I initially wrote this article up for a reddit post. The Spurs subreddit was hot in debate about who would be the next manager, given that José Mourinho looked to be on his way out. Of course, the day after I posted this, José was sacked.
This is not meant to be a formal analysis, but rather a quick look at the general tactics of three main managers whose names kept coming up. Julian Nagelsmann has been talked about a lot, but that’s natural—Nagelsmann is the hottest manager right now, and everyone including Real Madrid and Bayern want him to take control of their clubs. Christophe Galiter, who I am personally a fan of, has generated some interest recently. Finally, Erik Ten Hag is another manager who has been linked with Tottenham for a while now.
For this article, I watched a number of matches on footballia.net and read other tactical analyses of the managers or their squads. These reports are rough and in no way an extensive analysis. The end goal of the reports is to understand each coach’s system and how it would fit in with Spurs’ current players instead of a deep dive into the tactical details of each system. Last, I only focus on these 3 managers but of course, there are many more that have the possibility of coming (if the Super League doesn’t deter managers, that is). I also chose to use bullet points and a more relaxed style instead of a prose narrative, because I believe bullet points correctly convey the information I am looking to convey here.
At the time of posting, a former academy graduate and first-team player, Ryan Mason, is taking control of first team training. I would assume that he will take charge of the Southampton game on Wednesday April 21. Mason was previously in charge of the U18s after retiring from the sport very early because of a horrific head injury. He played with a number of the core team before leaving Spurs, so perhaps he can do a job for a couple games.
CHRISTOPHE GALTIER (Lille)
Buildup and Attack
- 4-4-2; previously 4-2-3-1
- Fairly even play distribution throughout the wings and center of the pitch
- Uses a double-pivot, with one for helping the ball progress up the pitch (Højbjerg), and one for creativity (Ndombele)
- Play out from the back; make sure the midfielders are staggered to create passing lanes
- Asks a midfielder to drop between CBs for a back 3 in buildup, or a fullback stays deep and narrows to form a back 3, allowing space for them to run into later
- Commit all players forward except the CB-CB-FB or CB-Mid-CB trio
- Wingers should drift inside, offering even more space for fullbacks; they also come short and turn to pass to open space for strikers and FBs to run into. At least one winger must offer creativity.
- Dual runs on the same side of the pitch, such as underlapping winger and overlapping fullback allow the midfielders (or strikers) to have options and confuse the defenders
- Strikers can come deep, creating confusion and allow the man on the ball to have 3 options: either striker deep or the winger running into space created by the strikers
- Strict 4-4-2 defensive shape, midfielders close to back 4
- Force the ball wide by defending narrow. All players shift to side the ball is on
- Pressure the CBs and FBs when they get the ball with both the winger and nearby striker/mid. Winger closes lane to outside player (winger or fullback), and striker/mid closes lane to the inside player
- Pressure is started via triggers, instead of constant pressure. Galtier prefers players to cut passing lanes while 1 player might press the ball, instead of having many players crowd the ball
- Counter once ball is won by switching play with a long ball
Bringing it to Spurs
- All our fullbacks and wingers besides Davies could thrive in this system, with wingers drifting inside and fullbacks bombing up. However, Davies would be the best FB to form a back 3 with, so perhaps Højbjerg’s dropping duties would be relieved when Davies plays.
- Kane and Son would be more than able to cut lanes/pressure. Both can run into space the wingers/FBs create and cause problems either individually or by crossing. Kane can still use his passing skills by dropping into space as the wingers push up.
- Dele might thrive in the LW/LS position here. He’s best when his movement, timed with other players’ movements, wreak havoc in the opposing back line. This system specifically calls for that.
- The compact nature of defending could be a major issue if the opponent switches play. Large gaps between winger and FB can arise and space is opened.
- Galtier’s system is much more mental than physical. Off-ball movements, pressing triggers, passing lanes, etc. Our players are prone to mental mistakes so it may not be easy to adjust.
- We know how poor our movement can be some games. Could Galtier fix that? If not, we’ll be moving on to another manager after 1.5 years, I bet.
- One major issue… can we only play with 2 midfielders? Sure, Galtier has used a 4-2-3-1 in the past, but now is almost exclusively 4-4-2/4-2-4. Lo Celso and Dele are the only ones who may be able to effectively play as either a mid or winger in this system. Højbjerg and Ndombele are our obvious starting choices, so where do Skipp and Lo Celso fit in if Lucas/Lamela play on the RW?
ERIK TEN HAG (Ajax)
Buildup and Attack
- 4-2-3-1 (sometimes 4-3-3)
- One midfielder drops in front of the CBs to form a back 3 for buildup while the FBs push up—but not too far—and stay on the touchline; meanwhile the striker and wingers push up to the opposing CBs. The wingers sit in the half space
- All these factors deliver a massive pitch, and space is widely available
- Play forward passes to players, taking advantage of the space
- Switch the play if space becomes tight near the ball. FBs should always be wide to allow for this
- Striker comes deep to allow space for a winger or FB, and can turn or play a pass (Kane would thrive)
- Rotate players attempting to receive a pass if they are cut off or pressured; not quite positional rotations like the FB/winger or Mid/winger switch, but a cycling around of players until defenders are lured away
- Play through the middle more than a wing
- But, do not be averse to playing down the wing and sending in crosses to a striker/winger running behind the defensive line
- Immediate pressure once the ball is lost. Focus on the ball, not where the players are (contrast this with Galtier’s system which focuses on the passing lanes, not the ball)
- However, players further from the ball will try to block passing lanes instead of simply marking a man and then pressing once they get the ball. The key is getting the ball back ASAP.
- Maintain a 4-5-1 shape with the wingers helping in defense and compact the lines. Attacking mid will stay slightly in front of the 2-mid pivot instead of dropping between them.
