Has Roberto Martinez’s new Wigan formation been influenced by Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli?

After starting the season with their customary 4-3-3 formation, Wigan have now lined up in a 3-4-3 system ever since their 3-3 draw with Blackburn on November 19th. Roberto Martinez trialled the system in a 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa on October 1st, but then reverted back to his familiar 4-3-3 for their following game against Bolton. For the most part Martinez has used the same players, moving Maynor Figueroa from left-back to the left of a back-three, and pushing David Jones from central midfield to left wing-back.

In doing so, Wigan now mirror the shape of Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli, probably the most prominent club side currently playing with a back-three (excluding Barcelona’s experimentation). Below are rough diagrams of each team’s formation, with arrows depicting a player’s general movement during games.

                                 Wigan                                                               Napoli

The movement of the Wigan players closely reflects how Mazzarri sets up his Napoli team. Napoli’s width comes mainly from their wing-backs, especially Christian Maggio on the right. To provide cover, Hugo Campagnaro, the right-sided centre-back, often plays slightly wider than Salvatore Aronica, the left-sided centre-back, especially when Napoli line up against a lone striker. For Wigan, Jones, a natural midfielder, tends to play further forward than Ronnie Stam, a natural full-back. Behind Jones, Figueroa is accustomed to playing left-back and so tends to play wider than Alcaraz.

The front-three also have similarities. For Napoli, Marek Hamsik drops deep to help out in midfield, before breaking forward to link up with his strike partners. Ezequiel Lavezzi uses his pace to attack from the left channel, while Edison Cavani acts as a mobile target-man, bringing teammates into play and being the focal point of the attacks. For Wigan, Jordi Gomez drops deep without the ball to bolster the midfield, Victor Moses likes to attack at pace down the flanks and Connor Sammon (or Hugo Rodallega) looks to hold the ball up and get in the box for crosses.

Ultimately these intricacies give the respective formations a fluency that a standard 3-4-3 system would lack. The lateral movement of the defenders allows the team to take the shape of a back-four if necessary, while the withdrawal of one of the forwards prevents the midfield from being outnumbered against a side playing three in the middle. Equally the forwards perform distinctive roles, one as a playmaker, one resembles a winger and the central striker leads the line. For both managers to stumble across these details independently seems unlikely, and thus there is the suggestion that Martinez has taken some inspiration from Mazzarri’s system.

Wigan’s success with the 3-4-3 may depend on how their opponents deal with an unfamiliar system. Napoli’s success in Serie A is aided by the prevalence of narrow midfields and front-twos, whereas the Premier League has always been dominated by wingers and is now littered with single-striker formations, both of which provide problems for back-threes. Even so, early signs are positive – Wigan have got 10 points in the 9 games they have lined up 3-4-3 (including games against Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal) compared to 5 points in 10 games playing 4-3-3.

Obviously, Wigan’s players lack the talent of their Napoli counterparts, but the similarities are interesting. Whether this extends to the style of play is less likely. Napoli are primarily a counter-attacking side, looking to defend deep and move the ball forward quickly when in possession. Roberto Martinez likes Wigan to keep possession with shorter, more patient passing. It would take a major shift in philosophy for Martinez to copy Mazzarri any further.

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2011 – European Year in Review: Premier League, Primera Division, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga

The Theory

The league season may be the obvious way to track a club’s success, but a calendar year might be a better method to track a club’s progress.  Many teams begin a league season with a host of new players who naturally take time to integrate with the squad and adapt to the team’s style of play. Usually in the early months of a season, managers will gradually incorporate new signings into their existing side. If we accept that by the halfway point in a league season, most clubs will have a settled team and system, it may be true to say that a team in January will have more in common in terms of unity and ability with the team that begins the next campaign than the one that started the current one.

Similarly managerial dismissals are more common in the first half of the season than in the second half. Of the current Premier League managers, nine were hired between August and December compared to only five between January and May. Managers tend to get closer to completing a calendar year than they do a league season, and a change in manager is arguably the biggest catalyst to a dramatic change in form. Therefore, judging a team’s average points-per-game over a calendar year rather than a league season should offer a better guide to their progress as a club, rather than simply their performance in a given competition.

The Statistics

I recently posted an article that analysed the progress of current English Premier League clubs over the past two years using average points-per-game as an indicator of performance (http://footballspeak.com/post/2012/01/03/How-Premier-League-clubs-2011-form-compares.aspx), and some people suggested they would be interested in the statistics for other European leagues. I haven’t attempted to analyse the data as my knowledge of other leagues is limited, but the results are below.

The tables show the clubs’ average points-per-game (PPG) achieved in the league in the last two calendar years across the five biggest European leagues. The Change column represents the difference between a team’s ppg between 2010 and 2011, while the % Change column represents the percentage difference. A team with positive change will have improved in 2011 from the previous year, whereas a team with a negative change will have declined during the same period. Each league is ordered by the points-per-game earned in 2011, and so reflects how the league would look over the calendar year.

