Crvena Zvezda 2022/23: How Miloš Milojević has built one of the most formidable defences in European football – scout report
The effect and impact Miloš Milojević has had since taking over the Serbian giants Crvena Zvezda in August 2022 are undeniable. Last season it was Partizan who came second in the league with just two points behind Red Star.
In this season the Red and Whites are repping all the teams and are undeniably good at handling issues. Thus far, out of almost 30 games, he’s won 22 of them, tied four and lost four. The win percentage that he proudly carries stands at an astounding 73.33%.
He’s already a rising star at age 40, joining the ranks of promising young coaches like Will Still for Reims. After his stint at Malmö, he has seen an immense rise in his managerial career as one of Europe’s most impactful young managers on the continent.
His defensive record has seen him move up to the top of the league with a gap of an astonishing 18 points from the runners-up Bačka Topola. His strategies are often cited as examples of how to mount an effective defence, with defensive strategies similar to Lazio’s Maurizio Sarri.
Under his leadership, the Red and Whites have become a formidable force, ranking second only to Xavi Hernández‘s unbeatable Barcelona in European defensive efficiency.
This tactical analysis will examine the measures used by Milojević to solidify the defence. This analysis, written in the form of a scout report, will also discuss his tactics and methods used.
Milojevi favours a four-at-the-back configuration, which means there are only two central defenders on the pitch. His faith in two-centre-back formations has been justified from the season’s outset.
Around 40% of this season has been spent in his preferred 4-2-3-1 configuration. This visual represents the many formations he used when leading the Red and White to the Serbian championship in 2022/23.
His second most-used formation is the 4-1-4-1, which has been used in more than 15% of his games (behind the 4-2-3-1). The 4-4-2 formation is his second favourite with a percentage of approximately 13%.
Finally, he has dabbled with the traditional 4-3-3 configuration, using it for 6% of the time, which is much less than his primary structure of choice.
In addition to these formations, he has encountered seven others, four of which included a five-man defence. The remaining formations are just 10% used as a whole.
We now know that he does not need three central defenders to build a top-tier defence in Europe and that his previous conviction in a two-man defence was heavily affected.
Seeing which formations have been favoured by the Serbian, we’ll move on to analysing real-game examples to see how and why Milojevic’s defence is on par with the best in Europe.
Defending from the front
Red Star has been a highly dynamic defensive team that has battled through the ups and downs of the press and yet managed to come out on top. The power of their synergy and cooperation has allowed them to achieve all their wildest dreams.
As compared to the league average of 8.8 passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA), Milojevic’s team has an unbelievable 6.65 PPDA, with Partizan in second at 7.54 PPDA. They have always prioritised pressing as a means of fending off attacks.
When there seems to be no other route out than the fullback and the defensive midfielder, the two attackers and the defensive midfielder defending the lone midfielder on the left react spectacularly when the keeper decides to pass the ball to one of the centre-backs.
The players have a very long wait until the goalkeeper throws the ball to them. They were all on the same page since the press had captured the beat of the movements so well.
In pressing, we can observe that two strikers and four midfielders are properly situated to mark the opponent. To defend themselves successfully from the front, everyone keeps their eyes peeled and their minds sharp.
They rethought their pressing and retrieval strategies in light of what has been learned elsewhere in the globe. The manager has made excellent use of the players’ varying patterns of movement.
Their strategy against this new opponent differs from what it would have been versus the league’s finest defence.
The first press is applied by a midfielder who leaves his zone to cover the free marker in the centre while a wide midfielder goes inside to cover the free forward on the left and a dropping left forward.
There were a few occasions when the opponents beat the press and also scored a goal which was one heck of a lesson to learn for the Red and Whites.
The defender down below is preparing to deliver a long ball in an attempt to find the lone midfielder in the half area.
The midfielder was able to create a huge gap in the middle of Red Star’s press thanks to the exquisite delivery to his feet and the precision of his touch. Given the difficulty and precision required, only one in a million people would ever manage to do this.
That was one of those times when Milojević had to figure out what had gone wrong and what needed to be done to avoid such plays in the future. Any team which is doing extremely well or are the best in the world has lessons to learn too. A little attraction to pull and misplace was all that was needed.
