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Parma Ham's gone mouldy

Parma's Tactics Masterclass 15

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What might have been.

Alan Irvine has slowly modified Norwich''s 4231 and shown that he understood and recognised the weaknesses in the way Alex Neil operated it.

Whilst Brighton were lacklustre and getting ready for a south coast beach party, three wins against good calibre opposition in four games was previously well beyond us and casts Neil in a poor light.

Radical change may well now be enacted for change''s sake by Webber et al, though there remains the nagging doubt that that could be the right move at the wrong time. Norwich once again solving yesterday''s problems. The thread ''Why we should sell our best players'' is 18 months old now. We''ll come back to that..

Tactically Irvine has addressed the glaring strategic flaws highlighted in previous Masterclasses. Given that he has done it in a relatively short timeframe and with little fuss rather suggests that he knew it all along and was unable to convince or communicate it to Alex Neil. This is not necessarily a slight on Irvine. The Glasgow Gambler Neil had a strong Yorkshireman streak of ''I says what I likes and I likes what I says'' about him. His single-minded belligerence was only matched by his unwillingness to listen. This can be effective in short doses, though it is typically not a recipe for lasting success.

Irvine has calmly righted the listing tactical ship by ensuring that whilst we play the ''same'' 4231 formation, players have been given different roles and responsibilities within it. To give a few examples:

1. When we are in possession and Pinto attacks high, Dijks holds a more defensive shape

2. The central two limit their attacking forays and home station, again particularly if Pinto (or Dijks) moves high.

3. Dorrans drops when the centre backs split to receive the ball and is expected to always offer an option. This ensures he is often deeper

4. Because we have relatively lightweight 3/4 players (in the 3), Howson is by necessity reined-in. His attacking instincts are curbed for the good of the shape of the side. Team comes first, playing your best xi players in their favourite places can be utopian nonsense. The team comes first, not individuals within it.

5. The CDM 2 thus create a deeper-lying central 4-block with the centre backs at all times. Clear structure and a respectful defensive shape forcing the opposition to attack wider areas ''the long way round''. They must thus come a bit out of shape to trouble us. They will have to open their shape to get at us, we''ll use those spaces against them on counter (as teams - mostly inferior in paper) have done to us all season.

6. Naismith - and even Pritchard increasingly - adds a nous to the 3/4 area that has been missing for much of the season. When we are attacking he is clearly instructed to keep an eye open for loss of possession and counter-attack risks from the opposition. A hint of Guardiola''s ''think of attacking when you''re defending, think of defending when you''re attacking. Added responsibilities suit Nasismith''s character, gives him gravitas and encourages good direction for his vocalness and communication skills on the pitch. Something we badly need more of.

7. Oliveira is encouraged to follow his natural instincts and drop deeper into midfield areas to overload space and offer some early defensive ballast in defensive phases and to link play and create space behind him for the fast-moving Josh Murphy (who has striker''s instincts) to move into. Hard to mark and defend against, persuading the opposition to sit a little deeper. It can also help amortise Murphy''s sometimes callow defensive play. Acknowledging your weaknesses and making by adjustments to emphasise your strengths. Good, basic management.

7. The ''we''ll score more goals then you because we''re better than you'' Glasgow Gambler''s disrespectful plastic-coated, childish tactical arrogance has gone. This takes away a strategic and easy motivational weapon that we have freely and carelessly given the opposition for much of this season. A rookie mistake compounded by an unwillingness to admit mistakes.

Irvine has shown us the disappointing truth that many of the players are quite capable at this level. We were hubristic, tactically-indulgent and one-eyed in our approach upon relegation from the Premier League and as a consequence wasted our Year 1 advantage. The to e was set in bludgeoning fashion by Alex Neil and it transmitted through a disappointed, relegated squad who chose to hear the dreaded siren call of ''on loan to the Championship'' that the Manager''s flawed tactics and arrogant approach screamed to all and sundry.

