Back To The Future: Arteta, Ancelotti And The Reasons For Premier League's Goals Explosion - 9jaflaver



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Back To The Future: Arteta, Ancelotti And The Reasons For Premier League’s Goals Explosion



The goal-laden opening to the English top-flight season has been unmatched in other championships around Europe – but why? 

It was yet another wild weekend of Premier League football as two 3-3 draws brought the number of games with six or more goals up to 12 for the season, surpassing last year’s final total of 11 after just five rounds of matches.

Something bizarre is happening, and while there is an obvious correlation with the strangeness of the environment, the terrible defending and wide-open contests cannot entirely be explained by the empty stadiums or truncated pre-season.

After all, there has not been a similar effect in any of the other European leagues still playing behind closed doors.

More likely this is the natural process of a half-decade of obsession with high lines and high pressing in the Premier League – and the chaos this season is a consequence of flying too close to the sun.

The history of football tactics is one of constant evolution, as one dominant methodology gradually reaches saturation point before it is replaced by a model that has reacted to it.

German gegenpressing replaced Spanish tiki-taka, for example, because the former was the most effective way of reacting and negating the latter. But what happens if football reaches a tactical endgame?

In his seminal book ‘Inverting the Pyramid’, author Jonathan Wilson uses the emergence of the false nine to argue that the future of football is towards universality. We might just be approaching that point: the moment lines cannot be pushed any higher; presses cannot be any more frantic; players cannot become more technically skilled.

Perhaps, at this point, football tactics will become cyclical for the first time, and we bounce back towards something retrograde and a more conservative tactical landscape.

The Premier League, a chaotic melting pot of a division, is likely to be the first to experience this retreat.

What most differentiates the English top-flight from the rest of Europe is an eclectic mix of managerial styles. The ballooning wealth of the division, and its subsequent temptation to invest in glamour over substance, has led to an unusual clash of tactics, methodologies and experience.

Only a league as indulgent as this one could see all-time greats like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp rub shoulders with emotional hires like Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The end result is a division in constant flux, of bolt-on philosophy, of clumsy ideas borrowed from more talented coaches.

Chelsea’s 3-3 draw with Southampton was similar to their 3-3 draw with West Brom, albeit in reverse.

Unforced errors from Blues defenders gave the Saints a route back into the game whereas West Brom raced into a three-goal lead, and in both instances the mistakes were compounded by Chelsea’s continual inability to compress space.

They are extremely porous between the lines, frequently conceding goals in the transition because of a disorganised press and erratic positioning. This gets to the core of the issue of high-line, high-pressure, high-risk tactics becoming the dominant mode among England’s elite.

Where Klopp or Guardiola have made this work via extraordinarily complex tactical coaching, the likes of Lampard simply cannot. He does not have the ability to teach the positional play, or the movement, or the synchronicity for it to pay off without leaving his players brutally exposed on the counterattack over and over again.

What’s more, his centre-backs are often caught out because so much is demanded of them in a Guardiola/Klopp-esque philosophy. Modern defenders have to be technically adept, as well as brave in stepping up together and instinctive in sprinting back to cover.

Never have centre-backs been more vulnerable than in 2020-21.

This trend towards ultra-expansiveness has infected many more clubs than Chelsea thanks to the trickle-down effect of tactical fashion. Southampton’s maddeningly high line in their 5-2 defeat to Tottenham earlier in the campaign was a good example, while both West Ham and Newcastle have been caught out by playing in a bizarrely open and decompressed system.

Leicester City have been hurt by lurching between the uber-attacking football that is in vogue and a more reactive approach, as have Manchester United – who continue to look completely bereft of any tactical direction, other than to vaguely imitate the approach of their rivals.

And the high-line, high-pressing trend is even hurting Manchester City and Liverpool this season, as both struggle to maintain intensity after two brilliant, but exhausting, campaigns taking this tactical philosophy to its extreme.

The top two clubs in England have eight fewer points between them than at the same stage in 2019-20, apparently setting us up for a campaign in which around 85 points will do for the title.

Undoubtedly fitness and empty stadiums are a factor in their drop off – as are two ageing squads reaching the natural end of a cycle – but it is difficult to ignore the wider pattern of an era reaching its Icarus moment.

If the next tactical evolution always begins as a reaction to the current predominant method, then the future could be movement back towards counterattacking football.

If that is the case, then maybe Spurs will be the main beneficiaries.

Jose Mourinho has always set himself up as the antithesis to the style that surpassed his dominance in the 2000s, but after appearing outdated just 12 months ago all of a sudden his Tottenham team – by counterattacking and retreating into a midblock – can take advantage of high-risk football.

But Spurs’ 3-3 draw at the weekend pours cold water on the idea they are ready to define the next half-decade. Instead, it is Carlo Ancelotti, Dean Smith, and Mikel Arteta who in various ways point to the future.

Ancelotti and Smith’s teams lead the Premier League table thanks, in part, to their lack of pressing in the opposition third.

Both managers instruct their players to drop back into shape relatively quickly (after applying some initial pressure when the ball is lost), which appears to have created a sturdier system than at any other club.

It is already having an impact on the league. Villa’s 1-0 victory over Leicester on Sunday evening was notable for the hesitant sparring from both sets of players.

Neither pressed and neither sat high, Brendan Rodgers chastened by a damaging 3-0 defeat to West Ham and Villa enacting a battle plan that was drawn up after spending the first two thirds of 2019-20 playing an expansive, high-pressing game that had left them in the bottom three.

Arteta presents a twist to the theory that the Premier League will spring back towards conservatism. One thing that differentiates him from Guardiola (and, ironically, makes him similar to Unai Emery) is his desire to play high-risk short passes out from goal kicks with the express intention of drawing the opposition forward.

The idea is to lure them into a trap by appearing to be vulnerable in your own third, before suddenly evading the press and breaking forward into an artificially-designed, counterattacking situation.

It is an interesting, and beautifully logical, next step in evolving a high-risk possession game to simultaneously play on the break; territorial dominance with all the benefits of territorial retreat.

But even if Arteta’s borrowed idea becomes a mainstream part of the tactical landscape, the natural reaction to it would be a move towards reactivity of the sort Spurs, Everton, and Villa have shown this season. Long-term, the Premier League might be about to take a step back.

But it will not be this year, and, just maybe, that gives those few clubs already ahead of the curve a chance at a title challenge.

source:- goal



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