Category Archives: Football

QUICK SCOUTING: Jonas Hector (FC Köln)

  • Name: Jonas Hector
  • Age: 25
  • Position: Left Back
  • Height: 6ft 1 in
  • Bundesliga Apps: 53
  • International Caps: 10

Born in Saarbrücken in 1990, Jonas Hector signed for Köln’s second team in July of 2010 at the age of 20 from SV Auersmacher. Hector had 2 full seasons in the 4th tier of German football with Köln II before getting the call up to FC Köln, as one of Germany’s biggest football clubs was struggling in the second tier of German football. After a strong debut season in the Köln first team, Hector became an integral part of new manager Peter Stöger’s 2013/14 side in his second campaign, starting 33 of 34 matches as Köln won the 2.Bundesliga . Under Stöger Köln have developed immensely, immediately taking them back amongst Germany’s elite and quickly re-establishing themselves in the Bundesliga with Jonas Hector only missing one of the 54 league matches they’ve played since promotion.

Jonas Hector’s consistency both in fitness and form has made him a key player for his club and a strong option for his country. An extremely well rounded wing back Hector is physically impressive. Strong and quick Hector can handle several different threats one-on-one with his overall awareness and intelligence making him such an incredible team asset. Köln’s system is often changing to adapt to each individual opponent, Hector’s intelligence in adapting to different ways of pressing and transitioning from defence to attack and vice versa is such a key in allowing Köln to get positive results in matches where they’re seemingly inferior for the majority. Currently 9th in the Bundeliga, Köln’s slightly more pragmatic approach has them looking upwards, hoping a strong run of form could push them towards an improbable but certainly not impossible European place.

Hector transitioning into a defensive position

Jonas quickly transitioning back to cover the counter attack, show great recovery pace.

Koln attacking but Hector is looking over his shoulder at potential counter

As Koln attack, Hector drifts in field to support the attack but looks over his shoulder, making sure he is aware of the possibilities on a Dortmund counter.

Hector’s stats show him to be a steady if not remarkable player. An average of 2.6 interceptions, 2.4 clearances and 1.8 tackles per match isn’t going to stand out amongst Europe’s defensive elite but it’s his variation and intelligence in his defending that makes him so important. Ensuring that when he goes forward he maintains an understanding of the situation to which he can transition quickly and effectively to stop any counter attack is a huge key. In the modern game where it’s very common for talented offensive wing backs who offer fairly limited defensive capabilities are successful, it’s refreshing to see a full back who likes to get forward but is always aware of his defensive responsibilities. Intelligence is the key word when talking about Jonas Hector’s defending, his awareness in transitioning is one example but his quality in his positioning and pressing has been such a huge part of what’s seen Hector make a 5 year rise from Köln II player to German international. Hector is rarely forced to dive in or is taken into areas where he’s isolated one-on-one against his opposing winger because of his expert positioning. Hector keeping his tactical discipline and working with his CB both when he has to engage the ball (press opponents/clear crosses) and when the ball is away from his defensive zone being the reason why.

Covering passing lane whilst still marking

Perfect position to help defend in the channel whilst also marking the out of shot Ginter.

Pressing Ginter high up, angles body so Ginter has to go backwards

Hector pressing Ginter so cleverly that even in a 3-on-1 situation he has to play backwards as Hector can track the outside so with his pace.

Dortmund heat map

The Dortmund heatmap shows just how little of the ball they saw high up on the right side

In Köln’s recent 2-1 win over Dortmund (arguably their biggest of the season) Hector played as left wing back in a 5-3-2 formation before moving into central midfield late on. Köln’s game plan was simple – they allowed Dortmund possession deep, pressed them high centrally and forced them wide where their wing backs would force them backwards. Dortmund had 69% possession but only three shots on target (with one of those being Sokratis’ goal from a set piece) displaying the effectiveness of Köln’s performance even at 1-0 down. Köln’s resistance to Dortmund pressure had allowed Stöger to go more offensive late on – putting on attackers Bittencourt and Modeste and pushing for an equaliser, which they got along with a subsequent winner. Jonas Hector was superb throughout, he won 8 aerial battles and made 7 interceptions whilst also managing 4 key passes at the other end. Hector’s biggest plus point, however, was how well he neutralised the attacking threat of Dortmund right back Matthias Ginter whilst also supporting Heintz on the left side of Köln’s back 3. Effectively Hector all but shut down Dortmund’s entire right sided offence almost single-handedly, I counted an incredible six occasions in the first ten minutes where Ginter received the ball but through the intelligent pressing of Hector (quickly engaging from the inside cutting off the central pass but not getting too tight to top Ginter running down the line) could only pass back to where he had received the ball from. After those ten minutes, along with his ability to cut off any space in the inside right channel, Dortmund were very reluctant to attack down the right side as their heatmap shows.

Hector is able to combine his strong defensive game with solid technical ability. He releases the ball early and to good effect, showing the sort of discipline and strong decision making that parallels his defensive game. He has very good crossing ability that in a more offensive team could be used as a powerful weapon and shows intelligent timing in his offensive running. Hector’s very recent spell as a central midfielder is looking like another positive step in the German international’s career. Using his pressing and positioning abilities along with his sharp, simple passing game has allowed Hector to make an impressive first impression in his new role and already lead to an assist in the 1-1 draw with Hamburg.

Jonas Hector is quite comfortably one of the most consistent high quality full backs in Europe right now and has been for quite a while. Already an established international a move to one of Europe’s elite clubs is surely on the cards soon for Hector, a move that in my opinion Hector is more than ready for.