Go back to the Masterclasses in 2014 following relegation and the same issues were identified. Very disappointingly we didn''t learn from our own mistakes. The all-powerful Managerial model we operated previously takes some blame here. The revolving-door of Managers took responsibility for failures with it, but equally much good knowledge was cast into the street on the way out. The tendency to ''be different from the ex'' lead to inevitable tactical and strategic lurching throughout the club, all accompanied by repeated bills for upheaval that we can ill-afford in the wider scheme. Spending the Premier riches on divorces, re-marriages and asset rebuilds is an expensive business that only Murdoch-money can indulge.

So we finally move to the model that the Masterclasses have focused on for many years. Finally an end to the Chinese wall between Grub and Grass, no more ''we let our manager''s manage'', no more evangelical belief in a single saviour and resurrector, finally committing to tablet and legend the Lambert miracle. Giving it it''s rightful place as the exception to the religious rule.

Process over prayer.

I am going to make a prediction. Webber''s cute aside that only 12-15 of the current squad will be retained is a no-lose statement and will not come to pass.

As a big fish in a small pond, with relative riches in our pockets and the bookies coronating our ambitions, we could have made the strategic changes now envisioned with real vision and purpose last summer. Our lustre is now somewhat lost on the outside world as we slide further away from the limelight and back off to the beaten track.

To improve we have to do better or buy better.

I don''t doubt that a superior process will see us do better. This should be an evolving, continual, incremental gains kind of success that may have a new-boy-at-school initial excitement, though will of necessity and design become a more gentle - though hopefully linear - progression.

Buying? Time for some Socratic method.

We need to buy better than who? And at what wages? And will they come to us now? And will anyone pay what we want for our fading stars who we pay more to per week than others will countenance?

Let''s take an easy example. We may well need to cut costs. Wages are the real liability cost, not transfer fees. Naismith is well paid for this league. He has value. We''ve bought too many players in-and-around his position. We like him again now, but we could probably live without him (ed - I think we need him).

We can''t / wouldn''t give him away for nothing so: someone''s got to pay min £4m for him and pay him £50k+ per week x 3 years . An outlay of £11.5m. That''s not Championship money. Who buys him from the Premier? Who else could they get for that money? Or less?

Oh right...back to that 12-15 Webber-cull-number then. The message is right, the under-the-table method of delivery cute and the ethos, philosophy and intention starts to have meaning and practical application. Nobody''s on loan to the Championship any more.

Let''s get real. The squad is too big and unbalanced. We need less players and we need to freshen the air. Out of contract players will move on, this gives us an easy start and allows all to present it as the start of ''the big cull''. Mulumbu, Turner, Whittaker, Bassong. Bennett is vulnerable, a specialist CDM or two is tactically key, so Alex Tettey may find pastures new. Klose has value, will get his wages paid elsewhere and is known. He has a game for higher levels, but it doesn''t look much like it in the grind of the Championship. A good buy and a goodbye. Dorrans would be nice to keep, but he is popular and he wouldn''t automatically be the first name on the teamsheet. Could be a casualty-of-war. The Goalkeeping situation is interesting. You could make a case for keeping all/any 3 of Ruddy/McGovern/Ruddy and equally make a case for moving on all/any of the 3. Depends on the market, what''s available and the behind-the-scenes mindset of each.

In order to restructure you may well have seek what has value, rather than what you wish people to buy however. With money in the kitty, the perceived over-reliance-on-Hoolahan problem was lavishly over-solved with Naismith, Pritchard, Maddison expensively assembled, Hoolahan retained (and arguably both Murphy). Arguably 5 out 6 of those players would be in demand and could be sold. The exception is Naismith for reasons highlighted above, which forces us to confront the uncomfortable realpolitik of the situation. Who we want to sell no one will buy, who people want we don''t want to sell. This conundrum is inevitably brought into sharper focus, more often, via our yo-yoing position in the food chain. We are left dealing with repeated radical upheaval on and off the field, with wildly fluctuating finances and playing by resource requirements. And we left that in the hands of one man with an average life-cycle of 18 months?

