Since 2014, I’ve worked as a pundit on Asian TV, which has led to a fair amount of media exposure in Britain. One question I’m asked regularly is; how can we change broadcasting to make it better as football evolves. This is a question for producers and presenters.
One thing is certain; it needs to improve – but how?
I can only speak from being a normal guy who was a viewer and fortunately was given a chance to be in the position of a pundit. Our opinions and insight are of such importance to the viewer, that literally tens of thousands of people who watch the game/program will feel they can do it better.
Not everyone can sit and speak with a room full of camera’s or millions of people watching, with segments having to last x minutes and you have 30 seconds to make a point, or to say something which will enlighten the viewer, or even come up with something that nobody has considered. If you’re using a video camera as part of your work, having control over the settings can be very important.
Many viewers are going to be looking to criticize what you have said; call it biased, stupid, wrong etc, you can only speak about things based on information you know, have seen, have researched or have learned from other people.
Punditry, despite looking an easy job, actually isn’t.
I’ve seen many people be given a chance to speak on a camera with opportunities to re-take and do it again so they sounded coherent, and completely bottled it! Imagine doing that live!
I’m asked often – how can I be a good pundit? I don’t know is the honest answer. I say what I think based on information I know and things I have tried to understand. I like tactics, so that’s my thing.
Often people discuss Pep Guardiola’s tactics; Philip Lahm playing RB defensively and RCM in possession. The position of David Alaba as a LCB in a back three then as a LAM as the ball progresses, the way they counter press upon the defensive turnover. Not easy things to see and understand.
To learn things then see them, and be able to predict what will happen takes a lot of time to learn, but to see it live and be able to communicate it, is much more complex.To explain what Bayern Munich try in all six phases of the game, is an incredible task. To have to do it in a 30-second timeframe based on the question of the presenter, can often be incredibly difficult.
For me to be given credibility as a pundit, I need to be bang on with my analysis. It’s kinda my USP.
Many footballers can speak about how they felt about a situation, approached a game versus a specific opponent. I can’t, I didn’t play professionally (not that playing 20 years ago is advantage in 2016) so I need to get around that by offering an opinion on how teams are set up, the role of certain players within the team, and changes a manager may have to make to gain control or kill the match.
I’m also asked ‘What do I look for’ when I’m watching a game. I have 4 parts of a match set plays:
- Attacking and Defensive; zonal, man-man, mixed marking, mismatches, movements
- Attacking Processes; Positioning, style of play, how the ball is moved, how to create chances
- Defensive Processes; Formation, Strategy, opponent adaptations, ball regain areas
- Transitional Processes; Counter Attacking, Counter-Pressing, and multi-transitional moments
When the match is ongoing, often we see a team in possession in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 as an example:
- The Starting position in build up; close to the GK
- The position of the players around the half way line
- The position of the players in the final 3rd
- The way the ball enters the penalty box, who/where are the players are coming from
Often we will have a 4-3-3 team build up with the GK, split CBs and a DM coming between the CBs. I’ll be looking for movement patterns. If the DM drops to form a back 3 in build-up, do they cover his space, or do they leave it free?
If it’s a 4-2-3-1, if a DM drops between CBs, does the #10 drop in to fill his position?
Where are the full backs – are they flat and able to be pressed easily, or have they moved high and onto the shoulder of the widest defending player to stretch the field to offer more central space?
When players move the ball forward, what are the positions of the team?
I’ve given an example below of how the ball may move from the GK to then open up the far side and create an overload, based on how I would train my team in build-up play, to give an idea of how it could look like to bring the ball out, away from pressure and into the opposition half.
As a pundit, we need to analyse and look for ways to help the viewer see the clear picture;
Positioning in possession, how it affects the opponents system? Is it working? Why?
Pressing systems; has it disrupted the flow? Has the ball been won? Why?
Anything that might be causing either side a problem from starting positions, the speed of the ball, the positional movements which may be a surprise – Lahm/Alaba/Busquets/Messi/Weigl/Reus/Ozil are all guys who will be free in their area to get on the ball and look for penetration opportunities.
So when we analyse the match in the first phase of organised attacking, we will look at the positions of the possession team, opposition, how they press – is it a 1 man/2 man/3 man press, it is zonal or man-man, who comes out of position, etc, and how will this affect the build up play?
As a pundit, we are looking for why the players are positioned where they are; there’s a 3v2 between the lines, and a DM dropping into CB to cover the dribble. What is the reason for the CB moving forward? What is the best way to find a way through the defence here? Is the style of play for one team different, and why? Would Atletico Madrid go the same way here as Bayern Munich?
A team like Atletico would go through the same side – why? They would attack while keeping vertical compactness on the side of the ball, always ready to defend.
Bayern would go diagonally to open up the opponent to use their qualitative advantage in larger spaces where it may be easier for them to score.
As a pundit, it’s our job to assess the why rather than what, as everyone can see, but not everyone can understand the why.
As the team start to dominate possession, there are many possibilities, but as a pundit we need to see the movement patterns and how the defence will react to each one of these. This is probably the hardest part as a goal can come from anywhere, but we’re looking for processes to analyse the style of play and how often they can create chances from being inside the opposition half.
Often, defences start to narrow and play deeper, so the pundit needs to look for ways where the team in possession can score or problems in the defensive unit.
