Analysis The Case for Plan B and how it can be done

Dylan82

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This is an issue that I have reflected upon for some time now, often with unease.

That the team were able to win the premiership through the utility of a singular methodology, without deviation, speaks volumes of both the robustness of the method and quality of players executing it.
This success of course, cannot be expected to continue unchallenged. The current tactical setup is inherently inflexible and it has been a question of when, rather than if, it is negated and exposed. The club will not be able to maintain its level of success into the future unless it is capable of adapting strategy to counter the opposition.

This is not a premiership hangover; it is a direct assault by the competition upon the point of weakness in the system that laid the foundation to last season’s dominance.


Background
There is no road of flowers leading to glory – Jean de La Fontaine

In 2015 the club became unexpected Grand Finalists through the establishment of a very effective seven-man zone defence that made use of the additional defensive spare to rapidly counterattack, becoming the most productive offense in the competition.
The counter to this was the opposition deploying their corresponding spare player into the midfield, blocking the routes to fast ball movement out of defence and providing an outnumber at stoppages.

This continued throughout 2016 and 2017 – strong in defence and attack, but unable to transition between the two effectively.

The watershed moment didn’t come until Round 1 last year. Instead of a back seven, there was a traditional back six – the innovation being the deployment of a wing as an aerobic sweeper, allowing the defence to effectively operate with the advantage of a spare, without creating a mismatch in numbers elsewhere on the ground for the opposition to exploit.
Franklin kicked 8 goals as the defence struggled to adapt. The next ten matches after that however, were victories as the club announced itself as a force reborn, with the controlled, efficient style of play liberated by this structural change becoming a hallmark of a famous premiership triumph.


Plan A – Control
Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack – Sun Tzu

As we know, the current methodology is based around controlling possession and ball movement through the exhibition of precise kicking, eschewing disposal by hand. This results in the comparatively high accumulation of marks and functions also as a very effective circuit-breaker against high pressure, pressing opposition tactics. You can’t tackle or harass a player if they’ve taken a mark.

It’s one thing however to retain possession through kick-to-mark tactics – as we have seen this year alone there are a number of imitations attempting to practice this style with limited success. It’s another thing entirely to be able to control possession and move the ball into attack at pace. It is that combination that was the cornerstone behind why the Eagles went undefeated in September 2018.

So what is different about the controlled game plan from the Simpson Eagles that separates it from the rest of the competition? There are three key elements:
  • A squad full of contested marking specialists – with arguably the best marking spine in the league it is logical that a tactic emphasising taking marks would be playing to the squad’s strength.
  • Effective Penetrating Disposal Outlets – opposition defences are now accustomed to rolling their zone across the ground in order to cut off an offensive switch of the ball. A common theme so far in 2019 matches has been watching teams attempting to control possession and hopelessly switching multiple times without actually progressing the ball up the ground at all. In order to beat the zone, a number of short 20-30m kicks are not going to be effective. Longer kicks that entail far more risk are required to expose the opposition. There are few players in the competition that are able to combine the penetration and precision in disposal necessary to turn another switch into a damaging attacking move. In Hurn and Jetta, the squad is blessed with multiple outlets capable of zone-breaking disposal.
  • Aerobic Sweeper – as described previously, the deployment of a wing as an aerobic sweeper, covering vast distances shifting between midfield and defence, allows the defence to effectively operate with the advantage of a spare without the downside of creating a mismatch in numbers elsewhere on the ground for the opposition to exploit. The required combination of overall endurance, repeated sprint efforts and ability to recognise and block opposition avenues of attack restricts who is able to play in this role. Despite mixed opinions among the supporters, Masten has fulfilled this role particularly well, with his efforts being a major contributing factor to improvements seen elsewhere in the squad. It is my opinion that Hawthorn’s recruitment of Scully has much to do with how Masten was reinvented as an aerobic sweeper in 2018.
Combine those elements together and you have a premiership in 2018.


Headwinds
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future – John F. Kennedy

So here we are in 2019, flag unfurled, with arguably a superior squad, yet half of the matches played thus far have been losses by greater margins than suffered at any time last year.
What is going on?

One of the pitfalls of having success is becoming too predictable. The West Coast Eagles are exceptionally predictable. Each week the opposition knows how the team is going to be set up; what the approach will be and that it is not going to change throughout the coming match, either.

The consistency in approach provides certainty and role clarity for the playing group, but also causes rigidity and inflexibility to respond to opposition tactics.
But the wheels of change are always turning. It was only a matter of time until a challenge would be presented. The club had put itself under the microscope of every other team in the league by winning the premiership and they were each looking for a weakness. Being so overly predictable has simply hastened the date of this inevitability.

So how has the club fared in the face of this challenge thus far?

Abysmally:
Stats-2019.JPG


Those are statistics more characteristic of a bottom four club than a premiership defence.

Ten of the last eleven quarters of football have been lost.

The club is exceptionally lucky to be 3-3 after six matches with this form and very fortunate that both GWS and Collingwood played to the strengths of the control game plan, rather than attempting to undo it.

Rest assured, the secret is well and truly out now. You can count on every opponent playing the control-killing card against the Eagles for the rest of the season.


