Welcome to this week's tactics board, where we discuss the pertinent, topical issues of the week in football using X's and O's.
We'll take a deep look at how, if at all, Aston Villa can grab something from their home encounter with Tottenham Hotspur and assess Jorge Sampaoli's electric Chile side ahead of their friendly with England in November and, of course, the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Villa vs. Spurs: Blockades, Counters, Soldado & Size
Aston Villa resume their Premier League campaign following the international break with a difficult home tie with Tottenham Hotspur.
Spurs enter the contest on the back of a dismal 3-0 defeat to West Ham at White Hart Lane, while Villa have taken seven points from their last nine and recently upset Manchester City on home turf.
Despite the form differences, the gap in quality between the two sides stands as a chasm; Spurs are a star-studded outfit with £25 million players on the bench, while Paul Lambert's most expensive player is an injured £9 million Charles N'Zogbia.
To claim the Lilywhites' scalp Villa need to put a perfect plan together, and to do so they need to rely on Spurs shooting themselves in the foot—again.
As exciting as Andros Townsend has been, he's taking away Spurs' width by cutting in off the right at all times. Gylfi Sigurdsson reciprocates on the left, and it forces Andre Villas-Boas' side into a narrow 25-yard area in the centre of the pitch.
Kyle Walker's fitness was undoubtedly a key issue here, and his improved outlook could be the difference, but it's never healthy to play into your opponents' hands regardless of personnel.
Villa could feasibly setup in their usual 4-3-3 system, draft in Yacouba Sylla to level the physical battle and set up a blockade in the middle, daring Spurs to either go wide or beat a five-man wall outside the D of the penalty area.
Can Roberto Soldado beat Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark or Ron Vlaar in the air? It'd have to be a rather excellent cross, that's for sure.
Lambert's side are a counterattacking outfit, and if they can hold on defensively, Andi Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor can wreak havoc on the break. If Ravel Morrison can slice through this defensive line, Agbonlahor is going to have a field day.
But that all hinges on Villa keeping Spurs out, and their last encounter—4-0 to the away side at Villa Park in September—hardly paints the ideal picture. Both squads were much-changed, though, and Christian Benteke's potential return clouds the issue further.
Expect a close one on Sunday.
Sampaoli's Chile: Rising from the shadow of Marcelo Bielsa
Chile secured qualification to the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday night with a 2-1 victory over Ecuador in Santiago.
La Roja ended up third in the CONMEBOL table—just two points off a rampant Colombia outfit and four from a star-studded Argentine setup—despite opening the campaign with four wins and five losses.
The decisive factor? Replacing an underwhelming Claudio Borghi with Jorge Sampaoli midway through the qualifying process and reaping the rewards for making an inspired appointment.
The Argentine coach took over in December 2012 after leading Universidad de Chile to domestic and continental success, and he brings a Marcelo Bielsa-esque strand of tactics to the table.
Bielsa's methods are well-documented, and his approach lead la Roja to their first World Cup (2010) in 12 years. Not only did Chile win games under Bielsa, they won them in style; high pressing, incredible physical fitness, incisive attacks and vertical football were the hallmarks of their game.
Borghi drifted from the new requisite standard, played a deep defensive line and the side looked lost. Enter Sampaoli, a man able to rejuvenate a talented side with remarkable speed due to his belief in the foundations Bielsa had set.
Sampaoli, like Bielsa, shifts his formation between 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 depending on how many strikers the opposition manager fields—the spare-man principle.
They press high, the defensive line shifts up, they play with energy and use their incredible athletes to good effect. Gary Medel can only slot in at centre-back, as while his defensive qualities are useful, a deep-lying playmaker is favoured to exert control over the tempo of the game.
That man is Marcelo Diaz, and he makes the formation tick. He played under Sampaoli at "La U" before moving to Europe with Basel, and he is just one of a number of players who have been drafted in after working with the manager at club level.
If the play isn't flowing through Diaz, it's spearing down the right-hand side via physical marvels Mauricio Isla, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez. The left is a serviceable outlet too, but the right is too strong to ignore.
Sampaoli will always play with three forwards in order to begin pressing from the front and cover the majority of angles, but it's far from your average front line.
Jorge Valdivia, the previously exiled No. 10 under Borghi, has re-entered the scene in glorious form, and plays as the furthest-forward central player between two wide, pacey forwards.
It drops into a 4-3-3-0 in defence and has the ability to both confuse the defensive line and stifle the deeper midfield areas quickly and efficiently, creating turnovers in dangerous areas.
Bielsa lead Chile to the 2010 World Cup and unleashed his unique style upon the world. We gushed.
Sampaoli will do the same in 2014, and although his methods are Bielsa-esque, he is his own man with his own ideas. Tactically speaking, it doesn't get anymore exciting than Chile next summer.