side.

Using the half space

One of the keys to the summer recruitment for Swansea was the signing of Andre Ayew on a free transfer from French club Marseille. The Ghanian international brings a lot of experience to the club but he also possesses a high level of tactical intelligence which has allowed Monk and his staff to experiment with different structures and combinations throughout the side. One of the first shifts has seen Ayew playing primarily on the right but with more freedom to come off of the line and play in the half space between the centre and the right hand side.

Ayew moves in to the half space

 In this image you can see Ayew circled in red and currently situated in the half space that I have marked on the image, in taking up the more central position Ayew has emptied the entire right flank and the Swansea right back has advanced in to an attacking player. In this example Swansea have six players staggered across the right side of the pitch overloading the opposition defence and forcing them to narrow their position. This gives Swansea both a series of strong connections through which to move the ball on the right side and an advantage on the far side of the pitch where Montero and the Swansea left back will both be isolated against an one or two defensive players at most.

Montero wide position

Here once again Ayew has moved from his apparent starting position on the right flank and taking up a position in the half space. Once again the structure of the Swansea attack means that there are five Swansea players involved in the initial build up but once again Montero is left in a wide and high position ready for the play to be switched to the left side.

Montero isolated

Here you can see Shelvey in possession of the ball on the right hand side of the pitch and once again Montero is isolated against the defensive player on the left flank. With the range of passing that Shelvey has the long switch is always an option and Swansea use that concept very well.

This practice of overloading one side of the pitch and isolating attacking players on the other side is a tactical concept that has become popular in European football over the last few months with Bayern Munich in particular using Douglas Costa in the Montero role and creating opportunities for him to get the ball in one on one situations with the opposition defender. Being part of this trend further reinforces Gary Monk’s position as one of the more tactically progressive young coaches in European football.

Tactical Intelligence

Whilst it helps that Swansea have been able to implement a system to make the most of group dynamics created by the new signings at the club it is still important that players have the necessary skill to beat a defender in a one on one situation and make the most of the opportunities being presented. Montero excels in this with his pace and willingness to attack space behind defensive players.

montero options

Here you can see an image captured when Montero takes possession of the ball in an advanced position on the left flank and you can see that the Newcastle defenders are fully aware of the danger he poses as three men are closing him down. A player like Montero though always has options and although the most common option that he will choose is to attack the fullback down the wide channel to get to the touchline he also has the capacity to attack the space to the inside of the deepest defender or to cut square to create an opportunity for a strike at goal. This capacity to do the unexpected makes him very hard to defend and means that when he is isolated on the left side he is even more dangerous to opponents.

Montero Presses

Swansea are by no means Bayern Munich or Barcelona when it comes to pressing the ball high up the field but they are very capable of utilising situational pressing when the need arises. When the opposition have weak possession or when the defensive players are weak on the ball then they will press the ball. When they do press in this situation Montero is one of the key players as his speed means that he can close the man on the ball down very quickly. He is also very adept at using his positioning and his body to prevent the defensive player from being able to play the easy pass out of the defence.

It is clear that so far this season Swansea have been utilising a slightly different structure to their play with the key reason for that shift being the signing of Andre Ayew and his tactical flexibility but at the same time the individual qualities of players like Jefferson Montero play a large role in the positive start to the season that we have seen so far. If they can continue to build on this interesting framework and play to the strengths of players like Montero then there is no reason that they cannot challenge for a European place.

Stefano Pioli’s Flexible System

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When Vladimir Petkovic was sacked by Lazio president Claudio Lotito after agreeing to take over the Swiss national side the side from Rome turned as so many other Italian sides do to a former coach. Edoardo Reja had initially left Lazio in 2012 after a relatively successful spell in charge and had been replaced by Petkovic. Under both coaches though the criticism from the fans and the media was the same, Lazio lacked a defined tactical identity.

With Reja in charge they were often cautious to a fault playing slow methodical football and failing to take the initiative against teams that would use a low block and compact shape to slow the game down. In part Petkovic was appointed due to his reputation for playing fluid attacking football having set his Young Boys side up in a 3-4-3 system whilst managing in Switzerland. The reality however was somewhat different and Petkovic instituted a strategy that saw Lazio concentrate largely on playing quickly in transitions but still the familiar failings against the low block remained. After Reja left the club for a second time a host of relatively big names were linked to the vacancy, so you can understand the disillusion of the Lazio fans when Stefano Pioli, especially when you consider that Pioli had already experienced failure in his managerial career with spells at the likes of Parma, Sassuolo, Chievo, Palermo and Bologna to name a few.