If we take the Scotland v Italy game, we created no shots on goal. Largely because there were no possibilities to play 3rd man via up-back-through motions. Also, as Italy used a back 3 v 1, its always hard to be free from marking even if you drift across the line. Maybe in future, Scotland could fight a 3-1-4-2 in this manner with a 4-1-3-2, with CFs playing on the shoulder of the outside CBs, to see how they react. Similarly, with 2 up, if you can bypass the press using the DM, there’s an opportunity to pass forward quickly with 3 central midfielders supporting 2 CFs; we attack centrally to force them narrow to allow our FBs to go higher, then allow us to switch play and pass forward early if we are under pressure.
Just a thought.
Positioning in the final 3rd v a 4-4-2
Here, Arsenal enter the final 3rd, the positions of Gnabry and Ozil make it hard for Fulham to be able to prevent penetration. This would show that when Arsenal bring the ball forward, they are looking to create a central overload on the midfield line of Fulham, around the 2 CMs who have no help.
You can also create overloads behind the opponent midfield line, as often Pep Guardiola will do.
Playing or entering into the final 3rd against a deep, narrow, multi layered block
If we take an example from the UCL final of 2015, we can see Messi very early on has dropped into a RCM position, with Rakitic in RW area Messi would start in, with Iniesta very narrow and ‘inside the block; of Juventus, causing them to narrow. The position of Neymar is very narrow, drawing in Liechsteiner (Juve RB) to open space for Alba on the outside. This will cause Juventus to react to the switch of play and then allow Barcelona some space to start building an attack to complete in the final 3rd from the wide zone
Analysing how a team defends; opportunities to show some knowledge as a pundit
If we as pundits are to analyse how a team defends, we can start in the same time as when one team builds up, when the ball is moved etc. If we are fast, we can analyse both live, aslong as we know what we are looking for.
For example, if we use Bayern v Atletico, in the 1st leg for the 1st 20 mins (as in all Atletico Madrid games) they employed an aggressive high press, then dropped off into a low block 4-4-2.
If we are to take another game as an example, say Spain v Chile, Chile played a 3-4-1-2, with man-man marking all over the field.
Playing in this way is very risky if there’s no pressure on the ball with CBs so flat and wide, but against an opponent like Spain, you as a coach cannot allow them to completely dictate the game, otherwise you won’t get out of your own half, and you’ll get beat.
As a pundit, we would look to see what they are doing to stop that, and if its been useful. If not, are there any small alterations needed to allow it to be successful, or drop the idea and form a low block. Most pundits would just say, drop into a low block, cover the space and hit them on the break.
The problem with this is, you might not get out, as they are set to counter press once its lost, and if you do break forward, you’ll need 4 guys. This leaves you a little vulnerable as you can only make so many 140m sprints up to attack and back to your low block with minimal recovery time between.
Again, similarly, when one team are attacking, we must be able to see how the team defends. Close to goal that’s relatively simple.
4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-1-4-1 etc, and the roles of each player.
Does it change based on the ball position?
Juve 2014 used Patrice Evra or Stephane Liechtsteiner to press into a wide midfield zone on the near side and Arturo Vidal to press near the opposition goal in a 3-4-1-2. This changed to a 4-4-2 diamond or narrow 4-3-3 on a half way line press, then a flat 4-4-2 in their own defensive third.
As a pundit these are the sort of teams which can make a game difficult to read as most guys will say ‘they play 4-3-3, why is he out of position?’ when the formation is a base to give a guide. Juventus having 3 ‘pressing systems’ based on where the ball was, it makes the game more interesting and provides more opportunities to help give insightful comments to the viewer who may not see this.
Zonal or Man-Man;
Special adaptations based on the quality of the opponent – Juve placed Pogba closed to Messi who was marked by Evra, with Pirlo blocking anything diagonally if he receives and dribbles inside. This would be a different way of defending than usual from Juve in 2014 as Messi needs more attention defensively than anyone else. If this was a normal player, the Juventus wouldn’t need to adapt.
Where will they try to regain possession?
Some teams will try to just win the ball everywhere, a little bit randomly, while some will allow the opponent a space to go into where the defence will work hard to regain the ball form there. We could call this a ‘pressing trap’, especially when the area around the ball is overloaded.
If it happens once, it’s just players problem solving. If it happens regularly, it’s probably part of the game plan for this opponent. If it happens regularly and in quick succession, it’s likely been worked on many times and is part of the defensive process within the game model.
Again, we can look at how the teams transition between winning the ball and how they counter attack, or how to prevent the counter attack by counter pressing, which basically means to press the ball instantly upon losing possession. It’s hard to do if you are playing long passes regularly, or a lot of horizontal passes without positioning behind the ball to give security if the ball is lost.
I hope this has been of help for anyone wanting to know how I look at a game from a pundits perspective. It’s not too different from how I would do it as a coach, looking for a way to win but obviously, with 30 seconds to make a point, you need to be articulate and clear with what you want to talk about. It’s a difficult job, much more so than people realise if you are going to do it properly. Some pundits talk in generalisations, but I can’t. I’d get punted as I wouldn’t add anything as I don’t have the profile of a guy with 50 international caps to be allowed to get away with that!
My USP is helping the viewer and offering genuine tactical insight, so that’s what I’ll continue to do.