Naturally newly promoted sides have no comparison with 2010 unless they were relegated in the 09/10 season. To use their performances in the lower divisions would be flawed due to the obvious difference in quality. Their points-per-game for 2011 is still listed, but it should be noted this is only based on roughly the number of games played by the other teams. Similarly teams that were newly promoted in the 10/11 season have a smaller sample of games in 2010.

Premier League

 Primera Division

Serie A

Bundesliga

Ligue 1

 Observations

The most improved club across the five leagues is Monchengladbach who have increased their average points-per-game by a massive 110.7%. After a relegation battle in the 09/10 campaign and a miserable start to the 10/11 season they ended 2011 in 4th place in the Bundesliga. Honourable mentions go to Levante (65.6%), Atlanta (62.5%), Udinese (61.3%), Sporting Gijon (60.4%) and Malaga (53.9%), who have all improved by over 50% from 2010 to 2011.

No club has declined to the same extent, but some have given it a good go. Steve Kean will be pleased to know that his efforts have resulted in Blackburn achieving something – they are the worst performers across the five divisions when compared to their 2010 form. In 2011 Blackburn’s points-per-game average declined by a wretched 39.1%. Not far behind are Getafe (-36.7%), Freiburg (-35.6%), Bolton (-35.1%), Villarreal (-33.6%) and Stade Brest (-30.4%).  It will surprise nobody that both Freiburg and Villarreal have sacked their managers since the beginning of the season.  It will surprise everybody that Blackburn haven’t.

NB:

If anybody wishes to use these tables for an article, please message me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/nasher3230) and I will be happy to send you the Excel file.

How do Premier League clubs’ 2011 form compare to 2010?

The league season may be the obvious way to track a club’s success, but a calendar year might be a better method to track a club’s progress.  Many teams begin a league season with a host of new players who naturally take time to integrate with the squad and adapt to the team’s style of play. Usually in the early months of a season, managers will gradually incorporate new signings into their existing side. If we accept that by the halfway point in a league season, most clubs will have a settled team and system, it may be true to say that a team in January will have more in common in terms of unity and ability with the team that begins the next campaign than the one that started the current one.

Similarly managerial dismissals are more common in the first half of the season than in the second half. Of the current Premier League managers, nine were hired between August and December compared to only five between January and May. Managers tend to get closer to completing a calendar year than they do a league season, and a change in manager is arguably the biggest catalyst to a dramatic change in form. Therefore, judging a team’s average points-per-game over a calendar year rather than a league season should offer a better guide to their progress as a club, rather than simply their performance in a given competition.

The Statistics

The table below shows the current Premier League clubs’ average points-per-game (PPG) achieved in the league in the last two calendar years. The Change column represents the difference between a team’s ppg between 2010 and 2011, while the % Change column represents the percentage difference. A team with positive change will have improved in 2011 from the previous year, whereas a team with a negative change will have declined during the same period. The league is ordered by the points-per-game earned in 2011, and so reflects how the league would look over the calendar year.

Naturally the newly promoted sides, Norwich, Swansea and QPR, have no comparison with 2010, and to use their Championship performances would be flawed due to the obvious difference in quality between the divisions. Their points-per-game for 2011 is still listed, but it should be noted this is only based on roughly half of the games of the other teams, just as Newcastle and West Brom, newly promoted in 2010, played a smaller number of games in the previous year.

The ‘Big Six’

At the top of the division, the ‘Big Six’ have shown themselves to be superior to the rest of the league being the only clubs to average over 1.50ppg in 2011. This may seem obvious, but in 2010 Everton were averaging 1.61ppg, while Liverpool dropped to 1.44ppg. However Liverpool have progressed well under Kenny Dalglish and are the second most improved side in 2011, improving to an average of 1.80ppg.

The only team to improve by more than Liverpool were Man City, rising from 1.80ppg in 2010 to 2.17ppg in 2011. This reflects the excellent job Roberto Mancini has done, turning an expensively assembled squad into a coherent attacking outfit. Man City now sit alongside Man Utd (2.23ppg) as the only teams to earn over 2.00ppg in 2011, taking Chelsea’s place from 2010. Last season’s champions Man Utd have actually improved in 2011 which makes Man City’s position at the top of the table all the more impressive.

2011 reflects Chelsea’s decline, dropping from an average of 2.03ppg in 2010 to 1.87ppg in 2011 and making them the fourth worst performers in terms of their previous year’s results. Andre Villas Boas has struggled to rejuvenate an ageing and inflexible squad and will be watching his back if he fails to qualify for the Champions League, whatever the compensation may turn out to be.

