Winning the Winnables


New Member
Mar 16, 2007
Thread starter #1

New user and all that. Have been reading the site for a few years and really enjoy it. I really wanted to post about stats and tactics, following on from Rob’s interesting squad assessments.(I wrote this before the win against Hearts).

As we all know our inability to score, turn draws into wins and break weaker teams down was the main cause of us not finishing in the top 4 last season: Wigan 1pt, West Ham 1pt, West Brom 2pts, Blackpool 1pt, Birmingham 2pts. Now, I know we actually got 4 pts against Brum but that was only because they were chasing a last minute winner in a must-win league game. If this game had been played at any other time of the season it would have finished 1-1. With this dodgy theory, that is 6 out of 30 points (20%) against those teams, without it, it is 8 out of 30 (27%). Either way, a poor effort. With a 67% points accumulation (20 out of 30 points) we would have finished 2nd.

Last season, we also had 14 draws compared to 7 when we finished 4th and our goal difference dropped from +21 to +9.

Man Utd win the league because they beat all the weakest teams at Old Trafford. They won an amazing 18 out of 19 league games (95%) there last season (Chelsea as runners up won a tidy 14 – 74%). Man Utd actually won the same number away (5) as relegated Blackpool and still won the league. Incredible! (We won a reasonable 7 away games).

In 2008/09, Liverpool finished 2nd under Benitez, doing the double over Man Utd and lost only twice (against us of course!), but still failed to win the league. This was because Man Utd won 16 of their 19 (84%) home games compared to a poor 12 (63%) from Liverpool. Benitez tried to solve this problem the following season by spending far too much on a good, but injury-prone Glen Johnson.

Man Utd consistently create space and chances through their full-backs and never struggle to break weaker teams down at Old Trafford. Liverpool finished 2nd by 4 pts because of their inability to do this – this included home draws with Stoke, Fulham, West Ham, a weak Man City and Hull City (10 dropped points). Sound familiar?

How many goals can you think of with Gary Neville,having bombed forward, receiving the ball in acres of space on the right hand side near the penalty area, taking one touch and then picking out a cross for Cantona/Cole/Van Nistelrooy/Rooney etc. to score?

This was seen last season for us when Alan Hutton came on against Wolves, scoring and winning a penalty in another game which was heading for a dreaded draw.

So much hype is put on the big games (by Sky mainly), and they are the ones as a fan you look forward to most, but in terms of winning the league and finishing in the top 4, they have less significance than is given.

I believe this team is good enough to win the league with a few ifs – if we sign a top striker (it’s looking like Adebayor, which I think could be excellent), if Gomes or Friedel have a great season and if we can get at least 25 league games out of Ledley…so, not likely then.
Also, if we change our mentality, as mentally I don’t think we believe we can win the league – as players, as a club, as fans.

If we can beat the big teams, then we should be able to beat the weaker teams and thus achieve that ever-elusive consistency essential to a sustained title challenge. But it’s not about beating the other big teams,it’s about winning the winnables, because this puts so much pressure on the other teams. If you’re chasing the title and Man Utd have Stoke at home, you know they are going to win. All the other teams cannot guarantee this.

So, tactics! We’ve got a great chance of winning the winnables through using our full-backs effectively. Watching Spurs play these teams last season was quite painful and often dull, especially at home, because the opposition just sat back, let us have the ball and play around with it in pretty circles with no penetration.

I do think the enigmatic VdV has affected this, through wanting to be involved in the middle of every move and thereby slowing the move down, rather than just being in the box waiting for a pass/cross at the end of the move. I don’t think he knows what he wants to be – a creative attacking midfielder or a striker. It doesn’t help. And by not keeping a set position, timing the same runs, operating in repetition it is more difficult for team-mates to know where he is going to be.

The end of 2009/2010 season saw some of the best football played by Spurs in my years of watching (since 86/87). Our 2-1 win against Chelsea was probably the best I’ve ever seen us play against a top team (beating eventual champions Blackburn 3-1 in 94/95 was also excellent): free-flowing, attacking football at its best, with Bale running riot. We never looked in trouble and could have won 5-0 with no complaints from them.