For those of you in any doubt, this is the kind of problem that a Sporting Director is employed to avoid. A good Sporting Director may not get huge praise, if he does his job really well there will be a lot of problems we don''t have that are never seen or thanked-for-avoiding. Looking behind me the immediate, avoiding grasping at every pound note to buy stars to keep you in the job 2 months longer that the club neither truly needs or should spend its money in. Not getting what you want, getting what you need.

The only nagging doubt?

Have we found the right solution to yesterday''s problem only to find that our world has moved on again?

We will develop a good process now. It will benefit the club. There will be good structural changes and better way of working.

Sky money has changed the game and corrupted and trumped any ISO9001 continual improvement methodology though.

If success is judged by promotion and a regular place at the top table however, then blowing the budget on belief and learning later may be a luxury that even good process cannot in the short term circumvent.

Parma

Sent from my iPhone

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Why oh why are people banging on about Brighton being lacklustre and just come from the party (do people really think they were effectively playing with hangovers, or REALLY didn''t want to win the game last night, in front of 2,000 travelling fans and the cameras?), and not giving our team credit for playing well to counter them?

We pressed very well, (Howson was blowing out of his backside after 25 mins) Brighton moved the ball very well, but had no threat in the final 3rd. They were frustrated when things/passes didn''t go their way.

Make no mistake, Brighton wanted to win that game, but so did we, and we played very well, to counter them.

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Superb op.   Watching on TV last night it was clear the tactics were more refined and roles of certain players were much better.   Kudos to Irvine for that, but also to the players.   You could be forgiven that the players are playing better because the pressure is off this season now promotion isn''t possible, but the tactics have plainly been adjusted and it showed last night.  Certainly feel more optimistic going forwards and good to do it last night against the champions of the league.

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Thanks Parma,

Great read, we have one or two small differences in thinking but in general sing off the same song sheet. It is a pleasure to hear from someone who has put a lot of deep thought into their post, rather than the knee jerk stuff some put on here.

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Been impressed with Irvine for a while now, which surprised me as one of the reasons I was initially against sacking Neil was that Irvine would almost certainly take over and keep things plodding along as they are.

What he''s done has been impressive though, his most impressive work since his Preston days.

With a dispirited squad: 8 games played, 13 points (upper play off territory over the course of a season) 20 scored, 12 conceded alongside some much more stable and convincing performances.

He won''t get the head coaches role but i really hope we keep him on now. He''s a very affable guy and I can''t see any potential head coach (Unless it''s Rosler and he''s as arrogant as Holty says) not wanting to work with him, especially with his reputation now sky high.

He''s also surprised me by how much he''s attacked games and by some of the really nice, quick, incisive football we''ve been playing recently while at the same time making subtle tweaks to our shape on off the ball/ while attacking/defending/keeping possesion. It''s the same players and formation but we look a different, more functional and coherant side.

Definitely hope he''s kept on! Say whatever you want about him but he is absolutely not just another AN.

I agree with everything Parma posted, especially that this spell actually even casts more of a bad light on Neil than making Irvine look good. We''ve improved by correcting some glaring and fatal flaws more than innovating and doing something unique to improve. I now believe we''re seeing this team play to it''s capability. We''re not spectacular but it''s so nice to have a string of games without any really shocking, unexplainably bad performances!

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[quote user="Crabbycanary3"]I thought Webber said that 12-15 would go, not retained?[/quote]

Crabby, in Paddy''s latest 5 pointer article, in point 5 he quoted "only ’12 to 15’ of the current senior squad are wanted for the new era"

Like to know who the 12-15 are, might surprise some with possibly preferred choices being sold to raise restructuring funds???

Interesting times ahead and nice post!

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Parma gets it spot on as usual.The summer is going to be interesting and next season probably the most important for years.

