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Parma's Tactics Masterclass 10

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The Tactics of Management

An excellent opportunity to discuss a different aspect of tactics following Norwich City events unfold over the last few weeks.

We have witnessed experience being lived and learned, the imperfect realpolitik of perfect principles and the price of change.

Much tactical analysis can appear or be written as veiled criticism and post-hoc hindsighted wisdom. This has no real value. Analysis or evaluation that predicts developments in - or ahead of realtime events - the proctor-hoc identification of future patterns, trends, flaws and strengths is what has merit and requires some skill and risk to execute.

In the sphere of Norwich City Alex Neil deserves great credit and recognition from observers and invested fans - not necessarily for results or points - but for the risks taken and the change effected. Both are presented as logical, expected and pragmatic in the re-telling, though in terms of where Neil and Norwich stood a couple of short weeks ago, his actions have been hugely impressive for a number of reasons not clearly expresses or perhaps understood in the media.

Throughout the Masterclasses we have stressed that you must play the opposition pieces as well as your own. Many a weak chess player storms out of the blocks, comes close to winning, then loses "against the run of play" from the opponent with the better pawn structure. In truth he was never close to winning, nor was the opponent particularly defensive. Discipline, organisation, shape and calculated, limited ongoing gains are the only real currency.

Alex Neil has achieved a number of very notable tactical managerial gains over the last couple of weeks that deserve recognition.

The move to a back three at Man City did more than just shore Norwich up defensively, shutting spaces between the lines and limiting the penetration of a superior opponent. It showed the players that he is capable of change, that he has Plan B (and maybe c, d and e), that he recognised his own mistakes, that - crucially - he recognised the limitations of the players and STILL found a way for them to (almost) achieve points and compete successfully.

He introduced an unpredictability to his formations and style which now has the opposition questioning what he might do against them in future. Such small marginal gains are critical if an inferior side is to claw back ground on parity with better sides. This is the reality of the Premier League for Norwich.

Crucially, he has transmitted very successfully to the players that THEY are flexible. This in turn begets confidence as de-facto it means he has the confidence in them to be so. This is a powerful weapon that he has used well.

It is rather Mourinho-esque "I believe it to be so, therefore it is your truth (now) also".

Empowering players in this way, particularly if the focus is (psychological) flexibility, carries the potential of real future gains.

The inferior must use creative weapons, tactics and approaches if they are to vanquish the superior.

Against Swansea Alex Neil showed huge bravery and courage and (mostly) abandoned his principles. This is to be hugely admired in management and coaching. A Chris Hughton has an excellent coaching model and understands it meticulously well, many a coach can deploy and implement a/their chosen methodology. Players are often not geniuses and there is considerable evidence that repeated structures, patterns and positioning work can recalibrate the natural instincts of players and encourage an inter-linked team framework on the field that can increase the returns from limited players.

Alex Neil showed his players that he can change. There is an element of admitting you are wrong here. There is an element of telling the players that what has gone before (what they were drilled to believe in as right) is now changed, different, possibly even flawed.

There is also an element of the Manager taking over from the coach. Something Chris Hughton was never able to do.

Alex Neil abandoned ''his'' beliefs, ''his'' methodology and recognised - quite rightly - that sometimes results are more important than any of those things. This looks facile and obvious to outsiders, but changing midstream, going against what you have told players hitherto, takes balls and clarity.

It was also a considerable risk.

Norwich were losing games, on a slippery downward spiral. Fans were restless, questioning his experience, methods and there was disgruntlement in the stands. His pragmatic squad-involving, possession-concession, specific territorial focus, abandoning of the high press, shutting the spaces, limited the counter-attacking to key scenarios looks clever and sensible with a retrospective lens, but what if it hadn''t worked? What of the reaction then? What of the tactical analysis, critiques and the loss of both fan camps the "it''s all about resulters" or the "so long as I''m entertaineders"?

Alex Neil''s gamble had some spine to it though. He had already stressed to the board the need for superior players ("they are giving me everything, we are set up right, the tactics are good, they are just making mistakes").

