Today, The Football Front speaks to Jonny Mullins the creator of Lanky Guy Blog, who is one of the brightest young and upcoming football analysts in the blogsphere.
Hi Jonny, thanks for coming on,
Let’s start off with the Champions, Man City, in your eyes did they deserve to win the Premier League?
Yeah I think so. They had the best team, the best squad and they were determined even to the last second.
Did you feel tactically, Roberto Mancini got the best out of his players?
Well they won the league so he did pretty well! They certainly progressed in 2011/12, especially in attack. They had a good mix with the work rate of players like Milner and Barry in midfield and the mobility in attack of Silva, Aguero, Tevez and Nasri as well as Toure when he played between the lines. I think Mancini did well with the players available though I think they have weaknesses defensively.
Why do you think Man City struggled in the Champions League?
Small details really. I don’t buy that they weren’t suited to the Champions League style. They just had problems defensively especially against Napoli’s 3-4-3 shape. In both games they struggled with the way Napoli counter attacked with their three forwards in the space City left and that eventually cost them.
Man City, Swansea, Arsenal and Fulham all played some of the most fluid passing football in the Premier League, do you expect more teams to adopt a more progressive passing game as the years go by in England?
I think England has adapted really well over the years. There’s more and more teams playing more of a passing game as you said and in fact the Premier League made more passes overall than La Liga last year so there has clearly been a progression in style. I don’t know whether we’ll see lots of proactive ‘passing’ sides in the league but I think teams are trying to be more progressive and adapt without losing the directness and speed that is associated with the Premier League.
One man who has been appointed to instil a passing philosophy at a big club is Brendan Rodgers, how long do you think it will realistically take him to implement a successful passing game at Anfield?
It’s noticeable already that Rodgers has got them building out from defence, with the centre backs opening up, one midfielder dropping deep to pick the ball up and the full backs pushing up. However it will take time to try and get it working. There will be matches where the team may lack penetration or where they’ll concede goals by giving possession away at the back. I watched the friendly against Roma and there was a number of sideways passes given away which put them under pressure, especially with the space between defenders. I don’t think there are quite the players available to make it work as well as Rodgers probably wants it too so it will take time.
Andre Villas -Boas pointed out a few months ago that implementing a passing game in the Barcelona mould is not possible in the Premier League, because of the tempo, the aggression and tenacity of the English game, would you agree with this view?
I think so. The Barcelona style is different to anyone else’s because of the way they carry it out. They try to have as much control over a game as possible and that can be difficult against opposition who are aggressive and play at a high tempo. I’m not sure whether it’s impossible – if you have the right quality of players then maybe you can. But if you look at Barcelona’s game - the slow transitions from defence to attack, the continuous switches of play, often playing into pressure etc - then that is clearly very difficult to carry out in general and certainly in England.
Speaking of Villas-Boas, although he had immense success at Porto, his system didn’t exactly work out at Chelsea, do you feel his methods can work at in the Premier League and more specifically at Spurs?
I’m sure he can do well, given time. He has the tactical knowledge, he knows all the small details from his experiences as a scout and manager so he’ll know exactly what he wants. Maybe he made some mistakes at Chelsea with the players but if he can learn from it then he can make Tottenham into title contenders.
One system I saw grow in prominence last season, was the system of playing three at the back, so many sides adopted it from Wigan to Barcelona. Do you feel next season and even further into the future, more sides will adopt a three at the back system?
It’s definitely a possibility. The way 3-4-3 shapes up numerically against your usual 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 or even 4-3-3 can cause problems for teams. When Man City faced Napoli was a good example. When Man City got their full backs forward, Napoli often left their front three high and let the wing backs close them down which meant that on the counter attack, Napoli often had numerical equality with their forwards. That can be very difficult to play against. Wigan’s shape was also very good to watch because their wing backs were allowed to move very high and wide, especially with the cover of a back three so when they had possession, they were able to stretch the opponent with switches of play and open up space in the middle for the front three moving inside. And if you look at some 4-3-3s, they often move the holding player back into a back three when they have the ball so a three at the back (or five depending on if you wait and play counter attack) is a logical progression.
Last season, I recall a moment at St. James’ Park where Man City took off Samir Nasri in the 61st minute and Mancini put on De Jong. The decision was met by despair by most fans, who could not understand it, as Man City were drawing and needed to win. Mancini ended up making the right decision in putting De Jong in, as Yaya Toure played in a more attacking role and got the winner. Do you feel fans sometimes don’t understand tactics as much as they should?
Maybe not about understanding but I do think sometimes fans can be too quick to criticise without actually asking themselves why a manager has made a particular decision. Managers aren’t stupid, they make decisions because they think it’s for the best. There’s always room for people to question things like substitutions but it’s always much better to analyse first what they’re doing and then if necessary criticise after.
Was there any manager whose side you enjoyed watching tactically last season?
Outside of the Premier League, I thought Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund were superb. They played with such great intensity, pressed and attacked really well. The way they beat Bayern Munich in the German Cup Final was fantastic, they didn’t give them any time or space to play.
Did any manager positively surprise you in the past year?
Rodgers was definitely one of them. Swansea were a great side to watch and had a solid foundation. I was also impressed with Fulham and the way Martin Jol got them playing was great.
So, what would be your dream XI? (of present players)
Casillas; Alves, Thiago Silva, Kompany, Lahm; Alonso, Xavi, Di Maria, Ronaldo, Iniesta, Messi
Who would be the manager of this team?
It might be cheating because he’s not managing anymore but I would make Arrigo Sacchi the manager of this team because he created one of the best club sides ever to play the game in the AC Milan of the late eighties and I’d love to see what he’d create here.
What league would you play in?
I’d love to see them try and carry out their style Premier League.
What stadium would you play in?
Finally, what would you name your team?
Sacchi’s spectacular selection of brilliance.
Thanks for taking part!
You can follow Jonny on Twitter: @lankyguyblog
Make sure you check out his site too: http://lankyguyblog.blogspot.co.uk/