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I wsa thinking about starting a thread asking if Irvine is slowing turning the oil tanker that is NCFC this season round, but Parma has said all that and much more in his post.

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The only question that springs to mind is why the players couldn''t have sorted it out for themselves?  That they should fill in for each other if one goes forward, another covers back, etc?  It''s not rocket science.   It was pleasng to see Naismith for one being more pro-active in helping the defence - so why wasn''t he and the rest of them doing it before?    Even on just seeing highlights of games this season, it was startling to see how players were just standing around waiting to react to a situation rather than try and anticipate things a bit more.  Is that down to a coach or the players themselves?   It''s been a very strange season on the pitch.  Or maybe it''s just simply a case of the right players on the pitch - ie team selection - and as AN said on Sky - having the right players fit and able to be picked. 

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Fascinating, but what has it got to do with Brexit...

It raises all sorts of questions, but I only have time now for one, suggested by ldc''s questions about couldn''t the players have sorted these problems out for themselves.

This surely is the cult of the manager, and how even if the players knew what was wrong and could have fixed it on the field, that would have gone against all their training. I do remember from years ago when Docherty was managing Chelsea and they had a European game coming up, that Venables, then a player, secretly persuaded the other players to ignore Docherty''s inappropriate tactics and play quite differently. But A very rare example.

If we take Hughton (and I apologise for raking over that again!) and Neil both stubbornly held on to a basic philosophy. Crudely with Hughton ultra-defence and not changing even when circumstances dictated so. With Neil over-attack.

Now it seems that a sporting director will have overall control of the transfer (in and out) policy, and may even tailor that to how they want the team to play. Not least because, it seems, the SD will choose a head coach in tune with the SD''s footballing philosophy.

My question is, will the SD, either generally or specifically with us Stuart Webber, get involved not just with the footballing philosophy but tactics and even match to match tactics? So that, for example, if we had had an SD then they would have told Hughton to be more attacking under some circumstances, and Neil to be less so?

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So, was Alan Irvine, Alex Neil''s puppet? What influence did AI have on the overall tactics, when AN was in charge, if people are now saying that AI has made a few tweaks, since AN''s departure?

Was it down to a release of pressure, now that we can''t finish higher than 8th? What about the Fulham performance?

Is it ''just'' football?

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@ Parma: Re. "the nagging doubt that that could be the right

move at the wrong time. Norwich once again solving yesterday''s problems".There surely isn''t a wrong time to abandon the omnipotent manager model in favour of Director of Football plus head coach? Yes, it should have been done at least two, or even four, summers ago, but far better late than never, simply because, even if the latest media rights bonanza has significantly altered the football landscape, the need to avoid the always reactive mistakes that have dogged us the last four years remains absolutely critical.

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Well Parma, I think the Brighton game vindicates everything you have been saying for some time now. since Irvine took over one can see how the team has changed and play become more structured than under Alex Neil.

During the second period the commentators were saying it was a ''nothing'' sort of half, when we were 2-0 up and my thoughts turned to what Parma had previously said about killing off a game by maintaining a form that keeps the ball in non-dangerous areas, and that is just what Norwich did. We were in command all the time. Compare that to other games this season and last when we''ve been defending a lead and the team has collapsed in a collective bout of panic attack. That seemed to have disappeared last night.

Could Irvine be the head coach we''re looking for? He doesn''t want the job of manager but with a sporting director coming in, would Irvine be happy with being in charge of the coaching side, as he seems to have the intelligence for it (or maybe he reads Parma''s Master class series) and the players have responded to him.

On another point, of moving on players. I think in recent weeks Naismith seems to have stepped up to the plate, taking on a more proactive role on the pitch. Instead of moving him on, I think there is captain material there. His potential is at last shining through.