This also carries a message to the players. "The club have worked hard to retain players too good for the Championship, though we must move forward. Are you good enough to stay in the Premier League?". Simply retaining such players ad infinitum has a limited shelf life to it as a strategy, the point will come where new players are necessary is the unspoken threat to the status quo.

Hughton got the money to gamble. Alex Neil will demand it in due course.

It is early to judge, but the evidence of the past few weeks shows that - regardless of age, experience, playing background or origins - we have a genuine Manager at the helm, one who understands when risks have to be taken, when change needs to occur, when challenges have to be issued and when uncomfortable truths have to be faced.

That he is prepared to confront all of those himself, to look inwards before looking outwards, gives him clear authority and a mandate to demand it of his players.

Norwich City is in good hands. That should comfort the fans. And occasionally keep the players up at night.

Parma

Sent from my iPhone

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I think this actually one of your most disappointing offerings to date Parma. Doesn''t really offer us much tactical insight and states the obvious. Very unlike you.

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I think this is a good op with some good points.  You say - "Hughton got the money to gamble. Alex Neil will demand it in due course." My issue there is one of  how much were the purchases of RVW and Hooper down to him and how much they were down to the club.  It appeared that Hughton was pressurised to change his way of football in the second season, such was the clamour for more attacking and more entertainment. Some said in defence of him that some players brought in were beyond

his control because the board insisted on getting those attacking

players in, even though the system Hughton uses may not have been right

for them.  The situation with Snodgrass in the first season was similarly a club based thing rather than manager led - the club had long been pursuing him, long before Hughton appeared.This now sounds like an attack on the club and maybe McNally, but it''s not meant to be - my main concern is that the present manager is strong enough to stick to his principles and doesn''t allow himself to be bossed by anyone - players or board.  He seems fantastic with the players and seems to know how to get the best out of them, so my hope is that it doen''t go wrong at board level as often happens at football clubs.  Some have said that the problems Lambert had were to do with the board being heavy handed with him. Hughton was brought in by the board and they tried to pressurise him to be more attacking. Why get a manager in then try to change the way he manages? If he''s not doing the job you want, sack him.   Adams bought players in, but the experimental footballing board (on which McNally sat) probably had more influence in the buying of players than Adams.  So we come to Neil - a great choice by the board/McNally - but they have to leave him alone to manage how he wants. Don''t get heavy handed with him to the point of making him walk (Lambert). Don''t try to manage the manager (Hughton). Don''t try to gain influence by being on an experimental "footballing board" as I believe it was called.   Get a manager in and let him manage.Don''t get hung up on my references to Hughton - my points are far wider than that particuar debate - it''s more to do with the approach the board has to have to it''s manager - a difficult balance to strike - and given we have a superb young manager, they should trust him, suport him, but most of all let him get on with the job as he wants to do it.  You said "Alex will demand money in due course". I don''t think he will. He will ask for players - but the key thing is that they have to be his players, not anyone else''s idea of players.  He needs to be strong and the board have to allow him to be strong.

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Noted and understood Jacko. There is little doubt that criticism and technical analysis is more stimulating to read than simple praise.

Football management is a lonely business though, particularly at the highest levels for the club''s losing - or not winning - far, far more than they win.

There are endless pundits, posters and peers keen to score points, offer cost-free opinions and second guess with perfect vision hindsight.

When a Manager or coach acts proctor-hoc, changes, embraces reality and makes decisions that - if wrong - come with multiple heavy costs, then it is important we acknowledge, praise and respect it.

Alex Neil contributed more to the points won, and almost won, against Man City and Swansea, than did the players.

It is my view that our Manager has uncommon qualities. Something we might have hoped of believed, but which wasn''t truly known until the last few weeks. In adversity shall ye know him.

As Norwich fans we must celebrate the positives, particularly as their glow will be needed in colder times.

Parma

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Well written but ultimately long-winded, you could have summed up the meaning of the post much more concisely - ''AN bravely changed his tactics when it was individual mistakes, which worked, and therefore should reinforce our trust in him.''
It was brave, but it seemed the logical choice anyway to shore up the defence for the Man Citeh game.