Losing Control
Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Mayday! Mayday! We’ve taken a hit… We’re going down… It won’t respond… We’re going to crash…”

I imagine that would be how a condensed version of conversations within the Eagles’ coaches’ box would appear over the past two weeks.

After all, any time there was an issue during a game in 2018 the team held firm, refuted change and were almost always able to work their way back into the contest and reassert control over the match – most famously so coming back from five goals to win the Grand Final. However what we are seeing right now are not out-the-back goals or individual one-on-one efforts of brilliance against the general run of play – it is the systemic negation and exposure of the premiership-winning methodology and the complete inability of the team to be able to respond accordingly.

The current approach to back in the system and have faith that it will eventually come out on top will only end in more poor results and a season of so much promise being wasted.
Obviously, if the premiership defence is to continue there needs to be a significant change in style and approach from the current method. First though, we need to consider what the opposition is doing to expose the controlled game plan and from there identify a course of action to address it.


Uh, Houston, we've had a problem - Jack Swigert, Apollo 13

The commentariat have sharpened their pens and are eagerly reporting the fall of the 2019 Eagles, yet they keep regurgitating the same statistics without presenting any reasoning behind them.

Link | Link | Link

Let’s go a bit further, shall we?

The basis of the current malaise is that the greatest strength of the controlled game plan is in fact also its greatest weakness.

The defence, intercept possession source and zone-breaking disposal outlet, holds its position at all times. This enables the zone to be initiated rapidly, preventing the opposition offence from getting behind the defence and allowing intercept markers the time and space to leave their direct opponent and win possession. It also means however that if opposition forwards push up the ground, they are able to roam unchecked. It is from this source that the current problems being encountered by the club are arising.

The unmarked forwards of the opposition are pushed up into positions behind the ball. From there they hunt off the defensive side of stoppages to add pressure, create congestion, prevent clean clearances, reduce one-on-one marking opportunities and break forward into space once the team has won possession. It is not coincidental that in the last two defeats, the best players on ground in both respective matches, S.Gray and G.Ablett, were both playing off a forward flank with license to roam.

Furthermore, with extra numbers positioned behind the ball, the opposition defence has the confidence to be far more aggressive in their movement and disposal – effectively turning the counterattack dial up to 11 at the merest sniff of a turnover.

The other factor that plays into the hands of the opposition is the approach from the non-key forwards. They are always looking first to get behind the defence and be an outlet, rather than positioning themselves for the spillage from any marking contest. At all times they are trying to get goal-side of their opponents – which in this case is exactly what the opposition wants. This allows the opposition to deploy a zone of virtually unattended players between the stoppage and the Eagles’ attacking 50m arc to stifle the ball movement of West Coast, force turnovers and act as a platform to launch damaging counteroffensives of superior numbers that leave the Eagles’ defence stranded.

PlanB-1-All.jpg
Typical stoppage setup 2018 vs 2019.
1A: Typical stoppage setup 2018 (vs Collingwood, GF)
1B: Typical stoppage setup 2019 (vs Port Adelaide, R5)
Note extra opposition numbers around the stoppage in 1B, creating clearance pressure.



PlanB-2-All.jpg
Typical stoppage outcomes 2019.
2A: West Coast wins clearance, pressured kick goes forward without target. Opposition outnumbers Eagles and wins possession of the ground ball.
2B: Opposition switches to awaiting outlet from defence whilst numbers of opposing players run through the centre unmarked.
2C: Rapid counterattacking chain of possession results in the opposition transitioning the ball into attack before the West Coast defence can setup and goal.
2D: West Coast win clearance, pressured disposal attempting to find a team-mate results in turnover, whereby opposition handball chain results in an easy attacking entry and goal.


TOs-2019.JPG


The combined effect is the complete destruction of 2018’s successful game plan.


The Response
Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake – Napoleon Bonaparte

Following the worst home loss for the club since the infamous 2016 Elimination Final against the Bulldogs, a break from convention was expected.

With Vardy woefully out of form, the dual ruck strategy was abandoned for the addition of a pressure forward, Venables being the beneficiary.

This appears at first like a step in the right direction; becoming more mobile, faster, contested and better at ground level. That is, until the reality of its implementation. The response was an attempt to play an additional aerobic sweeper between stoppage and defence at the expense of a forward position.

It belied an anxiety for a need of defensive assistance, a means of slowing down the opposition to allow the rear-guard ample time to setup and fortify. In practice however, it caused the exposed area of weakness to become even weaker and further hobbled a forward line that was being starved of both possession and confidence. It didn’t bode well.

PlanB-GEE.jpg
Typical stoppage setup (vs Geelong, R6). Note the opposition numbers unmarked and ready to break into space.

To say it was a mistake would be an understatement.

The move played directly into Geelong’s hands, allowed them to have unmarked players roaming freely up the ground and inflicting terrible damage on the counterattack.

The first quarter was the worst defensively for the club since Round 22, 2015, with the Cats kicking seven goals, four of them direct assists from Ablett alone. By quarter time the contest was over. By its conclusion the match had become an embarrassment.