We started last season against Man City like this, only our season-long inability to score preventing the 3 points that day, but only showed flashes of it throughout the rest of the season (Inter Milan and Arsenal at home being notable exceptions). When teams open up against us we can hurt them, as our midfield is one of the best in the league, but weaker teams are not going to do this for this very reason.

Playing Corluka at home (or away, really) in these winnable games is a complete waste of a pick, in my opinion. He does not have the speed or guile to break other defences down. We’ve got the exciting Kyle Walker coming in at right back, and hopefully Harry will start the season with him, because he could make a huge difference in winning these games.

However, one of the other problems is Bale. He is always doubled-up on in home games against weaker teams. To solve this, I would play him at left back, specifically in these games. This is where Pienaar (Livermore/Townsend?) could be effective as a holding left-midfielder, who would allow Bale to break forward and cover for him. There is no way Bale could be marked as a left-back (Prem managers aren’t forward thinking enough to do this) and he is at his best once at full throttle, not receiving the ball with his back to goal and two men on him. He would be able to zoom past Pienaar into space and cause havoc. I know BAE has improved immeasurably and doesn’t deserve to be dropped, but it’s about winning football games not being nice to people.

If we play Walker and Bale as our full-backs in these home games, I believe we will win far more than last season and get back into the top 4…and beyond?
Apr 13, 2006
Excellent post. Ignore the haters who will moan about it being too long, the effort is appreciated.

' but it’s about winning football games not being nice to people.'

I think this is very true and maybe Harry's biggest weakness, as ITK has suggested as well. It's also his biggest strength as that is how he creates teams, by being nice to people.


Well-Known Member
Dec 28, 2004
There was a very good article with the new chelsea boss (will call him AVB) where he detailed the type of game and tactics needed to break down teams who play with two banks of four and sit deep al the time (can't find it now but will look) Anyway it went into how teams like barca use the ball to tempt players out of position and this is something that we don't do. When we come against teams like this we tended (last year) to fall back into the Arsenal style of playing the ball sideways around the area like Arsenal and never made any kind of penetration.

Last nights game was different and we had runners creating space in the defence. Hopefully this is an intentional tactic and something that's been worked on in pre-season but as Hearts were so poor we will have to wait and see if this carries on into the other premiership games.

The one thing that is for certain is that we have the players to break teams down we just need them to get the determination to do it. Far too often last season we let games drift in the third quarter and before we knew it 85 mins had gone and we started panicing and pumping long balls up to the forward line.


Well-Known Member
Dec 28, 2004
There was a very good article with the new chelsea boss (will call him AVB)
Duncan White
The Telegraph
17th August, 2011

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas's footballing philosophy

Ahead of his Premier League debut at Stoke, Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas reveals, in an exclusive interview, how he believes the game should be played and what he expects from his players at Stamford Bridge.

The career of Andre Villas-Boas was famously launched by an encounter with Sir Bobby Robson in the Porto apartment block they shared.
Encouraged by Robson, Villas-Boas would write out detailed scouting reports and leave them for the great man in his post box.
Robson started to invite him to Porto’s training and informal coaching clinics that included Jose Mourinho.

Two years ago Villas-Boas had his own encounter with precocity. On March 27 2009 he went to the Cafe Maiorca in his home town to be interviewed by Daniel Sousa, a 24-year-old student in the faculty of sport at the University of Porto.
“He interviewed me when I was at Inter, assisting Jose,”explained Villas-Boas.

“It was for his university thesis. When I got the club job with Academica back in Portugal I invited him to come and scout for me because from what I saw and heard during the interview it appeared to me that this boy could go all the way, in terms of scouting and in terms of management.” Sousa flourished.
He now does the job Villas-Boas did for Mourinho at Chelsea, working as the opposition scout. Sousa has prepared the dossier on Stoke City that Villas-Boas will have used in preparation for his first competitive game in charge of his new club.
This Cafe Maiorca interview is the most comprehensive expression of Villas-Boas’ football philosophy. In it Villas-Boas explains his theories about how the game should be played and gives a fascinating and detailed insight in what to expect from his Chelsea team.

