Tactics: Leeds United 2012/2013 Season Preview

To look at Neil Warnock and his teams, only one phrase comes to mind. ‘Long ball’. The hoof. The end of last season put into perspective the quality of football we had enjoyed at times under Grayson. The unbeaten streak during our first season in the Championship was, at times, excellent to watch, and Warnock’s supposed tactical beliefs made me incredibly concerned for the future.

However, from what I saw last week against Shrewsbury, Warnock seems to have, through imprinting his own ideas on the transfer market, made it possible to play a direct game that might actually be entertaining.

Tactics Board

Take his selections on the wings. Varney and Green both seem incredibly unlikely to beat, or even attempt to beat their full-back during a game. Warnock seems interested in bringing in a right sided player, but I’d be tempted to argue that Green will still start, given that he’s a Warnock signing and fits a role that I will describe below. The dynamic player might just fill the role Diouf currently seems to be intended for – an off-the-bench impact player who does not, and should not start off the match.

The way to think of Green is not as a winger. Green is very much a third central midfielder who operates wide. His duty is that of a central midfielder, to break up play, to create new movements on the shift of possession. He will likely float around the same starting lines on the pitch as Norris, with Austin sitting deeper, but rather than operating through the middle, he is to sit out wide. This provides a solidity that Warnock will crave – it basically provides the benefit of a central midfield three without taking away the natural wide play of a midfield four.

On the other hand, Varney, whilst still constrained by a lack of interest in beating his full back, will fulfill a completely different duty. Firstly, he seems naturally inclined to cut inside and float around the final section of the pitch. In fact, the only cross I can remember of his against Shrewsbury, which confused the defence and allowed Becchio a relatively free header he probably should have scored, came from the right wing. Varney also was the target for balls from the back, given his height and aerial prowess. This allows a shift in the direct ball should a large center back have the better of Becchio. Given the relative weakness of most full backs in the air, this will also probably cause a manager to move a central defender to mark Varney in the event of these failures. Were we playing a flat system with a single striker, this would have little benefit.

However, McCormack, operating in the position he always should have been, essentially free to choose between midfield and attack as he desires, will then become a greater threat. The missing center back means McCormack will not be muscled off the ball – he can run at the defence and cause havoc, taking long shots which he has a proven aptitude for. With the stretched back four, McCormack’s excellent positioning and ability when running the line of a defence will also come to the fore. People have questioned where the creative force will come from next year, and whilst I would enjoy the signing of someone with the express duty of providing this, McCormack can fulfill that role.

There was an oft repeated move in the last game where McCormack would gather the ball, run at a defence that was dealing with the threat of Varney from the left, knowing it is necessary to cover this. However, rather than going down this route, Paul Green would run from the right midfield position, moving inside like an attacking central midfielder, and dash past the defensive line as McCormack played the ball over the top. It occurred two or three times and lead to the penalty. It is obviously a set move that is a work in progress, but if they crack it, it could become incredibly dangerous.

Before I cover even further why this isn’t possible to defend against easily, there are two final pieces to the attacking puzzle. David Norris is the most obvious one. Genuinely considered by some to be the midfielder with the best timing of runs in the Football League, Norris proved his ability to arrive at the correct moment with Varney’s knockdown that led to the third goal. In fact, this was the second time he pulled the run off perfectly, and he probably should have done better with his first opportunity.

Secondly, the full backs are of note. Both Peltier and White have the potential to be crossing threats in the final third, especially with Green and Varney both naturally drifting inside. Pearce and Lees, with Austin sat in front of them, are likely a solid enough back three to deal with counter attacks and breaks, especially with White’s rapid pace allowing him to get back and cover if necessary. This allows them to push up when attacking, overlapping the ostensible actual wide players. I am a huge fan of this – with both pushing down the wings, it becomes difficult for a defence to maintain shape and requires the involvement of their midfield to cover for the additional players. Many times, teams are not disciplined enough to ensure this occurs. This means crosses from the left and right can be aimed for Becchio, who is a great one-touch converter of the ball when on form, and with Warnock drilling the skills into him, he should have a good season in front of goal.

Going back to the movement therefore, with McCormack dropping deep, he has a wealth of options ahead of him. Green can run inside, and the defence cannot cover for it – a center back will be occupied by Becchio, full backs need to cover for Varney and the right back respectively, one center back will probably deal with McCormack or offer additional cover for Varney, Norris needs to be controlled by the central midfield pair, given his runs, or he will pounce on any knockdowns. Our full backs will provide the width for crosses, whilst Varney will also attempt to get on to these and help out Becchio. Without sacrificing solidity, Leeds will genuinely have around seven attackers in an attacking phase of play, with the additional ability to counteract counter attacks. In defensive movements, our additional ‘central midfielder’ will stop the years of being overrun in the center of the park.

I hope this is all understandable, but watching Leeds last week gave me hope. Whilst we seemed neutered in attack last season, there is likely enough in the way of movement to allow us to create goals. Warnock has, with his ability to maneuver in the market, probably created a team with the right amount of attack and defence. This bodes well.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1) to read other pieces analysing tactics in a team without tactics.

Is Premier League experience really that valuable?

 

The domestic market is crazy. Liverpool fans know it, Chelsea fans know it, hell, everyone knows it. Inflated prices have been part and parcel of buying from divisional rivals for a hell of a long time. It’s old news, written about at length almost every time another transfer is made for yet another ridiculous fee.