- Sometimes a midfielder can drop deeper to create more of a 4-1-4-1
Bringing it to Spurs
- Many players are used to a similar system in the Poch Golden Age
- But, that is high-energy and our players are a bit older now. Can we do a relentless pressing game and stay fit (+injury) free the whole season?
- Lots of pressing will open us up when the opponents break our press. We have been demolished by this in the past. Serious work would be needed, if it’s even possible without overhauling half the squad.
- 3 midfielders would allow us to play our best players at the same time. Especially is Skipp is back next seasons.
- Kane would continue to thrive in a system where he’s able to drop back and receive a pass, turn and launch a ball to Son or a FB sprinting ahead.
- We have a number of great passers who might make great use of this rotation-passing system. Quick layoffs to others to work the ball up the pitch.
JULIAN NAGELSMANN (Leipzig)
Buildup and Attack
- Flexible between 4-3-3 variations and 3-5-2 variations. I set the formation below for him as 3-5-2/5-3-2 because that’s what I think brings the most out of our fullbacks and midfielders
- Vertical passing/vertical attacking. Nagelsmann loves possession but seems to hate the horizontal passes of tiki-taka. The “vertical tiki-taka” in FM was created basically for Sarri’s Napoli and Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim
- While he uses a few different positional systems, he tends to always use a double-pivot (great for Spurs’ current midfielders). These players stagger to allow for vertical passes between them, and allows for the attackers to take a few more risks because they ensure defensive stability.
- Wingers or FBs push really high to stretch and create space for others while a midfielder drops between 2 CBs for a triangle or sits right above 3 CBs to form 2 triangles
- Vertical passes force opposition lines to break or move back. Horizontal passing allows defense to retain shape and shift across. So, creating space by stretching the pitch and playing vertical passes allows players to run into space and cause major damage/confusion
- However, he doesn’t tend to attack down the wings, instead using all the central players. The wingers/FBs that create space are used more in the final third than buildup
- Diagonal passes into the half-space makes use of the excess space created by the wide players. Ndombele would cause so much damage here, playing passes that thread the needle.
- Depending on the system of the opponent, Nagelsmann uses man-based pressing/marking or almost zonal pressing/marking, where a few players are able to press whoever has the ball depending on their position on the pitch. One article called this “option”-marking and it means each player has the ability to quickly go and mark 2-3 different players at any given moment.
- “Pendulums” in defense. This means that the midfielders all shift, like a pendulum, to the ball’s side.
- The pendulum allows for pressing and tightens space for the opponent. However, it can be open to a quick switch of play, which is why the FB/WB will stay with the opponent’s switching option instead of pushing higher up
- Generally, Nagelsmann defends deep. He isn’t one for a Klopp-style high-pressing scheme. Luckily, our players are used to this recently because José likes to stay deeper as well (Note: this doesn’t mean Nagelsmann parks the bus. There’s a difference between defending deep and parking the bus)
Bringing it to Spurs
- Nagelsmann requires players who are able to adapt every game. He doesn’t have one system he uses game in game out (like Poch). However, he does have a basic philosophy he likes to use that is apparent in every game, regardless of whether he asks players to man-mark mark or option-mark, or to play shorter vertical balls or longer diagonal passes.
- His system could make use of our best players, since he likes to use many players in the midfield and connect them with vertical passes. Kane is better at connecting the midfield and wingers than waiting in the box for a cross, so he would continue to grow.
- Højbjerg/Skipp double pivot would be dangerous with Ndombele or Lo Celso above them. Ndombele could even form a double pivot with Højbjerg to allow for greater creativity from deep. Hate on Sissoko all you want, but he could also fill a role here—he would be a great option for the deeper pivot, covering for other players and quickly giving the ball to Højbjerg/Ndombele or a FB
- Can our current players handle moderate tweaks from game to game? Nagelsmann’s systems require high football IQ, which some of our players have, and some don’t. Players need to be versatile mentally more than anything. I think there would be growing pains but our players would be able to quickly adapt, but if we got a FULL preseason with him (impossible in a Euros year), it would be even quicker (that’s just my belief).
- In a 5-3-2 or 3-5-2, where do our wingers fit? Son obviously fits up top (hell, 2 of these 3 coaches would need to use Son in a front 2 if we don’t sign another striker), and Lucas could manage, but can Bergwijn? I’m not saying he can’t just asking a question. What about Lamela? I would not trust him anywhere but the furthest forward midfielder, which he would be 3rd or 4th choice for.
- Doherty and Sessegnon (and of course Reguilón) would thrive in a back 3. We know Doherty has underperformed this year because he can’t play in a back 4. Nagelsmann likes to use a back 3, so it could allow our fullbacks to perform better (Aurier is best in a back 3 as well).
- If Nagelsmann wants to play a back 3, we need new CBs. Period. I like Rodon, but I would be more comfortable if he was paired with people other than an aging Toby and if he had a few more PL seasons under his belt. I personally see no issue with Dier in a back 3, even though that sentiment might not be widely held in r/coys. And finally, Sánchez would need to be moved on. Tanganga is similar to Rodon: great potential, but risky for a first-choice CB next season.
All outside images are licensed for reuse. Please contact me if there are any questions.
Christophe Galtier: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dnepr-StEttine_(11).jpg
Erik ten Hag: https://www.soccer24.co.zw/2019/05/09/football-is-cruel-says-ajax-coach/
Julian Nagelsmann: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2020-03-10_Fu%C3%9Fball,M%C3%A4nner,_UEFA_Champions_League_Achtelfinale,_RB_Leipzig-_Tottenham_Hotspur_1DX_3789_by_Stepro.jpg