Circulation: the retention of possession by passing from player to player without taking risks.
Vertical: Up and down the pitch, from goal to goal.
Horizontal: Across the pitch, from touchline to touchline.
Transition: When possession is regained, the opportunity to counter-attack.
Low block: A team that defends with two deep banks of defenders and midfielders. Mourinho’s succinct term for it was “parking the bus”.

A Football Philosophy.

AVB: There are more spaces in football than people think. Even if you play against a low block team, you immediately get half of the pitch.
And after that, in attacking midfield, you can provoke the opponent with the ball, provoke him to move forward or sideways and open up a space. But many players can’t understand the game.
They can’t think about or read the game. Things have become too easy for football players: high salaries, a good life, with a maximum of five hours work a day and so they can’t concentrate, can’t think about the game.
Barcelona’s players are completely the opposite. Their players are permanently thinking about the game, about their movement, about how to provoke their opponent with the position of the ball.
DS: Does a top team need to dominate possession to win a match?
AVB: Not necessarily, for a simple reason. In Portugal we have this idea of match control based on ball circulation.
That’s what we in Portugal want to achieve in our football: top teams that dominate by ball possession, that push the opponent back to their area.
If you go find the top English teams pre-Arsene Wenger they tell you how to control a match in the opposite way without much ball possession, direct football, searching for the second ball.
Maybe now, controlling possession is the reference point for a top team, but that happens because they have much more quality players than the other teams, so it would be wrong not to take advantage of those individual skills.
DS: One thing Louis Van Gaal says is that you can control a match offensively and defensively but you must keep in control defensively you can also determine where your opponent will play on the pitch.
AVB: Yes, I agree. In that sense, yes. But the idea we now have in Portugal of match control is about having more ball possession than the opponent.
DS: Exactly, but match control has to result in scoring chances. That’s the only way it makes sense. There are teams that have like 60 per cent ball possession and that results in nothing at all.
AVB: That’s it. Match control always has to have a purpose, a main goal.
DS: And in that concept of match control, are there any sectors of the team more important than others?
AVB: Well, that depends on the mechanisms you want to use defensively and offensively. Let me give you an example.
Top teams nowadays don’t look to vertical penetration from their midfielders because the coach prefers them to stand in position (horizontally) and then use the movement of the wingers as the main source to create chances.
So, you, as a coach, have to know exactly what kind of players you have and analyse the squad to decide how you want to organise your team offensively. And then, there are maybe some players more important than others.
For instance, many teams play with defensive pivots, small defensive midfielders.
And, except Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso, and maybe Esteban Cambiasso and one or two more, they are players that are limited to the horizontal part of the game: they keep passing the ball from one side to another, left or right, without any kind of vertical penetration.
Can’t you use your defensive midfielder to introduce a surprise factor in the match? Let’s say, first he passes horizontally and then, suddenly, vertical penetration?

AVB: There has been an evolution in football language and football analysis since Mourinho started to coach. There’s a different way of looking at a match, a different way of doing technical analysis.
People have started to look beyond the formation, and started talking about the dynamics within the team and how they’re more important than the team’s formation.

DS: What’s the difference between playing with three or four midfielders?
AVB: Rafa Benitez created a 4-4-2 much more dynamic than the usual English 4-4-2. Because he introduced speed in ball possession, he gave it variation between vertical and horizontal passes.
The usual classic English 4-4-2 is more basic: a penetrating midfielder and another one that stays in position; a winger who moves inside and another one who stays wide; a full back who overlaps and another one who covers the defence.
If you talk about a 4-4-2 diamond, that’s totally different. You play with two pivotal midfielders, one defensive and one offensive, so it creates many more problems for your opponent.
Defensively, though, you take a great risk of ceding too much space because you are very central and you lack width. You have to create compensation mechanisms.
Me, I’m a 4-3-3 fan, not 4-4-2. I don’t see how a classic 4-4-2 could work in the Spanish league, where every team plays 4-3-3 and the superiority of the midfield has become crucial.
What Mourinho did with Chelsea with his 4-3-3 was something never seen before: a dynamic structure, aggressive, with aggressive transitions...and then there is Barca’s 4-3-3, which wouldn’t work in England, because of the higher risk of losing the ball.
If you have midfielders like Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard you don’t want your forwards to come and play between lines, because Lampard and Gerrard have a large field of action and very often move in to those spaces.
Lampard was often irritated with Didier Drogba because Drogba wanted to receive the ball there but then, amazingly, his first touch was poor, so he lost the ball and we were exposed to a transition from the opponent.
So we had to limit Drogba from going there and ask him to play deeper.

