Michael Cox

Author's details

Name: Michael Cox
Date registered: September 27, 2014
URL: http://www.theguardian.com/football/burnley

Latest posts

  1. How Georgi Kinkladze showed up Premier League’s early inability to evolve — May 25, 2017
  2. Lack of a Plan B for Ajax costs them dear when chasing Europa League final | Michael Cox — May 25, 2017
  3. Premier League 2016-17 review: what we learned tactically from the season | Michael Cox — May 23, 2017
  4. Eric Dier’s versatility the basis of Tottenham’s exquisite flexibility | Michael Cox — May 1, 2017
  5. Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne offers fleeting sense of order in shapeless game | Michael Cox — April 3, 2017

Author's posts listings

May 25

How Georgi Kinkladze showed up Premier League’s early inability to evolve

Talented Georgian No10 was bought by Manchester City in 1995 but attempts to build a team around him failed partly because of English fixation with 4-4-2

The end of the Premier League’s 25th campaign provides an opportune moment to marvel at the division’s tremendous tactical and technical development during its first quarter of a century. At its inaugural season in 1992-93 the Premier League was largely based around 4-4-2, long balls and getting it in the mixer; 25 years on it is about 3-4-2-1, intricate combination play and gegenpressing.

The most significant progress occurred during the mid-1990s. There were various contributing factors: the backpass law meant teams were obliged to become more comfortable in possession, the huge surge in broadcasting revenue meant English football could attract top players and the end of the three-foreigner rule inevitably changed teams’ approach significantly. On its first weekend, in August 1992, only 11 non-British or Irish players started for the Premier League’s 22 clubs combined. By the end of the decade foreign managers were dominant and Chelsea had fielded an all-foreign starting XI. English football, traditionally slow to embrace tactical innovations from abroad, opened its eyes. It was a period of remarkable change and tremendous excitement.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/may/25/premier-league-georgi-kinkladze-manchester-city-tactics

May 25

Lack of a Plan B for Ajax costs them dear when chasing Europa League final | Michael Cox

Peter Bosz’s Ajax had been drilled so relentlessly in a specific style they were helpless when they needed to get back into the game against Manchester United

It is rare to see a final contested between teams using such utterly different approaches, and equally rare for the game to pan out so predictably. Ajax had plenty of the ball, Manchester United counterattacked and proved more ruthless in the penalty area.

The stylistic contrast was remarkable. Ajax are a possession-based side rejuvenated under their attack-minded coach, Peter Bosz, a man who greatly admired Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side, and in transferring that template on to his young charges, was also creating something of a throwback to Ajax’s Total Football days. If Bosz was playing the role of 2010 Guardiola, José Mourinho was playing the role of, well, 2010 Mourinho. The man who repeatedly tried to frustrate that Barcelona side with resilient deep defending and sporadic counterattacking did largely the same here.

Related: Manchester United win Europa League as Paul Pogba sets up emotional victory

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/may/25/lack-of-plan-b-costs-ajax-dear-europa-league-final

May 23

Premier League 2016-17 review: what we learned tactically from the season | Michael Cox

Chelsea’s switch to three at the back changed thinking in top flight while regaining the ball via pressing, rather than retaining it, is now regarded as fundamental

Unquestionably the Premier League’s dominant tactical trend was the three-man defence. A remarkable 17 of the 20 sides started with a back three at some point in the season, with only Southampton, West Bromwich and Burnley doggedly sticking to a back four.

Related: Premier League 2016-17 season review: our writers’ best and worst

Related: Premier League: 10 talking points from the final day of the season

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/may/23/premier-league-tactics-three-at-back-pressing-season

May 01

Eric Dier’s versatility the basis of Tottenham’s exquisite flexibility | Michael Cox

Spurs’ ability to switch between systems, driven by Dier’s skills as both defender and midfielder, gave them a decisive edge against Arsenal at White Hart Lane

Among plenty of discussion about Arsène Wenger’s decision to abandon the four-man defence he has used for 20 years in favour of a back three it was notable that Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham were essentially playing both systems simultaneously in this 2-0 north London derby win. Eric Dier’s ability to play in both defence and midfield meant Spurs seamlessly switched between the systems, nullifying Arsenal’s major attacking threat and putting themselves in control.