Jorginho: The On-Field Conductor For Sarri’s Sensational Napoli

nalaz (4)Nineteen hard fought matches down and it’s all smiles for Napoli and manager Maurizio Sarri. They lead Serie A at the halfway stage, 2 points clear of Juventus. With Inter and Fiorentina both struggling to match the current consistency of Napoli and Juve, it’s looking increasingly likely that Sarri’s men will pose the biggest threat to The Old Lady from Turin as Juventus seek a fifth straight Serie A title. Napoli themselves haven’t won the Scudetto since 1990 when a certain Diego Maradona was leading the charge for the Naples based club. Back to 2016 however and Napoli’s chances look better by the game; led by a fascinating coach in Maurizio Sarri, the Partenopei are playing some breathtaking football with No.8 Jorginho as the central hub.

Maurizio Sarri was appointed as Napoli Head Coach in the Summer of 2015. A Napoli fan born in Naples he is one of the more likeable men in football using his talent, passion and dedication to take him from the 6th tier of Italian football to his dream of coaching Napoli. Sarri once responded to a question about his possible anger at being the lowest paid coach in Serie A with “Angry? Let’s not joke. They pay me for something I would have done for free after work. I’m lucky.” His coaching style is extremely tactical, known as ‘Mister 33’ (after preparing 33 potential set-play situations whilst in charge of Sansovino) he spends hours every day studying and creating football tactics. Sarri has spent years tweaking and perfecting the 4-3-3 system he currently employs at Napoli, a system that requires a seriously talented and well-balanced central pivot to work around. Former Verona midfielder Jorginho is that pivot.

Simages (11)igned in January of the 2014 season, Jorginho had a solid start to his Napoli career which included playing all 90 minutes of their 3-1 Coppa Italia victory against Fiorentina. As Napoli struggled throughout the 14/15 season however, so did Jorginho, starting just 14 league games and never really showing the talent he had meant his Napoli future was in doubt. The arrival of a new head coach in the summer as well as the signings of Allan and in particular Valdifiori (Sarri’s midfield pivot whilst manager at Empoli) added to the possibility that his time at Napoli could be nearing it’s end. However, having started the first 3 games on the bench, his exceptional performances in the back-to-back 5-0 victories vs first Club Brugge then Lazio helped quickly ascend Jorginho from rotational player to vital first teamer. Playing in a slightly deeper role than previously in his career, Jorginho is now a huge tactical key in an extremely talented Napoli side as they chase that elusive Scudetto.

Napoli 4-3-3Napoli’s preferred formation under Maurizio Sarri has been a very offensive and aggressive 4-3-3. The focus of the system is to completely control a large percentage of the ball and space on the pitch within the match, looking to impose their strong technical ability on their opponents after first utilising their speed and aggression in a high in-to-out pressing style. This high, aggressive pressing style, looking to win possession of the ball quickly, is the first phase in such an offensive style. The final phase is the critical part, being able to bury their opponents by finishing off any chances that they are able to create. Having the league’s top goalscorer in Gonzalo Higuain (18 goals) along with the support of Lorenzo Insigne (8 goals) has been huge in this respect. The second phase of play, however, is where Napoli have been most impressive and Jorginho has been the most influential. The passage of play between winning the ball back and looking to score at the other end is crucial for a team looking to play an aggressive, controlling system; variation, intelligence and team understanding are the key components of what make this part of the system work. Second phase football doesn’t just mean retaining possession with needless passes until deciding or being forced into trying to attack the opposition, it’s about how Napoli recycle the ball and move as a unit in order to impose themselves on their opposition. Napoli have excelled in this area with 2 main tactics, often using a long succession of short passes and sharp rotations looking to slowly push up the pitch and pin back, before ultimately pulling apart, an opponent’s defensive structure, whilst also using a quick counter with more direct passes and vertical sprinting looking to quickly exploit space left by an opponent’s attack.

Perfectly positioned to use triangles with teammates ahead of right side attack

Jorginho perfectly positioned early in the 2nd half against Lazio. Here he is in a position to quickly move either direction to cover in a defensive movement whilst also being in a position to receive and recycle the ball when it turns over.

Just passed vs Inter

This is an image just after Jorginho has released a vertical pass beyond Hamisk, through to Insigne. It shows Jorginho’s deep position, Insigne picking up the ball in the pocket and the subsequent offensive runs of Hamisk, Ghoulam and Allan pressing forward to attack Inter.

Jorginho’s role as the Regista in this crucial passage of play really cannot be understated. Playing in the centre of the midfield three, Jorginho’s main job is to recycle possession intelligently whilst maintaining his position as a reference point for wider and more offensive players to work off. Essentially playing as a pivot, Jorginho’s positioning and ball retention ability both offensively and defensively is what triggers the movements of his teammates and allows the team to play such a risky and offensive style. The two full backs are able to push on, central midfielders can play wider and wingers can play higher and narrower because of Jorginho’s tactical discipline. It’s a strong balancing act for Jorginho. Off the ball he has to ensure that he is close enough to his midfield partners to maintain a strong pressing shape both when Napoli are and aren’t in possession of the ball. Jorginho, however, must also maintain a position to effectively cover his full backs if an opponent looks to counter attack and also look to cut off an opponent’s central passing lanes when they look to attack using vertical passes through the channels into the pockets. On the ball he is seen as the middle man for Napoli, dropping deeper to receive possession from his defenders or goalkeeper he has to use his intelligence and exceptional passing ability to build attacks from the back. Rotating passes with his fellow central midfielders and often Lorenzo Insigne (so often playing in the pocket as an inside forward), Jorginho’s game is based around using short, grounded passes as well as more direct, vertical (but still often grounded) passes whilst rotating his position to force an opponent out of his defensive line, creating space for Napoli to attack the final third. His impressive passing stats reflect this. Jorginho attempts on average a staggering 97 passes per Serie A game at an extremely impressive 90% success rate. This passes-per-game average is the highest of any player in Europe’s top 5 leagues and just goes to show how strong Jorginho is at recycling possession in order to push his team up the pitch whilst forcing his opponents to press more and tire quicker.