For the third time in just six games the team had failed to surpass 60 points, with this total of 46 being the second-lowest since 2014. You have to go back to 2013 and the dark, final days of the Worsfold coaching era to find the last time the club failed to score 70 points in three consecutive matches.

This is new territory for the coaching setup. Simpson’s legacy will be determined by what happens next as a continuing response to this.
What we do know however, is that further depriving the forwards will only have negative consequences to the performance of the team.

So with the knowledge of what doesn’t work, can we posit a prospective solution for the current woes being encountered by the club? Of course we can – isn’t that what this forum is for after all?


The Solution
Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative – H.G.Wells

We have walked through how the current game plan has evolved, thrived against the competition and been taken to the edge of extinction in the face of a new threat.
Unless the club can rapidly adapt, the current window of opportunity will be lost. But what adaptation should be made and in which way? The answer lies in the problem itself.

What is the hazard in pushing forward flankers into positions behind the ball? If there were no inherent risk, you would reasonably expect to see it occurring in every game – but obviously that is not the case, so there must be a level of risk involved that precludes its ordinary use. Such a move logically endangers the functionality of the attacking half and potentially isolates the key forwards. Of greater importance is the risk of inviting the match to be played within the team’s own defensive end of the ground, whereby opposition pressure on the ball can easily be transferred into pressure on the scoreboard.

There is a relatively simple and widely-publicised tactic that provides reason to why you don’t see extras pushed up the ground and behind the ball more often – the forward press.
Against a forward press, greater numbers behind the ball only serve to create more congestion, hampering clean disposal outlets and limiting the number of outlet targets available – making it more likely for repeated attacking entries to occur, increasing pressure upon the defence until it breaks.

It is without question that the most successful course of action that the club could take in the face of the current challenge presented by opposition tactics is the adaptation of an offensive press.


But before we continue, there are a couple of issues that require some clarification in context of what we now know from a tactical perspective. So here are a couple of sub-articles:

When his kicks do less damage than his hook: the problem of finding a place for Andrew Gaff in a post-premiership world.
Let me be clear, the coaching panel are not drinking Kool-Aid, thinking that Gaff is some kind of uber inside contested beast since returning from his suspension.
The majority of the time Gaff is actually looking to position himself around the stoppage in his usual outside receival role. It’s not quite as simple as “herp-derp swap Sheed and Gaff ffs lol fml… :drunk:
The reality of the situation is more complex – opposition extras sent back are primarily directing their attention upon Shuey, Yeo and Sheed, effectively double teaming them in many circumstances. Without the same level of attention, Gaff often finds himself to be the only Eagle with a clear approach to the ruck tap and naturally goes after the ball (or would you prefer him to just stand there on the outside and watch an opponent claim possession?). Unfortunately, Gaff is one-footed and has slow hands – he makes a poor inside midfielder and his disposal under pressure is horrific.
Address the issues causing the superior inside players to be marked out and I’m sure that you’ll find Gaff will return to his natural habitat outside on the wing.
Flowers for Jack: The tragic tale of how a rubber-chested crustacean became the most dominant player in the competition, only to have it wither away.
Jack Darling was a talent failing to deliver upon potential in addition to developing a reputation for going completely missing in key matches. Then something happened. In 2018 he started to clunk everything and kick goals. It mattered not who was assigned to mark him as he dominated them all in a manner not seen since peak Carey. Exactly one year ago, Darling was without question the best and most influential player in the competition. Despite periods of injury, before the start of the 2019 season he remained the best player for his position across all teams. Now after just six matches he has slipped down five places for position and his overall ranking is approaching 80. For the first time since his debut year in 2011, he has gone scoreless for consecutive weeks.
Just how can a player rise and fall so rapidly in such a manner?
Darling requires fast and direct ball movement otherwise he becomes completely non-effective. Put it this way, you could consider Darling as the anti-McGovern. McGovern has a near-psychic ability to judge where the ball will be ahead of others – sometimes to the point where is moving into position before the ball is even kicked. Darling is the antithesis of that – he reads the ball incredibly late for a key forward. If the incoming ball movement and subsequent kick are rapid and unwavering, he is able to overcome this and take opposition defences apart. However, if the ball gets delayed up the ground, he will be beaten to its eventual arrival by his defensive marker almost every time.
Without markedly improved ball movement it cannot be expected that we will see any major turnaround in Darling’s current form slump.

Plan B
When I don't have control of the ball, what do I do? I press to get it back. It's a way of defending – Johan Cruyff

A press. How very Richmond I hear you say.

So what I say. The Tigers didn’t invent it and don’t own it – it’s a proven method that is clinical with the correct application. Let’s not forget this is about how to return the team to winning ways after all. I’d prefer to win ugly than have another ugly capitulation. “Dirty” football is a disaster against a well-executed press.

But how should such a method be best implemented, given the squad and its current tactical foundation?

