Friday, November 6, 2009

Over-coaching Does Not Work

The first MLS playoff tie is over, with Salt Lake defeating the Columbus Crew last night at Crew Stadium 3-2, for a 4-2 aggregate victory. The victory is a big upset for RSL, but probably the biggest subplot for the series was the over-coaching by Robert Warzycha.

Despite winning their second consecutive Supporters Shield trophy, the Crew were inconsistent down the stretch, finishing 1-3-1 in the month of October (including a CONCACAF Champions League match). The Crew were struggling to score, so Warzycha constantly changed lineups, leading to the inexplicable decision to sit reigning MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto in the first leg 1-0 away defeat. He claimed he wanted to find a new combo to spark the offense. What?!

Starting the second leg, all Schelotto did was score two goals. Of course Warzycha balanced out that obvious move by not starting Robbie Rogers. This type of decision making is common, and in MLS the perfect example is Tom Soehn, formerly employed by DC United. He may have had some unfortunate circumstances (injuries, extremely busy schedule), but coaches need to stop over-thinking and develop a best team (usually that means your best players) and ride them for important games. I think the playoffs qualify.

(By the way, the MLS playoffs are just stupid. Why have a conference system for the playoffs? I understand for the season due to the traveling a straight table would require, but the if you're not going to keep all the teams within their conference for the playoffs by giving the the last two spots to the teams based on best record regardless of conference, just do a straight up seeding of the top 8 teams. We now have RSL, a Western Conference team, playing in the Eastern Conference finals, one year after playing in the Western Conference finals! Great job MLS.)

Another coach who was long derided for his rotational policy was Rafa Benitez. He seemingly got things right in the Champions League, prior to this season anyway, but was also changing his squad so that they never gained any consistency in the Premier League. A thin squad didn't help, and at this point the squad is even thinner, with Gerrard likely needing surgery and Torres probably the same, even though he's toughing it out and playing injured. Benitez basically has no choice but to start the same 11 players because he no one to choose from. Not that that stops him from doing things like starting Andriy Voronin and constantly subbing Yossi Benayoun even though he's been Liverpool's most effective perform not named Torres recently.

Now I understand the need to rotate players some when you have so many games as teams like Liverpool and Manchester United. Certainly Alex Ferguson is guilty of odd choices now and then, but he's choosing between players like Anderson, Scholes, Giggs, Carrick or Fletcher, or between Owen, Macheda, or Berbatov. A little different from choosing between Andriy Voronin and Ryan Babel. Or picking the immortal Emilio Renteria and Steven "Blond Sideshow Bob" Lenhart over Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Not that I'll complain about Liverpool having a disastrous season, despite my affinity for the wonderful atmosphere at Anfield and the Kop for big matches and my man crush on Steven Gerrard. Monday Liverpool take on Birmingham at Anfield, and if they don't win that one, not only will they not be winning any hardware this season (not that they will even if they win), but there's really no way Rafa can stay on. Sometimes a coach's tenure just runs its course. He'll win elsewhere, just not in Liverpool.

Lineup selection and tactical choices very well could play a big part in the weekend's big match between Chelsea-Man U on Sunday at the Bridge. While a win could very well boost the victor's psychological edge in the title race, but not even being halfway through the season and only a two point difference between them, let's not make this out to be a title decider quite yet. It'll still be great theatre (I hope) and it's the match of the weekend (with the Sevilla-Valencia match another highlight, especially after Los Che have found their form in back to back 5-0 and 4-1 victories over Tenerife and Lazio). Chelsea have a fairly set best 11, but SAF's starting 11 could be telling as it's their biggest match so far this season and we don't quite know what his best 11 looks like. Let's hope he doesn't overthink it.

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