Why bother writing about it then? I’m glad you asked. What has provoked this article, inquisitive reader, is in fact a transfer that hasn’t happened, at least not yet anyway. There’s no easy way to write this without it sounding ridiculous, so I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Wolves have turned down a £12million bid by Sunderland for Steven Fletcher. That’s right, £12milllion, deemed an insufficient amount of money by a Championship club. Apparently they value him closer to £15million. It almost goes without saying that Fletcher, while a decent player, is worth barely half of that. “Well, that’s fair enough I suppose, he’s their player and they don’t have to sell”, you might say, and of course you would be right, there’s no reason why Wolves should be forced to sell their best player for less than they feel he is worth. What makes the mind truly boggle is that Sunderland look like they’re prepared to go ahead and meet the asking price.

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Fletcher has had his head turned by Sunderland, handing in a transfer request earlier this week

Why? The obvious reason is, of course, that Sunderland are a team that are woefully short of options up front. They need a striker, and, with less than one week to go until the start of the season, they need one now. What makes Fletcher so appealing is the fact that he has Premier League experience: the club know what they’re getting with him, there are no worries about settling in or adapting to the English game. A fair consideration when handing over so much money, but is it really enough to justify paying such an inflated fee? Is his Premier League experience really that valuable? Surely there are other options that could do a similar job for a lower price. Highly rated Venezuelan striker Jose Salomon Rondon recently moved from Malaga to Rubin for €13million, or about £10million. PSG will be looking to get rid of a number of players as a result of their recent attacking purchases, including Guillaume Hoarau, who was favoured over Kevin Gameiro towards the end of last season. He currently has a market value of €7million. He would, in my opinion, do just as good a job as Fletcher. Besides, the fact that you know what you’re getting with Fletcher can in fact be used as an argument against his signing. He has experience in the Premier League, but experience of what? Two relegations either side of a 17th place finish. Yes, it would be more of a risk to spend the money on someone untested in the league, but with greater risk comes greater reward should it pay off – with Fletcher you know you’re getting a man who’ll score you 10-15 goals a season, but a player untested in the league could potentially bag you even more. What recent seasons seem to demonstrate, moreover, is that Premier League experience does not even mean the move would be successful. It would make sense paying over the odds for a player if it meant a guarantee of success, but the likes of Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and even Fernando Torres show that simply is not the case.

Look, I’ll be honest. I’m a Newcastle fan. Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than seeing a rival club pay way over the odds for a player who has done little to justify the fee, to be able to mock friends, classmates at uni, and even certain family members who support them. But, honestly, I hope they don’t sign him. It would take the already crazy domestic market and remove what little value there was left. If he flopped it would lead to the argument that “if Fletcher’s worth £15million then X is worth £20million”, and if he succeeded it would add weight to the notion that Premier League experience should make a player twice as expensive as they ordinarily would be. Perhaps I’m biased: the last high profile foreign signing my club made was Papiss Cisse, maybe I’d see the point of paying £6million more for a striker of less ability if my club had recently signed, for example, Asamoah Gyan. But honestly, I really can’t see the logic.

The Dream is Collapsing

Today was not a good day. There has been myriad reactions to the news that came out this morning through the supporter’s trust. I’d like to make a few points about the situation, dispelling some thoughts that seem prevalent:

1) This is all LUST’s fault. BOLLOCKS! The Supporter’s Trust is the only reason this entire process began, pressure applied correctly on Bates and the club. They have been in touch with the buyers throughout and behaved correctly. They have never spread false rumours. They have kept us updated. Without them, who would have informed us? The official site, repository of ‘information’ that it is, has been more concerned with trivialities all summer. Other sources have been wrong entirely at times. The in the know twitter brigade has been at full force. Without LUST, we’d have had to deal with hundreds of different rumours. At least LUST gave us a focus upon which to pin our hopes.

2) Protest should be held outside the ground. Back the team. BOLLOCKS! We’ve currently got four players and a goat. There’s no quality anywhere in the side. Fans seem to be operating under some sort of delusion that Bates isn’t responsible for the standard of players that can be brought in. The players will not piss themselves because the nasty fans start chanting about the person who screwed them over in contract negotiations time after time. Shout, scream, sing. Make it far too uncomfortable for him to attend matches at the club he owns. I’m not advocating violence or vandalism. Peaceful protest will do enough. He’s a megalomaniac. He wants to feel he’s loved. If the majority show their dissent, Ken will not stay around.

Finally, I’d like to make two suggestions. Firstly, as my brother has said, the Southampton protest that was planned would be ideal against Wolves. No one to go into the Kop (or other stands) for the first seven minutes of the match, symbolising seven years of lies, would be an excellent protest for the television audience. It goes against much of what I enjoy at Leeds, but I think it’d work excellently. This could then be followed by seven minutes of Bates Out in the stands.

Secondly, and hopefully LUST is exploring this, protest needs to be organized as if we are members of the Arab Spring or the toppling of any dictatorship in the real world (you know, sans all the violence). We need propaganda of our own to combat that of the club – there’s value in it, as has been understood by world leaders all the way back to Cardinal Richelieu of Louis XIII’s regime in France. Leaflets, pamphlets, posters, banners, flags need to be displayed prominently. We need to disseminate information to those who do not necessarily spend all their time online through paper. The facts about the collapse. Information about how little of our money spent goes on what we love. Dodgy transfer histories.

We need a symbol. Gotham had one. Everyone has one. Can I suggest Noel Lloyd? Bring back a ghost from Ken’s past to haunt him.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1) to read his tear drenched tweets about Leeds.