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Wenger: ‘Whoever has the best wingers and attacking defenders will win the World Cup’

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Wenger: ‘Whoever has the best wingers and attacking defenders will win the World Cup’

The analysis after the elimination rounds of the Fifa technicians: goodbye dribbling, there’s no breakthrough in the centre. Whoever runs the most is already at home

From our correspondent Fabio Licari

You win with wings: you can’t break through in the center anymore. However, scoring is increasingly difficult, like shooting on goal, because the defenses are more organised, “short” and protected than in the past.

The goalkeeper today looks like the old free, “the eleventh player” underlines Arsène Wenger, head of FIFA football. The “one against one” games have almost disappeared in favor of a collective game. And many run, probably badly, if it is true that the teams with the most kilometers traveled are already out and the one that runs the least, Argentina, is in the quarterfinals. However, Argentina has Messi who, fortunately, escapes all laboratory classifications.

THE REPORT

Yesterday Fifa presented the technical report relating to the group stage, the work done by Wenger with the technicians Jurgen Klinsmann, Cha Du Ri, Pascal Zuberbuhler and our Alberto Zaccheroni. An interesting picture, but a little worrying if football really will continue to perfect the defensive phase above all. Wenger underlines how nobody finished the groups with full points because the physical effort was very high. 31% of the teams had in the second game an opposite result to the first. The first and second half were also very different (in which Japan overturned Germany and Spain).

I GOL

The tipping point had been Italia ’90, with an average of 2.1 goals per game. Since then, Fifa had studied in every way how to increase goals, starting with the goalkeeper’s ban on passing back. Even the “Vision” of President Infantino, the document on the future of football, called for strategies (sports and regulations) in favor of goals. But this first phase goes in the opposite direction: the average goal per game is 2.50, slightly down on Russia 2018 (2.54) and Brazil 2014 (2.83), better than South Africa 2010 (2.10). The side where you score the most are the recoveries after the 90th minute, with 12 goals, when the teams are more tired and less orderly. Let’s see if the direct elimination will improve the score.

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I SHARED

The goal, however, can be missed. The data on downhill shots on goal is more worrying. On average they are 10.9 per game, they are falling compared to the past: 12 (2018), 12.9 (2014), 14.1 (2010). “One of the reasons is the more protected defenses in the center,” Wenger says. The curiosity is that the team that has shot the most is Germany, 67 shots, ahead of France and Brazil (52), but they are out of the World Cup. “Also because perhaps a 9 was missing,” adds Klinsmann. Poland and Australia are pulling very little (20 in total), but also Holland (24). They play more on the counterattack. “Van Gaal, however, is anything but defensive,” jokes Wenger. Holland and Spain are the most cynical teams: Van Gaal’s team scores a goal every 1.6 shots, Luis Enrique’s every 1.7. Brazil need to shoot seven times to score, not an exciting sign.

THE DEFENSES

The most sensational figure concerns the attack zones. The majority of attacks now take place on the wings – between the touchline and the box: 30% on the left, 28% on the right. 42% remain in the centre, but the center is 40 meters wide while the two wings together make 28. The meaning is clear: now we protect ourselves with a double, if not triple, throw in front of the area. That’s why you score and shoot less. The high defenses are “shorter” by one meter than in Russia, the “low” by two meters. In practice there are two increasingly compact blocks. In the last 35 metres, 5 fewer entries per game were recorded than in 2018. The statistics speak for themselves: +83% of crosses. With great results above all thanks to the players who go deep and put in the center with precision. Wings could also make a comeback on the market. “Whoever has the best wingers and the best attacking defenders will win the World Cup,” Wenger assures.

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THE GOALKEEPERS

The role that seems to have evolved the most is that of the goalkeeper. Today he is practically “another player on the pitch, he doesn’t just use his hands”, says Klinsmann. In this tournament, goalkeepers received 356 passes instead of 177 in Russia 2018. “The goalkeeper is the first playmaker now, so he must be cool and technically gifted.”

THE OUTSTANDING

The “one against one” have almost disappeared. Messi, Mbappè, Musiala, a little Grealish and a few others try: the last Mohicans. “Perhaps because some tops arrived out of shape.” Or perhaps because there are fewer and fewer tops, while the doubling of marking on the forwards and the pressing increase. But there is an interesting fact: those who run the most are outside Qatar. The team average is 113 km per game. The USA are the top with 123, then Australia 120. Least of all runs Argentina (105), but even Brazil is not damned. However, since the teams recover the ball faster, they need to run less.

TO THE CONTROVERSY

From technique to politics, Wenger closes with a questionable analysis after all: “The national teams mentally ready and determined to focus on the competition, and not on political demonstrations, have given themselves more chances to win their first match at the World Cup”. The reference to Denmark and Germany is clear, he who knows how punctual in a technical report.

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