In late 2009, Jonathan Wilson predicted what football would be like in 10 years.
Wilson is the author of Inverting the Pyramid, a story about the tactical development of football. He was absolutely right: he said that the “false nine”, i.e. strikers being withdrawn, would develop. He says the speed will increase.
He predicts that more players will be able to master more things in more roles.
All these elements are present in Sunday’s game between Liverpool and Manchester City. It was not only a decision about what modern football would become, but also what it would become.
After all, it is a mix of two of the world’s best teams, and the two most influential coaches in the world in Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, in a period where both could win three titles.
The speed was so high that one grew tired just by watching.
The fake nines are there: Two strikers, Diogo Jota (Liverpool) and Raheem Sterling (City), really excel.
In both teams, players interpret roles in their own way. Both have side-backs, João Cancelo (City) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), who love to get on the pitch.
City have a goalkeeper (Ederson) who is an extra playmaker. Both goalkeepers operate as sweepers without the ball.
Collectively, the team pressed hard. They push the defense, take chances and often attack.
– To fight. Absolutely wild, said Klopp.
It’s great to wish more teams played like that.
This might happen.
Everywhere there are signs that more teams will play like this. This is not so strange, as Klopp and Guardiola have won 12 league titles and three Champions Leagues in total in the last 13 years. In the Premier League, City and Liverpool have been in shambles for nearly five years.
This football shows no signs of going out of style.
And it’s no ordinary matter, because Klopp and Guardiola could be “done” now.
In football, the new style always replaces the old style. In the 60s, the Italian team won with catenaccio, counter-attacks and man marking. In the 70s they were crushed by Dutch Total Football, where the players pressed hard and changed positions.
In the late 80’s, Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan came in defense zone and 4-4-2. It was the most recent until 2008, when Guardiola created a Barcelona team on the ball – the latest version of Total Football.
Three years later, Klopp won the German league with Dortmund, a team that was more direct and had a greater focus on pressure and recycling.
Since then, these two elements – high pressure and high ball possession – have been a hallmark of tactical development. Gradually, Spanish and German schools slipped into each other.
The result is a match like on Sunday.
One would think that a new trend is ready to take over very soon. In general, coaches last a maximum of 10 years and above. The leading tactics behind catenaccio, Totalfotball and zone marking had a short golden period, before rivals caught them again.
But Guardiola and Klopp are still at the top. So instead of replacing it, rivals tried to copy it.
Guardiola’s students in particular are everywhere. In Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, the league is led by a team of coaches – Julian Nagelsmann, Erik ten Hag, Stefano Pioli – who say they are inspired by it.
In Spain, the two greatest coaches are Carlo Ancelotti and Diego Simeone, both of whom are closer to Sacchi. But the team form is Bara, coached by Xavi, who is Guardiola’s playmaker at Bara.
In England, Arsenal’s coach is Mikel Arteta, who was Guardiola’s assistant at City. Chelsea have Thomas Tuchel, who considers Guardiola’s Bara his ideal tactic.
Now Manchester United will soon sign Ten Hag, the “mini-Pep” who worked with Bayern’s second team while Guardiola coached the first team.
In Norway, Bodø / Glimt play similar football. Kjetil Knutsen says he has taken inspiration from Klopp’s Liverpool.
Even after a decade of success, Guardiola and Klopp are setting the bar.
They also show no signs of disappearing.
Because it’s hard to see a more defensive style return among the top teams. Today’s football favors teams that attack – and has done so for a long time.
The pitch is better than before and makes it easier to play short passes; even Guardiola’s team struggled in England’s mud baths 20 years ago. The new rule that you can have your own player in the box when kicking out, makes it easier to play from the back.
VAR has made it safer to stand tall with defence. Without VAR, Sterling would have scored the winner on Sunday, but technology caught a marginal offside.
During the game, it’s fun to watch and tweet from the official account of Rafa Benítez, who was a guest on the inner court on TV 2.
– Both teams stand tall with defence, which creates opportunities for counter attacks, sound analysis.
It was the classic Benítez, a coach who put his team deeper into the field. This is how he used to be successful with Valencia and Liverpool.
But that was 15 years ago. Now Klopp and Guardiola will say that high line helps the team win the ball higher on the pitch. They can counterattack – and get it – but the pros outweigh the cons.
These two different perspectives reflect past and present tactical mindsets. Klopp and Guardiola coach two of the best teams in the world.
Benítez was sacked by Everton in January and has not won a significant top-level title since the Italian Cup in 2014. He last won the premier league in 2004.
At that time he and José Mourinho were kings of Europe. Now one of them is out of work, while the other could drop out of the Conference League with Roma against Glimt on Thursday. Neither of them will get any easier over the years.
Because unless something special has to happen, more and more top teams will land on the same conclusions we got at Sunday’s finish:
That football is most entertaining is also most effective.
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