In order to deploy a high forward press, the following structural changes are required:

In order to deploy a high forward press, the following structural changes are required:

Maximum of two key forwards:
It is abundantly clear that the team is currently too tall in attack, especially if it is to consider the implementation of a forward press. At all times, only a maximum of two key-sized players (inclusive of any resting rucks) should be occupying the attacking end of the ground to ensure the emphasis of the press upon speed, tackling and pressure is maintained.​
Removal of a specialist defender for an additional midfielder:
With defenders pushed up the ground to negate opposition extras, it becomes preferable for one of those specialist defenders to be replaced by a midfielder who is capable of covering more ground and getting involved in possessive chains.​
If the team is required to switch back to the controlled game plan, an option such as Yeo or Redden would be able to fill the vacancy.​

Now those are not significant changes, indeed it could be argued that the former of the two should have already been enacted several weeks ago.


Let’s take a look at the setup and stoppage functionality of the Plan B proposal:
PlanB-3-All.jpg
Plan B stoppage functionality (vs Geelong, R6).
3A: Positional move / change requirements:

A. Non-key forwards ensure no opposition spares are able to setup behind the stoppage, ensuring they position upon the stoppage side of their opponents.
B. CHF pushes up to the 50m apex, opening up space for the full forward behind and further congesting any opposing stoppage extras.
C. HBFs move up into dangerous positions on the wing and prevent inside stoppage players from becoming double-teamed by demanding a marker.
D. One of the HBFs should be replaced by a midfielder due to the requirement to cover more ground.
E. Swap the positioning of the other HBF with the aerobic sweeper, due to the running requirements of the two roles in Plan B.
F. See E.
G. Creation of a clearance area from the stoppage, opening up to the “fat” side of the ground.
H. Additional inside contested ball-winner at the stoppage.
I. Key-sized players replaced in the squad by faster, agile, tackling players.
3B: Typical proposed stoppage setup, Plan B.
3C: Typical proposed West Coast stoppage clearance outcome, Plan B. West Coast wins clearance, players are available on the outside upon the wings and the forward line is open to maximise one-on-one impact.
3D: Typical proposed opposition stoppage clearance outcome, Plan B. Opposition wins clearance, but congestions leads to tackle and eventual ball-up.


Looking further, we can see how the operation of the switch in play has been arrested under current conditions and how the proposed method can restore its function:
PlanB-4-All.jpg
Plan B switching play functionality.
4A: Typical switch of play 2018 (vs Collingwood, GF). Note the role of the aerobic sweeper in creating a mismatch in numbers which is then used to unstitch the opposition defence and move into attack.
4B: Typical switch of play 2019 (vs Port Adelaide, R5). Note the extra numbers from the opposition up the ground which prevent smooth ball transition and create outnumbered situations favouring the opponent around marking contests.
4C: Typical proposed switch of play, Plan B. Note the use of extra numbers on the wings to create chains of possession and the open forward line setup.


This is the answer to how the club should reinvent itself in order to counter opposition tactics of extras positioning behind the ball.


A Tactically Complete Team
The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection – Thomas Paine

So far, I have argued solely upon the platform of initiating an alternative method of play – a form of high forward press. However, this is not by any means an argument for the complete abandonment of the current controlled game plan. Conversely, this is an argument for flexibility – that the best course of action for the club is to have multiple options available to account for whatever the opposition may present. Such a team could be considered to be tactically complete, with the ability to quickly identify opposition intentions and deploy a plan to negate and counteract it.

It is my opinion that the current Eagles squad, if bestowed with such tactical flexibility to shift at ease between control and press, would become near unbeatable.

Ultimately, the level of success attained by the club this season will be dictated by how it can respond and adapt to challenges. I have presented a proposal of how that may be achieved – no doubt there will be opinions that wildly differ from what has been described here.

However, there is one consideration that I think we can soundly agree upon – that change is necessary in order to recapture the success of last year.
 

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kempy

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#12
Having a Plan B and C is common in soccer. Teams adopt different setups for different games as well as during games. For example, 4-3-3 changes to 1-1-2-4-3 or 4-4-3 depending on the opposition or the circumstances. Rugby sides can switch between a kicking game or plating a more running style. In football its generally along the lines of putting Hunter forward or playing an extra back. Do any football sides have two distinct playing strategies?

Is our solution to Plan B really as simple as implementing the forward press? Can we run Plans A and B in the same games without changing some players? Masten is good for plan A but maybe not so much for B.
 

sey666

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#14
This is an issue that I have reflected upon for some time now, often with unease.

That the team were able to win the premiership through the utility of a singular methodology, without deviation, speaks volumes of both the robustness of the method and quality of players executing it.
This success of course, cannot be expected to continue unchallenged. The current tactical setup is inherently inflexible and it has been a question of when, rather than if, it is negated and exposed. The club will not be able to maintain its level of success into the future unless it is capable of adapting strategy to counter the opposition.

This is not a premiership hangover; it is a direct assault by the competition upon the point of weakness in the system that laid the foundation to last season’s dominance.


Background
There is no road of flowers leading to glory – Jean de La Fontaine

In 2015 the club became unexpected Grand Finalists through the establishment of a very effective seven-man zone defence that made use of the additional defensive spare to rapidly counterattack, becoming the most productive offense in the competition.
The counter to this was the opposition deploying their corresponding spare player into the midfield, blocking the routes to fast ball movement out of defence and providing an outnumber at stoppages.

