Where do I start…
Well, Pep in his new book has dissected Arsene Wenger’s style of play in a way nobody has. And I wonder if he does the same, you know, sit down with his tactical and technical team and intently analyze the opposition.
Here’s what Pep gathered from his err…intelligence report:
At training the day before the match there are no clues as to the starting line-up. Pep still hasn’t decided whether they’re going out to get goals or erring on the side of safety and settling for ball domination. The session doesn’t focus on either of these approaches. Instead they rehearse how to defend the way that Arsenal begin their attacks from the keeper. They go over the co-ordinated movement the back line must make when the ball is being put long from the Arsenal keeper.
‘We know that [Lukasz] Fabianski almost always sends the ball to his right,’ Planchart reminds them. ‘If it reaches [Olivier] Giroud it’s so that he can chest it down and hold it up. If he puts it to [Bacary] Sagna it’s to make our full-back push up towards him and Sagna will try to head the ball onwards and into the space behind our full-back.’
And on Monday evening they go over and over the way to defend against these Arsenal goal-kicks, with Neuer in the role of Fabianski. For 20 minutes, Dante and Schweinsteiger are busy marking Pizarro, who acts as Giroud, and Alaba tries to perfect the way to close down Sagna, whose role is taken by Rafinha.
Next, Pep explains in detail how Mikel Arteta tries to draw in the opposing pivote in order to create a space in the middle of midfield into which Mesut Özil will try to appear. Pep walks through Arteta’s movements whilst emphasising to his players, who are spread out in front of him: ‘Özil is the dangerous one – he’s the one we really need to keep the closest eye on. Arteta draws you in, Özil pops up in that zone with [Santi] Cazorla and [Alex Oxlade-] Chamberlain around him and that’s the way that they achieve superiority in a key area. We can’t afford that to happen.’
They test out the way to defend against this Arteta-Özil movement. The idea is that Robben and Ribéry squeeze infield and that Martínez, in his central-defensive role, pushes into the empty space which Arteta has created. In turn, Rafinha’s task will be to fill the space which the Spaniard has had to leave open in the middle of the back four.
They go through a series of different actions, moving constantly. Pep keeps shouting out the names of Arsenal players – Arteta, Özil, Cazorla, Mertesacker – and these echo round Säbener Strasse whilst the Bayern players push themselves to a degree unheard of for a training session the day before a game. In fairness, they don’t go on for long. Just 20 minutes. It’s the rhythm and speed they’re working at that is so unusual.
Something is changing. The players perform brilliantly and there is a growing sense of pride and total security so that it seems absolutely impossible for them not to win. Everyone is sweating at the end. Pep explains the thinking behind his approach. ‘You play at the rhythm you train at. In the match it’s down to each player to do the right thing tactically but the team’s rhythm depends on the training they’ve done.
If you train badly, you play badly. If you work like a beast in training, you play the same way. And these guys, they train like beasts…”
Why, you can’t help but be impressed; and you can’t help but see the frailties of your team. I want to believe we don’t just breeze and play the same kind of game, week in, week out, or, do we?… :/