One of the issues with the Roy years was the steadfast refusal to ‘give it some’ away from home. The point can be summarised with the following diagrams:
Here we see the ‘double stalemate’, something of a Hodgson goal when we met big teams away from home.
The idea here is to ensure that both teams have two banks of four behind the ball at all times.
Sure, because if you try to get beyond the opponents’ midfield four and lose the ball, they have men goalside. Hodgson hated opponents to have men goalside, and went to great lengths to ensure the two banks of four remained intact. It is, as Inter Milan showed last year, very very hard to break down a well organised defence in which people are where they’re meant to be. So if you avoid the sorts of things that lead to the breakdown of organisation – especially over-commitment to attack, it’s reasonably straightforward to nick a 0-0.
Which is more or less what we seemed to strive for under Roy.
In the diagram you see this played out: the ball (black dot) always has to get through two banks of four, whichever side has possession. It leads to some particularly turgid encounteres, particularly (as in our Hamburg away game) both teams play with wide men who play very narrow.
Another good example of this type of game was Aston Villa away a couple of years ago, where we almost seemed to be deliberately slowing down the game when we had the ball. This ensured Villa regrouped in front of us, and therefore that Villa’s pacey forwards weren’t going to catch us out behind us. 0-0.
This is what happens when you open up (just a bit).
Get men ahead of the ball (top) and you create much more favourable matchups (numerically), much more support for the poor forwards (this is why I used to defend Zamora, even pre-goals).
But if you lose the ball, as noted above, we see the below.
Roy wasn’t going to let that happen.
This is the difference between an open game and a tight game.
The frustration for a lot of us wasn’t that we played like this sometimes – clearly it worked against superb sides like Shahktar Donetsk – but that we played like this too often.
In an open game both sides will have lots of attacks. In a tight game both sides will have fewer attacks.
The law of averages says that, generally, the more attacks the more chances.
So if you think you’re playing against a superior team you close the game down, lessening the opponents’ opportunities to make their ability count. If you give Manchester United 40 attacks they’ll score more than if you give them 20 attacks.
But if you’re playing against a team of similar or (especially) lesser ability, it makes every sense to open up and trust your players to outplay their opponents. Hodgson seemed intent on playing the same way against Burnley as against Man United. It wasn’t fun.
Anyway, so far, so obvious. But look what happened at Blackburn yesterday:
It would be silly to say that this never happened under Hodgson, but it didn’t happen that often.
Here we see Etuhu with the ball, and four men ahead of him. Hodgson wouldn’t have been too keen on this – if we’d lost possession we’d have only had six men behind the ball. If Blackburn were able to break quickly it’d be worse.
Particularly when we note that Murphy and Kelly are also in advanced areas (second frame).
And so is Salcido (third frame). That’s eight players in attacking areas, giving the Blackburn defence much more to consider, stretching them and giving us options (it’s very easy for four defenders to cover 2-3 attackers; if eight men are up then the defence needs to get serious numbers back to defend).
All of which led to a good Salcido shot (look at the space he was in (#8 in the picture above)).
And it’s how we scored, too. Again, eight men up, giving the defence issues, and giving us options. We took the right choices in the attack, spread the play brilliantly, and had someone on the end of Salcido’s fine cross.
This goal wouldn’t have happened with only 2-3 men attacking.
So the signs are quite positive.