This continued throughout 2016 and 2017 – strong in defence and attack, but unable to transition between the two effectively.

The watershed moment didn’t come until Round 1 last year. Instead of a back seven, there was a traditional back six – the innovation being the deployment of a wing as an aerobic sweeper, allowing the defence to effectively operate with the advantage of a spare, without creating a mismatch in numbers elsewhere on the ground for the opposition to exploit.
Franklin kicked 8 goals as the defence struggled to adapt. The next ten matches after that however, were victories as the club announced itself as a force reborn, with the controlled, efficient style of play liberated by this structural change becoming a hallmark of a famous premiership triumph.


Plan A – Control
Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack – Sun Tzu

As we know, the current methodology is based around controlling possession and ball movement through the exhibition of precise kicking, eschewing disposal by hand. This results in the comparatively high accumulation of marks and functions also as a very effective circuit-breaker against high pressure, pressing opposition tactics. You can’t tackle or harass a player if they’ve taken a mark.

It’s one thing however to retain possession through kick-to-mark tactics – as we have seen this year alone there are a number of imitations attempting to practice this style with limited success. It’s another thing entirely to be able to control possession and move the ball into attack at pace. It is that combination that was the cornerstone behind why the Eagles went undefeated in September 2018.

So what is different about the controlled game plan from the Simpson Eagles that separates it from the rest of the competition? There are three key elements:
  • A squad full of contested marking specialists – with arguably the best marking spine in the league it is logical that a tactic emphasising taking marks would be playing to the squad’s strength.
  • Effective Penetrating Disposal Outlets – opposition defences are now accustomed to rolling their zone across the ground in order to cut off an offensive switch of the ball. A common theme so far in 2019 matches has been watching teams attempting to control possession and hopelessly switching multiple times without actually progressing the ball up the ground at all. In order to beat the zone, a number of short 20-30m kicks are not going to be effective. Longer kicks that entail far more risk are required to expose the opposition. There are few players in the competition that are able to combine the penetration and precision in disposal necessary to turn another switch into a damaging attacking move. In Hurn and Jetta, the squad is blessed with multiple outlets capable of zone-breaking disposal.
  • Aerobic Sweeper – as described previously, the deployment of a wing as an aerobic sweeper, covering vast distances shifting between midfield and defence, allows the defence to effectively operate with the advantage of a spare without the downside of creating a mismatch in numbers elsewhere on the ground for the opposition to exploit. The required combination of overall endurance, repeated sprint efforts and ability to recognise and block opposition avenues of attack restricts who is able to play in this role. Despite mixed opinions among the supporters, Masten has fulfilled this role particularly well, with his efforts being a major contributing factor to improvements seen elsewhere in the squad. It is my opinion that Hawthorn’s recruitment of Scully has much to do with how Masten was reinvented as an aerobic sweeper in 2018.
Combine those elements together and you have a premiership in 2018.


Headwinds
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future – John F. Kennedy

So here we are in 2019, flag unfurled, with arguably a superior squad, yet half of the matches played thus far have been losses by greater margins than suffered at any time last year.
What is going on?

One of the pitfalls of having success is becoming too predictable. The West Coast Eagles are exceptionally predictable. Each week the opposition knows how the team is going to be set up; what the approach will be and that it is not going to change throughout the coming match, either.

The consistency in approach provides certainty and role clarity for the playing group, but also causes rigidity and inflexibility to respond to opposition tactics.
But the wheels of change are always turning. It was only a matter of time until a challenge would be presented. The club had put itself under the microscope of every other team in the league by winning the premiership and they were each looking for a weakness. Being so overly predictable has simply hastened the date of this inevitability.

So how has the club fared in the face of this challenge thus far?

Abysmally:
View attachment 666148

Those are statistics more characteristic of a bottom four club than a premiership defence.

Ten of the last eleven quarters of football have been lost.

The club is exceptionally lucky to be 3-3 after six matches with this form and very fortunate that both GWS and Collingwood played to the strengths of the control game plan, rather than attempting to undo it.

Rest assured, the secret is well and truly out now. You can count on every opponent playing the control-killing card against the Eagles for the rest of the season.


Losing Control
Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Mayday! Mayday! We’ve taken a hit… We’re going down… It won’t respond… We’re going to crash…”

I imagine that would be how a condensed version of conversations within the Eagles’ coaches’ box would appear over the past two weeks.

After all, any time there was an issue during a game in 2018 the team held firm, refuted change and were almost always able to work their way back into the contest and reassert control over the match – most famously so coming back from five goals to win the Grand Final. However what we are seeing right now are not out-the-back goals or individual one-on-one efforts of brilliance against the general run of play – it is the systemic negation and exposure of the premiership-winning methodology and the complete inability of the team to be able to respond accordingly.

The current approach to back in the system and have faith that it will eventually come out on top will only end in more poor results and a season of so much promise being wasted.
Obviously, if the premiership defence is to continue there needs to be a significant change in style and approach from the current method. First though, we need to consider what the opposition is doing to expose the controlled game plan and from there identify a course of action to address it.