What the Lazio fans perhaps did not expect was for Pioli to display a level of tactical flexibility and intelligence that belied his managerial career to this point. In terms of systems Pioli started his time with Lazio using almost exclusively a 4-3-3 although at times the attack was left isolated with a lack of a truly dynamic runner from the midfield three. This led to a rethink from Pioli and a switch to a more orthodox 4-2-3-1 with two central players in a double pivot providing the base for the attacking players to exploit. No matter which system was employed though Pioli promoted quick, attacking, fluid football with a front three that had permission to interchange and switch positions to take advantage of space in the attacking third. The central attacking midfielder is given licence to roam across the width and depth of the pitch often dropping deep to link with the two central midfielders and leaving a pocket of space for others to move in to. This exciting attacking system has seen Lazio rise to third in the table with one match remaining. If they can avoid defeat then they will qualify for next seasons Champions League. Let’s break down the system used by Pioli so far this season.

Defensive Phase

In the defensive phase Pioli likes to maintain flexibility by using a medium block and neither committing a large amount of resources forward to press the ball nor leaving space behind the defensive block that the opposition can exploit with direct passes. As much as possible Lazio try to disengage their defensive line from pressuring the ball carrier to maintain their shape. That means that the midfielders in particular have to work a lot harder to press the ball and stop the defensive line from becoming overloaded by midfield runners.

defensive support

In this example you can see that the Lazio defensive line has positioned themselves at the 18 yard line. In these deep defensive positions it is normal for the central attacking midfielder to drop deep to support the two central midfielders and as you can see there are three Lazio midfielders set up in a narrow defensive shape. The player closest to the ball will apply pressure to the ball carrier to prevent a dangerous pass or shot whilst the central of the three players will look to support him to prevent the Cagliari player beating him in a one on one situation. The far side central midfielder is then free to track any midfield runners that threaten to overload the defensive line.

There are times however when a medium block can be exposed defensively in that the gaps between the midfield and attack of the defence and midfield can be too large and the opposition can overwhelm the defensive structure by using quick direct passes in transition to attack the space.

No cohesive defensive shape

Here you can see that Chievo have looked to bypass their midfield and used a long diagonal pass to the wide area, the gap between the Lazio defence and the double pivot in midfield is too large and exposed and any Chievo player either dropping in to the space or moving forwards to occupy the space will be in a position to cause a real problem to the Lazio defenders.

Transition

Over the last few years there has been a huge movement amongst both amateur and professional analysts to promote the idea that the transition phase is the key phase in the game. The idea is that when you first lose the ball the opposition player that has recovered possession will be exposed without immediate support for a short pass and that therefore if you apply immediate pressure there is a chance of winning the ball back immediately. At the same time the belief is that should you win the ball back in a deep position from the opposition then the other team should be in the attacking phase and not set in defensive positions. A quick direct pass can often lead to an attacking overload and increase your chances of scoring. Lazio under Pioli are very effective with direct transitions.

Bypass midfield

Here you can see Lazio attacking in transition in a 4-2-3-1 shape. The ball has just been recovered and the immediate direct pass to the strikers feet is used and the entire opposition midfield is bypassed. By playing an immediate lay off to a supporting player facing the opposition goal the entire width of the field is opened up. Pioli encourages his wide players to attack the gaps in the defensive line looking to force the defensive line backwards and open up more space to to play in the opposition half.

MC breaks lines

This time Lazio again utilise the direct first pass although this time it is the attacking midfielder in the 4-2-3-1 that has dropped in to a deep position to receive the ball. This piece of movement though has emptied a significant space between the opposition defence and midfield and when the AM drops deep one of the two central midfielders is given licence to move in to more advanced areas. Here you can see that the striker will either look to hold his position or drop in to the space that has been left whilst the two wide attackers attack the spaces in the defensive line.

Attacking Phase

There are two key elements to the attacking play under Pioli, fluidity and support. The midfield setup with a double pivot especially lends itself to lines of support in the attacking movement.

pivot in possession

Here you can see that with Cagliari sitting in a low or medium block the double pivot is ideal in terms of maintaining and developing possession of the ball. There are clear passing lanes between the two central midfielders and the three defensive players that are closest to the ball so that the angle and depth of the attacking movement can be changed easily and quickly without fear that the opposition can pressure the ball effectively.

structural shifts

This is an example of Lazio in a sustained attacking phase when the ball has already been recycled backwards at least once and the opposition have set up in a defensive position. In this instance the central striker has found himself in a wide left position and has moved laterally to a central area. This in turn draws the opposition full back in to a more narrow position and opens up space on the left flank. The Lazio full back is able to exploit the space and the fluid attacking movement is completed by the left sided central midfielder who moves left in to a support position both allowing the ball to move backwards easily and making sure that the opposition can’t exploit space in a quick transition.

This fluid movement and close support make it very difficult to defend against Lazio over an extended period as they are extremely adept at creating and exploiting pockets of space in the attacking movement.

