Yuki Abe

The team and formation used in every World Cup 2010 game by coach Takeshi Okada.

Having recently tied Portuguese compatriot João Miguel (‘Moreno’) to a three-year contract, Leicester City coach Paulo Sousa is already seeking a rival for him in the defensive-midfield position.

Perhaps Sousa scored a free lunch courtesy of stadium sponsor Walkers – an afternoon spent tongue-tackling the remnants of Japanese Teriyaki crisps lodged in his gnashers then providing the idea of raiding the J-League.

The Japanese market has been neglected by Europe’s more powerful leagues, with suitors presumably deterred by the notoriously brittle East Asian physique, and a general paucity of individuality.

Yet with the worldwide tactical tenor of deploying a sitting-midfielder beginning to engulf England’s lower-league sides, homogeneity as an attribute has burgeoned in attractiveness. Continue reading

Cheick Tioté

Newcastle XI for Sunday's 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Typically British, this scene depicts one of many Steve Harper punts upfield for Andy Carroll to flick on at Kevin Nolan or Wayne Routledge. Carroll won most of his duels with Kieran Clark, creating space for Nolan's - slow - bursts. However, Hughton's bizarre insistence on playing a ridiculously high-line allowed the likes of Stephen Warnock and Stylian Petrov to play quarterback-passes over to Ashley Young or Mark Albrighton. Tioté's athleticism may help United maintain this tactic, as less loose-balls in the midfield will land at the feet of the opposition, and even if they do, the Ivorian offers a better recovery option than the one provided by Alan Smith.

Unlike the majority of their Premier League counterparts, Newcastle United’s squad seems to askew cosmopolitanism. Buttressed by an English spine, you can almost taste its Carling-flavoured depth.

This isn’t to suggest Geordies are a xenophobic bunch – rather, it’s a reflection on a monotonous birthplace-list nestling in a league where Wigan Athletic don’t include a single Englishman in their first-team.

With the signing of Cheick Tioté all but complete, Chris Hughton’s squad is gaining the seemingly-mandatory globalisation-embracing feel the 20 items in Richard Scudamore’s Premier League basket encompass.

The Ivory Coast star will line-up alongside an Argentine midfielder – both of whom will then be in front of a defence boasting a floppy-mopped chap from Córdoba, and a speedy Spaniard.

Tioté joins Alan Smith as the only man on Tyneside to have played under two England managers – Steve McClaren (FC Twente), and Sven-Göran Eriksson (Ivory Coast).

Physically, the centre-midfielder will have no problem in adjusting to the frenetic pace of Premier League life: Tioté is strong, powerful, agile, quick and possesses great balance. Continue reading

Peter Odemwingie

Chelsea 6-0 West Bromwich Albion, 14/08/2010

West Brom today completed the signing of Lokomotiv Moscow attacker, Peter Odemwingie. The fiery Nigerian follows in the footsteps of compatriots Nwankwo Kanu, Sam Sodje and Ifeanyi Udeze in representing the Baggies.

As a fan of the Russian Premier League, I’ve grown accustomed to watching the 29-year-old in action. His versatility and volatility always make for entertaining viewing, and he’ll offer Roberto Di Matteo fresh attacking impetus.

Recently, Odemwingie has found no luck at club or international level. At World Cup 2010, Nigeria floundered, while Loko’s recent form domestically has been laughable.

In Russia, the Uzbekistan-born forward has spent 2010 positioned in various points of Yuri Semin’s 4-2-3-1. However, he’s at his best on the right flank as this favours his right foot. Continue reading

Emilio Izaguirre

Celtic's XI for the opening day victory at Inverness.

Celtic are about to complete a £600,000 deal for 24-year-old left-back Emilio Izaguirre. The Honduran represented his country for two of their three World Cup 2010 games, thankless losses to Chile and Spain.

Superficially, the signing looks a bit pointless – Charlie Mulgrew recently completed his return to Parkhead on a free transfer, and started for Celtic at left-back in the opening day win at Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

However, Neil Lennon seems to be aligning with supporter opinion that the freebie from Aberdeen isn’t of the calibre required for first-team duties at the Glasgow club.

Left-back has proved a troublesome role to fill and perform over the past year at Celtic. 2009/10 saw six different players take on the mantle, and now, better late than never, chairman John Reid & co. are finally reacting – a deal with Izaguirre’s club C.D. Motagua is now imminent.

Continue reading

Marko Pantelić

Pantelić's position in a typical 2009/10 Ajax XI.

It’s unlikely anyone has a passport bearing more wrinkles than the Serbian striker’s.

Cravings for a long-term deal went unfulfilled by cash-strapped Ajax and leave the veteran hunting what would be his 12th club.

Changing team doesn’t just involve moving city for Pantelić, as the 31-year-old tends to combine a change of scenery with a change of country.

His passport has also been stamped in exotic climes while on international duty – summons which have only arrived in great frequency recently.

Capped 34 times, Pantelić has scored for his country in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Algeria, and South Africa.

