Welcome to this week's edition of Tighe's Tactics Board, where we discuss pertinent tactical issues in world football.
On today's agenda: an analysis of a "Classic Jose Mourinho" performance at the Emirates Stadium midweek and the possible correlation between formation and corners conceded.
Three-Man Defence Equals Corners Conceded?
It's a sweeping question, and without a full slate of research it's impossible to provide a definitive answer.
What we can say, however, is that studying Aston Villa's games as they switch from a three- and four-man defence under Paul Lambert produces some interesting results with regards to how they're conceding goals.
The backstory is as follows:
Villa had a rough 2012-13 season, and when centre-back Ron Vlaar went down with a two-month injury, Lambert switched to a three-man defence to paper over the cracks of an extremely young and inexperienced defensive corps.
Upon Vlaar's return they switched back to a four-man system, but every now and then Lambert drops in a 3-5-2 formation to keep opposing managers on their toes.
The system worked initially—a win at Anfield and a draw at QPR for Harry Redknapp's first game were strong results—but fell to pieces soon after as the Villans conceded consistently from corners.
The initial reaction read: Villa can't defend corners; but upon closer inspection it became clear that the sheer volume of corners being given away was inevitably leading to an increased percentage of goals conceded using this method.
|Aston Villa (2012-2013): Goals Conceded vs. Formation|
|Manchester City (13-14)||3-5-1-1||13|
|Swansea City (12-13)||4-4-1-1||3|
The above results are gathered from a sprinkling of games over the course of Lambert's reign and make for some pretty astonishing reading. Factor in that Bradford City beat Villa in the Capital One Cup semifinals, and you've got yourself a loaded case for inspection.
So what's different? Why do Villa concede 13 corners against Manchester City in a 3-5-2, then two weeks later concede half that amount in a 4-3-3 against Tottenham Hotspur?
Playing in a three-man defence is night-and-day compared to a two-man defence—particularly if you're playing as one of the outside defenders.
If you learn your trade in a two-man and get randomly placed in three-man, everything changes: positioning, territory, reaction times, decision-making and more.
What you used to do in situation "A" is no longer the case, and Ron Vlaar typifies the struggles Villa have had in converting to and from a 3-5-2 formation.
The Dutchman is in a strong position in this first image, keeping his line (set by Nathan Baker, 2) and waiting to see what happens on the wing. Once Leandro Bacuna is beaten, Vlaar has three options: break rank and close down, set his "point of engagement" somewhere around five yards to his left or wait for a cross to come in.
He takes option three, a fine choice, but what he's not accustomed to is the reduced time he has to make a decision on how to deal with the cross.
He usually plays in Baker's position, and although the distance between them (five yards) doesn't seem much, it goes against everything he's trained for as a player.
Vlaar punts this one out behind Brad Guzan's goal, and Edin Dzeko scores from the resulting corner—a familiar story as far as Villa Park is concerned.
This is just one example of many, many corners conceded by the outside (LCB or RCB) defender in Villa's 3-5-2 system, and it's a case of not being certain what to do with the ball in a new, untested position.
Defenders will always go with the safest option, and in this case it's usually to clear it behind.
Vlaar isn't to blame, and that isn't the point of this analysis. Rather, it's designed to highlight the frailties Villa have endured in switching formations on a weekly/monthly basis.
You can translate this "teething issue" and find it in a number of different teams, in different areas of the pitch, switching formations and potentially confusing their players.
The start to Mourinho's second coming at Stamford Bridge has been muted and unheralded thus far.
The Portuguese tactician took a little while to settle his team down, and performances were disjointed at first, but the Blues have now put together a six-game win streak and seem to be entering red-hot form.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mourinho has arrived.
The 2-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium was classic Mou, and it's starting to look like this new group of players are grasping his ideologies and philosophies in full.
Chelsea played supreme counterattacking football—similar to the performance that bested Schalke at the Veltins Arena the week before—and got men behind the ball to bring Arsenal's age-old frustrations back to the surface.
As Arsenal break in the first half here, the Blues have nine players in their own half to stifle the attack—a flat back four, a synchronised double pivot and defensively aware advanced midfielders/wingers.
Jack Wilshere slips it between the lines, but Santi Cazorla is quickly outnumbered. The Spaniard lays it back to Wilshere, who surges forward, Ryan Bertrand picks up Ryo Miyaichi on the flank and Andre Kevin de Bruyne storms back to execute a superb tackle on the slide.
The Gunners had the ball in the opposing half for less than seven seconds before the Blues produced a turnover.
In the second half, Chelsea settled into a very defensive shape and kept a back line of five at all times. Juan Mata dropped in as an auxiliary right-wing-back, and the defensive line stood firm on the 18-yard line.
It brought flashbacks of a Gunners side unable to break teams down, passing it horizontally across the edge of the box and praying for a way through.
Olivier Giroud is the major reason why that weakness has disappeared—when he came on, he fashioned an excellent chance by charging into the box—but the toothless Nicklas Bendtner offered nothing on terms of "game-breaking" ability.
Arsenal can sweep this under the rug, but fans take note: Without Giroud, old weaknesses will rear their ugly heads. Reinforcements in January are needed.
As for Chelsea? they're going from strength to strength.