6 Tactical Trends to Watch for in World Football Next Season
Every single season, clubs and managers evolve tactically and try new things. Football is cyclical, and things go in and out of fashion as quickly as anything else.
We continue our forward thinking and take an early look at some of the trends set to hit football hard over the course of the 2013-14 season.
Enjoy the slideshow!
Continued Rise of the "Suffoco"
Last year, we looked at the possibility of the No. 10 position being revolutionised.
Mario Mandzukic had set a standard by playing as a disruptive attacking midfielder, sticking himself to Andrea Pirlo and preventing him from orchestrating from deep. We named this "suffoco."
It's the one-stop method to nullifying a regista, and this season most of the top clubs in the UEFA Champions League followed suit.
Pirlo was stopped by a combination of Toni Kroos and Mandzukic, Xabi Alonso was man-marked by Danny Welbeck and Mario Goetze and Ilkay Gundogan shadowed by Duda.
In league football, Marouane Fellaini and Ivan Rakitic are two examples of better sides utilising this.
Expect to see it rolled out to the lesser teams in Europe's top five divisions.
First the classic No. 10 went, as special attention from defences limited the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme—who are blessed with wizardry in their feet but hindered by a lack of mobility—disappeared and gradually forced the rise of the quick, agile playmaker in the hole.
Enter Mesut Oezil.
So football reverted back to the deep-lying playmaker (or regista), and suddenly Andrea Pirlo was once again a world-beater. The rise of the suffoco led us to one undeniable conclusion: Typically speaking, registas lack the pace to evade their markers.
Xabi Alonso is slow, Pirlo is very slow and Xavi is hardly quick.
The "new-style playmaker" that Jonathan Wilson alludes to in Inverting the Pyramid is in the mould of Luka Modric—the player comfortable orchestrating from deep, yet also mobile and possessing the ability to dodge challenges.
Watch out for Mateo Kovacic here.
Italian Sides Leaning Toward a Four-Man Defence?
This season has seen the rise of the three-man defence, and no league epitomises that more strongly than Italy's Serie A.
The large majority of Calcio teams utilise either a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2—with Walter Mazzarri conjuring a very effective 3-5-1-1 at Napoli—but toward the end of the campaign many toyed with a four-man defence.
There were doubts about the three-man line's hopes at the very highest level after Juventus fell heavily to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League, but Barcelona's subsequent crushing may have calmed those.
Mazzarri has switched to 4-3-3 midgame on occasion (he's even tried a false-nine), and Vincenzo Montella now favours the very same system. A few more Italian sides will consider this one.
Playing Three at the Back When Down to 10 Men
Dropping down to 10 men due to injury or a sending off is always tough on a manager.
Jose Mourinho used to spend an hour or so each week making his FC Porto side play with 10 so they could adapt seamlessly should it happen in a real game, but he's a true anomaly.
When Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham went down to 10 against Arsenal earlier this season, he switched to a three-man defence and set Gareth Bale free on the left.
It kept a sturdy(ish) base and allowed wing-backs to stretch the field, allowing constant offensive presence. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the standard 4-4-1 with two banks of four.
Older Managers Bouncing Back
For the last season or two, it's been all about new, young coaches being given a chance to shine.
Inducing that decision from club's respective boards was the tactical freshness 30-something managers provide, doing away with archaic methods and truly getting the best out of their players in the analysis room.
There was always going to be a reaction, and it's fantastic to see it happen so quickly: Many of the older managers (compared to Andre Villas-Boas, for example) have bitten back and fallen in line with the modern era.
Steve Bruce had been signed off as a managerial dinosaur in the past, but his Hull City side have achieved automatic promotion on the back of clever decisions and finding the right formation (3-5-2) for the players.
It's what he didn't do at Sunderland (ie. play Ahmed Elmohamady in the right position) that's seen the Tigers re-enter the big time.
Anything Pep Guardiola Does
The false-nine has lost its gloss due to Pep Guardiola's sabbatical, but the godfather will be back in the game with Bayern Munich next season, and he's already plotting his moves.
Guardiola has a cult following in the tactics regions of the game, and we're all expecting the Spaniard to excite us once more with another great footballing twist.
He is a trend-setter—even among fellow managers—and does a fantastic job turning the pages of tactical history and picking out what might work in the current era. Most of what he does will be copied.