In modern football, managers tend to emphasise on work-rate. Preferably, having a workhorse in the central midfield area considerably reduces coaches’ headache, while it also helps others' games. Playing alongside workhorses like Joshua Kimmich or Declan Rice can instil some great values such as confidence, proactive mindset, and assertiveness in their partners.
Tomas Soucek, Declan Rice's midfield partner at West Ham, has recorded ten goals this season in the premier league. Being one of the stand-out aerial threats in the league, three of his ten goals came from headers. Intelligent and gifted with an understanding of the game, Soucek risked being caught out of position at times.
Fortunately, from West Ham's perspective, it didn't cost them much. Coming from the Czech Republic league, which largely differs from the premier league in terms of quality, it was a monumental job for Soucek to replicate his performance in England. However, it seems easy as he is playing alongside a workhorse like Rice, who is second in covering distance this season, behind only James Ward-Prowse of Southampton.
While a stalwart defence line is a necessity, it is never sufficient. Defence line should be complemented by an even more commanding midfield. As the demand for pressing games is on the rise, the possibility of being caught out of positions has been a concern for managers. In other words, counter-attacks and individual errors could cost the teams in crucial circumstances.
Defending counter-attacks is an art itself. Although it still remains a luxury for some teams, few Premier Leagues sides have shown the resilience to come out periodically successful in dealing with counter-attacks.
Pep's Post-Christmas City
Post-Christmas Manchester City is one to consider. Battered and desperate after a diabolical autumn run, Guardiola was looking for solutions to his creativity problem while also addressing the flaws. Oftentimes, he used an inverted full-back leaving all other three defenders spread out and another holding midfielder covering the defence line-- meaning that they kept 3-2 defensive shape.
As analysed by Yiannis Tsala, a football coach who runs the iCoachingCloud video analysis platform for pros and grassroots players, City often stuck to a structure that focused on cutting passing lanes through the centre of the pitch, thus forcing the opposition to go wide. When oppositions are forced wide, City's midfield gets time to recover and swiftly establish a numerical advantage around the box which makes it difficult for the opposition to break the defence.
However, the tactic was not constant. Renowned for making hasty decisions in nervous times, Pep got it right against PSG and managed to keep an in-red-hot-form Mbappe quiet. This time, Kyle Walker's pace was the trump card. As usual, Pep adapted to the oppositions. Sometimes using fullbacks while maintaining 2-2 shape and sometimes with an inverted fullback. Crucial to pep's tactics, City's ability to hold the ball was exemplary, it was what made City a potent threat and evidently, they had the right set of players.
Chelsea's appointing Thomas Tuchel has paid dividends. He has brought belief and confidence back in the squad- just what they lacked as a young side. One of the crucial phases of Chelsea has been very well navigated, thanks to changes brought by the manager. Throughout his current stint, Tuchel has been a master tactical manager. One of the strengths of this Chelsea side is the versatility in the midfield. Kovacic's ability to dribble, Kante's relentless running and well-timed tackles and the launch of long balls from Jorginho, Tuchel clocked the skills and rotated them well.
Often playing possession-based football, Chelsea's style of play needed a holding midfielder who was a master at holding the ball. Mateo Kovacic aptly fulfilled the manager's demands. Again, Kante's turnovers after turnovers ensured Chelsea defence had hardly anything to offer.
Overall, Chelsea's success in handling the counter-attacks comes down mostly to Tuchel's adaptability and his well-measured response to whatever the opposition was throwing in his path. As a result, Chelsea conceded only 11 goals from 28 matches under Tuchel, excluding the horror show against West Brom. In this run, they didn't concede a counter-attacking goal either.
Nevertheless, Intense games drew some mistakes from defenders such as Silva's red against West Brom, Rudiger sending the ball in his own net and Jorginho misplacing a pass to gift a goal to Arsenal.
When Virgil Van Dijk was there, Liverpool was one of the most dangerous and feared teams in the world. Known for introducing the idea of Gegenpressing, Klopp made Liverpool the epitome of hard work and devotion. Gegenpressing is a German philosophy he introduced while he was in Germany, which in short, implies counter-pressing opponents in their own territory.
Liverpool had everything; composure in the midfield in Fabinho, imposing personality in Henderson, a running like a madman Wijnaldum, magic in Salah, efficiency in Mane and balancing Firmino and what a remarkable backline. The only way a team could break the defence was playing long balls through the spaces left by their upward-moving fullbacks and not many teams could use it beating aerial imposition and intelligence of the Liverpool centre-backs.
Tofael Mahmud is a third-year student of Economics at the University of Dhaka.