High up in first wave of press (4-4-2)

This image is taken 5 minutes into the second half vs Lazio. It shows the first wave of Napoli pressing, even at 3-0 the midfield is extremely high with Hamisk and Higuain pressing the CBs.

Slightly right of centre to cover space left by Callejon:Allan whilst retaining positon and communicating with Hysaj

This shows the second wave of pressing; Insigne pressing high and wide whilst Jorginho drops deeper and drifts slightly right to easily move to help Hysaj if the ball is played down the line.

Jorginho’s performance against Club Brugge pushed him into Sarri’s Serie A starting line up for the first time this season, playing in the regista role in the side’s emphatic 5-0 victory over Lazio. Napoli completely controlled the game, boasting 64% possession and restricting Lazio to just one shot on target. Jorginho was an integral part of this brilliant team performance, playing 99 passes at a 96% accuracy along with three interceptions he controlled the centre of midfield. The early stages of the game are where Napoli’s pressing game was so important. Using an in to out system Napoli press in 2 waves: firstly Hamsik pushes alongside Higuain (leaving Jorginho/Allan deeper) to force Lazio wide before Insigne and Callejon press up the wings. Jorginho’s role in Napoli’s pressing game was extremely important in scoring an early goal and gaining  control of the match. His aggressively high starting position meant that when the ball turned over in the Lazio right back area and a pass is played down the line, Jorginho was able to get across quickly and, with Ghoulam, double up on Matri and force the mistake. This mistake gifted the ball to Higuain and the striker finished clinically and emphatically, a sight we’ve become very used to seeing from the Argentine. Once Napoli’s strong pressing game earns them an early lead and forces Lazio to chase the game, Jorginho drops deeper looking to use his positioning and passing ability to further control the game and build attacks from deep. This meant that in trying to chase the game, Lazio were pushing players forward to cut Napoli off at their source but ended up just leaving space for Napoli’s more offensive players to penetrate. This tactic is what leads to the 2nd goal. Jorginho drops into the left back area vacated by Ghoulam and as he lets the ball roll across his body and goes deeper into his own half no less than 5 Lazio players take the chance to press high. Jorginho chooses a more aggressive and risky short pass into Koulibaly over the simple pass back to Reina and consequently Napoli (via a series of short precise passes including Hamsik, a pushed on Ghoulam and a free Insigne in the pocket) are able to exploit the space created by those Lazio players pressing and Allan breaks through to score. This aggressive and risky style means the tactic takes a strong amount of understanding and trust within the Napoli unit. Two huge intangibles that have made Napoli so impressive and have been perfectly exemplified by Jorginho.

This video shows the first two goals vs Lazio and Jorginho’s role in each. Two different types of goals and tactics by Jorginho but with the same end result.

Move from deep centre to slightly pushed on the right side opens space centrally for Raul Albiol to switch play (1:2)

This was taken from late in the 1st half of the game against Lazio; with Albiol on the ball, Jorginho drifts into the right centre pocket, leaving space centrally for Koulibaly to receive the ball and move forward under absolutely no pressure.

Moves back to central area after ball is switched from right to left (2:2)

After the pass is played to Koulibaly, Jorginho starts to move back to the centre allowing for Hamsik and Ghoulam to start pushing up into the left channel.

Playing the Regista role in such a controlling, offensive style isn’t just about simply pressing high early then dropping deep. Jorginho has to be continuously aware of his own position and how it affects his teammates. Their freedom to move and play in the style Sarri requests comes directly from the positions Jorginho takes as the team’s pivot. As the second half wore on we saw Jorginho playing short give and go’s with several of his teammates whilst drifting all over the pitch both vertically and horizontally creating space for players both ahead and behind him. These short, quick passes along with little movements into pockets of space just wide of centre were key in bringing Lazio’s pressing units into different areas of the pitch, areas of the pitch which meant they weren’t able to put Napoli’s back 4 under pressure when they were in possession. Jorginho’s intelligence in his passing and his movement was a huge key in helping Napoli fully impose themselves on the game at 2-0, it didn’t matter that Napoli went on to score five as Lazio chased them, the game was under their complete control and only a horror show of errors would have seen them not go on to win the match.

This 37 second clip from the second half of the match shows a perfect execution of Jorginho’s role when Napoli are comfortable in a match. He drifts from side to side recycling possession linking with defenders and midfielders alike whilst staying perfectly positioned, allowing Napoli to move the ball from right to left and forward to back whilst always remaining a passing option for the player on the ball. The key part of the video however comes at the very end, as Koulibaly has possession Jorginho takes 2 or 3 steps towards his own goal, momentarily attracting the attention of his marker and allowing David Lopez to move into space and begin to attack.