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Just a criticism Parma, because in the past you''ve set the bar so high with you technical and tactical analysis.

I felt as Yorkshire said it was long winded way of saying that Alex Neil has responded to the concern that we''d been ''found out'' tactically. Usually you enlighten me with things I didn''t know or understand.

Steering us onto the tactics, Parma, which I enjoy immensely. The thing I would say about the Swansea game is did we really have any option other than to play the way we did?

Once Redmond was injured, Howson basically had to play wide right and we were always likely to be quite passive as we didn''t have a multitude of attacking weapons at our disposal.

Interestingly, I believe Redmond would have stated the game had he been fit. That is what Alex Neil has said. How would that have potentially changed our approach?

Presumably we would have been more expansive with Redmond in the team? Also who out of Howson or Gary O''Neil would have made way for him and why?

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I for one love the embellishments in Parma''s ''long-form content'', although I can understand how it could be construed as unnecessarily long-winded. I feel he has earned the right to use a bit of editorial rhetoric for giving us such excellent insight - especially considering he is writing in his second language on an iPhone!As far as Sir Alex is concerned, versatility is one thing, but choosing the right tactic for the right occasion is an area where he still needs to convince. He was comprehensively ''gamed'' by Ranieri, Pulis and (to a lesser extent) McClaren before he pulled off successive excellent tactical games at Citeh and against Swansea. However, previous to this he hadn''t shown any real desire to experiment (there was no need, as his primary tactic was working fine) - this season will offer him many opportunities to pick the right ''horse'' for the right ''course'', and ultimately over 38 games the points and position will dictate his success. We should absolutely steer clear of ''wise after the event'' criticism, but I think the proof in the pudding will be whether he can outmanoeuvre his adversaries and set the team and tactics correctly for the opposition. Lambert showed more desire to experiment, which always kept the opposition on their toes, but on occasion his tinkering felt much less meticulous than Neil''s - almost ''scattergun'' on occasion. It unsettled opponents, but also unsettled his players to some extend too. Neil has made some positive strides in finding the balance between mastering a ''plan A'' tactic and implementing different gambits to outfox the opposition, but how well he navigates this balance could be the difference between ultimate success and failure in May.

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Yes the points are well made, most however have already been made, generally in common English.

I enjoy your analysis, not sure why you adopt such a verbose use of language which requires picking through the text to actually get to the meaning, but that''s your choice of course.

I trust you don''t converse in the same way as you write?πŸ˜„

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A load of overblown nonsense dressed up as some sort of ''expert opinion''. Doesn''t say anything more than anyone else could point out. Still convinced this must be some sort of parody.

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[quote user="Mr Jenkins"]Yes the points are well made, most however have already been made, generally in common English.

I enjoy your analysis, not sure why you adopt such a verbose use of language which requires picking through the text to actually get to the meaning, but that''s your choice of course.

I trust you don''t converse in the same way as you write?πŸ˜„[/quote]
Au contraire - I hope Parma does speak like this.  It''s good to see someone unashamed to use the language fully and intelligently, including pertinent Latin phrases.  I''m tired of being told that we should be inclusive to the point of monosyllabism.

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[quote user="Wes Hooly Fan"]A load of overblown nonsense dressed up as some sort of ''expert opinion''. Doesn''t say anything more than anyone else could point out. Still convinced this must be some sort of parody.[/quote]Thank you for your informed and productive riposte. I must have missed your tenure as an insightful and positive contributor.

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woostercanary wrote the following post at 15/11/2015 1:50 PM:

Mr Jenkins wrote:

Yes the points are well made, most however have already been made, generally in common English. I enjoy your analysis, not sure why you adopt such a verbose use of language which requires picking through the text to actually get to the meaning, but that''s your choice of course. I trust you don''t converse in the same way as you write?πŸ˜„

Au contraire - I hope Parma does speak like this. It''s good to see someone unashamed to use the language fully and intelligently, including pertinent Latin phrases. I''m tired of being told that we should be inclusive to the point of monosyllabism.