DS: Is good ball circulation essential in the attacking organisation of a top team?
AVB: Well, it’s essential to every team. Every team want to score. That’s the purpose of the game. Barcelona play horizontally only after a vertical pass. See how the centre backs go out with ball, how they construct the play. They open up (moving wider), so that the right or left-back can join the midfield line.
Guardiola has talked about it: the centre backs provoke the opponent, invite them forward then, if the opponent applies quick pressure the ball goes to the other central defender, and this one makes a vertical pass.
Not to the midfielders, who have their back turned to the ball, but to those moving between lines, Andres Iniesta or Lionel Messi, or even directly to the striker.
Then they play the second ball with short lay-offs, either to the wingers who have cut inside or the midfielders, who now have the game in front of them.
They have an enormous capacity not to lose the ball, to do things with an unbelievable precision.
Another thing about Barcelona, there is always a full-back who arrives earlier in the attack, the other stays in position initially but then progressively joins the attack, as the ball circulates on the other side of the pitch, so he can be a surprise element. When you least expect he arrives. He chooses the perfect timing for the overlap.
DS: Louis Van Gaal says a vertical pass is not a risk, but a horizontal pass is because when you make a horizontal pass you are much more open, more exposed in case you lose the ball.
AVB: Yes, that’s right. And there are differences between a horizontal pass and a slightly diagonal pass.
Something that used to happen a lot in England, when teams played 4-4-2, was that the central midfielders exchanged the ball between them in parallel passes so what we did with Lampard, or Liverpool did with Gerrard, was to try to cut into that space between the two midfielders with fast movement from Lampard.
If they got the ball there, there were already two opponents eliminated in the attacking transition.

DS: How do you attack a team that plays with an ultra-low block?
AVB: Let’s see. Juventus play with an ultra-low block, they don’t put any pressure on you high up the field. Nowadays most teams don’t. It can limit you because they control the space behind them with perfect offside timing.
They limit your vertical passes as well because they are all grouped within 30 or 40 metres, completely closed in two lines of four plus the two forwards.
So you start constructing “short”, begin the attacking process with your centre-backs of full-backs carrying the ball forward to the midfield area but then you want to pass the ball to the midfielders and you don’t know how to do it, because there is an ultra-limited space, everything is completely closed.
DS: So what to do?
AVB: You have to provoke them with the ball, which is something most teams can’t do. I cannot understand it. It’s an essential factor in the game.
At this time of ultra-low defensive block teams, you will have to learn how to provoke them with the ball. It’s the ball they want, so you have to defy them using the ball as a carrot.
Louis Van Gaal’s idea is one of continuous circulation, one side to the other, until the moment that, when you change direction, an space opens up inside and you go through it.
So, he provokes the opponent with horizontal circulation of the ball, until the moment that the opponent will start to pressure out of despair. What I believe in is to challenge the rival by driving the ball into him.
That’s something Pep Guardiola believes is decisive. And that’s something that Henk ten Cate also took to Avram Grant’s Chelsea. He took it with him form Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona. We did it differently at Chelsea under Mourinho.
Our attacking construction was different, with the ball going directly to the full-backs or midfielders. With Ten Cate, play was started with John Terry or Ricardo Carvalho, to invite the opponent’s pressure. Then you had one less opponent in the next step of construction.


New Member
Mar 16, 2007
Thread starter #7
Thanks for the nice comments and for taking the time to read it. Enjoyed the AVB article too.


Well-Known Member
Sep 2, 2003
Thank you Wakey for taking the time and effort to write such an interesting article, and thanks too to aliyid for finding and posting the equally-interesting article on AVB.
Nov 5, 2005
Very good article Wakey. Makes for an interesting read and shows that we don't always have to beat the "Sky 4" to be successful. I know someone called Wakey... :)