Napoli have only lost once with Jorginho in the starting lineup this season and the mistakes that cost them that game are mistakes that both Sarri and Jorginho will need to learn from to ensure they’re at their best to challenge for the Scudetto. Napoli were flying heading into the game, fourteen wins in their last sixteen games in all competitions, and were fresh off the back of a huge top of the table victory over Inter Milan. The confidence they took into this game proved to be their undoing however, playing too aggressively in the first half an hour against a well-drilled Bologna side managed by the vastly experienced Roberto Donadoni. Despite being five years younger than Maurizio Sarri, Donadoni has been managing at the highest level in Italy for over a decade now and even managed the Italian national side from 2006 through to the end of the 2008 European Championships. Thinking that they could go to Bologna and comfortably turn over Donadoni’s side by being more aggressive in their pressing and attacking was a little naive by Sarri and on the pitch by Jorginho, who learnt a key lesson in the opening half an hour of that game.

Jorginho way in advance pressing ahead of Allan:Hamsik

This shows just how high Jorginho was pressing early on against Bologna; here he is ahead of both Allan and Hamsik when pressing and leaving a big gap between defence and midfield with Destro’s high positioning.

Destro and Diawara staying tight to Jorginho early on

Here we cans we Destro and Diawara tight to Jorginho with Taider looking to cut off the passing lane through to Insigne. This means Koulibaly (Napoli’s least accomplished ball player) is having to thread risky passes to attack Bologna.

Jorginho pressed way too high and not in tandem with his teammates. There were times in the first half an hour where Jorginho was pressing ahead of both Allan and Hamsik. This aggressive high pressing wouldn’t have been such a big issue had Donadoni not noticed and made sure his 3 forwards immediately started making runs in behind the Napoli defence from very high starting positions. This left a large gap between Napoli’s midfield and defence and meant Bologna were able to exploit the Napoli defenders individual weaknesses. Being so high also meant that Bologna central midfielders could engage Jorginho then look to drag him out of position. A few times we saw Taider engage Jorginho, pass out wide then make a diagonal run in to a wide area. This forced Jorginho to decide to track him and leave space centrally for Bologna to exploit or let Taider run free and risk Bologna overloading Napoli in the wide areas. There were several occasions before, during and just after the first goal where Napoli were caught out, either in behind the slow Albiol or with space being left for Bologna attackers to isolate and run directly at Koulibaly. The big Frenchmen has been impressive for Napoli this season but still struggles defending one-on-one against tricky forwards. On the ball Jorginho was finding it hard to influence the game as well. His high starting position meant it was easy for Bologna to mark him with one from midfield (often Diawara) as well as the centre forward (Destro) sticking tight to him on either side. With 2 men staying tight to Jorginho it meant that Napoli couldn’t build their attacks around a pivot and reliable passer. Full backs were pushing at different times and offensive players were having to retrieve sloppy penetrative passes played by the centre backs. The fix was easy for Jorginho, he had to drop deeper in order to gain possession and force Diawara to make a decision but by the time he had figured this out Napoli were 2 goals down and chasing the game.


When Jorginho and Napoli did switch up their tactics however, we did see a strong revival from Napoli and they could have well been level before Reina’s mistake allowed Bologna to take a three goal advantage. Once Jorginho started to drop deeper he was able to open the game up for his teammates with his positioning and passing ability and Napoli started to dominate the match. Sarri’s men had their moments just before the break but it was the first few minutes after half time where they totally dominated the match and, creating chances for Higuain, Callejon and Hamsik with a bit more of the ruthlessness in the final third they have shown this season, Napoli could have quite comfortably overturned the deficit. It was however to be Bologna’s day as Destro’s low effort squeezed passed the Napoli goalkeeper to give Bologna a 3-0 lead on the hour mark, a scoreline that Napoli and Higuain’s late rally couldn’t retrieve as the match finished 3-2. The match will go down as the one that got away from Napoli but if reacted to properly, it could be the game that teaches them the skills they need to win the Scudetto. Modern day managers, in particular recently Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, often look to the reaction of themselves and their teams at tough times. Whether it be going a goal down, losing a match or losing a run of matches, a team and manager’s reaction in these moments is where we can truly see what the side is made of. In dropping deeper and changing the way the game was being played through his individual position Jorginho showed a new found level of understanding in a fairly new role for him and deserves as much praise for his second half performance as criticism for his first half performance.

Dropping deeper in Napoli build up, creates a load of space for him as Taider chooses not to press so high

Jorginho here in line with the Napoi defenders on the ball, affords him plenty of space as Taider chooses not to press. This means he can take the ball on the half turn, move towards the Bologna goal and signal the forward players to move ahead of him.

Early 2nd Half Jorginho's deep position leads to 2 men pressing and space in between Bologna DEF and MID

Early in the 2nd half we see Jorginho again dropping deeper, only this time as 2 of the Bologna CM’s press the ball we can see the huge space it leaves centrally for Hamsik and Higuain to attack.


Jorginho’s best performance in his role as Napoli’s pivot came in his current side’s 2-0 victory over his former side, Hellas Verona. The Brazilian-born midfielder was incomparable as Napoli cruised to the simplest of 2-0 victories at the Stadio Marc-Antonio Bentegodi. Putting in a near perfect performance Jorginho had 212 touches, attempting 195 passes at an astonishing 93.9% completion rate, including NINE key passes (Mesut Ozil averages 4.4 per match, the highest across Europe’s top five leagues). Jorginho’s quite outrageous passing stats in this game were matched only by his superb positioning and intensity as he was key to the aggressive ultra-control system that Sarri’s Napoli carried out faultlessly. The pattern of the match was set in the opening two minutes which I will quickly run you through now:


Tight Napoli system at kick off

Napoli’s tight formation from kick off; shows their in to press immediately forcing Verona to play to their right side.