I wouldn''t want to stand behind him when he orders a take away.

There is value in colourful use of language to enhance the quality of the dialogue and then there is use of language for ones own self indulgence.πŸ˜„

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Like Bor, I don''t have a problem with the word count, but then I don''t spend time in ''takeaways'' either. A meal well prepared is worth the time taken because the quality is more important than the quickness.

Having enjoyed Parma''s master-classes from the beginning, it almost seems like AN has read them as well and gone back to the Italian model espoused in the early editions - keep it tight, make your opponents work hard, then hit them when they least expect it (apologies for the paraphrase Parma!). AN has changed his tactics certainly, but that is also because the quality of opposition has changed as well. From ManCity onwards, this was always going to be a difficult phase of this season and Chelsea, Arsenal, ManUtd and Spurs show that. We are in David and Goliath territory for sure and we need the tactics to cope with that.

I also wonder if this is possibly the answer to the question asked during Master-class 9. AN''s tactics were found out to an extent against Leicester, Newcastle and WBA - so he changed them and almost pulled off a result at ManCity, which few of us would have thought possible. Swansea expected something else and were done in a similar manner to the way we were done by Leicester and WBA. I look forward to see how AN will approach Mourinho and Chelsea next week.

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Yelloow Since 72 wrote the following post at 15/11/2015 7:46 PM:

Like Bor, I don''t have a problem with the word count, but then I don''t spend time in ''takeaways'' either. A meal well prepared is worth the time taken because the quality is more important than the quickness.

I don''t spend much time in takeaways either, not unless Parma is there anyway.

I prefer a good home cooked microwave meal and wholeheartedly agree with your view Yellow.

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I usually enjoy these posts, and don''t mind reading a long, extensive explanation of what Parma believes to be the tactics AN has adopted. BUT there is no tactical analysis in this post.

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Love Parma''s posts. This one erred towards the poetic perhaps, but none the worse for that.

He certainly brings the level of debate to unparalleled heights whenever he offers an analysis, & for that much thanks.

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ron obvious wrote the following post at 16/11/2015 12:06 AM:

"Love Parma''s posts. This one erred towards the poetic perhaps, but none the worse for that.

He certainly brings the level of debate to unparalleled heights whenever he offers an analysis, & for that much thanks."

This thread is begining to look a bit like Public School Boys against the Oiks.πŸ˜„

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ron obvious wrote the following post at 16/11/2015 4:13 PM:

C''est Le GRAND fromage. Mon Dieu! Tut tut. In my office sharpish, Jenkins minor ...

Please you spotted my deliberate mistake there ( as my old maths teacher used to say all too frequently) πŸ‘

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Those looking for detailed tactical analysis in the OP (and I was one of them), need to note the key phrase early on that this is about "the tactics of management". The focus is strategic rather than tactical in the usual sense:

"Throughout the Masterclasses we have stressed that you must play the opposition pieces as well as your own. Many a weak chess player storms out of the blocks, comes close to winning, then loses "against the run of play" from the opponent with the better pawn structure. In truth he was never close to winning, nor was the opponent particularly defensive. Discipline, organisation, shape and calculated, limited ongoing gains are the only real currency....The move to a back three at Man City did more than just shore Norwich up defensively, shutting spaces between the lines and limiting the penetration of a superior opponent. It showed the players that he is capable of change, that he has Plan B (and maybe c, d and e), that he recognised his own mistakes, that - crucially - he recognised the limitations of the players and STILL found a way for them to (almost) achieve points and compete successfully. He introduced an unpredictability to his formations and style which now has the opposition questioning what he might do against them in future. Such small marginal gains are critical if an inferior side is to claw back ground on parity with better sides. This is the reality of the Premier League for Norwich."

The chess analogy sums up the tactics of the Swansea match perfectly, leaving the pundits wondering how Swansea managed to lose the match after so much possession, ignoring the fact that they never managed a single shot on target. The ManCity match was also a ''strategic'' triumph that very nearly achieved an unexpected result. Strategic tactics are about more than formations and player roles and AN is now showing that he has moved up to PL level in this regard.

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