And one other point. While Wes has been our best player over the past almost one decade and has maigic in his boots, I think he now blocks the pathway for Pritchard and Maddison. Pritchard is proving he is now ready to take over Wes''s role and Maddison looks ready to be an impact sub. It''s a tough call but putting sentimentality aside, this is the right time to let Wes go.

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But wasn''t Irvine the Coach under Neil? What''s changed? Was Irvine just happy to have a job, and did exactly what Neil said, even though he (perhaps) realized that it wasn''t the best way forward. That doesn''t sound right.

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It''s a great post Parma and I''m not going to pretend I get close to analysing games to the level you do but under Irvine as each game has passed it has become more clear that the defence have been protected much better when we lose the ball up the field by both an overall better shape and the two DMs quick to fill spaces.

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[quote user="Crabbycanary3"]But wasn''t Irvine the Coach under Neil? What''s changed? Was Irvine just happy to have a job, and did exactly what Neil said, even though he (perhaps) realized that it wasn''t the best way forward. That doesn''t sound right.[/quote]The number 2 only has as much influence as the number 1 is allowed to grant him in any business. S/he can advise/ warn etc but ultimately the decision lies with the boss. Some bosses take advice but so-called "strong bosses" see it as a sign of weakness. IMO, the strong bosses are those prepared to accept advice but that probably goes against the prevailing opinion atm.

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I agree in that the team is not set up lightyears away from what AN was doing, but desperately needed a few informed tweaks- I often look at our strikers in this regard.

Since Irvine took over, Jerome and Oliveira have scored 5 goals between them across 8 starts and 6 sub appearances, suggesting our attacking successes tend to be wrought from other areas of the pitch. So, looking at it in a purely results-based manner, Jerome has started 5 of the 8 games and we earned 7 points; one better than Oliveira who only accrued 6, but in 2 games less and against more difficult opposition (IMO) in Reading, Brighton and Fulham.

I really like CJ as a player, but as a player, his main attribute is running really fast in a straight line. He''ll play best when you get teams turned around, facing their own goal, in a footrace with him that he will invariably win and poke the ball, Ipswich-esque, past keepers and defenders alike.

Problem being that the rest of the team is much more suited to sitting on possession in the opposition half and building more slowly, and Jerome has a unique talent where he can make a ball passed nicely towards him on the ground, look like it was rifled towards him at 40mph. He also encourages the long out-ball from the defence, which more often than not is quickly recycled by our opponents and has our midfield chasing shadows.

As noted by Parma in the OP, Oliveira is much more willing to drop deeper and mix it up with our quality in attacking midfield, creating space and opportunity for other players and takes the constant pressure off of our defensive third as the ball doesn''t keep coming back.

To sum up, under Irvine the team is starting to look like it has a purpose and a plan, whereas before it was a bit Football Manager, aka pick the players you think are best and you''ll probably come good eventually.

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[quote user="PurpleCanary"]Fascinating, but what has it got to do with Brexit...

It raises all sorts of questions, but I only have time now for one, suggested by ldc''s questions about couldn''t the players have sorted these problems out for themselves.

This surely is the cult of the manager, and how even if the players knew what was wrong and could have fixed it on the field, that would have gone against all their training. I do remember from years ago when Docherty was managing Chelsea and they had a European game coming up, that Venables, then a player, secretly persuaded the other players to ignore Docherty''s inappropriate tactics and play quite differently. But A very rare example.

If we take Hughton (and I apologise for raking over that again!) and Neil both stubbornly held on to a basic philosophy. Crudely with Hughton ultra-defence and not changing even when circumstances dictated so. With Neil over-attack.

Now it seems that a sporting director will have overall control of the transfer (in and out) policy, and may even tailor that to how they want the team to play. Not least because, it seems, the SD will choose a head coach in tune with the SD''s footballing philosophy.

My question is, will the SD, either generally or specifically with us Stuart Webber, get involved not just with the footballing philosophy but tactics and even match to match tactics? So that, for example, if we had had an SD then they would have told Hughton to be more attacking under some circumstances, and Neil to be less so?[/quote]I think it was the first leg of a tie against Roma in the Inter-Cities Fairs'' Cup. If so Chelsea won 4-1 and Venables scored a hattrick....