Jorginho recycling possession deep, attracting Verona midfielders

Jorginho receiving the ball under pressure, attracting Verona players.

Immediately we see Napoli’s in to out pressing style as Jorginho, Hamsik and Insigne force Verona back into the right back area. Higuain cuts off the simple backwards pass and Pisano is forced down the line and out of play. As play moves on we see Allan in a deeper position, exchanging passes with Callejon. Jorginho pushes a little higher to create space for Allan then drops in to create an option before dropping further as the ball goes back to the CBs. Jorginho, Hamsik and Allan exchange passes and rotate positions seamlessly as the Verona midfield struggles to find a pressing rhythm. After Ghoulam goes all the way back to Reina, Jorginho takes the ball under pressure twice, forcing Verona to press higher than they want to. With quick lay offs back to Chirches in defence Napoli were able to edge up the field as a unit and pin Verona back.

Jorginho receiving the ball high up the pitch with Verona penned in

Jorginho receiving the ball in space high up the pitch as Verona are penned in.

Midfield trio pressing immediately to recover possession and keep Verona penned in

Midfield trio pressing high in transition, allows Napoli to win ball back quickly with limited risk as they’re all transitioning back to a defensive position.

Then we see Jorginho very advanced, but still deeper than both Hamsik and Allan, receiving the ball unopposed and able to pick the pass of his choice. This moment came about because of the initial pressing and subsequent second phase passing that had gone before. Jorginho doesn’t pick the right pass on this occasion, looking to force a ball in behind the Verona LB, but as the ball breaks down Napoli are so well-drilled and quick in their pressing that they are immediately able win the ball back in the Verona half and start the process over again. Jorginho is pressing extremely high and aggressively, but is able to do so in this instance as Verona don’t have any controlled possession and he is in tandem with his teammates. Neither of these factors were applicable during his careless high pressing against Bologna. Already at this early stage Napoli have total control over the match and are forcing Verona into an extraordinary amount of defensive and physical work. Credit to Verona as they defend resolutely and hang on for a long time but tired bodies make mistakes and the moment their defence switches off, even for a second, and give a player with the quality of Insigne that amount of space in the penalty area, they are punished.

Overall Jorginho’s transition from either a more advanced central midfielder or one half of a double pivot in Rafael Benitez’s Napoli side to the regista and lone pivot in Sarri’s has been extremely successful. Jorginho is beginning to establish himself as one of the best holding midfielders in Italy and is gaining a strong reputation throughout Europe. For Jorginho to take his game to the next level however he needs to start improving the all round defensive portion of the job. The 24 year old is far from incompetent defensively and it can be argued that in such a style Jorginho doesn’t need to defend as much as a regular DM. This may be true but it still remains that to elevate their game to the absolute highest level, any player in this sort of role has to be have a strong defensive awareness and understanding in order to completely protect his defenders and cover for the forwards in front of him, who can struggle to transition quickly in a team so offensive. Jorginho’s base positions when opponents have controlled attacks is good and his ability to win headed duels as well as one-on-one technical battles is also impressive. Where Jorginho needs to develop his game is in his tackling (with his percentage of tackles won being well under 50%) and his all round defensive actions. Jorginho has made just 0.5 clearances and 1.8 interceptions per game, when you compare those numbers to that of Daniele De Rossi (2.1 clearances and 2.7 interceptions) the holding midfield veteran of Roma is the perfect example to any young defensive midfielder.

The defensive side of the game is something that Jorginho can and will develop over time through experience, however nothing should take away from what has been a groundbreaking first half of the season for Napoli’s chief on-field conductor. Under Sarri, Jorginho and Napoli have come such a long way in such a short space of time. Whether or not it will be enough to end the long wait for top flight success however is difficult to say. Stunning football and a real togetherness has put Napoli atop the rest in Italy but a young squad and a manager with no experience of a top fight title challenge could prove to be a real problem. The story of Sarri is a heartwarming one for football fans but sometimes this can be a cruel game and challengers don’t get much tougher than Juventus. I personally hope they win the Scudetto and I look forward to seeing how Jorginho develops as a player and on-field personality in the coming years. He may never hit the incredible heights of Sergio Busquets as the near perfect all-round modern day regista, but Jorginho has so much still to achieve and potential to unlock if time and luck are on his side.


Team Analysis: High Flying Heracles Almelo

Top 6 after 10 matches


10 matches played and Heracles Almelo are sitting pretty in Eredivisie. Impressive team performances both inside and away from the Polman Stadion have John Stegeman’s side comfortably in 4th place – 2 places better than their highest ever Eredivisie finish (6th in the 2009/10 season) and 10 places better than last season’s finish of 14th. Having only managed 1 season in Holland’s top flight between 1967 and 2005, Heracles are now an established Eredivisie side with this being their 11th straight appearance in the competition. The current season however has seen by far and away their best start: 21 points in 10 matches, smashing their previous best first 10 match record of 14 points in the 09/10 season. The man behind the success, 39 year old John Stegeman, is just in his 2nd season as a football manager having been promoted from assistant manager when Jan de Jonge was sacked by Heracles on August 31st 2014.