Goals have also been scored in European club competition; outfits from Albania, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Russia and Slovenia the victims. Continue reading

Thirty-two tastes of tactics

Marcelo Bielsa, Chile coach at World Cup 2010

Listing catch-all formations runs the risk of disengaging the context in which they were used.

Nevertheless, this is generally more applicable to the club game, but international managers must foist an unconditional style upon their sides.

Infrequent contact and matches mean training camps focus upon reacclimatising to the coach’s methods: there’s just too little time before games to adequately prepare new, finicky masterplans.

The World Cup, where opponents are often discovered several days before the encounter itself, illustrates the difference between the international and club game.

Based on World Cup 2010, I’ve captured the essence of each national team’s current tactics and formation. Here are my attempts to encapsulate the findings in browser-friendly pen profiles. Continue reading

Introduction of Cavani a tactical masterstroke

Edinson Cavani

Diego Forlán is the poster boy for Uruguay’s successful campaign in the World Cup, and perhaps justifiably so. On the march to the second round, the former Manchester United striker has steered La Celeste to seven points, four goals, and none conceded.

Yet had coach Óscar Tabárez not implemented adjustments in the wake of that 0-0 with France, Uruguay would likely be on the plane home.

In that game, Uruguay looked empty down the right, and Patrice Evra attacked at will. With Ignacio González as trequartista, and Forlán and Luis Suárez high and horizontal, the South Americans floundered.

Realising his tactics were wrong (but saved from defeat by French incompetence), the former Milan manager identified and addressed the issue.

For the encounter with hosts South Africa, Tabárez included Edinson Cavani, the Palermo marksman, part of a partnership with Fabrizio Miccoli at club level, put out on the right of midfield. Continue reading

What to expect from Algeria

Algeria with the ball. They utilise the left flank mainly, with Nadir Belhadj offering width, and Ziani cutting inside

In the second game to be contested in Group C, Slovenia overcame the much-dismissed North Africans by a single goal. The match-deciding strike was late, and came courtesy of a goalkeeping blunder.

The goal was a cruel blow to one man in particular, as although Algerian ‘keeper Faouzi Chaouchi made a meal of holding on to Robert Koren’s tame strike, the 25-year-old stopper had looked distinguishably sturdy during the rest of the game.

The Slovenians went at him from set-pieces from the off – Boštjan Cesar attacked whip-ins with the air of Bruce Lee. One vertical punch aside, Chaouchi’s fisting was decisive from all Slovenia’s deliveries. Likewise, the rest of the Algerian side defended Slovenian set-plays with a steely discipline, and didn’t give their opponents an inch.

England and USA fans should note that Les Fennecs are as content off the ball as they are on it. Their goal kicks tend to be played short, though expect the occasional (central) punt. For the latter scenario, Karim Ziani shifts inside to flick the ball on.

England’s defence should also note that Rafik Djebbour works hard up top despite a paucity of service or numerical support. Continue reading

Playmaking defenders characterise the losers

Japan vs Cameroon

Despite neglecting to play a recognised striker against Cameroon, Japan still managed to score the game’s only goal. Their African opponents, on the other hand, started with with a striking-trident, but lacked an incision.

The trio of attacking midfielders instead utilised by Okada were wonderfully dynamic and fluid.

Japan’s tactics dithered little from first whistle to last. If anything, Keisuke Honda’s goal was incidental, but unsurprisingly, it resulted from a rare occasion of Japan’s attackers venturing into Cameroon’s box. Continue reading

Who does Löw call on to replace Ballack?

Michael Ballack's injury

Michael Ballack's injury

News broke a fortnight ago that Michael Ballack will miss the World Cup. Rather than just being shorn of a key individual, one who possesses crucial experience and talent, Ballack’s absence is also a blow to the coaching staff’s 4-2-3-1 system.

Bastian Schweinsteiger would have been flanked by the Chelsea man in that ‘2’; the pair supporting a creative and nippy trio of Lukas Podolski, Piotr Trochowski, and Mesut Özil. Now, however, the 33-year-old’s absence leaves Germany shorn of a partner for the aforementioned Schweinsteiger in the wavebreaking/spraying/covering berths.

Ballack thrived in an insurance role during Chelsea’s recent FA Cup final win against Portsmouth. Shielding the centre-backs or slotting in at left-back when Ashley Cole surged, Ballack did his job with all the assurance and class you’d expect from a world class veteran.

Germany play equally surge-minded full-backs in Jerome Boateng and Phillipp Lahm, and Ballack would have provided ample cover for either of those two whenever they bombed upfield.

In the squad Löw and Bierhoff undoubtedly thought long and hard over, the former Fenerbahçe manager has included just two outright defensive midfield and centre midfield options – Sami Khedira and Christian Träsch, both of whom play for Stuttgart. Although creative, classy and highly competent, the 23-year-olds boast a mere two caps apiece.

But it now appears that Khedira is likely to get the shout if a 4-2-3-1 system is used because potential Schweinsteiger-partnering candidates in the preliminary list continue to suffer. With Simon Rolfes already ruled out due to ongoing injury woes, Träsch has now been sidelined for a short period of time: a nasty collision with an advertising hoard during a friendly game leaves him on his backside for at least a fortnight. Continue reading