Why Dembele matters

Really good piece on Andre Villas Boas in Saturday’s Telegraph.

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.

Then later:

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.

The Fulham side we have now is a good one, but few players are able to commit defenders to the point where that defender leaves his area, or is pulled out of the defensive scheme.  We have players who are good at creating space within congested areas – Zamora and Duff spring to mind in the attacking third – and players who are good at attacking space defenders don’t like to go into – Dempsey is good at this – but only Dembele can go around people, make a mess of defensive schemes.  He needs to work on his decision making perhaps, knowing when to lay off, when to drive, but the talent is there for everyone to see.  I think it’s going to be a big year for him.

5 thoughts on “Why Dembele matters

  1. Unpredictability is what Dembele offers – but in a good way, not a headless chicken Diomansy Kamara way.

    Interesting points by AVB, and I think if you re-watched Dembele after he came on against Villa, you can see that their defence looked a lot more shaky with him (and to be fair Clint) mixing it up and getting in some dangerous positions.

    1. No, sorry that’s what I didn’t see, either because I missed it or because it didn’t happen. My impression was that we faded as an attacking force once the substitution was made and that Moussa had little effect on the game. (He’d surely have stood more chance of doing so, though, with Bobby still on the pitch, and if he were less ring-rusty, so not the best circumstances,)

      In principle what Rich has posted makes good sense, but it’s not just down to the man himself, but teammates learning to benefit from what he can offer. Fitness permitting, this will be the half-season that happens if it’s going to.

  2. This strikes me as the sort of attitude that basketball teams use to attack a half-court zone defense. The defending team gives you the first half of the court for free – they nearly always do, unless they apply a full or 3/4 court man-to-man press or trapping defense – and concentrates on taking away the high percentage shots in the key. Swinging the ball around the perimeter until an angle for dribbling or passing into the interior opens up (i.e. the Van Gaal strategy) is a very useful strategy. The eyes and feet of the defenders always follow the ball to some degree and if the offence can act decisively enough, a momentary advantage can be had.

    The analogy starts to break down when you consider the utility of three-point shots in basketball (no self-respecting football team would be content with firing low-percentage long range shots all match) and the lack of any offside (running players along the baseline in the half court is a good way to stretch the defense and make them commit to defending areas they’d rather not, like the corners). Still, I often think when watching football of the similarities between cracking a good zone in basketball and patiently breaking down a tight low-block set up in football through short, crisp build up play.

  3. Would you then say we’re better served with Dembele operating out wide in a midfield capacity (in our 4-4-2) as opposed to as a striker?

    It appeared Jol switched that on the fly during the Villa match. Dembele started in the middle as a 2nd striker/cf when he came on. However, after a trip or two into the offensive zone, they switched and Duff took Dempsey’s spot on the left, Dembele moved to the right and Dempsey moved into the 2nd strikers spot (closer to the box than Dembele was playing it). On tv you could see Jol giving Dempsey instructions as he ran by right after he’d (innocently, of course) tapped Albritton in the face with his forearm. They appeared to switch on that subsequent trip up the pitch.

    Dembele’s dribbling is his strength, but his runs into the box leave a bit to be desired. So I think that’s probably the best spot for him. Outside of playing as a wing in a 4-3-3, which we don’t do.

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