Early Doors

Tactics Bored: Laurent Koscielny, master of the pre-assist

Early Doors

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Laurent Koscielny: Lucky enough to have had a pre-assist at Old Trafford on Sunday

Some regard tactics as for the nerds. Football analytics is seen for those who look at the Pulitzer and place more worth upon contextless statistical analysis worthy of a C grade at Maths GCSE.

Some people think that the old school genius of certain managers show that tactics is merely a facet of a good manager, and still less important than managing personalities and ego. Others seem to resent that their lack of people skills rules them out of understanding football.

But we all know that’s wrong. We know that tactics is sexy. We know that only the cool cats understand what a total shot ratio is. We are the world. We are tactics.

Now, let’s get vertical.


The key tactical battle of the weekend was between Arsenal and Manchester United. This was a tactically fascinating match. Tactically fascinating is not, not, shorthand for a game without many chances and goals. Tactically fascinating is not, not, an attempt to appear intelligent when the public are looking at a rubbish game and rightly describing it as boring. Tactically fascinating is not, not, a cowardly piece of intellectual deceit aimed at raising yourself above hoi polloi. Oh no.

The real reason that Manchester United won is far more complicated than United defending better than Arsenal, and scoring one more goal than Arsenal did. That reasoning is for the plebs, and they need to be educated. Some people would like to remove benefit eligibility from those who are not au fait with Rinus Michels, and that idea is not without merit. But until David Cameron is brave enough to run with this policy at the election, you’ll just have to rely on this column to show you the way of the world. Please find below the key tactical battles which allowed Manchester United to win on Sunday:


This was a match-up between two very different midfields. On the one hand, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, the interceptor and the destroyer. On the other hand, Michael Carrick and Phil Jones, the interceptor and the barrel-chested gurner. The question is, who had the best double pivot?

In the first half, the winner of the pivote award goes to Carrick and Jones. Carrick made a couple of errors, as he is wont to do, but he had very impressive pass completion stats, and as we all know, that trumps any other aspect of the game, even goals and glaring defensive mistakes. Jones ran around a great deal and broke up play, and Arsenal, tired after illness and a trip to Dortmund, simply couldn’t handle it. However, in the second half, Jones retreated into the centre of defence and Tom Cleverley replaced him.

Tom Cleverley is an intriguing case, tactically speaking. The modish compliment for teams is that they excel at verticality. Well, Cleverley excels at horizonticality. Matched with Carrick’s lack of focus and ambition, United quickly ceded control of the ball, and more importantly, lost out in the possession stakes. Goals might be overrated, but possession stats are gospel.

Arteta and Flamini grew into the game for the second half, but that’s mainly because Carrick and Cleverley gave up trying to pass to another United player. So, the second half pivote award goes to the United players, as they allowed Arsenal the best chance of winning the game.


As this borderline illiterate, unintelligible and occasionally plain glib analysis shows, Arsenal shoot when they’re closer to goal. At the weekend Arsenal didn’t have many shots at all, and that’s bad. Arsenal should have more shots closer to the goal in future if they want to score goals. This failure to shoot enough and close enough to the goal was bad for Arsenal.


Next up, let’s have a look at who was the most effective No. 10, or as it’s known by pseuds, the enganche.

Mesut Ozil has played pretty badly for a few weeks and against United he was even more anonymous. Despite that, Wayne Rooney was a worse No. 10.

He ran around a lot, and he made a lot of tackles; besides sending in a corner for Robin van Persie, he did absolutely nothing else that you would want from a forward. His passing was atrocious and his first touch was that of a man who had not only never played football before, but also hadn’t yet grasped the concept of physics.

He scored no goals and lost the ball in the final third, gifting Arsenal a number of turnovers (an analytical word meaning getting the ball back, don't you know). Neither player deserves to win Best Enganche, and we are all very disappointed in them for traducing the very concept of using foreign words to sound clever.


In a brilliant step to get to the heart of the game, we all now know what a pre-assist is. That’s right, it’s a way to add pointless vernacular which demonstrates the terrible prose of the tactics expert, and it identifies the player who makes the pass before an assist for a goal. Let’s have a look at the pre-assist of the week, Laurent Koscielny for Manchester United:

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You can see here that the ball goes out of play for a corner. Here ends the analysis of pre-assist of the week, and the analysis of Manchester United versus Arsenal as a whole.

Alexander Netherton - @lxndrnthrtn

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