Planning Your Tournament Strategy

IN THE English football season just ended, Manchester City were streets ahead of the competition, breaking a number of Premier League records.

It played a high and fast pressing game that was difficult for opposition teams to contain. This sort of game is also difficult to maintain through the course of a season.

The players have to be super fit and the bench has to be strong because players also have to rest, or else there will be burnout. As their competitors tired from around late March, Manchester City remained consistent as they had replacement players of high quality.

Liverpool played a similar pressing game and have players who are suited to a counter-attacking style. This means Liverpool are most dangerous when other teams are in their own

In Mo Salah, the Egyptian star who was the find of the season, they had a player who was the pivot of the Liverpool style of play. However, unlike Manchester City they couldn’t maintain that style of game over the course of the season.

Liverpool was typically excellent against the stronger teams but often could not carry this momentum into games against so-called lesser opponents. Their bench was also nowhere near as strong as Manchester City’s.

Champions League Final For Liverpool

However, Liverpool do play in the Champions League Final on May 26, an achievement that the trail-blazing Manchester City couldn’t achieve. Liverpool defeated Manchester City over two legs en route to the final.

Liverpool Manchester City
Liverpool booted Manchester City out of the Champions League.

Other teams that were in the top six in England, namely Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal all flattered to deceive.

They looked good on paper but were missing the extra quality and strength in depth that Manchester City had. Manchester United often played cautious, results-oriented football that looked unattractive and was a reflection of its controversial manager Jose Mourinho, who is known to get his teams to “park the bus”.

Jose Mourinho
Where should I park the bus, wonders Jose Mourinho.

While Manchester United had a lot of money to buy top quality players, Mourinho’s tactics did not let these players flourish. It ended the season without a trophy, a rarity for Manchester United.




Elsewhere, Tottenham, which also plays a fast and high pressing game like Manchester City, did not have the bench depth to be competitive. Its players showed signs of being heavy-legged from April. Harry Kane will skipper England at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

Harry Kane
Harry Kane hopes to bring glory to the nation at the World Cup.

Defending champions Chelsea’s attempts to retain the title fizzled out because it became too inconsistent, a huge contrast from the previous year. Arsenal’s season did not take off because of very poor form away from home, a turnaround from previous seasons when their away form was always among the best in the division.

Tough League

What may not be generally known about present-day English football is that it is hard to carry title-winning momentum from a previous season to the next one. Unlike the Spanish, German or Italian leagues, which are one- or two-team leagues, there are many teams in England that can compete for the title.

Manchester City might be an exception next season though recent history suggests that it might not be plain-sailing.

It has been 10 years since an English league champion retained its title the following season.

Having said that, you can be virtually certain that, prior to the start of the next season, all pundits will predict Manchester City to be champions.

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Meanwhile, with the World Cup only weeks away, you would think that the high and fast pressing game that Manchester City used will be emulated by whoever wins the coveted trophy. It is not really an English style of play even though English teams are great exponents.

How will Germany fare at this year’s World Cup?

The national sides of Germany and Spain are known for similar game styles. However, it is unlikely that football fans will see such a style of football in the World Cup as tournament football is different from league football. Played over a shorter period, it is just too tiring, even for a squad of 20 odd players and especially at the end of a domestic season when players should be on holidays.

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The most successful World Cup teams know how to pace themselves and build momentum across the course of the tournament. Germany is a prime example of this and one of the favourites this year as usual.

Importance Of Pacing

Teams might play in Manchester City’s energy-sapping style early in the tournament and get an eye-catching result. But they are not likely to win the tournament because they simply won’t have the legs to last the course. If perchance some team does, then drug tests may have to be called for.

A more likely strategy during the World Cup will be for teams to play a tight, holding game geared towards counterattack and trying to tire their opponents out. It will be a battle of attrition during the tournament and this will favour sides that are used to European conditions. Tradition shows that European teams always win when the World Cup is held in Europe, with the exception of Brazil in Sweden in 1958, when a 17-year-old Pele emerged.

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