The Football Notebook
How Tactical Routines win Football Matches
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
What is a tactical routine, you might be asking yourself?
In the simplest terms, it is just a preworked game day routine by the manager which a set of players on a team execute in response to a specific scenario.
Having a passage of play to fall back on or as a specific tactical choice against certain opposition can be the difference between winning or losing matches, and can ultimately have great bearing on winning titles.
These passages of play can range from a one-touch pass in behind a defence to a series of intricate passes designed to combat certain players and teams.
These often require hours on the training ground and in the tactics room to perfect, but the effort is almost always paid off in full over the course of a season.
A routine can fall into a few categories.
They can be a single pass or a sequence, against only certain opposition or more general without an individual focus
Today, we are going to look at a few of these sequences in the Premier League, and the effect on the matches they were performed in.
The Jorginho Pass™
Of course, this is not really what it's called but Jorginho has made this pass his own over the last few years, and has become more and more effective when playing that pass; particularly at Chelsea under Lampard as coach.
We first saw it really bear fruit when Chelsea played Watford in 19/20 at Vicarage Road. Jorginho indicated to the right centre back Kurt Zouma to play the ball out wide to Mount waiting on the wings. As the ball travelled there, he dropped slightly deeper and towards Mount, checking his shoulder and making eye contact with Abraham upfront in the process. Without hesitation, he whipped a curving ball first time in behind the defence to the England International, who put a composed chip above the incoming Ben Foster and into the net.
At first glance, it seems like a spontaneous moment of brilliance and excellent movement from the striker to break down a resolute Watford defence. And while it definitely was both brilliant and excellent, it is also something that was quite clearly not spontaneous.
The acknowledgement between Tammy and the metronomic midfielder was simply too nonchalant and calm to be something that was made on the spot.
Strikers normally gesticulate and scream at the top of their lungs when they sense space in behind, yet the tall Englishman already knew it was coming the moment Jorginho checked his shoulder.
This proved to be a vital goal in a narrow 2-1 win over Watford - and with the difference between CL and Europa League football just 4 points, was key in reducing the pressure on Lampard’s men.
The Jorginho Pass was used many more times over the course of 19/20, but the most notable one was just a few weeks ago in the thrilling 3-3 draw with Southampton.
Jorginho received the ball in his own half’s right half-space from a player on the touchline and immediately played a first time floating curled ball over the top of the Saints defence to Timo Werner who controlled well, tapped the ball over the onrushing McCarthy and then headed into an open net.
Ironically, this was also Chelsea’s fall as former Blue Oriol Romeu played an identical pass in behind the Blues’ defence. It did fall comfortably to Zouma, but he fumbled it, followed by a blunder from Kepa and then a goal for Che Adams. Of course, it was obviously not perfect, but it led to the goal that turned the game on its head.
This simple passage of play has been Chelsea’s ‘get out of jail’ card many times over the past season-and-a-half, and has definitely helped their cause out massively.
Whenever Jorginho plays(which seems to be less and less these days) you can count on Chelsea to try and use this specific movement to break down tough defences.
Liverpool Right-to-Left switch up vs Everton
In contrast to the Jorginho sequence, this Liverpool one was rather elaborate, involving different movements, a range of passes, and the perfect timing of the entire team - and was also directed at exposing a specific weakness in the opposition.
Everton received many plaudits from many people for their sensational start to the season. Don Carlo seemed to be getting the best out of his team, former Galactico James Rodriguez was proving that form is temporary but class permanent, and Calvert-Lewin looked like the second coming of a prime Cristiano Ronaldo.
But since those 4 wins on the trot, they have somewhat faltered, before presently undergoing a mini-resurgence.
They first dropped points in a rather controversial Merseyside Derby versus Liverpool.
It was a fairly even game, with both sides having their own share of good chances. However, Liverpool managed to create a large majority of theirs through the use of an intricate series of passes that were eye-catching to the neutral and devastating to the Everton players.
It was focused on one player; James Rodriguez .
