Tactical Analysis: Football Remodeled-The Basics of Scouting and Why transfers, scouting and coaching are drenched in data
Context is important when scouting, especially when using data or when projecting the impact a player might make at a new team.
There are a few variables to consider when determining how good a player currently is and will be for you.
It is not enough to look at just the style of play they have and their current impact alone (the Coutinho problem).
Questions to consider while scouting a talent
- Does he play in similar zones or have a similar role with what we expect him to play here?
- Does he have a primary responsibility/role for his current team?
Here are some general truisms in football:
1. Primary responsibilities on the ball magnify a player’s measurable impact, makes you see only one thing (tunnel vision).
2. Almost everyone looks good when they have to defend a small, compact area. (Good coaches value compactness)
Tactical Example: Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool
Alexander-Arnold in Liverpool’s system has a primary duty of creating chances via passes and crosses into the box from the wide-right zone. Does your system requires something similar? If not, do you think Arnold has the skillset to provide what you want?
Are you ready to accept the risk that he might not be as good in a very different system? Are you willing to pay big money for a player whose value comes mostly from playing in a role he won’t be playing for your team? These are the basics of scouting.
Tactical Example: Cancelo and Walker of Man City
If your system is compact without the ball (or even in the moment you lose the ball), then most players will be good defensively for you. But if you are a team who push up high, then for your 1st and 2nd phase players, you may need those capable of stopping/delaying a counter.
if the opponent happen to breach your compact zones. Cancelo is a good defender in small, compact spaces and will not look bad defensively against teams that won’t do too much to break through. However, if they do, a Walker has the athleticism to keep up and delay the counter.
Cancelo is therefore good against most teams in a league season. But in the CL where you meet quality opposition with frightening abilities consistently, you have to either hope or try to protect Cancelo, which means you may have to make your team less effective than usual.
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The EPL is a unique league in a sense that it has quality players in every team and PnP monsters in its midfields (Berge at Sheffield) or attack (Zaha at Crystal Palace). On top of that, it has more teams closer to CL-level than most leagues. The dangers of counters are more magnified than usual.
Tactical Example: pep Guardiola
Pep was scared of the Bundesliga’s speed of direct attacks when going to Bayern Munich. Why? Because that was not frequent in La Liga. His Barca side could be super-dominant without too much to be afraid of. He, also, of course had difference-makers like Messi in the CL.
He could also be dominant in the CL in Europe because of the tactical novelty of his approach and superior players like Messi. Many tight games in the CL was decided by Messi. He had less of these advantages with Bayern Munich. So Pep reacted to that risk with a tactical shift.
When in Rome, you behave as the Romans do. In England, the threat was unquestionably greater. Same threat as with the Bundesliga but with better PnP players. You saw how his first season went. He needed more PnP monsters, too, in the early phases at least. Enter Kyle Walker.
Kyle Walker comparatively does not have any special attacking brain, yet he remained Pep’s first choice RB. Why? Because he was meant to protect City from the big space monsters of the EPL. Defensively, Walker has had innumerable masterclasses. It was extremely important
Not sure Pep has ever used a defensive RB like this. Note that Pep still has one of the most compact football schemes around. That is on top of having one of the most expansive schemes, too. If you are measuring defensive effectiveness by compactness (which you should), then Pep’s City are defensively great and amazing on the front foot.
That is why they are so effective at winning games consistently. And that is why Pep is a world class coach. Many coaches can coach expansive attacking or compact defensive schemes but not both at the same time.
It is a sign of a top coach. And why someone like Arteta is so highly rated by a lot (extremely compact football). Klopp’s Liverpool are another example of compact-expansive teams. Look at Chelsea under Tuchel, as well. Bayern Munich would be easy for many top teams to beat because of this.
In any case, what I was saying was that you could coach a compact-expansive side but you also need to prepare for the possibility of the opposition breaking through. And that is when you need players who naturally have the pace and power (PnP) to effectively cover large zones.
Usually, in football, most players are imbalanced in terms of technical abilities and natural athleticism (PnP). You need the former to play expansive football while you need the latter to help you win individual duels, defend, and exert physical dominance.
Both aspects are important to effective football and that is how you understand Klopp’s Liverpool. Klopp’s Liverpool are pretty technical. Dijk, Gomez, Arnold, Wjnaldum, Mane, Firmino, Alisson, Salah, etc. Those who are not mentioned like Robertson are not very bad themselves.
The difference is that they are also athletically immense. You simply can’t overpower them. Remember that Klopp already coaches a compact scheme. Add this athleticism and you see why they are so defensively effective. They simply win most individual duels all over the pitch and in Europe.
This is the trend that Arteta is trying to follow at Arsenal. His money signings in Partey and Gabriel are PnP monsters in the early phases. Then they are linked to similar profiles all the time: Tapsoba, Hakimi, Bissouma, Lokonga, Berge, etc.
Note that these linked players are quite sound technically, too. This is not so straightforward, however. When you have the opportunity of signing Thiago Alcantara, you simply do. Why? Because the team is already filled with athletic demons everywhere.
Xhaka is not a PnP monster but he’s difficult to beat in small, compact areas like most. He also has developed a pretty good defensive nous that has made his partnership with Partey one of the most dominant midfield pivots in the league.
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However, a signing like Bissouma pushes Arsenal to another level of dominance. What most people don’t realize is that when you have good players everywhere, you don’t really need a buildup specialist, and when you have successfully pushed up the opposition, your second phase midfielders don’t need to be all that amazing at progressive passing. Why? Because the passes are obvious.
Is it a switch to the flanks or a diagonal throughball to an overlapping player? There are more complicated passes but you don’t need the best passers in the world to make them happen. So long as you have a sound passer. In the CL, where passes are more difficult to pull off due to quality opposition + less space, you still may not need a passing specialist because then you can play a more counterattacking game and a PnP monster helps you more with that.
Liverpool can now get a Thiago because they are now a top side. Before teams started to respect them, they just played their counterattacking game more. Now, teams respect them almost as much as City and they need even better passers. Arsenal are not at that stage yet. They simply need dominance of a slightly different kind, now. That is what Bissouma offers.
Nobody can say Bissouma is a bad passer. In fact, quite the opposite, but he is no Locatelli, true. However, they can more than do with Bissouma because of the added advantage of being a PnP monster that helps Arsenal to dominate space + territory, whether in possession or not.
Locatelli will be good, no doubt, especially in possession, but I’m not sure if he is even as defensively good as Xhaka out of possession. However, he would still be a good fit because he plays in the same exact same zones as Granit Xhaka with the same role. Contextual scouting.
There is just yet one more question at what Locatelli is supposed to be good at. He, more than Xhaka, has the primary responsibility of being his team’s progressive leader out of the early phases. That magnifies his stats. So, in reality, he might be a bit worse.
However, he is truly excellent when using the eye test. So he may just be as good as the stats suggests as well. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he is not necessarily the best progressive passer from deep in Europe as the data says.