Counterattack football is an art. It may seem regressive to allow the opponent to take the initiative, but the best managers have the ability to manipulate play, even influencing their opponent’s possession and passing.
As with boxing’s “back rope”, you pull them in and hit them with a sharp attack, precisely where you are strong and where they are weak.
The best coaches also have a clear vision. They sell their game plan to the players. They can even convince world-class players, used to being more expressive and dominating possession, to adhere to their strategy.
Son Heung-Min played when Spurs played the perfect counterattacking football at St Mary’s
Jose Mourinho is the master at this and you can see the first signs of a talented team of Tottenham players buying his methods.
Sunday’s game is an enigma. What happens when neither party grants a possession bonus? Mourinho was never too bothered by this aspect of the game, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s best performances played on the counterattack. However, I suspect that one can believe more in the method.
The most powerful counterattack platform will often rely on eight players with a defensive mind. Or even eight defensive plus one ready to engage in a defensive role as well as attack.
It is a defensive block of 8 + 1 men. Spurs are moving in that direction, something Mourinho has already used with Chelsea when Arjen Robben and Damien Duff took up defensive stances and then launched into the attack.
Gareth Bale’s arrival is perfect for Mourinho – think, Bale for Robben and Son Heung-min for Duff. He shifts his team to a 4-5-1 defensive form, which can then erupt into a 4-3-3 attacking setup.
Jose Mourinho is a master at getting players to buy into his methods and it’s happening at Spurs
United have too many attacking players like Rashford and Fernandes who don’t want to defend
People might not see these wingers as defensive players, but it’s not how much they push back. It’s more about their positions when their team doesn’t have the ball.
Solskjaer selected a team with a defensive base of six players and an attacking quartet – typically Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood. However, these players want to attack, not defend.
On paper it looks gradual but I’m not so sure and feel like it’s a step too far. Here United have four reluctant defenders – they all want to make the decisive attacking move.