Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Roberto De Zerbi is a mirage

I agree with the many that say Roberto De Zerbi is one of the most influential managers in the past 20 years. Watch this brilliant video by The Purist to see why. He highlights most of my thoughts.

His ability to elevate a squad that shouldn’t score as many goals as it does is a testament to his unique style. To steal a term from Pep Guardiola, he is a trainer, not a manager. A world-class trainer.

It’s like taking a long walk in a desert. Dying of thirst, you spot an oasis off in the distance, far, far away.

You see how efficient their passing is. Their ability to play through and around defenses, like they’re traffic cones. The cohesion of the team moving like they are “one organism”. It’s beautiful. Their in-possession play is one of the best in all of world football.

But as you get closer and closer, you begin to spot the issues, out of possession. And they aren’t issues you can ignore. The unorganized defense. They let in too many goals. The rotation of goalkeepers from game to game. A practice I despise.

Since De Zerbi took over in week 9 at Brighton, they have conceded 69 goals, 48 last season and 21 this season. Only Bournemouth has conceded more goals from week 9 last season to week 12 this season. Brighton is tied with Wolves with the third-worst defensive record, excluding the newly promoted teams.

They are on track to concede a total of 66 goals this season. Similar to the performance shown by his Sassuolo side.

2018/19 60 goals conceded
2019/20 63 goals conceded
2020/21 56 goals conceded
2021/22 66 goals conceded

Until he figures out how to keep the ball out of his net, he is a mirage. You guarantee that you will play beautiful football but you won’t have confidence that they can produce silverware consistently because they are so poor defensively.

“I’d rather win 5-4 than 1-0” - Johan Cruyff

You can have that same philosophy as Cruyff, where you’d rather risk conceding if it meant you could attack, but there’s a limit.

De Zerbi would need to be in charge of a team that can outscore anyone, and teams like that are rare. His abilities on the training ground to set up his team for success might convince a top team to take a chance on him, but if he doesn’t figure out the defense he may leave teams with higher aspirations frustrated.

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