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While thought has clearly gone into this very long post, have you actually been to all of the games which Irvine has been in charge? Or have you basing this from just the Brighton game? If so, the coaching/managerial staff will adapt to the opposition each game and so this may not be representative of Irvine''s general tactical approach.

Moreover, some of the aspects you make about Irvine''s ''tweaks'' sometimes were employed by Alex Neil, again depending on opposition, but the players were ineffective at carrying the tactics out.

For example, you say ''Dorrans drops when the centre backs split'' and ''Oliveira drops deeper'' etc. but they were doing that anyway when playing, just generally the team wasn''t performing as well, or on a consistent basis. In fact, the form of the team under Irvine cannot be yet determined due to his, thus far, short tenure.

I just don''t think nature and success of these ''tweaks'' are solely by way of Irvine''s efforts. There''s been a few different factors that could have effected how the team play - Webber''s introduction and overhaul of staff, the imminent summer transfer window, the departure of a manager who''d lost his way.

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@westie

Re. "the nagging doubt that that could be the right move at the wrong time. Norwich once again solving yesterday''s problems".

This refers to the proposed ''mass cull'' of players, not the welcome and overdue new structure.

Relacing what we have with better is not straightforward given our somewhat changed circumstances from 12 months ago.

@LDC @Purple @Alan Irvine as No 2

I would suggest that the nature of Alex Neil''s reign made such shows of independence unwelcome. Ironically it would be my view that in football-speak (Martin post-Brighton and repeatedly, Jerome, even Howson) in terms of actions on the field (red cards, overt non-tracking back, Leeds, half-hearted responses in games stated as important by the Manager to the media) the players made their feelings perfectly clear from 6 months before Alex Neil''s sacking. In context Alan Irvine has shown he is a professional football man. He equally did his by supporting (and not contradicting) Alex Neil. It was not his name over the door.

Parma

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"My question is, will the SD, either generally or specifically with us Stuart Webber, get involved not just with the footballing philosophy but tactics and even match to match tactics? So that, for example, if we had had an SD then they would have told Hughton to be more attacking under some circumstances, and Neil to be less so? "

A good question Purple. As with all good questions, the answer is already present in the question itself.

As with all good systems there must be a deliberately imperfect marginal grey area of flex-and-tolerance.

Being too right can be wrong.

I admire German engineering, but my E-Class Mercedes has an air-conditioning system that is inferior to my Father''s big Old Volvo Estate. In summer when I have set it a degree too low, it blasts out hot air to get to the new temperature as quickly and efficiently as possible. I don''t want hot air in summer. The old Volvo sort bumbles its way imperceptibly to a new temperature without appreciable change. Much better, yet technically worse.

So it is with lines of communication and pan-football club philosophy.

The Sporting Director must ensure a direction-of-travel in football operations from youth to first team, via recruitment, playing methodology and - inevitably .- the way tactics are employed on the first team field.

It would after all be imposdible to effectively recruit players for the long term good of the club without knowing how and where they were going to slot into the side or club. The Sporting Director role can thus appear all-powerful.

And yet it isn''t.

The Head Coach picks the team, sets the match-to-match tactics, does the Sky interviews, gets his name sung in the stands and is the focal point for the players.

If there appear to be many areas of potential conflict, it is because there are.

One of the dangers inherent to the new European-style structure is that the club - and in our case (now) that means predominantly the Sporting Director* - hires people in its own image. In this way change can in time be no change. This is great if you''ve got it right from the foundations up and from the outset.

Puts the influence and importance of the (first) Norwich City Sporting Director into sharp focus doesn''t it?

Parma

* For this reason the European model includes Technical Director, Director of Football, an often influential President, plus Directors with football links (vid Bayern).

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