A criticism attributed towards managers such as Solskjaer and Arteta at the beginning of their rebuilds at their respective clubs centered around the fact that ‘smaller’ teams played more attractive and dangerous football than them, but this line of thinking is linear.
Firstly, these super clubs get managed and judged under a microscopic lens on a weekly basis by the fans and media. Mid-table teams quite simply don’t receive that level of scrutiny from the masses.
For example, Brentford beat West Ham away on the weekend and I didn’t see anything about it on social media apart from Brentford praise. if that was Arsenal or Manchester United, we’d never hear the end of it and fans would be calling for the managers head.
The difference is Moyes is overachieving with West Ham. However, fans see the ginormous names of Arsenal and Manchester United and expect wins – it doesn’t matter if the opposition are called Leeds and have a better XI on the day. Nothing short of a win is acceptable.
So, even before judging the tactics, the team and managerial capabilities, the expectations are already at two entirely different levels, regardless of the starting point of each squad. This is downright illogical and unfair. However, what does matter, is the long-term trajectory
If we take a look at Leeds or West Ham as examples we see teams who have spent money in the realm of teams who have competed at the top of the league regularly (Liverpool and Spurs), so there is potential to break into the so-called ‘top 6’, which West Ham did last season.
However, their style has a ceiling on it. Bielsa’s man-marking requires incredible intensity every week but will also be exploited by the very best teams which is why they get smashed by most elite teams by 3/4 goals. Sure they have the odd scalp because they’re awkward to play,
but technically proficient players will beat their man via dribbling or technical quality leaving Leeds’ entire block with awkward decisions to make – do they go towards the free runner and leave their man in open space or leave the ball-carrier dribble into open spaces?
The likes of Atalanta and Leeds play this way and suffocate teams without elite physicality and technical quality but the reality is the very best teams will exploit that style and we’ve seen it on countless occasions when the likes of Liverpool smash both Atalanta and Leeds.
As for West Ham, their style is near identical to that employed by Rafa Benitez in which they block space in a deep, compact 4-4-2 and play direct football in which they look to counterpress and sustain attacks by winning second balls. Their block is also very tough to break down
Again, the likes of West Ham & Everton have superb quality to complement the top tactics Moyes & Benitez implement, but there’s one glaring issue – the teams don’t press in settled situations. Therefore, they allow the opposition to keep the ball. Too many teams will punish that.
Even Atleti press high in settled situations despite having a similar philosophy because Simeone knows that if he doesn’t his style allows for too much variance as the block is reliant on the opposition not scoring & increases the likelihood of deflected goals, long shots, etc.
So, the tactics are inherently flawed and will be exposed at the elite level. The likes of West Ham and Everton also have the license to (and are encouraged to) play long from goal kicks, when pressurised, etc, so the players aren’t required to play out from the back regularly.
Nearly all elite teams play out from the back. People will again mention Atleti here but my argument to that is that they are not an elite team – just because they scraped their way to a La Liga against 2 of the worst Barca and Madrid teams in years doesn’t mean they’re elite.
Either way, the tactics do not translate to winning at the highest level of the game in 2021, so even with Moyes’ and Bielsa’s ideal player in each position, my argument is that they would not win the Premier League or Champions League, so the long-term trajectory is limited.
However, would I encourage Moyes or Bielsa to change their tactics? No way. These clubs play entertaining and successful football in the best league in the world & finish high in the table each season with that tactic. That to me is massive, massive success relative to club size.
Alternatively, for Solskjaer, Klopp, Arteta or any other manager that underwent a massive rebuild, they focused on a system that encourages long-term success, even if the players aren’t good enough to reliably play out from the back, play a high line, press high, etc.
So it might have looked worse because these teams made silly errors in the build-up (Arsenal), or struggled to create chances (Solskjaer), or struggled to control games and defend leads (Liverpool), but with player improvement within that structure saw a successful long-term team
More specifically, for example, Liverpool struggled to see out games but signed a leader profile in van Dijk in defence to sort that issue out. There was no systematic issue – they simply needed a more suitable profile and better player. United were similar RE: quality in attack.
People will again say here that these teams threw money at the situation, and of course they did but it’s about the way they did it. West Ham signed Kurt Zouma and he won’t elevate the team and offer that next level quality – he’s not the right profile. They have the money too.
And finally, in relation to the reason these managers persist with tactics that their players are not good enough to carry out in the short-term is because they can improve upon the system tactically, judge individuals within the tactics, develop players in specific roles, etc.
If Klopp, for example, blocked space in a deep 4-4-2 as a short-term method of getting results and played direct football like Moyes he wouldn’t know which Liverpool players are capable of playing out from the back. He’d have a fair idea, but he wouldn’t know for sure.
So, assuming Klopp implemented this tactic before having a more expansive tactic suited to higher quality players when he bought/developed those players, once that tactic is finally implemented the team would have to adapt to entirely new situations i.e. playing out from the back
This means that the Klopp wouldn’t know who’s suited to doing that and the players wouldn’t be familiar with that style and would take time to adjust, so even when Klopp has his ideal squad, the team still isn’t ready, yet if he was playing that tactical all along they would be.
Overall, the expectations of general media combined w/ silly narratives surrounding flawed styles that wouldn’t correlate to long-term success at a giant club (Moyes/Bielsa) along with the lack of logical consideration for long-term growth sees managers undergo illogical pressure