Stefano Pioli would almost certainly have not been the first choice amongst Lazio fans to take over from the popular Edoardo Reja but in his first season he has already experienced remarkable success – success that has seen him linked to the Italy national team job should Antonio Conte be lured back to club football. Juventus are without a doubt the strongest team in Italian football at the moment but there is no reason to doubt that Lazio could be in a position to challenge them next season if the board choose to back their coach with a strong recruitment drive over the summer. Stefano Pioli is another example of a coach that has failed in previous jobs but has the game intelligence to learn from his own mistakes and come back a stronger and better prepared coach. The future is bright for Lazio

Initial FM15 Impressions From A Seasoned Player

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This is something of a first for this blog, a guest post. The author is Nick Davies who as of today is the proud owner of a brand new Football Manager forum having previously been an integral part of The Dugout. The new forum can be found at http://www.footballmanagernow.co.uk/ and is very much worth a look, you’ll find my and my writing there too.

If you’re anything like me, you await the new version of Football Manager with a mix of excitement and apprehension! Have they brought in the changes the game was crying out for, or have they changed something that didn’t need to be changed? The imminent arrival of FM15 has been no different.

Luckily for us, or perhaps SI, we have a beta version to whet the appetite. As such, it’s important to remember that it is just a beta and maybe things will change even further when the full game is released. If not straight away, then after the patching process.
For me, it’s always the smaller changes implemented by SI that I really appreciate. Imagine my horror then when I see the first, big change:

The New Side Menu

So they have completely changed the user interface and introduced a side menu. Imagine my even greater shock when I realise that as far as SI ideas go, it’s not half bad. There’s no bones about it, the side menu will take some getting used to and I still find my cursor automatically starting to move to the top of the screen only to be jarred to the side swiftly. I like the simplicity of the new menu and the fact that they introduced a ‘one-click-finds-all’ way of thinking. As has been documented already, the headlines page is too bright, but when viewed less regularly, I find it far more acceptable. Thankfully we can tone down the regularity with which we see it.

Scouting

My initial thought is that the page is very squashed. And I say that as someone who plays FM on a 24″ monitor. It’s basically the old player search screen and a condensed version of the scouting screen amalgamated together.

I understand the need for less clicking, but any more than four options selected in the search criteria and I’m having to scroll down those options anyway. So much for less clicking and it being more manageable.

When you drill into the actual scouting process it’s much more user friendly and SI have done a good job in making it more customisable with the added option to send your scout(s) looking for either a ‘first team player’ or a ‘backup player’ etc.  The addition of them choosing a position for that player, followed by a role, is also a welcome one, although admittedly not for everyone.

Scouting might take a bit longer to set up now, but the fact it’s more customisable makes up for that.

Also, somewhat linked to scouting, is the lovely little reminder you get that a league you have subscribed to is starting. You get an option to scout that league, which is a Godsend for those of us with squiffy memories!

Scout Reports

Lets be honest, they didn’t need changing. Do they contain any information that we couldn’t see from the FM14 version? Not that I’ve noticed, but I find them far easier to gauge a player at a glance. Straight away you can see if the pros outweigh the cons in the first half a second’s viewing. I like the bullet-point style

One

 

Match-day Features

Lets be honest, the match-day experience is a massive part in the way most players view the game. If you’re one of those players that only use commentary only, you’ll miss all of what I’m about to explain I like. For me, this could be the difference between me using 2D or 3D this year.

Stewards. Yes,  the addition of stewards at games has got me genuinely excited and I’m not afraid to admit it. I don’t what it is. The way they stand there in their orange jackets with their arms folded behind their backs probably. The introduction of team colours in the stands gives the match some personality, as do the flags and jumbo screens. It feels far more immersive than ever before. Crowds seem to react to the action now rather than just being cardboard cut-outs at a football game. I don’t play with sound on (my missus would leave me) but I imagine if did, it’d push me over the edge of excitement!

two

 

But all good things must come to an end and there are thing about FM15 that I don’t like. I know, how can a guy that likes the addition of stewards at games dislike anything, right? Wrong.

The Tactics Screen

No. Just no.

I’m not sure who thought of the idea or of the justification behind it but it doesn’t work and I hope SI see the error of their ways and change it sooner rather than later.
The removal of the roles and duty from the tactics screen is one of the biggest SI faux pas’ of the last decade. And I lived through the debacle that was CM4. Was that a decade ago? Probably longer. It’s far less manageable having them shifted over to the left and I’m not a fan of being able to see your squad until you sign them a position.

The whole idea of clicking the blank space to add a player is terrible, but even more so when the pop up box it opens doesn’t even listed players in order of position for you. It’s far easier to drag and drop, but takes far longer than the old way of right clicking on a player to fill a position. 

