ZM’s end-of-season awards

May 24, 2010

Claudio Ranieri - the nearly man

The Champions League final has been and gone, so we are now officially at the end of the 2009/10 season. This would not be an internet football site without an article outlining some reasonably pointless ‘awards’, but since this is a site focussed on tactics, hopefully the tactical angle will – like a newly-signed winger that doesn’t appear to fit into the team – ‘provide something different’.

Best substitution(s) of the season:

Claudio Ranieri clearly got his initial tactics wrong in the derby against Lazio, choosing to play 4-3-3 with three central strikers, rather than his 4-2-3-1 that has been so successful. Considering Lazio play a back three, sending out such a narrow attack was a huge mistake. The tinkerman was always going to change his system at half-time, but being brave enough to take off Francesco Totti and Daniele de Rossi – captain and vice-captain, both Roma through and through, was astonishing. On came Rodrigo Taddei and Jeremy Menez – one won a penalty which Mirko Vucinic converted, the other won a free-kick which Vucinic smashed in from 25 yards. Job done.

Worst substitution of the season:

Sir Alex Ferguson taking off Michael Carrick and bringing on Dimitar Berbatov away in Munich was suicidal, and transformed a 0-1 lead into an ultimately crucial 2-1 defeat. Individual errors can be blamed for both the goals, but you can’t analyse a football game solely by how goals went in – taking off a holding midfielder and bringing on a striker when you’re defending a 0-1 lead away in Europe would have been hailed as brilliant if United had increased their lead – but they didn’t, and so Ferguson must take the blame.

Plan B of the season

Barcelona were awful in the first half at home to Valencia, with the Bojan-Pedro-Messi frontline unable to create or get in behind the Valencia defence. At half-time the out-of-form Thierry Henry was brought on for Bojan, and Barcelona switched to something resembling a 4-2-4 – Xavi and Busquets deep in midfield, Henry holding the ball up and dropping deep, with Andres Iniesta wide on the left and Pedro and Messi dovetailing between a striking role and a wide-right position. Barcelona ended the game 3-0 up, and comfortable.

Trend of the season

Frank Ribery & Arjen Robben - the most striking inverted wingers

The use of inverted wingers seemed to be mentioned in every other article on ZM this season. Three of the four European finalists – Fulham, Atletico and Bayern – all played wide players on the ‘wrong’ side to which their foot would generally dictate. Other notable sides using the system were Aston Villa and Manchester City. The Hamburg v Fulham game showed that two opposing sides using the system against each other can produce a fairly boring game when the centre of the pitch becomes congested, but overall they have made for an interesting tactical debate.

Imminent trend of the season

Brazil’s system of playing one central striker and one winger, with an off-centre diamond midfield behind, looks like it could be the next tactical craze. Sir Alex Ferguson outwitted Carlo Ancelotti’s diamond shape this way at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, even if Chelsea recorded a fortunate 1-0 victory. Later on, Sporting Lisbon and then Porto tried the same – we’re yet to see a club side using it successfully (or consistently) – but that could change after this summer.

Most attacking team of the season

Benfica’s 4-1-3-2 system was a joy to watch all season – indeed, it’s slightly surprising that they didn’t manage to score more goals. Fielding Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola behind Oscar Cardozo created a lovely attacking trident, fielding both Angel di Maria and Ramires provided support from the wings, and fielding a ‘passer’ at the base of the diamond in Javi Garcia ensured attacking moves started from deep. Add in the fact that Jorge Jesus insisted on playing midfielders at full-back, and you had a wonderfully exciting team.

Lucio shackled Drogba brilliantly

Individual defensive performance of the season

In the Inter v Chelsea tie, Lucio out-Drogbaed Drogba – nullifying his threat by being more physical and more dramatic – as well as positionally brilliant, of course.

Individual midfield performance of the season

For the second season running, Xavi dictated the Real v Barcelona game at the Bernabeu. Two assists, and two brilliant balls to Messi, who missed one-on-ones. Real’s diamond shape played into his hands, but he exploited the space brilliantly.

Individual attacking performance of the season

Messi’s four goals against Arsenal will live long in the memory – yes, it was a depleted Arsenal side, and they didn’t defend well throughout, but Messi’s performance was majestic, and the variation amongst the goals demonstrated what an all-rounder he is.

Transfer business of the season

As well as getting Samuel Eto’o in return, Inter used the money they had received for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to buy Thiago Motta, Wesley Sneijder, Diego Milito and Lucio, before picking up Goran Pandev from Lazio in January. Therefore, their first choice XI featured six players in their first season at the club. Oh, and they won the treble.

Best individual selection of the season

The Premiership’s top goalscorer (Didier Drogba) who played for the Champions (Chelsea), was dropped from the side for the crucial, title-deciding game away at the the second-placed team (Manchester United). Carlo Ancelotti instead used Nicolas Anelka, who’s more fluid style suited Chelsea’s build-up play and enabled him to link well with Joe Cole and Florent Malouda in the first half, when Chelsea were dominating possession. In the second half, when Chelsea were under pressure, Drogba was brought on to hold the ball up, and claimed the vital second goal.

Guardiola's selection of Ibrahimovic against Inter was surprising

Worst individual selection of the season

Twice Pep Guardiola played Zlatan Ibrahimovic against his former club, Inter, when it was suggested beforehand that it was not the right approach against Inter’s backline. Barca ended up taking Ibrahimovic off early in the second half of both games.