Line-UpOver the Summer the young manager faced the task of filling the huge hole left in his side by the departure of Bryan Linssen to Groningen. Linssen had been a talismanic figure for Heracles, scoring 21 goals in 64 Eredivisie appearances for the club; his goals and assists also made up 38% of the club’s league goals as they just about staved off relegation in the 14/15 season. In his absence Stegeman has seen Joey Pelupessy and Oussama Tannane step up from first team rotation players to key members of his first XI, while also being able to get the best out of maturing young stars such as Wout Weghorst, Mike te Wierik and Iliass Bel Hassani. Along with the individual performers, Heracles spent a Summer focussed around building a strong team based on a solid defensive foundation and a varied offensive approach. A side with a good mixture of youth and experience as well as tactical and technical ability, Heracles have a very balanced squad with a seemingly great team spirit. Tactially, Stegeman has employed a flexible 4-3-3 system; adjusting the system from game-to-game as well as in-game. This has been the key to not being predictable and dealing with many different threats, Heracles have been able to do this expertly so far this season; allowing them to get the best out of the current squad, being an offensive-minded team but still solid at the back with the joint 2nd best defensive record in the division.

This shows the tight back 4 of Heracles in the 2-0 derby win over FC Twente. You can see the man marking system in full effect with DM Pelupessy sitting in front

This shows the tight back 4 of Heracles in the 2-0 derby win over FC Twente. You can see the man marking system in full effect with DM Pelupessy sitting in front

The back 4's heatmap in the 2-1 win over PSV shows the tightness of the defence and how CBs work with full backs. Also can see the adventure of Fledderus compared to other defenders.

The back 4’s heatmap in the 2-1 win over PSV shows the tightness of the defence and how CBs work with full backs. Also can see the adventure of Fledderus compared to other defenders.

The Heracles back 4 and Goalkeeper has remained the same for 9 of the league 10 matches so far (Fledderus missed the 2-0 win against Heerenveen through injury) and for good reason; despite a tough start in the 3-1 defeat to Roda JC, the defence has been in impressive form with Heracles keeping 5 clean sheets so far this season. Stegeman has employed a man marking system when in defence, defenders look to stay on their feet and stick one-to-one with their chosen attacker. The back 4 remains a tight unit as centre backs look to more often work with their corresponding full back in order to make they don’t get isolated in a league filled with talented wingers. Of the tight back 4 it’s often the experienced left back Fledderus who breaks the strong defensive line. The Heracles captain often attempts to win the ball higher up the pitch when Heracles are in a strong position in the match in order to create sustained pressure in the opposition half; he also will step out of defence when looking to break forward and counter attack. In the centre of defence Heracles have a strong partnership of Zomer and te Wierik; the former is an experienced Eredivisie defender who’s game is based on his physicality and ability to sweep in behind the left full back. Zomer has been a key performer in certain matches this season and strong relationship with Fledderus is evident but the one-to-one marking system however has sometimes allowed teams to exploit his lack of pace and tendency to get too tight to his man. Mike te Wierik on the other hand has been simply superb for Stegeman’s side, the 23 year old’s anticipation and strong front foot defending have been key for Heracles this season leading to the CB boasting 2.8 tackles per game, 3 interceptions per game and a huge 8.8 clearances per game. Te Wierik is the other defender in the Heracles system who often breaks the defensive line; his great reading of the game allows him to step out of defence quickly to dispossess the opposition before moving the ball intelligently. A free signing from Cambuur last Summer, right back Droste epitomises the defensive set-up of Heracles: composed, no nonsense and very much in tune with his teammates, Droste has been Mr.Reliable for Stegeman this season. The strongest part of Droste’s game has been his positioning; his standard defensive position staying almost always around 10 yards to the right of te Wierik and a couple yards further forward than the centre back. This of course changes when one player has to engage the ball or track a runner. Heracles have had their issues defending crosses however this season, Zomer in particular prone to getting caught underneath the ball and Castro not being the most imposing of goalkeepers when the ball enters his box.

This video shows a few examples of Heracles defending so far this season:

Pelupessy deep early in the 2nd half as Heracles lead PSV, defence sets up around his position.

Pelupessy deep early in the 2nd half as Heracles lead PSV, defence sets up around his position.

A tight defensive formation in the tough trip to ADO Den Haag, Pelupessy in between the 2 banks of 4, closing off space in between the lines.

A tight defensive formation in the tough trip to ADO Den Haag, Pelupessy in between the 2 banks of 4, closing off space in between the lines.

A key to Heracles performance this season has been the form of holding midfielder Joey Pelupessy. The 22 year old former Netherlands U19 international has been in superb form this season adding defensive stability, intelligent passing and a great work rate to Stegeman’s team. The midfield man has been a huge factor in adding balance and flexibility to the Heracles 11. Only 5 Eredivisie central midfielders have a better interceptions per/game record than Joey Pelupessy’s of 2.3 p/g and only 3 of those midfielders make more tackles per/game than Pelupessy, who’s record currently stands at 2.1 after 10 matches gone. The Heracles man’s ability to win and recycle possession without hesitation is similar to that of Barcelona great Sergio Busquets. Although he’s a long way off the incredible performance levels of Busquets it’s clear that Pelupessy’s intelligence, quick thinking and passing range is a huge asset in Stegeman’s system. He allows Heracles to tighten the game when needed as they did away at ADO Den Haag or expand the game and create a quicker, more offensive approach. The video below shows the variation in Pelupessy’s passing game, from quick forward thinking passing to shorter passes designed to keep possession. Whichever pass is required, Pelupessy’s match intelligence means more often than not he picks the right pass and complete’s his pass quickly and with full commitment.

Tight front 3:3 formation early on at ADO

The tight attacking formation vs ADO shows how close Burns and Bel Hassani play to the forwards.

