The FIFA World Cup is almost here. All eyes will, quite naturally, be on the footballing stars. However, if you are a football fan, it might be interesting to observe how managers and coaches set up their teams. We will witness a wide variety of tactics, stemming from different schools of thought.
The players won’t have had a long time to prepare for the way their national teams are set up. They will have to adapt quickly and show their game intelligence in carrying out their managers’ demands.
The extent to which all this will affect the result of a match is up for debate. Sometimes a moment of brilliance can settle a game. Here are five managers/head coaches who will have intriguing tactical challenges on their hands. Lounge takes a look at how they will approach the games and make the most of their squad strengths.
Tite has unfinished business after seeing his Brazil side get knocked out in the quarter-final against Belgium at the 2018 World Cup. He went on to coach Brazil to a Copa América victory in 2019, and then a defeat in the final of the 2021 edition against Argentina. It isn’t often that you see the national side stick with a coach through thick and thin but in Tite they have someone who can blend solid organisation with a fluidity that can win tournaments. Tite’s successes have seen Brazil entertain but the bedrock of that is his insistence on a tightly rigid defence.
Tite usually plays Casemiro at the base of his midfield, with industrious midfielders ahead of him, and a front three made of incredible riches: Neymar, Vinicius, Rodrygo, Raphinha, Antony, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus, among others. Tite has been smart in his selection too, deciding to take Thiago Silva, 38, and Dani Alves, 39, to Qatar. Those two will be the bridge between the coach and the younger players.
The only question, according to a Coaches’ Voice article on him, is in midfield: “Question marks remain, most seriously over their central midfield. Tite speaks about a ritmista—a player to dictate the rhythm of his team’s play, but a role no one has been able to make their own in his team.” There are contenders in Bruno Guimaraes and Lucas Paqueta but we will only know once Brazil kick off against Serbia on 25 November.
Luis Enrique (Spain)
Having already made headlines by leaving David de Gea (Manchester United), Thiago Alcantara (Liverpool) and Sergio Ramos (PSG) off the plane to Qatar, Enrique wants to stamp his authority on a team in transition. But no other country has as pronounced a style as Spain. The tiki-taka era has made them synonymous with prolific possession and pressing. But Enrique, who, as manager, had changed Barcelona’s style to accommodate a more direct approach in the final third with the famous trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar, is expected to bring a higher intensity to Spain’s approach.
It is with that in mind that he has picked players. Teenagers Pedri and Gavi, and three 20-year-old forwards in Ansu Fati, Yeremi Pino and Nico Williams, all find a place in the World Cup squad. Enrique’s Spain will be as aggressive as they will be inventive.
Preferring a 4-3-3, Enrique has already spoken about how he wants his team to play: “We do not want to play deep, we always want to be in our opponents’ half and take risks. In defence we want to take the ball off our opponents as quickly as possible.”
Lionel Scaloni (Argentina)
After over a decade of nearly constant change, caused by a succession of coaches with wildly different ideas, Argentina look very settled coming into a World Cup. They are undefeated in 35 games, and three wins away from Italy’s record international winning streak. Scaloni has surrounded himself with respected former internationals like Walter Samuel, Roberto Ayala and Pablo Aimar and has made Argentina play like a unit. They no longer look like 10 players plus Messi.
Scaloni was not a glamorous choice for the role of head coach. He took over from Jorge Sampaoli in 2018 amid a tempestuous mood in the camp but quickly turned it around.
Scaloni likes to play a 4-4-2, which is how he started in the Finalissima (CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions) against Italy in June. He has used the same system in the last five games, with a front two that will be picked from Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez and Julian Alvarez. Rodrigo de Paul will be the engine in midfield. If Argentina succeed, it will be down to Scaloni’s astuteness.
Aliou Cissé (Senegal)
One of the longest-serving managers in international football, Aliou Cissé has given more than enough hope to the country since taking over in 2015. The reigning champions of Africa have lost their biggest star in Sadio Mané to a knee injury, but it has been a while since a country from the continent came into the World Cup with such high expectations. And it’s not just because of Mané. While he will be missed, Cissé will have the likes of Ismaila Sarr and Boulaye Dia to rely on up front, and will hope the backline of Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo adjusts quickly.
Cissé will play a proactive style but he is a taskmaster and rules with an iron fist. Indiscipline is not tolerated in the camp and it is with the same intent that he will want his team to perform on the pitch. His charisma, evident as he took Senegal past bitter rivals Egypt to qualify for the World Cup, is a driving factor. So is his story of winning the trophy after missing a penalty at the African Cup of Nations 20 years ago. Cissé once said that it’s only a matter of time before an African nation wins the World Cup. Will it be Senegal in 2022?
Hansi Flick (Germany)
Hansi Flick’s reputation as a manager rests on the incredible 18 months between 2019-20 when he took Bayern Munich to two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League one. As a coach, he likes his teams to press the opposition hard and play on the front foot with a high defensive line. “We have to put our attacking ideas into practice and be brave in implementing them. We definitely want to be in the final four. It is up to us if we manage it. We are well prepared,” Flick has said.
After winning the World Cup in 2014, Germany crashed out of the group stages in 2018, and in the last 16 at Euro 2020. However, there is too much talent in the squad to not expect them to at least make the semi-finals in Qatar.
Mostly preferring a 4-2-3-1, Flick’s selection in midfield, including the brilliant Leon Goretzka, will be vital so that his forwards can attack freely. Up front, he has Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz and space manipulator Thomas Muller. In Youssoufa Moukoko, Jamal Musiala and Karim Adeyemi, he has youngsters who can be game changers.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer