The peculiar history of wide players and the #8 shirt

The January transfer window saw Anthony Gordon join Newcastle United from Everton for £40m plus add-ons. A winger-by-trade, Gordon, having previously worn #10 for the Toffees, now wears #8 for the Magpies. Handing Gordon #8 may suggest he is set to be a big part of Newcastle’s upcoming plans.

With that said, the #8 shirt is not one you would likely associate with a wide player, especially if they are an out-and-out winger. Wearing #8 is associated more so with centre-midfielders of varying systems; box-to-box types paired with a holding midfielder in a 4-4-2, or ‘needle’ players you may see as part of a midfield trio; these are the sorts of players you would subsequently profile, and then label as ‘8s’. Though over the years, attackers stationed out wide have worn #8. So as incongruous as it seems, it is not a complete rarity.

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Goalkeepers, squad management, and the bounty of youth

After having been a long-time servant for over a decade, David De Gea’s time at Manchester United needs to come to an end, if United are to move forward in how they play, and if they are to change how they manage their squad.

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Champions League Tactical Preview: Real Madrid v Chelsea

The Conventional Playmaker is previewing the tactics behind each of the four upcoming Quarter-Final ties of this season’s Champions League. Up first…Real Madrid v Chelsea!

Real Madrid swept aside Liverpool to progress to the Quarter-Finals, whilst Chelsea came back from defeat in the first-leg, to knock out Borussia Dortmund on aggregate in the second round and keep their place in this year’s competition. These two winning sides faced each other in last season’s competition, and are to contest again for a semi-final place.

Whilst both sides have not enjoyed perfect form as of late, it would be fair to say that Madrid come into this match-up in a much better position than their opponents. Madrid are second in La Liga, albeit 12 points behind Barcelona, and hammered Valladolid 6-0 in their first game following the international break. Chelsea, on the other hand, are as far down as eleventh in the Premier League table. That, along with a struggle to find the right balance for the squad at his disposal resulted in Graham Potter’s sacking by Chelsea. Though this was a job that would ultimately prove difficult for any manager.

An array of different shapes were used by Potter to get the best out of his players, including the numerous signings made during the January transfer window. A 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-2-1 were the most common of those, and both were used in a manner which saw either shape be flexible. If no new manager is appointed by April 12th, one of said shapes could be used by interim manager Bruno Saltor, or a 3-5-2 he adopted during his first match in charge; a 0-0 draw with Liverpool.

Regardless of the shape, Chelsea have multiple options in wide and withdrawn forward areas, but no out-and-out no.9 that starts regularly. Romelu Lukaku was loaned back to fellow quarter-finalists Inter-Milan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is out of form, and David Fofana has only played twice since his arrival in January. Mkhalio Mudryk was tried there in Chelsea’s 0-2 defeat to Aston Villa, but he is more so a winger who likes to carry the ball from deep, and make diagonal runs inside from the left.

The lack of consistency in attack has played its part in Chelsea not having scored enough goals this season. The aforementioned draw saw Kai Havertz partner Joao Felix. They combined well, but lacked the necessary potency in the final-third.

There is more clarity to how Madrid should and will set up. Madrid are accustom to a 4-3-3, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos still controlling games, even if they are well into their thirties. Eduardo Camavinga could easily slot into either the midfield three, or at left-back, and carries out either role with maturity beyond his 19-years.

Unlike Chelsea, Madrid will likely start a pedigree centre-forward in Karim Bezmena. The 2022 Ballon D’or winner’s hold-up play, technical prowess, and dominance of the penalty-area is something all are aware off. Carlo Ancelotti’s side often attack down the left-side, with winger Vinicius Jr, an outlet who latches on to switches of play from the right, combining with Benzema closer to goal.

Vinicius is a top drawer winger, whose ‘per 90’ numbers for completed take ons (3.89) and carries into the penalty-area (3.09) during this season’s competition are high. Vinicius’s presence may mean that Real’s left and Chelsea’s right sides could pose the duel that helps determine the outcome of the tie. It may entice the Blues to deploy a back three, with a wing-back in front to provide extra protection against the left-winger. Reece James could slot in either position.

Data for take one and carries amongst select players. Vinicius comes out high in both categories.

And a 3-5-2 would enable that. Not only that, it would also provide balance in midfield, and match Madrid’s midfield three; N’Golo Kante returned to the fold against Liverpool following injury, playing alongside Mateo Kovacic and Enzo Fernandez.

Fernandez was signed from Benfica, who will play Inter, for a club record £105m in January, and has benefited the side, even if results have not always come about. His movement to avoid opposing players marking, and receive passes from defenders, and then his lofted through balls to meet runs from players further forward, did help Potter implement some of his ideas positively. His role in possession, and how Madrid look to deal with it, could prove another key duel.