Uh, Houston, we've had a problem - Jack Swigert, Apollo 13

The commentariat have sharpened their pens and are eagerly reporting the fall of the 2019 Eagles, yet they keep regurgitating the same statistics without presenting any reasoning behind them.

Link | Link | Link

Let’s go a bit further, shall we?

The basis of the current malaise is that the greatest strength of the controlled game plan is in fact also its greatest weakness.

The defence, intercept possession source and zone-breaking disposal outlet, holds its position at all times. This enables the zone to be initiated rapidly, preventing the opposition offence from getting behind the defence and allowing intercept markers the time and space to leave their direct opponent and win possession. It also means however that if opposition forwards push up the ground, they are able to roam unchecked. It is from this source that the current problems being encountered by the club are arising.

The unmarked forwards of the opposition are pushed up into positions behind the ball. From there they hunt off the defensive side of stoppages to add pressure, create congestion, prevent clean clearances, reduce one-on-one marking opportunities and break forward into space once the team has won possession. It is not coincidental that in the last two defeats, the best players on ground in both respective matches, S.Gray and G.Ablett, were both playing off a forward flank with license to roam.

Furthermore, with extra numbers positioned behind the ball, the opposition defence has the confidence to be far more aggressive in their movement and disposal – effectively turning the counterattack dial up to 11 at the merest sniff of a turnover.

The other factor that plays into the hands of the opposition is the approach from the non-key forwards. They are always looking first to get behind the defence and be an outlet, rather than positioning themselves for the spillage from any marking contest. At all times they are trying to get goal-side of their opponents – which in this case is exactly what the opposition wants. This allows the opposition to deploy a zone of virtually unattended players between the stoppage and the Eagles’ attacking 50m arc to stifle the ball movement of West Coast, force turnovers and act as a platform to launch damaging counteroffensives of superior numbers that leave the Eagles’ defence stranded.

View attachment 666153
Typical stoppage setup 2018 vs 2019.
1A: Typical stoppage setup 2018 (vs Collingwood, GF)
1B: Typical stoppage setup 2019 (vs Port Adelaide, R5)
Note extra opposition numbers around the stoppage in 1B, creating clearance pressure.



View attachment 666157
Typical stoppage outcomes 2019.
2A: West Coast wins clearance, pressured kick goes forward without target. Opposition outnumbers Eagles and wins possession of the ground ball.
2B: Opposition switches to awaiting outlet from defence whilst numbers of opposing players run through the centre unmarked.
2C: Rapid counterattacking chain of possession results in the opposition transitioning the ball into attack before the West Coast defence can setup and goal.
2D: West Coast win clearance, pressured disposal attempting to find a team-mate results in turnover, whereby opposition handball chain results in an easy attacking entry and goal.


View attachment 666159

The combined effect is the complete destruction of 2018’s successful game plan.


The Response
Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake – Napoleon Bonaparte

Following the worst home loss for the club since the infamous 2016 Elimination Final against the Bulldogs, a break from convention was expected.

With Vardy woefully out of form, the dual ruck strategy was abandoned for the addition of a pressure forward, Venables being the beneficiary.

This appears at first like a step in the right direction; becoming more mobile, faster, contested and better at ground level. That is, until the reality of its implementation. The response was an attempt to play an additional aerobic sweeper between stoppage and defence at the expense of a forward position.

It belied an anxiety for a need of defensive assistance, a means of slowing down the opposition to allow the rear-guard ample time to setup and fortify. In practice however, it caused the exposed area of weakness to become even weaker and further hobbled a forward line that was being starved of both possession and confidence. It didn’t bode well.

View attachment 666161
Typical stoppage setup (vs Geelong, R6). Note the opposition numbers unmarked and ready to break into space.

To say it was a mistake would be an understatement.

The move played directly into Geelong’s hands, allowed them to have unmarked players roaming freely up the ground and inflicting terrible damage on the counterattack.

The first quarter was the worst defensively for the club since Round 22, 2015, with the Cats kicking seven goals, four of them direct assists from Ablett alone. By quarter time the contest was over. By its conclusion the match had become an embarrassment.

For the third time in just six games the team had failed to surpass 60 points, with this total of 46 being the second-lowest since 2014. You have to go back to 2013 and the dark, final days of the Worsfold coaching era to find the last time the club failed to score 70 points in three consecutive matches.

This is new territory for the coaching setup. Simpson’s legacy will be determined by what happens next as a continuing response to this.
What we do know however, is that further depriving the forwards will only have negative consequences to the performance of the team.

So with the knowledge of what doesn’t work, can we posit a prospective solution for the current woes being encountered by the club? Of course we can – isn’t that what this forum is for after all?


The Solution
Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative – H.G.Wells

We have walked through how the current game plan has evolved, thrived against the competition and been taken to the edge of extinction in the face of a new threat.
Unless the club can rapidly adapt, the current window of opportunity will be lost. But what adaptation should be made and in which way? The answer lies in the problem itself.

What is the hazard in pushing forward flankers into positions behind the ball? If there were no inherent risk, you would reasonably expect to see it occurring in every game – but obviously that is not the case, so there must be a level of risk involved that precludes its ordinary use. Such a move logically endangers the functionality of the attacking half and potentially isolates the key forwards. Of greater importance is the risk of inviting the match to be played within the team’s own defensive end of the ground, whereby opposition pressure on the ball can easily be transferred into pressure on the scoreboard.

