I strongly recommend to anybody who enjoys this blog that they subscribe to The Blizzard. It’s a lovingly crafted, scholarly, occasionally pretentious, but never fusty quarterly world football magazine, which covers everything from historical figures such as Valentín Panenka to the latest shenanigans at FIFA.
There’s always plenty of tactical theorising in the mix and in the most recent issue, Simon Kuper’s article about Barcelona mentions what their former chief executive Joan Oliver has called the ‘one second rule’. Kuper (author of the outstanding Brilliant Orange, by the way) explains it this way:-
“The success of a move on the pitch is decided in less than a second. If a player needs a few extra fractions of a second to work out where his teammate is going, because he doesn’t know his teammate’s game very well, the move will usually break down.
“A new player can therefore lose you a match in under a second.”
A player who is steeped in the Barcelona methods through years of training at La Masia will be more likely to fit seamlessly into their first team than a player brought in from outside – even a world star like Thierry Henry or Zlatan Ibrahimović – who may turn out not to fit into the team, may in fact expect the team to revolve around them. So, Pedro may not be as good a player as Gareth Bale, say, but he is arguably a better Barcelona player than Bale would be.
A goal scored by Alberto Bueno against Crystal Palace at Pride Park is one of my favourites. I liked it so much because it was so smooth. The move up the park from the back was put together with the ball always on the deck. Robbie Savage picked out the run of John Brayford, marauding forward from the back as he does. His first-time passed cross was passed with pinpoint accuracy into the bottom corner, by Bueno, again on the first touch. Pass, pass, pass. The goal had a sweet, clinical and very satisfying precision to its construction.
Last season’s home performances were peppered with similarly good moves. Not all of them resulted in goals, but nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that a pattern of play was clearly forming. The team usually dominated possession and tried to pass their way to victory. With many of the same players in the side week-in, week-out, it was possible to start to see a genuine Derby County style emerging.
Whether it was a perfect pass from Hughes, a storming run from the emerging Hendrick, a loping charge down the channel from Sammon, a one-two between Coutts and Brayford on the right, or an interception and swift counter-attacking burst from Bryson, there were features to our play that you could see happening regularly.
Brayford and Coutts seemed almost telepathic at times, while the forwards knew that if they made a dart into a channel, Hughes could find them. It was encouraging and more often than not last season, at home at least, it led to results.
So Brayford’s sudden removal from the team at the behest of cash-laden Cardiff City will undoubtedly have an effect on the overall balance of the team. The new right back, Adam Smith, will not have much time to slot into the Rams’ system before the season kicks off and Coutts, or whoever else is playing on the right of midfield, will have to learn to link with him in a different way.
Up-front, Johnny Russell started with a flurry of pre-season goals against Bohemians, Bristol Rovers and Port Vale, but again, he will doubtless take time to embed himself properly into the team against much better, sharper opposition in the Championship.
Almost as if he knew I was working on this piece, Steve Nicholson summed up Russell’s performance against West Bromwich Albion like this: –
“Three or four times in the first half, Russell was a real threat in the positive way he ran at Albion and put defenders on the back foot, only to take a fraction too long in his final decision or pass.”
Expectations are somewhat higher for this season than they have been for some time and I hope that if the new players in the team take a few games to settle, they are afforded a degree of patience by the fans.