Domenico Tedesco has brushed himself down after a disappointing end to what was originally an incredibly promising spell at Schalke in the Bundesliga. Tedesco now finds himself coaching in the Russian Premier League, at the helm of Spartak Moscow.
Spartak’s form hasn’t improved drastically under Tedesco, yet his tenure at the club is still in its infancy, and despite similar league form, his two cup fixture wins have meant that he has an impressive 50% win ratio at the time of writing.
Tedesco has favoured a 3-5-2 formation in Moscow, which he used on plenty of occasions at Schalke. However, at the German side, his tactical flexibility was one of his greatest strengths, and although he is still using other formations, it has become very clear he intends to predominantly use the 3-5-2 in Moscow.
This tactical analysis looks at his tactical tendencies and gives an analysis of Tedesco’s approach to build-up play, attacking in more advanced areas, and the overall defensive phase with a look at his pressing tactics too.
Build-up and use of the pivot space
Tedesco has similar patterns in his team’s build-up tactics if they’re playing with a back three or with a back four. With a back four, he likes his centre-backs to split wide and leave space for the pivot to operate very deep, in between the centre-backs, which is pretty orthodox.
However, what’s less orthodox is his decision to have his wing-backs to stay deep in build-up play, particularly the wing-back closest to possession. In doing so, there is an emphasis on bringing the press forward and creating space between the back six and front four, which I will go into detail on momentarily.
By having the wing-backs deep, they are also able to create overloads in deeper wide areas to help beat the press, as they do in the image below. The image also shows the pivot operating in between the centre-backs, albeit slightly higher up than both, as Spartak play with a back four in this example.
Tedesco likes this deep pivot space to be occupied when playing three at the back too, and I will focus on his 3-5-2 formation going forward in this analysis.
He will instruct the central-defender in the back three, generally Samuel Gigot, to push a little higher in build-up play and almost operate as a pivot himself. When they work the ball into one of the wide centre-backs or wing-backs, Gigot will push up and shift over, giving an option beyond the first line of the press, and allowing Spartak’s pivot, Alex Král, to operate slightly higher.
As I mentioned earlier, Tedesco likes to structure their in-possession formation into almost a 6-4 formation, or at least certainly in two clearly defined blocks, with plenty of space between these blocks. His forward four operate very high with his two attacking central-midfielders pushing into the wide areas, flanking the forwards, and as Král drops in, it leaves a noticeable gap between the two.
This space gives Spartak’s defence plenty of space to play out between themselves and break the opposition press. It is not unusual to see quick interchanges between them, and with such distance between them and their frontline, Tedesco puts an emphasis on his side progressing with the ball at their feet rather than through passes.
The statistics back this up too. As a team, they rank very low in the league for progressive passes, but have the highest progressive runs in the league per 90 minutes with 18.45. Although they will use long passes to switch play, as I will explain in more detail in this section, they still rarely look to hit balls into the frontline, and will instead use their players to carry it forward. They have averaged 41.62 long passes per game which is the lowest in the league, and they rank first in the league for dribbles per game with 32.78.
The example below shows a simple exchange between the right-sided centre-back Ilya Kutepov and right wing-back Andrey Yeshchenko, as they beat the Krasnodar press and play forward with a simple one-two, and Kutepov looks to dribble the ball forward.
This is still a relatively risky approach to build-up despite the space, and Spartak’s deep width provides another option, should the opposition press particularly intensely. Tedesco also uses the wide attacking central-midfielders, along with his wing-backs, to structure diagonal switches of play from side to side to work the ball forward, whilst also seeking to unbalance the opposition’s defensive structure.
Regardless of whether it’s a back three or back four we will see a staggered double-pivot, with the higher pivot looking to drop behind the deeper pivot, looking for space either side of them.
Spartak do some interesting things with these two players and Tedesco uses them to manipulate the opposition’s defensive structure once more, as he brings them forward seeking to isolate his front four against the opposition back four.
The initial move away from the ball by the deeper of the two takes his marker away from the ball, allowing the higher of the two to drop in to show for the ball, and in doing so, drag his marker with him, leaving space between the opposition midfield and defensive lines.
A simple pass out wide to the wing-back instead of into the midfield, and we can see how this movement has brought the opposition press forward, leaving space for one of Spartak’s wide attacking-midfielders to drop into to receive with plenty of space, whilst removing the opponent’s midfield entirely.
From these areas it isn’t unusual to see them drive forward once again, rather than look to pass. They rank fourth-lowest in the league for passes into the final third, and the high starting positioning of the front four means players can transition into the final third with a dribble.
Attack: overloads in wide areas and the movement of the front two
Once the ball is worked into the opposition half, we can see their attacking shape in the image below.
The central-midfielders take very wide positions, entirely vacating the centre of the pitch and Tedesco uses them to create overloads in wider areas, whilst leaving central space for the centre-forwards to receive the ball to feet.
There is less of an emphasis in Tedesco’s 3-5-2 of having his wing-backs giving the height as we might see in more conventional 3-5-2s, with the central-midfielders expected to push forward into these areas instead.
The central-midfielders taking these positions also allows them to pin back the opposition defence and vacate space to create central passing lanes, all while still committing plenty of players to the initial build-up phase to aid in beating the press.
