You can read the first part here
I always try to analyse the defensive phase of a team before the attack. Most professional managers put more preparation and more thought into the defensive shape and organisation, and defensive phases generally have less allowance for a player’s own creativity meaning that they
are less likely to be inaccurate or change on a whim. Don’t get me wrong though some players like Ramos and Pique are as creative in their application of defensive instruction as Messi,
Ronaldo and Silva are in their attacking instructions.
Whilst I’m on the subject, it’s also worth noting that Ferguson is a huge believer in not regulating every step of his players on the pitch. All of his focus on decision making and
problem solving comes down to him then taking a step back and letting his players know when to stick to the plan and when not to on match day. For the record, people who say that Evans is crap are talking nonsense as the guy is the absolutely perfect example of understanding when to dump the plan and when to stick with it. In fact, once you’ve figured out the plan go back and watch this guy to appreciate his ability to improvise in a split second and think one step ahead. I was once shown a video of some Street Fighter player who guessed every move his opponent made then came back and beat him. This is essentially what Evans does every week and why he plays for the biggest Club in the world.
Rant over, for the next sentence at least.
Anyway, there are few major things that I look for in the defensive phase. The defensive pyramid, the type of defensive diagonal, the marking system, the vertical and horizontal width and speed of transition for the hybrid players.
The defensive pyramid is how teams park the bus. Everybody parks the bus, without exception, even Barca winning 5-0. The amount that they do this varies depending on the team, the system and the game. Think of a flat back four, then maybe three DMs (ore two DMs and an attacker who dropped into midfield) a few yards in front of them then two wide guys guarding the on running fullbacks and the one attacker pressing the Norwich guy in possession on the half way line. It’s pyramid shaped! Most defensive formations feature a pyramid shape. I try to look at how both teams are doing this; does an attacker drop back to help? Does more than one? Are the fullback runs getting tracked by wide players to prevent overloads? Is the defensive square between CBs and DMs effectively covering threats? As always, ask the same questions; where are the overloads? What are the transitional options?
The defensive diagonal is a bitch to explain without pictures but I’ll give it a shot. Imagine a flat back four, all in a line. Now imagine Pilkington, a left winger at Norwich attacking United’s right back position. Rafael presses the man (pressing is a WHOLE different topic that
we’ll come to). If Rafael presses the man, what do the other defenders in that flat back four do?
One type moves all of the defenders up in line to Rafael to play an offside. I personally don’t like this as it creates a problem if Rafael gets beaten and now you have three attackers with a broken line of defence (not offside if backwards pass). This is one line covering, or the offside trap as it’s known.
My preferred diagonal is to press RB to winger, then take the right centre back diagonally behind the RB, then the left centre back at a more straight angle then the LB at a completely
straight angle. You should probably think of this in terms of defenders sliding across to cover possession like table football then a gradual diagonal pressing field like a field in physics.
I prefer this because it covers the most bases for me and in my opinion defending is all about covering as many bases as possible for the greatest amount of time. You have your fullback
press the man, a centre back who can make a covering run if he either goes inside or wipes him out for pace on the outside whilst protecting the overload if the winger (as they often do)
decides they’re too knackered/special/a snowflake to track the fullback run but also gives that CB enough time to move into a normal back line with his opposing CB. Coming to this, but it provides a better tagging off zone for each player. Obviously, the cross field ball played at pace may create a difficulty but if the opposing winger has done their job and the opposing fullback has some nouse about them, it won’t signifigantly break the shape of the team. We call this three line covering. The RB pressing is one line, the other CB is the second line and the other CB and LB is the third line. Three line covering is fucking great. United play this against most teams.
Two line covering is a mixture of the two. The RB moves towards the winger, the closest CB moves towards the RB but the LB gets in line with the RB horizonatally. The idea here is that you have both hybrid players (fullbacks) a bit more forward in case you win the ball but if you don’t you have your covering CB next to the RB and the other CB who can judge whether to play offside or to sit deep depending on the opponent.
Again, please remember that this is a basic overview and within all of the above we have the attacking shape overview of the opponent to consider, the defensive midfielders who may or may not respond to the defensive diagonal depending on marking systems and instructions, and the opposition players they are playing against.
Marking instructions are well known really, I’m talking about zonal and man marking. Obviously, all teams operate a hybrid system of zonal and man depending on phasing and opposition. Of particular interest in the defensive phase though is who United are picking up man to man as it
helps you understand the overall gameplan (as man marking means they want them to stop being a part of the game). Is it a mismatch physically or technically? Ryan Shawcross marking Kagawa is a recipe for a red card (and by your view, possible injury) or Kagawa might run the game. Is it worth the risk? Replace Kagawa with Rooney, is it worth the risk now? This risk/reward
system is something that all good analysts should really consider, not just what’s in front of you but what could have been in front of you.
Whilst I am a proud Englishman so love me some man to man marking battles, zonal marking is
quite obviously the standard in football for the past few decades. Whilst I like the pressing implications of zonal, the tagging off keeps me up at night. I’m totally Alan Hansen about it and every game I watch I seem to walk away angry at the application of it. In a somewhat embarrassing story, I once woke up Mrs Devineman in bed because I was sleep-coaching and ‘tagging’ (a.k.a slapping her in the chest) off an imaginary opponent.
For me, tagging wins games. If you don’t tag off at the right time or tag off without understanding the run of the attacker, you instantly create five yards of space and players now will punish you for that to the tune of three points.
Tagging off is a concept in zonal marking whereby you pass a player you were marking in your
zone to the player in the zone that they are running into, so they can pick them up. Sounds simple. It isn’t. I’m almost tempted to delete this so that you may never develop the blood pressure problems that you will now gain if you start looking for this.
Tagging off is a problem because communication might not be fantastic, the distance between two players might be a yard too much or too little (creating space), it might create an unforeseen overload which when you try to cover creates a more dangerous overload in another position that you get punished for, you might misunderstand the tag, you might overly press and lose the ability to tag, you might follow into a different zone. I could carry on all day.
People sometimes refer to this as understanding between a defence. Tactically, you need to star looking at the handover situation and start seeing if there’s any space left. More to that, look at which pairing seems to not really be on the same wavelength. You can then start to see WHY goals were conceeded rather than the simplistic explanations given through punditry.