There is a relatively simple and widely-publicised tactic that provides reason to why you don’t see extras pushed up the ground and behind the ball more often – the forward press.
Against a forward press, greater numbers behind the ball only serve to create more congestion, hampering clean disposal outlets and limiting the number of outlet targets available – making it more likely for repeated attacking entries to occur, increasing pressure upon the defence until it breaks.

It is without question that the most successful course of action that the club could take in the face of the current challenge presented by opposition tactics is the adaptation of an offensive press.


But before we continue, there are a couple of issues that require some clarification in context of what we now know from a tactical perspective. So here are a couple of sub-articles:

When his kicks do less damage than his hook: the problem of finding a place for Andrew Gaff in a post-premiership world.
Let me be clear, the coaching panel are not drinking Kool-Aid, thinking that Gaff is some kind of uber inside contested beast since returning from his suspension.
The majority of the time Gaff is actually looking to position himself around the stoppage in his usual outside receival role. It’s not quite as simple as “herp-derp swap Sheed and Gaff ffs lol fml… :drunk:
The reality of the situation is more complex – opposition extras sent back are primarily directing their attention upon Shuey, Yeo and Sheed, effectively double teaming them in many circumstances. Without the same level of attention, Gaff often finds himself to be the only Eagle with a clear approach to the ruck tap and naturally goes after the ball (or would you prefer him to just stand there on the outside and watch an opponent claim possession?). Unfortunately, Gaff is one-footed and has slow hands – he makes a poor inside midfielder and his disposal under pressure is horrific.
Address the issues causing the superior inside players to be marked out and I’m sure that you’ll find Gaff will return to his natural habitat outside on the wing.
Flowers for Jack: The tragic tale of how a rubber-chested crustacean became the most dominant player in the competition, only to have it wither away.
Jack Darling was a talent failing to deliver upon potential in addition to developing a reputation for going completely missing in key matches. Then something happened. In 2018 he started to clunk everything and kick goals. It mattered not who was assigned to mark him as he dominated them all in a manner not seen since peak Carey. Exactly one year ago, Darling was without question the best and most influential player in the competition. Despite periods of injury, before the start of the 2019 season he remained the best player for his position across all teams. Now after just six matches he has slipped down five places for position and his overall ranking is approaching 80. For the first time since his debut year in 2011, he has gone scoreless for consecutive weeks.
Just how can a player rise and fall so rapidly in such a manner?
Darling requires fast and direct ball movement otherwise he becomes completely non-effective. Put it this way, you could consider Darling as the anti-McGovern. McGovern has a near-psychic ability to judge where the ball will be ahead of others – sometimes to the point where is moving into position before the ball is even kicked. Darling is the antithesis of that – he reads the ball incredibly late for a key forward. If the incoming ball movement and subsequent kick are rapid and unwavering, he is able to overcome this and take opposition defences apart. However, if the ball gets delayed up the ground, he will be beaten to its eventual arrival by his defensive marker almost every time.
Without markedly improved ball movement it cannot be expected that we will see any major turnaround in Darling’s current form slump.

Plan B
When I don't have control of the ball, what do I do? I press to get it back. It's a way of defending – Johan Cruyff

A press. How very Richmond I hear you say.

So what I say. The Tigers didn’t invent it and don’t own it – it’s a proven method that is clinical with the correct application. Let’s not forget this is about how to return the team to winning ways after all. I’d prefer to win ugly than have another ugly capitulation. “Dirty” football is a disaster against a well-executed press.

But how should such a method be best implemented, given the squad and its current tactical foundation?

In order to deploy a high forward press, the following structural changes are required:

In order to deploy a high forward press, the following structural changes are required:

Maximum of two key forwards:
It is abundantly clear that the team is currently too tall in attack, especially if it is to consider the implementation of a forward press. At all times, only a maximum of two key-sized players (inclusive of any resting rucks) should be occupying the attacking end of the ground to ensure the emphasis of the press upon speed, tackling and pressure is maintained.​
Removal of a specialist defender for an additional midfielder:
With defenders pushed up the ground to negate opposition extras, it becomes preferable for one of those specialist defenders to be replaced by a midfielder who is capable of covering more ground and getting involved in possessive chains.​
If the team is required to switch back to the controlled game plan, an option such as Yeo or Redden would be able to fill the vacancy.​

Now those are not significant changes, indeed it could be argued that the former of the two should have already been enacted several weeks ago.


