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Performing well against strong teams but not against weak ones - why?


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Okay, after managing Portsmouth for nearly 20 months and bringing them close to the level of Tottenham, I still don't have an explanation or solution to a very peculiar problem:

-My team performs well against teams like ManU, Chelsea etc, even if it is an away game.

-It performs well below its potential against weaker teams. I usually manage to scrape a 1-0 or 2-1 win but it is not satisfying, especially as some games are drawn as well.

-It is not able to perform well against slightly better teams like Aston Villa. Of course, they number very few.

-It destroys Championship teams or other significantly weaker teams. This may be because I have a very creative and skilled AMC and a very fast Poacher whom the slower defenders can't handle.

My coach and assistant manager (tactical knowledge 20 and 19 respectively) are constantly reminding me of this, and I agree. Why is this happening? The most surprising thing is that the motivation is usually not a problem, with some players playing okay and others motivated/fired up. Complacency sets in only if we get a couple of goals away. And many times if we go a goal behind, the team gets more motivated. What is behind all these contradictions?

Also, sometimes I have a strange situation where my players are motivated/fired up but have a rating of 5+. Does this mean that the players trying but are being outplayed because of skill/tactics?

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The most surprising thing is that the motivation is usually not a problem, with some players playing okay and others motivated/fired up. Complacency sets in only if we get a couple of goals away. And many times if we go a goal behind, the team gets more motivated. What is behind all these contradictions?

Also, sometimes I have a strange situation where my players are motivated/fired up but have a rating of 5+. Does this mean that the players trying but are being outplayed because of skill/tactics?

Players at that level tend to be quite Professional and Determined meaning that if they find themselves losing they will tend to get Motivated to turn the match around. Instead of getting Nervous or demotivated the opposite will happen because they are all top professionals.

Motivation and match ratings are not directly responsible for each other. Players can be really fired up and still take a bit of a beating. A rating of between 5 and 6 means that very little is going there way, very few passes are reaching targets, shots are being missed, players might not be getting much touches of the ball and usually their game will be riddled with mistakes, but depending on the personality of the player the very fact he is playing so badly can drive him to perform.

You just have to try and learn how each player responds to different circumstances, some players get motivated when they think they are playing poorly, some get motivated only when they think they are playing well, some get motivated when you encourage them and show faith in them, so try to analyse the players performance fairly accurately and then decide on which course of action to take with him when it comes to teamtalks.

Okay, after managing Portsmouth for nearly 20 months and bringing them close to the level of Tottenham, I still don't have an explanation or solution to a very peculiar problem:

-My team performs well against teams like ManU, Chelsea etc, even if it is an away game.

-It performs well below its potential against weaker teams. I usually manage to scrape a 1-0 or 2-1 win but it is not satisfying, especially as some games are drawn as well.

-It is not able to perform well against slightly better teams like Aston Villa. Of course, they number very few.

-It destroys Championship teams or other significantly weaker teams. This may be because I have a very creative and skilled AMC and a very fast Poacher whom the slower defenders can't handle.

To me this sounds like you have a very strong team defensively that is good on the counter-attack, but you don't come out to attack teams properly when they defend against you. If a team thinks it is better than you it will tend to come out and play attacking football potentially leaving gaps at the back for you to exploit on the counter. If a team thinks it is worse than you it will come to defend against you and frustrate you and keep the ball away from you without going gung ho for the attack.

I would suggest that you need to find a system for your team that can come out and win the ball off of these smaller teams and then use it well to construct good attacks against deeper and more numerous defences. Using a defensive system that is good on the counter-attack against teams playing for a draw will just play into their hands and your results will suffer accordingly.

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Thank you SFraser! While I have still not been able to get full advantage of the team talks, I did try to change my tactics according to your ideas and the results have been impressive to say the least. I became more aggressive in tackling and closing down against weaker teams and I also gave more attacking duties to my players. But I stuck to the counter strategy against stronger teams. As a result of this and some good luck, I won the the double of League Cup and EPL as manager of Portsmouth in my 3rd season overall (2nd at Portsmouth).

With this win, the reputation of my club and especially of myself has gone through the roof. My rep has jumped straight from National to World Class. However, the biggest stroke of good fortune was that the manager of ManU (not Sir Alex Ferguson) decided to retire at the end of the season despite their team winning the ECC. They were delighted to accept me as the new manager. All this is happening much more fast than I ever imagined :)

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