Clarets boss Dyche ahead of the tactical curve
Formation, shape, structure and tactical mindsets are all elements that are forever evolving in the modern game.
The idiosyncratic styles that bring success domestically may not bare similar fruits on a European front - as highlighted recently by Chelsea and Bayern Munich.
Transitions throughout the continents have warranted a more eclectic knowledge and understanding from managers at elite level to compete on all fronts.
Where tika-taka was once the fashionable craze, there’s been a shift from possession football to defensive rigidity and sporadic countering.
However, with both styles prone to criticism from pundits and the viewing public, and breeding inconsistency in performance, should coaches be striving for a more balanced approach?
Chelsea’s approach under Jose Mourinho is seemingly too one-dimensional. Where it’s bred success against the Premier League’s top six - with 16 points from a possible 18 accrued - the club’s season was unravelled when required to be more expansive against less ambitious opponents. Reversals to Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Stoke City and Newcastle United and Sunday’s home draw with Norwich City were evident of that.
Against La Liga leaders Atletico last week, Eden Hazard’s lapse in concentration in allowing Juanfran around the back to assist the equaliser prompted Mourinho to open up in the second half.
Chasing the tie, unable to adopt a defensive shape, the introduction of Samuel Eto’o for the hosts, plus Diego Simeone’s switch to a five-man midfield - with Raul Garcia replacing Adrian Lopez - saw Chelsea opened up as they relinquished control. There has to be a Plan B should a side concede with a defensive set-up.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Champions League finalists adopted a similar mentality, reducing the Bavarians to monotonous, non-penetrative and unadventurous passages of play by sitting deep and absorbing the pressure.
Munich - pressing high and over-committing - were unable to counter the counter with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale maximising that flaw and breaking from deep, resulting in Madrid winning 4-0 despite having less than a third of ball retention (31 per cent). The Bundesliga supremos were also susceptible from set-pieces, with Sergio Ramos profiting.
In an ideal world, where the basic tenets of Total Football have been manipulated, a fusion of Chelsea’s rigidity, Barcelona’s possession and passing, Bayern Munich’s pressing and Real Madrid’s rapid counter-attacking would be the perfect prototype.
The two extremes have proved fundamentally unpopular, with supporters craving a more rounded, aesthetically pleasing approach to games. And - though employed at a lesser level - Burnley boss Sean Dyche could be ahead of that trend.
Don’t get me wrong - tika-taka will still prevail. It still possesses a certain Je nais sais quoi. But coaches and players are now becoming more tactically savvy and on occasions a new philosophy will have to be drawn up to counteract the opposition’s counteraction. Chelsea successfully won the Champions League in 2012 under Roberto Di Matteo - bypassing the likes of Bayern and Barca by playing reactively.
Burnley’s success in the Championship this term has been down to boss Sean Dyche introducing more strings to the squad’s bow. Dyche has found that balance.
There’s no reliance on a solitary style of play. Dyche has put together a group that compliments a shared mentality, framework and ambition. There’s no reliance on playing too deep, playing too safe or shaping up too aggressively.
The three-time Manager of the Month - a new record at Turf Moor with Brian Miller and Harry Potts having won the accolade twice - has tightened and stabilised the core of the starting XI, resulting in 20 clean sheets.
He’s added zest, invention and enterprise to the style of play, implemented an intense, energetic pressing approach, which has also catered for springing on the opposition from midfield and countering.
With limited resources, Dyche has found the quintessence that has helped the club evolve. It’s a style that has helped defy the odds, compete with every team in the division on all fronts, accrue 26 Championship wins, finish with the second best goal difference, and accumulate a record-breaking 93 points.
With extensive resources, the globe’s greatest tacticians should be expected to manufacture a similar model.