The statistics also tell us that Tottenham are gaining more and Arsenal less points-per-game in 2011 than they were in 2010, but neither team has changed as much as some would have you believe. Tottenham’s increase of only 0.05ppg would suggest that consistency is still a problem over a calendar year, and that they would do well to maintain their excellent start to the season. Similarly Arsenal’s decrease of only 0.05ppg rubbishes talk of a team on the wane and reflects how well they have coped with the loss of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

Mid-Table

There are nine Premier League clubs that average over 1.05ppg, which is the required average to achieve the accepted survival target of 40 points. Two of these clubs, Norwich and Swansea, are new to the division, yet their points-per-game averages of 1.16 and 1.05 respectively should keep them up if they are able to maintain their current form. Swansea in particular have shown remarkable composure on the ball for a newly promoted side, and their ability to calmly retain possession would surely give them an advantage should they be lured into the panic of a relegation dogfight.

Other members of the mid-table group have had mixed years. Everton’s decrease of 0.13ppg (8.3%) reflects the difficulty David Moyes has faced in the transfer market and his lack of firepower in front of goal. Despite still averaging a respectable 1.47ppg, they achieved the fifth largest decline in points-per-game from 2010 to 2011. The loss of Mikel Arteta seems to have taken a lot out of a side that has had to grow accustomed to losing key players every summer.

Meanwhile, Newcastle and West Brom have prospered under new managers and are the fourth and fifth most improved sides of 2011 respectively. The team that finished one place higher in third comes as a surprise, but Fulham improved by an impressive 0.32ppg (31.6%) in 2011. Considering Martin Jol’s slow start to the season, this statistic closer reflects Fulham’s poor 2010, when the Europa League led to a poor end to the 09/10 season and Mark Hughes struggled at the beginning of the 10/11 campaign. It also demonstrates how well Hughes performed once settled at his new club, and makes his decision to resign all the more puzzling.

Another club suffering from a poor end to a previous season are Stoke, who despite looking more efficient than ever have actually averaged 0.05ppg less in 2011 than in 2010, a 4% dip. Although this is hardly decisive, it may surprise some who believe the club are improving year-on-year. In contrast, it will surprise no-one to discover that Sunderland have averaged 0.21 fewer points-per-game in 2011 than in 2010, giving them the third largest decline (16.4%) in the calendar year. The club has seen a huge turnover of players over the last twelve months and it will be up to Martin O’Neill to bring some stability.

O’Neill’s previous club, Aston Villa, are the final club in the mid-table cluster of teams. Fans have been disappointed with the appointment of Alex McLeish, but Villa have had a marginally better 2011 than in 2010 when O’Neill was in charge for over half of the year. Considering how difficult Gerard Houllier found taking over at the start of the 10/11 season and the sale of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing in the summer, McLeish should get more credit with what he has done in the short space of time he has been at the club. Whether he has the style to appease the fans and help the club progress is another matter.

Relegation Strugglers

At the bottom of the league, five clubs have averaged less than 1.05 points-per-game which would result in them failing to achieve the survival benchmark of 40 points come the end of the season. The last few seasons have suggested that fewer points are now needed to stay in the league, and the statistics support this. Both Wolves and Wigan averaged less than 1.05ppg in 2010 and successfully survived. Wolves have slightly improved in 2011, but Wigan have not changed in the last twelve months. Roberto Martinez’s commitment to an attractive style of play may conceal the fact that Wigan have made no real progression in 2011.

QPR may currently lie above the relegation zone, but their form would suggest they may struggle over the season if they don’t start picking up more points. Their promotion was followed by Tony Fernandes taking over as chairman and promising sizable investment. QPR may have to repeat their late August transfer spree in January if they are to remain in the Premier League.

Finally, the two clubs at the bottom of the league are also the year’s worst performers. Blackburn have taken 0.56ppg (39.1%) less in 2011 than in 2010, while Bolton have declined by 0.44ppg (35.1%). Also, the fact that they are least successful teams over the calendar year as well as the current league season proves that both clubs have been struggling for some time, and that their current form cannot simply be put down to a slow start to the season. The pressure on both managers is well known and the statistics would suggest a change may be necessary to stay in the division.

Summary

So, a good year for Man City, Liverpool, Fulham, Newcastle and West Brom, and a poor year for Blackburn, Bolton, Sunderland, Chelsea and Everton. How will this affect their 2012 performances? Sunderland have already changed manager, and Steve Kean, Owen Coyle and Andre Villas Boas are certainly fighting to keep their jobs. Everton’s situation is different with their lack of investment, and David Moyes’ consistently good record means he is certainly under no pressure from the fans or the chairman. However, the club’s stagnation must be starting to frustrate Moyes, and I suspect this may be his last season at the club. Kenny Dalglish, Alan Pardew and Roy Hodgson all deserve great credit for an excellent 2011, and it will be interesting to see whether they can take their clubs even further in 2012. Martin Jol should get 2012 to really show what he can do with a decent Fulham side having shared the 2011 record with Mark Hughes. Finally, Roberto Mancini is surely the ‘Manager of the Year’, turning Man City into not only title contenders but a team capable of running away with the Premier League in 2012.