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While this website has made its name focusing on the lesser known youth of this beautiful sport, and combined it with a tinge of tactical flavour meant for the football enthusiast, we found a large gap to be exploited in terms of combining the two. This mini-series thus focuses on young managers (below the age of 45) and their tactical philosophies, deriving what got them here and where they could go. Austin Nyquist has a look at Eduardo Berizzo’s emergence.
Eduardo Berizzo is a member of a very illustrious group of young managers. The group is defined and shaped by one man’s ambition and the thought provoking tactical revolution that he ignited. They are the disciples, spreading the dogma and feeding the masses on the insights and principles of Marcelo Bielsa. For Berizzo, his time spent with Bielsa as both a player with Newell’s Old Boys and Atlas and as an Assistant Coach with the Chilean National Team was incredibly formative. Of course he has gone on to adapt and innovate in his own manner; however, the commonality in both personality and style is apparent for all to see.
The Argentinian’s coaching career began after the conclusion of an 18 year playing career spanning 4 countries. He was first an Assistant with Chile before going on to manage Estudiantes LP for 4 months followed by a 3 year stint with O’Higgins. It is with the latter club that he truly began to make a name for himself and cut his teeth in management. Over that period he managed to foster incredible gains each year with a 2nd place finish in the 2012 Apertura followed by a 1st place finish in the 2013 Apertura and a 2014 Supercopa de Chile Title. These were outstanding achievements for a club this size and cultivated in his recruitment by Celta Vigo of Spain’s La Liga. As he approaches the conclusion of his third year in charge of the Célticos (two top eight finishes and a third probable) his reputation continues to increase. He has managed to truly squeeze the most out of a team that requires constant turnover and clearly lacks the funds and infrastructure that some of the giants like Barca, Real, and Atletico have at their disposal. What’s more, Eduardo Berizzo has found a way to achieve success while implementing and executing the clear and distinguishable aesthetic that one would expect out of a Bielsa student.
In the beginning of his tenure at Celta, Berizzo looked to implement a 4-3-3 formation but has evolved more or less over the past year and a half and adopted a 4-2-3-1 as pictured in the above image. This formation, along with its subsequent movements and responsibilities, allows the team to play the high energy and high pressing game that their coach demands while subsequently allowing for a bit more defensive security than in the past. The specifics of his tactical approach will be covered in the ensuing paragraphs, but in general, Berizzo desires his team to play with aggression in their hunting of the ball, comfort in possession, urgency in their penetration, and creativity in the attacking third. The front four are flexible in their positional locations, the fullbacks are given license to both overlap the wingers as well as drive into central areas, the center backs are encouraged to bring the ball out and look for incisive passing lanes, and the goalkeeper is given the confidence to constantly receive and circulate possession.
Build Up to Penetrate
It is counter intuitive at times to use the words patient and urgent in the same description but that certainly seems to be the best way to describe the way in which Berizzo’s teams build the play from the back. By no means are they looking to pass or keep the ball simply for the sake of possession numbers (4th, 3rd, and 6th in the league over 3 seasons), but they have a clearly defined purpose. The aim is to maintain possession of the ball as they move up the field while constantly looking to find the first available penetrating ball. It is this speed of play and onus on increased tempo that defines the way in which they build their attacking phases. This is expressed in the fact that although they average the 6th best possession stats in the league, their pass accuracy is only 9th best at 78.4%. They are not afraid or discouraged from bypassing the easy pass for one that may allow them to penetrate quickly. Hence, you will rarely see this team make more than two consecutive lateral passes. Forward is always the first look!
Another element of this verticality to their build up is the positioning of players between lines. With the formation that Berizzo deploys there are consistently 3-5 players finding these pockets, which allows for such a dangerous array of passing options early in the build up phase. As the image below depicts, you have one of the defensive midfielders pushing up past the midfield defensive line along with the attacking midfielder. The wingers are providing the width currently and the striker is on the last line looking to get in behind. With such dynamic starting positions Celta Vigo are able to use their possession to penetrate quickly. If these passes cannot develop then they are able to move back into the areas of space they initially vacated to stretch the field and restart the attack with fluency.
As we look further up the field it becomes apparent that within the 4-2-3-1 setup, the wide players become very important. Now what differs with Celta than many teams is that they very rarely rely on crosses from their wingers or from any of their players in general. In fact they average the second lowest crosses per game in all of La Liga. More frequently they use inverted wingers who look to move inside on their stronger foot allowing space for the fullbacks to move into. What Berizzo adopts is a very fluid attacking quartet that fosters movement and the interchanging of positions. The four players in these positions are given license to float and move and check towards and away from the ball in a constant and perpetual cycle. They each possess the attributes required to thrive in this: speed, agility, comfort on the ball, work ethic, rotational understanding. It is in this part of the field that the manager encourages creativity and adaptability.
Now with this freedom comes a limitation. Positional understanding becomes essential and the occupation of certain zones at all times is very much needed, not only to allow the best circulation options but also to prepare for the counter attack and subsequent pressing roles. This is where the inherent trust between a manager and his players is tested.
