• Sáb. Jul 13th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

Ruben Amorim is one of Europe’s most coveted tactical thinkers – this is why

This is the seventh article in a series looking at some of European football’s most innovative managers.

For many up-and-coming managers, there is often a quiet buzz that surrounds them as they establish their reputation out of the spotlight.

For Ruben Amorim, however, it’s been a siren alerting the football world to his coaching qualities. In the weeks building up to Sporting Lisbon winning only their second league title in 20 years – a feat confirmed last weekend – the noise around him has reached a crescendo.

The 39-year-old has been linked with a move from Sporting for most of this season, to such a degree that Amorim was forced to address his status when talking to the media at the start of April.

“I’m Sporting manager, I want to win here and I didn’t meet any club. Nothing has been agreed,” Amorim said. “Stop with this story. This is the last time I speak about my future.”

Since he uttered those words, however, The Athletic reported Amorim travelled to London last month to meet West Ham United representatives over becoming their manager.

Amorim later apologised to Sporting fans for holding the talks, saying it was a “mistake”. He has now suggested that his future lies in Lisbon, for the time being at least.

Ruben Amorim greets Sporting fans in Marques do Pommel square to celebrate their title win (Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images)


Amorim says it was a ‘mistake’ holding talks with West Ham

Amorim’s ascent as a manager has been rapid and eventful.

Having only begun his coaching career, at third-division Casa Pia, in 2018, a move to Braga’s B team lasted three months before he was thrust into their first-team dugout in January 2020.

After a hugely successful stint that saw him win 10 of his 13 games, Amorim was poached that March by Sporting, who were looking for their fifth manager (not including caretakers) in less than two years. A fourth-placed finish in 2019-20 was followed up by the club’s first league title for 19 years in his maiden full season. He was only 36.

Under Amorim, Sporting have also won two Taca da Liga (Portuguese League Cup) trophies and are on track for another domestic double this season, facing Porto in the Taca de Portugal (Portuguese FA Cup) final on May 26. Amorim has returned Sporting to the top of his country’s footballing food chain after years of standing still.

This is highlighted by Sporting’s ClubElo rating, a measure of team strength that allocates points for every result, weighted by the quality of the opposition faced. After a difficult start to his tenure, Amorim has guided Sporting to their strongest status in European football for over a decade.

Amorim has shown his desire to bring young talent into the first team — including Goncalo Inacio, Matheus Nunes, Nuno Mendes and Ousmane Diomande — and has improved the team’s quality with the resources at his disposal.

Bruno Fernandes moved to Manchester United a little over a month before Amorim’s appointment, but Mendes (to Paris Saint-Germain), Nunes (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Pedro Porro (Tottenham Hotspur), Manuel Ugarte (also to PSG) and Joao Palhinha (Fulham) are among the talented players whom Amorim has improved before being sold for high fees.

Amorim’s stylistic approach has remained unchanged throughout and that consistency has been the foundation for their success.

So, what is his style of play?



‘He will be an unavoidable name in European football’ – Ruben Amorim, Europe’s next supercoach?

On paper, Amorim’s Sporting play a 3-4-3 formation — or more specifically, a 3-4-2-1 — based on high possession, flexible attacking approaches and a strong defensive foundation.

In build-up, they will often stagger their midfielders across different lines to help with progression through the centre of the pitch, keeping the wing-backs high and wide to stretch the opposition’s back line. Ahead of them, their two attacking midfielders will occupy the half-spaces to stay close to the central striker.

When playing out from the back, Amorim will often ask his players to create a 4-2-2-2 structure, where central centre-back Sebastian Coates will join the midfield line to create better passing angles to eventually work the ball wide and progress up the field.

That fluidity in the build-up is supported by the numbers when looking at Sporting’s playstyle wheel, which outlines how a team play compared with Europe’s top seven domestic leagues.

Amorim’s rotational setup will often ensure that Sporting can progress without disruption, as shown by their ‘Press resistance’ metric (98 out of 99), which highlights the volume of touches per opposition tackle in the first two-thirds of the pitch.

A higher volume denotes a greater ability to play out from the back, and only Manchester City and Inter Milan average more than Sporting’s 74.9 touches per opposition tackle.

In settled possession, Amorim’s side can vary their progression through the thirds with intricate short passes or direct balls to their pitch-stretching wing-backs.

Their ‘Circulate’ rating (61 out of 99) may not seem reflective of a possession-dominant side in the context of Europe’s top leagues, but it speaks to the variety of Sporting’s play, where they are as likely to progress the ball quickly via passes into the channel as to recycle possession across the pitch.

This also explains Sporting’s ‘Patient attack’ score. A rating of 58 out of 99 here might suggest a confused attacking approach, but that flexibility to slow down the game or speed it up is a huge weapon in their armoury.

For example, no team have registered more build-up attacks (defined as open-play sequences containing 10-plus passes that end in a shot or touch in the penalty box) in the Primeira Liga this season than Sporting’s 115. On the other side of the coin, no team in the division has logged more direct attacks (open-play sequences starting inside a team’s own half that move towards the opposition’s goal by 50 per cent and end in a shot or a touch in the 18-yard box) than their 71.

Try to pin Sporting down at your peril — they have the tools to wriggle out of most situations.

For example, in their home league game last month against a deep-lying Vitoria Guimaraes side, you can see the neat, one-touch passing from midfielders Morten Hjulmand, Daniel Braganca and Pedro Goncalves, with a sequence that’s almost an ‘up-back-through’ passing pattern.