Tactical league of the season

Whereas the Premiership remained fixated on a choice between a 4-4-2 and a system with one striker supported by two wide players, Serie A was notable for the sheer range of formations on offer:

  • 4-4-2: Used throughout the season by Bari
  • 4-2-3-1: Used throughout the season by Fiorentina
  • 4-2-3-1 with no central striker: Generally Roma’s first-choice shape
  • 4-2-1-3: Used in the second half of the season by Milan, and throughout by Catania
  • 4-2-2-2: Sampdoria’s shape, and often Atalanta’s
  • 4-3-1-2 (or diamond): Used by numerous sides, including Chievo
  • 4-3-2-1 (Christmas tree): Used on ocassion by Milan
  • 3-4-3: Genoa’s formation
  • 3-4-1-2: Juventus played this when Zaccheroni first arrived
  • 3-4-2-1: Napoli’s most-used formation
  • 3-5-1-1: Bottom club Livorno’s system
  • 3-5-2: Parma for most of the campaign, and Lazio towards the end of it
  • Small-minded pundits continue to dismiss Serie A, but in boasting the European Champions, as well as a more equal league than La Liga or the Premiership, it remains a fascinating league.

    Goal of the season

    A goal of the season from a tactical point of view? Let’s go for Wayne Rooney’s goal on the break against Arsenal.

    Rooney was brilliant in a false nine role that day, constantly drawing Arsenal’s defenders out of position.

    Park starts the move inside his own area – he could have just smashed it clear, but he didn’t – instead he chipped a beautiful ball to Rooney, and sprinted down the left-hand side straight away. You would expect Rooney to be on the halfway line, but instead he has dropped deep, dragging his marker towards him and opening up space in the defence. He holds the ball up for a second, before passing it to Nani, who sprints towards goal. Rooney outpaces four Arsenal defenders into the box, and here Park’s energy to get level with play (despite having been in his own penalty area just seconds ago) becomes clear – because Vermaelen moves towards the far side to cover Park – only to leave a huge gap in the defence, which Rooney breezes into and sweeps the ball home. An unbelievably good goal.

    Player of the season

    It’s boring to say Lionel Messi, but the answer is quite clearly Lionel Messi.

    Underrated player of the season

    David Pizarro is a wonderful footballer and will probably never receive the recognition he deserves, but he combines being a fancy deep-lying playmaker with being a hard-working midfield battler brilliantly.

    Team of the season

    See here.

    No player in Europe has enhanced his reputation this season as much as Diego Milito

    Big game performer of the season

    Diego Milito scored the winner in the Coppa Italia final, then the winner on the crucial last day of Serie A, then both goals in the Champions League final.

    Manager of the season (title challengers)

    You can’t look past Jose Mourinho, seeing as he won every competition he entered. Inter’s side looked to be fading in March, but Mourinho squeezed two more months out of some very tired legs to complete the first treble in the history of Italian football.

    Manager of the season (Champions League challengers)

    Hard to choose between Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp and Sampdoria’s Gigi del Neri – both guided their clubs to fourth place, for a chance to play in the Champions League for the first time in their clubs’ history. Both assembled settled teams of genuinely quality players, both with a Wengeresque focus on deep central midfield players, attacking wingers, and one frontman dropping off another. The main difference is that Redknapp will still be with Spurs next season, whilst del Neri is off to Juventus.

    Manager of the season (midtable)

    Alec McLeish’s job in taking newly-promoted Birmingham City to a top-half position should not be overlooked. They faded late in the season and finished ninth, partly as a result of Birmingham’s lack of depth – but for a while they looked set for a European place, and were unbeaten at St Andrews against the sides above them in the table, with the exception of Aston Villa – the one game they didn’t want to lose. An interesting aside is that they were unbeaten at home when they played their 4-4-2 system – the two games they lost were when they switched to a 4-5-1 shape.

    Manager of the season (relegation battlers)

    Did anyone expect Sinisa Mihajlovic to become a top-class manager? Probably not, but he took over Catania in mid-December when they were rock bottom of the table, and guided them to a respectable 13th-place finish. 1 win in 15 games before he joined, 9 wins in 23 when he was in charge. The run included an impressive 3-1 victory over Inter, a club he has been linked with, now it appears Mourinho will not be in Italy next season.

    Overall season rating:

    9/10. It’s been a brilliant campaign. Serie A, La Liga, the Premiership, the Portuguese Liga Sagres and the Dutch Eredivisie, won by Steve McClaren, all went to the final day. Ligue 1 produced a six-way title fight and the Bundesliga’s title race was fascinating for three-quarters of the season, even if Bayern eventually ran away with it. The Champions League was excellent – the lack of English clubs in the final four produced more interesting, novel semi-final and final games, whilst the rebrand of the UEFA Cup as the Europa League seems, somehow, to have re-energized the competition. The one disappointment was that the four major leagues were all won by teams who have dominated, or co-dominated, in recent seasons. Had we seen title wins for Arsenal or Roma (probably the neutral’s choice) or a first-ever title for Bayer Leverkusen (or even Braga in Portugal), it would have completed an excellent season.

    And the best bit? We’ve still got a World Cup to look forward to.

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