The above chart shows Red Star’s impressive high regains throughout the Super Liga season. There are just three games left in the season, so the aforementioned figures are absurd. The total number of counter-presses that have led to recoveries is 577.
As a result, the process of pressing has served to knit the squad together from the get-go. It has resulted from the manager’s determination to apply the tough manner of pushing while being alert and cunning.
How to defend crosses
In football, crosses play a crucial role and have resulted in many goals being scored. From the side of the field, a goal can be scored with the help of just one nice ball and a decent leap.
Red Star’s defence has been very beneficial to their Serbian coach thanks to their keen eye for identifying and tracking down players who poach. An illustration of this is shown below.
When a crossing situation appeared, every defender suddenly understood its urgency to drop behind and defend the goal. Red Star’s defence was alert after a wide midfielder’s pinpoint ball to the winger set up a dangerous cross.
We observe that all the free defenders were fully alert to move back to chase up the running attackers who try to receive a cross inside the box. This prevents the other team from using their crossing position to immediately retreat.
In another situation, we can well see the stance of the centre-backs when dealing with a cross. They seem alert and prepared to defend the cross, despite one defender having to watch out for two markers.
He instantly assesses the situation and adopts a solid position, which helps him to safeguard the goal. The manager’s primary responsibility was improving the team’s defence, which is a welcome development.
They’ve done a good job defending crosses overall, but several poorly timed ones have left their defence exposed. When it comes to reducing the amount of physical exertion required on the pitch, the devil is in the details.
To begin, they are in a better position to recover from a crossing situation that they successfully defended than the defence was initially aware of. Neither of the defenders saw the player coming up from behind them to get the ball.
The answer to this problem is to constantly monitor the area for signs of danger and the answer is also simple. It does the work and makes wary of the opponents nearby which is a good advantage.
The preference to approach a mid-block or a low-block has always been compactness. They shrink into one unit and defend close rather than being far apart from each other.
This naturally allows better communication to take place and also to observe the actions of your teammates in close range so everyone is on the same page as the manager.
As we see in the below image, they left the flanks unoccupied so that the whole team can sit close together. The winger of the other side would not drop to the defence as teams usually do to make it five-at-the-back while still having just four defenders.
This is how the manager prefers to defend in a low block and not just crowd the defence with an extra man. The prior reason to stick together was to counterattack efficiently and then naturally counter-press effectively.
Although sometimes when the opposition manages to stretch the defence and create space inside, they wouldn’t make use of it quickly or do the routine again.
The failure to win the ball in a 2v2 scenario on the right side of the defence has caused the two pivots to be spread quite far apart. When one of the pivots decides to move wide to fetch the ball, he creates a huge gap between himself and his partner.
The ball carrier notices this and makes a back pass to take advantage of it, but they don’t immediately go on the offensive or keep doing this to tire out the pivots.
The presence of nearby teammates who are willing to pitch in and help is a major perk of such a close-knit organisation. As a result, there is more player interaction and participation. This is what you’ll want from your team because of its given advantages.
We watch the midfielder’s support system in action in a Europa League situation, this time against Trabzonspor. About four active players are covering for him, with a fifth lurking nearby.
One of the strongest defensive teams in Europe, their line of defence is neither too high nor too low relative to the rest of the region. The defensive line takes it easy and takes in a sight they’ve seen before.
There are as many interceptions as fouls, and most of them happen in the other team’s half of the pitch, which suggests that fouls are committed when pressing and that most interceptions are made within the defensive zone.
Red Star Belgrade is currently in first place in the league and continues to show signs of improvement with each game.
As we’ve seen how the team’s defence has well stabilised and is the best in Serbia, they’re the deserved runners-up after Barcelona’s impressive defensive record this season.
Milojević would be proud of what he has achieved with the Red and Whites in his home country and could seek to jump to a more bigger role in a year or two if a suitable offer comes up.
While it would be against Red Star’s best interests to let him go, the organisation recognises that every head coach has their own goals, and because of this, it will be able to appropriately transition from one coach to another.