Related: Dele Alli helps Tottenham eclipse Arsenal and stay on Chelsea’s tail

Related: Harry Kane: Tottenham now have higher ambitions than looking down on Arsenal

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/may/01/eric-dier-versatility-tottenham-flexibility-arsenal

Apr 03

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne offers fleeting sense of order in shapeless game | Michael Cox

Belgian midfielder gives Pep Guardiola’s team a degree of control by exploiting gaps in Arsenal’s defence, but the visitors’ frailties are also exposed

Arsenal and Manchester City played out a peculiar Premier League match that shifted between periods of incredible intensity and moments when neither side seemed particularly bothered by the outcome. t felt more like a pre-season friendly, and the fact the game’s first two goalscoring chances came from crazy deflections, with David Ospina blasting the ball at Raheem Sterling at one end, then Gaël Clichy hammering a clearance into Danny Welbeck at the other, summarised the strangeness.

Indeed, the pattern was the entire opposite of what you expect from a top-level match which, usually, lack structure in the opening minutes and then settle down into something more organised. Here, instead, there was an obvious structure to the opening, before everything became scrappy and disjointed.

Related: Slapstick rules as Arsenal and Manchester City go for all-out attack | Barney Ronay

Related: Shkodran Mustafi earns Arsenal share of points against Manchester City

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/apr/03/manchester-city-kevin-de-bruyne-belgian-arsenal-defence

Mar 19

Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola cancel each other out in frantic contest | Michael Cox

Two of the Premier League’s most tactically astute managers each had spells of superiority but Manchester City and Liverpool had to settle for a draw

In a season featuring the best managerial lineup in Premier League history, this felt like the type of match we were promised. Two high‑tempo, dynamic sides with different attacking philosophies produced an enthralling end-to-end contest featuring mesmeric passing moves, incredible bursts of pace – and some quite dreadful misses.

Manchester City started strongly, enjoying good spells of possession and working the ball into David Silva regularly. Pep Guardiola deployed a 4-2-3-1 rather than his usual 4-3-3, continuing with Kevin De Bruyne in a deep midfield position and Silva at No10, after his switch to that system prompted a second-half improvement at Monaco in midweek. Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané stretched the play, while Fernandinho charged forward from right-back as City focused their attacking down that side, causing James Milner serious problems.

Related: Manchester City 1-1 Liverpool: Premier League – as it happened

Related: Pep Guardiola’s zonal theory will take time for Manchester City to learn | Jonathan Wilson

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/mar/19/jurgen-klopp-pep-guardiola-cancel-each-other-out-frantic-contest

Mar 17

Tie-by-tie tactical analysis: Champions League quarter-finals

Will Barcelona be able to cope with Alex Sandro over two legs and will Bayern benefit from Carlo Ancelotti’s tactical consistency against his former club?

This is a contest between the two biggest overachievers in Europe’s major leagues – and Atlético Madrid’s shock 2013-14 La Liga victory acted as something of an inspiration for Claudio Ranieri, himself a former Atlético manager.

Related: Champions League quarter-finals: Leicester City to face Atlético Madrid

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/mar/17/champions-league-quarter-finals-tactical-analysis

Jan 15

Jürgen Klopp’s diamond surprise tires under Manchester United pressure | Michael Cox

Liverpool’s narrow system allowed space down the flanks which José Mourinho’s team exploited with regular switches of play, sapping the energy of the visitors

For the first time in the 25 seasons of the Premier League, Manchester United and Liverpool’s two league meetings both ended in a draw. This, however, was a much more exciting contest than the dreadful 0-0 in October. Jürgen Klopp sprung a tactical surprise from the outset by deploying a diamond midfield, a considerably different shape to Liverpool’s regular 4-3-3. This involved Adam Lallana playing as a No10, allowing Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi to make dangerous runs across the opposition defence from out to in.

The main outcome was Liverpool making life very difficult for Michael Carrick, who has been excellent in recent weeks. Lallana marked him excellently in the opening stages, meaning Carrick was unable to put his foot on the ball and put United in charge. It was not entirely surprising when José Mourinho substituted Carrick at half-time, introducing Wayne Rooney and switching to a 4-2-3-1 shape. Lallana’s discipline meant a holding midfielder was always unlikely to find time on the ball.

Related: Zlatan Ibrahimovic strikes late for Manchester United in draw with Liverpool

Related: Mourinho and Klopp proving right fit for Manchester United and Liverpool | Jamie Jackson

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/jan/15/jose-mourinho-jurgen-klopp-manchester-united-liverpool-tactics