When the ball is inside the opponent’s half, a lot of responsibility is placed on the pivot once again who must anchor these attacks, quickly switching from flank to flank as the attacking midfielders push past their wing-backs to create passing lanes inside to the centre-forward, or seek to get behind the opposition in these wide areas following a quick exchange of passes. However, these are seemingly as much about drawing the opposition over to one flank in an advanced position, such as in the example below, rather than necessarily looking to get behind the full-backs and cross. Tedesco doesn’t favour crossing as an attacking approach, and Spartak average just 12.46 crosses per game, the second-lowest amount in the league.
I briefly stated above that the space left by the central-midfielders taking these wide positions creates central passing lanes, and importantly, it creates space in front of the forwards where they can drop in. Tedesco likes to use a front two as a means of ensuring the centre-backs are always occupied and can be drawn out of position. Below we can see an example of this as one of the centre-forwards drops in to receive the pass, bringing his marker with him and creating space behind him for his striking partner to move into.
They will use dummies in these situations too, should the angle suit it, where the original forward can let the ball run through to his partner, spin off, and move into the space created by his initial decision to drop deep to “receive”. These are very simple moves but incredibly effective when done right, and are perhaps the most effective use of this tactic.
Once again in this example we can see how the central-midfielders’ wide positioning prevents the opposition defence from getting too narrow, whilst at the same time leaving the central space which allows the pass from midfield and subsequent move from the two forwards to work as well.
Spartak will use the same principles in more advanced areas too. Again in the image below, we can see how the central space left by the central-midfielders dropping out wide leaves room for one of the centre-forwards to drop in. In doing so, they bring their marker with them and allow their strike partner to move into the space behind to latch onto the through pass. Despite their overall lack of progressive passes, they still make 7.65 through passes per game, above the league average of 6.8.
Pressing and overall defensive shape
Tedesco values the prevention of the opposition being allowed to play centrally over anything else, and we see this through Spartak’s pressing structure. This season Spartak have averaged a relatively intense 9.23 PPDA.
Tedesco generally looks for his side to press in a 4-4-2 shape, with one of the wing-backs pushing up to join the midfield three, depending on what side the opposition have possession.
The front two are expected to prevent the opposition pivot from receiving possession and will press the centre-backs if they feel they can close off one side of the pitch, whilst still ensuring the pivot is covered, but leaving the pivot in their covershadow is their priority.
If the opposition full-backs are in deeper areas and once again, they can keep the pivot in the covershadow, they will then press in these situations too, but will still prioritise showing the full-backs down the line. If they allow them inside, it would allow their press to be beaten and therefore, allow the opposition to play centrally.
With the ball in wider areas, like in the example below, the central-midfield are used to block off inside passes into opposition players in central areas, just as the centre-forwards are used to block passes into the pivot.
On transition, Tedesco emphasises preventing any central transitions too, looking to have these cut out at the root. Any time Spartak lose possession in these areas, whichever midfielder is in the best position to, will immediately seek to cover these areas to stop the opposition counter-attacking through this channel.
Overall, their intensity to win back possession significantly increases with the ball in their own half, with their midfield very quick to press and shut down the opposition. They average 6.8 duels, tackles, interceptions per minute of opposition possession, which is the second-highest value for this metric in the league.
In turn, if the transition is inside Spartak’s own half, Tedesco has his back three get considerably narrow as a unit, clearly concerned about the opposition being able to create any space in between them. Tedesco doesn’t want his centre-backs being drawn out and coming forward in these instances either, and having his central-midfielders immediately drop into these central areas prevents them from having to do so.
Along with the back three’s narrow shape, the midfield do an excellent job of closing down space outside the area and do a great job in forcing the opposition into rushed, low-percentage xG shots. As a team, they are blocking a higher percentage of shots than any other team with 31.5% of shots attempted by the opposition being blocked.
This tactical analysis has highlighted Tedesco’s principles and how they are put into action by Spartak Moscow.
In possession, Tedesco wants Spartak to build from the bac and create space where his players can carry the ball forward. This leads to high-percentage ball security compared to seeking to break the lines with passes. Tedesco wants to bring the opposition press forward, to help contribute to creating space for his players to drive forward with the ball once the press has been beaten, but also to isolate the opposition defence against his frontline, with no support from their midfield.
He seeks to take advantage of this by having his centre-forward pair work together with one looking to drop into the central space and bringing his marker with him, whilst his strike partner moves into the space left in the opposition backline. They are able to create attacking opportunities through these movements, aided by the high and wide positioning of Tedesco’s attacking central-midfielders who pin back the opposition full-backs, whilst also offering options behind the back line where they can potentially cut inside behind the defence.
The wide positioning of the central-midfielders, as well as being a key contributor for creating space for the forwards to drop into, also allows Tedesco’s side to create opportunities in wide areas where, along with their wing-backs and pivot, they can overload on the opposition full-backs to progress the ball in these areas too.
Finally, in defence, Tedesco wants his team to protect central space and uses his centre-forwards to block inside passes into the opposition pivot, whilst behind them, Spartak’s central-midfielders look to block passes inside too. On transition, his central-midfielders rush to flood the central areas as quickly as possible to prevent any counter-attacks, whilst his backline squeeze together and seek to avoid coming out of their backline, so as to prevent there being any space created between them, once again in a central area.