Let’s take a look at the setup and stoppage functionality of the Plan B proposal:
View attachment 666169
Plan B stoppage functionality (vs Geelong, R6).
3A: Positional move / change requirements:

A. Non-key forwards ensure no opposition spares are able to setup behind the stoppage, ensuring they position upon the stoppage side of their opponents.
B. CHF pushes up to the 50m apex, opening up space for the full forward behind and further congesting any opposing stoppage extras.
C. HBFs move up into dangerous positions on the wing and prevent inside stoppage players from becoming double-teamed by demanding a marker.
D. One of the HBFs should be replaced by a midfielder due to the requirement to cover more ground.
E. Swap the positioning of the other HBF with the aerobic sweeper, due to the running requirements of the two roles in Plan B.
F. See E.
G. Creation of a clearance area from the stoppage, opening up to the “fat” side of the ground.
H. Additional inside contested ball-winner at the stoppage.
I. Key-sized players replaced in the squad by faster, agile, tackling players.
3B: Typical proposed stoppage setup, Plan B.
3C: Typical proposed West Coast stoppage clearance outcome, Plan B. West Coast wins clearance, players are available on the outside upon the wings and the forward line is open to maximise one-on-one impact.
3D: Typical proposed opposition stoppage clearance outcome, Plan B. Opposition wins clearance, but congestions leads to tackle and eventual ball-up.


Looking further, we can see how the operation of the switch in play has been arrested under current conditions and how the proposed method can restore its function:
View attachment 666173
Plan B switching play functionality.
4A: Typical switch of play 2018 (vs Collingwood, GF). Note the role of the aerobic sweeper in creating a mismatch in numbers which is then used to unstitch the opposition defence and move into attack.
4B: Typical switch of play 2019 (vs Port Adelaide, R5). Note the extra numbers from the opposition up the ground which prevent smooth ball transition and create outnumbered situations favouring the opponent around marking contests.
4C: Typical proposed switch of play, Plan B. Note the use of extra numbers on the wings to create chains of possession and the open forward line setup.


This is the answer to how the club should reinvent itself in order to counter opposition tactics of extras positioning behind the ball.


A Tactically Complete Team
The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection – Thomas Paine

So far, I have argued solely upon the platform of initiating an alternative method of play – a form of high forward press. However, this is not by any means an argument for the complete abandonment of the current controlled game plan. Conversely, this is an argument for flexibility – that the best course of action for the club is to have multiple options available to account for whatever the opposition may present. Such a team could be considered to be tactically complete, with the ability to quickly identify opposition intentions and deploy a plan to negate and counteract it.

It is my opinion that the current Eagles squad, if bestowed with such tactical flexibility to shift at ease between control and press, would become near unbeatable.

Ultimately, the level of success attained by the club this season will be dictated by how it can respond and adapt to challenges. I have presented a proposal of how that may be achieved – no doubt there will be opinions that wildly differ from what has been described here.

However, there is one consideration that I think we can soundly agree upon – that change is necessary in order to recapture the success of last year.
Who needs a Wardrop when you can have a Dylan82 ?
 

Astro7

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#15
That was worth waiting for!! Great read. Clarifies a lot for us mere mortals, without condescension.
As Jimmy Cliff once sang "I can see clearly now"
Hope the coaches read this? As they appear to be training to go harder at the coalface, to win the ball.
But it appears just winning the ball won't be enough.
Have they adopted any new changes going forward or will it be the same old-same old?
Are we doomed? (as you say, a pivotal time for Simmo and his coaching chops)
 
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amazingjoshy

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#16
Brilliant analysis and great writing style. Puts the majority of the "footy media" to shame.


Gameplan is everything these days. We are completely unadaptable at the moment, though in my opinion there are signs that the club is working on solutions. Its actually a very good thing that things have broken down so badly and so early into the year. Imagine being exposed with just a few weeks to go till finals.

I actually believe we were worked out toward the latter half of last year. A combination of getting Coll 3 times (who play into our hands), Melb shitting the bed, and the Gaff/NN incidents which forced a complete rejig of our mid/ruck setup and caught a few teams unaware. The ability of our coaches to adjust on the run in finals last year gives me a fair bit of faith they would have something in the works (at least I hope)
 

Rowan18

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#17
I have heard comments from coaches a few times over the last few years taking the view that the gameplan I'd the gameplan and you just need to back it in and work harder when it doesn't work. It appears that's what we've done after the Freo game, which makes sense given you need more evidence before you through the whole thing out. Hopefully they are now starting to target some tweaks otherwise it will be a long year.

Getting some easier teams now might be a curse as it could allow us to paper over the cracks.
 

flamingEMBERS

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#20
If like last week you lose the possession count by 160 and have 12 players with less than 10 possessions then its not possible to win. Thats on the players.
Correct, our form has been nothing to do with tactical coaching it has been with the players and the motivation side of the game.
 

Balls In

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#21
Correct, our form has been nothing to do with tactical coaching it has been with the players and the motivation side of the game.
I also think Vardy's form drop off particularly and other key players underdone has restricted our ability to impose our normal game. Team selections have been off as well.
 
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Mr Casson

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#22
Read it again this morning and it's even better the second time around. Interesting to see how our defensive structure which is built around intercept defending is both a blessing and a curse at times. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the wheels have fallen off since Barrass went out of the side too even though most of the damage has been caused by teams bashing us up around the ground ball contests.

What made 2015 a good season was that we managed to forge a competitive gameplan out of hardship. Who knows whether we would have made the GF if we hadn't been forced into playing an undersized defence. I'm quietly confident we can do that again and make the best with what we have. The season is still young.
 
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