As you would expect from a former player and colleague of Marcelo Bielsa, the press becomes a key component to the defensive structure. Now this term gets thrown around left, right, and center and most frequently means different things to different people. When it comes to Eduardo Berizzo the press is all about intensity and urgency. As soon as the ball is lost, it must be won back. Now to be more specific the way in which he instructs his players is very much divided into hunters and organizers. The front four do the majority of the pressing with the addition of a defensive midfielder or fullback depending on where the ball was lost. The remainder of the squad looks to get into a compact and organized structure behind the ball protecting the space behind. With such instructions it is logical to then assume the pressing is very much expected to occur in the attacking third of the field. Berizzo wants the ball won as high up and close to their attacking goal as possible. The remit is to run, run, run and do not let the opposition take a breath or an extra touch or have a moment to think. The players are all engaged and all participate immediately. It is this intensity of work that has also contributed to the constant lineup changes throughout the season, specifically the front four. The expenditure of energy throughout a game is very high and the strain can take its toll with fatigue and injuries, which have hampered the team at times.
Often times the strategy or tactic that works so well can also go so wrong if one of the pieces does not align or one of the players fails to do their part. The Celta Vigo pressing is no exception. As the players chase and look to close down space they often leave holes and channels available for the opposition to run into. If the player on the ball is crafty enough or skilled enough and is able to find this open man then trouble may be in order in the form of a deadly counter attack.
In this particular situation above, the opponent was able to capitalize on the vulnerability in the central area of the field and ignite a counter attack. As noted previously, with every player committed to pressing the ball there is one less covering the space behind. This is where the communication and synchronization of pressing becomes essential. While the immediacy and intensity are not in question, the angles and timing of the press becomes the most important element, especially against higher quality opposition who feel comfortable playing under pressure.
Although there are so many more components to the way in which Eduardo Berizzo expresses his tactical philosophy, these are just some of the fundamental principles. The collective work ethic and intensity of effort on both sides of the ball, the use of possession to penetrate quickly, the urgency to press and press continuously throughout the game, the expression of creativity in the final third, the adaptability of positioning. All characteristics one would expect from a Bielsa prodigy; however, all traits that Eduardo Berizzo has tailored in his own ingenious way. His stock is certainly rising across both the Iberian Peninsula as well as the European Continent. The links to the Argentinian National Team will keep coming and big clubs with deep pockets will certainly have him on their newly drawn up summer transfer lists. The future is unknown but the capacity and ingenuity are unmistakable.
2014 Supercopa de Chile- O’Higgins (3) 1 : 1 (2) Deportes Iquique –
The importance of this penalty shootout victory, which was the first in the club’s history, holds double meaning as the reason they were able to play in the match to begin with was because they won the 2013-2014 Apertura Title (their only top flight title). The combination of these two titles represents the culmination of work that Berizzo developed and achieved with the Argentine Club. It was this portfolio of style and substance that spawned his move to Celta Vigo.
2016-17 Copa del Rey- Celta Vigo 2:1 Real Madrid –
The quarterfinals of this historic competition saw Celta Vigo drawn with powerhouse Real Madrid. With the aggregate from their previous five meetings (all loses) being 5-19 the task was daunting. The first leg was hosted at the Bernabeu, which only added to the gloomy outlook. However, with strikes from talisman Iago Aspas and young fullback Jonny the Célticos pulled out a 2-1 win and followed it up with a 2-2 draw in the second leg to secure their place in the Semi Finals for a second consecutive year.
2016-17 Europa League –
Now, while this isn’t a single result or an aggregate score from a two-legged tie, this UEFA Europa League run may be the biggest prize achieved in the young coaching career of Eduardo Berizzo. In a season that has included results against continental powers like Ajax, Panathinaikos, and Shakhtar Donetsk the ultimate test will come in the Semi Final against Manchester United. A chance to pit strategy and tactical acumen against Jose Mourinho will be a challenge any ambitious managers relishes. With a positive set of results the Spanish side will certainly fancy themselves for the title.
Nolito – In his two years under Berizzo the Spanish frontman scored 25 league goals and amassed 20 assists. Such performances earned him an 18 million euro transfer to free spending Manchester City this past summer. While not all of the credit can be given to his coach, his all around game and consistent impact owes a debt of gratitude to the manager who continuously put so much faith in him. The player grew in confidence throughout his time at Celta and drastically improved his playmaking ability from wide areas. Not only did he become a goal scorer but also a key chance creator.
Iago Aspas – This player has truly come out of the shadows and in from the cold hard reality of his time with Liverpool FC. To those in England he may be viewed as soft or inconsistent or even a waste of money; however, his return to Celta Vigo has spurned a revitalization of what many always considered a true talent. In less than two seasons he has contributed 35 goals and 9 assists. Any burden felt by the loss of Nolito has been replaced by the fleet footed lefty. What’s more, his versatility to play on either flank, through the middle or underneath the striker has allowed Berizzo to use him to maximum effect. Although he seems at home in the North-West of Spain, he may yet have another big move in him.
Jonny – While the previous two players are closer to the finished article, this 23-year-old academy graduate is on the rise. A versatile player that can play left back, right back, or center back, he offers a wealth of options to his current team. He is aggressive in the tackle, quick footed, comfortable in possession, and efficient in his distribution (passing at over 80% success rate). He has also contributed 7 assists over the past two seasons. He has been marked as a future Spanish National Team contributor as well as being scouted by major European clubs like Barcelona and Manchester City.
Read all the other articles from this series here