MARTIN KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: The focus on tactics is as great as it has ever been in football today


MARTIN KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: The focus on tactics is as great as it has ever been – clubs even have THROW-IN COACHES… every tiny detail matters in the modern era

  • Players these days are intellectuals who can play in multiple different systems 
  • Liverpool have a throw-in coach, Thomas Gronnemark, assisting their players 
  • In the Premier League this season, we can expect to see more passes than ever
  • Players and staff must be united on and off the pitch to win the biggest prizes

There has never been a greater focus on tactics than there is today. Gone are the days of just 4-4-2. Last season Manchester City won the Premier League playing 4-3-3 and Chelsea won the Champions League playing 3-4-3.

At Euro 2020, England used both systems in reaching the final. The modern-day player is an intellectual with an understanding of how to play in different systems, whichever way his manager wants.

This interest in football’s tactical side has filtered through the game. Arsene Wenger once told me he saw a Sunday League manager with a flipchart while cycling through Barnet on a rare day off!

Current managers like Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp (pictured) have a very intense tactical focus

At the very top, clubs come armed with their own teams of tactical and analytical specialists. Everything is recorded, with some footage even taken from drones hovering over the training field during sessions. 

Liverpool have a throw-in specialist, the Danish coach Thomas Gronnemark, with teams understanding it’s not just what you do when the ball is in play but what you’re doing when the ball is about to come back into play.

These restarts are hugely important. Given there are around 80 of those on average per game, with throw-ins accounting for 40 of those, the top teams go to great lengths to be organised. Watch how Leeds handle these situations — they go man for man and smother the play.

Managers like Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa are thinking about the tiniest details. Every club has just been through pre-season and their own processes of work.

Liverpool throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark (second right) helps with their organisation

Liverpool throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark (second right) helps with their organisation

It’s all about building towards being successful on that first day and getting off to a good start. Some managers will have been focusing primarily on defending, others on attacking.

At Arsenal we’d spend a lot of time on patterns of play — how to get out from the back, what movements we make, when we press. But as well as tactics, man-management is key.

The best managers get their messages across in the simplest of ways. They don’t overcomplicate matters. They give their players a clear picture and create a certain mood, togetherness and team spirit. It’s about ensuring everybody goes into that first game totally switched on.

In the summer we saw Patrik Schick win Euro 2020’s goal of the tournament and that was no accident. The Czech Republic striker will have been advised by his analysts beforehand that Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall would stand off his line. That’s the sort of information players are fed nowadays.

Patrik Schick's goal versus Scotland came from the sort of tactical information given to players

Patrik Schick’s goal versus Scotland came from the sort of tactical information given to players

So what can we expect in the Premier League this season? We will likely see the ball passed more than ever. 

In 2003-04, when these sorts of statistics first started being gathered, the Premier League was averaging 781 passes per game. Last season it was 945.

With new clubs like Brentford coming up and looking to play their way, we are bound to get closer to that 1,000 mark. It’s a numbers game now more than ever. But the successful managers don’t just see each player as a number. 

They share the journey of winning and losing together. Players and staff must be united to win the biggest prizes.