Ball going long to the head of Weghorst, shows good support play from teammates as they switch up attack to a more direct approach.

Ball going long to the head of Weghorst, shows good support play from teammates as they switch up attack to a more direct approach.

Going forward Heracles are more effective than spectacular; using a variety of different attacking ploys Heracles have been able to make the most of their attacking talent since the departure of Bryan Linssen. One player who has really stepped up has been attacking midfielder Illias Bel Hassani: the Heracles number 8 has already matched his tally of 4 goals from last season with all 4 goals this time around being opening goals. The 23 year old former Sparta Rotterdam midfielder has played a lot this season very close or sometimes beyond the front man showing great energy, quick link play and goalscoring instincts. Bel Hassani’s all action approach perfectly compliments the more technical and calculated, Thomas Bruns and more disciplined and tactical Joey Pelupessy in the Heracles midfield. Weghorst, meanwhile, has also stepped up. Playing the Target Man role very well this season in a team that likes to play the ball on the floor. Weghorst has displayed a great ability to lay the ball off first time for midfield runners, move off the ball intelligently to open space for the players behind him and has come up with some crucial goals, scoring 5 in 10 so far this season. The striker hasn’t been afraid to run the channels, often running the left channel so Darri can use his great close control to drop into the inside left channel when the team look to build attacks with thought and precision. Heracles look to use quick counter attack or build attacks through clever passing but they are also happy enough to go long towards Weghorst and utilise his aerial abilities when needed – this was shown well in the win over PSV, Heracles struggled to build attacks due to PSV’s impressive early high press so they went long to Weghorst and got players tight around him to push PSV back and build attacks from higher up the pitch.

4 man counter attack away at Cambuur, utilising Weghorst's aerial ability and getting 3 runnind beyond him.

4 man counter attack away at Cambuur, utilising Weghorst’s aerial ability and getting 3 runnind beyond him.

This 4 man counter attack away at De Graafschap has 2 up trying to get in behind the defence with 2 supporting including LB Fledderus getting forward.

This 4 man counter attack away at De Graafschap has 2 up trying to get in behind the defence with 2 supporting including LB Fledderus getting forward.

Heracles have been very strong in offensive transitions this season. So quick when counter attacking they use their width and quick passiing midfielders to provide often a 4-man attack combining pace, width and skilful forwards. Their 4 man counter attacks come in different variations, it can often mean 3 attacking high at once with 1 support player or 2 high with 2 support players or 1 up top (not necessarily Weghorst) and 3 support quickly from deep. The key to being able to counter so well is the team’s commitment, they don’t hesitate in pushing 4 players forward in one go even when leading and look quickly to release, usually Tannane out right or Bel Hassani centrally – their two best attacking players. With Oussama Tannane staying very wide on the right and one of Darri/Bel Hassani or sometimes Fledderus attacking on the left side, Heracles are able to keep great width in their counter attacks and stay quick and direct with the pace and dribbling abilities of Darri, Bel Hassani and in particular Tannane. Heracles were very impressive when counter attacking in the 2-0 victory at home to Twente especially in the 2nd half; with the lead in place they were able to drop deep and look to break against their derby rivals. Another key feature of Heracles attacking play this season has been their distance shooting, quite the norm in the Eredivisie, 46% of their league attempts on goal have been from outside of the penalty area scoring 7 times. Weghorst’s movement and lay off abilities have been a key part in opening the space centrally for players to take shots from inside 30 yards.

One of the counter attacks against Twente, you can see how wide Tannane and Darri are as well as Weghorst's taking CBs away to allow Tannane to isolate his full back further.

One of the counter attacks against Twente, you can see how wide Tannane and Darri are as well as Weghorst’s taking CBs away to allow Tannane to isolate his full back further.

This counter attack vs Twente again shows the great width although its a rare attack that doesn't immediately have a 4 man wave.

This counter attack vs Twente again shows the great width although its a rare attack that doesn’t immediately have a 4 man wave.

Tannane stats

All stats in this article via

The undoubted star of this Heracles team’s early success however has been Oussama Tannne. The 21 year old winger made an explosive start to his 3rd season at the Polman Stadion; taking the place in the front 3 of the departed Bryan Linssen, Tannane has played as a left footed right winger – being a more direct threat than Linssen was. The recently capped Netherlands U21 international has shown glimpses of his undoubted talents in the past but in the early stages of this season has turned from frustrating to extremely effective. Tannane has pace in abundance, brilliant dribbling ability and a great strike; when able to isolate his full back Tannane has shown impressive variation in looking to beat his man and get a cross or shot in. Heracles attacking approach is often built around getting Tannane in a position where he can isolate his full back high up the pitch, often using Darri, Bel Hassani and Fledderus’ strong combination play in the inside left channel to force the opposition over to one side before looking to switch over to the former Heerenveen youngster. In a league filled with talented wingers, Tannane is 9th for dribbles completed per game but only 1 player in the top 10 for dribbles completed has made more key passes per game than Tannane’s 2 (which also sees Tannane as the 9th best in the league for that particular statistic so far this season). Tannane was a key factor in the victories over Twente and PSV despite not registering a goal or assist with his counter attacking ability in particular causing several problems; however the game’s against NEC (scoring a stunning 35 yard free kick and recording an assist) and Cambuur (scoring 4 goals including a penalty he won himself) are where he’s really left his mark this season, the Cambuur game in particular showed his incredible pace and explosiveness and how when he’s on target he’s as difficult as any to stop. The winger unfortunately picked up a knee injury in the dramatic cup victory over Vitesse but Heracles are hopeful that he will return for the match against Willem II.

