Monday, October 29, 2012

So much to do, so little time

Franky Vercauteren is the next coach of Sporting, but maybe even he didn't realise the magnitude of the task that has been laid out before him. For several years now Sporting have been nothing short of a handful of players, usually left to their devices, surrounded by media frenzy and vulnerable coaches. Will the Belgian be any different?

Any tactical analysis of Sporting tends to be quite hard to carry out, because there's seldom the feeling that this a team that has been drilled by its coach(es). Indeed, to an outsider only able to observe matches, it is very difficult to find any pre-established orders or instructions and half the team seem to be thinking very different things from the other half. The thing that shocks the most while watching the Lions is the team's displays, even more than the results - since there seems to be no apparent order. Unlike Oceano Cruz's claims, the mistakes that have punished Sporting are not individual.

Regardless of individual talent, it is up to the coach to define some basic guidelines and then fine-tune the team within said guidelines. The latest versions of Sporting have not been able to show that the coach (whoever he is) has got through to the players, and keep on disappointing their faithful supporters. Based on this and many other matches, Franky Vercauteren faces an uphill battle. Let us take a closer look to some of the key issues in random order.

1. Ricky van Woflswinkel. It's sad to see so much potential going to waste. Vercauteren must be able to muster all of the Dutchman's lost confidence and turn him back into a goalscoring machine once again. Wolfswinkel's first touch seems to be deserting him and his speed is far from what it used to be. considering there are hardly any alternatives left, the striker needs to be on top form.

2. A solid eleven. I'm not one to defend that the same eleven players must play no matter what, but while it's relatively easy to name Porto, Benfica or Braga's first eleven, getting Sporting's right is a fool's errand. Vercauteren must decide on an established group of players around which to form the team's core.

3. A clear tactical mindset. Again, as with the previous issue, this is not to say the coach may not alter his formation, but over the past couple of seasons, it's amazing how many tactical arrangements Sporting players have gone through. Yes, it's possible (even desirable) to be tactically flexible, but that comes after establishing your own model

4. Stop putting yourself in silly positions. As mentioned elsewhere last week, offensive coverage is a key aspect of the modern game, something that Sporting do not seem to master at all. Let us take a closer look at some cases in point.

Sporting have just lost the ball and are completely unbalanced.

One mere second later, Académica already have a numbers-up situation.

In this case, Schaars is under heavy pressure
and no one gets narrower and more compact.
The shaded area represents a potential free path to goal.

This play happened near half-time.
Notice how many players Sporting have behind the ball.
Académica look much more organised and dangerous.

Rinaudo plays it back and still Sporting players remain wide and far apart.
Sensing the danger, Académica immediately pounce on Rojo.

Five seconds have passed and Sporting still have
only four players near the ball, the same number as Académica.

5. Playing out from the back. If a team are at all serious about winning matches consistently, they must play to their strengths, and not let the game dictate its own flow. Sporting may not rely on Boulahrouz or Rinaudo to dictate their play, lest they keep giving away the ball cheaply, like it happened today over and over. Vercauteren must not be afraid to spend time instructing his players on how to get the ball out from te back (as his playing and coaching instincts will surely tell him to). Sporting are in dire need of a sense of purpose to their game.

This shot is spot on, allowing us to understand
the perspective of the player with the ball,
and his difficulties to find an open team-mate.

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