Claudio Ranieri has been universally lauded for achieving an impossible dream – and quite rightly so. However, he was blessed with a once-in-a-generation squad that has needed little tactical intervention en route to the unbelievable 81-point haul which saw the Foxes crowned champions.
Fuelled solely by the desire to win, Leicester’s success stems from a combative approach which was complemented by moves of pure brilliance at opportune moments. It was a welcome return to the ‘traditional’ style of English football, with a fully functional 4-4-2 that shattered the illusion of an infallible 4-2-3-1 formation.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has also disproved the theory that teams should try to emulate the likes of Barcelona, rather than play to strengths.
Emerging comfortable survivors in their maiden PL season, Howe’s counter-attacking 4-1-4-1 formation stunned many an unsuspecting team. Electrifying pace on the wing was one of Bournemouth’s key strengths in 2015/16 even without the jet-heeled Max Gradel, who would certainly have added to the Cherries’ final points tally if not scuppered by a long term injury.
On this season’s evidence, Howe is destined for a bright future at a top club, and was for a long time top of the FLIP Sports Tactical Masters leaderboard. However, it is West Ham manager Slaven Bilic who steals the crown after a number of excellent tactical performances in April and May.
Bilic has masterminded seemingly impossible away wins, and scintillating comebacks, with his team showing a Leicester-esque degree of fearlessness at unexpected times. Inspired signings in the shape of Dimitri Payet and Michail Antonio have turned the flanks into a pair of lethal weapons, with Payet’s marksmanship coming as a huge shock to even the most assured of defences.
*Points for GW38 added (Benitez 3, Unsworth 2, Hughes 1)
THE DECISION IS FINAL – Our top eight Tactical Masters for 2015/16
MANCHESTER UNITED (H) – THE GAME THAT WON IT FOR BILIC
This late flurry of masterful displays ended in the perfect crescendo, coming in the final match at Upton Park, when an uncompromising late show turned a 2-1 defeat into a resounding 3-2 victory that can only serve as the perfect transition into a new era for the East Londoners.
Curiously, no substitutes were made by West Ham until the comeback was complete, but the decision to deploy Diafra Sakho in place of Victor Moses from the very start ensured that a greater quantity of physical battles could be won by West Ham. It was a decision which took only ten minutes to become fully vindicated, with the Senegalese attacker converting an assist from Lanzini.
Much of United’s failure to qualify for the Champions League can be owed to the paucity of resources in defence this season, and Daley Blind’s move to the back in GW37 gave Bilic a real weakness to exploit. A 4-4-2 formation allowed the Croat to do just that, with Blind arguably proving to be the worst player on the park by a considerable distance.
With just 41% possession but 19 goal attempts to Man United’s 3, the emphasis for West Ham was firmly on pressurising a weakened defence and a disjointed midfield. As the second half unfolded, the Hammers’ physical approach caused United to tire, and a less-than-fit Rooney also suffered in a deeper lying role.
Two quickfire substitutions came within four minutes of what transpired to be a winner from Winston Reid. The second of these saw the experienced James Tomkins add a degree of reliability and composure at the back, which enabled West Ham to make their Boleyn bow a resounding success.
Is Bilic a worthy Tactical Master? Have we got it completely wrong? Leave a comment below!