The very centralised attack vs NEC, this was a shot taken just as Tannane played in Weghorst for the big man's goal.

The very centralised attack vs NEC, this was a shot taken just as Tannane played in Weghorst for the big man’s goal.

Here we see the rotation of Bruns and Tannane, allowing Heracles to keep their width whilst posing different threats in different areas.

Here we see the rotation of Bruns and Tannane, allowing Heracles to keep their width whilst posing different threats in different areas.

Strong individual performances have been good for Heracles but this is certainly a team effort, lead by a very shrewd young manager in John Stegeman. The former assistant manager has excelled in building strong communication and discipline in his side whilst taking on young talented players and maturing them quickly into accomplished professionals. He’s certainly not without tactical knowhow either; the variety in their attacking play and defensive stability is the product of hard work on the training ground while Stegeman has made several in-game adjustments that have proved vital. This was displayed as previously mentioned with the switch in tactics vs PSV having struggled against the high press. This was also shown in the win over Twente as Heracles focussed their defensive efforts against the Twente right side where, now Porto winger, Jesus Corona provided a serious threat; Heracles dropping deeper and focussing on set pieces and counter attacks in the second half against Twente was key to sealing that victory. Being strong frontrunners has been a feature of Heracles all season, only once in their ten Eredivisie games have Heracles conceded an equalising goal (the first game, a 3-1 defeat to Roda JC). Heracles game-to-game offensive variety extends beyond when they attack (counter or slower build) but also how they attack in terms of the width used, how many runners in behind and even who’s attacking from where. Heracles are very strong out wide but in the 3-0 win over NEC it was from a more central area where they proved most effective, Tannane, Bel Hassani and Darri playing as a tight 3 in behind Weghorst who made more runs in behind than usual to create space for the trio. A feature used in the wins over Twente and Cambuur was the rotation of central midfielder Bruns and winger Tannane, allowing Tannane to use his explosiveness centrally while Bruns technical ability allowed him to swing over more accurate crosses for Weghorst.

Stegeman will be thrilled with his side’s performances so far this season but knows there is still a lot of work to be done; Heracles must maintain they’re togetherness and identity if they’re to ride their current wave of momentum to the end of the season. A top 6/7 finish and participation in next season’s Europa League is definitely a possibility for the Almelo club. In the short-term Stegeman will be looking at the side’s 7 matches heading into the Winter break with confidence; only Feyenoord away looks on paper like a game Heracles will be lucky to get anything from. They need to keep using their determination, team spirit and other key factors (such as being good frontrunners, offensive variety and stability in defence) to maintain they’re current league status. I’m predicting a 6th placed finish for Heracles a good chance of winning the Europa League playoff, I think Stegeman’s an intelligent young manager who’s ability to get the best out of his players will push his side into Europe and a joint highest Eredivisie finish.

Could the Coppa Italia run boost Udinese’s league form?

Tuesday night saw Udinese win the 1st leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final, beating Fiorentina 2-1 at the Stadio Friuli. The win made it 3 our of 3 for the Zebrette in the cup competition which, for a side as inconsistent as Udinese have been this season, is a big deal.

Luis Muriel’s fantastic 83rd minute strike edged Udinese in front before the return leg in Florence in a game that could well salvage a poor season for the side from Udine. Udinese sit 15th in Serie A with 23 points from 22 games, a performance that has been far too reminiscent of the 2009/10 season that saw Udinese finish 15th on 44 points and lead to the managerial sackings of Pasquale Marino and Gianni De Biasi. Marino would return to the helm at the back end of February and finish the season before trading roles with Parma manager Francesco Guidolin.

Image via

Image via

It had appeared that Francesco Guidolin had instilled stability and consistency into the Zebrette until this season. The loss of key defender Mehdi Benatia to Serie A rivals Roma, injuries to impressive young forward Muriel and the struggling form of talisman Antonio Di Natale have all been factors that have worked against the Udinese boss. Udinese’s lack of consistency from front to back has been the big issue for Guidolin however; just 4 clean sheets in the league so far this season and defender Thomas Hertaux (4 goals) being the club’s leading league scorer when excluding penalties from Di Natale’s total of 6 goals underline the club’s issues.

Despite his side’s poor form, however, Guidolin has remained positive; on many occasions the experienced manager has stated that his side are confident they can end their poor run and are ‘ready to prove a point’. Guidolin’s positivity over the last month seems to finally be taking effect on his young side, with them winning 3 of their last 5 in all competitions since the diabolical display that saw them finish with 9 men and a 3-0 defeat away at Sampdoria.

2 of those wins have come in the Coppa Italia but the one that didn’t was the 2-0 win at Bologna; a win that showed a side of Udinese that hadn’t been present for most of the season. The Zebrette seemed buoyed by their success in the cup and had enough mentally to shrug off defeat to Parma a week earlier and show a resilience in their performance that had been lacking for most of the season.

Having won in Bologna and again mid-week with that 2-1 victory over Fiorentina, Udinese host Chievo on Saturday with probably their best chance of the season to finally string 3 wins together and give everybody at the club a huge lift ahead of that 2nd leg in Florence.

Nobody could blame Guidolin for already having next season in mind; realizing that the best they can hope from this season would be a mid-table finish to garner some momentum heading into the 2014/15 Serie A campaign. To do that however they’ll need to get some confidence from somewhere and lifting the Coppa Italia could very well be the huge boost everybody at the club needs.