I’m going to perform a little exercise in which I write about and quote analysis on two teams that were upset Wednesday despite being heavy favorites to win their respective championships in two different sports. (No cheating and peeking at the footnotes to see which quotes refer to whom.)
One team was supposed to be all conquering, an attacking powerhouse. “They scored goals in bunches, sometimes seemingly at will.”¹ On the other hand, the opposition was tactically astute and dedicated to defense. They “provided a steady dam in front.”²
The more skilled team forced the attack, controlling possession in the offensive zone. Yet, “tactics became less important than focus - which in itself makes up a lot of the scope which you prepare tactics for - and heart, of which the [opposition] showed a lot.”³
“The home side were frustrated in their attempts to find a direct channel, as they managed to do very late.”⁴ All the brilliant defending from the opposition denied space and sight lines on goal. The vaunted attack “never had a real chance to up the tempo and to accelerate, as they like to do, because there was simply no room to do that.”⁵
In the end, all the dirty work by the opposition won they day, surely disappointing neutral fans hoping for the home side, containing the most exciting player in his sport, to win and advance. Instead, they are at home licking their wounds. Once again it was proven that “defensive courage, in sufficient quantity, can negate a good offense.”⁶ When a team coordinates its defense so well, you “can find ways to take away one star scorer and hope that the pressure to score will shift to lesser stars,”⁷ who are not up to the task.
Quite simply, “The more spectacular, brilliant side were stifled over two games, and the more consistent, aggressive, determined team went through.”⁸
Importantly, the opposition was more prepared to expose and take advantage of the favored team’s deficiencies. For all the excitement over the course of the season that they exhibited, the loss “showed that their fluid attacking style has weaknesses.”⁹
First and foremost, the defense was not as strong as necessary. Cavalier “defenders” attacked forward, pinching up the sides and exposing the team and its goalie to counters and breaks where the defensive gaps now existed in behind.
The opposition duly took advantage, scoring the crucial goals to put them through.
Second, when the attacking team’s fluid passing and dynamic movement were clogged by a barricade of defenders, “they lack a Plan B. It is a criticism that has often followed the great attacking sides in the game, especially those who remain faithful to one particular style of play.”¹⁰
It’s obviously frustrating as the team so used to scoring when it wants or needs to can’t find the opening to do so, “and you get a little more unnerved because you are not used to that adversity of not being able to score.”¹¹
Despite all the claims of how defense trumps, it's sometimes forgotten that attacking teams have won in the past, including last year. Of course those teams remained fairly sturdy in back, often with the help of some timely saves from the goalie. But the true benchmark of greatness is that “sides need to be adaptable and when a bus is parked in front of goal, they need to find a way past it.”¹²
Doesn’t matter if it’s a deflected shot or a crossing pass that somehow gets hammered home from a scrum in front of the goal. You just need to find that way, and unfortunately this team continued to slickly pass their way and fire through the wall, and were seemingly incapable of having someone crash the goalmouth area to truly trouble the defense.
The coach certainly takes some of the blame. From the losing side, it was clear that, “He's a master of attack but clearly no mastermind of postseason psychology or tactics.”¹³ On the opposite bench, a superior tactician played upon weaknesses and rightfully advanced.
Though unfavored and not the “sexy” team, the opposition “must take credit for holding off their opponents with a defensive display that [they] can be proud of.”¹⁴ It was a win earned and deserved.
1. Barry Svrluga, "Montreal's stunning upset of Washington ends Capitals' season much sooner than anyone expected," Washington Post, April 29, 2010, A01.
2, 3, 4, 5, 8. Roberto Gotta, "Inter wall stands firm," ESPNsoccernet, http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=778861&sec=uefachampionsleague&root=uefachampionsleague&cc=5901, April 28, 2010.
6, 7, 11, 13. Thomas Boswell, “Washington Capitals are built for the regular season and they are punished for it in the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Washington Post, April 30, 2010, D01.
9, 10, 12, 14. Jon Carter, "Barca in need of a Plan B," ESPNsoccernet, http://blogs.soccernet.com/soccernetcomments/archives/2010/04/barca_in_need_of_a_plan_b.php, April 28, 2010.