Two split forwards could run the channels and into gaps between defenders, and said shape would maximise James’ qualities on the ball. But as the ties in the previous campaign showed, Vinicius was always ready to receive the ball when Madrid had possession inside Chelsea’s half. Madrid are by no means a one-man team, but alone was a difficult force to reckon with, and could take advantage of any space James leaves behind whilst he pushes forward.

Madrid may well set up so Vinicius can make runs into vacant space down the left, where he could cause damage. Software: Tacticalista

But with that said, there is always the off-chance that an even more direct approach be deployed. The recent 6-0 thrashing saw Madrid use a 4-4-2, meaning an extra attacking player. Combinations in and around the box were frequent, and there was a quickness in attack that made use of runs in the wide areas. Vinicius notably set-up one of Benzema’s three goals with a perfectly weighted ball towards the far post.

This is a Champions League knockout tie, however, and the 4-3-3 would in that sense be likelier. I would expect both sides to take caution, and try to expose each other’s defensive woes in transitions.

Analysing Brentford’s open and set-play qualities

Before their recent defeat to Everton, Brentford went unbeaten for 12 games. But having responded to that with two additional victories against Fulham and Southampton, before drawing with Leicester City, Brentford comfortably sit 8th in the Premier League table, proving an even better outfit than during their inaugural campaign. This is down to Thomas Frank’s side being very organised, cohesive, and notably direct, with a series of recurring features in and out of possession showcasing just that.

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Weekly Tactical: Fulham are over-performing

Fulham have lost their last two league games, to Brentford, and Arsenal respectively, conceding 6 goals in the process. But they still sit 8th in the Premier League table, and have exceeded not only the expectations of many going into the season, but also the expectations behind underlying numbers.

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Fernandes’ multi-faceted role, and different ways of attacking the box in perfect response

A defeat to your biggest rivals will always spur on feelings of disappointment. As will suffering a defeat overseeing a large goal deficit, perhaps with additional humiliation and shock. So when Liverpool thrashed an in-form Manchester United by 7 goals, it, regardless of how it was perceived whilst under the microscope, would bring disappointment, humiliation, and shock. Therefore United’s next display needed to be an immediate return to winning ways, and that they achieved in defeating Real Betis 4-1 in the first-leg of their Europa League second round tie.

United started the same XI that succumbed to the 7-0 drubbing. This was perhaps with the aim for the players to redeem themselves, but on this occasion, it was mostly return to what those watching are used to. Marcus Rashford started on the left side, Wout Weghorst led the attack as the no.9. Bruno Fernandes was also used centrally, but his role in midfield was multi-faceted.

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Weekly Tactical: Johnson and Gibbs-White essential to Forest surviving relegation

Welcome back to Weekly Tactical! This week, Nottingham Forest’s two key attackers are under the microscope, with a look at the data which suggests how important they are to their side.

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Weekly Tactical: What current Premier League players would Sir Alex Ferguson have tried to sign for United?

Hello, and welcome back to another Weekly Tactical. I, Ryan, must apologise for the absence of Weekly tactical pieces over the last couple of weeks, but I do aim to return to writing on a regular basis as I intended at the beginning of this year!

Without further ado.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Erik ten Hag have been reported to share a really good relationship since the latter’s appointment as manager of Manchester United, whilst the former was there to see United win both the League Cup Final, and as United came back from behind to knock West Ham United out of the FA Cup.

Following comments made by Sir Alex following United winning their first piece of silverware in six years, journalist Carl Anka, who covers Manchester United for The Athletic, began an interesting conversation on Twitter, by pondering on what current Premier League talents would Sir Alex have tried to sign.

The topic was so interesting, at least to The Conventional Playmaker, that it was thought to be worth responding to Anka’s hypothetical in more detail.

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Man United 2-0 Newcastle: Tactical features

Six years which saw Manchester United win no silverware came to an end, as they ruined Newcastle’s dreams of winning their first trophy since 1969, winning 2-0 to secure their sixth League Cup victory, and Erik ten Hag’s first taste of final glory as manager.

The final oversaw key duels across the pitch, and was yet another example of Man. United adapting to the game at hand very well since ten Hag;’s appointment.

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Victory against Barcelona is an indicator of progress under ten Hag

Defeating La Liga leaders Barcelona to progress to the second round of the Europa League could be seen as an indicator that Manchester United have made substantial progress since the end of the previous campaign.

Not only winning the match 2-1 and 4-3 on aggregate, but making clever changes at half-time to turn the game in their favour is one of the reasons why the appointment of Erik ten Hag has been so beneficial.

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