One good re-addition is the ability to click on a player on the tactics pitch to bring up his instructions. That’s good and that can stay.

Press Conferences

I expected a lot from these this year and have been left disappointed thus far. The initial meeting with the chairman and your assistant is exactly the same, thus not giving us any extra rapport with the man at the very top of the club. Chairman have needed more personality for years and this ‘welcome meeting’ would have been an excellent place to start.

Press conferences in general look very much the same. I’ve had a few different question so far, but most of them are the same but worded differently. I understand that it’d be very easy to make press conferences ‘too much’ and inundate the player with questions, but I’d like to see them be made more intelligent and react to what’s happening in-game.

The addition of interviews in the tunnel is nice, but again, the questions need to be made more intelligent with relative answers.

three

 

Training

I’m big on my training and have never liked the change from the sliders. I’ve learnt to accept the change and the fact the sliders are never coming back. What I did expect to see though, was an evolution of the current way of doing things. I am left disappointed.
In individual training you can now set it based on ‘support’ or ‘attack’ duty should you wish to. The whole thing just feels like a bit of overkill to me. Again it takes longer, with too much clicking.

That said, I do like the fact we can now click on the ‘Squad Training Happiness’ graph and see who is unhappy and why.

Set Piece Creator

I feel like I’ve spoken until I’m blue in the face about this thing. It’s largely pointless and far too simplistic. I was hoping the additions of Prozone and the motion capture stuff would have seen a real revamp in set pieces, but nothing has changed since it’s introduction. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s EXACTLY the same.

It’d be amazing to be able to configure set piece routines instead of the wildly broad ‘near post’, ‘far post’ options. Being able to configure individual player runs would be pretty sweet and add a whole new dimension to the game.

As it is, I can leave set pieces alone, set a taker and still watch 8-12 goals be scored from corners and freekicks each season.

Conclusion

There are a number of ‘features’ that have been added in order to impress people with the ‘FM15 with 1,000 new features’ talk we have to endure pre-release, but there are also some good ones. There are clearly issues with the game to iron out, but the base is most definitely there for the best version of Football Manager ever.

There is plenty I haven’t experienced yet and I’m sure I’ll unlock some more pros and cons along the way.

The big flaws are the lack of movement on the set piece front and the tactics screen. The new scout reports are great and the match-day experience is the best it’s ever been.

Will I be getting the new game? Of course. But SI could have released FM14 with a data update and I’d still have bought it. Me and half a million others, I imagine.

Eulogy

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Hi,

After nearly a year and a half and over 117,000 views of FM Analysis it’s time to close the doors for the last time. Far from being something negative I’m viewing this as a huge positive. Plans are underway for an extremely exciting new project that could conceivably benefit the entire ‘FM Scene’. This project is however very ambitious and is very much in the embryonic stages, as such I would ask that you be patient with me.

I would like to leave you all with my heartfelt thanks. The amount of people that have viewed, shared and commented upon this blog has truly taken me by surprise and I genuinely appreciate you all.

I’m leaving this corner of the scene when it’s arguably at its strongest. New blogs are appearing all the time and the quality and quantity of content available  is superb. The future of FM blogging is certainly bright.

Thanks

FM13 Recommended Reading

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At the moment the FM scene is enjoying an abundance of quality writing both on various blogs and on the more traditional forums. In an effort to celebrate Football Manager Analysis surpassing the 100,000 view mark I thought that I’d share some of my favourite articles of recent times.

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FM Veteran

“The pocket” is a term which is more readily associated with American Football, used to describe the space which is created by the offensive line and within which the quarterback operates, finding time to pick the right pass. In our brand of football, it is probably more often referred to as “playing in between the lines” or “playing in the hole”. However, these terms are either too cumbersome for repetitive use in an article or something which I have an illogical aversion to and so, for the next two and a half thousand words or so, I’ll be referring to it as “the pocket”.

Here you can see a typical example of a player utilising the pocket. The opposition is playing a standard 4-4-2 whilst our AMC has picked up a position in acres of space waiting for the turnover. When this turnover is achieved, the ball is quickly fed…

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4-4-2 Lobanovskyi’s Legacy

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4-4-2, A formation that in today’s game conjures an image of English pragmatism at its very peak. Week in week out those watching would be lectured on the need to have two banks of four players in order to make it difficult for the opposition to break you down. Commentators, analysts, journalists and coaches all agreed that this was the optimal way for a team to be set out in order to make them “difficult to beat”. It wasn’t always this way though and indeed football revolutionaries like Arrigo Sacchi and Valeriy Lobanovskyi remained adamant that 4-4-2 was the formation that best encapsulated their groundbreaking football theories. More

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