Entering a new season, football fans will always have their expectations, hopes and unanswered questions. One of the great questions for Saints fans at the outset of the 2015/16 campaign, was whether we’d see the return of Dusan Tadic’s immense early 2014/15 form.
During Tadic’s debut season, he began to struggle with numerous muscular strains and knocks from December 2014, right through until the summer. Understandably, this affected his performances and in turn, we did not see that creative spark shine as bright again. Southampton fans were screaming out for the Serbian International to return to his previous lofty heights; this season however, he has done just that.
Coming off the back of beating Jose Mourinho’s title winning side at Stamford Bridge, Southampton have now produced three wins on the bounce – scoring 12 goals in the process. Whilst the transfer gossip subjects, Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama continue to reap the majority of the plaudits, Tadic’s work has truly been at the front of our stunning recent form. As a result, the Saints are flying high once again.
Over time, Tadic’s role in Southampton’s play has become more and more influential.
It goes without saying that the former FC Twente playmaker has incredible technical ability and vision; seven assists last year and a current season tally of 25 created chances, proves just that. However, his most recent flourishing has been due, in no small measure, to his mental attributes. Whilst his physical and technical ability has facilitated the execution, his intelligent play combined with world class positioning, has allowed Tadic to ply his trade so effectively.
So, What is the “role” that allowed for such a development in his play?
Upon face value, Tadic is deployed as a winger on the left hand side of Italian talisman, Graziano Pelle – Sadio mane playing on the right of course.
To use this simplistic label to describe his role in the side however, would be an insult to both Tadic and Ronald Koeman.
As we all know, Dutch managers have become famed for their promotion of fluent football and most notably, the era of beautiful play that goes by the name of “Total Football”. Total football, put simply, was a label given to a tactical theory in football, that any player can take up any position at any time. However, with the advent of more robust and defensive minded teams, down came Total Football, along with the rare breed of players to fit the mould.
Whilst the application of Total Football throughout the whole XI has died, that doesn’t mean it can’t live on for certain players. Dusan Tadic is one of those select few.
In games where Southampton are on top of play and pinning the opposition back, Tadic takes up his natural left wing position in a 4-3-3 formation. From there it puts best use to his quick feet in tight spaces, his ability to unpick a banked defence and hard drilled crosses with his strongest foot. When Tadic moves into this wide area, Mane knows to detach himself as a strike partner of Pelle and one of the midfielder three, typically James Ward-Prowse or Steven Davis, push themselves into the number 10 position.
However, in games where Southampton themselves are under pressure and looking to counter, Tadic tucks inside and plays through the middle as a roaming playmaker. Playing as a number 10 allows for Tadic to be the main source of creativity, whilst Bertrand, Cedric and Mane amongst others know to bomb forward (Look below at the first image to see the runs when Tadic is playing as a number 10).
Pelle will be sure to stay central and ask questions of the centre halves, thus freeing up space for Tadic to run into. If need be, it gives Tadic the option to also pull wide on either side, provided someone occupies this central spot. (Look below at the second photo to see Tadic playing on the right, Mane on the left, Davis occupying the central spot and Bertrand as the furthest forward)
Thirdly, Tadic takes up the role of a wide playmaker in moments where Southampton need to pick up their dominance of possession and play. This involves moving alongside the central midfielders to allow for greater stability and options from deep. The Serbian’s crisp and reassured passing will begin to dominate play from the left side of the field; typically, Tadic will look to dictate the play until an overlapping run occurs. When playing as a wide playmaker, Mane knows to join Pelle as a strike partner – forming a 4-4-2 formation. As a result, this means more options from deep, a stronger defence with two banks of four and a greater attention to the retention of the ball. ( Look below to see Tadic on the left wing as a wide playmaker with Pelle and Mane as a partnership )
These movements from Tadic set the formation and positions of each and every other player on the field. Wherever Tadic plays, its down to the rest of the team to adjust accordingly. Tadic’s positioning dictates Mane’s role, it decides how far Bertrand can push forward, when the defensive midfielders should cover his wide area and when a centre half should cover the left side.
To suggest that Koeman is implementing an aspect of total football in Tadic’s play is certainly an argument that holds water.
So for now, in Tadic, those pre-season expectations and hopes are being met to the delight for the fans in red and white.