Tactical trends and the players and coaches who set last season's UEFA Champions League alight are the focal point of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League technical report.
The report looks at the memorable moments and the key events of European football's blue-riband competition through the eyes of the UEFA technical observers – UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh and distinguished technicians Massimiliano Allegri, Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson, Gérard Houllier, György Mezey, Holger Osieck, Thomas Schaaf, Jozef Venglos and Howard Wilkinson.
"In addition to recording factual and statistical information, [the report] seeks to offer analysis, reflections and debating points which, it is hoped, will give technicians food for thought," the observers explain. "By highlighting tendencies and trends at the peak of professional club football, it also sets out to provide coaches who are active in the development levels of the game with information that may be helpful in terms of working on the qualities which will be needed by the UEFA Champions League performers of the future."
The report emphasises that mental steel has become a crucial factor at the highest level. "Speed of movement and the tempo of the play are important elements," it says, "but a high percentage of the speed of the game is in the head. In the Champions League, various types of speed are in the head. Speed of perception needs to be allied with physical speeds and the mental challenges also stretch into the realms of emotional intensity. Big games require big players, and the ability to master emotions becomes a major asset.
"The 2011/12 season confirmed that one of the basic requirements is above-average mental strength, i.e. the ability to cope with all types of pressure and match situations. The challenge for the coach is to create a never-give-up attitude and to prepare players for all the vicissitudes of top-level competition. Chelsea, the 2012 champions, provided a graphic illustration that resilience and mental toughness can be vital ingredients in recipes for success."
There is abundant praise for the 2011/12 champions Chelsea FC and their manager Roberto Di Matteo. "On the European stage, Di Matteo's Italian background was evident in the style his Chelsea adopted. Not exactly catenaccio, but drifting in that direction. Like Inter under Mourinho in 2010, his winning formula was based on solid defence, counterattacking and set plays."
A total of 345 goals were scored in last season's UEFA Champions League – 10 fewer than 2010/11, but 25 more than 2009/10. Some 78% were the result of open play. There was a slight decrease in the number of goals from combinations and through/forward passes. Crossing and finishing, and incisive passes, were the main ways of creating opportunities. For the third successive campaign, there was a rise in goals being scored by players cutting the ball back from the byline for a supporting team-mate – often the end product of effective flank play.
Set-play goals fell slightly to 76 in 2011/12 from 82 in the two previous seasons. Meanwhile, the number of penalty goals rose from 14 in 2009/10 to 28 in 2011/12. "This has coincided with the introduction of the additional referees at either end of the pitch," the report says, "and their influence on refereeing decisions could be part of the reason for this trend." Corner kicks generally proved unproductive – it took, on average, 46 corners to produce one goal. In the final, FC Bayern München had 20 corners for zero end product.
The report speaks of the top-level "duel" between positive possession and outstanding combination play – for example, FC Barcelona – and "contain-and-counter" philosophies. "Chelsea, just as FC Internazionale Milano had done in 2010, demonstrated that there is not only a place for non-possession-oriented teams amid the diversities of football, but also that the two opposing schools of thought can be equally valid in terms of obtaining results – and titles."
Added to this are a wealth of statistics, the technical observers' UEFA Champions League 2011/12 squad and the best goals of the season. The 2011/12 UEFA Champions League technical report is a must-read for both coaches and serious football aficionados.
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