With Viktor Gyokeres making the third-man run in behind, Goncalves’ pass pierces through the Vitoria defence for the Sweden international to finish.

In contrast to such neat, intricate play, Amorim has moved to a more direct attacking style this season since the arrival of 6ft 2in (187cm) human battering-ram Gyokeres, who thrives on runs into the channel to bully opposition defenders and score himself.

Take this example, against Benfica in February’s first leg of a Taca de Portugal semi-final.

Wing-back Geny Catamo has the ball in his own half, and spots the run made by Gyokeres, who is peeling off into the right channel. A single pass sees Gyokeres race past Nicolas Otamendi, cut inside, and finish emphatically to the near post.

There are similar examples in the left channel.

Against fourth-division Dumiense in November’s Taca de Portugal tie, Gyokeres links up with left wing-back Nuno Santos to drive into the space, shrug off his opposite number and fire home from a tight angle. It is a mirror image of the previous goal, and something of a cheat code that Sporting can exercise.

For those requiring more examples, goals against Farense and Porto will strengthen the case that this is a clear pattern of play from Amorim’s side.

When Gyokeres is not carrying the goalscoring burden himself, those channel runs still go to good use as he provides for others.

Against Uniao Leiria in February, it is a similar pattern with a channel ball played by Santos and Gyokeres driving forward — only this time, he cuts the ball back to an oncoming Goncalves.

If you need further evidence for this one, just run the tape on Sporting’s goals against Benfica, Estoril (twice) and Porto this season.

Only Bayern Munich’s Harry Kane (36 goals and eight assists) and PSV Eindhoven’s Luuk de Jong (27 goals and 15 assists) have more goal involvements this season than Gyokeres (27 goals and 10 assists) across Europe’s top seven leagues.

It helps to have such a dominant centre-forward spearheading your team, but Amorim has intelligently found the best way to maximise the qualities of the players he has.

Given Gyokeres’ strong penalty-box presence, Sporting do not shy away from getting the ball into wide areas and playing teasing crosses for him to attack. These crosses do not frequently come from their wing-backs — who keep the width to stretch the opposition — but will commonly arise from their attacking midfielders operating in the half-spaces.

Take this example in March against Boavista (below).

Left centre-back Matheus Reis fizzes a ball to Paulinho, who plays a first-time pass to Hidemasa Morita before spinning in behind — it is a similar ‘up-back-through’ pattern. Note how the wing-backs, Santos and Catamo, are the two men closest to the touchline keeping width, despite not actively contributing to this sequence (slides one and two).

As Paulinho combines to receive the return pass from Morita, his driven ball across goal finds Gyokeres haring in for a first-time finish.

Overall, it is a clinical sequence executed in little more than six seconds.

Those changes to Sporting’s ‘Patient attack’ and ‘Circulate’ metrics this season are made all the more stark when comparing them to last season’s figures.

As you can see below, Amorim has tweaked the style to make Sporting more potent than ever under his leadership.

Out of possession, Amorim’s side boast one of the meanest defensive records on the whole continent (‘Chance prevention’, 99 out of 99). No side have a lower non-penalty expected goals (xG) conceded than Sporting’s 0.69 per 90 minutes across Europe’s top seven leagues.

Principally, this is down to their compact shape in a 5-2-3 or 5-4-1 block, forcing opponents to play around their defensive structure and rarely through it.

Sporting having a five-man defensive line means you will often see a wide centre-back stepping out to press the opposition forward or attacking midfielder, confident he has the protection of the team-mates behind him.

As a collective, Amorim asks his players to press high up the pitch (‘Intensity’, 93 out of 99) and squeeze the play by often bringing his centre-backs to the halfway line (‘High line’, 81 out of 99).

Only local rivals Benfica have logged more shot-ending ‘high turnovers’ (defined as regains 40 metres or fewer from the opponent’s goals) than Sporting’s 55 in the Primeira Liga this season.

Having a robust, defensively-aware midfield destroyer has been a hallmark of Amorim’s side, previously Palhinha and Ugarte and now 24-year-old Denmark international Hjulmand.

The ability to cover wide spaces, break up the play, and hoover up loose balls places a big demand on Amorim’s pair in midfield, and with Sporting’s wing-backs encouraged to stay high and wide, the space for the opposition can often be in the channels when counter-attacking.

Take this example, from November’s game against Estrela Amadora.

As the away side turn over possession, wing-backs Santos and Ricardo Esgaio (in white) are too high up the field, with space exposed on the flanks. The midfield duo of Hjulmand and Braganca are too narrow to cover the width of the pitch on their own, which forces Reis to pull out to the touchline and increase the gaps between the three centre-backs — Estrela would score from this attacking phase.

A similar example can be seen against Farense a few days earlier, where left centre-back Inacio mistimes his challenge to leave forward Rui Costa driving towards goal. With Santos high on the left wing, the space to be exploited is in the wide area once again, and Farense claw a goal back.

It is a tactical frailty in an otherwise powerful machine crafted by Amorim. The natural line of thought is how much this structural weakness could be exposed in a more competitive league should he move elsewhere.

Even accounting for the inequality among many of the Primeira Liga teams, a side who can statistically boast one of the best attacks and the best defence across Europe’s top seven leagues shows that their manager is having some sort of positive effect.

A charismatic leader known for fielding young talent, improving individual player performance and winning titles — you can understand why that siren is calling.

(Top photo: Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

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