As Helenio Herrera once said, “He who doesn’t give it all, gives nothing.”
With my Rangers side looking vulnerable at the back and heads dropping, it’s time to harness some of the granite-faced Argentine manager’s fierce approach and tactical nous.
Herrera managed Internazionale in two spells, between 1960-68 and again in 1973-74. He was famous for being a strict disciplinarian, his catchy motivational slogans, and the concept of the ritiro, a quasi-monastic retreat away from the real world in the run-up to games.
He also took Karl Rappan’s verrou system and turned it into catenaccio – a defensively tight, counter-attacking system that sought to move the ball forwards with pace, using a deep-lying playmaker to spray passes to an inside right forward or an over-lapping left wing-back, known as the terzino fluidificante.
So, how to translate this system from the all-conquering Inter side of the ‘60s to Football Manager 2017? Firstly, it employs tight man-marking from the three defenders in the back line, with the sweeper dropping deeper to gather up loose balls. The asymmetrical approach requires the left centre-back to drift wide if the left wing-back is unable to cover. The deep-lying playmaker is the point of transition, and ahead of him is a box-to-box centrocampista centrale and a central midfielder who drifts into the channel ahead of the wing-back.
Creativity comes from this central midfielder or the inside forward, who should be able to drift into the channels and play in the central striker. The system requires midfielders of huge energy and discipline to keep the shape, as well individual skill from the inside forward and striker.
In Football Manager terms, the catenaccio lines up like this:
The style is defensive, with a deeper lying defensive line, tighter marking, and frequent time wasting. Balanced width ensures the back line doesn’t get too stretched, and a higher tempo and more direct passing ensures attacks are mounted quickly.
The left wing-back is encouraged to get forwards with the overlap instruction, while overall shape is maintained with FM17’s ‘Be More Disciplined’ and ‘Stick To Positions’ instructions. The two linchpins of the system are the sweeper and the deep-lying playmaker, set up as a regista in this version. The game’s lack of natural sweepers means that retraining a defensive midfielder is often the best approach, in this case Felipe Melo. The regista should have good values for vision, passing, positioning, and off the ball, as well as good anticipation and decision-making to encourage breaking down opposition attacks.
This picture shows the essential defensive shape, with a congested, narrow midfield, that should force the opposition wide, the two centre-backs picking up their men and the sweeper spare, and the defensive midfielder in a pocket of space for recycling possession.
There are also good passing angles to the inside forward if the left wing-back isn’t free to take the ball and carry it into space. The transition phase, shown here, demonstrates how the inside forward is the attacking out ball, either directly or from a lay-off from the striker. The attacking central midfielder is pushing forwards into space, with the box-to-box man and regista moving up together behind him. The left wing-back is in plenty of space to exploit on the left.
If the ball doesn’t go directly to the wide right player, the left wing-back still pushes forwards and finds space, with the striker a pivot between the two flank players.
This approach should always create overlaps, while keeping the centre of the pitch nice and busy. This defensive stance forces the opposition to go wide too, which means if the ball is turned over then they are immediately vulnerable to a quick counter.
The system works well if the players have time to adapt to their unfamiliar roles. Training should focus on tactics and team cohesion initially, to speed up the process of familiarisation, but once your players know what they are doing, the catenaccio can be a surprisingly exciting formation.
As Herrera declared, “The problem is that most of the ones who copied me copied me wrongly. They forgot to include the attacking principles that my catenaccio included. I had Picchi as a sweeper, yes, but I also had Facchetti, the first full-back to score as many goals as a forward.” Let’s hope Lee Wallace can do the same at Rangers.