James is an incredible player - but not one that really contributes to the defensive side of the game. Positioned on the right, he did not track back much, often leaving the ageing Seamus Coleman to take 2 players on himself.
And the last two players he’d want to take on alone would be Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane.
The sequence started with Trent - he often is the starting point for their attacks - and ended with Robertson on the left-wing ready to deliver the ball into a box full of deadly Liverpool attackers.
Trent receives the ball then plays a pass to whoever drops into the deep right half-space; that may be Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, or the electric Mo Salah. From there, whoever got the ball turns and drives, then plays a one-two with Firmino(who drops deep in between the opposition midfield and defensive lines). At the same time, Sadio Mane tucks in, waiting on the shoulder of the last defender and forcing the right-back to come in. This creates space for Robertson, who gets the ball from either Hendo, Thiago, or Salah on the left flank.
From there Robbo is free to cross the ball in, drive at the defence (which is how they scored) or even take a shot himself.
Had James Rodriguez tracked back, the Scotland captain would be marked, putting a halt to this movement. But because he puts his energy to use in attack, he rarely got back.
Carlo Ancelotti had tried to stop this about half an hour in by using the boundless Abdoulaye Doucoure to cover for Rodriguez on the right. This slowed down Liverpool’s rapid progress but also opened up the centre for Thiago to dissect Everton’s defence from deep. The Spaniard is probably the best in the world at doing so, and this is what led to Liverpool’s disallowed winner.
But this shows that having a very specific and intricate set of passes and movements is one way in which to break down stubborn defences and cause many headaches for opposition players and managers alike.
Aston Villa’s Asymmetric Wing Play
This passage of play is once again different from the last two; this is simply a movement of the two wingers and two fullbacks in Villa’s system.
They play a 4-2-3-1. Grealish occupies the left wing with Trezeguet opposite on the right, and Matt Targett at left-back with Cash on the other side.
When the ball is progressed into the opposition half, it shifts from this…
… to this.
Grealish and Targett simply move further upfield and the Villa Skipper tucks in slightly. On the right flank, Cash and Trezeuguet swap vertical zones, and both also push forward.
Take the other players out the equation, and we can get a closer look as to why.
From the blue lines, we can see the half-spaces, with a line in the middle showing us the attacking half-space and the deeper half-space. Half spaces are used to create chances and score goals; it is the space between the opposition fullback and centre back, a channel which can be used devastatingly.
A 4 man defence facing this positioning will be forced to shift to their own left; the left-back occupying Trezeguet, and the right-back on Grealish. What this does is completely opens the left flank for Targett to run through, creating a 2v1 with Grealish against the right back. Matty Cash will have free will to receive, turn, drive, or play crosses in from a deep zone. Watkins upfront is great at finishing these sort of chances.
Should the 4 man defence stay central, Grealish will be in a 1v1 against a centre back, and using his excellent dribbling will be able to take him on and score goals. In addition to this, Villa’s right back and right-winger will have a 2v1 against the opposition left-back.
If they shift right to occupy Grealish and Targett, Trezeguet will be able to run in behind unmarked.
There is no real counter for this sort of movement, and therein lies the ingenuity of this system.
A backline of 5 players would counter this better, but would leave a lot more space for the deeper Cash to whip in cross after cross, and would leave more space in front of the box for shots on goal. It would also damage their own ability to attack, having taken one player from the forward or midfield line and put them in defence.
But are there any negatives to creating these types of gameplays?
Well, it depends. Chelsea’s play through Jorginho does not really have one, as it is simply a supplement to their normal attacking play.
But one like Liverpool’s could potentially stifle creativity in some scenarios, or be predicted and therefore countered - which could be detrimental to their build-up play. In a similar vein, Aston Villa’s movement is fairly easy to observe, and given time any quality manager would come up with a suitable strategy to beat the movements.
Having said that, the advantages are just too great; especially when a passage is devised specifically for a game or opposition. This means an opponent must predict your plan, which is an incredibly difficult task. It also means you can control the game and make it suit you. This tends to facilitate great team performances and then tangible results.